Little Levy Balquhidder was singing his favourite one about corbids: "three craws sat upon a wa', sat upon a wa', sat upon a wa-a-a-a'; three craws sat upon a wa' on a cauld an frosty morning. . . . ." to his sister Wee Winnie, who tried to clap in time, when he caught sight of the three young women coming up the garden path, their faces suffused with the light of the morning sun: "this will be your chance to impress the Tellurians, Columbine," he said, momentarily forgetting to us her new name, as Winnie reminded him with a stern look; Jasmine, Ludmilla and Teri were shown in by the children's mum, Rilla, who told them that she was just going to pop down to the Co-op for some milk, and left, at which Levy introduced his baby sister to the visitors; hearing that Jasmine and Ludmilla were working with Sam Smiles of the Scottish Secret Service in trying to track down the elusive MacFarlane and Doubleday, Winnie asked – in that piping voice which was the best that she would be able to produce until her vocal cords developed - "so the ones your cousins arrested when the mountains collided are an earlier form?" and Teri acknowledged the truth of that question, or statement – the intonation was still immature – and Jasmine said: "and we're hoping that you two can help us figure out where the latest location is," at which Levy and Winnie exchanged glances and it was Levy who said: "how should we know? we're only a pair of bairns, a long way short of the hebetic stage!" but Ludmilla snorted, and said: "pull the other one, it's got balls on it," which had everyone rolling about until Winnie managed to squeak: "methinks Levy is right, it's going to be fun working with youse three!"
After an extended, unexpected, enforced and quite painful hiatus - the result of a lightning strike at QQ - I'm back again; for my cousins, Isa Urquhart and Milly Millican, the appearance of themselves from twenty years in the future, along with the replica of the Eildon Hills, has been traumatic and bewildering: it's not quite the same as with the two Professors Sir Clement Dane, who are the same age, both a tad gorbellied, with broken veins on their faces, and a tendency to fallaciloquence, which doesn't endear them to the locals, but just as difficult to adjust to - strangely, and contrary to what I would have expected, neither of the older Detectives has any memory from their own youthful experiences of receiving this encounter with their older selves, so maybe there is some truth in the concept of parallel universes; anyway, they have all been working together in processing the various people who travelled from Prince Edward Island in 2084 back to Melrose in our own time, along with the recreation of our local tourist attraction: Sir Parlane MacFarlane and Dominic Doubleday are in custody at Hawick Police Station, their two bodyguards - Digby and Percy - have been identified by DNA as the two Russian Oilygarchs, Paderewski Varolov (Percy) and Dmitri Dosvedanya (Digby) who went missing after attempting to steal the Journal of Sir Parlane from the Danes and the Very Reverend Angus MacAngus, are being held in Melrose and awaiting a representative of the Russian Embassy in London before they are taken to Edinburgh on charges of attempted murder and theft; the DA from the Bronx, Ms Crystal Shann-Delyeer and her friend Flora Dora are staying at The Ship Inn, courtesy of Rusty Nails and Doughty Douglass - they both originated in the same period as the newly arrived Isa and Milly and have no desire to return to present day New York, so have resigned themselves to staying here unless someone can figure out a way to transport them to their own time; the three New York journalists, Hyman Kaplan, Rose Mitnick and Sadie Moskowitz, who were assisting Isa and Milly on Prince Edward Island, are working on a book and movie deal about their experience; and the Neanderthals - of yes, we mustn't forget them - continue to live in the replica of the Eildons and have been helping the Scottish Borders Mountain Rescue Service survey the original hills, to create a 3D map of the interior, the caves, tunnels, entrances, detritus even, of their home in 32,018 BC and their Head Man, Nigel, has been elected to Melrose Community Council; my aunts, Daphne, Maude and May, and a team from Scottish Natural Heritage are working on a scale model of the now Double Eildons and planning the archaeological work which has been proposed to the Scottish Government; so while I have been in the doldrums since my eye operation, everyone else has been working away like beavers - but Ludmilla Lermontova and Jasmine Juniper-Green have been keeping me up to date with their investigations into MacFarlane and Doubleday - they are determined find out exactly where, in the Past, Future, or Present, that pair of murderous deviants have reached in their own chronology: when I expressed my doubts as to the possibility, they showed me a Time-Line they have constructed, demonstrating the sequence of appearances in different years, different centuries, different places, since their Time/Space travels began back in the 13th Century; quite honestly, it makes my mind boggle, for I don't have their grasp of the intricate minutiae of Worm Holes and the Wrinkling of the Space/Time Continuum, and the jumps MacFarlane and Doubleday made from their Martial roles in Roman Scotland, to 19th Century London, to pre-World War II Germany, in Glasgow after the war, and to Antarctica during it, or St Petersburg at the time of the Russian Revolution, even Minto and Liverpool in the 1840s, but it's nice to have anyone willing to spend some time with me; but then I had an idea: "show it to Little Levy Balquhidder, you know, the little boy who is in regular contact with The Creator? he's got a new baby sister, Wee Winnie, and I understand that her Spirit is the one he calls Columbine - Jings-oh! if anyone can verify your Time-Line, that pair are the very dab!"
