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Shot down under Europe in 1918, decorated American World War One pilot Charlie Halifax believes his luck has finally abandoned him. Disfigured and demoralized, he deserts from France's famed Lafayette Escadrille, only to be captured, convicted, and sentenced to twenty years in the Foreign Legion. He serves in Africa, where, along with a motley group of convicts and outcasts, Halifax is forced to fly illegal arms shipments to the very tribesmen they have been sent to fight. But a dream keeps Halifax alive even as his companions fall to harm or misery-the relentless determination to become the first pilot to fly nonstop from Paris to New York.
Romantic, intriguing, and shadowed by the sun setting over the Moroccan desert, In the Blue Light of African Dreams is an unforgettable novel.
Halifax flew in from the desert, a thousand feet above the sand. When he reached the coast, he turned north and followed a line of waves breaking jade and white against the beaches.
His strut wires hummed with the speed. He pulled down his goggles and undid the strap of his leather flying cap, the sun jabbing at his eyes. When the town came in sight, he eased his plane down to four hundred feet and throttled back the engine. A shepherd's but slid by underneath. Goats scattered into thorn bushes. He saw fishing boats rising and falling on swells near the harbor. Fishermen pulled in their nets and emptied onto the decks a silver-flickering mass of fish.
Runway. He centered his fuselage on the cleared ground and throttled back again. A man waved to him from the mosque tower. The white stone houses of Mogador were blinding in the light.
He could feel sweat between his palm and the leather gauntlet that gripped the control stick. The ground slipped out of focus as he came in to land. He bounced once and then settled. The tail dragged. He throttled back until the engine stuttered.
When the speed was gone, he motored toward the hangar. As he neared the wide arc of corrugated iron, he cut his engine. The gray blur of his prop rattled into the smooth bars of two propeller blades. His plane rolled to a stop as quiet settled around him. Dust from his landing drifted past.
Heat rested on Halifax's shoulders. His lips were dried out and cracked. He unhooked the glasses from around his ears and set them in his pocket. Then he blinked for a while at the outof-focus dials on his control panel. After kneading the blood back into his legs, he unbuckled his seat straps and jumped to the ground. He staggered and then stood, pain from cramped muscles prising at his knee joints.
"Ivan!" Halifax stood facing the hangar, the hum of his engine still throbbing in his muscles. "Ivaaan!"
Heat dribbled up from the roof of the hangar.
After waiting for a minute and hearing no answer, he left his plane and walked home through the streets. It was still the hot part of the day. The shops had closed. Blue wood awnings lay flat against the walls.
Halifax had a room on the roof of the Hotel Smara. He always felt it in his calves when he walked up the stone staircase. It was dark in the room and the air smelled salty from the sea. He peeled off his leather jacket and put his goggles, flying helmet, gloves and revolver on the table. Then he sat down in a chair on the balcony, hands behind his head.
Sleep smoothed at his face. This was the time of day he looked forward to most. He felt his breath grow slower and deeper.
A minute later, footsteps echoed in the hall outside his room. The door opened and someone walked in. A man blocked the sun. "Hello there, Halifax my friend."
Halifax opened his eyes very slowly, light streaming in. "What do you want, Serailler?"
"You always think I want something, Charlie." Serailler sat down in the other chair. He reached across and patted Halifax on the knee. "I just came to see how my old friend Charlie is doing."
"You never come up here unless you want something."
Serailler sat back and the chair creaked. He undid the top button of his uniform jacket. Old sweat had dried into white dust around the collar and the back. "All right. Fine. I do want something. You're flying out to meet the Touaregs today. Now, in fact. You're delivering a case of rifles and ammunition. Everything must be done today."
"My flying orders are for tomorrow." Halifax rummaged in his pockets for the orders. He found the piece of paper, thin and yellow and almost dissolving in the moisture from his fingertips. Then he put on his glasses so he could read. "It says I do reconnaissance tomorrow at ten. Here. It's all here. You signed the damn thing." He held out the orders to Serailler. "Besides, I just got back from patrol."
