As Halloween approaches, we think it’s appropriate to bring you this darkly humorous tale from the estimable pen of veteran Irish short fiction author Robert Neilson, as number 9 in the Albedo 2.0 Fiction Showcase series, published for the first time here, exclusively online, and free to read. Enjoy!
My Dolphie by Robert Neilson
The transfer point was, as usual, deep in the backside of nowhere. Two techs sat in the cab of a battered truck, its bed loosely covered with a ratty tarpaulin. Both men looked like locals. The truck was contemporary. The RBC had done its camouflage job well; they were, after all, in the business of make-believe.
Half a dozen members of the crew waited to be ported out. Matson recognised one of them and sat beside him on the edge of the dirt road. “You going home?”
“Germany, 1941.” He sounded bored. And stoned.
“Me too,” Matson said. “It should be a good gig.”
“Germany’s too cold. With my luck I’ll probably end up on the Russian front.” He fiddled nervously with the beads in his dreadlocks. “Anyway, they didn’t like brothers back then.”
“You’re crew, Roger. They’ll treat you right.”
“They better.” Roger’s hand unconsciously played with the strap of a leather satchel sitting by his side.
“What’s in the bag?” Matson asked.
Roger looked surprised and a little shifty. ”Nothing at all. Just the usual.”
“Oh, come on, Roger, you’re not taking out souvenirs, are you?”
Roger shook his head. The beads in his hair rattled. Matson treated him to a look of frank disbelief.
“I shot some tape, that’s all.”
“Like a student film, kinda’ thing.”
“Jesus, man, if they catch you…”
“It’s just a harmless private little doc. It’s fine. Anyway, they never check bags any more.”
“No. They think we’ve got more sense.” He nudged the bag with his foot. A glassy clink escaped.
“You’ve got artefacts in there.”
“No. Honest. Just a couple of bottles with herbs and stuff the priestess gave me.”
“A voodoo priestess? You filmed her privately?”
“What can I say? We got friendly. She did some rituals for me. Stuff she wasn’t comfortable doing for the full crew.”
“What sort of stuff?”
Before Roger could answer, the techs pulled back the tarpaulin. The time displacement equipment could pass muster as a jumble of farm machinery until the switches were flipped. A silvery shimmer enveloped the truck. The techs called out names: “Jeffrey Matson. Roger Wyatt.”
“Looks like we’re the only suckers for WW2,” Roger said. He pushed himself to his feet and trudged to the back of the truck as though to Madame Guillotine. Matson boosted him onto the truck bed and vaulted up behind. A tech parroted the usual pre-transfer warning: “Please ensure all belongings are fully within the transfer disc. The company takes no responsibility for articles lost or broken.” He threw the switch and, molecule by molecule, the two men were transferred to their new posting.
The team had been carefully gathered. Matson recognised them all, by reputation at least. He had been appointed as assistant to Ellis David, the head of character liaison in Berlin. It meant he would be dealing regularly with Hitler and Goebbels in particular. The propaganda minister had been the RBC’s first point of contact and it was he who had championed the practically unlimited access they had been granted to the Fuhrer.
Hitler was dangerous on every level, David warned in his initial briefing. He had pressed particularly against the premise that time travellers could only travel into the past. “You can return to your own time, yes?” Hitler had said. “Your own time is in the future now. Ergo, my people can travel there with you when you go.”
It had taken a team of time physicists several hours explaining it to Hitler’s own scientists and a horrific experiment in transporting a rat five minutes into its own future to prove the point to the Fuhrer’s satisfaction. But David was certain Hitler still believed there was an advantage for his beloved Fatherland in time travel and the presence of the Royal Broadcasting Corporation.
Matson was surprised to bump into Roger in the halls of the propaganda ministry; he too had been sure the cameraman was destined for the front line. The invasion of Russia was due to take place in summer, less than two months away. Roger might appear casual in outlook, and everyone knew he liked his weed and a brew in the evening, but he was one of the best action cameramen in the RBC. He was wasted in Berlin. In more ways than one.
“Yey, Jeff, man,” Roger greeted him. “You catch this one as well?”
“You’re here for the interview?”
“Only the best for Herr Hitler. Asked for me personally.”
Matson treated him to the frank disbelief look again.
“Seriously. Goebbels asked who was the number one boy and Ellis said if he had to take one cameraman anywhere in time it would be me.”
“Ellis?” Few of the crew were on first name terms with the head of character.
“Me and Ellis go back a long way, man. We did Samson together, and Ned Kelly. Back when he was a lowly liaison himself.”
