*A Sequel Preview of “Descendant” included*
*A Bonus Preview of “The Serpent Kings” included*
2012© James Somers
Mr. Oliver James sat within the French café, Le Braziere, in downtown London, waiting for his contact to arrive. He had come early in order to scope out the area and the restaurant, ever careful to trust no one. Despite the late hour, a number of patrons were still seated eating their meals, or drinking wine.
Oliver noted several older couples enjoying different pasta dishes. Two young lovers sat nearby, having eyes only for one another. Several waiters milled about between tables, looking entirely snooty and proud of their profession as though they were waiting upon kings, or other great dignitaries.
Despite having lived in London for many years, Oliver had never been fond of French food and so had never dined at La Braziere. His contact, one Samuel Loch, had provided Oliver with useful information about the doings of Mr. Black and his associates for nearly two years. Oliver felt fairly comfortable with the man. Still, one could never be too careful. Loch was already ten minutes late.
Oliver sat quite still with a glass of wine before him. When the waiter had offered him a wine list he had been surprised to find Oliver’s glass already full. Oliver, a man of middle age with a gray-streaked beard and slim frame, had smiled politely but had offered no explanation as to how the wine had gotten into his glass. He simply took a sip as the waiter wandered away bewildered, unsure as to what he had been doing at this curious man’s table in the first place. Minutes later he would have no recollection of a man fitting Oliver’s description ever being at the restaurant that evening.
It had been overcast all day. Only five minutes ago, the weather had turned worse as showers came down outside amid a cacophonous concert of thunder and lightning. During all of this, Samuel Loch finally walked through the door, looking worse for wear, completely drenched in his overcoat and cap. He wound his way toward Oliver’s table, ignoring the other patrons completely; something that seemed rather odd for a man that normally would not cross the street without a detailed report of everyone waiting for him on the other side.
Samuel took the chair opposite Oliver and sat down.
“I’m sorry for the delay, Mr. James. The weather’s right nasty out. Anyways, I’ve got something really special for you tonight.”
Oliver took another sip of his wine before he spoke. “Since you’ve made me wait, I should hope so,” he said.
Samuel grinned, scanning the restaurant with his eyes conspiratorially before continuing. “Black is making big moves in London; lots of recruiting among the People.”
“This I know already,” Oliver said.
“But wait,” Samuel said, “you haven’t heard the best part. I’ve a special message from Black.”
When Samuel Loch said this, he stood, pulling a revolver as he did so. When the barrel cleared the table top, he fired it repeatedly into Oliver’s chest. “Mr. Black says your time is up, old man!”
Oliver lurched in his chair with every shot fired. Bloody holes spoiled his white button-down shirt, mingling with the crimson vest worn beneath his suit jacket. Samuel stood over him, firing the revolver until he hit several empty cylinders in a row.
Oliver’s shocked gaze suddenly narrowed, fixing upon Samuel’s face, a wicked grin crossing his lips. He reached forward and took another sip of his wine. Loch’s eyes widened with surprise.
“Did you really think it would be so easy, Loch?” Oliver asked.
His form shimmered in his chair and then vanished while Samuel watched. The other patrons were on their feet, observing the entire exchange with shocked expressions. The image of Oliver in the large wall-mounted mirror behind Samuel suddenly leaped from the looking glass into the real world, pummeling Loch with the silver wolf’s head of his cane.
Loch fell forward across the table, sprawling onto the floor entangled in the off-white table cloth. The other patrons showed their true colors. Each and every one, including even the young lovers, drew pistols and started firing at Oliver.
He lurched away, blurring for a moment as he sidestepped the physical world through a portal of his own making, emerging halfway across the restaurant. Oliver pulled the flame from the nearest gas lamp, sending it into the young couple, igniting them in a blaze that instantly felled the woman while the man ran screaming through the restaurant’s plate glass façade.
Realizing the slippery nature of their target, one of the older couples turned on his new position, unloading their pistols. A wave of Oliver’s hand scattered the bullets into the nearby tables and glassware, shattering and splintering all. Another flick of his finger brought the wall curtains down upon the older couple, binding them fast in a strangle hold the likes of which even an anaconda could not manage.
Oliver turned to four more assassins, posing as patrons, coming around a division among the tables. One of them actually had brought a stick of dynamite to the party. Were they so desperate, he wondered? The fuse was already lit. The middle-aged assassin flung the TNT into the air toward Oliver. As he gazed upon the infernal object it unrolled itself, revealing the tightly packed powder. All of the explosive contents blew backward upon the crouching assassins along with the lit fuse, hissing and squirming like a scalded snake. The powder ignited mid-air showering the assassins in a cloud that blossomed into an inferno around them.
Oliver surveyed the scene. Dead or severely wounded assassins were scattered throughout the restaurant. When he went back to the table he had previously occupied, Oliver found Samuel Loch missing. Apparently he had fled the restaurant.
