Pierrot in Bombazine
ALL THOSE WHO DESIRE GOOD HEALTH AND VALUE PERSONAL APPEARANCE SHOULD WEAR DR SCOTT’S ELECTRIC CORSET
With studied composure, Jerry Cornelius eyed the Brazilian aerial carrier as it rose past the bows of the Teddy Bear. The name SS Santos-Dumont was emblazoned in six-foot letters across all of the ship’s six engine nacelles. On the aft flight deck a flight of Boeing P-26Bs – gleaming in red and gold – were already in position, engines idling.
Frank weaved onto the steam yacht’s deck, carefully rolling a joint from the stash nested in his upended pith helmet – though he still managed to leave a trail of weed behind him. He was dressed in the shimmering Rossum creation he’d swiped from the Paraguayan president’s office, even though the bustle had been lost to a Webley NewKiller round over Lima last week, and it clashed horribly with his orange nail polish. He grinned at Jerry and popped the smoke into his mouth. “Care for a drag?”
Jerry brushed a stray lock of black hair from his eyes and shook his head. Sinking deeper in his deckchair, he settled his white fedora into a more comfortable position. Who could have expected the Chaco War to have spread so far; so quickly? “The Brazilians are on the move again,” he observed, not expecting Frank to hear.
“What?” His brother had not. “Mmm…”
Jerry sighed and unholstered his Remington PneuModel pistol; the electric ignition whirred softly as its sensors were exposed to sunlight. Even as he did his best to ignore it, the hilt’s inscription caught his eye – To Jerry, Love Cath – and he was instantly depressed. He quickly put the gun away. “Poor Cathy,” he murmured.
“Your fault, old boy,” Frank reminded him, clearly relishing the moment. “Summer of ’75 – oh, what a night…”
Jerry had a premonition. He glanced towards the Santos-Dumont – now a tiny gleaming cylinder shrinking against a steel sky. Six steamy trails rose from the nacelles, curdling in the chill air. Three dots were rising from the Brazilian carrier, growing larger.
Jerry leapt up. His fedora blew off and tumbled over the rail. It fell towards the distant ocean: a large, pallid leaf. “Time for decisive action!” he yelled. He called up to the Teddy Bear’s captain: “Full ahead, Mr. Mo!”
Mo Collier’s gargoyle face peered out of the bridge, his expression sour. “Eh? Where to, Mr. C?”
“Southampton, of course!” Jerry ran a pale hand through his long hair. His thin face held a look of triumph. The first of the P-26Bs screamed by, almost grazing the aerial yacht’s keel with a banked wingtip.
CHILDRENS’ REINS, SINGLE/DOUBLE, SOLID LEATHER
Lieutenant-Commander James Taggert glowered at Jerry as the latter walked lightly into the officer’s quarters. Jerry was dressed in a deep purple crushed velvet frock coat, with bottle-green jodhpurs tucked into high boots. The decorative cogs on his wrap-around shades had originally been part of a John Harrison sea watch.
“What do you want, Cornelius?” Taggert snapped. He had earlier made it quite clear he had no intention of maintaining any form of civility.
Jerry peered at him over the top of his shades. “Morning, Jim. How’s Maggie?”
“You shot her dead two years ago – as you recall.”
Jerry frowned. “Did I?” He threw himself into a seat and propped his boots on the Commander’s desk. “But apart from that, how is she…?”
Taggert’s eyes narrowed. He seemed to be having a supreme struggle with himself. Eventually, his body relaxed. “Miss Brunner was in here yesterday…”
Jerry pulled a sour face. “Thought you were looking peaky. What did she want?”
“Didn’t say – but she left you this.” He pushed a slip of paper across the desktop with his cane. Jerry lifted it carefully between the tips of his thumb and forefinger. It read:
The miracle of our land's speech – so known
And long received, none marvel when ’tis shown!
“Shit…” Jerry murmured.
“Not good news, I hope?” Taggert’s smile was malicious.
Jerry began to shiver. He dropped the note as though he suspected it might be poisoned. “Go fuck yourself,” he said, mind elsewhere.
HARNESS ELECTROPATHIC BELT
Miss Brunner was glancing over a programme-sheet when Jerry walked in. She looked up from under the wide brim of an outrageous hat – it looked to be fashioned from thin-bore copper pipes, and finished with an ostrich feather – and smiled, condescending as ever. She lit a St Moritz with a globular lighter. “Hello, Mr. Cornelius. Good to see you strong and stable again.”
