But the two sneaky spies had been seen – from Scott's Place, where Ulla Ulp, redoubtable, party-spirited, and equally devious, was snapping them with the Night Vision App on her phone as they were silhouetted against the luminaria-glow of the dim Toc H Aladdin's lamp in the window of Talbot House – for who and what they were, no oryzivorous cyberpunks, but black-hearted villains intent on dirty misdeeds, and Ulla wa a good enough lip-reader, even under such adverse conditions, to know exactly what their nefarious scheme was, which enabled her to quickly come up with a counter-scheme of her own, which she would put into operation in the morning: "and a very Merry Christmas to you too, Sir Parlane MacFarlane," she thought to herself as she emerged at the top of East Port and turned down towards Market Square, passing the other end of the Lane and making for Burt's Hotel where, as part of her cover-story, she had been staying since her return from the fruitless visit to Mother Kelly's in Bowden, and now everything was falling into place, "how very convenient! it almost makes me believe that there is a Santa Claus," and she laughed an unexpectedly bass laugh which caused a passing moggie to squeal and scurry for the deep, dark, shadows of Nutwood Lane!
Between the jactancy of Grigory Rasputin and the discrimination of Laszlo Licinic, poor Algie would have been run ragged, had Aggie not blown her owl whistle: tu-whit tu-whoooooo! and called the entire company to order: "friends, brothers, sisters, fellow pilgrims – my brother is not your dogsbody, please don't treat him as such, all are equal under the Toc H Lamp and if everyone does their fair share of the work, we shall have time for a nightcap before we all turn in – remember, tomorrow we rise at dawn and set off on the first stage, so: chop-chop!" and with a clap of her hands set them all to undertake their necessary tasks, but no-one within saw the two pairs of eyes spying on them from without, through a tiny gap in the curtains!
And that was how it came to pass that Dai Davies – once he'd recovered his senses and overcome the bewilderment which was the first thing to strike him on opening his eyes, and regain his grasp of English, which is to say, the Welsh equivalent – became one of the Pilgrims setting off from Melrose for Lindisfarne; his natural demeanour being characterised by that eutrapely which permits of lively and engaging conversation – being one of those people who are genuinely interested in others, with no hint o even the mildest xenophobia – he threw himself wholeheartedly into the project and spent the next couple of days researching the history, culture topography, geology, zoology, ornithology and every other ology he could think of for the stretch of country through which the Pilgrimage would progress; even Aggie, at least twice his age, probably more, was observed to have acquired a certain minauderie when in his company – even if there were others closer in his presence – but Algie just laughed when Pete commented on this: "one thing you might as well know now about Aggie, Pete Lad, is she isn't interested in men, not in that way, she has her own tendencies, I'll say no more, but she does have a soft spot for any who seek enlightenment, men or women both, and in young Dai, she senses a desire to know everything there is to know and she'll foster that; mind, once we hit the road and he gets a few blisters, his thoughts will likely home in on the contents of his socks, and he'll forget half the stuff he's cramming his head with, but it's good to have someone so keen in the party – talk about a crooked mile, we'll probably walk the equivalent of twice the distance as the crow flies over the next week and I saw Dai bring in a dozen notebooks – you know he's made a little writing desk he can hang around his neck? just as long as he keeps one eye on the path in front, we don't want any sprained or broken ankles this time!"
And when he opened his eyes? well, he wasn't in the Upper Room of Wee Wendy's, that was for sure: it was dark, the windows were black hollows, dim lamps burned on sconces attached to the walls, there were pictures on the walls but he couldn't make them out, and faces looking down at him, but not in anger, so he asked where he was, or tried to, but the words came out wrong; one of the faces opened it's mouth as though speaking but the sound seemed to come from somewhere else and never untangled itself enough to make any sense; but his head hurt and he felt gingerly around the dunt near his crown and his fingers came away smeared with sticky, red blood: "we'd best get him to the BGH," said Peter Boo, "who knows what damage has been done to his brain, but Algie shook his head: "if he had been intended to die, he'd be dead, no, Pete, this is one for us, for our own orthopraxy, he needs our shelter, it's the right thing to do," so Bill and Grigory lifted the man from the floor of the Chapel in Talbot House, Melrose's Toc H, and carried him upstairs to one of the guest bedrooms, where Aggie nursed him as she had Pete just a few days earlier, while Pete discussed this sudden arrival with Algie, Bill and Grigory in The Ship Inn over glasses of Laphraoigh: "poor scut looked a mite haggard," said Bill, with a shake of his head, "like he's come through his own personal vision of Hell," agreed Grigory, although Algie had a different slant on the stranger: "those strange words he was speaking, those sounds, twisted and folded back on themselves, but I don't have our new friend for a logodaedalist – it sounds to me that he's speaking Hebrew from the time of Jesus Christ, with a modern Welsh accent, that suggests he's a native of Pontypridd!"
"So what's the name of your firm, Mr Owen?" asked Dai, although he hadn't yet been introduced, but the man accepted his question and said: "well the House is MacFarlane and Doubleday, of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho, with offices in Babylon, Assyria, Egypt and Nineveh, are you familiar with our catalogue, Mr. . . . .?" at which Dai laughed and said: "no really, I'm more of a cops and robbers kind of reader, or aught to do with Science Fiction and Aliens," but the others were clearly no longer listening to him and when he heard Jesus Johnny talking about how the Holy Ghost can empanoply a soul like a suit of armour, he too began to lose interest so he missed a reference the preacher made to The Creator as primum mobile and how he had provided escape hatches in the Space/Time Continuum because by that time Dai had discovered the cache of booze the Disciples had stored in some old tea chests that had obviously come from Ponty, one of them even had a tattered address label for the house next door to Dai's auntie Doris, which was when he felt a whack on his cranium which would have dunted a teapot, and he fell to floor, stunned!
