The Viennese Job (A Night at the Opera) – a short story involving old friends from "Good Omens"
LINZ, Austria, summer 1908.
Gustl woke abruptly from sleep, knowing something was badly wrong but not being quite able to put his finger on the reason. Somebody was screaming, nearby, in real and urgent terror. He shook his head, lurching back into consciousness, and realized the screamer was his room-mate, who was sitting straight up in bed, staring fixedly at the opposite wall. He moaned in inchoate terror as Gustl fumbled for a Lucifer to relight the gas mantle. As the gas caught and the light spurted and spitted into life, Gustl saw the look on the younger man's face was one of fixed animal fear, his eyes wide open, the pupils dilated, the lower jaw hanging slackly open, his back arched rigid against the wall.
"They're here! Again!"
"Be calm, Dolfi." Gustl attempted to soothe his room-mate. He relaxed slightly. He knew Dolfi had these night terrors occasionally, but that still made them no less frightening to the onlooker. Especially an onlooker who had just been dragged up from a deep content sleep.
"They're still here! There! In the corner! Evil!"
Gustl looked into the shadows at the other end of the room and just for a moment wondered… but no, it had to be a trick of light and shadow.
Hastur grinned at Ligur.
"Sometimes, you can really get some satisfaction out of this job!" he remarked, nodding in a friendly manner towards Dolfi, who was still transfixed by mortal terror. As you would, if a Duke of Hell had just materialized in your bedroom and was regarding you in a thoughtful manner.
"I'd be careful there." Ligur advised Hastur. "His mate, that streak of piss on a stick, nearly spotted you. Keep an eye on how far you materialize. We're supposed to be a figment of his imagination, remember!"
Ligur ventured a nod in the direction of Dolfi, the sort of friendly inclination of the head that says We know who you are and we know where to find you, so rest assured we'll be back, friend. We need something from you, and when we come to collect, it had better be ready!
"What gets me" Hastur said, reflectively, "is, why him, right? Why has Below taken an interest in this weedy little goit? I mean, layabout, stays in bed till gone midday, lives off Welfare, failed his bleedin' entry exams for art college, and THAT takes some doing. It's not as if he'll end up ruling the world, or something."
"Orders, Hastur" said Ligur. "We're to make such an impression on him that it makes him receptive to implantation of instructions later. So Below must have some purpose for him!"
"OK. Let's close off for the night, shall we? We've got to the stage where he's lying there paralysed with fear. Let's slowly approach the bed…"
"Grinning all the time…"
"Get within about three feet of his face…"
"And then fade out. Who's running this operation, did Below tell you?"
Elsewhere in Linz, two men of the world are keeping a waiter up, supplying them with kaffee-crème and best brandy. The waiter doesn't mind: he knows the Count and the Herr Graf are courteous aristos, and good tippers. If their kaffeeklatch dissolves at four in the morning and he is several gold crowns richer, he certainly won't mind a late night. Besides, the gentlemen are old friends: but as the waiter is merely human, he has no appreciation of exactly how long they have been friends.
Antonius von Kraulei, Landgrave of Manteuffel, leant back in his seat and inhaled the brandy with appreciation, rolling it in the bowl glass just underneath his nose. With half an ear, he listened to the Count talking about his recent visit to England.
"That puritanical Dutchman Van Helsing would be mortified if he knew, but he did me something of a favour when he thwarted my ambitions in England. Anthony, my friend, in this year of nineteen hundred and eight, I see the British Empire is teetering. The Boers very nearly did to it what the Americans achieved, and when a small powerless people humble a great one, you may be sure other subject peoples – shall we mention the Irish? – will get ideas of freedom. And when a great empire which has been used to unrivalled mastery of the world begins to collapse, at first imperceptibly, like the very first flake of snow on a mountainside that begins to slide, taking other snowflakes with it as it gathers momentum, many, many, things will be swept aside in the avalanche that follows. And with the Germans challenging for that sole mastery of the world, there will be war. I give it six years at the maximum."
Von Kraulei nodded. Dracula's political acumen had had nearly a thousand years to develop: it was as finely honed as Sweeney Todd's razor and every bit as incisive.
"Alas, I fear our idyllic little fin-de-siecle will not survive the coming crisis. The British Empire is still powerful and vigorous enough to fight a prolonged war. But our beloved Austro-Hungary is just an empty shell that's persisted for a good hundred years after it actually died. Napoleon killed Austria as a world power. But the corpse still walks the world stage, awaiting a Van Helsing to put a stake through its heart."
"And afterwards?" asked von Kraulei, trying to remember it all so as to be able to report Below later, with a useful political summary that must surely be worth a demerit. He made a mental note to tip off Aziraphale too: this sort of political intelligence would be worth a favour or two in return from the angel. Besides, the angel had bought into the myth of British superiority as only a convert could. Von Kraulei remembered the Last Night of the Proms, with the angel adding his own fervent less-than-celestial harmonies to "Land of Hope and Glory", as if he believed in every word. Should wipe the smile off his face, with any luck.
"I see you are muzzy with good food and drink and civilized surroundings, Anthony." The vampire smiled. "Enjoy it while you can, as I foresee Europe being devastated by war and what comes with it. You're right, you're right!" Dracula held up a hand. "I haven't seen Sable or my lady Incarmadine here yet, but they're coming. They are coming. And Vienna of a thousand dreams will be ruins in the middle of a dead Empire. Anthony, I realize my nine hundred or so years is nothing next to you, but it offers a certain historical perspective. Empires come. Empires go. Soon the European empires will have fallen and even the British, like our dear Austria today, will be nothing more than a dead crumbling shell, needing only a nudge to collapse it."
Kraulei nodded, thoughtfully. This was part of the reason why he'd traveled out to Transylvania to revive the Count, after Van Helsing's holy rollers had staked him. He had learnt that Aziraphale had been offering covert help and assistance to that po-faced humourless Dutchman(1) and his prissy little gang. This had left Von Kraulei free, under the strict terms of the Agreement, to revive Dracula, once all the fuss had died down. Well, killing a vampire is the easy part. Ensuring that it can never rise again is practically impossible. And there aren't many other people about, who are practically immortal, with whom you can discuss memories of 1147 as if they were only yesterday. Well, Aziraphale had what's his name, that Jewish bloke, Ahasueras? Finds it difficult to settle down anywhere, who's clocked up nearly two thousand. Just as well, really, as the Angel and Dracula weren't exactly temperamentally suited to each other's close company. And then there was St Germain, one of those enigmatic buggers who was as happy in Kraulei's company as he was in Aziraphale's.
And that was it, really, for the world's true immortals, if you left out the Four, and the Great Vampire, who, let's face facts, was more an occasional field agent from Below, kind of talent-scout sort of thing.
In life, Vlad Tepules Dracula had been a shrewd politician. Oh, and a right bastard. But with the Ottoman Empire pressing him on one side, the Serbian Empire pressing him on the other, and Russia looming up over the horizon, he'd fought and negociated and fought some more to keep Rumania…no, Wallachia, it was then – independent and, if not free, than his. And then, the Great Vampire had shown up, suggesting a certain pact. Keen to retire as king, and tired of the responsibility for a people, Dracula had agreed. And here he was now, nearly a thousand years later. Crowley's opinion was that these first few years of the twentieth century were just too bloody damn quiet. To his suspicious mind, it meant either Heaven or Hell had something big brewing, and he wanted one of the best analytical minds he knew – Dracula's – to give him some hints.
"Although it has yet to realize it, Europe is dying, Anthony. America is where the future is."
"America? I was over there a few years ago." Von Kraulei/Crowley shuddered at the memory. He'd been on assignment from Below to stir things up a little. Oh, he'd remembered the Agreement: as a favour to Aziraphale, he'd suggested to a hopeless dreamer called John Brown that helping slaves escape to non-slaving states would be a good idea. After seeing what life was like for the poor blacks on a cotton plantation in Georgia, this had not been too difficult for him. This meant he could tell Below that he was fomenting tensions across the slaving divide that were resulting in armed skirmishes and bad feelings on the state borders. Meanwhile, Aziraphale could tell Above that a local agent was heroically doing the Ineffable Will by rescuing the enslaved from their chains.
And that business with Carmine Zuigiber at Fort Sumner… they'd teamed up to provoke an exchange of fire between Confederate and Union forces. All Crowley had wanted was another border incident: getting Red mixed up in it had meant it blew up into a full-scale civil war… Crowley took a hasty swig of brandy, wincing at the memory. He'd received a full Approbriation for that one. And another demerit for setting up the Ku Klux Klan after the war, although he'd sworn blind to Aziraphale he'd had nothing to do with it, it was just another of those petty nastinesses that only the human race was capable of. All he'd said, all he'd ever said, was "You need some sort of mask or something, or you're too easily recognized. What sort of stuff have you got to make a mask out of? What, only bedsheets? They'll do, I suppose. And let's get a fire going, people, it's too damn cold out here. Find some old wood to burn, could you?"
"America is where the future is, Anthony. Europe is spent. When the wars I foresee are over, the continent will be ruins and rubble. The British reached their limits as a people some years ago. Germany will get not much further. After that, there is only decline." The vampire shrugged. "After Britain and Germany and France have destroyed themselves in pointless vainglorious wars, America will be untouched, and can only grow and flourish. By the middle of this century, I see that nation as having grown in might and supplanting the British as the world's power. That makes it the place to be, to track and monitor that power as it grows, and to be close to it as it comes into its glory. If Van Helsing had not consigned me to several years' reflection in the grave, I might not have realized this!"
"When do you leave?"
"I'm taking passage to New Orleans next month. I've heard interesting rumours that there may be…others(2)2. Life has been lonely after the destruction of my wives".
"I'm sorry. I couldn't revive them." Crowley said, with genuine regret.
"You tried, Anthony. I will never forget that. They were too…young… in the ways of the Vampire. Too soft to survive the second death."
There was a muted commotion in the background. Riczard the waiter hurried to the table, looking visibly shaken.
"Herr Graf von Kraulei, there are two…gentlemen….here seeking you."
Dracula sniffed the air, and his face twisted into disapproval. "Neither gentle, nor men, in the human sense.". He extended a thin white hand to Crowley. "I will leave you now, Anthony, as these visitors are not to my tastes. But your company was a pleasure, as always. Give my regards to St Germain when you see him next. And to the angel."
Dracula folded his opera cloak theatrically about himself, and was gone: a winged thing circled the room and oriented itself on the open window.