Matson shook his head. They seemed an unlikely pair. Roger was a rasta whose idea of dressing up was to shake the wrinkles out of last night’s jeans. Ellis David was a man who could wear his habitual navy three-piece suit and crisp white shirt in the Sahara without showing the least discomfort, and make it look good. His outrageous ties were the only splash of colour and personality he allowed himself. He reminded Matson most of a military man who felt himself to be on parade at all times. His back was never less than ramrod straight, his shoes were always spit-shined and his hair oiled to a rigidly sculpted, black perfection.
“You set up already?” Matson asked.
“Camera set and ready to roll, Jeff, baby.” There was an evil twinkle in his eye.
“Have you been smoking?”
“Me, Jeff baby? That would be highly un…pro…fessi…o…nal.” He flashed a full set of tombstone teeth.
“You didn’t say no.”
“Correct,” he laughed, turning back into the state-of-the-1941-art studio provided by the ministry.
Matson continued on to the prep room were Adolph Hitler was having make-up applied. The make-up girl stood to one side of him, her mouth set in a tight line. The hair stylist huddled on a chair in tears. Two muscle-bound heavies in SS uniforms flanked the door. One had his holster unsnapped and his hand on he butt of his Luger. “What seems to be the problem?” Matson asked.
“The Fuhrer refuses to let Janice even touch his hair,” the make-up girl said.
“My hair is good,” Hitler said, crisply. “It needs no attention.”
“I just wanted to…” Janice sobbed.
Matson signalled her to silence. “I’m sure everything will be fine,” he said.
“Man like the Fuhrer deserves his own stylist.” Matson turned. Roger was lounging in the doorway, a sardonic grin on his mouth.
The Fuhrer locked his eyes onto the cameraman. “Who are you?”
“Wyatt,” Roger said.
Hitler trapped his surprise before it had time to more than flicker across his eyes. He paused a moment as though in thought. “The camera man.”
The Fuhrer nodded, stared at him in silence for a moment then snapped, “Who won the war?” His voice commanded obedience and, pitched just below a scream, caused the cameraman to jump.
Matson was glad they had both been conditioned against answering such questions when they got their German language implants. He saw Roger’s throat working involuntarily. His teeth were clenched shut behind bloodless lips. The Fuhrer’s eyes bored into him. He muttered something under his breath. Matson caught the word mongrel. The temperature seemed to have dropped several degrees in the prep room. Neither the liaison nor the cameraman had any idea how to break the tension.
Hitler chuckled, relaxing back into his seat. He waved at the make-up girl to continue. Matson and Roger knew they had been dismissed. As the character liaison left, the Fuhrer called after him in a voice pitched low. He turned and stepped back into the prep room.
“Wyatt is correct. I should have my own make-up and hair person. Just the one. Male. And he must be German. Contemporary German. This is not negotiable.”
Roger waited for him in the hall. “Jesus, bro, that was radical. I need to kick back, smoke some weed, relax, forget about our Fuhrer. He’s some piece of work, yeah?”
Matson held his hands in front of him at waist level. They were visibly shaking. “I was warned he was dangerous, but you don’t really believe it can be that bad until you see for yourself.”
“Doctor Wyatt prescribes some spliff for you also, Jeff, my man.” He placed an arm across the liaison’s shoulder. “You in the Excelsior?”
Matson was amazed at how shaken he was by such a small incident. He had handled historical characters of Hitler’s magnitude before. But none so obviously unhinged. He allowed Roger to lead him back to the hotel.
The cameraman’s room was well supplied. A bag of grass that looked to weigh at least a pound was stashed under the mattress. He had a bottle of single malt Scotch on a table by the window. They sat at the table, drank the whisky and blew a couple of joints, watching the Berlin traffic hurry by three stories below.
The Scotch was a mellow fifteen-year-old vintage from the Isle of Islay. Matson knocked the first glass back without letting it hit his tongue. The second and third he sipped slowly, appreciating the peaty, smoky flavour as it rolled slowly across his taste buds. It complimented the grass nicely. He was holding a huge lungful of smoke when the telephone rang. He held it while Roger answered. “Yes, he’s here.” Roger pushed the black bakelite mouthpiece hard against his stomach and giggled. “It’s Ellis. For you.” He took a breath and giggled again. “He sounds pissed.”
Matson exhaled loudly and took the hand set. “Yes, Ellis?” He listened for a moment. “Yes, Ellis,” he repeated. His cheeks reddened as he listened some more. “Yes, Ellis, I understand.” He listened for half a minute. “No, Ellis. You can rely on me.” Matson replaced the handset in the cradle and rubbed his ear theatrically. “That was Ellis.”
“He was not happy.”
“Herr Hitler is not happy and Ellis blames us.”
“Probably because it’s our fault.” Roger lit another joint and drew hard on it.
“Five hair and make-up guys will be in my room in fifteen minutes. I’ve got to pick one and present him to the Fuhrer tomorrow morning.”