Beyond the town walls, waves exploded on the rocks, echoing through the narrow streets of Mogador.
"These are new orders." Serailler took the paper and crumpled it up. "Unwritten orders. You leave in half an hour." He found himself a cigarette and lit a match, shielding its flame with the thin web of his palm. His eyes closed and his cheeks bowed in as smoke streamed down his throat. The smoke leaked in gray slivers from his mouth and nose.
"Look, Serailler. Why don't you send someone else for a change? I just got. . ." Back from patrol, he was going to say again, but fell silent. It wouldn't do any good. He sat back, folded his arms and stared past Serailler at the stone walls that ringed the town. They were the walls of a fortress, built by the Portuguese in the i 6oos when they dealt in slaves and gold dragged out of the desert. Their bronze cannons still jutted from the ramparts, aiming out to sea. "Why can't you send Rollet or Labouchere? They could do it just as well as me."
"But I'm ordering you. I don't trust anyone else to do the job right. Don't kid yourself. You know you're the man for the job. You always have been." Serailler rested his hand on Halifax's knee. "Of course, you could always say no. Try something new. Surprise me after all these years! Say, No, Captain Serailler, I have decided not to follow your orders anymore and would prefer to be transferred to an outpost in the desert. Serailler, you would say, send me to a place like Sidi Arak. Send me out into the sand so I can rub elbows with those Arabs. I want the challenge of knowing that if they .get hold of me, they'll use my skull for a paving stone in one of their mosques. Is that what you want to tell me, Halifax? Is it? Because if you're going to tell me" - he reached across and gently slapped Halifax's scarred face - "tell me now."
Halifax walked into his room and came out with his leather flying jacket and goggles and the belt with a revolver in its holster. The sweat had cooled in his clothes. His jacket was heavy with it.
Serailler was smiling. He stood leaning against the balcony wall, the stub of the burning cigarette still pinched between his thumb and index finger. "I'm your ticket home, Charlie. Do things right and one day soon I'll sign your discharge papers."
"How soon?" The words sounded worn out in his mouth. He asked without listening for Serailler's answer.
Serailler shrugged. The almond-smelling oil in his hair gleamed in the sun. "You're better off here in Africa, anyway." He waved his hand out to sea. "What do you have back in America? A job in a coal mine. You want to go home for that?"
Halifax shuffled halfway down the stone staircase to the street. Then he turned and walked back. His face reappeared in the doorway. "I never told you I worked in the mines. How did you find out?"
"Ivan told me." Serailler snorted and pinched the cigarette dead, saving the few brown shreds of unsmoked tobacco. "He tells everybody everything." Serailler smiled and Halifax couldn't help smiling with him.
For almost seven years they had been living in the same town. Now they saluted only out of sarcasm. They never used rank except to insult each other. None of their arguments lasted for long and none carried any weight. With so few of them in Mogador who had ever seen anything of the world beyond Morocco, they had no choice but to huddle for company and forgive almost anything.
Serailler followed Halifax down the stairs. His voice bounced off the damp walls. "Just be glad I'm looking after you. You'll stay alive here. You know how badly it's going for us in the desert now. Dozens of outposts have disappeared, even in the last few weeks. The desert just swallows them up. Be glad I keep you on the coast. If you go inland, you'll die like everybody else." Serailler put on his sunglasses; the round lenses were dark, dark green against the blaze of sunlight off the waves.
Sand blew across the airfield, scrabbling against Halifax's boots as he walked out to his plane.
Ivan Konovalchik crawled from under the wing. He had gone out to refuel the machine and then fallen asleep underneath, using an empty fuel can as a pillow.