Hell, thought Crowley, sensing who had just arrived. He turned to Riczard, who was goggling in the direction of the window and beginning to cross himself. "Cut that out, it makes me feel uncomfortable!" He pressed a handful of gold crowns into the waiter's palm. "Now – go! Make yourself scarce. These gentlemen aren't into coffee. They don't often drink, and when they do, it isn't any form of fluid you'd willingly give them, verstehen sie? And that money buys your silence."
"Yeah" rumbled Ligur. "Here's a tip, waiter. Bugger off. You haven't seen us."
"You REALLY haven't seen us." Hastur emphasized.
Riczard gratefully raced for the door. It slammed shut behind him.
"Hail Satan!" intoned Hastur.
"All Hail Lucifer!" boomed Ligur.
"Yeah. Hail. Hi, guys." muttered Crowley. The two demons looked at each other and there was an uneasy pause.
"Brothers, let us relate the Doings of the Day!" began Hastur.
"The Deeds. Right." muttered Crowley. There was another meaningful silence.
"I tempted a King." said Ligur. "To set aside affairs of State to pursue a showgirl. He agreed it was his right to take her, as he is King and answerable to nobody. Lust, Greed and Sloth will make him Ours!"
"I helped a theologian write the doctrines of his Church. He set aside divine love and forgiveness in favour of hatred and spite for those whose definition of Christianity is not his. Arrogance and intellectual pride will make him ours!" said Hastur.
"Good ones, good ones. "said Crowley. This time the silence was expectant.
"Look, earlier tonight I got a General pissed."
"That's ALL?" said Hastur.
"It's a big "all". He'll have a stinking hangover and a bad temper tomorrow morning and he'll take it out on his Colonels. Then they'll spread it around their Majors. By the time it gets down to the sergeants, right, that's going to be fifteen thousand pissed-off soldiers looking for ways to pass it on to others. And they'll do it, and this is the good bit, in all sorts of ways they'll think up for themselves. All I needed to do, right, was persuade the man at the top that a few schnapps chasers wouldn't hurt, on top of that strong Hungarian red wine!(3) Thousands of guys get a slightly dirtier slate, thousands, and I barely needed to lift a finger… you're not getting the idea of this, are you?"
If Hastur had needed to breathe, he would have taken a deep one.
"Below is active, Crowley." He let this sink in, and passed a bundle of papers over. Sign for these, please. No, not A.J. Crowley. Your real name. Thank you. OK, that's the mission. You've got two hours to read and assimilate it, strictly no copies to be made. It'll self-destruct after two hours. WE will also be involved. "
Crowley was skimming through the first few pages. He tried not to let it show that his heart was sinking.
"So we're Prospecting? Again?"
"Again." agreed Ligur. "Those clever buggers downstairs, the ones who can dimly glimpse a little of the future, have really been lowering(4) Hell these last few months. Memos to the Boss, recommendations for urgent action to be taken now, this is a great time to be guiding and steering the destinies of a select few hundred humans who if handled properly will go on to do Hell's will, sort of thing. And although it pains me to say it, you are regarded as one of Hell's most effective field agents, so you get the prime Prospect. You know how it runs, Crowley, all you have to do is pop up in his life every so often and steer him onto the right track until it's all done, and Hell can get no more use out of him. Me and Hastur, we've sort of been…. priming… him, to make him more receptive to a friendly face and a sympathetic voice, sort of thing."
"Hur, hur! We don't do friendly and sympathetic, Crowley. 'Least, humans misinterpret our broad friendly smiles, can't think why. But YOU are going to be this little nurk's best friend!"
Crowley looked into the shadowed features opposite, which held an impression of tusk, fang and glowing red eye, and nodded at the thought of what that unveiled face would do to a human, especially when it smiled.
"Up to you, Crowley. If we're not in touch, Below will be. Hail Lucifer!"
"All Hail Satan!" Crowley gloomily intoned.
Back in his suite of rooms, the Graf Von Kraulei read the confidential file from Hell.
Born: Braunau-am-Inn, 20th April, 1889.
Astrology: Cusp of Aries and Taurus.
Astrological interpretation: it is likely this person will exhibit the very worst qualities of both signs. He will be paranoid and fear the worst of people(Taurus), he will be prone to explosive infantile rages (Aries), he will be stubborn and incapable of accepting he is in the wrong (Taurus) and will seek to project blame for his own misfortunes onto others(Aries). He will never ever back down and will never change his mind except in the most extreme of circumstances, and usually when it is too late to make a difference, in which case he will consider his own position to have been right all along and that of others to have been demonstrated to be wrong. (Taurus) He will also manifest great irrational prejudice and fixed ideas early on in life and seek to make these a reality. Other influences suggest he will be a compulsive liar with a near psychopathic disregard for the sufferings of others. In short, he would fit in extremely well down Here. (5)
Crowley read on, noting that the father had been a Prospect in an earlier generation, but had regrettably failed to fulfil his promise. He grimaced: that was always the way with Prospects. For every one who Hell picked out as having promise, who actually made it into some influential position, another nineteen, being as they were only human, would fail for one reason or another. And this Prospect's father was a typical failure.
Early promise: bitter, narrow-minded, considered God's chosen people were Austrians and everyone else in the Empire fell short of perfection, not so much anti-Semitic as anti-everyone. But developed too much of a taste for schnapps and failed his civil service exams, so that rather than become a narrow-minded misanthrope in a very big far-reaching office, he'd stayed a relatively minor civil servant in Braunau for the rest of his life with only a relatively few people whose lives he could make Hell.
Like, Crowley reflected, his family. So often the way with failed Prospects, as Hell didn't go great guns on aftercare. The ones who didn't make it and who failed to be of lasting interest so often went on to be drunks, embittered wifebeaters, child abusers, sometimes achieving a late spurt in Hell's eyes by becoming murderers or serial killers. And our boy had a hard time in his father's care.
But why him? Nineteen, living on a combination of public welfare, a share of his father's civil service pension, and whatever he can get from selling his paintings and postcards. Shares a room in a young mens' hostel with a far more successful music student, a high-flier who appears destined for great things. Has twice failed his entrance exams for the Art College. Was told after the second failure not to bother wasting everyone's time by applying again. Has no interest in knuckling down to a steady job of any kind.
And I'm to ensure he and his mate get plenty of opera tickets? That's ALL?
Puzzled, Crowley set down the briefing papers. What the Heaven was going on here(6)? He glanced at the telephone, which had pride of place in the room. Crowley cursed(7)7 his foresight in having taken time out for a word with that Scottish-American inventor bloke about the sort of thing he'd like to see. Something that means you can get a reply on, oooh, the same day, rather than having to wait six weeks for a letter. I don't know, you're the inventor, something to actually use that electricity stuff you're all banging on about, but if it travels at the speed of light, it can carry a message and make itself useful, surely?
I'm in Linz, Austria. Aziraphale is in London. The angel collects books of prophecy. Could I ask him – are there any prophecies at all that might half-reliably point to the next forty or fifty years? And to any significant part due to be played by a failed art student from Braunau-am-Inn? Crowley reckoned the odds. Long-distance telephone call. It'll take hours to set up. Still quicker than going there in person, though. And there's always the telegraph. But won't I be tipping off Heaven? To Heaven with it, they'll find out sooner or later. And right now, Aziraphale is as near I've got to a friend. And he's got information I need. We can trade.
Crowley stared glumly at the wall. Beside him, on the metal tray he'd placed there for exactly that purpose, the briefing notes from Hell suddenly went whoomph and ignited.
He sighed, and mentally composed a telegram.
The reply to the telegram came. Crowley, a demon who gravitated to interesting gadgets the way fish gravitate to water, had reluctantly accepted that it would be quicker and easier than the telephone. This, he thought, was the penalty for being in at the cutting edge of modern technology: a deeply conservative Angel like Aziraphale would in all probability not have a phone yet, and on past form, might reluctantly concede the point and have one installed sometime around, ooh, maybe 1950. But even Aziraphale couldn't ignore a post office messenger boy knocking on the shop door with a "Telegram! All the way from Australia, Mr Ziraphile!"
+++++++QUERY RECEIVED STOP++++++AM COMING AUSTRIA ON BUSINESS STOP+++++ STAYING IMPERIALISCHEADLER WIEN STOP ++++ ARRIVE THURS STOP+++++++
OK, thought Crowley, meet him in Vienna. At least he's not the sort of ignorant British visitor who'd harrumph loudly and demand to know where the dickens this Wien place is, is it anywhere near Vienna, hey? Sometimes, Crowley was glad he was masquerading as a minor Austrian nobleman, at just the right level to ensure his personal comfort but not so high that he ceased to be anonymous. The Imperial Empire was a big place and contained more minor Grafs than you could shake a stick at. Visiting Brits had this majestic, myopic, ignorance born out of an assumption that if it isn't British, it don't matter, and a conviction that the ignorant peasantry would understand English, provided it were spoken slowly enough and loudly enough. He'd seen it, and it still made him wince. Idly, he thought back to Dracula's prophetic words, and wondered if the Americans abroad would be every bit as crass and insensitive when they got to rule the world. Concluding that they probably would, he called his manservant and made arrangements for a brief stopover in Vienna. But first, there was some ground to prepare to keep Hell happy.
Crowley found the premises he sought just off Prinz-Wilhelm Allee. It had been mentioned in the briefing notes: he thought it worthwhile to get to know the place and talk to the people. You never knew, the Prospect might walk in.
KUNST* MAXIMILIAN ROTHMANN
Crowley breezed in, and busied himself in art appreciation for a while. He thought he could do with a couple of half-decent paintings to brighten up the apartment, and he'd long ago discovered that one of the advantages of being immortal and outliving the artist was that the value of the work soared after, ohh, a couple of hundred years. He still had some of Len's stuff in his London flat, bought for a song in Fiorenze(8) five hundred years ago, for one thing. But he really needed something more sombre to replace that eye-watering yellow and orange thing with all the sunflowers he'd bought in France back in the nineties, for no better reason than that he felt sorry for the painter bloke whose beret kept slipping down over the ear he hadn't got. (Crowley had suspected a minor imp had been getting into his dreams and goaded the artist – never particularly stable humans at the best of times – to the point where it was preferable to cut his own ear off). Too gaudy for his tastes, anyway, and hardly worth buttons.
A flunky breezed over. Crowley cut him short with the easy arrogance of an Austrian nobleman, handed him a business card, and said: "Herr Rothmann, if you please!"
"Jawohl, mein Graf, Du Wolle ist mein Befehl".
