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Son of perdition, p.28
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       Son of Perdition, p.28

           Wendy Alec
 
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Jason stared down at Lilian, then gently released her thin hand from his grasp.

  Rosemary sat reading in the far corner of the room. She looked up. ‘You got here fast.’

  ‘I was summering in Rome. You can’t walk through Manhattan without being accosted by the military on every corner,’ he said. ‘So what happened, Rosemary? Give me the details.’

  ‘She collapsed on the pavement in Wimpole Street at around ten this morning. She had had an appointment of some kind. That’s all we know. The ambulance brought her here. She was in a coma, then woke up hallucinating. She asked for you, then fell asleep when she was sure you were on your way.’

  The second nurse rechecked Lilian’s readings and her tubes, then left.

  Jason looked at his watch.

  ‘You should try to catch some sleep.’

  Rosemary smiled. ‘I’ll snatch an hour when Adrian gets here. He said he’ll hold the fort.’

  Lilian’s eyes fluttered open.

  Jason took her hand again. ‘It’s me, Mother. I’m here now.’

  Lilian tried to draw herself up into a sitting position. Jason and Rosemary stared at her in alarm.

  ‘They took my baby . . . ’ She stared right through Jason, her eyes wide with alarm.

  Jason and Rosemary exchanged a glance.

  ‘Mother, you’re hallucinating.’

  Lilian pressed Jason’s hand. ‘Jason – you’re my son?’

  He nodded. ‘Of course I’m your son.’

  Rosemary shook her head. ‘It’s the drugs.’

  ‘Jason.’ The heart monitor fluctuated noticeably.

  ‘The doctor says you’re not to strain yourself. Mother, the medication is making you confused. Don’t try to talk. I’m right here.’

  He looked at Rosemary in alarm.

  ‘Get the staff nurse,’ he ordered and Rosemary rushed from the room.

  Lilian shook her head, her eyes full of fear.

  ‘Just rest, Mother,’ he murmured.

  ‘Jason, there are things . . . things that your father and I never told you. You have to know. You have to protect yourself from them.’

  ‘Mother, please – you’re confused.’

  Lilian mustered all her strength and clasped Jason’s hand so tightly he winced. ‘They murdered Nicholas. They’ll come for me. Then they will get to you.’

  She struggled to raise herself.

  ‘You must protect yourself. In my safe . . . ’ Lilian fought for breath. ‘Your father – a set of papers arrived from his lawyers yesterday.’

  Jason looked at her, completely baffled.

  ‘Mother, Dad’s been dead for four years.’

  ‘A black file with his gold crest. Get it to Lawrence St Cartier. Promise me. You can trust Lawrence.’

  The staff nurse entered, followed by Rosemary and a specialist.

  ‘Mr De Vere.’ The doctor looked at Jason, sternly. ‘Your mother is not to be excited under any circumstances. She has had a major coronary.’

  The nurse prepped Lilian’s arm and deftly inserted a needle. The doctor stood in front of Jason. ‘If you’ll please excuse us.’

  ‘Jason,’ Lilian cried in agitation. ‘Promise me.’

  Jason struggled for control of his emotions.

  ‘I promise, Mother. The black file to Lawrence St Cartier.’

  Lilian’s panic started to diminish as the sedative began to take effect.

  Her eyes closed.

  ‘I love you, Jason,’ she whispered.

  Then she fell into the blissful succour of oblivion.

  * * *

  Lawrence stood outside the imposing turn-of-the-century apartment block staring up at his flat on the tenth floor.

  Waseem ran up, out of breath. Lawrence placed his finger on the boy’s mouth.

  ‘It would seem, Waseem, that we have an uninvited guest.’

  Lawrence pointed upwards. Waseem frowned.

  They walked into the hallway and opened the iron lift doors. Lawrence pressed a button and the lift moved upwards at a snail’s pace, stopping with a thump on the tenth floor.

  Lawrence got out, followed by Waseem, and they walked down the long hallway.

  Lawrence hesitated outside a beautifully crafted doorway.

  ‘A most unwelcome guest.’

  The door opened slowly. Standing on the balcony, his hand raised in greeting, stood Charsoc.

  Lawrence closed the door firmly behind him.

  ‘I should have let you know I was coming, Jether,’ Charsoc said languidly. ‘You could have prepared me some tea.’

  Lawrence looked Charsoc up and down. He was still in human form. Six foot three. Hooked nose. Cropped iron-grey hair.

  ‘Kester Von Slagel, emissary to Lorcan De Molay, I presume.’

  Charsoc bowed. ‘Pleased to make your acquaintance, Professor Lawrence St Cartier.’ He smiled thinly as Lawrence metamorphosed into his angelic form as Jether.

  ‘Forgive me if I don’t follow suit,’ Charsoc said. ‘Yehovah’s addendum to Eternal Law concerning my entry through the Portal of Shinar put rather a dampener on things.’

  Jether nodded to Waseem, who transformed into the youngling Obadiah.

  Charsoc raised his eyebrows.

  ‘My, my, Jether! How circumspect of you. Hired help.’