As they climbed the stairs to the Upper Room, Dai was grateful to notice that Golly – who he was convinced to be a pork pie short of a picnic since his encounter with Wee Davie on the battlefield – was quite out of puff and so had stopped rambling on about dead men walking and all the other nonsense; certainly Dai would never describe Golly as a nithing, for there was nithing mean, cowardly, callous or such-like in his personality, but he could be a tad hot-headed and prone to acting – or speaking – before his brain was engaged, and Dai smiled as he thought that, but for his size, strength and bearing, there had always been something of the flibbertigibbet about his friend, not that Dai – always circumspect and cautious in these things – would air that thought, no, some things better unsaid than regretted; when the door was opened at Golly's knock, which sent shivers through the old tenement, it was on a strange scene: a line of leaning men, like a raguly row of notches – or, actually, the long teeth that one often saw in old men and women of forty, gapped and decaying, stood along the far wall, some so far off the perpendicular that if the neighbour against whom they were wedged moved away, they would surely topple, and before them, like a teacher or drill sergeant, stood the famous – or infamous, depending – Jesus Johnny, the very man who Golly said had saved him from being buried alive; the Preacher turned and threw his arms wide, embracing Golly like old friends – or lovers even, thought Dai, then rebuked himself for such an unworthy notion – as the men against the wall, released from the leader's focus, toppled over like a line of dominoes: that was it, dominoes, said Dai, then clamped his hand over his mouth, but he needn't have worried, for the Disciples, all twelve of them, had quickly scrambled to their feet and surrounded the newly re-united pair and there was so much hand-shaking, back-slapping, shoulder gripping, embracing, kissing, high- and low-fiving, together with exclamations, cries and whoops, that the whole room seemed to echo and multiply the noise into a crescendo; but then Dai noticed the man who had opened the door and was half-hidden behind it, seeming to merge into the shadows and Dai recalled his previous thoughts about Golly and decided that this man, whoever he was, was certainly a nithing, to be aware of, wary of, and to keep a weather-eye on, because it was almost as though the man had a black aura which told Dai that someone would die for this man's benefit! and then Jesus Johnny called the man over: "come here, Owen, meet Goliath, he's the one who lives to tell the tale of Death Overcome!" and he introduced Golly to this Owen, apparently a publisher of sermons and prayers with whom the Preacher was negotiating a deal for a series, or maybe even an anthology, and Dai suspected that Owen was a con-man and that he would make a fortune out of the deal and Jesus Johnny would be lucky if he ever received a mite.
As Goliath MacGillycuddy and his old friend Dai Davies made their way through the teeming streets of Jerusalem, it's markets thronged with erstwhile holidaymakers from Pontypridd and Llareggub who'd long overstayed their original welcome to the extent that they were now fully integrated with the resident population, the giant, in surprisingly mellifluous tones couldn't help but deliver himself of a homily on "ra futility o thinkin only aboot ra day an ra morra: cos ah'm a kinda prototype o whit kin become o onyane wha's re-born in the sicht o the Creator: see, yon Jesus Johnny, he's goat the gift o Heilin Hauns, kin mak the blin see agen, cripples pick up their beds an woks, Mutt an Jeff fowk hear burdies chirpin an loons whustlin, even men wha've snuffed it arise an gaun noo, an gaun tae Inishfree, or the bookies, or the chippie, doon ra Swannie, or onywhaur they wannie; efter ah've thankit him ah'm goannie jine his band o Merrie Men an spreed the wurd, mebbe even chinge ma auld name tae sumpn mair Christian, like Harry or Peter, an gaun aw ower the wurld proclaimin Him as the Messiah!" and Dai gied him a funny look as if to say, 'thon pebble's dun mair'n gie ye a wee spot o concussion, Golly, it's scrambled yer brains an mair aside – yer totally Mental!'
"Golly!" said Dai Davies, the Groom of the Stool to the Governor, the Ponty Pilot, in astonishment, "Golly, is it really you?" and Goliath stepped out of the shadows and close to his old friend, an air of contemptus mundi hanging around his shoulders like an old cloak as if to say: 'dinnae expect me tae bother ma erse wi yer crap, ah've goat mair important things tae think aboot,' but, "they teltus you wis deid," the groom stammered, shamefaced, and Goliath waved it away as he might a belch or fart from a child: "jist concussion, so the doc says, a wee bit pebble, nae permanent herm dun, but thon Galilean, ye ken the ane, Jesus bar Joseph, his pals are sayin he raised me frae the deid – ah'd been pit in a wuddin boax and drapped in a hale in the grund, an iffen he hudnae come by ah'd huv been birrit alive, sae ah'm luikin fur him tae thank him, d'ye ken whaur he's bidin?" and the groom thought for a moment than snapped his fingers: "ah dae, Golly, him an his Disciples ur in the Upper Room at Wee Wendy's, mind hur?" and a look of delectation brightened Goliath's eyes: "the midget? wi the muckle Bristols? wha cood ferget hur? lead the wey, Dai, bach, lead they wey."
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."
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