"Yah, yah, Befehl ist Befehl, sehr gut." muttered Crowley, and turned back to the pictures. Hmm. Interesting. Several urban landscapes depicting principal buildings in Linz and Vienna. Whoever the artist was, he believed in straight lines and wasn't ready to attempt too many curves. Workmanlike, good sketching, good application of colour, but something anonymous about them, all the same, like magazine art. There was no… individuality about them. Any of a hundred moderately talented weekend artists could have turned out something similar.
"Herr Graf?" said a worried voice. Crowley turned and looked into a worried face. OK, he thought, let's play our roles here. I am a haughty young Count, a scion of the Austrian nobility. This is a slightly scared Jewish shopkeeper. He's aware he's living in what for his people are tolerant times, where the rest of the human race is getting over the Semitic thing and accepting Jews as neighbours and equals. But he still remembers his grandparents talking about pogroms and burnings, and the sort of haughty scions of the aristocracy who would have ordered them. Haughty scions like me.
"Herr Rothmann." Crowley put out a charm field. "I'm looking to buy some original new paintings to furnish my apartments here and add the final touch. You came recommended as a man with a discerning eye." Yes, thought Crowley. By Hell.
The art dealer relaxed, visibly. "I am honoured, Excellency. But… your eyes? An accident, perhaps? You would permit me to select for you?"
Crowley touched the frames of his dark glasses, lightly. "Somewhat unfortunate, really. I did my military service in the Alpine Corps. One day I forgot to shield my eyes in the high Alps. Snowblindness invalided me out of the Army. But they serve."
The lie rolled out easily: it spared Crowley from revealing his real eyes, which were not human.(9)9
Rothmann nodded in sympathy. Crowley moved the conversation on: he mentioned a particular artist's name and asked if any of his works were for sale at the moment.
"Dolfi? Yes, I sell his paintings". The Jewish dealer looked surprised. " I'll be honest with you and say their artistic value is…somewhat limited. To tell you the truth, I sell his work for the reason that I feel somewhat sorry for the boy. He has had a hard life. I take the minimum commission I possibly can, although all my wall space is valuable and I must at least break even on it."
Rothmann steered Crowley over to the bland, boxy, architectural paintings he had just been looking at. Crowley now noted the artist's signature in the bottom corner. How did I miss that? he wondered. And there's something odd about the "t" in the second name… like a crooked crucifix…
Local paintings of Linz will go with my apartment walls in Linz." Crowley observed. "They are rather pedestrian, but at least he has an eye for painting what he sees."
"Which is his strength and his weakness, alas. The true artist has to go beyond what he sees and draw out the essence of what is there. Dolfi can do the first admirably and the second, not at all." Rothmann sighed a deep Semitic sigh, laden with the woes of the human race. "Herr Graf, I advised him, when he was rejected by the art school, to take up a career involving draughtsmanship or technical illustration. Respectable trades, nothing wrong with them. He could then make a career where he is strongest, and of course still pursue art as a hobby. But" (again the sigh) "that was not what a romantic eighteen year old wishes to hear."
"You have this young man's best wishes at heart, then? Admirable."
"I worry about him. He was perfectly courteous and polite when I invited him to my home, and he met Rachel and the children. I would not have taken him for having the old prejudice, but one day, others of my race passed in the street and his look turned ….frightening. By "others", I mean Jews who dress in the orthodox way. I do not judge you to have the prejudice, Herr Graf, or you would not be in my studio. I dress as a man of the world, as I live and work in a Gentile world. My sole concession to religious dress is to wear a yarmulkah on Friday evening. I…fit, shall we say. But others of my people are instantly recognisible on the street for who and what they are. Young Dolfi saw them and immediately started speaking such words as I never thought would issue from his mouth, about Asiatics, foul animals, vermin. The sight of them set off an explosion of hatred. I cautioned him that our friendship must end if I heard such language again, that to hear such words spoken about Jews wounded me. He was contrite. He apologized, but said such as I, who have assimilated, are not the "problem", whatever he perceives the "problem" to be. I fear for his future, Herr Graf."
"You're a true friend, Herr Rothmann." Crowley said, trying to remember how the whole stupid damn bloody idiotic anti-Semitic thing had got started in the first place. However it had come about, he'd received an Approbriation for it. He strongly suspected it was another of those nastinesses the human race had come up with, all by itself, with no prompting needed from Hell: Crowley could not remember ever once having encouraged Christians to go round and make their own entertainment by the light of a burning ghetto. I'll ask Ahasueras, or Cartaphilas, or whatever he calls himself these days, when I see him next, he decided.
Crowley agreed a fair price for nine or ten of Dolfi's paintings and arranged delivery. He shook hands with Rothmann, and graciously went on to assess what the dealer considered to be better art with more merit to it. For the look of the thing, he bought another dozen or so, following the dealer's recommendations, and was about to leave the shop when he remembered.
"Herr Rothmann, I'm a great believer in the idea of the artist expanding his mind and emotional range through exposure to other great art forms. Would you pass these on to young Dolfi as a sort of tip, to go with payment for the paintings? A small token of my appreciation. Tell him they're with thanks, from the benefactor who bought his paintings."
"Of course, Herr Graf. Ah, the Wagner season, on at the Memorial Theatre. I think he'll enjoy those!"
Rothmann took the opera tickets and again, thanked Crowley for his custom.
Oh, he'll have his mind expanded, all right, thought Crowley. Whatever Hell wants to fit in there, it'll find a way. Poor bastard.
Hotel Imperialische Adler, Vienna, later in the same week.
"It's exciting, Crowley. Really, truly. Can you imagine it? A Nostrodamus folio comes up for auction after all this time! It might even be a one-off, the only one of its kind in existence!"
"Need to borrow any money, Angel? Wages of sin, thing. You could argue you're putting it to better use".
"Appreciated." said Aziraphale, "but really not necessary. Some long-term investments I started around 1640 are paying off quite handsomely. And don't look at me like that, they're perfectly legal and ethically legitimate!"
"Well, they would be, wouldn't they?"
"OK. So you really suspect Hell's up to something big, but they won't tell you what it is?" Aziraphale breathed in, and his nostrils flared.
"You said it yourself." Crowley assured him. "In an imperfect and Fallen world, the most the human race can hope for are brief periods of peace and respite in between ever-accellerating wars, famines, and plagues. There shall be wars, and rumours of wars, I come to bring not Peace, but a bloody great sword, sort of thing. By the way, seen any of the Four recently?"
The barb sank in. Aziraphale sniffed, disapprovingly. "Ever the Devil…"
"..may quote Scripture for his own purposes, yeah, I know, it's in the job description, I've done my Bible study, like the rest of us have to."
"I did run across White a decade or two ago. Just before the big cholera epidemic in London. He was putting dead rats down a water pump in Whitechapel." Another disapproving sniff.
"But no sign of Red or Black?"
"Rumour has it they teamed up at Mafeking. But they've been quiet since." The angel sighed. "Let's look at some of this stuff, shall we? We'll start with the master. A decent old boy, Michel, but towards the end he was beginning to fry his brain on the stuff he was throwing into the ceremonial thurible. Here. Nostradamus, Quatrain number 4 – 68."
Aziraphale read, reverentially:-
Out of the deepest part of the west of Europe,
From poor people a young child shall be born,
Who with his tongue shall seduce many people,
His fame shall increase in the Eastern Kingdom.
"And that's all?" asked Crowley. Hardly conclusive".
"Well, Austria is traditionally thought of as the boundary of civilized Western Europe. After Austria, the old name for Hungary is Transylvania, remember? The land beyond the forest – ie, beyond civilization. WE should know, we've both visited! Quite recently, too."
Aziraphale glared at Crowley. Crowley grinned, guiltily.
"Hey – the Agreement, right? If you go around killing vampires, I have a right to revive them. So we can both report a draw, mighty steps taken against the wiles of a desperate and cunning enemy."
The angel ignored this, with an effort.
"It appears to point to the birth of a mighty leader in the deepest – can also be read, furthest – part of Western Europe, who will go on to become a great leader, whose destiny lies in the East. So it's very possible it begins here, in Austria. Good heavens, Crowley, you're currently operating out of a German-speaking country. You must know what Österreich literally means in English? The Eastern Kingdom? "
Aziraphale spread his hands out in a Quod Erat Demonstrandum gesture.
"Let's try this one.
'Beasts wild with hunger will cross the rivers
The greater part of the battlefield will be against Hister'."
"Nah" Crowley said, shaking his head. Our boy's not called Hister. Close, but no coconut."
"'Hister' is also the old word for the River Danube." Aziraphale said, primly. "Again pointing to Austria. And you said Dracula thinks Vienna will be a sea of ruins before it's all over?" Aziraphale read on, with more urgency.
" 'He shall come to tyrannize the land.
He shall raise up a hatred that had long been dormant.
The child of Germany observes no law.
Cries, and tears, fire, blood, and battle.
'A captain of Germany shall come to yield himself by false hope,
So that his revolt shall cause great bloodshed.'"
"Could relate to Dracula reading the breeze, and deciding now is a good time to emigrate." mused Crowley. "He said he was certain there's going to be a big war between Germany and the rest of Europe. He gave it six years."
"Or it could have referred to the Thirty Years War. That's in our past now, but was still in Nostradamus' future, don't forget. Which is the problem with prophecy, it doesn't come with a datestamp on it. We've seen to that, Heaven and Hell both. I mean, you don't want them to REALLY find out what the future holds, do you? Oh look, here's another Hister one!
"En lieu bien proche non eslignie de Venus,
Les deux plus grans de Asia & Afrique
Du Rhin & Hister qu'on dire sont Venus.
Cris, pleurs, a Malta & coste Ligustique.
" In a place very close, not far from Venice,
The two (agree to) expand into Asia and Africa
From the Rhine, and that Hister will now speak for Venice.
Cries, Tears, at Malta and the coast of Liguria. "
"Sounds like a busy lad, this Hister." mused Crowley. "Europe, Asia, AND Africa?"
"Funnily enough" said Aziraphile, " this ties in to one of the Nutter fragments. Have you heard of Agnes Nutter? She's thought of as the Holy Grail in prophetic collection circles. Nobody has ever seen a copy, but enough has leaked out over the years for us to be sure there is a book, out there somewhere, called the Nice And Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. I'd give anything to get my hands on a copy!"
"Anything?" Crowley asked, professionally interested.
"You don't tempt me like that!" Aziraphile countered, a shade too hurriedly. Crowley made up his mind to get a copy of this Agnes Nutter book, if he could: it would be useful if he ever needed to get the angel to act against his deepest instincts.
"Apologies, angel. But temptation is my job."