Ivan worked in the aircraft hangar and repaired the planes that flew out of Mogador. Before he joined the French Foreign Legion and came to Africa, he had served as an officer in the Imperial Russian Cavalry. His family had owned huge stretches of land south of Moscow but lost everything in the Revolution. He was the only one who made it out. All of the others were killed.
Halifax strapped himself back into the cockpit. Warmth from the wicker seat reached through his clothes and pressed against his back. "Where are Labouchere and Rollet?" He looked down at Ivan. "Did they go out on patrol already?"
Ivan tucked his hands into the pockets of his baggy boiler suit. "They went out two hours ago. I already packed the guns and filled your tank."
Halifax kicked his heel against a metal case under the seat. It was meant for Cooper bombs, small hand-held explosives that pilots threw like grenades onto the Arab strongholds. The Coopers had been taken out and replaced with rifles. "What do we have this time?"
"A dozen Austrian Mannlichers with Spanish armory markings."
Halifax pumped pressure into the fuel tank and set the throttle. He thought of the weight of the guns and the strain they would put on his engine. How much more did a dozen rifles weigh than the rack of Cooper bombs? He started to think it through and then stopped because he wouldn't be able to do it without a pencil and paper and because he knew that Ivan would already have figured it out.
Ivan stabbed the toe of his boot in the dirt. "Labouchere and Rollet aren't too happy about Serailler changing your orders all the time, especially now with the way things are going for us in the desert. They think if you're going to be anywhere, you should be up there with them. Out on patrol."
"I know I should. Don't you think I know that? One of these days I'll tell Serailler to fly the guns out himself."
"That would be funny." Ivan grinned but his eyes stayed serious. "I'd like to see you say that to Serailler, and then I'd like you to send me a postcard when you arrive at Sidi Arak. We can add your name to the list on the Legion memorial."
Halifax flew at seven thousand feet, about as high as he wanted to go. He was flying the same type of plane he had flown in the war in France. The .garrison at Mogador had three planes, one for each pilot. The machines were all single-seat Spad VIIs, patched together so many times by Ivan that whole sections of engine casing had disappeared under repair work.
The purple Atlas Mountains rose up in the distance. This was the Rif, a region of hills that stretched from the first brickcolored sand flats of the Sahara all the way to the Mediterranean. Even after years of fighting against the French, Arabs still held the Rif. To Halifax, it seemed impossible that anyone else would ever own the land.
The war in Morocco had begun in i g i i , when France sent in Foreign Legion troops and began fighting Arab tribesmen for control of the country. Then the Great War broke out in 1914, and France turned its attention away from Morocco. At the end of the World War, while other troops went back to civilian life, the Legion was rearmed for service in Africa. Guns, planes and men used in the trenches of the western front were sent out into the sand against Arab tribesmen.
Along with Frenchmen, and Russians like Ivan Konovalchik, there were Germans in the Foreign Legion. Most of these Germans had fought against the Legion in France only a few months before. Englishmen joined the Legion, and Turks, and Americans like Charlie Halifax. They were people who had nothing to go home for or who couldn't go home or who had no home when the Armistice came in the winter of 1918.
Vibrations from his engine shuddered through the canvas and wood of the fuselage, numbing Halifax's feet. He followed scratches of road and passed over towns made from red mud, hedged in by date palms and cactus. These towns weren't on the map he had fixed on two rollers inside the cockpit. The idea was that as he passed over the different regions, he could roll the map forward to see where he was going. But the map ran out after twenty minutes of flying time. A ragged-edged block of black and orange strips covered the paper all the way to the end of the map. Written in red between the strips was Zone d'insÚcuritÚ. The French didn't hold the land and couldn't guarantee the safety of anyone who went there. No one called it the zone of insecurity. Instead, it was called the Bled.
During the years since he had arrived in Morocco, he had flown to towns in the Bled that his orders claimed had been taken by Legion troops and were secure. When he got there, he found the places empty. No traces of fighting or struggle, no message left behind. And he had flown over towns as a mass of dark-cloaked Arabs heaved across the flimsy barricades. The tiny khaki speckles of Legionnaires struggled against the black tide before it swallowed them up.