They didn't come in mob-handed, just twos and threes, a mix of young men and women, some older, most casually dressed, a few obviously straight from work, they spread themselves about the bar, it was almost like a spontaneously yet artistically choreographed piece of cinéma vérité although no-one was filming it, yet, and soon had Boffer and Fishy effectively surrounded, which was when they closed in, flashbulbs began popping and the questions came flying: "can you tell us, Prime Minister, are you making a Faustian Electoral Pact with the Wrexit Party?" it was the booming voice of Dan, the Invisible Man, usually heard in Downing Street while Cabinet Ministers are going in or out of Number 10, and it was the spark that lit the fuse and set everything off – soon people were shouting, shoving, tables were overturned, glasses smashed, fists flew, Fishy's mouth wide as the Blackwall Tunnel, Boffer like a frightened rabbit dived into a cupboard, thinking it was an exit door, and fell out backwards with his arms full of mops and one foot stuck in a bucket, cracking his head on the floor when he landed – the regular punters finished their drinks and left, or took them outside, gathering in the narrow lanes around the pub, rather enjoying the eustress, and even recording it on their phones, although none noticed the Strategist par Excellence and his front man as they made their way to where the tandem stood, securely chained: "right Charlie," said Domino Compost, "I think we got our desideratum, can you plonk me down opposite Downing Street?" and with a quiet nod, Charlie pushed off and they were soon lost in the traffic; once he was dropped off, Compost discarded his false beard and, having earlier thrown away his fauxhawk wig, he was admitted to Downing Street, although the police officer who had originally spotted the apparent vagrant with the Gonzo T-shirt and red Doc Martins, now informed the Control Room, where a quick scan of CCTV from Whitehall and Facial Recognition Software – which could see through the hair and beard – identified him as Domino Compost and his journey on the tandem, with a man recognised as Charlie Farley – Compost's closest known associate – at the front, originally following the PM and his bodyguard, then peeling off, was tracked to Bedford Street and the pair were confirmed to have entered the Lamb and Flag a few minutes before the PM; CCTV inside the pub showed that Farley appeared to have sent off a number of SMS messages and a quick hack found that photographs of the PM and the Leader of the Wrexit Party had been sent to all major UK newspapers, press agencies and broadcasters and a call from Compost's own mobile had been made to one journalist who had tweeted the venue, after which about forty reporters and photographers had converged on the pub and the Rest, as they say, is a Mystery; mayhem broke out, the PM's bodyguard had become involved in a scuffle with Fishy Fingers' man and both were taken to hospital, the PM had become entangled with several mops and a bucket, had received a black eye and concussion, and was in hospital, Fingers tried to jump out of a window – through the glass – and lost quite a lot of blood, and he was in hospital, and the Number 10 switchboard was jammed by calls from the media; meanwhile Compost had entered the Bunker from the Cabinet Office, gone down to basement level and through the connecting door to Number 10, collected his laptop and rucksack, grabbed his spare phones and left by the Horse-Guards exit, and no-one knew where he had gone or that he had even been in, except Larry, the Downing Street cat, whose olfactory glands tingled with the strange mixture of scents and danger!