Roger passed the joint. Matson took a huge hit without thinking. He felt calm. This was all going to work out fine.
“I’ll help you choose,” Roger said.
“Yeah. Thanks, Roger. That’ll be good. I don’t think I could face this alone right now.” Matson would make many more mistakes in his life but none would have greater repercussions.
The stylists stood in an orderly line in the hall outside Matson’s door. The liaison was not encouraged by their military bearing or their haircuts. Only one had eschewed the government-issue short-back-and-sides. He was a tall blond, typically Ayran, though his facial features were thin and ascetic. The others all seemed small and dark in comparison; quite like the Fuhrer and his inner circle, Matson thought.
Each stylist had a resume. Matson collected the files and told them to wait in the corridor. He and Roger went through the resumes. Each of them had worked in the theatre and two had worked in film before the war. Four were in the army. Matson decided to begin with the civilian as he would probably be the easiest to dismiss.
The civilian turned out to be the Aryan. “Do you know why you’re here, Mr Maas?” Matson asked.
“Call me Jurgen, please.”
“It’s very exciting. I’d simply love to work for the Fuhrer.”
“Why would it be exciting?”
“Being that close to power would be very… invigorating.” He arched an eyebrow suggestively.
Roger snorted, his hand covering his mouth rapidly. The bottle-blond stylist threw him a questioning look. “Sorry,” the cameraman mouthed, afraid to trust his voice further.
“Your resume is very impressive. Very… artistic.”
“I’m proud of my work. Though those bitches at the Schnabel were very snide about the look of the chorus. But what do they know?”
“Café theatre. I was sure it would be in the file. Madam Freida is a cousin of one of Goebbels’ aides. I was sure she would put in a bad word for me.”
“Not a mention.”
Jurgen shrugged expressively. “Shot myself in the foot there.”
Matson smiled. “Thanks, Jurgen. We’ll be in touch.”
Roger added, “Wait outside. We won’t be long.”
When the door shut behind Jurgen Maas, Matson said, “What did you say that for, Roger? We’ll be in touch is code for…”
“I know the code but I think he’s perfect.”
“What? He’s obviously gay and if you look beyond the dyed-blond hair I’m guessing he’s probably Jewish.”
Roger nodded and giggled. “Yeah. Perfect. Come on, Jeff, get a sense of humour. This’ll be a blast.” He pulled a pre-rolled joint from his inside pocket. “Get rid of the other losers and tell Jurgen the good news.”
Matson took the joint and fired it up. “You tell him.”
The Fuhrer seemed pleased with his personal stylist. After the first couple of weeks he used him before all public appearances, even if there were no RBC cameras present. Another week and Jurgen Maas was installed in his own private salon in the Reichschancellery and a week after that was given the title of Image Consultant to the Fuhrer.
Keeping a close eye on Hitler was a large part of Matson’s job, so he saw plenty of Jurgen also. He couldn’t fathom how this oddly matched pair got on so well. Jurgen danced attention on his Fuhrer, primping and preening him daily. Every morning started with a hot towel shave in Jurgen’s tiny salon in the Reichschancellery. Most days would see a half-hour make-up session prior to a public event. And of course, the Fuhrer always liked to look his best for the cameras.
The changes, when they came were subtle: the fringe swept backward, the moustache shaved off, sideburns pronounced, the cut a little more generous at the back. Ellis David worried about each little detail as it arose. Hitler was his ultimate responsibility and there was a suggestion he was getting off track. Some minor reshuffles in personal arrangements, an appointment to the General Staff that was delayed, a visit to Bechtesgaden cancelled. Nothing that could not have been caused by the mere presence of the anachronistic cameras, though there were almost zero changes elsewhere. Change management was one of the most important functions of the crew. Ellis David decided that Matson should keep a tighter rein on the Fuhrer’s image consultant.
Jurgen Maas, whether the RBC liked it or not, had become a character and was going to need his own liaison. Naturally the job fell to Jeff Matson. The Fuhrer objected to his increased presence more than Jurgen did, so Matson was forced to cut back on his other interactions with Hitler to prevent his presence from becoming oppressive. Even in the salon he needed to keep a low profile. After a few days he felt as much a part of the background as the Fuhrer’s SS goons.
“So, how is little Miss Eva today?” Jurgen asked, applying lather to his single client’s chin.
“A little down. My brother and his wife had hoped to visit but cancelled at short notice. She was so looking forward to it. Although Bridget is so much older they do seem to get along wonderfully.”
“You should take her somewhere nice tonight.”
“If only it were that easy. I have a state banquet as you well know.”
Jurgen stopped lathering and walked around to stand in front of the Fuhrer, hands firmly on hips, deep frown lines on his forehead. “You are the boss. You can do anything. Yet you never do the slightest little thing for yourself or Eva. I’m really going to get very annoyed with you if you don’t start looking after yourself, Dolphie.”
