King Kane, by John Howard

KING KANE-SMALL

Art by Mike Dominic – http://paladinfreelance.blogspot.com/ – click to enlarge

“Citizen Kane?” Welles asked.

“Yep.”

“Citizen Kane?” he continued. “That’s a good one. It said that in Times Square?”

“That’s right,” I replied. “I saw it just now. CHARLES FOSTER KANE DEAD. And the Enquirer is calling him Citizen Kane.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have believed it if he’d told me so himself! Citizen! That’s a good one, all right. Walter Thatcher thought that he was nothing less than a communist, labour said he was their enemy.”

Welles turned away, and faced the window. I knew what he was thinking, already. “Death comes to us all,” he mused out loud. “Even to King Kane. You know what this means?” He turned, and faced me again.

“Another film?”

“Uh-huh. I made American, ah, ten years ago. It was good, but not quite good enough. It still wasn’t the whole story. That lush Mankiewicz and I gave it our best, but it wasn’t good enough, even with Bernstein’s help and Kane’s so-called co-operation. There’s more. There must be. The pattern must be complete now the King’s dead.”

I knew where Welles was heading, right enough. Ten years ago it had been much the same. A long visit to Xanadu, Kane’s vast and ghastly pleasure-dome in the boondocks of the Florida coast. King Kane living in his self-created world, still powerful – even though not as he had been – and certainly no longer fully connected to reality. Mrs Kane talking enough for everyone, but not spilling the beans. And the growing oddness of Kane’s appearance. It all came back.

“A sequel to American?”

Welles pushed his hands into his pockets and threw his shoulders back. I’d seen this one before. The Kane Impersonation. It was pretty good. “No, my boy,” his voice rumbled out. “Something bigger and better. A whole new film, a real rosebud of a movie! Let’s expose everything once and for all. Let’s get inside the Kane, ah, mythos, and find out what made it work. I want to know all there is to know – what we didn’t get last time round, when he was still, well, alive. Yes! We’ll write this one together, you and me. Mank’s too far gone, anyway. Go and see the grieving widow. See his associates. See them again, ask more questions. Thompson can get the contacts. Ask different questions. We’ll get to the bottom of it all yet.”

“There might not be anything new.”

“No, there might not. But there’s something behind it all, something I couldn’t quite get to ten years ago. I want to find it out now. I want the world to see the real Kane at last!”

I didn’t stand about. Welles couldn’t stand people standing about, wasting time. He arranged and paid for a flight, and I went straight down to Xanadu. He also arranged for a car for me to pick up at the airfield. Then there was the drive through the wilderness to the outposts of the Kane estate. And even then it was still a long drive to Xanadu itself, the palace on its mountain.

Back in 1941, when I’d last been there, FDR was only in his third term. Pearl Harbor was still in the future, and we hadn’t even heard of the Bomb. Among other things.

But there had been Kane. I’d travelled most of the way on Kane’s special train where there had been shutters over the windows of his personal carriages. At the station, a car had been waiting, complete with bar and all other necessities for the final part of the journey to Xanadu. I’d been grateful. In 1941 Xanadu had not been finished. The Alhambra was colliding with Westminster Hall, a few French chateaux were there, still in crates, and gothic and Moorish towers stuck out like needles in a pincushion.

Now, the palace was complete but things seemed to have ground to a halt. Not surprisingly. I doubted that I would’ve got any further than the airfield if I’d waited for the Kane Organisation to make a move. I drove on along the coastal road to Xanadu. The fun would start at the main gate to the estate.

The distance wore away. I opened the window, but it made no difference. The breeze was warm and humid. Eventually the road leading to the estate itself appeared, and I turned on to it. If I remembered rightly it wouldn’t be much longer, as I followed the curve of the coast, before Xanadu’s hill appeared on the horizon. And sure enough, it soon did. It was still only a lump on the horizon, but I knew that it was a lump where a lump had no right to be, and only twenty years before hadn’t been. All its hundreds of thousands of tons of rock and soil had been put there by the will of one man: Kane himself. There were vast gardens surrounding the hill: thousands of acres of grass and flowers and trees; canals and a chain of artificial lakes, all kept fresh and growing by an army of gardeners and all washed by the constant flow of millions upon millions of dollars. And all there merely to provide the setting for Xanadu itself, the jewel that was Kane’s own decreed residence, built from the assembled architectural loot of the world.

The lump grew larger every moment. Soon it was the size of a man’s hand. It even looked a bit like one, at this distance. I imagined a mountain of sand, with a gigantic human hand thrusting through, wrist twisted and fingers pointing outwards and upwards. That’s how Xanadu looked to me, still miles away and silhouetted against the Florida sky.

And then I was at the main gates. They were huge and magnificent wrought-iron barriers, each with an elaborate K inset near the top, slammed across the road. Tall wire fences stretched away on either side as far as I could see. Although the gates were firmly shut, I saw there was someone lurking just inside them, standing by the door of the entrance lodge.

The lodge itself was comparable in size and appearance to the White House. In 1941 a nameless gatekeeper had been on duty, and had already opened the gate for me. But now, as I drew to a halt, I could see that the man standing there was Raymond, Kane’s butler. So the sly bastard was actually working for his money at last. I was glad that the heavy ironwork with its fantastic designs was between us.

“Raymond,” I said. “Remember me?”

I’d never worked out what his accent was, but he sounded as if he should be wearing an opera cloak and flitting along the lengthy corridors of some castle in the Balkans.

“Yes, I remember you, Mr Houseman, sir. I see to everything now, sir.”

Raymond looked expansively around. Literally everything, it seemed, then. He still had the same smile, like a vulture discovering a pram-load of babies left alone in Death Valley. The ‘sirs’ bothered me, too.

“We were expecting you.”

We were?”

“Mrs Kane and I.”

“How is Susie?”

“She is OK. And she is waiting for you.” Raymond motioned the car forward. I drove on, and the gates, I assumed, closed once more behind me.

The base of the great hill was still some way off, but the ground began to rise and the road began to spiral upwards slowly in enormous slow curves between smooth grass and palm trees. Soon terraces appeared – hill-girdling ramparts and colonnades of rusticated stone and brick, with occasional wide staircases, fountains and cascades to interrupt the giant boredom. Not for the first time I wondered just how many palaces in Europe had vanished as a result of building this place.