In his Gonzo T-shirt, torn jeans and battered red Doc Martins, Domino Compost, Political Strategist Extraordinaire, might have been taken for the vocalist in a cowpunk band, even to the scowl on his face as he watched Boffer Johnson and his Close-Protection Officer stand side-by-side at the bar, seeming to be almost strangers, a monochrome bas-relief against the colourful background, not even making the pretence of small-talk, for Johnson's eyes were on the door, while his bodyguard scanned the faces in the room, then Compost saw the relief on Boffer's face as the door opened to admit two men, as like Tony Hancock and Sid James as peas in a pod: "the fat fucking bastard," Compost whispered to Charlie, "so much for a bottle-episode, it's gonna be a full-production show-stopper, he's only meeting up with Fishy Fingers – the dirty little traitor, I'll have his guts for garters, you see if I don't; take a snap of them, Charlie and send it to all the Cabinet," and as Charlie, pretending to be talking on his phone, took a number of shots of Boffer and Fishy greeting each other, Fishy accepting a pint of Best. then the two of them moving across to an empty booth, while their Minders remained at the bar and eyed each other suspiciously, Compost dialled a number and when the familiar voice answered, said: "the PM is meeting with the leader of the Brexit Party in the Lamb and Flag, right now," and hung up; that'll be the sharks among the minnows, he thought to himself, now we'll see who can swim the fastest!
The man in the Gonzo T-shirt, leaning against a lamp-post opposite the entrance to Downing Street saw the gates open to allow two police officers pushing bikes to pass through, nothing special in that, he thought and spat into the gutter and suddenly refocused, using the opera-glasses concealed in his hand, yes! one of the officers was from the Number 10 Specials, the other, a rather tubby red-head, he had never seen before, at least, not in uniform, so he zoomed in on the face – yes! it was Boffer Johnson, the PM in a ginger wig, so he was right, the bastard was definitely up to something. so Domino Compost, Super-Strategist, raised his hand and a moment later, Charlie pulled the tandem in beside him, complete with a spare helmet strapped to the ear seat; it took a moment for Compost to discard his own fauxhawk wig and jam the helmet onto his shaved head: "follow those two Noddies," he said and swung his leg over, as Charlie began to pedal; was the PM's disguise germane to whatever nefarious activity he was embarking on, on merely a subterfuge? time would soon tell and as the tandem shadowed the two cyclists up ahead, towards Trafalgar Square, but cutting off to the right and taking a shortcut to the Strand, it became obvious to Compost that they weren't heading for a Police Station, so where? and then it came to him: "Bedford Street, Charlie, we can head them off," and Charlie cut across two lanes of traffic, heading towards Covent Garden - appropriate, thought Compost, if the first fruit of Boffer's betrayal is produced here! they parked the tandem, double-chained to a set of railings and then made their way on foot, managing to slip into the pub without catching sight of Boffer and his bodyguard: inside The Lamb and Flag, an historic hostelry which was once a regular meeting place for a variety of Left-Wing groups, mainly because it was so close to the long-time headquarters, on the corner of Bedford Street and King Street, of the Communist Party of Great Britain; but the red-flag waving Bolsheviks, together with Socialists, Anarchists, Ban-the-Bombers, Irish Nationalists and an assortment of other Fellow Travellers, had long gone and given way to an eclectic mix of Hippies, Yippies, Yuppies, Guppies and Buppies, Greens, Beans and Vegan Tree-Huggers, Muggers, Gay Buggers, Tea Baggers and Lezzy Shaggers, so no-one turned an eye as Domino and Charlie walked up to the bar and, as the place wasn't yet as crowded as it would be later, were able to order two pints and find themselves a table from which Domino could keep an eye on the door by way of a small, craftily placed mirror; so it was just a minute later that Boffer and Sergeant Sargent of the Special Protection Unit pushed their way in and after a brief scan of the room, moved towards the bar.
The lone man squatted against a tree just a few yards from Downing Street, while one of the armed police inside the gates kept a weather eye on him – much longer and he'd be told to move along – his long fauxhawk hair and beard gave him an infuriating itch, but he had a very important reason for keeping out of sight and in a disguise completed by the Gonzo T-shirt, torn jeans and battered red Doc Martins, so couldn't scratch his face or scalp for fear of giving himself away: he didn't trust his employer, the braying buffoon, Boffer Johnson, probably destined to become the briefest serving Prime Minister in British History (not quite the shortest, not quite the fattest, maybe even not quite the stupidest – though that was moot – but certain to be remembered for the same reason as Lady Jane Grey) and needed to confirm some of his suspicions, so if he was taken for a poor homeless beggar on the streets of London, well, he'd only be one in a good many thousands and no-one ever noticed them – except for having to step over them when coming out of the Royal Opera House, of course – but he guessed that one of the officers would have seen him by now and wondered what he was up to, so Domino Compost stood up, lit a cigarette and swinging his Tesco carrier, casually crossed the road.