“You are right of course but it is the price of power. I must think of everyone else first. The Fatherland must always be my prime concern.”
“Yes, that’s true.” He bent at the waist, brushing some foam from the Fuhrer’s ear. “But you have to consider that if you don’t take care of yourself then maybe you won’t always be able to be there for the Fatherland.”
“I cannot argue with you, Jurgen, my friend, you are correct as always. But the health of Germany must come before my own comfort. It is a small price to pay for the good work I do.”
Jurgen re-positioned himself behind his subject and began to shave him. “We will talk about this again. I’m not going to stand idly by and allow you to run yourself into the ground. If I am to be truly your image consultant you’re going to have to listen to me,” he raised his voice considerably, “and do what you are told once in a while.”
Matson watched the Fuhrer’s reflection in the mirror that dominated the wall in front of the salon’s single barber’s chair. Even with his chin tilted awkwardly upwards and the straight razor methodically caressing the stubble from his neck, a tiny pleased grin played at the corners of his mouth.
The stylist continued: “What sort of image consultant would I be if I allowed you to ruin your health? Imagine. Big black bags under your eyes that no amount of make-up would hide. Skin the colour of old paper.” He stopped and put a hand to his mouth. “Hair falling out. Oh, Dolphie it would be simply too awful to bear.”
“Don’t worry yourself, my friend. I won’t let it happen. We,” a pause, “won’t let it happen.”
Twelve days later, on June 14th, Matson found himself summoned to Ellis David’s office. His boss looked worried. For the first time Matson could remember, the top button of David’s shirt was unbuttoned and his tie loosened. His tiny office on the ground floor of the Reichschancellery was smaller than Jurgen Maas’s salon. His desk overflowed with papers as did the spare chair. Matson decided to stand. David paced as much as the tiny floor area allowed. “He’s postponed Barbarossa.”
“Goebbels told me this morning.”
“For how long?”
“Holy shit, we can’t let that happen. Who knows what damage it could cause the timeline if he fails to invade Russia.” Matson thought of the timeline as a rubber band secured at either end. No matter how hard it got pulled in the middle it would always tend to spring back into place eventually. But a change of this magnitude could cause ripples right up to his own present and beyond. This was a disaster.
“Do we know why he changed his mind?”
“Oh, yes. We certainly do,” David said, a chill seeping into his tone. “His fucking image consultant told him that it would be bad for his image if he was seen to go back on his word.”
Matson had never actually heard his boss swear before. The effect was startling. Ellis David was a man who liked to make sure the blame was properly placed. It was hard to imagine he had anyone else in mind for it.
“I’m not one to point fingers,” David said, “but you got us into this fucking mess and if you don’t come up with a way out, both our careers go down the pan.”
“This has gone all the way to the Director General himself. You will never step on another time platform, you will never get another job in television; I doubt you will be able to get a job as a boot licker at a shit farm.”
“And I won’t be able to get a job holding your fucking coat.” His voice rose on every successive word until the tee in coat was shouted, spraying Matson’s face with spittle.
Slowly, Matson wiped his cheek with his sleeve. “So what do we do now?”
“We are going to have to persuade our beloved Fuhrer to change his mind, won’t we Jeffrey.” David’s voice was almost conversational. His breathing was only slightly irregular. “We are going to have to work on our friend Jurgen. And we are going to have to do it without arousing suspicion. And we are going to have to do it pretty damn quick. Do you concur, Jeffrey?”
It was the first time anyone had used his name as a bludgeon since he was nine years old and he broke a Toby jug that had been in the family for four generations. He could still hear his mother’s voice putting all the force of her displeasure behind the innocent little word, changing Jeffrey from a term of endearment to an accusation. He sometimes felt their relationship had never recovered from that tiny accident. With his first pay cheque he had bought her an antique Toby jug as a replacement. She shook her head and smiled wanly, patting his hand as though he was still nine.
Now Ellis David was doing it to him. He felt as though he was still wearing short pants. He answered the final, semi-rhetorical question with an almost inaudible, “Yes, Boss,” and slumped from the office.
He had no-one to blame but himself, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to give Roger Wyatt a tongue lashing. What had he been thinking of? He couldn’t decide which was worse: smoking drugs or listening to Roger. Both individually were tantamount to madness. Together, they might just extend the Second World War by a matter of years.
Roger accepted his portion of blame without argument. “What can I do to help?”
“You can keep as far out of my way as is possible in those bits of Berlin we’re allowed to frequent.”
“Listen, Jeff man, I’m sorry and I want to help. You gotta let me make it right.”
“I’m serious, Roger, keep out of my way.”
“I’m serious too, man. I’m in this all the way and I’m not going to leave you hangin’ in the wind. You know what I’m sayin’?”