The shadow of his aircraft followed him like a gray beetle across the ground. Now and then he leaned out into the slipstream of his prop and breathed clean air. The rest of the time he sat in a haze of castor oil fumes from the engine's lubricating system, feeling his stomach complain and go sour. In France, he and all the others in his squadron used to drink blackberry brandy to stop themselves getting the shits in midair from all the castor oil, then burp blackberry burps while they peered into the sun, searching for German planes.
Sun warmed the leather of his flying helmet. After a while, he took it off and let the wind cut through his hair. He flew toward the Sahara, south of the region where the Arab leader Abdel Krim held out against Legion troops.
After an hour, Halifax reached the wadi where the Touaregs lived. The Arabs called them Blue People because they wore indigo-dyed cloaks that stained their skin. They lived at the edge of the sand and out across the dunes. The Touaregs weren't Arabs. They were here before the Arabs.
The wadi looked like a tear in the earth, a sudden cluster of green and water and flat-roofed houses in the middle of the sand. Here the desert seemed to be only a thin veil that hid rivers, trees and people, and in this place the veil had been ripped open, showing what grew beneath.
He brought his plane in on a clear stretch of ground, cutting the engine just before the Spad's wheels touched the ground. The machine rolled to a stop and suddenly there was nothing but quiet and air boiling in the heat. Sand lay in waves of coppery dust. Halifax climbed down from the cockpit and stood rubbing his knees, which were stiff like an old man's knees. Then he sat under the wing of his plane, waiting for the Touaregs to appear.
For years, ever since becoming commandant of Mogador, Serailler had been running a black market business and using the Touaregs as middlemen. He sold guns to the Arab tribesmen, the same Arabs who were fighting against the Foreign Legion. They had to get their guns from somewhere, so they bought them from the enemy, from Serailler.
First he sold rifles from the Mogador armory, listing the missing guns as broken or stolen in his monthly reports to Casablanca. Then he began buying weapons and ammunition from Spain and smuggling them down into Morocco. The guns came via the Canary Islands, which lay just off the Moroccan coast. Canary Islands fishermen made the deliveries to Moroccan fishermen out at sea.
The Arab tribesmen paid for their rifles with gold, which came from someplace beyond the Sahara, beyond a stretch of desert called the Erg Cherch. As far back as Roman times, gold and black slaves from central Africa had come out of the Erg Cherch. The Spanish, who owned a region south of Mogador, called it the River of Gold.
For centuries, the Arabs had traded gold and slaves for salt weight for weight, gold for salt - because there was not enough salt on the African plains beyond the desert, and the people there would have died without it. Whole tribes were carried away as slaves to pay for the salt.
The source of the gold stayed secret. Arab armies that had marched into the desert to find it never came back.
Now the war against the French had broken down the trade routes to central Africa. The Arabs needed guns to stay alive, and they paid for them the way the people beyond the Erg Cherch had paid for salt, with gold.
From where he sat, Halifax could see nothing of the wadi. The desert seemed to stretch out unbroken. Serailler had told him always to stay up on the edge, never to go down the paths that led to where the Touaregs lived. The paths were narrow and scattered with amethyst crystals. Fossils in the shape of giant snails bubbled up from the rock.
The man who worked for Serailler before Halifax came had been murdered by the Touaregs. Serailler wouldn't tell Halifax how, so he had to find out from Ivan.
The dead man's name was Leclerc. He had been sent down to Morocco as a reconnaissance pilot after several months on the western front in 1917. Ivan said he thought the man had bought his way down here, since he'd told Ivan he knew his luck wouldn't have lasted any longer in the air over Verdun.