And while in 1914 the émigrés were spending their third day facing the German level crossing, where the two armies still seemed to be passing each other, marching north and south between the gates that blocked the railway lines, with three trains queued behind their own and another four visible on the far side, just disappearing out of sight beyond the trees – although it might have easily been in a parallel universe – late last night, down in the crypt beneath the Palace of Westminster, in the infamous Floozies' Bar, the three Conservative Members of Parliament for the Beddingshire Constituencies - (North) Sir Pompus MacFarlane, (Mid) Mr Digby Doubleday (and South) Ms Natalie Rhombus – were drinking to the Good Health of the new PM and Confusion to his enemies, and Natalie was saying: "of course he's got a Plan, and a very cunning one if you ask me," which raised Sir Pompus' eyebrows – one far higher than the other – and he chortled: "not on your Nellie Duff, my dear girl, it's The Wraith wot's got the Plan, old Boffer's never had a Plan in his puff, and saying he wants to unite the country, that's a laugh, nothing esemplastic about Boffer!" at which Digby looked askance, as only he could: "a waif? a ghost? in Number 10 – have you seen it Sir P?" which brought a withering look to the Elder Statesman's tanned features, and he snorted: "it's not a bloody ghost, Diggers, it's that Domino Compost, you idiot!" and Digby took a gulp of his beer, belched and said "aaaah, gotcha, Sir P, the Strategy Supremo, well he did bloody good with Rats Vote Leave, if anyone can get Boffer out of the shit, he's yer man," and leered at Natalie: "how bout you, Nat, ever done the old horizontal Tango with a Waif?" at which Sir Pompus hissed: "it's Wraith, you cretin, not Waif, that's like a street kid," and Digby winked, "gotcha, Sir P, a fancy kinda Rent Boy!" and received a kick on the shin under the table and after a few seconds yelped, the distance for a message to travel from his lower leg to his brain making his reaction always a little out of sync, which often meant that people would stare at him, wondering why he had yelped; "the trouble is," said MacFarlane, lowering his voice and his head, so that his friends had to move their own heads lower and closer to hear him above the buzz of hilarity that was always present in here, and he explained: "he's sometimes so many moves ahead that he misses what's happening behind him, if you get my drift," and Digby grinned: "like a goal-scorer putting himself offside, cos he knows where the ball's gonna go but the backs have moved out of the penalty area cos they've not seen it coming – is that wot you mean?" and Sir Pompus' closed his eyes in order that he could compose himself, then shook his head: "you could put it that way, Diggers, although I'd rather you didn't – it's more to do with the nature of Boffer himself, he'd be no use at Poker, if he's got a good hand, and you could say that Domino dealt him a very good hand indeed, he can't sit still, keep his lips zipped, let the others play the way he wants them to, no, he can't sit still and keep that stupid grin off his face, he keeps looking at his hand and laughing and everyone can see he's got a flush or a full house, can practically identify his cards because they can read his rubber lips as he says to himself, "three aces and two kings," or "ten, jack, queen, king, ace," so nobody bets against him and he keeps piling cash on the table and when everyone folds he realises it's his own money he's pulling in and then he starts blaming the other players, he just can't help it; just like he let everyone know, weeks ago, that he was setting up to blame the EU if he got his No Deal, everyone and his dog could see it, except Boffer himself; and the same with Proroguing Parliament, splitting the Party to get rid of the Remainers, forcing a Confidence Vote, trying to bully the Opposition into a General Election, even the man on a Clapham Omnibus could see what was going on, but Boffer just couldn't let it work it's way through, he was too busy shouting that he'd got a great wheeze that would enable him to trounce the Socialist Revolutionaries and European Unionists with a single stroke," and Natalie sighed: "and he really put Lizzie in a spot, didn't he, sending that long drip Jacobo Moggie up to Balmoral to get her autograph?" and Digby woke up: "what on Earth was Moggie doing lying down on the Treasury Bench?" he asked apropos of nothing, but Nat giggled, "psycho-analysis," she said, and Digby shook his head: "the Chamber's really not the place to ask for Colonic Massage!," and Sir Pompus groaned: "the fogey's got far too much of the ascesis for my taste, like Walter Pater and his aesthetes, bloody Pansies, the lot of them! of course, all the Moggies are a bit strange," referring to inhabitants of Mogerhanger in his Constituency by their demonym, which was the origin of the Leader of the House's family name, but Natalie defended Jacobo: "probably had a stiff neck, from trying to face two ways at once, it's a very demanding job he's got," and "that's right," cried Digby, seizing on this adscititious cause, "like that Roman God, wotsername? oh yes, Janice!"