“Yeah, Roger. You’re saying that things aren’t as bad as they seem.”
“I am?” The cameraman failed to hide his surprise.
“You’re saying that they can always get an awful lot worse.”
Roger watched his friend’s back as it exited his hotel room. “That is one sarcastic muthah,” he mumbled to himself.
The following morning Roger hit the Reichschancellery at the crack of dawn. He was hours earlier than usual and the brown shirt on the desk was sipping his first coffee of the day. He waved cheerily and trotted up the stairs as though he owned the place. The door to Jurgen’s salon was locked, which was unusual at any time of day. The Fuhrer’s image consultant loved visitors, would chat all day to anyone who listened. With his new-found importance there were always willing victims eager for scraps of gossip about the Fuhrer.
Roger knocked on the door. A voice inside hissed, “Go away.”
“That you, Jeff?” He kept his reply low. “Come on, man, let me in.”
The door opened a crack revealing a sliver of Matson’s face. “If you really want to help, man, just go. Don’t draw attention to… this.”
“Draw attention to what?”
The door opened wide enough to admit a body. Matson’s hand flashed out, grabbing Roger by the collar and pulling him inside. The place was a mess. Jurgen sat on the window sill, head in hands, crying. The Fuhrer occupied the barber’s chair. He had a bullet hole in the centre of his forehead. A thin line of congealed blood ran along one cheek to his chin, from where it had pooled on the lapel of his jacket.
“I don’t know,” Matson said. “He’s not making much sense. But he’s not trying to hide the fact that he shot Adolph Hitler right between the eyes.”
“So, call security.”
“If he’s dead he can’t decide to change his mind on Barbarossa.”
“So what do we do?” Roger asked.
“How the hell do I know? I suppose we could break into the Fuhrer’s office and forge an order to invade Russia. You think that might work?”
“Probably not,” Roger agreed.
“You got any bright ideas?”
The cameraman shook his head. He stared at the corpse for a while. He looked at Jurgen sobbing inconsolably at the window. The Fuhrer was looking okay for a dead guy. A little make-up to hide the bullet hole, some more to cover the deathly whiteness of his skin and no-one would be any the wiser. They could fake up photographs of him sitting at his desk, signing an order to invade Russia. If they could get the corpse to get up and walk them through to his office, order up some privacy for his image consultant and the Royal Broadcasting Corporation. The hard, worried line of Roger’s mouth eased into a grin. He snapped his fingers. “I’ve got it.”
“Got what?” Matson asked.
“Stay here. Don’t let anyone in until I get back.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ve got a plan.”
“What is it?”
“You won’t like it.” Roger crossed to the door and opened it. “Lock it behind me. I’ll be twenty minutes. Trust me. This is going to be great.”
Matson could not remember ever hearing two words that so filled him with dread, but trust me coming from Roger could only mean he was about to die. Horribly.
The round trip to Roger’s hotel room took half an hour. He returned with his camera and a small satchel.
“What’s the camera for?”
“I’m filming this. It’s going to be… big. Bigger than big. Enormous.” He turned to Matson. “What’s bigger than enormous?”
The liaison looked up to the ceiling. “Oh, Lord, take me now,” he begged, his hands tented in prayer.
“Here.” Roger thrust the camera at him.
“What do I do with this?”
“You’re going to have to work the camera. It’s easy. Point and shoot.”
Matson stared helplessly at the alien machine. “What will you be doing?”
“I’ll be bringing our esteemed Fuhrer back to life. Sort of.”
Matson’s blank stare moved from the camera to Roger’s face.
“Remember the extracurricular documentary I shot in Haiti? The voodoo priestess, all that stuff.”
Matson’s head nodded. His eyes remained glazed.
“I filmed her making a zombie.”
“Yeah. We were… friendly.” He grinned broadly. “I asked her to perform the rituals on camera. She was all, no, no, no. It was a secret. Nobody but Haitians knew it. I told her there wouldn’t even be a Haiti by the time this got shown. She knew I was from the future but she hadn’t thought there would ever be a world with no Haiti. She had a little cry. We made a little love. We made a little movie. It was beautiful.” He dug a series of vials and a legal pad out of his satchel. He flipped through the pad rapidly, searching. He read a paragraph then flicked further, reading another section before abandoning it.
The cameraman went to Jurgen and shook his shoulder. “Hey! Snap out of it. I need a hand here.” He glanced at Matson. “Why aren’t you filming?”
Matson looked down at the camera in his hands. He had used one like it to coach characters many times. He framed Roger and Jurgen then pressed record.
Roger took hold of the image consultant’s upper arm and hauled him to his feet. “Come on, man, get with the program,” he said, shaking Jurgen none too gently. “I need your help to prep the Fuhrer.”