The road changed from concrete to large flagstones, and then again to mellow pink brick as I reached the main gatehouse of Xanadu itself. I must have been about two-thirds up the mountain. The sides of the road opened out and spread away in front of the gatehouse, forming a plateau large enough to contain a suburb. A sizeable proportion of Xanadu and its mountain towered above me. The gatehouse looked like the front of an English cathedral; I didn’t recall of any of them going missing. I was confronted by two massive gothic towers with a vast stained-glass window and deeply recessed arched doorway between them. But instead of a pair of heavy wooden doors, iron-bound, there was just the open arch, inviting a direct entrance. I drove on through.

Eventually I reached a vast courtyard, flanked on either side by a triple layer of classical columns. There was a forum or several in there, I thought; probably courtesy of one of Kane’s erstwhile admirers, Il Duce Mussolini. I aimed the car toward the matching triumphal arch in the distance at the other end of the courtyard. At length I reached it, and journeyed on through. I was now in the England of Good Queen Bess, in a large square court surrounded by mullioned windows rising to three storeys. A tower rose from each corner, and straight ahead, just as I remembered, was the extraordinarily modest entrance to Xanadu’s main hall.

In 1941 a visitor’s car – if he’d had to use his own – vanished within seconds, driven away by some servant to an underground garage the size of a stadium, where it would receive valet treatment scarcely any less sumptuous than that available to the visitor himself. But there seemed to be nobody about now. Raymond was the only man that I’d seen – no gardeners or other staff in the grounds, no servants now rushing out to take my bag and park my car. But then, despite the fact that I was expected, I had not been invited, and would probably not be staying. Not if I knew Susie.

The ancient door under the small round-arched entrance was shut. I pulled the bell-chain, a device that looked large enough to launch an ocean liner, and waited. There was no sound. The door remained shut. If Raymond was at the main gate to the estate, none of his subordinates seemed to be doing anything around here.

I pushed at the door, and it opened smoothly. I went on in.

I remembered well enough what was on the other side: a hall the size of an airship hangar, with a couple of throne rooms thrown in for good measure. Gigantic stained glass windows threw a kaleidoscope of colour on the stone floor; tunnel-sized fireplaces were gaping empty and black in the clammy heat inside. There were sofas like landing-craft adrift in the hall, and ahead of me, in the distance, was the great staircase leading on upwards and inwards, deeper into the heart of King Kane’s personal domain.

Suddenly I heard the sound of smashing glass ahead of me: a tumbler or something must have been dropped from the heights to the flagstones below. I strained my eyes up into the hot gloom of the staircase, and barely made out a small figure about halfway up. Susie!

Mrs Susan Alexander Kane, easily thirty years younger than her husband, shop assistant turned would-be opera star. As Kane’s first marriage, to Emily Norton – niece of the President of the day – slowly fossilized, Kane had found solace with Susan, whom he had met on a street corner in New York. Her simplicity charmed and calmed him, and she had fallen in love with the handsome, worldly – and totally rich – Kane before she knew who he was. The exposure of their relationship in the press, the subsequent collapse of Kane’s embryonic political career, and his separation from Emily, had all been covered in American. Kane had revelled in it in 1916, and still had in 1941. He’d turned the scandal to his advantage, and won the hearts of millions more than he’d lost. Susan Alexander: the second Mrs Kane after Emily’s death in an automobile accident, the amateur singer for whom Kane had built an opera house, and then a palace.

“Well, come on up, why don’cha?” she yelled down at me. “I’m having a swell party.”

I’d reached the bottom of the stairs. They swept up in front of me like a frozen landslide of stone. There was a groan from above, and a swift glint of coloured sunlight on glass, and another tumbler came hurtling down, this time full of liquid. The heavy crystal exploded into glittering shards not three feet from where I stood. The stagnant air reeked with the tang of a decent Scotch.

“Well, ya comin’ up or not?” Susie shouted. “There’s plenty more where that came from!”

“Susie!” I shouted. “I’m coming up. Stay right there!”

I began to climb the tremendous stair. Just as I thought I might need extra oxygen, I reached the place where Susie was still gazing down, leaning against the stone balustrade and dangerously unsteady. There were several more tumblers at her feet, and she held a half-empty bottle in one hand. With her other hand she gripped the balustrade.

When I drew level with her, she swung round and faced me. The bottle came close enough to my nose for me to feel its passing.

“So ya came back. D’ya wanna see the corpse? Didn’cha believe the reports?”

The coloured light threw a weird glare on Susie’s face, and the white dress she wore. She was heavily made up. That much was the same as in 1941. Susie didn’t need to plaster on all that stuff, but perhaps Kane had insisted on it, so she still looked like a singer about to step out in front of an audience, all made up for the lights. She looked harsh, with staring dark eyes, ringed, and dark lips against a pale face and blonde hair. And the tear-stains and sweat; the coloured glow over everything.

“Mrs Kane, I was asked to come here. Like before.”

“So ya didn’t wanta, then?”

I looked right at her. “No, not really, no. It was hard enough when Mr Kane was alive.”

She took a swig of whisky, and then held the bottle out to me. She didn’t offer me a glass, or gesture for me to pick one up.

“No thanks, Mrs Kane.”

“So ya wanna get down to business?”

“Yeah.”

“OK. Come on. Let’s go up to Charlie’s room.”

She started to lead the way, waveringly, on up the stairs. There were still plenty of them left before we reached the expanse of landing on the next floor. But we made it.

The landing was floored with black and white marble. Corridors stretched away to the left and right, with pillars supporting fancy Moorish arches to break up the monotony. She went straight to an ornate door made of heavy wood, deeply carved.

“In here. Go on in.”

I pushed the door open. Mrs Kane followed me in, putting her bottle down on a small table.

Directly in front of me, raised up on several carpeted tiers, was an enormous bed. On it something was concealed under a sheet. Charles Foster ‘Citizen’ Kane, All-American, late of this world. King Kane. I looked at Mrs Kane enquiringly.

“That’s him,” she said. “Funeral in a couple of days. Gotta get him stored till then.”

I didn’t want to go any closer. I looked down at the floor near the bed. There was a stain on the carpet, as if water or something had been spilt and not too well mopped up, leaving a mark likely to become permanent. I pointed at it.

“What’s that?”

Mrs Kane had been giving the Scotch bottle the eye. She looked down at the stain.