  ‘Obadiah.’ The youngling nodded and disappeared through the door. Jether looked at Charsoc’s dog collar and frowned.

  ‘Flattering, don’t you think?’ Charsoc smiled. ‘Robes. Crucifixes. Continual black attire. Somewhat macabre. But the rings are magnificent. Luridly ornate. Quite to my taste.’ He looked fondly down at the huge uncut stone in his signet ring. ‘Bloodstone – a variety of chalcedony. Legend has it that the bloodstone was formed from the blood of Christ dripping on the green earth and solidifying.’

  His eyes narrowed.

  ‘I’m being primed, Jether. As Grand Inquisitor of the Ruling Body of the Global Congress of Churches.’

  ‘The False Prophet of Revelation. Why am I not surprised?’ Jether said drily.

  ‘A new order.’ Charsoc raised his arms to the skies. ‘The Inquisition reborn.’

  Jether walked out onto the balcony. ‘You outstay your welcome.’

  ‘I took a minibus,’ Charsoc said, ignoring Jether’s comment. He dusted off his robes. ‘Crowded. Bald tyres, ripped seats. Fifteen piastres.’ He shook his head.You could have least have taken up residence somewhere more civilized.’

  He looked out at the view of Old Cairo at night.

  ‘Somewhere like London or Milan. Or are you here because of sentiment perhaps?’ he hissed. ‘Egypt protected the Nazarene, and so fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”’

  ‘What do you want, Charsoc?’ Jether said, his voice like ice.

  ‘Don’t be tetchy, Jether. I am here to deliver a message.’

  ‘Of course you are.’ Jether looked at him with disdain. ‘From second in command of the High Ancient Kings of Heaven to Lucifer’s errand boy. A message from your Master.’

  Charsoc glared at Jether with undisguised loathing.

  ‘A message from my Master concerning the forthcoming evacuation of the Nazarene’s subjects,’ he said. ‘They are more than an irritant, Jether. They greatly obstruct our progress in the Realm of Men.’

  Charsoc removed a parchment missive from his carpet bag.

  ‘You know I have always been a stickler for legal protocol. I hold Yehovah’s guarantee – the Rubied Seal.’ Charsoc proffered Jether the parchment with a glimmering seal. ‘My Master demands its immediate implementation.’

  Jether took it from Charsoc’s outstretched hand.

  ‘The Rapture,’ Charsoc hissed. ‘As it is called in the world of the Race of Men.’

  ‘It is imminent,’ Jether said, his voice very soft.

  ‘Imminent is not soon enough. They plague us with their confounded supplications. The incursions of the Angelic Hosts through the Portals to assist them must stop.’

&
nbsp; Charsoc swung around. ‘The Nazarene,’ he spat, ‘makes visitations to this wretched planet. Nightly.’

  ‘They are His subjects. He is their King. He comes in answer to their supplications.’

  ‘Precisely. Their removal ensures His removal. And it ensures our victory. From the hour the Ishtar Treaty was signed we had seven years until the Final Battle. Forty-two months are all but gone. We are running late.’

  ‘But we are right on time, Charsoc.’ Jether looked down at the missive in his palm.

  ‘We demand their removal,’ Charsoc snarled. ‘According to the precepts of Eternal Law.’

  ‘You can make no demands. You abide by Yehovah’s jurisdictions only.’

  ‘Then you leave me no alternative.’

  Charsoc carefully took out a pair of vermilion slippers from the bottom of his carpet bag, then a turquoise eye-mask and nasal spray. Jether watched as he removed a bottle of blood pressure pills.

  ‘This inferior body constantly needs retuning,’ he muttered. ‘I have become finicky over the past four decades.’

  Jether rolled his eyes. ‘You were always finicky, Charsoc.’ He stared down at the Rubied Seal on the missive. ‘You leave me no choice. The prospect of your company is more than I can stand.’

  A strange smiled flickered on Charsoc’s lips.

  ‘I see we understand each other.’

  ‘Let us dispense with superficialities,’ Jether said frostily. ‘At the passing of the Pale Rider through the Kármán Line, when the boundary between the earth’s atmosphere and outer space is sixty-two miles above the planet, His subjects shall be removed.’

  ‘The Pale Rider.’ Charsoc smiled in satisfaction. ‘Ah . . . the Fourth Seal . . . Nisroc’s gruesome precursor to the Sixth Seal.’

  He replaced his slippers and the eye mask in his bag.

  ‘And I beheld when he had opened the Sixth Seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.’

  Charsoc unscrewed the cap of his blood-pressure pills and slung two in the back of his mouth. He swallowed, then grimaced.

  ‘And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth . . . And the heavens departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.’

  ‘Breathtaking. Seeing that I am trapped in this infernal human form, I shall invest in a small cabin in the highest mountains of this planet immediately on my return to Normandy as a safeguard to ensure my survival.’

  And, snatching the missive with the Rubied Seal out of Jether’s hand, he walked out into the lobby, past the trembling Obadiah, and into the open elevator.

  Jether stood in the doorway, watching him in silence.

  Charsoc looked back at Jether and yawned deliberately.

  ‘Of course, no one will ever realize that the Rapture even occurred,’ he said nonchalantly.