At first a few climbed down to the tracks, then some more, until at last all the passengers were stretching their legs and watching the armies pass each other on the level crossing: "it's the Kaiser' unbirthday celebrations," joked one of the musicians: "they're going to inthronize a prize porker as Emperor," laughed one of the set-painters; while Heinz Beinz, an essential part of the Cabaret's non-performing company, a bricoleur-of-all-trades who could glaze a window, re-line a smoky chimney, mend a fault in the plumbing, climb up a slender ladder and re-hang the Stage Curtain, shoe a horse, and of course, extemporize a campfire for the cooks from the train to start sizzling sausages, black pudding, cutlets and other delicacies out in the open; and that's what attracted the officer, a Captain in the Hussars, to ride up from the level crossing and ask a few diffident questions about the train and it's passengers – he was interested in numbers, but made no mention of papers or passports, never asked for names or occupations, or even the purpose of the journey; and he never glanced in the direction of the engine, with it's larger than usual complement of firemen: clearly, the workers who drove or signalled or served on a train were beneath his lofty view, merely cogs in the machine; at length, munching on a Wienerschnitzel one of the cooks had offered him, the Captain rode back down to the gates and gazed north and south, apparently unsure which direction his troupe had taken, tossed a coin, caught it, and headed north: "silly fool," the driver shouted down, "we saw 'is fellers come from the north, 'eaded south, lessen 'e's decided it ain't worth the sweat, an jest goin 'ome!"
Fortunately, the Border Guards who had been exfiltrated by the crew of the train had sufficient cunning to have taken the body of their late Sergeant with them and fed it into the engine's furnace, thus ensuring that the murdrum should be a well-kept secret and the unusual disappearance of the entire squad from their Post, became a mystery shrouded among the mists of the mountains, spoken of to this day in hushed tones in isolated farms and round the fires of wayside inns, and oft-quoted as evidence of pandeism and a God who failed to supervise his Creation properly, having become too close and over-involved until he was swallowed up by it, still able to watch from distant peaks or hear in rushy glens, but unable to direct it's development or care for it's inhabitants, but that is often the case with Creators – they are apt to either become over-involved, unable to stand back, to let go, or else they lose interest after a while and move on to something newer and more stimulating; but the train kept on rolling, the engine's steam-whistles and horns mingling with the rhythmic rattle as it swung around the lakes, sounding even more like a calliope heralding a travelling Fair than a run-away train, until. . . . .the brakes squealed, the wheels screeched, the passengers stumbled, toppled, rolled and shrieked, until at last everything and everyone stopped moving and heads poked out of windows, only to discover that their progress had been halted at a level-crossing, the gates guarded by soldiers, as an army marched North, while another marched South, and every man was armed with a quarterstaff which gave the entire scene an oddly mediaeval air about it.