“That was when he died,” she said. “I was outside the room with the nurse. Then we heard a tinkling sound. We rushed in. Charlie’d been holding a little glass ornament that he’d had since he was a child. Or so he always told me. It was a glass ball with a little house in it, full of water, and you shook it and fake snow whirled around it. Like a winter somewhere in New England. He had just sat up and dropped it. He said ‘Innsmouth’ and slumped back dead. Hey, what’s ‘Innsmouth’ anyway?”

Hell, I thought. That’s what it’s all about. Thatcher, Bernstein, Leland, where are you now?

The manuscript memoirs of Walter Parks Thatcher, Charles Foster Kane’s guardian, and somewhat reluctant financial mentor, had played quite a large part in American. There was a superb scene in which Thompson, the reporter who had been detailed to trail Kane for the purposes of the film, had visited the Thatcher Memorial Library, and had been allowed to see the manuscript. It had been played like being ushered into the presence of English royalty. To get the feel of it all, Welles and I had also sat around in that huge empty room – empty that is apart from a table where Thompson could sit and read – and watched while Thompson turned the pages as the camera filmed Thatcher’s precise copperplate handwriting over the reporter’s shoulder. This had been our way into throwing some light onto Kane’s early life and career, including the source of his fabulous wealth. It was one of the great parts of a great film. I wish that I’d actually got to play in it, even the part of the security guard or something like that.

But it was all total bunkum. Sure, there was, and I suppose still is, a Thatcher Manuscript, but it certainly isn’t what we made it out to be in the film. That part, at least, was biopic without the bio.

Charles Foster Kane had been born in Massachusetts, not Colorado. He had been born into the orbit of Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Boston State House, rather than gold prospectors and a boarding house. Welles got one bit right in the film, though: the real Mrs Kane senior had looked a lot like that actress Agnes Moorhead. But in the film we also saw her husband, an ineffectual apology for a man if ever there were one. In reality I don’t think that Kane ever knew his father. Mrs Kane senior might have known who the father of her child was, but she hadn’t known what he was.

Kane was her maiden name, and she kept using it after her marriage and the ‘disappearance’ of her husband – if she had actually ever been legally married. I knew all this because I’d seen the real Thatcher Manuscript. Even King Kane hadn’t been able to do anything about that. It lay, and I expect still lies, in its marble room under the great dome in the Thatcher Memorial Library, safe even from the power of Kane’s fortune. Thatcher had made millions enough of his own to be able to have ensured that. I’d been able to see the memoirs because Welles had swung it for us, using the charm he could conjure up when it suited him. I guessed, too, that the Thatcher Trustees had owed Welles. Maybe it was the price of playing with reality in 1941. Anyway, I’d seen the Thatcher Manuscript, and it had been quite some read.

Mrs Kane was really Mrs Marsh. Her husband had been from Innsmouth, a decaying seaport on the Massachusetts coast not far from Arkham, where she was born. Already in the 1860s Innsmouth was on the way down, its trade declining fast, and the vitality of the population with it, as its gracious Colonial buildings slowly fell apart.

The fortunes of the Marsh family and their associates bucked the trend. For them the trading situation, with certain islands in the Pacific, meant that things had never been better. For their boats there was a constant supply of fish near at hand, just off the Innsmouth shore; and from the Pacific, any amount of gold. Their refinery made the Marshes richer than the robber barons. But they kept the true source of their wealth hidden. Only a few rumours ever got out.

Young Jim Marsh was different, or so he thought. He didn’t think he was quite like the rest of his family, so he looked for a wife from outside of Innsmouth. He soon found Mary Kane – no great beauty, and rather waspish in all senses – but she was strong-willed and clever. She soon gave birth to a son, Charles.

The match had never been supported by either the Marshes or the Kanes, and even the fabulous wealth of the Marshes had not turned the Kanes in the couple’s favour. The Marshes didn’t like having an outsider in their midst, and the Kanes didn’t care for what little rumour that reached them about Jim Marsh and his Innsmouth heritage.

When Charles was a child of eight or so, his father began to develop a strange illness. His appearance began to change, and the texture of his skin changed dramatically. It was rumoured that his body had altered even more. Before long Jim Marsh was hardly ever seen in public, and when he was he wore baggy clothes and large hats, and bandaged or otherwise covered those parts of his body that would still be exposed to air and daylight. Soon Marsh disappeared from view altogether, and the news was put about that he had died, and was now with his ancestors. Which was not entirely untrue.

Mrs Kane took her son away and put him in the care of Walter Thatcher, together with the vast inheritance from her husband held for him until he came of age. Then she faded out of recorded history. Like her husband, and all Marshes as they grew older, she simply vanished.

The fortune didn’t vanish, though, and the Marsh refineries and other business interests continued to flourish, even as Innsmouth declined still further. Walter Thatcher used his sure financial hand, as well, in his ward’s interests. When Kane eventually inherited for himself, his fortune had very little to do with a gold mine in Colorado. The great bulk of the gold came from New England – somehow. And when he was old enough, Kane started to spend it.

The film American switched back into reality at that point. Kane bought and transformed an ailing New York newspaper, the Daily Enquirer. And that was the beginning of King Kane, aka Citizen Kane. Who now lay on the bed in front of me, and whose last word seemed to have brought the full circle of his life to completion.

Susan Kane tottered back across the room, and grabbed the whisky bottle. She took a gulp, and offered it to me.

“Perhaps I will,” I said, as I walked over to where she stood.

“So what’s Innsmouth?” she repeated.

So Kane hadn’t told her very much. She probably believed the film to be the true story. After all, her part in it had been fantastic enough.

I had to get out of this. I didn’t know where it was going to lead. I certainly wasn’t going to start talking now, not with Kane just about to begin seriously evaporating under the sheet, and his sodden widow in a yelling mood. I had to consult Welles.

“I’m not sure,” I advanced. “It could be a place, by the sound of it. But I don’t know where. And why would he say that as he died?”

“You don’t know? You don’t know? No one knows nothin’ round here, in this dump. Well, I won’t be hangin’ round here much longer, I can tell ya. And as for you –”

I dodged the bottle quite easily. “Good-bye, Mrs Kane,” I shouted as I made for the stairs. With luck I could leave the whole place behind me and be back at the airfield before nightfall.

Immediately I got back to New York I went to see Welles.

“What did you get?” he asked. “Have you got to work yet? Got anything really new from last time?”

