story by Virtual_Poet and Jim Bonner

“Also: beware of narratives that begin with dialogue,” Gerald advised his son. “They’re best left for the fire.”

Both laid prone among sparse shrubbery on a rocky hill overlooking the gala. Its festive melodies and promenading sound glided from within the crumbled pillars of an ancient temple, up to the hillside plants, and into the airship-carrier docked silently above, supplying light back down in response. Like an elongated egg dripping yolk, its luminous outpour blocked view of the moon, whose image was cast into the near-Aegean waters, lapping to-and-fro as the sea met cliffside stone. The lunar reflection and crashing waves were drowned out, though, for those at the gala, and for those watching a distance away, beneath bare branches, in the shadows on the hill.

“And you see how they’re standing—perfect posture, tuxedos, dresses, all of it?”

From his binoculars, the boy, Arthur, scurried down into the crowd. The men were either in or past their prime: adventurously fit or regally rotund. The women were all as beautiful as they were young.

“Do you think they were born that way; that their blood’s blue and we’re different breeds?”

“They were taught that,” Arthur answered, still peering.

Through the scope, hanging off the left of his bolt-action Enfield, Gerald had delved in, scrutinizing, while continuing the conversation that eased his tenseness. “And so who taught them?”

“Their parents? Their teachers too.”
“And who taught them about it?”

The boy thought for a moment, taking his eyes from the lens. “Their grandparents taught their parents,” he said, looking to his father for approval.

Gerald responded, still sweeping through the gala from his sights. “And so on, yes? This is what tradition is. Heritage, culture, a uniform history. So even though,” Gerald paused, tracking a budding tryst, “they might be our enemy because their goals are different, don’t ever forget that they have heritage, too, which must be respected to be understood. So also: beware of the person who has no tradition or history, because they truly are a different breed.”

The song ended and the band stretched in a felicitously feline manner before resuming their instruments and performing a calmer, classical-jazz mix.

“The sphynx statue to the left, father. The English colonel missing his arm.”

“I see him.”

“He has two of the same medals you do.”

Gerald admired the quantity of medals on the colonel’s spotless uniform, all speaking to the quality of his service.

“That means you were both in the same Army at the same time,” Arthur asked.

Crawling out of his rifle, Gerald agreed. “Yes, concurrently in His Majesty’s Service.”

“When I was born?”

“Yes,” he replied, plainly. Memories waltzed in his mind: glances and touch; movement and sensation.

The boy imagined rather than remembered. “…In the War, did you ever fight against Keller or Mr. Cecil or any of the others?”

Turning, Gerald looked down to the pebbles near his son’s shoulder, then up, to him. “Keller and I were both at Passchendaele in Belgium, fighting against each other, though we never met until after the War.”

He looked for Keller in the crowd, knowing he was down there somewhere. Had it been a decade earlier, Keller’s swaying Iron Cross would have been the focal target of his aim. Gerald’s hands began sweating, and as he swept through the gala, it waltzed into thoughts of broken, burnt trees in fields of mud.

Deliberately blinking, he looked back to his son. “…But those things don’t matter now that we’re all in this together. We realized the reason we fought each other came from the people we should be fighting: the common enemy, who only has power as long as we stayed engaged in hurting one another. Those with hidden traditions hoping to erase our individual ones.” Repositioning himself, Gerald shouldered his rifle and Arthur resumed his binocular spotting.

“We’re all here for a reason, Arthur, but only our grandchildren will know what the reason was. If that colonel by the statue and I survived, then, well…there’s a reason…if our friends once warred against us…there’s a reason…just like there’s a reason we’re on the hill and they’re down there…because we’re smarter.”

Arthur smiled beneath the binoculars.

“What have you seen; are they sticking to the plan?”

Scouring the temple ruins, they caught quickly forgotten glimpses of secret conversations, square-faced stock-market talk, dancing, photographs being taken, lovers emerging from strangers, security guarding the scene, and then, in a cropping of pillars away from the main party, between the shadows, the music, the airship light, and the sea, Gerald saw Alphonse. He was dressed in a tuxedo that accentuated his mature but youthful vitality, listening to a middle-aged French general in his dress uniform.

“Another revolution, another generation of rebels. I thought we were supposed to be the last. It would all end with us setting things straight again.” The general spoke to Alphonse but glanced at the gala from the corner of his eye.

Alphonse replied from a slender, black-mustachioed smirk, one hand in his pocket, the other holding a drinking glass. “Wasn’t it supposed to end at the Hague?”

Scoffing, the general lifted his glass to take a drink, then redirected his attention to the younger compatriot. “When can we be done with this rhetoric of usurpation and resume national unity? We both know so many who passed beyond this life for that idea, which now feels to be bordering on a pipedream.”

“Better to die for the dream than live in the nightmare.”

“I’ll drink to that,” he said, finishing his glass, then lowered it down to his navel. He rotated the pineapple-cut, crystal glass around to see if any swirling liquor was left, but there was none.