So, while Nurse Hilda looked after the badly beaten Border Guard, Private 3rd Class Norbert Gluck, Jakob's girlfriend and partner in Cabaret Voltaire, Miriam Apfelbaum was rehearsing with her Kletzmer Band, Goodnight Vienna – they had a new Yiddish song, dashed off by the team of Kohle Gepäckträger and Israel Isidore Beilin about a downtrodden soldier, Schnozz Unterdinckke, abused by the brackish Officer Krupke, who himself becomes a well-deserved victim of murdrum at the hands of the heroic Brigand Chief Grigory Peckschmid, into whose band of Boyish Brigands the poor soldier is welcomed by the kindredly crew, and there he meets, falls in love with, and woos around their mountainous campfire, the glorious redheaded Bandit Queen, Ginger Maxmattz (the Chantwell part sung by Miriam, while Siggy Steinschloss, the Cantor in his local Synagogue, sings a schmaltzy Tenor for Schnozz and beefy Baritone for Grigory); "hey, two parts for the price of one is like BOGOF, almost as good as wholesale," according to Eggs Benedict, Mnukhh in Shlum – gone but not forgotten by two of his three best friends!
That the Austrian Border Guards just out of Salzburg should wave the train through was expected; that the German Border Guards on the other side of the Border should order it to halt was not unexpected; that the Sergeant in command of the German Border Guards was a martinet was a given; that he was detested by the four Guards in his squad was obvious; that their thoughts entertained the idea of murdrum was absolutely justified; that those thoughts were self-propagating to the extent that Grigor, the Doorman from the Cabaret Voltaire, should be moved by them was not quite anticipated by any of the other passengers on the train; but that when, stepping onto the platform for a cigarette and to share some of his flask of schnapps with the Guards, Grigor should learn from the Corporal that the fifth – and missing – Guard had been whipped at the stake by the Sergeant because he had been caught earning a few pfennigs from distributing leaflets aimed at achieving some kind of xerocracy for poorly paid and ill-treated men such as themselves was something no-one could have anticipated; that, seeing a solitary passenger drinking, chatting and smoking with his squad should incite the Sergeant to such paroxysms of bloodcurdling spleen to the extent that, while berating his men in the most despicable fashion, he should draw his sword and wave it in the direction of Grigor's head, was something so out of the ordinary that it drew cries and screams from the other passengers who by this time were clustered at every window on that side of the train; but that in the space of a few seconds, while the Sergeant's sword described an arc in the air above his unprotected neck, Grigor should manage to lean over and reach towards his ankle, as if to tie his bootlaces, have sufficient time to pull something from within his trouser-leg, raise his hand with an old army revolver in it, and seemingly without taking a moment to aim, fire a bullet which tore the Sergeant's throat open, halting him in his tracks, so that the sword fell from his – by then lifeless – fingers and fall to the platform even before the sound of the shot had stopped ricocheting around the mountains, was both utterly logical and justifiable, if not quite what anyone would have foreseen a scant five minutes earlier; that Grigor should drive the squad of Guards onto the train and beg Jakob and Kermit to allow them to be hidden among the passengers before anyone having heard the shot came to find out what had happened was undeniably just; that the Engine Driver should take two men to help his fireman shovelling coal and the train's Guard take the other two to help him in his wagon which contained the provisions for the journey, thus providing them all with cover, was evidence of Unity among the Workers of the World; that before leaving, Grigor should carry the Guard who had been beaten, from his bunk in the Guardhouse and place him in a sickroom under the care of Hilda Hornung, identified on her Swiss Passport as a Nurse, although before the journey she was actually Heidi Huff, an acerbic political cartoonist in Hackensack's News Agency, whose work was syndicated across Europe from the Dardanelles to Dunkirk, showed such strength of character that the Management Board of Cabaret Voltaire unanimously voted a substantial bonus for Grigor even as the train was blowing it's whistle and just starting to move on.