Roger dragged the stunned consultant across the room, placing him on one side of the barber’s chair. “When I say lift we’re going to take him down onto the floor. Okay?”
Jurgen stared down at the Fuhrer’s corpse in horror.
“Got hold of him under the arm.”
The consultant moved like an automaton, but followed Roger’s urgings.
Rigor mortis had not begun. The body was floppy and difficult to move. They wrestled it slowly to the floor, Roger mouthing a stream of instructions, directing his helper’s every movement. Once in place, Roger crossed the corpse’s arms over its chest and positioned its legs together. It looked almost peaceful. “Jurgen,” Roger ordered, “I need you to clean the blood off him.”
Jurgen followed the instruction mechanically. Without thinking he covered the wound with a smear of make-up working the edges professionally to blend into the skin.
“You got any spare clothes for him? Uniforms? Shirts?”
The consultant nodded his robot head.
“We’re going to need a new shirt and jacket, okay?”
Jurgen looked into his face as though translating what he had said.
Roger said: “Say, yes, Roger.”
“Yes, Roger,” Jurgen repeated.
“Good boy. Now get the damn clothes.”
Roger gathered his vials and laid them out at the corpse’s head. From the satchel he brought out a chalice and a gold-plated crucifix standing on a polished granite base. The crucifix went at the corpse’s feet. Roger sorted through his vials. Choosing one with clear liquid, he decanted it into the chalice. He glanced at the camera. “Holy water,” he explained, smiling reassurance at Matson.
“I sure hope you know what you’re doing, Roger.”
“Me too.” Roger beamed. He was having the time of his life.
The image consultant brought a clean shirt and jacket. They wrestled the bloody ones off the corpse and replaced them. Jurgen pushed the Fuhrer’s hair away from his eyes affectionately. His fingers lightly brushed the entry wound. He began to cry again.
“What happened, Jurgen?” Matson asked.
“I shot him. I killed my Dolphie.”
“I loved him.”
Matson left the camera running. A confession might come in useful later.
“I know you loved him. I could see that,” Matson lied.
“Last night he dismissed his bodyguards and came in to have a drink with me. We did it once or twice before. He would unbutton his tunic, lay aside the pistol his guards left him. Open his shirt collar. If it was very late he would sometimes sleep upstairs on a cot in a side room off his office. I had a nice bottle of Chablis. We had a couple of glasses. He told me about his plans for world domination. I confessed my love. I… I tried to kiss him.” The tears flowed freely down Jurgen’s cheeks.
“Go on,” Matson said gently.
“He called me a filthy Jew queer. He screamed terrible things at me. I don’t even remember picking up the gun. I just wanted to make him stop saying those horrible things. I just wanted him to be quiet.” He dropped into the barber’s chair; his head fell into his hands.
Roger said, “We’ve got to hurry. They’ll come looking for him pretty soon.” He jabbed a thumb in the corpse’s direction.
Matson returned the camera lens to focus on the dead statesman. Roger emptied the vials into little piles around the Fuhrer’s head. Two contained herbs, one a powder. He dripped some holy water from the chalice onto the powder, mixed it to a paste with his forefinger. He patted his pockets theatrically before locating his lighter. Carefully he applied its flame to the herbs, sitting back on his heels to watch them smoulder. Nodding his satisfaction, Roger picked up the legal pad in his left hand. He poked his right index finger into the wet powder then smeared it onto the corpse’s lips. Lifting the chalice he sprinkled drops of holy water onto the corpse and began to chant.
The smoking herbs gave off a pungent scent. Matson’s eyes began to water. He had difficulty keeping the camera steady on the ritual. He circled the corpse so that the smoke no longer occluded his view.
Roger took a swig of the holy water and continued to chant. Sweat broke out on his brow. He was beginning to have difficulty breathing as the smoke billowed around him. Jurgen’s sobbing was interspersed with bouts of coughing. Matson wondered how such small piles of herbs could produce such copious amounts of thick, clinging smoke. He was finding it difficult to see through the camera’s lens. He wiped at the eyepiece. His finger came away streaked with black. He reached around and cleaned the lens itself. It made little difference.
Suddenly the herbs flamed. The heat forced Matson and Roger backward. Jurgen tumbled awkwardly from the barber’s chair. Holding the chalice over his head, Roger threw the last of the holy water toward the brightly burning fires.
“Is this supposed to happen?” Matson asked.
Roger replied: “There was a lot of smoke when I filmed my voodoo girl but nothing like this.”
“We’d better put the fire out. The whole Reichschancellery could go up knowing our luck.” Matson gave Roger the camera and took the chalice in exchange. He filled it from a small sink in the corner of the salon. He was sure the herbs had burnt into the floor already. He needed to get as much water on the flames as quickly as possible. “Give me a hand, Roger,” Matson demanded. Roger was more interested in filming the unexpected climax to his ritual.