Serailler had owned Leclerc the way he now owned Halifax. One word from Serailler, the Foreign Legion commandant of Mogador, and Leclerc could have been posted to one of the desert outposts, away from the safety of the coast. So Leclerc had done what he was told, like everyone else in Mogador.
Leclerc had never seen the Arabs who came for the guns; he only saw the Touaregs. They were the bankers, keeping a few guns and a little gold for payment.
Serailler once tried to cheat the Arabs by sending a shipment of guns without magazines, with the idea that he could charge extra for them next time. The Arabs took the Touareg in charge of the guns, cut off his head and threw it off the cliff of the wadi, down onto the houses below. So when Leclerc arrived one month later with the magazines and another shipment of guns, the Touaregs nailed him to the runway with spikes and left him there. They took what they could from the plane and abandoned the rest. By the time Serailler sent out another plane to see what had happened, scorpions were nesting in Leclerc's chest cavity.
The first time Halifax flew out, only a week after arriving in Morocco, the Touaregs kept him waiting until after dark, then crawled from the sand and surrounded his plane. They lit sticks wrapped in tar-soaked cloth and held out these torches so they could see Halifax but he couldn't see them. The Touaregs took the guns from the chest under Halifax's cockpit seat and checked the bolts while Halifax stood with his hands in the air, waiting to be shot. As they moved around him, Halifax could just make out that one man was wearing the safety harness from the seat of Leclerc's plane. Another had his flying goggles.
They looked at the scars on Halifax's face, touching the smoothness of healed skin, peering at him while heat from the torches drew sweat from Halifax's body. Then they handed him the gold they'd been given by the Arabs, badly refined and poured into molds like coins with no markings on them.
The next time he flew in, the Touaregs didn't keep him waiting. They brought him water and tangerines and didn't point a rifle at his head.
A dozen Touaregs formed out of the heat haze, first legless and headless, then suddenly whole and in front of him.
Their skin was darker than the skin of the Arabs. They looked more like the slaves who came from beyond the Erg Cherch. Their purple-black cloaks had hoods, which they wore against the sun. With the hoods pulled up, their faces were completely hidden.
Halifax kept his flight goggles on. He could see the men a little more clearly through them and knew they kept their distance from him as long as he wore the lemon-colored lenses and smooth flying cap.
The group of Touaregs stopped a short distance from the plane. One man came closer, touched the tips of his fingers against his lips and his chest, then held out his hand for Halifax to shake. In the hollow of his throat the man wore a bead of red amber, held around his neck by an old leather thong.
Wind blew at the capes of the men who had come to watch. They stared and didn't speak, squinting from the pain of sun in their eyes. Beyond them lay the wreck of Leclerc's plane. Its canvas was gone and only the metal frame remained.
Halifax brought out the rifles. They looked even older than the Spads. The wood of the stocks had been oiled so many times that it was almost black. The bluing on the barrels was peppered with rust.
The insides of the barrels must be pitted like soft bread, Halifax thought, and he wondered how many of them blew up in the faces of the Arabs who tried to fire them.
The Touareg picked a gun from the stack and hefted it, as if he would know from its weight whether Serailler had cheated them again. He went through the whole pile, the worn-down skin of his hands curving against the stocks. The other Touaregs rose on their toes, mouths open from the concentration of staring.
The Touareg finished with the rifles and walked back to his friends. The cloaks closed around him, and Halifax stared at the men's ankles, which was all he could see of their bodies. The rest stayed hooded and shapeless, tangled in the mass of cloaks. To Halifax, they looked tike a group of Capuchin monks.
When the Touareg untangled himself and returned to Halifax's plane, he carried a black metal box. Whenever Halifax saw the box, he knew everything had gone all right and that he could go home soon. It was the same kind of box that his father had used for holding the deed to his house and his will and stamps from foreign countries that he took out now and then and held up to the light so he could see the watermarks.