Jerry had a brief fantasy in which her hat sprouted thin legs and tottered away, Miss Brunner’s head still attached: both operator system and nourishment. “Ho, ho. Have you seen Bastable?”
Miss Brunner was genuinely puzzled. “Who?”
“Andy Raven? Graham?”
Miss Brunner shook her head. The ostrich feather performed a complex twirl. “Sometimes, things you wish had happened don’t, or there are things you wish you’d been able to do but can’t. You must appreciate my position, Mr. Cornelius: my memory isn’t what it was.” She broke into a high-pitched laugh. “It used to be my precognition…”
That decided it. Jerry dragged out his Remington. “Time for a re-boot.” Without preamble, he put three radium bullets into Miss Brunner: twice through her hat and once in the neck. Her superior smile froze.
His pistol’s ignition buzzed cheerfully between shots, recharging quickly and efficiently.
FASHIONS FOR THE SEASON
“Where to, Cornelius?” Taggert looked quite at ease: lounging in the captain’s chair on the bridge of the SS Santos-Dumont. He was dressed in the deep blue uniform of a Brazilian general: stiff, high red collar, enormous gold epaulettes and a web of braid. At his throat was a clock face, its pendulum swinging lazily with his every movement.
Jerry shrugged. “How about Suez?”
“Port Said.” Taggert gave the order with ill grace and leaned back in his chair as the carrier steamed into a clear sky. “Where do you get your nerve, Cornelius? It’s all a game to you, isn’t it? The rest of us are just getting settled and you change the rules again.” Absently he fingered his uniform’s clock face. The hands seemed to be running backwards.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Jerry muttered.
“You’re a snotty bastard.” Taggert was starting to enjoy himself. “You should be locked away.”
Jerry wondered if the lieutenant-commander had ever met Frank. “I didn’t start it—!”
“Didn’t you? I wonder.” Taggert turned his attention to the clouds through which the carrier was rising. “I suppose you blame Bastable … or that other fellow. Name’s like Quay, Pier or something…”
“Blame?” Jerry frowned, trying to shake off his déjà vu. “I thought it was a fashion statement.”
THE LOWEY TWINS ARE DELIGHTFUL TO KNOW
Cathy Cornelius rolled back onto the chaotic pile that an hour ago had been clothing. Corsets, lengths of black tulle, lace, stiffened cotton and leather; buttoned ankle boots: now an unruly bed for her and Maggie. “—And why must everything come from the end of a gun?” she mused, voice dreamy, remembering their earlier – unfinished – conversation. “I mean: it’s so on the nose.”
Maggie Heywood gave a throaty laugh. “Or in hand…” She shifted onto her side, offering Cathy a long, deep purple Cocteau. Cathy lit both smokes, inhaling deeply on her own. It certainly did enhance her calm. She touched the gimp mask Maggie wore: woven from stripped telephone cable, edged with tiny valves. Cathy slipped it off, revealing Maggie’s pale face. “We could be sisters, you know.” She ran an indigo fingernail down her lover’s cheek, leaving a white trail. “Quite an experience.”
Maggie snuggled closer. “Sincerest form of flattery and all that.”
Cathy smelled the Cocteau on her warm breath. She flinched as something dug into the small of her back. She reached behind her, removing a stiletto-heeled ankle boot. After staring at it in vague disappointment for a moment, she threw it aside. “More like a persistent failure of originality.”
Maggie shrugged. “Whatever happened to Stanley Morton?”
THE NEPTUNE: LIFE-SAVING BATHING SUIT FOR MEN AND WOMEN
Three miles off the coast of Egypt, the SS Santos-Dumont was hit by three Israeli aerial torpedoes. From his view on the shore, Jerry saw the fireball drift languorously out of the sky, strike the sea and gradually sink. Even water didn’t douse the flames. He smiled faintly. Things were going rather well, after all.
He stripped off his rubber swimsuit. Adjusting the turban he made sure his simple mauve kaftan wasn’t unduly creased. The ostrich adornments, bandoliers and endless frogging he left in the dinghy, along with the swimsuit.