I sat down opposite Welles – uninvited, but so what.

“Kane’s no problem. He is thoroughly dead. I don’t think he changed at all in the last ten years. He must’ve just sat there, soaking up the sun, keeping moist, and spending his money on Xanadu. It’s Mrs Kane –”

Welles broke in. “Susie? What’s that drunken made-up shopgirl up to now? After all the cash?”

“I’m sure she wouldn’t say so. And I don’t think that. She doesn’t seem to know where it comes from. I think she still believes it’s from a huge gold mine in Colorado. Or she believes it for now.”

“For now? What do you mean?”

“You know what the old boy’s last word was?”

“What?”

“He said ‘Innsmouth’.”

Welles seemed to show little surprise.

“Uh-huh. Who heard him?”

“Susan and Kane’s nurse. Who’s nowhere to be found.”

Welles practically spat out his cigar. Then he caught himself and threw out a beaming smile. “Susie’s too dumb to know about Innsmouth. She wouldn’t know where to start looking. She thinks that an atlas is something that men use to get bigger muscles. All those years of jigsaw puzzles did for her. Not that there was much there to begin with. She can’t see further than the next bottle. And there’s Raymond, as well…” His voice trailed off in speculation.

“But that doesn’t help us,” I said. “If Susie doesn’t find out for herself, it’s only a matter of time before someone tells her. And then she can get everything. Though I suppose that also depends on the will, if there is one. Then if someone can get to Susie…”

“And we won’t have heard the last of Raymond,” Welles said. “I think that it’s time to get in touch with Jed Leland.”

“Leland? He’s still alive?”

“Sure he is. He’s at home again, too – at home back in New England! We’ve a train to catch, to Arkham.”

I don’t know where Welles had found the time to phone ahead, or if he’d got someone else to do it, but when we arrived at Leland’s Saltonstall Street mansion he was expecting us. Or at least I got that impression.

The butler ushered us into a large and spare Colonial room. The decor was pale, and it was very empty, save for several armchairs, which looked comfortable and well used, and a large number of cushions scattered around on the polished wood floor. And that was about it.

“Nice place,” I said, when I’d finished looking over the room. “I thought Leland never had a cent to call his own.”

“He didn’t, until he met Kane at one of his colleges – they were together here for a while at Miskatonic. Kane spent time there before being expelled, as usual. Leland came from an old family, but there was no longer any money – only the name and social position. They teamed up. Kane let Leland realise his dream of becoming a drama critic and helped him to maintain the lifestyle a Massachusetts Leland should have. In return Leland opened the right social doors for the wealthy but odd boy whose father was one of the, ah, Innsmouth Marshes. Kane provided the cash and business drive, Leland provided the respectability. Until he wrote that newspaper notice about Susie’s opera debut… And even then they did make up, eventually.”

I remembered how we’d treated that incident in the film. “Didn’t he send back his last check all torn up?”

“Yes. But he got another one later. He needed the cash. And Kane always had plenty of that to spare.”

“Does Leland know where it really came from?”

“He’s sure to. He’s an Arkham man, and I bet that he knows all about what really went on in Innsmouth.”

The white panelled door opened, and a shadow walked in. It turned out to be a man, although if he’d turned profile-on to me, I think that I’d have missed even that. Jed Leland had something of the presence of a praying mantis coupled with the inscrutability of a reptile. He was dressed entirely in white – dressing gown, trousers, espadrilles, and a thick white scarf covering his neck up to his ears and under his chin. He also wore a visored cap, which hid what I assumed to be total baldness and eyes sensitive to too much light.

Back in 1941 we’d portrayed him accurately: a frail, elderly man in hospital with nothing more incurable than old age. Age had withered him even more since then, or something else certainly had. He shuffled across the room to where we were. He kept his hands in his pockets, which added to his hunched, shrivelled appearance.

“Welles, Houseman! How kind of you to come and see an old and lonely man like me. Sit down. What news from Sloppy Joe’s?”

Leland had always referred to Xanadu as Sloppy Joe’s, among other things. To hear him, this desiccated creature, still doing it was almost absurd. I restrained the desire to burst out laughing. However, it looked as if I’d just be a spectator of a conversation solely between Leland and Welles.

“You know that he died two days ago?” Welles said, as his opening shot.

“Yah, I heard. I still have a pretty good idea what’s going on,” Leland replied, drawling out his words.

Again, I reflected, Welles had cast well for American: Leland was quite the double of a heavily made-up Joseph Cotten.

Welles said, “I’m sure. I haven’t been down there yet, though I expect to go to the funeral, if there is one. I suppose the Others know?”

“Ah, as ever, straight to the point,” Leland said, showing slight amusement. Even that looked like it would be too much effort, but I was sure that Leland was far more resilient than he seemed. “Yah, They know, but I don’t think they’ll interfere with any funeral arrangements.”

His tone of voice suggested that to do so would be like the King of England getting up a ladder himself to clean the windows of Buckingham Palace.

“No, I’ll think They’ll stay in the background, at least for the time being. But in the future, now that he’s gone… They never liked his mother, and the human taint that it gave Charlie. He was never quite one of Them.”

“Which might not have been a bad thing,” Welles added.

Leland ignored this.

“So They resented him –”

“Sorry to interrupt, Mr Leland,” I said, “but precisely who are They?”

Welles kept quiet, as if controlling a temper stretched to breaking-point by a tiresome child. Leland assumed an avuncular air.

“Why, his relatives of course,” he said. “Or most of one side of the family, at any rate. There were hardly any Arkham Kanes to speak of, and I expect they’ve all died out by now, really. And the Innsmouth Marshes – the full-blooded ones – resented Charlie Kane, and still do. There are still enough of them around, as well, even despite what happened in 1928. They never liked Charlie’s human aspect, as if that side were somehow a betrayal of them. They felt that their, ah, transactions and operations were in danger of exposure from him. But Charlie just spent the money, and enjoyed himself. He bought things. He knew the source of his fortune, and that was all there was to it. He was never a threat to Them. But now…” Leland lapsed into silence.

“Yes, They resented him,” Welles said. “They might stop at nothing now to get their revenge on Xanadu and what’s left of the Kane Organisation. And maybe even Susie. Even she doesn’t deserve that.”