"Agnes was clever. And accurate. All her known prophecies have come true. 100% true. We know about some of the prophecies from rumour, or letters to and from the extended Nutter and Device families, who we believe keep the book a closely guarded secret. One of the prophecy fragments to have made it into public knowledge runs something like:
In nineteen hundred and forty-one
The world, from Hister's armies, run,
Beware, my great-great- great grandson,
That posting, to Tobruk, do shun!
There's also a reference to a footnote in Agnes' own hand: "That stupide dyslexick French Jewwe MdN did spell ye name wrong. The error of his hand will be remembyred by Posteritie, so that I must go along with his False Spellyng. But ye true Name of the single-stonèd Monster (for only one Stone doth he Hath), who shall bring great Death and Sorrow to the Worlde, be Adolphe Hittler. Mark the accursed Name well, for it shall live in Reviled Perfidie!"
"That's it." breathed Crowley. That's our man. But how does he get there – from here?"
"I'll have to report this to Above" Aziraphale decided. "Are you happy with that?"
"Your side was bound to find out sooner or later, angel. If this is going to be as much trouble as we think it is, best you know now".
"Coming back to London any time soon? I quite miss our little chats in the evening."
"I only wish I could, Angel. But I've got an opera to go to. Coming? I could scrounge up a spare ticket."
Aziraphile made a disgusted face. "Anybody else but Wagner and I'd take you up on it. Frankly, I'd rather perforate my own eardrums with a rusty needle. It saves time and could prove to be less painful. That man is addicted to loud portentous horns, and over-large mezzo-sopranos in armoured corsets."
"Too much heavy metal for your tastes?"
"Yes, that's it! Exactly! Heavy metal. I'm in Austria, Crowley. Give me some nice gentle Strauss and a partner to waltz with."
"And the head of a pin to waltz on?"
The Memorial Theatre, Linz, early evening.
Crowley took his place among the strollers and promenaders, at a pavement café selling reasonable coffee. He was a bit disappointed to have returned to Linz only to discover tonight's performance wasn't one of the Ring cycle: instead, it was one of Wagner's earlier works, Rienzl. Something about a Lord, cheated out of his inheritance by nasty weaselling moneylenders, who has to fight to regain what is rightfully his and then bring his foes to justice, while carving out lebensraum for his people whose lands have been diabolically expropriated by greedy neighbouring lords. Probably metaphorical for something or other, Crowley decided, or based on some great heroic myth about the essential nobility of the German-speaking people. Wagner was reliable: he was either one or the other. And dead wrong.
Crowley had been around for the Thirty Years War: he had seen what the noble German-speaking peoples were capable of when the usual rule of law collapsed. After seeing for himself, he'd spent the rest of the 1630's as drunk as he could. And the moment he sobered up again, the English Civil War started. And after that, Ireland. Practically till 1690 and Boyne Water. One war after the bloody other, he thought. At least here, it was quiet. It was peaceful. The last major European war had been in 1870. Today it was 1908. Nearly forty years of peace and progress and prosperity was unheard of in Europe. It was almost…. He shook away a mental picture of Aziraphile grinning and saying Why can't you say it, Crowley? So far, this twentieth century has been almost heavenly! Yes, Angel. But Dracula said to enjoy it while we can, as it won't last long. And I back his judgement.
Crowley watched the street for a while. Opera was for everyone, certainly. But it also offered a chance for the various social classes to parade and strut and peacock and re-assert the pecking order. Austria certainly seemed to have its multiplicity of social strata, with the Emperor's immediate family at the top, and everyone else streaming off into their own set layer a nearer or further distance away from the summit which was Franz-Josef, Emperor by the Grace of God. As in Germany, each trade or profession seemed to have its own dress uniform, and it was amazing how much gold braid and glitter was on show tonight. In the pecking order, you lost marks if you were Hungarian or Czech or Slovak or Montenegran or any of the other co-ruled peoples of the Empire: even so, German was still pretty much a minority language, judging by what he heard about him. Crowley listened, idly: languages were not a problem for those of angelic or demonic stock. Aziraphale called it The Miracle of Pentecost, that he could speak in the celestial tongue of angels and people around him would hear, or understand, according to their native language; similarly, the angel heard not so much their words as the parcel of underlying thoughts and feelings and modulations that drove them, which converted it into something approaching intelligent discourse. (But for preference, Aziraphale preferred, these days, to speak English.) Approaching the same phenomena from a different direction, as it were, Crowley preferred to call it the Babel Gimmick, which effectively meant he could seemingly speak and understand and be understood in all languages. Except, for some reason, Welsh. He'd always had a problem with Welsh.
He watched the jockeying for social position happening all around him and grinned a thin little grin. He'd ceased to enumerate the sins piling up in the street there: lots and lots of Pride colliding with Envy and Covetuousness and all serving to tarnish quite a lot of souls. What mattered was that there was lots of it, a low-level psychic pollutant hanging in the metaphysical air like thin fog. He liked this sort of scene. In its way it was pretty to look at, like an informal ballet, and it spread pride and vanity and envy across the maximum number of people. And all he had to do was sip his coffee and watch.
Ah. Here was, if he wasn't mistaken, the Prospect. Ye demons, there wasn't much to him. Shabby overcoat hanging off his body as if it had been tailored for a man three sizes larger. Maybe it had been: he looked as if he could do with a few square meals. And the way the skin of his face was stretched over his bones. The clothes betray "lower order" like a badge: note the way two well-dressed society women ostentatiously twitch their skirts away from him, as if poverty is contagious. And… Beelzebub…. Those eyes. A piercing pale blue one minute, as he debates a point animatedly with his friend. Now, animated, piercing, full of purpose, the sole sign of life in an otherwise dead face. Now, as the furious gesticulating subsides, retreating to a default setting of dead and lifeless. The friend: better nourished, better dressed, the sort who has "anxious best friend" written over him like a label. Crowley recalled the case notes: August Kubiczek, born 3rd August 1888. Music student. Accepted into the Linz Academy with a special interest in orchestral conducting. Thought of by his tutors as an exceptionally gifted high flyer. He has a fine-boned aesthetic face with a high forehead and heavy-lidded, almost feminine, eyes.
Crowley nodded. In that instant his eyes met Dolfi's, who widened with astonishment and stopped dead. Even many years later, Crowley could not come up with a satisfactory explanation for what he did next. He took his glasses off and let the sallow, emaciated, youth see him as he really was. He held the stare, reptilian, unblinking, for some seconds. Then he replaced the glasses, tipped his hat at the youth, and left the coffee shop. Behind him, his demonic hearing picked up
"I have seen the Superman!". Dolfi gasped, hoarsely. "He is terrible and intrepid and he walks among us, but he is not of this world."
Crowley quickly concealed himself. Very occasionally there were humans who recognized his real identity, and it was always un-nerving. A quick mind-erasure usually did the trick, but he felt this one should be left to stand; a voice in his head that wasn't his suddenly cut in with OH, WELL DONE, CROWLEY! MASTERFUL! NOW GO INTO THE OPERA HOUSE. YOU WILL BE FURTHER INSTRUCTED.
I really, really, wish they wouldn't DO that! he thought to himself. I've sent them a memo about using the dratted telephone. They've got my number!
"And I am frightened of him." Dolfi Hitler murmurs, almost to himself.
His friend Gustl pats his shoulder. "Let's get our seats, hey?"
Still more shaken by his encounter with the boy Dolfi than he wanted to admit, Crowley took his seat. It was usually only lunatics, like Dracula's poor unwitting tool Renfield, who realized he was a demon. Or else people cursed with psychic talent, like the Shipton woman he'd investigated on behalf of Below several hundred years ago. Or those who combined both, like Norton(10) in San Francisco. Now THAT had been light relief. He chuckled at the memory, but admitted that the Norton episode had in all probability spread more happiness, laughter, general goodwill, social cohesiveness, than anything else, and could be chalked up as a victory for the Other Side. Dolfi had recognized him. Was it just due to Hastur and Ligur's unsubtle softening-up that he was now primed to recognize demons? He'd better go slowly from now on. But giving in to that urge to spook the poor bastard by showing him his real eyes… in those few moments of eye contact, Crowley had also glimpsed something terrible and deep and unpleasant that wasn't raging, just seething, in the youth. No wonder Hell had him marked as a Prospect.
Ah. There they were, taking their seats. Crowley had arranged the ticket allocations so that he could comfortably observe Dolfi and Gustl. And he's turning, looking round… straight at me. And he knows exactly where I am! Faced with the loss of his anonymity, Crowley was getting uncomfortable. He tried to tune into Dolfi:
Yes. I am the Übermensch. I am that creature, as high above the human as you are above the ape, which you speculate exists. I am the one you were warned to expect by my….servants…who have visited you in dreams.
He saw the boy shudder.
For now, my command to you: forget me and watch the opera. Listen. Understand.
The overture started. Crowley gave himself to the music. At least, up until the moment when the mezzo-soprano inclined towards him and sang
CROWLEY. THE MOMENT IS COME. YOU ARE TO STEP INTO THE PROSPECT'S MIND SO AS TO MAKE HIM RECEPTIVE TO THE PROGRAMME WE ARE TO IMPLANT.
"Nnnngggh" said Crowley.
IT IS BUT A TEMPORARY POSSESSION, CROWLEY. ALTHOUGH WE REQUIRE YOU TO USE MORE CARE AND DELICACY THAN IS USUALLY THE CASE WHEN ONE OF US TAKES OVER A HUMAN BODY.
"I'm so glad, lord. I'm a little bit out of practice at three-hundred and sixty degree rotation of the head and producing copious quantities of pea-green soup."
WE WOULD NOT HAVE EMPLOYED HASTUR OR LIGUR ON THIS TASK. NO DOUBT YOU REMEMBER LOUDON. THEY WERE SOMEWHAT OVER-ENTHUSIASTIC.(11)
"But, if I'm going to be over there…"
YOUR BODY WILL BE TENDED TO, CROWLEY. IT IS THE PROPERTY OF HELL, AFTER ALL. WE ARE PUTTING IN A CARETAKER MANAGER IN YOUR ABSENCE.
Then he was looking at the stage from a different angle, through different eyes. Nearby, he was aware of a rapt intelligence, utterly fixated on what was happening on stage. And this body felt different. Thinner. Frailer. More….human….
IF IT MAKES YOU FEEL ANY BETTER, CROWLEY, THE DEMON CURRENTLY IN CHARGE OF YOUR BODY IS A LOW-STATUS IMP WHO RANKS BENEATH YOU, AND WHO WILL RELINQUISH CONTROL BACK TO YOU ON YOUR COMMAND.