The liaison threw water at the burning herbs to no effect. He wondered should he raise the alarm. Perhaps the fire was the break he had been praying for. An unfortunate accident in the salon. The Fuhrer burnt to crisp. Nobody’s fault. Though Jurgen would certainly need to be reprimanded for such a flagrant breach of fire safety protocols. Matson was certain he could be persuaded that it was preferable than an arrest for the Fuhrer’s murder.
They had no choice as far as Matson was concerned; he had to get everyone out before they all expired from smoke inhalation. He opened the door and the smoke poured into the hallway. He grabbed an arm in each hand and led his companions in crime out of the toxic-smelling room.
“Holy shit!” he exclaimed, dropping one arm, clinging hard to Roger on his other side. Instead of Jurgen he had dragged a tottering zombie-Fuhrer to safety. Adolph Hitler stood beside him, his face vacant. Jurgen stumbled from the smoke, bent double, coughing like a forty-a-day man on a cross country run. Roger slapped his back enthusiastically. “It worked,” he said in wonder.
A young lieutenant in Wehrmacht uniform ran along the hallway. “Is the Fuhrer all right?” he asked.
“A bit stunned,” Matson said. “We’re taking him to his office. He doesn’t want to be disturbed for the next hour. Not by anyone. Is that clear?”
The lieutenant snapped to attention, clicking his heels and saluting. “I will see that his wish is followed to the letter.”
Matson hustled his charges to the Fuhrer’s office. It was too early for Hitler’s secretary to be at his desk, but the chancellery was filling up as eight A.M. approached. Fortunately there was a key in the office door. Matson locked it and sat the zombie behind the Fuhrer’s desk. He turned to Roger. “What’s he capable of.”
The cameraman shrugged. “How should I know? This is a first for me as well.”
Matson shuffled through the papers on the desk. There were copies of military orders in the in-tray. He scrutinised the papers, studying the formulaic nature of the composition. “Okay, we’re going to draft an order reinstating Operation Barbarossa which the Fuhrer will sign.”
“Then?” Roger enquired.
“Let’s get the invasion of Russia back on track first. We can worry about the rest of it afterwards.”
“Won’t a zombie Fuhrer be as damaging to the timeline as the lack of a Russian invasion?” Roger suggested.
Matson ignored the cameraman and sat down to type. He produced a virtual copy of the original order with subtle changes highlighting the Fuhrer’s renewed enthusiasm for the original plan and a date that was only a day behind the historical one. The zombie Fuhrer stared at the paper without comprehension. “Sign it.” The zombie stared at the pen that had been thrust into his hand. Matson took a blank sheet of paper and placed it on top of the order. He scribbled his name on it. The zombie watched, then repeated the action.
“Okay,” Roger said, “he’s got the idea.”
The liaison shook his head. He signed the blank again. This time he signed Adolph Hitler. The zombie copied it. Matson checked the signature against existing examples. It looked good. He pointed to the bottom of the new Barbarossa order and the zombie signed it. He passed it to Roger. “Give that to his secretary. Make sure he notifies everyone relevant.”
As Roger left, Ellis David pushed past him. “The whole team is being recalled,” he said, with the air of a man soon for the gallows. “We will be in London for dinner this evening.” He marched to the desk and addressed himself to the zombie. “My apologies, Herr Hitler,” he said. “There have been some developments outside the control of myself and the RBC. We will be unable to complete our study of your glorious Reich.” David bent slightly toward Matson and spoke from behind his hand. “Is he quite all right?” he whispered.
“No. Not really, Ellis. He’s dead.”
Ellis David did a classic double take.
Matson continued: “His hairdresser over there shot him in the head. Some sort of lover’s tiff.”
David was incredulous: “They were lovers?”
“No. It was entirely one-sided. Maas loved the Fuhrer. It was unrequited. There was… a misunderstanding. Maas shot the Fuhrer with his own gun.”
The chief of character liaison shook his head slowly. He had never lost a major character before. He wasn’t sure anyone in the RBC had. Nor any of the other networks. It was decidedly unprofessional. “He doesn’t look dead.”
“Roger Wyatt turned him into a zombie.” Matson was sure no words he previously uttered had sounded so ludicrous when they hit the air.
David staggered a little, as though he had been clouted behind the head with a cricket bat and his knees could not decide whether to fold or not. Matson pushed a chair behind him and he sat.
Jurgen had stopped crying and busied himself with the Fuhrer. He stood behind the zombie and combed his hair into place. As he worked he spoke softly into his beloved’s ear. To Matson it sounded like meaningless baby-talk.