He sat down at the only nearby table that had not been touched by fighting. Around him the restaurant stood ramshackle and burning. Oliver picked up an empty wine glass in pristine condition, raising it before him. Red wine filled the glass from the bottom up as he gazed upon it. Oliver sniffed the aroma, approving of the vintage he had reproduced. “To you, Mr. Black,” he toasted.
The hammer of a revolver clicked as it was pulled back into firing position. As Oliver turned, a waiter standing directly behind him was tackled from the side by a young girl. The waiter fell heavily to the carpeted floor of Le Braziere with the girl attached to his neck. His gun discharged in no particular direction. Within seconds of her attack, he was completely incapacitated.
Oliver stood, watching the girl feed for a moment before she looked up at him with red-rimmed irises glowing in the candlelight of nearby tables. Not a drop had been spilled. Her skin flushed, suddenly vibrant where it had been pale and gray a moment before. The assassin’s pistol, ready to have placed a bullet into the back of Oliver’s head, still lay in his hand, a single cartridge discharged.
Oliver sighed, smiling at the young girl now standing before him wearing black clothing that matched no particular fashion of the day. Clearly it had been designed for practical purposes like ease of movement only; breeches and a blouse with a hooded robe covering all.
“Do you always leave such a mess?” she said, surveying what was left of Le Braziere’s once elegant dining room.
“Thank you for your assistance, Charlotte,” Oliver said. “As always, your timing is impeccable.”
The girl did not acknowledge the compliment. Constables would soon be on the scene following the gunfire and the charred corpse lying outside. The Fire Brigade would follow on their heels but most of Le Braziere would be destroyed. By the time Oliver James gathered himself and exited Le Braziere, the girl had vanished as mysteriously as she had appeared.
I never shall forget the occasion that brought me to London in my seventeenth year—a year that would deprive me
“A monarchy—does that mean they have a king?”
My father lifted his hat and scratched the back of his head. “Oh yes—well, they had one, but he died. They still have a queen though—Victoria is her name.”
I stood next to my father at the portside rail of the great steamship Andromeda bearing us across the Atlantic toward England. “Do you think I will get to meet her while we’re in London?”
My father gave me an uncertain look. “I doubt it. After all, Brody, Queens are very busy people. Perhaps she might make an appearance, and you could see her then.”
I smiled at the thought. This managed to satisfy me. England would be a glorious place. New sights, sounds and adventure awaited us on that distant shore. I was sure of it. If only I had known how wrong my thinking was, I never would have set foot upon the shore.
I passed my time onboard watching dolphins race at the bow. Oblivious to the danger, sleek gray bodies breeched the dark water then arced gracefully back beneath the wake only to do it again and again. I marveled at the great expanse of ocean before me—as menacing in the night as it was beautiful during the day.
“What Noah must have thought to be set upon a never-ending ocean and with so many animals,” I observed.
My father simply laughed to himself at my wide-eyed wonder. We read the bible by lantern light each night before we went to bed. Then I dreamed of the Maker of all things until morning.
My father had been the pastor of a small Baptist church in our city for nearly ten years. Most recently, he had been summoned to London. Eager to serve, my father had made ready to go posthaste.
“The fields are white unto harvest, Brody. That is why we are making this trip. Mr. Thomas, the man paying our fare to London, is planning to start out on a missionary journey, and I have the privilege of helping organize it. Ours and our sister churches at home will help to finance the planting of new churches in foreign lands.”
I listened, feeding off his fervency for souls, wondering who I would meet and whether Mr. Thomas had any children my age. London being so new to me and such a large place, I hoped for a friend who might help me learn my way while my father and Mr. Thomas worked.
“Does Mr. Thomas have any children?”
My father thought a moment. “You know, I’m not really sure. But I’m certain their will be boys your age among the families of his congregation. You may get to know them and make good friends.”
On our last night at sea, I lay awake—anxious for what the next day would bring. Eventually, the undulating ship rocked me to sleep upon the waves. I dreamed strange things that night—things that only now do I have more understanding of.
I walked alone through a crowded city street. No one held a kind look for me. No one showed me any pity. I felt bitter cold and my belly groaned for a bite of food. It seemed so real. Shadowy figures emerged from dark alleys to pull at my tattered clothing.
I heard the beating of great wings which grew louder and louder. I became frightened and looked for the source of these wing-beats. The crowded street stirred into a panic as pedestrians sought refuge from the invisible raptor. Gentlemen and ladies ran over one another trying to get to safety until the street became quite empty. I stood in the middle of a cobblestone lane, turning in every direction, knowing of no way to flee.
As I turned again, a man stood in the street before me. The sun cast him in silhouette, so that his face remained hidden beneath a tall hat. He wore a dark suit with a long coat and held a straight cane with a silver knob in his gloved hand. Great wings unfurled behind him. Brilliant sunlight illuminated the white feathers, showing them dingy—stained with blood and filth. The man swung his cane up high and then down upon my head as I tried to scream.
I awoke the following morning to my father singing a hymn as he shaved over a basin half filled with water. “It’s about time you got up. We’re coming to port today,” he said. “Isn’t it exciting, Brody?”