"S'right, guv'nor" said a tinier voice.
"Who the Hells are you?" Crowley sub-vocalized.
"Quezovercoatl, guvnor. Please, I've not been up here since 1530?"
PLACES, EVERYBODY. CROWLEY: DATA DOWNLOAD BEGINS…. THREE, TWO, ONE, NOW!"
Crowley's job was simple: to ensure Hell's download into the mind of Adolf Hitler went smoothly, and to guide a series of suggestions, ideas, concepts and imperatives into exactly the right places. This could be done in dreams, or in a state of quasi-religious ecstacy, or under possession: it looked as if Hell were making really sure of it by trying all the avenues at once.
Not liking the dark and cavernous mind he was in, and feeling fastidious about penetrating any of its darker corners, Crowley worked hard at packet-shifting. He could glimpse enough, from the shape of the openly accessible material that Hell was dumping, to feel thankful the majority was in time-locked packages or otherwise wrapped about with "only to be released if…." conditions. He quickly checked: the mind of Adolf Hitler was still totally engrossed in the music and totally unaware of its passenger, but a new strand of sub-vocalised thought was already spiraling up into the music:
Rienzi is typical of the debased and weakened position of the German race. Disenfranchised, divided, easy prey for lesser races surrounding her on all sides…. Proud Germania must reunite and be prepared to fight for leadership of the world…lesser races…Untermenschen…..Juden….
"Uggggh!", thought Crowley, eager to get out of that rank and echoing, and above all, empty, place. If he thought back on this afterwards, the main sensation of this mind was of a yawning emptiness, a void, no apparent ego, ready to be filled up with …. Whatever got there first. He was hampered, in attempting to explain the revulsion he felt, by the fact that there weren't any words in mortal language that really described the sensation of being inside the metaphysical space occupied by another living being's mind. But if he was forced to employ a metaphor, he would have likened the intimate mind-space of Adolf Hitler, age eighteen, to a ridiculously huge cathedral-like structure, with unseen vaults and catacombs, unseen but present, beneath his metaphysical feet, stretching way down into the abyssal depths of a very unpleasant Earth he'd inherited from his immediate ancestors. (an overbearing, bullying, drunken oaf of a father and a downtrodden frightened little mouse of a mother). While the nave and aisle around him stretched equally far overhead into a dome that could have concealed a thousand St Peter's. Yet the only light came from a few pathetically small, grubby, windows located at haphazard heights on the walls, and that was dwindled to near-nothing by the dull red glow of an unseen fire…. It all put Crowley in mind of the Fifth Circle, a place he had been glad to escape nearly seven thousand years before, when the call to do some fieldwork in the Garden of Eden had been made. And in there, the demon Crowley, "reading" the storage labels on packets of downloading data as it flashed in front of him, sending it down into the vaults for retrieval later, or opening it to do its work now, as Hell's dictate demanded.
I was never cut out to be a storeman, thought Crowley. Hellfire, there's a lot of it. It's already working on the poor bastard's head….
Dark smoking mist was rising through the floor and spiraling up into the unseen but felt dome. Crowley got hints and whispers of the message it conveyed:
SLAVS. JEWS. DEBASED SEMI-ARYANS. DEGENERATES. ….GERMANIA BESET….. A SAVIOUR…. A LEADER….. A PEOPLE CRYING FOR THEIR LEADER. NEW EMPIRE. EIN REICH! EIN VOLK! EIN FUHRER!
Megalomania bombs, thought Crowley. On time fuses. That's what I've been stowing away in this head. Let me out of here!
SOON, CROWLEY. BUT THERE IS YET WORK TO DO.
The flow of information slackened from a cascade to a trickle and was finally stopped. Much to his relief, the sensation of being a very small and insignificant being in a vast space – which Crowley suspected was now a lot less empty – faded, and again he was looking out through Dolfi's eyes. With nothing to do, and knowing he'd be revolted if he prodded Dolfi's childhood memories, which tasted of bile, fear, frequent humiliation, impotent anger and inchoate rage, Crowley settled down to watch the opera. Well, it was what he'd come here for, after all. Lazily, he reached out and sampled the mind of August Kubiczek. Kubiczek's attention was not on the stage, but on the conductor, out in front of the swollen Wagnerian orchestra, following the hands, the baton, the free hand, as it led and beckoned and slowed and guided and cajoled a hundred and forty musicians. Crowley read desire and envy and want there: the other boy's ego was consumed in wanting to create similar music, wanting to stand in front of an orchestra, wanting to control its movements and speed and have its members respond as one. To ride the stallion, to drive the sports car, to take into his hands the exhilaration of Control of the music: this was all Kubiczek's lust. Crowley filed this for possible future Temptation, and wondered if it could be incorporated into the Plan: granting the other boy's wishes, which seemed decent enough, could provide a useful balancing moment of redemption and keep the Angel off his back.
Crowley suddenly got the mental sensation he wasn't alone. It was accompanied by the metaphysical equivalent of being in the presence of somebody who didn't quite understand what opera was about, but who was making the most of the popcorn concession regardless.
So when are they doing the sacrifice then, guv'nor?
The music's come along a bit since I was last up here. Used to be conch horns and drums made by stretching tanned human skin over a frame. Then they'd drive the prisoners up the steps of the pyramid, with the music going, and I'd be there drinking up the fear as they got closer and closer to the priests with the obsidian knives…
Quezovercoatl, isn't it?
When were you last up here, exactly?
Were you by any chance on the Central and South American bureau?
Yes guv. I got a Depreciation for kidding on the High Priest of the Aztecs that their God was a hungry God with a thing for human hearts. Great days, guv'nor. Oh, and telling the King not to fear, or hinder, the visitors from Spain, as they had Mexico's interests at heart.
The junior demon collapsed into giggles.
But seriously… Red, White and Black all came off the same ship with Cortez. One minute, some of the world's most evolved human civilizations are in Mexico and points south. OK, they ritually sacrificed people by carving out their living hearts, but was that any different, morally speaking, from Europeans burning them at the stake to appease their God? The Aztecs had running water, drainage, and regular baths. Three things more than the Spanish had. Long period of peace and prosperity to devise and build these things, see? Makes it more devastating when the collapse comes. And after Cortez gave Red, White and Black a free run, all you've got left are a handful of half-starved enslaved survivors with smallpox scars sitting in the ruins, and waiting for death. I got recalled Below after that. They say there might be an opening for a demon with my expertise within the next forty years. Could you put in a bad word for me, guv?
I'll see. Now eat your popcorn and shut up.
Figure of speech.
A few words lingered with Crowley. Long period of peace and prosperity. Making it more difficult when the collapse comes. Red, White, and Black working together. A demon with experience of an earlier devastation coming up from Below after nearly four hundred years. Hell, talking about forty years to bring about the same. And Dracula. And Nostradamus. And blessed bloody Agnes Nutter. Crowley mentally went "nnnghhh" and shook his head. Good, it's ending. I can kick this little squit out and get my own body back. I'm quite attached to that body.
The finale of the opera soared up.
CROWLEY. REMAIN WHERE YOU ARE. YOU WILL BE INSTRUCTED. THERE IS MORE TO DO THIS NIGHT. YOUR USUAL OUTER BODY WILL FOLLOW. HE HAS BEEN INSTRUCTED.
HASTUR AND LIGUR WILL LEAD. THEY WAIT OUTSIDE. THERE WILL BE OTHERS.
The operagoers spilt out into a dark, dimly gas-lit, night. Gustl tried to speak to Dolfi, who seemed distracted.
Dolfi slunk into himself in a brooding still silence. Then he gathered himself.
"Follow me! Schnell!"
On leaving the theatre, Crowley, who was getting used to wearing Hitler's body, had a growing sensation of things not being as complete as they should be. He was so used to the finely tuned and fully functioning human – well, humanoid – body that he habitually wore as A.J. Crowley, that this emaciated under-nourished shell was something of a shock to him. But there was something missing. He went through the usual count of limbs and parts, dimly aware that August Kubiczek was trying to attract his attention.
Then he realized. YedemonsinalltheHells, poorpoorbastard!. For it was the sort of loss that a male of any species would find appalling. And Crowley was no stranger to sex. It was in some respects mandatory for a demon. OK, Crowley privately thought it was over-rated and he'd rather curl up in bed at night with a good book, but he'd still had to put in the experience, it was expected of him. And he was one of the few who could wake up after a night with Carmine Zuigiber both (i) still alive; and (ii) totally unaffected by her essential self. Granted, he was good for nothing for a few weeks afterwards, but he and Red could be good together. But, standing in a frozen stock-still horror, Crowley checked Hitler's body once again, surreptitiously patting down just below the belt buckle. No mistake. No wonder Agnes Nutter had referred to him as….
"Hey, Crowley! This way!" Hastur's voice. "Bring the kid!"
Crowley shook himself and he barked a gruff command in German for August to follow him. He glanced backward once and shook his head: his own body, Anthony J. Crowley, was tagging along, its temporary occupant burbling things like "Oh boy! It's a long time since I drove one of these!". Crowley felt the same concern of a high-powered sports-car owner whose pride and joy was in the hands of a boy racer. He restrained himself: he fired a psychic question at Hastur.
This is discreet, is it?
Don't worry. The kid's only seeing you right now. Everyone else is just a shadow.
The ill-assorted procession marched on. To his horror, Crowley saw his own body was being propositioned by a lady of the night, and Quetzovercoatl looked like he was about to chalk up another interesting experience he'd not had for four hundred years. Urgently, he fired a command: Leave it! Now! Heel! And watched himself, whining with complaints, falling into line.
"Dolfi! Adolf? Where are we going? " August asked, plaintively.
"Shut up" Crowley barked, feeling no sympathy. He was surprised the boy still followed.
Where the Hells are we going? Crowley wondered, as Hastur and Ligur set a stiff pace ever more uphill out to the fringes of the city. Mountain-climbing at midnight? Oh, I see. Drama.
Many years later, August Kubiczek wrote about what ensued:-
"Now we were in the theatre, burning with enthusiasm, and living breathlessly through Rienzi's rise to be the Tribune of the people of Rome and his subsequent downfall. When at last it was over, it was past midnight. My friend, his hands thrust into his coat pockets, silent and withdrawn, strode through the streets and out of the city. Usually, after an artistic experience that had moved him, he would start talking straight away, sharply criticizing the performance, but after Rienzi he remained quiet a long while. This surprised me, and I asked him what he thought of it. He threw me a strange, almost hostile glance. "Shut up!" he said brusquely.