As the train rattled through the Austrian countryside, the travellers, all busy memorising their new Swiss identities provided by Kermit Hackensack, were for the most part oblivious of the scenery, and Jakob Feldman moved along the corridors, first to check that everyone was aboard and secondly, to ensure that their stories would hold up when it came to the first Border crossing, where they would enter Germany, although Kermit – a more seasoned international traveller – had assured him that as the train would only be making a relatively short detour before re-entering Austria for the final run towards Liechtenstein and then crossing the Swiss Border, the German Border Guards would not be particularly interested: "we won't have any stops in Germany, so they will have no reason to be concerned, for as we shall not set foot on German soil, and the interior of this train is ex contractu Swiss, diplomatically, we don't exist!" but Jakob, by nature, always expected something unexpected to happen and wanted everyone to be word-perfect; he wasn't too worried about the Cabaret Voltaire performers, who were used to memorising songs or dialogue, often at short notice, and even handling hecklers, nor the staff from Hackensack's International News Agency, all of whom were bilingual – at least – but rather the back-room workers, the wardrobe mistresses, scenery builders, props, lighting, administrative staff, usherettes, box-office girls, stage-hands and the two boys who sold programmes, niggled at him: they were loyal, supportive and enthusiastic about the Cabaret and it's aims, but they all had a lot to learn about their cover stories and unlike the actors had no experience in creating and adopting a character – the slightest discordant note, a tirrit brought on by anxiety or panic, could upscuttle the whole venture: "you have to believe that you are the person identified in your passport, Frau Gertrude Stieffle," he impressed on the middle-aged woman who worked alternate nights in the box-office, "think about the kind of person she is, you are, about the place where you were born and lived as a child, your childhood friends, your first Communion, going to dances, where you live now, who you live with, what you do in Zurich in your spare time, what you spoke with your doctor about the last time you had a consultation," he advised her: "these are all the grace notes in a characterisation which no-one will hear, because they are in your heart and head but if you believe them, it augurs well for the person glancing at your papers being more likely to believe that you are the person carrying them, the person entitled to carry them; he has no good reason not to," and she nodded gratefully, thinking of how she was always able to tell her husband that a new hat cost half of what she had paid for it, because she had been telling herself that very same story on her way home, and so he never doubted her; and the newly re-named Herr Franz Stieffle thought back to all the things she had told him over the years and wondered if any of them were true and remembered also how easily he knocked off a couple of beers from the total he had drunk while out at the local bar with his workmates, and wondered if it was too late in life for him to become an actor instead of a salesman – and then realised that he had actually been an actor all his working life!
And as the train taking them all to Zurich began to pull out of the station, Jakob Feldman found a seat in a compartment where Dada Heidler, the Artistic Director of Cabaret Voltaire, with his girlfriend Magda Bloom and his sister Paula – one of Kermit Hackensack's large Secretarial Department – were discussing this rapid change in their lives and fortunes: "this will be the first time outside Austria," said Paula, with a mixture of excitement and apprehension, her face glowing at the prospect: "of course Dada has been to England, you know, Herr Feldman?" and the young artist grinned: "well, really just Liverpool, I don't think that equals the whole country just a lowly job in the hotel where my brother Alois worked, and most of his friends were from Dublin or Belfast," and Jakob remembered being told that Dada's sister-in-law was an Irish woman, as the young man continued: "in fact, a lot of the hotel staff were Irish and some of them even spoke their Gaelic, so it probably wasn't really typical of England at all," and he laughed, "you know, before yesterday's Company Meeting, if anyone had said I'd soon be scurrying out of Austria like a thief in the night, and heading for neutral Switzerland like a traitor, I'd have laughed in his face – you want to hear something?" and Jakob nodded, then Dada said: "well, I don't feel like a traitor at all – oh, yes, a few years ago, when I was mixed up with those irascible Nationalist Germans with all their grandiloquent denunciations, blaming and scapegoating, I too would have said that we were all traitors, had made Faustian bargains to save our own skins, but I've changed so much, thanks to you Jakob, and Magda and Miriam and everyone else in Cabaret Voltaire – I realise that this war is a spat between the Crowned Cousins, it's not even about Franz Ferdinand and the Bosnians any more, but more about Empirical Expansion; young Tristan loaned me a book by Friedrich Engels and about thirty years ago he predicted just what is happening now and like Herr Hackensack said yesterday, the whole of Europe is going to become the funeral pyre of an entire generation – well, if War is an Extreme Measure of Population Control. . . . ." and he hung his head for a moment then looked back up, with his usual cheeky grin restored: ". . . . . I suppose our emigration to Switzerland could be regarded as a Minim of a Measure of Population Control for the benefit of Austria!"