Letting loose a sigh, the general spoke again. “If you arrive at the opportunity tonight, take a look off the northeast tip of this island. You’ll see a faint, distant light on the horizon: a light-house on a tiny place called Gyaros. The Greek commanders here have told me they’ve equipped its desolation to accommodate dissidents. So if you go look, think about how far we must seem to the people there. And as far as that barren place is from here—as far as that light is to your eye—that’s how far peace lies.” The general raised the glass up to drink from it again, then remembered it was empty. “We’re here for an arms show, for Christ’s sake.”

Alphonse sipped from his glass, then spoke with a subtle inflection. “What are the odds we can see the airplanes tonight they plan on showing tomorrow?”

“Tonight?…Well, you’d have to talk with some of these people running security. I think a few of them,” he pointed to his shoulder, “the ones with blue armbands have papers to move around the island. I’m assuming they have access to the hanger they’re storing the aircraft in. It’s half-a-kilometer west of here. But, from my impression, they exist to escort pilots or officers only.”

“Would you want to join us, then?”

The general chuckled. “Us?”

Alphonse feigned a bourgeois shyness. “Some of my friends, some recreational aviators, were interested in the new designs being shown, but wanted a closer look.”

“From my understanding, there should be opportunities tomorrow afternoon for those interested to inspect the models…I would assume you’d be more interested in models of a more feminine sort, to whom I would be much more willing and able to join you in inspecting!”

Through a smile as deep as the stone beneath their feet and a laugh as true and composed as the music abounding, Alphonse divulged his reluctance.

The General laughed and reaffirmed his stance. “I find it unlikely that the security here would allow admittance regardless. They’re Italian.” He looked back to the gala.

Alphone tried to gauge his attention’s destination and sipped again. Eyes in motion to mirror his mind, Alphonse sipped again. “Do you know what the show tomorrow is planned to entail?”

“I’ve heard rumors the pilots are to take off from the hangar, land on the carrier above us, then parachute down into these ruins. Should be a spectacle of broken limbs.”

“My friends agree. They’re convinced something will go wrong, which is why they insisted on trying to view them tonight before any accidents.”

Still staring out, the general scoffed, chuckling, and said: “Well, if they’re so concerned, why don’t they go ‘save’ the things by taking them and flying away in the—”

His face suddenly broke into a bewildered realization, and Alphonse stared at it, silently. Adjusting his posture and squinting menacingly, the general stepped closer, peering around for onlookers.

“You do understand the situation you’ve put me in?…Is this related to the pirates you alluded to in the last letter you sent me—on the island in the Adriatic?” The general looked back to the gala. “I understand you likely have personal reasons, but these bands of dissatisfied veterans, new revolutionaries, still in the trenches…involvement with them is far beneath your birth. If your father were here, he would report you to the officer in charge.”

Becoming more sober in tone, Alphonse agreed in retorting brevity. “All very true…”

They looked at one another. The song ended and an announcement was made that a foxtrot was next. The older attendees stepped aside and couples eagerly approached the center of the complex, where sacrifices once were made.

“Stop whatever you’ve agreed to do for these international rogues. It’s a charade, and not even a useful one.”

“I won’t make platitudes of moral supremacy in this endeavor,” Alphonse earnestly stated, “But the severity of what’s to come if we fail in stamping out the impediments to true unification is far worse than the shame I’d incur by associating with those who would work in mending things.”

The general inhaled heavy, then let out a dry disapproval. “Regardless of anything, I refuse to engage in it. Do not mix me into this. We’ve both risked too much even being around one another, now that I know.” He set his glass down in the angled fracture of a broken column, which presented itself like a stalagmitic table, and he stepped over a crack in the stone floor to walk away.

Alphonse raised his voice to ask, “Can I write to you again, sir?”

The general spoke over his shoulder, “I never knew why you stopped,” then passed by stragglers at the peripheries of the party and blended into the central mass watching the foxtrot.

“That doesn’t look good,” Gerald said.

His right eye was closed, head tilted to the side, enveloping his weapon of wood and metal as much as it absorbed him. Gerald broke away from the preempted, tracked path ahead of the general and scanned to a pile of large, cut stones, acting like a waterless fountain within the complex. There were a few people gathered around and on it’s smooth, tan surface.

“Have you found Keller and the Basetti brothers yet?”

Arthur responded from the lens of his binoculars. “The stone cluster south of the band’s platform.”

“Perfect, son.”

Lorenzo Basetti was staring at a girl on the other side of the complex, across from the foxtrot. She expressed a coy acknowledgement, barely visible through the cacophony of bodies between them. He raised his glass to her, smiling, then turned to face the other two. “If our cover gets blown, I’m kidnapping her.”

“Talking out loud about having our cover blown ensures it will be,” his brother Gaspare responded with annoyance.

Lorenzo laughed. “Speaking of things being blown—”

“Shut up, both of you,” Keller quietly barked to the two uniformed youth. “And straighten your posture. Remember, we’re not welcome here unless we act like we belong.”

“We should have gone with my plan and invaded the hangar or wherever they’re keeping the planes. No acting involved.”