"The cold, damp mist lay oppressively over the narrow streets. Our solitary steps resounded on the pavement. Adolf took the road that led up to the Freinberg. Without speaking a word, he strode forward. He looked almost sinister, and paler than ever. His turned-up coat collar increased this impression.
"I wanted to ask him, "Where are you going?" But his pallid face looked so forbidding that I suppressed the question.
"As if propelled by an invisible force, Adolf climbed up to the top of the Freinberg. And only now did I realize that we were no longer in solitude and darkness, for the stars shone brilliantly above us.
"Adolf stood in front of me; and now he gripped both my hands and held them tight. He had never made such a gesture before. I felt from the grasp of his hands how deeply moved he was. His eyes were feverish with excitement. The words did not come smoothly from his mouth as they usually did, but rather erupted, hoarse and raucous. From his voice I could tell even more how much this experience had shaken him.
"Gradually his speech loosened, and the words flowed more freely. Never before and never again have I heard Adolf Hitler speak as he did in that hour, as we stood there alone under the stars, as though we were the only creatures in the world.
"I cannot repeat every word that my friend uttered. I was struck by something strange, which I had never noticed before, even when he had talked to me in moments of the greatest excitement. It was as if another being spoke out of his body, and moved him as much as it did me. It wasn't at all a case of a speaker being carried away by his own words. On the contrary; I rather felt as though he himself listened with astonishment and emotion to what burst forth from him with elementary force. I will not attempt to interpret this phenomenon, but it was a state of complete ecstasy and rapture, in which he transferred the character of Rienzi, without even mentioning him as a model or example, with visionary power to the plane of his own ambitions. But it was more than a cheap adaptation. Indeed, the impact of the opera was rather a sheer external impulse which compelled him to speak. Like flood waters breaking their dikes, his words burst forth from him. He conjured up in grandiose, inspiring pictures his own future and that of his people.
"Hitherto I had been convinced that my friend wanted to become an artist, a painter, or perhaps an architect. Now this was no longer the case. Now he aspired to something higher, which I could not yet fully grasp. It rather surprised me, as I thought that the vocation of the artist was for him the highest, most desirable goal. But now he was talking of a mandate which, one day, he would receive from the people, to lead them out of servitude to the heights of freedom.
"It was an unknown youth who spoke to me in that strange hour. He spoke of a special mission which one day would be entrusted to him, and I, his only listener, could hardly understand what he meant. Many years had to pass before I realized the significance of this enraptured hour for my friend.
"His words were followed by silence.
We descended into the town. The clock struck three. We parted in front of my house. Adolf shook hands with me, and I was astonished to see that he turned again towards the mountains.
"Where are you going now?" I asked him, surprised. He replied briefly, "I want to be alone."
"In the following weeks and months he never again mentioned this hour on the Freinberg. At first it struck me as odd and I could find no explanation for his strange behavior, for I could not believe that he had forgotten it altogether. Indeed he never did forget it, as I discovered thirty-three years later. But he kept silent about it because he wanted to keep that hour entirely to himself. That I could understand, and I respected his silence. After all, it was his hour, not mine. I had played only the modest role of a sympathetic friend."
(From the autobiography of August Kubiczek)
At the summit of the mountain, Crowley received a prompt from Below:
LEAVE HIM NOW. BUT REMAIN IN THE SHADOWS AND WATCH. HISTORY REQUIRES ITS OBSERVERS.
At first, Dolfi seemed surprised to find himself on the mountaintop. Then, as Crowley jabbed a metaphysical thumb over his metaphysical shoulder and said You. Out!, he clasped his friend warmly by the hands and began to speak. The words flowed in a stream, and then in a torrent. And to Crowley, they were dreadful. Even Hastur and Ligur seemed interested.
Crowley looked across the summit. He could feel the receding energy of Quetzovercoatl, lingering on in spirit form, unwilling to return yet to Hell. (No blame there). But something else… he took off his glasses and looked through non-human eyes. A pattern in the bright starlight resolved itself into the suggestion, then the form, of a sorrowful-eyed Angel clad all in white, clutching a Book. The large sad eyes looked at Crowley, compassionately.
"Official observer. Here by invitation. Didn't your people tell you?"
"No. Doesn't surprise me, though".
Crowley glanced over. Yes. No sense of occasion. Ligur was making rude hand gestures in the direction of the Angel while Hastur was mooning. In the background, Hitler was ranting on about destiny, racial purity and lebensraum.
"Of course, it's ultimately down to the ineffability of the general plan. They think Hell has triumphed. At a higher level than those two monkeys can perceive, this little plan of Hell's will be absorbed into a Higher Plan and, despite itself, become part of the Greater Ineffibility."
"And you believe that?"
There was an awkward silence.
" This is why I'm here to observe" the angel finally muttered. "Long-established right. History requires its observers."
"Oh, come on. You've got an idea what's going to happen and you don't like it…" (Crowley snatched back the traitorous either that nearly left his lips.)
"This night will have consequences. Heaven must also be represented." The angel said, stiffly. "And Herr Hitler must be given a chance to see our point of view. If only once, and if only fleetingly. The Rules of Engagement so dictate. Besides, the essential goodness and purity of intention of August Kubiczek was as good as a prayer."
But the angel's large sad eyes looked larger, sadder, and damper.
"You know it won't stand a chance, Angel. But you've still got to try."
"Which I believe are exactly your thoughts and intentions, Anthony Crowley. Why do you think I can talk to you and not to…" the angel waved dismissively in the direction of Hastur and Ligur , "them?"
"Dunno. Maybe being stuck on this planet for seven thousand years with only Aziraphale for long-term company does that to a demon. Where is he tonight, by the way?"
By way of answer, the Angel drew out a sword, which flared with an actinic "whoomph".
Ouch, thought Crowley, turning his face away.
"An occasion such as this demands full ceremonial dress. As you may know, he mislaid his. So they sent me".
"I see the Goddess of Victory!" screamed Hitler. "Just as she stands on the Brandenburg Gate, with flaming sword held aloft! Germany's armies will march triumphant under her protection!"
"I think" Crowley mused, "you've just had your chance and blown it."
The Angel sheathed the sword again, with a grunt that might have been halfway to a "damn".
Crowley sat on a convenient rock, and observed. It was going to be a long night.
He became aware of somebody sitting placidly and patiently to his left.
"Just how damn many of us are actually WATCHING up here?" Crowley almost shouted.
"IT'S A QUIET TIME IN MY SCHEDULE. FOR NOW. I WANTED TO TAKE A FEW MINUTES OUT AND TAKE A LOOK AT THE PERSON WHO'S GOING TO BE KEEPING ME RATHER BUSY A FEW YEARS FROM NOW. BY THE WAY, GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN, CROWLEY. "
"And you, Lord. Are any of the other three likely to be dropping by?"
"SABLE SAID THERE WAS NO POINT. HE WAS KEEPING THE YOUTH HALF-STARVED SO THAT HE WOULD BE CRAZED WITH HUNGER AND MORE RECEPTIVE TO THE MESSAGE WHEN IT CAME. RED AND WHITE WILL VISIT HIM WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT."
"Well, he can have a few good dinners now, surely, Lord?
"HUNGER WILL NOT CLAIM HIM WHEN THE TIME COMES. NO, CROWLEY. YOU WILL SEE."
Three demons, one Angel, and Death watched in the tinged silence, having run out of words, as Hitler's oratory soared on into the starry night. Finally, it faltered into silence and Gustl Kubiczek, enthralled despite himself, softly said "Come on, Dolfi. Let's go home."
Unseen and unheard by them, the Angel spread his wings and sadly said "So be it. I go to report.", and soared into the Empyrean.
Hastur and Ligur respectfully approached Death.
"We are honoured, Lord."
Death nodded at them, and spoke.
WHAT COMMENCED HERE TONIGHT WILL KEEP ME BUSY FOR QUITE SOME TIME TO COME. YOU MAY FEEL YOU HAVE DONE A GREAT JOB AND BROUGHT ABOUT A GREAT THING WHICH IS PLEASING TO YOUR MASTER BELOW. BUT REMEMBER THIS. NOTHING, ON THE GREAT SCALE, IS TRULY IMMORTAL. EVEN DEMONS MAY DIE.
Death looked at Hastur as he said this, and the demon paled slightly. Then the demons faded and left without a word.
THAT WIPED THE GRIN OFF HIS FACE, I THOUGHT. CROWLEY, YOU ALONE AMONG DEMONS HAVE A CONSCIENCE. I BELIEVE IT COMES OF HAVING WORKED AMONG HUMANS FOR TOO LONG. YOU HAVE "GONE NATIVE", I BELIEVE THE VERNACULAR IS.
"Lord". said Crowley.
AND THE ANGEL IS LOSING HIS ABILITY TO PITY. WHICH MAKES YOU PEOPLE WITH A SPECIAL DESTINY. THE INEFFABLE PLAN EXISTS. AND YOU'LL FIND IT'S MORE FLEXIBLE THAN YOU THINK. IT WILL NEED YOU BOTH, BEFORE AN ENDING COMES WHICH IS NOT AN ENDING.
"Very gnomic, Lord"
AS ARE ALL WORDS OF PROPHECY. I EXPECT I WILL BE SEEING YOU QUITE OFTEN OVER THE NEXT FORTY YEARS. YOUNG ADOLF WILL MAKE SOME OF THOSE YEARS….. BUSY. FOR ALL OF US. AND HIS ARMIES WILL NOT WEAR HELL'S INSIGNIA. THEY WILL WEAR A LIKENESS OF ME. I REALLY SHOULD BE FLATTERED… BUT…
Death shouldered his scythe and stalked off, without a second glance, disappearing into the dark.
"Hey-ho" said Anthony Crowley, aware that he was hungry and could kill for a decent breakfast. Life goes on, he thought. For now, anyway.
I considered finishing this piece off with a few "aftershocks", charting later incidents in the life of Adolf Hitler that were witnessed by either an Angel or a Demon, or both, between 1908 and 1945. But most of the significant incidents in Hitler's life are either so well known that repetition would be superfluous, or so bizarre that the reader would think I'd made them up to help the story flow.
Incidentally, leaving aside the unproveable issue of supernatural guidance, everything as related above happened in the life of Adolf Hitler. He did have a boyhood friend called August Kubiczek, who roomed with him in Linz during their respective student days. (Abortive for Adolf, supremely productive for August, who went on to be principal conductor and musical director of a major Austrian orchestra).