The Touareg sat opposite Halifax, cross-legged on the ground, and opened the box. It was filled with the unstamped gold coins that the Arabs used for buying Serailler's rifles. The Touareg counted out four coins for each rifle. He mumbled as he squeezed each coin through his fingers. Wind carried away the sounds as they fell. Suddenly the Touareg looked up, chewed at his lip and asked himself a question. He asked himself again, then smacked his fist down on the coins and started counting over again.
Halifax smiled, hiding his mouth with the back of his hand.
The Touareg pretended not to notice, but he smiled too, under the hood of his cloak. When he had finished counting he sat back, hands gripping his knees, bare feet pale on the soles.
Then he pointed to the others, who still stood gaping. The Touareg reached across, running his hand over the scars on Halifax's cheek.
It was the scars they had come to see.
Halifax tucked the coins into a cigar box that Serailler had given him - Cuban cigars, Punch half-coronas, the box so old and the cigars smoked so long ago that the smell of tobacco had gone from the dry reddish wood. The box disappeared underneath Halifax's seat and the Touareg spun the prop to get the engine started. He was good at it now, after years of not being good.
Before Halifax set the plane rolling down the runway, the Touareg handed up something large and white that had stayed hidden in the purple cloaks of the group. It was the skull of an animal, with big empty eye sockets and its teeth missing, the skull of a camel. The Touareg weighed it in his hands, as if it were another rifle. "Sellayeh," he shouted over the hammer of the engine.
"What?" Halifax peered at the bleached slab of bone.
The Touareg made a fist and beat on the skull. "Sellayeh." He took a knife from his belt and gouged it in the eye sockets. "Sellayeh."
"Sellayeh." He touched the pads of his fingertips one more time against the scars on Halifax's face, then threw the skull into the cockpit.
Halifax circled the wadi at five hundred feet.
The cloaked men stood around the rifles, looking up at the plane, shielding their eyes from the painful sun. Shadows lay like knife blades at their feet.
He didn't know what the Touaregs saw in his scars, except that they were smooth, like the balls of amber they wore at their throats, and looked deliberately polished, as if he had done this to himself on purpose.
In August of 1918, his plane took a burst of antiaircraft fire over the Menin road, between Ypres and Polygon Wood in south western Belgium. Halifax saw the shell as it reached the crest of its rising. He watched it move slower and slower, catching the light on its smooth copper sides, until it seemed to be hovering over his plane.
The explosion blew his canvas fuselage to shreds and tore a hole in his radiator. The machine kept running, but Halifax lost altitude and couldn't get back to his airfield at Bergues, across the border in France. Cooling fluid leaked from the broken radiator and overheated his engine in a couple of minutes. The fuel began to burn when he was still about a hundred feet above the ground, searching for a place to land. He beat on the guns, trying to dislodge the bullets so he could throw them over the side and stop them from bursting in the heat. He swayed the plane from side to side, hoping the fire would burn out before it reached him in the cockpit. From his days in flight class, he recalled the Falling Leaf Technique, seeing again the instructor swing his arm back and forth, holding the wooden model of a Spad. He knew even then that the technique wouldn't work.
The engine blew up. A sheet of burning oil sprayed back across the side of his face and his hands and his chest.
He didn't remember undoing the harness, couldn't remember jumping out. Suddenly he was just falling through the air, clawing at his eyes, and slapping at flames that fluttered from the charred leather of his jacket. Cartwheeling down, he saw a forest, hedges, grass, a lake. They raced out of focus as he fell. Woods pulled apart into the pompoms of each separate tree.
Then a jolt shoved him into black and cold and hissing all around. I'm dead, he thought. I'll be damned, I'm actually dead. He spread his arms in the dark. Water. He was in the lake. He rose slowly to the surface, broke through and breathed. Trees crowded down to the bank. Smoke from his plane sifted into the clouds.