Leland just sat there, as inscrutable as ever. “Yah, you’re right,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s anything you can do about it. Oh, don’t worry about Mrs Kane. She can go back to ‘singing’ or shop work, for all I care. But I warn you, things will happen now Charlie’s gone. Stay out of it.”

Welles got up. I did too. He didn’t hold out his hand to Leland, who continued to sit scrunched up in his chair as if he’s been badly poured into it. “You’ve made yourself clear, Jed,” he said. “Thank you.”

Leland smiled and nodded.

Welles looked at me. “Come on. Let’s go.”

As we emerged onto the busy street and back into the sunlight, Arkham was looking its best as an old New England Colonial town, with its trees, crooked wooden houses, and graceful mansions. Welles explained that the city had been cleaned up a lot, and urban renewal had swept away many picturesque if rotting slums.

“Let’s walk,” Welles said. “It might be a good idea to call in at Miskatonic. I wouldn’t mind seeing if one of my old friends is still around. He could probably tell us a thing or two more about what we’re getting into.” Welles fixed me with a stare. “We are into something big. If it were another film, people wouldn’t believe it. They’d say that I was trying to scare them all over again.”

We hurried on. Soon we came to the university area, and made our way across the grass-covered Square, towards the brick-built library building on the other side. Great old trees sheltered its entrance portico. We went inside.

Welles knew his way about. Without any hesitation at all, he led the way towards a broad flight of wooden steps, and bounded up them several at a time. I kept up as best I could.

“This way.” We hurried along a corridor and stopped in front of a finely panelled door. A small, discreet brass plaque was inscribed LIBRARIAN: HENRY ARMITAGE AM PhD LittD. Welles knocked, and we went straight in.

Behind a cluttered desk near the window was another old man. This seemed to be a day for meeting old men. But whereas Jed Leland had been withered and desiccated, covered up against natural life itself, Armitage simply radiated life and vigour, despite the fact that he must have been well into his nineties. Armitage was a short and powerful man, with an impressive head of snowy hair and a well-trimmed spade beard. He looked up from the pile of books in front of him as we entered his room. He got up at once, smiling broadly and genuinely.

“My dear Welles, do come in, and your companion. Sit down. I thought you might be looking in on me, given the news about Mr Kane. We might have much to do, don’t you think? I’ve come across Them and Their kind before, as I’m sure I’ve told you, Welles…”

“Kane was a student of yours as well, wasn’t he, Dr Armitage?” Welles asked. “How, ah, apt a pupil was he?”

Armitage leaned back in his chair and laughed heartily.

“He was an apt a pupil as you ever were, I think, Orson,” Armitage replied. “That never surprised me. Kane had the connections, shall we say, and he had the enthusiasm, too. He never lost that. He also never forgot his origins, and the Faustian bargain he made with Them, either.”

“Faustian?” I echoed.

“Yes, you know,” Welles said. “You have health, wealth, whatever, for your lifetime. But it’s all bought at a price. Usually repayable after death, like in the story.”

Armitage looked at me, amused at this exchange. “I’m not smiling because I think you’re talking nonsense, because I do not think that you are talking nonsense. Now, let’s get down to business.”

“That’s why we’re here,” Welles said.

Armitage said, “You remember the tragedy of the Alert in the Pacific in 1925, and the Paris exhibition of Ardois-Bonnot the following year? You remember me telling you about 1928 and the events of the next year, and poor Albert Wilmarth in Vermont? They were involved in it all. It all tied together, and it’s still going on. It never finished, as we thought it had. But from what I know, Kane is finished, dead, beyond any danger now. What danger there is now is far more subtle. They will want control of the Organisation, all its interests and money. It all almost collapsed once, but it grew again. But the situation is totally different now, with Kane himself gone. Mr Thatcher is dead too, and I believe, that lively little Mr Bernstein. Those three saved it all before. Now it’s totally different.”

“As I said, that’s why we’re here,” Welles said.

“I rather thought it might be,” Armitage replied.

After a pause Welles said, “I think that it’s up to us. Us three here. Leland is on Their side. There’s Susie and Xanadu and thousands of jobs to think about. I wouldn’t trust that shit Raymond – sorry, doctor – as far as I could throw him. So it’s up to us.”

“What’s your plan?” asked Armitage. “I’ll help all I can. After all, I was active in 1928 when that…horror…struck Dunwich. They have never forgiven me, any more than they have the man who alerted the Federal authorities to what was really going on in Innsmouth. And I’ll bet They’ve not cared overmuch for you, Orson, since American was such a great success. It’s Them or us. I wish Dr Rice was here… So what are we going to do?”

Welles said, “I think that Their first move will be at the funeral, or just after. Nothing’s happened yet. I think They are still considering what to do. Kane’s death must have been unexpected as far as They were concerned.” He paused. “They’ll smash Xanadu, and if Susie’s in the way, she’ll be smashed too. I think They want to get complete control of the Marsh interests, and the gold, whether or not the Kane Organisation comes with it.” He changed tone. “And I take it you’re coming to the funeral, Dr Armitage?”

“Why, yes,” he replied. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything!”

“Good. We’ve no time to waste. We had better all go to New York. We’ve got a great deal to think about.”

Once safely seated in our private compartment on the train, we were able to relax a little. Despite Dr Armitage’s ready acceptance of the situation, and his clear experience of such matters, I couldn’t get Leland out of my mind. I had enough faith in Welles to believe that he knew what he was doing. Welles generally didn’t underestimate anyone or any situation. But I hoped that he knew what he was doing this time.

As we passed through the Connecticut dusk, I felt able to voice some questions that I’d been thinking about during the day. Armitage was asleep; Welles slouched opposite me, making notes furiously in the notebook that he always carried.

“So what really happened in 1929?” I asked.

Without looking up or stopping writing, he said, “Well, you remember in American where Kane had to sign over all his businesses to that dried-up old no-sayer Walter Thatcher? That was all true. Kane’s income had all but dried up, and with Xanadu in the planning and the Organisation to run, something had to be done as a temporary measure. Of course, everyone just thought that the trouble could be put down to the stock market crash, as with all the other businesses that suffered. But there was the Innsmouth connection behind it all.”

“You mean –?”