“The Americans are taking over,” David said, fighting to maintain an air of dignity and begin to exert some control on the situation, even though he was struggling to comprehend or believe what had happen. “Our lot back at HQ decided the best thing to do was to pull out entirely when they heard about Barbarossa.”
“We’ve had a new Barbarossa order drawn up,” Matson said.
“Zombie’s will do whatever they’re told.”
David thought a moment. “Can it speak?”
Matson shrugged. There was a lot he didn’t know about zombies. Roger was their expert. The thought made him shudder. Jurgen bent close to the zombie and said, “Say hello to Mr Ellis David, Dolphie.”
“Hello to Mr Ellis David,” the zombie repeated, in a conversational tone.
“Can he shout?” David wondered. “You know, for his speeches.”
Matson scribbled a handful of words onto a sheet of paper and handed them to Jurgen. “Get him to shout this.”
“Now, Dolphie, I want you to shout these words.” He whispered softly into the zombie’s ear.
The Fuhrer shouted: “My fellow Germans. Today we begin to march into history.”
The head of character liaison clapped. “Bravo. He sounds almost as demented as ever. Lovely job.”
The office door opened and Roger entered, a huge grin plastered across his features. “They bought it. Everyone’s really excited about the change in plans.” He looked around the tableau at the desk. “How’s he doing? We going to be able to fool anyone into thinking he’s still alive?”
“Maybe,” David said. “With luck.” He stood up. “Damn. We need to leave someone here to act as his coach. Perhaps I can arrange a single liaison to smooth out the handover.”
Jurgen stood to attention behind the Fuhrer. “I will be his coach. There is no-one more suited to the job.”
“No, no. We need someone from the future, who knows what track he needs to follow.”
Jurgen took the zombie by the hand. “Stand, my Fuhrer.”
The Zombie did as ordered. “Tell the nice people that… say Jurgen Maas is ordered to stay by my side night and day. He is my closest confidant and advisor.”
The zombie spoke as ordered. Jurgen smiled contentedly. “See. I can carry this off.”
“Good,” Roger said. “Because you’re going to have to go live in about fifteen minutes. Goebbles is on his way.”
“I was born for this role,” Jurgen said.
“We don’t have much choice, Ellis,” Matson said.
“You’re probably right,” Ellis replied, his voice heavy with resignation. “We have only a matter of hours to clean up and leave.”
“We’re going to have to come clean with the Yanks,” Matson said. “They’ll have to feed Jurgen with scripts for the Fuhrer, keep him true to the timeline.”
“Of course,” David agreed.
“What about Geobbels?” Roger asked.
“He tells Geobbels about the change in Jurgen’s role and then declares himself unwell.” David said.
“Okay. So that’s it. We’re out of here,” Matson said. “It either works right away or not at all. There’s no more we can do.”
“Oh my God,” David said, his voice hollowed out by thoughts of impending doom for his career. “We’re leaving the Third Reich in the hands of a zombie.”
“Yes,” Jurgen agreed, “But a zombie with the best image consultant in all of Germany.”
Matson said: “I’ll scribble out a quick script for the next couple of days, Jurgen.”
The image consultant shook his head. “That will not be necessary.” He buzzed for the Fuhrer’s secretary. “We have our own script.”
The RBC men stood frozen as though reality had been paused. Their attention focused entirely on the tall blond. He smiled and placed his hands on the back of the Fuhrer’s chair. “My Dolphie had a vision of a thousand year Reich. I cannot betray this vision.” He walked around the desk. The heads of the men from the RBC moved slowly to follow his movement, frightened eyes locked on his mouth. David and Matson began rapidly recalculating their plans. Both, coincidentally, wondered if there was a weapon within reach.
Jurgen continued, “I’m no expert on zombies but it is my understanding that they are undead and therefore could, in theory, live forever. Or at least for the thousand years he will need.” A huge smile lit his thin features.
The door opened and the Fuhrer’s secretary appeared. “These gentlemen will be leaving,” Jurgen said. “Escort them back to their time apparatus. See that all their colleagues are escorted there also.”
The secretary looked to his boss for confirmation.
The curiously flat zombie intonation sounded little different from the Fuhrer’s usual careless delivery to unconsidered minions. The secretary clicked his heels and saluted. “Gentlemen?” he said, sweeping an arm towards the open door.
“When you have dealt with that,” the image consultant said, you might inform Herr Goebbels that the Fuhrer has changed his mind on the Americans. Their presence will no longer be… required.”
Matson stared at Jurgen, standing to attention behind the zombie-Fuhrer. His eyes had a fevered light in them that Matson had not previously noticed and a thousand yard stare that seemed to be searching for a perfect future. Was it possible that a zombie and a hairdresser could completely change the course of history? In most societies in most time frames the answer would be a resounding no. But in Nazi Germany? Anything was possible.