“No brains, either,” Keller said, reexamining his tuxedo. “We can’t risk anyone getting hurt or captured. We’re more valuable than the planes.”

He sized up Lorenzo.

“Some of us, anyway.”

They both smiled.

“Regardless,” Keller continued, “with this plan, it won’t come to anyone getting hurt. Alphonse’s contact will get us access.”

Gaspare was staring away from everything, looking for reassurance in the plan. “I don’t see either of them anymore. Maybe they moved?”

“I wish the mystic on the hill could tell us what’s going on,” Lorenzo said, searching the rocks for Gerald and Arthur.

“You both do a disgrace to your uniforms. You would have never lasted in the service with this impatience.” With metered assurance, Keller stated, “Alphonse will find us and we’ll proceed from there.”

A voice came from behind him.

“We’ll have to proceed differently than planned, I’m afraid.”

Alphonse approached their small circle and added himself to its secretive shape.

With an animated sincerity, Gaspare welcomed the new addition, extending his hand. “Great to see you again, Alphonse. How have you been?”

“Where’ve you been?” Lorenzo added, extending his hand, too. “We’ve missed you on the island.”

Keller held out his hand and smiled at his friend, grabbing his shoulder. “Phenomenal work orchestrating this. What’s the situation?”

“Our contact was…less than enthusiastic to aid our effort. He’s rigid in his ways, but I think his dogmatic approach could have been breached. There simply wasn’t enough time, though. He might be with us internally, but he won’t risk being seen with us, yet he won’t work against me, so we’ve only reached a bump on the path, not an end.”

“So where does this leave us?” Keller inquired.

“Well,” Alphonse began, rubbing his mustache. “I learned that certain security personnel with blue armbands have papers we can use to get into a hanger that’s walking distance west of here. That’s where the aircraft are tonight.”

“So the only question is how to get the papers,” Gaspare said.

“And where the mustache came from,” Lorenzo added, pointing to their compatriot’s face.

Alphonse and Keller smirked.

In a passively indignant tone, Gaspare drew their attention back to the central issue. “None of us are any good at pickpocketing.”

Everyone looked at Lorenzo.

Alphonse stated, “Some of us, worse than others.”

“Bump in the tracks,” the accused replied, emphasizing each syllable. “Look, there wasn’t even any money on that train anyway. But we never should have been in Africa in the first place; that’s where all the acting gets you!”

Keller shook his head and readjusted attention by declaring: “Okay, I have an idea. New plan, listen up. Mind you, though, you’ll need to bear with me, because it’s not as foolish as it sounds.”

Gerald and Arthur were still staring at the scene. “So that’s another thing: the sphinx is a symbol that represents a woman’s ability to manipulate language. Beware of it.”

“Where does the story of that riddle you said come from?” Arthur asked.

“I believe it’s from an ancient play called Oedipus Rex. There’s a plague in the city and the man who solved the riddle, Oedipus, is king there, and he’s trying to find why the gods are angry and why they’ve sent the plague.”

“Why did they send it; why were they angry?”

“Well, it turns out his wife and his mother…” Gerald reconsidered. “Wait, how old are you?”

“Look, they’re splitting up!”

Gerald returned his focus to his scope. The four below were fanning out through the party, all headed in the same direction around the central dance. “Keep your eyes on Lorenzo and Alphonse, I’ll watch Keller and Gaspare.” With an uncertain and concerned tone, he whispered to himself, “What are they doing?”

Preempting their paths, he arrived at the northern perimeter, where a cyclopean stone wall stood, seemingly suspended solely by the residual sacredness of the space. Small patches of grass grew between the blocks of the edifice like a living mortar, willed to wisp between the cracks. In front of it, a man with a blue armband was smoking, ignoring the gala.

Gerald smoothly paced back, finding Alphonse near, with a champagne glass in his hand, thanking a waiter. Alphonse turned, tripped on a small indention in the stone, and lunged forward, nearly spilling his drink on the guard.

“Oh no—are you alright, sir—did it get you?”

The guard calmly, respectfully replied, “No, I appreciate your concern, but I’m alright, sir. Thank you.”

“My apologies. The closer I get to the dance, the more left feet I receive.”

The guard smirked. “I sympathize with that.” He took a long cigarette drag, looking down at the embers disintegrating the paper as he exhaled a grey-white cloud that slowly drifted up.

“My name is Pierre,” Alphonse said with signature conviction. “I don’t want to intrude on your time alone or jeopardize your task, but may I smoke with you?”

Briefly considering it, the guard nodded in agreement. Alphonse reached into his tuxedo and produced a cigarette tray. It clicked open, a paper roll was retrieved, and it clicked shut. The roll was placed between his lips, and he leaned toward the guard, who similarly leaned in response, letting Alphonse ignite the cigarette off his own.

“Thank you, genuinely.”

They smoked together for a quiet moment, watching strangers dance.


For all installments of “Accordion Plan,” click here.


“Accordion Plan” is an excerpt from Jim Bonner’s new novel in progress.