I shook off my night terrors and nodded. The sun shone through our porthole, reassuring me that all was well. My father and I dressed and prepared our things for departure. Father searched the small cabin.
“Do we have everything?” he asked.
“Yes sir, I believe so.”
“Good. Then we’ll go up on deck and watch the captain bring the ship to port,” he said.
We disembarked shortly after finding a place on deck and began our trek through the city. The streets were crowded. An odor assaulted our senses coming into the city proper—sweat mingled with decay.
I remained directly behind my father as we weaved through the crowd. On several occasions, pedestrians bumped me as my father stepped to the side on his way. I nearly toppled to the ground, but rather than apologize for their rudeness, they glared at me or told me to watch where I was going.
My father occasionally apologized for my missteps, but soon began to ignore the remarks as they became more frequent. A river of people, wearing tall hats and bonnets, meandered along both sides of the street while horses drew black and brown carriages down the cobble roads. Faces passed too quickly to observe details, though large sideburns and mustaches appeared all the rage.
I noticed a gathering in a square ahead of us. “Father, what is that up there?”
“I’m not sure,” he said. We veered toward the place until we observed a large wooden gallows which had been erected there. A man stood upon it, reading charges aloud for the crime of pick-pocketing. The accused stood below a fresh cut beam with a length of rope cinched about his neck. He appeared, to me, to be only a boy, perhaps a few years older than myself. His arms had been tied behind his back, however his face remained exposed for all to view.
My father tried to hasten us away from the scene. “There’s no need for us to watch this, Brody.” He started away. I noticed tears streaking across the boy’s dirty cheeks, creating the only clean places on him. “Brody!”
I started from my amazement and turned to find my father giving me a stern look. “Time to move on, son.”
I stole another glance at the convicted boy then walked after my father. The crowd flowed in behind me to see the spectacle. Many people shouted accusations and curses at the boy thief. The crowd seemed to all be of the same opinion. He deserved to die for his crimes.
I caught up with my father and heard the lever pulled on the gallows behind me. My head jerked back to it as the floor beneath the boy gave way. He dropped, his neck pulling all the slack from the rope. His feet kicked and his eyes bugged from their sockets as his mouth flew open, unable to utter a sound against the sudden pain. Seeing the thief struggle, other young boys, waiting below the gallows, latched onto his legs, pulling him down harder until he moved no more.
I could not believe what I had just witnessed. My breathing grew heavy. My father patted my back to reassure me. “Sin carries a heavy price, Brody…never forget that.”
I wanted to be away from London that very moment. Still, my eyes stole glances at the sight from inside my father’s coat. I saw no one there mourning for the boy’s demise. Didn’t he have a father and mother who cared at all? The hangman lowered the body for those below who then took charge of it. The crowd began to disperse and go back to business as usual, as though no one had just died before their eyes.
My father hailed a carriage and placed our bags inside. He helped me up first then climbed in after. The driver sat in front of us, holding the reins on two fine looking black mares with feather plumes on top of their bridles. “Where to, sir?” he asked with a thick accent.
“We should like to exchange some currency,” my father replied. “Could you take us to a bank nearby?”
The driver turned slightly toward us. “Of course, sir. I know just the one.” He snapped his reins and set us off thro
Rows of shops passed by on either side where ladies in fancy dresses and finely dressed gentlemen spent their wares. I wondered at taller structures which rose behind them; especially a cathedral with stone columns and images of saints cut from polished stone. The bells chimed four times from a high tower, alerting the populace as to the time of day.
When we arrived at the bank building, I noticed how impressive it was—grey stone and marble columns, polished brass doorknobs upon mahogany paneled doors. The carriage stopped in front and my father paid the driver with a little money sent to him by Mr. Thomas to be used until he acquired his own currency. The driver tipped his hat gratefully. “Thank you, sir. Shall I wait for you?”
“No, but thank you.” My father helped me down from the carriage. “I’m sure we’ll manage to catch another one when we’re ready.”
We stepped away just as a young gentleman and his lady summoned the carriage from down the street. The driver gave the reins a slight snap and the horses drew the carriage toward them.
I followed my father to the doors and noticed a man staring at us. He stood with his back against the bank building dressed in well-worn clothes and a cap. He hadn’t shaved recently and had dark circles under his eyes. His piercing blue eyes watched my father as he opened the door to the bank and stepped inside. His gaze turned to me, grinning. For some reason he made me shudder.
Following my father inside the bank, I gazed in wonder at the finery of it. Brass fixtures, polished wood and stately marble loomed everywhere my eyes fell. The clerks dressed in tailored suits and many wore wire spectacles upon their noses.
My father conducted his business with a teller while I roamed close by. I found a seating area and sank into one of the leather chairs provided. It smelled quite nice and was incredibly comfortable. I rubbed the leather arms and watched the glinting sunlight play upon the great chandelier crystals. London’s citizens marched on outside the tall windows.
Fallen by James Somers / Fantasy / History & Fiction have rating 3.4 out of 5 / Based on17 votes