“Yeah – it was the Federal Government, when they sent in agents to cripple Innsmouth and put an end to what was going on there. The destruction and deportations just about wrecked the place, even more than it already was. The Marsh businesses, their supply of gold, just about dried up. Kane could no longer get his share. His financial base was swept right away from under him. Luckily Thatcher was still alive, and thought enough of Kane to help him out. Unless he knew what was really going on, too. That wouldn’t surprise me. I’ve always thought that Mr Walter P. Thatcher had too many fingers too deep into too many pies. Perhaps he preferred dealing with Kane to dealing with any of the Others. Naturally we could only put the surface explanation in the film.”

Welles continued to write. The train thundered on towards New York. The appointed time of Kane’s funeral, and our trip to Xanadu, drew relentlessly closer.

It was only a matter of hours before I went through the experience of seeing Xanadu rise from the horizon again as we approached it. But this time we were in a convoy of cars. It was almost like the old days, I could imagine, with a selected group of house guests converging on Xanadu for a visit with King Kane and his Queen, and the whole palace and its sprawling grounds waiting to cater for any pleasure.

We reached the main gates, and a stranger opened them for us. No doubt this man was just brought in temporarily, while Raymond attended to more pressing and important duties. But I did notice that the gatekeeper’s neck was bandaged, and that he wore what looked like white gloves…

Our convoy swept onwards and upwards, gradually ascending Xanadu’s mountain. Welles, sitting beside me, all dressed up in funeral gear like I was, said, “Notice the servants brought in just for today? Their servants, I’m sure. Xanadu will be crawling with them, ah, appropriately. We need to keep our wits about us. We’ll be all right if Armitage has done his stuff. He should already be here.”

The cars pulled up in the great courtyard. I could see Mrs Kane waiting on the steps to receive the mourners. Raymond was next to her, unctuous to the last, as he introduced people or reminded Mrs Kane of names. It looked like the Prince of Darkness with Snow White.

We reached the top of the steps. “Ah, Mr Welles, Mr Houseman,” Raymond oozed in his unidentifiable accent. “I am sure Mrs Kane is glad that you could join us, her, on this…sad occasion.”

We shook hands with Mrs Kane, who reeked of a no-doubt highly expensive perfume which barely covered up the other reek of whisky. She wouldn’t or couldn’t say a word. She could have been drugged, for all we knew. Or she was just simply drunk: nothing new there. Susie only jerked her head in the direction of the great hall inside, and continued to shake more hands.

As we went inside, Welles whispered, “Notice one thing that’s missing? No journalists or cameras – not that I can see, anyway. That stooge Merritt might be about somewhere though, I suppose. Can’t even see anyone from the Enquirer. And this at Kane’s funeral! No publicity for the greatest self-publicist of our time! Hmmm… Ah, there’s Dr Armitage. Oh. And Leland talking to him.”

We made our way over the expanse of the hall, past groups of people standing about. I recognized a few faces, names from the worlds of Wall Street, London, international politics, heavy industry, transport, and the movies. Welles was nodding at so many people that his neck must have ached. But we aimed straight for the sofa on which Armitage and Leland were sitting, apparently deep in conversation.

When we got close I saw that Leland was lecturing Armitage in a low and confidential tone. Armitage seemed to be listening intently. As we reached them, Leland finished what he had to say, and leaned back slightly. Without hesitating Armitage shook his head vigorously. “No, no, certainly not,” we heard him say vehemently.

“It’s your choice,” Leland replied, with apparent resignation. Then he noticed us. “Gentlemen! Come and sit with us until the service begins. Armitage mentioned that he knew you, Welles. Maybe you could persuade the good doctor here to see sense? I don’t fully know what you’re up to, but it’s not worth it. We’re too strong for you. Take a look around. Consider where you are. You’re on our territory. Think about it, while you can.”

I looked about, while Welles’ face became set, mask-like. Certainly there seemed to be quite a lot of people wearing white scarves and gloves with their formal mourning clothes. Innsmouthers and the full gathering of the Pacific clans?

“Welles, you were right,” Armitage said. “Look around. They definitely want to do something here, if They get the chance. It’s like someone holding a giant hammer over Xanadu, preparing to smash the whole place and everyone in it. It will be like kicking down an anthill. And then They wouldn’t only control the Kane Organisation, but everything else as well! It’s not to be thought about. Leland gloated like a ghoul just now. And he seemed to be such friends with Charles, and such a decent student. They are everywhere…”

Armitage’s voice trailed off in sadness, and his eyes moistened. Now he really did look like the very old man he was. By comparison Leland was ready for anything.

Welles turned to Leland. “You won’t get away with anything, Jed. We’ll stop you, get you and your kind locked up in jail. It’s Sing Sing for you, Leland! Sing Sing!”

Leland looked aloof and amused, and Armitage remained sunk deep in his misery. Leland put a finger to his lips. Welles looked around, but no one showed any sign of having overheard him.

I heard the faint shuffling of feet, and the murmur of voices in the great hall began to become more subdued. The cause was Raymond, as he moved from group to group. I assumed at once that he was asking mourners to move towards Xanadu’s chapel, as the service would soon be beginning. We got up and followed everyone else.

We moved slowly, keeping pace with both Leland and Armitage. Leland looked more than ever like a lizard in a suit, while Armitage looked like a Santa Claus who had been told that Rudolf was too drunk to pull his sleigh for the kids. We moved towards a gothic archway and into a long and fantastic Moorish corridor beyond. This in turn led to another gothic arch, and the chapel.

I don’t remember much about the funeral service, but the setting was another matter. Calling Xanadu’s chapel simply a chapel was like calling the Grand Canyon simply a river valley. The chapel was vast and high: I guessed it probably consisted of most of a French cathedral. The pillars soared up towards a delicate vault that must’ve been more than one hundred feet above our heads. The windows were mainly of clear glass. I guess Kane hadn’t got around to having part of his collection of stained glass installed.

We were ushered to our pews by young men in black suits wearing the regulation white gloves and neck mufflers. Mrs Kane sat stiffly in the front row, with Raymond next to her. They made no sound – there was no muffled sobbing or crying. Either Mrs Kane wasn’t sad, or she was still under the influence.

We stood as the service began, and the coffin was brought in. I noticed that Welles and Armitage were holding books that were not the service books that the rest of us had. Also they in turn were keeping a close watch on Leland, who was appearing to follow the service with all the appearance of devoutness that he could muster.