Hitler did suffer from "night terrors" all his life, where he would behave as described in the text above: his words, throughout this story, are actual ones, attributed to him by Kubiczek and others. The classic sufferer will awake from deep troubled sleep, be overcome with terror, sweat profusely, scream, and be fixated on things in the room with him/her that are not visible to others. After reading Pratchett and Gaiman's "Good Omens", it's tempting to wonder if an experience almost as frightening to the observer as to the sufferer might actually be down to external entities who are doing it, quite literally, for the Hell of it.
The sequence ascribed to Kubiczek is an abridged extract from his book, published after the war, about being Hitler's boyhood friend. Kubicek is clear that something happened, that night at the Opera, that changed Adolf forever. His elated and out-of-character march to the top of the mountain, pulling Kubiczek along by the force of his personality, followed by three or four hours of fervent oratory, happened. It was almost as if this was practice, a dry run, for later life…
And Hitler is on record as saying that he did see the Superman, the Ubermensch, who was intrepid and terrible and frightening…
Not conclusively proven, but circumstantially satisfying, is the notion that during the 1920's, Hitler was initiated into ritual magic. The group is given different names depending on which source you look at: The Order of Thule, the Bavarian Illuminati, the Ordo Templi Orientalis. I visualized an Anthony Crowley being assigned to manipulate such a group for Hell's ends, as well as keeping an Eye on the further development of the Prospect. What is most interesting is that the O.T.O. was the German offshoot of a pan-European mysticism, which drew together, out of all unlikely occupational groups, Army and Navy officers from Great Britain, France, and Germany.
Whatever the truth of this, two brilliantly gifted British Army officers, General Fuller and Captain Liddell-Hart, were considered to be so tainted by their membership of cross-border occult groups that they were refused any sort of command positions in World War Two. Liddell-Hart is the man who is credited with devising the theoretical basis of the blitzkrieg strategy that so very nearly won the war for Germany.12 The German general who made it work, Heinz Guderian, was fulsome in his praise for "my dear friend, Basil Liddell- Hart". Which begs the question of when and where they became friends. Was Guderian one of the German generals in the OTO? Would membership of the same occult society explain the hypnotic, almost magical, grip Hitler had on his generals right up until the very last moment?
I tried to write an "epilogue" that brought together such influential characters as Guderian and Liddell-Hart, together with other influential 1920's and 1930's dignitaries, in an OTO temple along with our Anthony Crowley. But this foundered on a problem.
The larger-than-life figure responsible for supervising the O.T.O. was one of history's great mystery figures, a man about whom much has been written but surprisingly little is known.
Aleistar Crowley, the self-styled "Great Beast" and ritual magician, possibly mountebank.
Anthony Crowley, meet Aleistar Crowley. What the Hell would the Anthony Crowley we know and love make of this man? So far, it's beyond me to write. But one day…
OK then, just a couple of "aftershocks"
November, 1937. Linz, Austria.
Crowley rushed down a street, shabbier than he'd known it in 1908, and his memory was refreshed by the crudely painted six-pointed star slapped on the window, yellow paint dribbling down the glass to the sill.
He knocked loudly on the door. It opened a fraction.
"Herr Rothmann? Herr Rothmann?"
"Who is it?" The voice was frightened and full of suspicion.
"You will not remember me, Herr Rothmann. But I bought some paintings from you. Before the Great War. Graf von Kraulei."
The door opened and Crowley was allowed inside.
"You said that you thought I did not share a certain old prejudice. You are right. Listen. You must go. You must leave. Get out of Austria. Don't even think of riding out the storm. It won't fade after a few years. It will get worse. Look, tell as many as possible! I have contacts, associates. They're talking about vernichtung. Vernichtung, Herr Rothmann. Annihilation. The total destruction of a whole people. Your people".
Crowley paused to let it sink in.
"Remember young Dolfi? Adolf Hitler? You felt sorry for him and sold his paintings? I bought some? You said you feared for his future".
Rothmann sighed, heavily. "I would have done better to fear for mine, it seems".
"Hold that thought. Look, take this. A gift, you understand? Please use it! " Crowley thrust the parcel of passports, travel visas and the all-important money into Rothmann's hands, and without a backward glance, moved to the door. He should be safe, Crowley thought. Nothing in there is a forgery. That stuff will get him out of Austria and into France, maybe England if he wants.
Crowley left the shop, and was immediately grabbed by the shoulder. Heavy hands flung him against a wall. A coarse, garlic-sausage smelling voice demanded to know why he had been in a Jewish shop, hadn't he seen the Yid mark on the window? You a Yid too, friend? Or a Yid-lover?
Recovering his poise, Crowley grinned, nastily. Time to raise Hell… he started by taking off his glasses and showing his real eyes to the Brownshirts.
Afterwards, he implanted selective forgetfulness, so that Rothmann would not be implicated for revenge attacks. But they'd remember the rest, alright. Crowley grinned, and tipped his hat to a gutter full of gibbering madmen in the remains of Brownshirt uniform. Sometimes you really got some satisfaction out of this job….
Vienna, Austria, January 1939.
August Kubiczek, Director of one of Austria's most prestigious national orchestras, felt a cold sweat running down his neck in the presence of Vienna's feared Nazi Party Gauleiter, Edrich Strobrigg. He stood uneasily; he had not been invited to sit.
Strobrigg looked disdainfully up at Kubiczek, allowing the silence to work on his mind, and eventually said:
"Not a Party member. Not even a good German name. Kubiczek. Sounds Czech, or Slovak, or some other sort of untermensch to me. And you can't prove you don't have Jewish blood. And with a history like that you expect to remain Director of the orchestra? Friend, you will be lucky to have a job shoveling shit off the street! This is a new era. This is a National Socialist era. I'm expecting you to do the decent thing and resign from your job. I want it to go to a good German Nazi, in accordance with the Culture Ministry's directive. You have got a fortnight, Kubiczek, to put your affairs in order and see your office is fit for your successor! "
"Do I get a choice?"
"Yes. You can go of your own free will now in which case I will be merciful, or you can go to a camp for re-education with the other damned intellectuals!"
A flash of angry rebellion shot through Kubiczek's mind. He said, stiffly,
"I will appeal against this decision!"
Strobrigg laughed, savagely.
"Who the Hell can somebody like you complain to?" he laughed. "Oh, you amuse me, Kubiczek! I might keep you on here as a cleaner or something for your clown value. But…"
(…and the laughter was replaced by a vicious scowl),
"Do not mistake this smiling face for a soft heart. I am the Fuhrer's representative in Vienna and what I say, goes. And you are going as Director and Conductor. You will be lucky if the next thing you conduct is a city tramcar! Now – go! And write your resignation letter!"
Kubiczek, face red with shame and embarrassment, went.
And he did indeed write a letter.
It was a desperation letter, born partly out of despair, partly out of defiance, partly out of desperation. He really didn't think the person he was writing to would remember him, nor indeed care if he did.
And all the time he was writing it, he heard the Gauleiter's derisive, jeering voice in his head
"Who the Hell can somebody like you complain to?"
The former Gauleiter soon found out.
The reply came to August almost by return of post, headed Der Reichschancellorie, Berlin.
"My dear Gustl!
Of course I remember you from our carefree student days in Linz. I am sorry to hear of your troubles and have arrranged with Dr Goebbels that an exception can be made in your case that will allow you to remain Director and principal conductor…"
The letter continued with an assurance that the Gauleiter of Vienna would be informally reprimanded for his over-enthusiasm, and that Kubiczek need fear no ill from that quarter again. And why didn't my old friend Gustl come to Berchtesgarten that summer, for a few weeks, and we could catch up on our years since we were boys together?
Your friend ever,
Shortly afterwards, a sympathetic Party friend of August related how the Gauleiter had also received a personal letter from Berlin. He had opened it, read it, and as he digested its contents, had gone first white than sickly green. He was now perfectly aware of who the Hell a mild-mannered orchestral conductor could call upon to help right an injustice.
"I really don't think you'll be bothered again, Gustl." said the friend. Who, with a look of awe on his face, said "You really went to college with the Fuhrer? And he remembers you?"
"It would appear so..." August Kubiczek said, dreamily. (12)
The Wolf's Lair, East Prussia, August 1944.
The conference room was filling with uniforms. Crowley, in the guise of a Waffen –SS colonel, sneaked a look at himself in the black and silver dress uniform and thought They may be evil psychopathic bastards, but they've got the best tailors in this war. He noted the dominance of the skeletal Death's Head badge, and recalled the words of Death on the Freinberg mountain.
AND HIS ARMIES WILL NOT WEAR HELL'S INSIGNIA. THEY WILL WEAR A LIKENESS OF ME. I REALLY SHOULD BE FLATTERED… BUT…
He glanced at the Wehrmacht colonel next to him, and goggled. This poor bastard's meeting Death on the instalment plan: one eye gone. One arm gone. Only the thumb and two fingers on the other hand.
The one-armed colonel was struggling with a large heavy-looking attaché case. Crowley offered assistance.
"You will permit, Herr Oberst?"
"Nein, danke" the colonel said, clumsily manouvreing the case against one of the solid concrete uprights of the map table.
He caught Crowley looking at him.
"Nord Afrika, 1941" he said, indicating the missing arm and eye. "Das Kaukasus, 1943" indicating the maimed hand. "Und sie?"
Crowley tapped his dark glasses. "I was in the Alpine division Edelweiss. Moscow, 1941. We were brought in as specialized winter fighters to hold the front. I lost my snow-goggles. Snowblindness"
"Ah. Bad luck. You're Austrian?"
"Graf von Kraulei. Linz"
"I'm also cursed with a von…".
The room hushed. Hitler was coming. Satan! Thought Crowley. How old he looks. How ill he looks. Can't be long now.
Crowley suddenly realized the mysterious Colonel had refrained from giving a name. Where WAS the mysterious colonel? He'd gone. Wherever he'd gone, he's left that bloody case, weighs a ton… idly, Crowley kicked the heavy attaché case further down the table, where other feet pushed it to rest on the other side of the concrete riser.
A soldier orderly discreetly tapped him on the shoulder. "Herr Oberst? You're needed on the phone".
Crowley followed him out. His departure wasn't noticed. He looked at the orderly.
Quezovercoatl looked up from inside the soldier's head.
"Had to, guv'nor. Heaven's managed to get a field agent to plant a bomb in there. That bloody colonel with only one arm…"
Crowley remembered the heavy case.
"Let us retire to a safe distance, soldier. Got a car waiting?"
"You bet, guv'nor!"
Crowley was a few hundred yards out of the gates before the distant explosion reached his ears.