In a quiet alley off Port Said’s bustling main streets, Jerry stepped through a curtained doorway into a dusty bookshop. He browsed the shelves for a while, reading the titles aloud. “Of Mice and Men – shouldn’t that be in the comedy section? Magic, An Occult Primer by David Conway – so 1970s. The Famous Five and the Z-Rays – prefer the original French edition. Ah: The Nature of the Catastrophe—” He allowed himself a nostalgic smile.
“Hello, Mr. Cornelius. It must be thirty years or so.”
Jerry turned to face a small, tanned figure who had just entered the shop through the same curtained doorway. If his simple brown pinstripe suit was an attempt to pass as a local, he was failing miserably. “Closer to forty,” Jerry agreed. “How are you, Stan?”
The little man gave a morose smile and shrugged. “I live. I survive.” He gazed up at Jerry with melancholy eyes. “You promised me, last time… Have you, perhaps—?”
Jerry pulled a Mauser M1932 Schnellfeuer pistol from under his kaftan and handed it, hilt first, to the small figure. It was a cheap Chinese copy, missing the brass and copper fittings, but should work just fine. “I didn’t forget.”
Stan snatched at it, eagerly. “Thank you, Mr. Cornelius.” His sad eyes grew soft with tears. “Thank you…”
“It may not work, you know—” Jerry let the words hang.
“If it doesn’t, I’ll have lost nothing.” Stan caressed the Mauser’s plain, unadorned lines with shaking fingers. He pulled back on the slide, cocking it. “But if it does—” His melancholy face warmed with hope.
Whistling happily, Jerry left the bookshop and returned to the busy streets. He heard the explosive rattle of the Schnellfeuer a moment before a short, hot wind rippled his kaftan’s skirts. He paused, letting the shockwave dissipate. Yes, he decided, things were definitely looking up.
DR SCOTT’S ELECTRIC HAIRBRUSH: AN HONEST REMEDY
Safe and serene above Israeli detectors, the Teddy Bear hung in the blue sky, wreathed in steam. Mo Collier was gazing at a large clock on which eight hands juddered in no recognisable pattern. He stopped humming All Along the Watchtower.
“What the fuck does the stupid bastard think he’s doing?” he muttered to the cabin’s other occupant. “He’s setting everything back!”
Dressed all in black except for his white tie and hat-band, Andy Raven looked like Jimmy Cagney’s younger, taller brother. He glanced up from a week-old copy of Pravda and tipped back his wide-brimmed hat. “His privilege.”
“Pipe down, rub-a-dub!” Mo stormed up to the bridge, rang for full steam and stood cursing through gritted teeth as the yacht built up speed. Raven peered through the open door.
Mo sneered at the man in black. “Shouldn’t you be dressed in something less comfortable?”
MOUSTACHE WAX: BEAKE’S STACHOLINE
Cathy and Maggie had just finished dressing when James Taggert pushed aside a heavy drape and entered the bedroom. He looked like shit. Limp springs hung from his loosened collar.
“Jerry?” asked Cathy, her calm slowly unenhancing.
WARNER’S SAFE KIDNEY AND LIVER CURE
Jerry left a trail of dead along the road leading to the airfield. His Remington PneuModel was almost depleted. He was beginning to wish he hadn’t dumped the Webley NewKiller.
He found a Sikorsky S-38 in Israeli markings parked in a quiet corner. Hopping into the cabin he started the twin Pratt & Whitney engines, taxiing before they’d fully warmed up. The take-off was correspondingly rough.
Once airborne he switched the amphibian to autopilot and hunted around the cabin. The walls were draped with red velvet curtains; there were six armchairs for passengers; all the other exposed surfaces were veneered in mahogany and walnut. Jerry shrugged on a black car coat, throwing aside a pair of goggles. They made him feel too self-conscious. There was also a CD player and a couple of disks. The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and War of the Worlds by Jeff Wayne.
Jerry loaded the Pumpkins – it started with a loud crackle – but threw Jeff Wayne out of a window. He was temporarily off incest. Four miles off the coast, at just under 18,000 feet and to the strains of Tonight, Tonight, Jerry sighted the Teddy Bear: cruising two hundred feet below the S-38. He put the amphibian into a steep dive.
Cathy, Maggie, and Stan were lined against the yacht’s rail, staring up at him with something like submission. None of them had taken the trouble to change.
Jerry swore; then resigned himself. Just can’t get the staff these days. “See you on the flip-side,” he sighed.