"Ecce!" cried a station porter, pausing in the act of transferring luggage from a trolley to the train: "Anarchist Assassin!" and he stared at Grigor, as if challenging him to deny the accusation, but Pearl Pinkus and her sister Pola, burst out laughing: "naughty Polly, bad parrot!" and explained in several languages to the porter and his mate who gawped, bewildered by the onslaught from to two elderly women, that as ever man trod shoe-leather, their pet had developed a life-long fear of Anarchist Assassins and was forever trying to start a hue-and-cry by accusing men in general and respectable police officers, sailors, ex-soldiers, railway porters and door-to-door salesmen of being such villains, on the run, and the offer of some currant cake convinced the porters that the parrot was one of those hyper-vigilant citizens forever trying to create mayhem where no grounds existed, so when Pearl put the thick cover over the cage, the quieted bird was moved onto the train and Grigor moved his hand away from his ankle and the revolver and sat back on the bench with a feeling of desuetude replacing the sense of panic and fear that he might so easily have been arrested; by which time the other newly-naturalized Swiss passengers from the Cabaret Voltaire and Kermit Hackensack's News Agency had arrived and were about to begin boarding; but first Kermit explained that their two Wagons-Lit coaches and the dining-car which was positioned between them, would be taken by an Austrian Imperial Railways engine to the Border with Germany, just west of Salzburg, then the Austrian locomotive would be replaced with a German one, which would take them for the short dog-leg west skirting the Chiemsee to Rosenheim and then south towards Kiefersfelden and back into Austria, where yet another Austrian locomotive would take over for the long sweep towards Switzerland: "as this is an Express Train," said Hackensack, "there will only be a few stops – when the engines are being changed over – we shall stay on board these Wagons-Lit carriages until the train arrives at it's destination – Zurich; the only people who will board it, will be Border Guards when we cross the Austrian-German border twice, at Nirgendwoistville and Derortmitkeynnomen, then Liechtenstein Border Guards when we enter the Principality and Swiss when we cross the final frontier into Switzerland; our restaurant car is stocked with a week's provisions . . . . ." and to cries of anger and distress that a journey of only 593 kilometres might take a whole week, he appealed for calm: "it should only take us two days but I have allowed for delays; Austria and Germany are officially at war with France, Great Britain, Russia and pretty much everyone else and their railway networks are now carrying military materiel – the desire of a group of Neutrals," and he looked up as though asking the Lord to forgive this necessary deception, "to go Home already, is secondary to their war preparations – be grateful we're not trying to get from Zurich to St Petersburg, now that would be quite another kind of journey!
Grigor the Doorman slept not a wink – his bags were packed half an hour after he returned to his room when the Grande Finale of the Cabaret Voltaire finished and he spent the rest of the night checking and rechecking everything, from his toothbrush to the old revolver he had wangled after his brief military service in the Balkans thirty years ago; he took it apart, oiled it and put it back together three times, counted the bullets he still had (17) and tried to hide it among his clothes, in his greatcoat and eventually strapped it to his wooden leg after practising his Quick-Draw technique, and once he had it down to seven seconds he was satisfied; then, in the doldrums of the wee small hours he kept his mind active by reading his only book, Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and Travels, for the fort-seventh time, but ere he reached the end his little alarm clock chimed 6am and it was time to leave; naturally, he was the first to arrive at the station and found the Queueing Point – the passengers for Zurich were to board the overnight St. Petersburg-Wien-Nice-Cannes Express in two private carriages which were officially designated as Swiss Territory so would not be examined by Customs Officers at the German Border; from Strasbourg they would join another train travelling from Paris to Zurich; all the details of their itinerary would be with their tickets and passports when Herr Hackensack arrived at the station – in the meantime, Grigor made himself comfortable beside a newspaper vendor, spruiking the Headlines into his sales-pitch: "Read all about it – Millions to Starve in Winter Wa-ar! Emperor Predicts New Austria from Adriatic to German Sea-ee; Three Players Die in Football Friendly in Bos-nia-aa!" next came the two octogenarian Pinkus sisters who oversaw the Costume Department, with seven large suitcases and a parrot in a cage – the parrot took an instant dislike to Grigor and began squawking: "Anarchist Assassin on Run!" which then became part of the newspaper seller's spiel.
Quadrivial Quandary (QQ) is owned and operated by Rudi Seitz.
Sentences submitted to QQ are the property of their authors. See our page on Copyright Information for details.
Dictionary definitions are the property of their respective sources, presented here via public RSS feeds or otherwise with permission.
All other material is copyright 2015 by Rudi Seitz, all rights reserved.
Use of this site is governed by our terms of service.
Contact: rudi at quadrivialquandary dot com.