Then the chapel began to grow dimmer, as if great curtains outside were being slowly drawn shut against the glaring Florida sunlight. I had once covered a total eclipse of the sun as one of my first reporting assignments. The gradual dimming of the light, the hushing of the world, and the expectant feeling of landscape and spectators had produced the same effect as I was feeling in the chapel. I don’t know how many of the congregation noticed it. But clouds were now rushing up out of the east and north, and covering the clear sky and the sun. Gusts of wind could be heard over the singing and funeral prayers. Something was happening. By the time the eulogies started I saw Armitage and Welles nod at each other. I caught Welles’ eye. He nodded at me, too. Under the gaze of the ushers, we crept out of the chapel.

When we were out in the corridor I whispered, “What’s going on?”

Welles said, “You noticed the weather changing when we were in there? They are up to something. It’s started, and it’s big. They did it before, in Providence in 1938. Thwart Them, or make Them think that Their plans are in jeopardy, and They will respond. Wind and sea obey Them.”

“Luckily it’s not the hurricane season,” I said.

Dr Armitage looked at me pityingly. “Boy, something like that has never stopped Them. It will always be hurricane season if They wish it.”

“Come on, both of you,” Welles interrupted. “We’ve got no time to waste!”

We rushed as fast as we decently could, back along the Moorish corridor, back to the great hall. As the light deteriorated still further, Armitage’s spirits seemed to pick up. Earlier he hadn’t looked like the sort of man who lived for decisive action, but Welles had told me a little of what Armitage had been involved with at Dunwich – what didn’t get published in the press, including the Kane press, that is. Now there was a new challenge. Armitage gained in self-assurance every moment. He looked as if he were as sure of himself as if he’d been back in his library in Arkham, on his home soil.

The hall was very dark by now. The stained glass would have kept out much of the light in any case. Now it was even worse, as leaden clouds slid across the sky, and the wind picked up still more.

We stood still. Armitage said, “We need to get outside. Is there a high terrace or something?”

Welles thought for a moment, and said, “This way.”

We plunged into a passage that led away from under the great flight of steps in the main hall. This passage, too, was Moorish in design. Eventually, after turning several corners, passing through other halls and landings, usually full of statues, we emerged onto a larger landing, from which a spiral stone staircase went both up and down. The stairs were contained in what seemed to be a crystal semicircle. Ahead of us on the far side of the landing was a pair of glass doors, apparently opening onto limitless air and cloud. We must have been very high up the sheer side of mighty Xanadu itself.

“Come on,” Welles said. He went ahead, and pushed at the doors. They opened, and a strong salty gale blew in. Out on the terrace we could see that for all our height, we were only about halfway up the great palace’s bulk, on a broad terrace that must have formed a sort of girdle around this part of the building. Far beneath us the artificial mountain fell away abruptly, down to the gardens, estate, and sea beyond. I thought I could see waves breaking on the flat sandy shore, but if so, they must have been huge waves, as the sea was miles away. Above us the sheer walls of Xanadu flew upwards, speckled by windowsills and other balconies and terraces.

“This will do,” Armitage said. He reached for his book, which he had hidden in his pocket as we’d left the chapel.

Suddenly the sky was split in two by a single bolt of lightning, which hit one of the towers far above. Around here any lightning in any storm had only Xanadu to connect with, but this seemed aimed. A tremendous peal of thunder crashed all around us, seemingly echoing from every direction. Trees in the park below whipped back and forth as if they were dancing to a mad tune and trying to uproot themselves. The low clouds, which now covered nearly all of the sky, swirled and eddied as if an invisible finger were stirring them up, dragging them around in circles. More lightning hit the towers above us, and a few tiles skittered down the roofs and sheer walls, and clattered on to the terrace near us. Then it began to rain – Hollywood rain.

I had always thought that the rain as stair-rods cliché was just that: a Hollywood cliché. But this time it really was true. From the direction of the roaring sea all those miles away and from the churning sky, sheet after sheet of grey rods of hard and freezing water arrowed down onto us. Within moments the estate below, and either end of the terrace, were invisible in the downpour, as if wave after wave of net curtain had been drawn in front of our eyes. Except these ones were rapidly soaking us to the bone. The wind had risen and become deafening; hearing each other was made even more difficult by the sound of the rain smashing against Xanadu’s roofs and walls.

Welles was holding his hat firmly on his head; I didn’t know what had become of my hat. Dr Armitage was struggling with his coat collar, and still fumbling in his pocket for the book that he had been holding earlier.

“Doctor? Are you all right?” I shouted through the rain.

His gaze penetrated through the downpour. “Don’t worry about me, young man. I’ve done this before.” He slapped the book he was now holding against his thigh. “Just make sure we don’t lose this here.”

Welles was also shouting at me. “I’ve got to get to Susie. Stay here with Dr Armitage and look after him. If he needs to be looked after.” They both laughed despite the storm. Welles headed back inside. Armitage came to where I was standing, and gripped my arm.

“Make sure I hold on to the book,” he said. “They will do anything, use any method, to defeat us now. So far there’s been one factor in our favour – Their amazing complacency. They could have dealt with us before now if They had thought to. Waiting to use the weather like this was a blunder on Their part. They’re desperate now.”

Lightning flashed and hit one of the towers overhead again. Eventually a few slates and pieces of gutter crashed down in the cascade of water tumbling from the roof. The wind tore at our clothing, gripping at us as with hands, as if trying to throw us from the terrace. I didn’t feel any amazing complacency. We were a long way above the ground. It was hard not to be swept up and towards the parapet.

“It’s now or never,” shouted Armitage. “The lightning’s coming closer. We’re lucky They’ve not done this sort of thing for a few years. They’re too sure of Themselves. Oh, we may get quakes in a little while –”

“Earthquakes? In Florida?”

“Whatever I’ve said, Their reach is long, young man. Come on, let’s get to it. I only hope that Welles and Mrs Kane can get away… And you, of course. It doesn’t much matter what happens to an old man like me…” His voice trailed off, carried away in the wind.

“Now make sure They can’t get the book away from me. I haven’t memorized any of these formulae.”

Armitage opened his book, and, when he had found the page that he wanted held it down with his free hand. The rain soon plastered the pages together. They looked as if they had been written out by hand. I wondered if the ink would run, but it seemed OK, despite the rain. Armitage seemed to know what I was thinking. He smiled grimly. “It’s not ink,” he said.