Sometime after the war, Crowley read that an anonymous SS colonel who'd moved the bomb, irritated that it was obstructing his leg-room, had saved Hitler's life by deflecting the blast behind a concrete barrier. He got another demerit for this.
Oswiciem, Poland. January 1945.
Towarisch-Colonel Kroloff picked his way through a little piece of Hell on Earth, believing completely in what he saw around him, whilst fervently wishing the evidence of his eyes, nose, and ears was fraudulent. The furnaces had been allowed to burn themselves out, but in the winter stillness of a January without wind, the stench of ash and death hung like a shroud over everything it touched. The ruined body of a German camp guard laid slumped against the wall of a hut, testimony to the rage and anger of the Russian soldiers who had discovered this place a day or two previously. It had not been cleared away: German bodies could wait. There were more pressing things. A field propaganda company was meticuluously filming, photographing, recording everything: Marshal Zhukov himself had briefly visited, and, appalled, had directed every available medical unit to the place as a top-level Front priority. And then the NKVD had arrived to interview the walking dead, the zombie survivors of Hitler's wrath. Stalin had insisted: in his suspicious mind, the sort of people sent to the concentration camps of one totalitarian regime must have done something to deserve it. If they'd attracted the wrath of one regime, he wasn't going to have them walking free in his until he was sure they were no threat. Right now, every Russian who was talking to the survivors knew what The Reason was: they were just having difficulty in accepting it.
Kroloff, accompanied by his soldier escort, his PPSh submachinegun at the ready, wore a standard Soviet Red Army Colonel's uniform, but with a broad green stripe down each trouser leg. His big shoulderboard epaulettes bore the rank badge of colonel, trimmed in an acceptable amount of gold braid, but backed onto green cloth. Similarly, his officer's cap bore a green band. Crowley had planned it this way, so as to be able to move unchallenged and independently in the horror of Auschwitz. Who was going to bar the way to a colonel of the NKVD, Stalin's feared political army?
He nodded at Private Quezovercoatl, known here as Khezverko.
"The men we're looking for may be down here".
He gestured down another row of the hideous wooden barracks huts: there were signs of purposeful activity here. German prisoners had been trucked in to clean and scrub the foul barracks into a relatively clean condition. They were watched by Red Army guards, all of whom had fierce "just give me the slightest little excuse…" expressions on their faces and fingers not far from their triggers. Newly-cleaned and sanitized huts had been taken over by the Red Army's medical services as makeshift field hospitals. Colonel Kroloff and Strelets Khezverko stalked to the nearest occupied hut. A medical orderly jumped to attention as the two members of the loathed secret police approached him.
"Where is the miracle doctor?" Crowley demanded. "The one who hasn't lost a patient, even here?"
"Hut 232, comrade colonel. Down there. He isn't in any trouble, is he?"
Crowley nodded: even in Hell, men could still be selfless and ask after the welfare of others.
"That's for us to find out and you not to know. Not unless you want to be an orderly in a different sort of camp."
He stalked off, with the right sort of arrogant dismissal that befitted his rank, and entered the particular stench of 232.
"Wait at the door." he told Khezverko.
"I can smell something else here, guv. Angel." the lesser demon said.
"Can you be surprised?" Crowley shrugged. "A place like this doesn't just attract our side."
Crowley penetrated deeper. The bunks now housed quiet, but still living, bodies, the worst of whose ailments were at last receiving medical attention. There was a peace and a calm here. Red Army medical orderlies moved on various missions between the bunks, assisted by striped-pyjama'd ex-prisoners who were fit enough to walk. Crowley saw a huge Cossack medical orderly, a man who wouldn't have hesitated to tear Germans limb from limb, slumped in helpless tears at the terrible place he'd found himself in. He smelt bleach and disinfectant, the hospital smells that served only to mask blood and fear and torn bodies. He saw the medical team, operating in the glow of light further down the barrack block. And Khezverko was right: there was a smell of Angel.
"Crowley, if you can't be any help, get out!" a familiar voice hissed. The demon turned and saw Aziraphile, kneeling at the side of a bunk. Crowley saw the Angel's face was streaked with tears. Other Russians, hearing a medical officer telling a secret policeman bluntly where he could get off, stopped and looked aghast. Crowley knelt next to the Angel. "Believe me", Aziraphale said, "After seeing this, there is nothing in the Gulag that holds any more horrors. Nothing. So if you can't empty a few bedpans or roll a few bandages or take water to the sick, then you're a useless spare mouth."
Aziraphile wore the uniform of a major in the Medical Service. He was currently healing a sunken-cheeked patient in the ubiquitous blue-striped uniform.
"Don't say anything, Crowley. Don't do anything. After what you people brought about, we're owed a lot of little miracles! "
Crowley saw a deep welling of sorrow and sadness in the Angel. But he also recognized a seething well of righteous anger.
And then he realized.
The near-corpse in the bunk nodded, feebly.
The Wandering Jew, condemned to walk the earth until Christ return in glory, and effectively cursed with immortality, whispered
"Just because I am immortal does not mean I cannot feel pain! And these last few years in awful places like this I have felt a surfeit of agony!"
"We've got to get him out of here." Azirpahile whispered. "Before Stalin finds out and carries on with the experiment Mengele started."
"Oh yes. Mengele. Once he realized who he had, he became obsessed with isolating what made me immortal so he could splice it into Waffen-SS soldiers. Not a good situation for an immortal Jew to be in,"
"Truce? I'll whistle up a car and a driver. We can cross the lines and hide up till the Western Allies overtake us. Then this chap's just another displaced person."
The angel nodded.
Crowley announced that they'd found the man they were looking for, a dangerous enemy of Stalin and the party. I want him loading into an ambulance and taken to a secure hospital where he can be made well enough to stand trial as an enemy of the people.
And by the time the real NKVD had figured it out, two demons, one angel, one immortal Jew and a stolen Red Army ambulance were hidden up in a wood under a biomystical protective field, as a local German counter-offensive temporarily swept the Soviets a few miles to the East.
A change of uniforms later, the ill-assorted party were soon on the North German Coast, in an area that they confidently expected the British to take within a few days, weeks at the most. And the Jew would soon wander back to England with them, to be cared for in Crowley's flat, as befitted one who had sinned so badly by spitting upon Christ that he had received the divine curse and had been told to wander forever on the face of the world. Not even Quezovercoatl had a problem with this. Big time sinner, one of ours, no problem, guv.
Lostwithiel, Cornwall, 26th September 2006. The very last postscript.
"One hundred and eighteen thousand pounds". Aziraphale said, distantly. "One hundred and eighteen thousand pounds".
Walking down the auction house steps with his old friend, Crowley grinned in a way that could only be described as "wicked".
"Quite a windfall, really. For a pile of old things that were only cluttering up the flat and taking up valuable space in a strongroom."
The angel grunted. "That young auctioneer, miss Rothmann, couldn't have been more helpful when you explained the provenance of the pictures. Did you really help her grandparents escape from Austria?"
"I'm not a complete bastard, angel. And I could hardly tell her the complete truth, that I bought half of them off her great-grandfather in 1908".
"So you're posing as your own great-grandson, acting on behalf of an anonymous seller living in Belgium, to sell a stack of pictures of dubious artistic merit, which are, frankly, a family embarrassment the vendor wants to see the back of."
"Exactly, angel. And a hundred and eighteen kay. Whoop-de-doo!"
Aziraphale pouted, primly.
I won't tell him about the rest, just yet, Crowley decided. I might release them in batches of two or three on Ebay, just to gauge interest. And have another Hitler sale in twenty or thirty years. I've got enough stashed away.
"Let's get a drink" the angel decided.
"Then I want to go and talk to this Colin Wilson writer bloke about UFO's" said Crowley. "I've heard he's gullible".
"I'll come with you" the Angel decided. "Put him right about Ezekiel's Wheel".
From: Evening Standard - London| Date: December 22, 2005 | Copyright 2005 Evening Standard - London. Provided by ProQuest information
A SERIES of watercolours by Adolf Hitler are fetching bids of thousands on the Austrian pages of eBay. A signed painting entitled Munchen was up for auction for Pounds 1,400 and another, Bad Gastein, sold for more than Pounds 3,000.
(1) Aziraphale and Crowley had later discussed the matter with Bram Stoker, who had been persuaded to leave them out of his account. Crowley's stories about Carmina had been sufficient payment, anyway, and guaranteed a sequel.
(2) As recorded by local New Orleans folkloriste, Anne Rice… look, this is living dangerously, right, I've heard she gets intense about anyone trying to do Fanfic of her stories. Still, address all writs to…..
(3) It has been pointed out to me that Czech satirist Januček describes a similar situation in his WW1 novel of the Austro-Hungarian Army, The Good Soldier Schweik, where a senior officer's hangover spills progressively down the ranks and everyone gets something of the general's headache. Who knows, maybe the General did go drinking with Crowley…
(4) An institution with different values might have described it as RAISING Hell.
(5) In my first rendition of this story, I put the relevant astrological glyphs in the brackets here, as Microsoft Word supports the symbols used for planets and signs. But FanFiction doesn't, and they crossed as empty brackets. Damn. This time, no errors.
(6) I told you. Hell has a strange sense of priorities.
(7) Refer to footnote 4.
(8) It's near Florence.
(9) One day, in the far future, he would take his glasses off in front of an impressionable would-be prophet called David Icke, and , fuelled by alcohol, spin him a yarn that nobody in their right mind would believe. Just for the Hell of it, and a delight in human gullibility. It hadn't occurred to him that David Icke was very gullible… Crowley received another Demerit when Hell got to see Icke's subsequent books.
(10) Look up Emperor Norton sometime. It's an amazing story. You have to wonder if Aziraphale and Crowley were in there.
(11) Crowley remembered Loudon alright. Mass-possession of a convent full of hysterical nuns who'd opened a Doorway, which Hastur and Ligur had enthusiastically taken advantage of, pressganging Crowley to assist. Crowley had taken revenge by encouraging Hastur to stay in a possessed body for just long enough to be painfully exorcised. With holy water and everything. Hell would be happy to know that in a little over sixty years after 1908, this would result in one of the worst films ever, and perpetuate the agony to a new generation. Crowley had seen to that by taking Ken Russell to lunch and proposing a script outline after the fourth bottle of wine. He would earn another demerit for this. Crowley also made sure that Hastur's role in the film was taken by Oliver Reed. He did not intend this to be complimentary.
(12) As so often, a theoretical idea which was devised in Britain and only taken half-seriously here was picked up and perfected by the Germans.
(13)- It is possible rhis was the only really selfless, considerate, action on behalf of another that Hitler performed during his life.