He didn't remember reaching the shore. The next thing he could recall was the face of an old woman and lying in the back of a cart pulled by a horse. The woman's hands appeared suddenly close to his eyes. She touched his face and he screamed from the pain and she screamed as well, jumping back from where she knelt beside him.
Potbellied clouds rode past in the sky. Halifax's head jolted back and forth over the rough wood of the cart. His boots were filled with water and his clothes felt heavy and reeked of smoke. Then grayness appeared like a sieve across clouds and sky, the gray turning to black like at the bottom of the lake.
Now I'm really dead. The thought trailed through his head and the black crashed down on top of him.
He woke up in a field hospital near Dunkirk. For weeks after that, the only memory he had was of pain. Pain far beyond the place he thought pain would end. Friends from his squadron came to visit him, their faces like owls' from sunburn on their cheeks and the pale moons where they wore their goggles in the air. They gave him a new uniform. Nurses damp-sponged his body and said please not to cry out. His legs were in casts because they had broken when he hit the water, and so were his ribs. How many are broken? he asked, and the doctor said, How many have you got? Food moved like slivers of glass down his burned throat. His days became segments of boredom. The white walls seemed to shudder around him. Sometimes it looked to him as if everything were white - white clothes, white bandages, white pus from under his fingernails until they turned black and fell off.
The left side of his face had been scraped clean by the fire. The scars that remained looked like new wax. The skin, which was purple in the beginning but faded to white after a couple of years, stretched tight across his cheekbone. He spent a long time looking in the mirror, teaching the muscles to work again. His face looked like a skull wrapped in wet rice paper.
In the weeks of convalescence, he taught the skull to speak. "Cheese," he said to the mirror. "No, really, thank you." He pretended not to take the glass of champagne a pretend woman offered him. "And how do you do?" He held out his hand without the fingernails at his own reflection in the mirror.
The doctors in Dunkirk told him he could be back in his plane in two months. The first few times he heard this, he pictured himself in his Spad and flying patrols the way he'd been doing before, but gradually these pictures went away.
All he saw was himself on fire and falling. Again and again, falling and burning. It occurred to him that the only reason he had survived as long as he had was because of luck. After the fall, he felt his luck disappear. The mashed bodies of crashburned pilots staggered in and out of his sleep. He forgot everything except the idea of running away. All his thoughts converged on it. It ran a groove through his head, channeling all the strength he had left into plans for getting home.
As soon as he could walk, Halifax put on his new uniform and left the hospital. He boarded a train heading for Cherbourg and got halfway up the gangplank of a ship en route to America before being stopped by the Military Police. They took him to the Leffrinckouke military prison, not far from his hospital in Dunkirk, and the war ended two weeks after he arrived there.
Halifax was appointed a lawyer, who told him he'd be subject to French military law. The lawyer said there wasn't much else to tell. They sat in Halifax's cell on mats made of hemp rope and clicked their tongues at the bad luck. Everyone thought the war would go on much longer, perhaps even for years. Halifax's French was almost fluent by then. He dreamed in French. When he was angry he yelled in French, and when the lawyer had gone, Halifax sang himself to sleep in French.
The court-martial tribunal gave him a choice of being shot or signing up for twenty years with the Legion. They needed good pilots, they said. Within three weeks he was down in Mogador, speaking French and trying to learn Arabic, his burns still purple and healing, flying out to the Touaregs with guns from Serailler.
Halifax sat for a while in his Spad. The sun had gone below the sea and heat from the day was fading. He unstrapped himself, climbed down and walked to Serailler's office. On the captain's desk he set the cigar box filled with coins. Next to it he put the camel skull.
"What am 1 supposed to do with this?" Serailler prodded the skull with the tip of an unlit cigarette. "What do those little blue bastards think they're doing?"
"It's a token of their respect."
"Respect?" Serailler moved the white mass from one end of his desk to the other. "Do they really respect me?"
"Of course they do." Halifax grinned at the skull.
Serailler was silent, then he nodded. "I thought perhaps they did."