Then he began to yell something into the wind, which was still rising. More rain was falling, too, if that were possible. The terrace was now running with water, sluicing over the soles of our shoes. Keeping a firm footing would soon become difficult at this rate. I used my arms to grasp Armitage’s arm and shoulder. I was certain that our lives were at stake. If we didn’t hold each other, and stand together, we would certainly fall together.

Armitage continued to shout into the wind, his voice now firm against the onslaught. I couldn’t make out the words. We were totally drenched by now, both hatless, both cold and despairing. Or at least I was. Armitage, three times my age, held together well. Something inside told me that he was made of sterner stuff than anyone else I had ever known, even Welles; and that he was now likely as not to gain the upper hand. I just held on while Armitage read from the book and tried to maintain his footing against the flood sweeping across the terrace.

More lightning flickered around Xanadu’s towers way above us, but the accompanying thunder seemed to be dying away. Instead, there was another – an Other – sound or sounds, like someone in deep distress or anger, crying out from an immense distance, as if from the seabed and stars at once. I still couldn’t make out any individual words at all. It sounded like someone in the throes of unexpected and humiliating defeat, calling all sorts of vows of revenge, but really knowing that it was no use. The sounds now seemed to come from out of the storm itself, and be directed at the terrace, at Armitage and me.

They grew in intensity, even when Armitage’s voice grew quieter as he passed the climax of whatever formula it was that he was using. Then it was as if the Other sound recognized, at last, its defeat, and the defeat of all its hopes and the hopes of all it stood with and for. It, too, became quieter, and more at one with the elemental violence around us.

Armitage stopped suddenly, and with a yawp of triumph pushed the sodden book back deep into his pocket. He turned to face me, a wide grin revealing strong white teeth that almost matched his beard in the twilight.

“It’s done! Now if only Welles and Mrs Kane were in time…”

By now we had been blown and floated almost to the parapet itself, where floodwater gushed off into space from the terrace. I put out my hand to grip the welcome, if freezing, stone of the balustrade.

Armitage peered over too. “Look!” he shouted, pointing.

Seemingly miles below, in the drowned and windswept park, two minute figures ran down the drive, away from the bulk of Xanadu. It must have been Welles and Mrs Kane. For a moment I thought that they had fallen, knocked over by the still powerful wind, or even sucked down by the earth. But they stumbled only for a second, and carried on running.

Armitage and I shook hands, pumping away as we began to laugh, gulping in great draughts of damp cool air as the clouds began to roll away and a shaft of sunlight came down to illuminate the glittering, streaming walls of Xanadu.

There probably isn’t a great deal more to say. Armitage and I made our way down by the route we’d come, and arrived back at the chapel just as a shocked and cowed congregation was coming out.

I saw a tall, gaunt man with a lantern jaw sitting on the chapel steps busily writing in a notebook. Kane’s chief editor Merritt came out, shaking his head. Then emerging behind him I saw Rawlston, the head of a newsreel company, white as the proverbial sheet.

“What happened?” I asked. “What’s been going on?”

Rawlston looked at me as if I’d just said that FDR was no longer president.

“Didn’t you notice anything?” he asked. “Orson Welles ran in from the back of the chapel, and grabbed Susie Kane right from in front of Jed Leland and the minister. Then it really began to rain, and a few windows were blown in from the storm. The minister carried on. I saw it all. Mr Leland went apoplectic and fell into a sort of trance, it looked like. That butler tried to revive him, but he went the same way! Then there was a tiny quake. But I did feel it. The coffin slid off the catafalque.” His face wrinkled up at the recollection. “The casket was splintered at one corner…the smell… I don’t know who the undertakers were, but they hadn’t undertaken the King very well…ugh…in the front few row passed out…and then that stuff…the minister just went on, and some ushers came up and shoved the coffin into the hole just before the storm calmed down…then Leland and the butler came round like they’d been electrocuted, and dropped dead where they were. At least, those ushers couldn’t revive them… I’m off to find a phone! If only I had a camera crew up here!”

A week later, I was back in New York, sitting in front of Welles at his desk, just like when it all started.

“You saw the old boy safely back to Arkham, then?”

“Yeah. He kept on going on about that being his second time and no one knew all about the first time. Exactly what happened the first time?”

Welles grinned. “Remind me to tell you about that horror one day. There might be a film there.”

“And Susie?” I enquired.

“Oh, she’s fine. Putting Xanadu on the market, and going back to singing, so she said. Atlantic City, I expect. At least she lived to tell the tale. Atlantic City!” Welles chuckled.

“Leland and Raymond?”

“Dead. And good riddance. The fortune is in safe hands, and we can forget all about them and Innsmouth again. At least, for now. I’m glad Bernstein was never into all this.”

“So what’s next? That new film?”

Welles turned on all the charm, as if it were me financing the new project.

“Oh yes, definitely. I really want to go back and redo American. Call it, ah, King Kane.”

I pointed to the mound of newspapers and photos from the last week on his desk. “Or perhaps Citizen Kane? Didn’t you –”

Welles burst out laughing. “Or whatever. But in any case it’s going to be probably the finest movie in the world!”

jhowardJohn Howard was born in London. He is the author of The Defeat of Grief and Numbered as Sand or the Stars, and the short story collections The Silver Voices, Written by Daylight, and Cities and Thrones and Powers. His collaborations with Mark Valentine have appeared in the collections The Rite of Trebizond and Other Tales and The Collected Connoisseur. He has published essays on various aspects of the science fiction and horror fields, and especially on the work of classic authors such as Fritz Leiber, Arthur Machen, August Derleth, M.R. James, and writers of the pulp era. Many of these have recently been collected in Touchstones: Essays on the Fantastic.

If you enjoyed this story, let John know know by commenting — and please use the Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus buttons below to spread the word.

Story illustration by Mike Dominic.

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8 responses to “King Kane, by John Howard

  1. Loved the mash up of real writers fictional characters and locations! The best for last indeed, John. Amazing.

  2. A classic movie combined with cosmic horror, the best of both worlds. That story was totally awesome and kept me hooked from beginning to end.

  3. Mike you publish a lot of neat things but this has got to be the best one this year since The Establishment of The Doctors Hamilton, I cannot get this out of my mind *as with Drs. Hamilton* it is better than wine to a cinephile like me! Cannot praise your work here enough Mr. Howard, and again Mike, just a brilliant find! Bravo to you both! 🙂

  4. Thanks very much for all your encouraging comments – I really appreciate them! And thanks to Mike Dominic for the evocative header illustration!

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