(Fangs of the SS) CHAPTER 16: Among Strangers

army camp

Their eyes are on him.

He wishes he were more tired, he’d notice them less, care less about them, then. But now, shaved, rested, he’s aware of their stares as he walks through the busy town hall. The building is busier than it ever was when this place was just a small sleepy French colonial town in the Tunisian highlands. The sounds of typewriters and voices and boots echo against the shot up walls and the smoke stained ceiling. Somebody recently tried to hold this building for a while. Maccabbee steps on a blood stain that’s been scrubbed halfheartedly back when the Americans turned the building into their HQ. Not enough time, not enough wear for the stain to have faded. The Kabbalist shivers when he catches the echoes of the death. A German kid, dying hard, bleeding out, warmth pulsing into cold, doesn’t want to die, he whispers something that Maccabbee can’t hear, doesn’t want to hear. He grits his teeth and moves on through the people.

Who draw back, move aside, make sure that there’s no contact. This is what they see. A thin soldier with a lined face, hair starting to go grey, hands and face cut and scraped with the minor emblems of combat. To the eye, nothing really out of the ordinary, lots of soldiers, officers, around who look like him, who have been through the shit he’s been through, even worse shit. This is what they feel, in their chests, on the backs of their necks, shivering down their spines: the other. He is not like them. He is to be feared, avoided. Do not catch his eye.  Those with empathy in their souls, they can find it in themselves to pity him.  And those are the ones who especially avoid the Rabbi, because they, those with empathy, they can catch the merest flutter, the slightest edge, of what has touched this man, and that faint sensation, with its promise of power, with its promise of pain, with the sense that immense words are being uttered on the edge of hearing, like the voice of a volcano, like prophecy from the white hot heart of a forge, those with empathy get the faintest sense of that and have to fight off weeping or headaches or nausea.  

And so the soldiers, the clerks, the officers, they all draw aside, subtly or overtly, as he walks past. Hands flutter in a variety of signs, some dimly remembered from grandparents, some in everyday use: mal occhio, avert evil, crosses. All of this goes on as the conversations continue, typewriters bang on. Just a subliminal zone of disturbance and motion as the Kabbalist heads towards his meeting. Alone in the crowd.

Captain Maccabbee has been ordered to report to a Colonel Morehouse. He doesn’t know the officer, never even heard of him before. The Colonel must have been recently transferred in. Maccabbee spares the time to wonder who the Colonel pissed off to get assigned to work with Camp Cuckoo. So far, the turn over in senior officers has been pretty high around the Camp. It takes a certain flexibility of belief, an imaginative person, to even fully understand, let alone utilize all the different possibilities inherent in Camp Cuckoo. None of them have exhibited that yet. One didn’t even last through the entire first inspection tour, just had some sort of breakdown when he saw the witches and what they could do. Maybe this Colonel Morehouse will be different. He shrugs. He doesn’t really care, just so long as the man lasts long enough to order him and the golems against Bathory.

Back along the far wall of the town hall are offices, one of them still has its door. Someone has pasted a sign to the door: COL. MOREHOUSE, Special Operations. A clerk sits at a desk outside the office banging away at a typewriter outside the office. The Kabbalist waits to be acknowledged but the clerk is busy and oblivious, rattling away his typewriter. He waits some more. And then he’s had enough with the waiting. He puts some Power into his voice. He really shouldn’t but he’s got a headache and being treated like a leper has put on edge on his mood. “Captain Maccabbee reporting to Colonel Morehouse.”

The keys on the typewriter all freeze up and that bit that goes back and forth slams all the way over to the left. The clerk gapes up at him through glasses that now have cracks through one lens. “Oh! Damn, you scared the hell out of me!”

Maccabbee just stares at the clerk as he babbles and fixes his typewriter. “Sorry, sir. My nerves are all shot these days. I never expected to be so close to the front lines. All that artillery going day and night. It wears on a guy, don’t it?”
Maccabbee sighs. There’s no reason to take his bad mood out on this poor guy. So, he’s an idiot with his stupid looking glasses who’s never seen combat but that’s no reason to go all Wrath of God on him. In fact, it’s him that’s the stupid one, he’s supposed to have more control than that. And what’s the first thing that they teach you when you want to go ask the Head Rabbi for something? Yes. Never piss off the secretaries. Always, always make nice with them. Maccabbee shakes his head at himself and slumps a little to make himself less threatening, puts some warmth into his voice and makes sure that his accent is purest American. “You’re going to want to watch talk like that, soldier. Old Guts and Glory hears you talking like that, he’ll probably have you shot.” He nods to the clerk, one soldier to another. “Now, why don’t you show me into Colonel Morehouse’s office?”

And it doesn’t matter. The clerk doesn’t even look up at him as he pulls the sheet of paper he was working on from the typewriter and sees if he can salvage it. “Oh, I’m sorry Captain, but the Colonel isn’t here right now. He’s been called away to inspect some positions closer to the front.” He shakes his head, crumples the paper, and throws it into the trash can. He rolls another sheet into the typewriter.

“But I thought I was going to be briefed about my next mission.” Maccabbee is proud of the way he keeps his voice pleasant and level.

Because of all the demands on his time, the Colonel left all files here and has authorized me to give them to you.” Once the sheet of paper is positioned correctly in the typewriter, the clerk finally looks up at Maccabbee. “He feels that the mission is pretty self-explanatory and that the files will answer any questions that you might have.”

The clerk rummages on his desk and hands a thick folder to Maccabbee, who numbly accepts it. Well, what do you know? That gangster Mirsky was right. They really fucking hate me. But does it matter? Let’s see.

Ignoring the clerk, who, in all fairness ignores him and goes back to typing, Maccabbee opens the file and quickly scans it. No. No, it doesn’t matter that they hate me. It doesn’t matter that they’re scared of me. Because they gave me the mission anyway. He speaks without looking up from the file. “I… see… Well, please tell the Colonel that I have the mission briefing. Myself and my team will execute it immediately.  The Colonel can count on us not to fail.” His excitement makes his words flat, rote, meaningless.

The clerk flashes him an empty smile. “I’ll be sure to pass on the message, Captain. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to finish these reports before the Colonel gets back.”

Maccabbee turns away without speaking and hurries away, the file folder clasped in a white knuckled hand. He sweeps through the crowd, not caring who he brushes against, not caring that he’s making men get the hell out of his way. Which they do, because his face is set and his eyes burn.

Outside, at the bottom of the step, the four armed statue shivers to life. Mirsky looks up and sees Maccabbee coming down the steps, two at a time, knee thudding strides.

Geburah speaks first. “How’d it go?”

Maccabbee holds up the folder but speaks to Mirsky. “You were right. The brass is spooked and pulling some sort of shit.”

“What happened?”

“The Colonel wasn’t even there, or didn’t want to see me. I got handed this by his clerk. Didn’t speak to anyone in charge. And you know what? It doesn’t even matter. I don’t even care.”

When Geburah’s eyes are described as glowing, they actually physically glow. The brightening red light begins to illuminate the golem’s cheeks and its spreading smile. “You mean…?”

Maccabbee hands the folder to Geburah. “Yeah. We got our mission. We’re going right at Bathory. Take a look.”

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