  The iron gates of the elevator began to close.

  ‘The disappearance of the Christians will be passed off as a complete non-event. Overlooked in a natural disaster and the resulting pandemic that caused the death of untold millions.

  ‘As they say in some sectors of this planet,’ he added, ‘have a nice day.’

  Jether watched as the elevator disappeared from view.

  He hesitated as though hearing something, then turned to the youngling. ‘Obadiah, hold the fort until my return.’ He made the sign of the cross. ‘I have urgent business to attend.’

  Chapter Thirty-four

  Dossiers Secrets Du Professeur

  The De Vere Mansion, Belgrave Square, London

  Jason got out of the army van and thanked the lieutenant who’d given him a lift. Inwardly he thanked Adrian for arranging him a special pass. Although the London Pact had been signed six months ago, the UK curfews implemented in 2023 were still in place. It was five minutes past nine and the Belgravia streets were deserted. He walked towards the front door. Maxim waited for him on the brightly lit porch.

  ‘Master Jason,’ the butler said, wringing his hands in distress, ‘how is Madam Lilian?’

  ‘She’s in intensive care but stable,’ Jason said, removing his jacket and handing it to Maxim. ‘It’s a waiting game.’

  He loosened his collar and rolled up his shirtsleeves.

  ‘Master Adrian called at lunchtime,’ Maxim said.

  ‘I talked to him from the hospital,’ Jason replied. He looked at his watch. ‘He should be landing any minute. Mother’s tough, Maxim. The doctors say she’ll pull through.’

  ‘Tough as an old boot,’ Maxim said, taking a handerchief from his top pocket. He dabbed his eyes, then blew his nose loudly.

  Jason opened the drawing-room doors.

  ‘Mother’s not herself,’ he said. ‘She’s hallucinating. Kept saying that they took her baby.’

  Jason looked up at the butler, pale and drawn. ‘Maxim . . . ’ He hesitated before continuing. ‘After Nick’s death, his friend Weaver sent me a disk with information Nick had emailed him before he died. It was a copy of a letter from my father and some other documents. I sent them to St Cartier for safekeeping.’

  He studied Maxim closely.

  ‘You knew my father well. I was too young to notice anything . . . or care. Was there ever any evidence that Dad was involved with anything clandestine?’

  Maxim looked into Jason’s eyes for a long time before he spoke.

  ‘It came to my knowledge that Master James was a long-term member of a secret society of the elite. I was once a reluctant witness to a fight between Master James and Madam Lilian. Unfortunately I heard more than was suitable for me to be privy to.’

  ‘And?’

  ‘It was about your grandfather, Julius De Vere.’

  ‘Julius? He kept to himself.’

  ‘The father was different from the son,’ Maxim said quietly. ‘There were things Master James would have to do that he felt violated his moral code and he despised himself for it. He did it to ensure that you boys would remain unharmed. And free from their clutches. That is all I know.’

  ‘Thank you.’ Jason stood in the hall deep in thought. It was not the answer he wanted to hear. ‘Maxim, what was the appointment Mother had in Wimpole Street two days ago?’

  ‘I assumed it was the doctor’s, Master Jason.’

  Jason frowned. ‘That would explain it.’

  ‘All I know is she took a taxi yesterday morning. Refused the chauffeur. Said it was private. I should have told you.’

  ‘You did just fine. Now get some rest. I’ll stay up in case the hospital calls.’

  Maxim bowed. ‘Your whisky is on the cabinet.’

  ‘One last thing. Mother mentioned a document that had arrived.’ He paused. ‘A document from my father.’

  ‘From Master James?’ Maxim frowned. ‘But Master James is deceased.’

  ‘Yes, Maxim, we know that,’ he said patiently.

  The butler wrinkled his brow.

  ‘A Fedex package did arrive on Tuesday addressed to Madam. She signed for it. She refused supper that night.’

  ‘Thank you, Maxim.’

  With a bow, the old butler closed the heavy mahogany doors behind him.

  Jason walked over and switched on a small side lamp on the liquor cabinet, then picked up the whisky that Maxim had poured. He gazed out of the large arched drawing-room window into the night sky, then reached over and switched on the television remote.

  He switched from Sky to CNN, then to VOX USA. The usual images of looting and soldiers patrolling the curfewed streets of New York filled the screens. He watched the bread lines in Los Angeles and sighed. America had collapsed into anarchy. The United States was unrecognizable. Indeed, it was being divided into thirty-three regions that very month. Each region’s government would be autonomous.

  Thank God he’d moved VOX headquarters to Babylon when he had – thanks to Adrian.

  The grandfather clock struck 2 a.m. He switched over to BBC News 24 and sat down on the
sofa. He watched in the dim half-light as Adrian’s face came onscreen.

  ‘Adrian De Vere, President of the European Superstate, ended the World Summit today with the unveiling of a fifty-trillion-dollar bail-out . . . ’ Jason flicked the TV off and pressed the video-player remote. Pictures of Adrian, Nick and Jason when they were young flickered onscreen. He sighed and leaned back into the sofa, his feet up on the coffee table, to watch a young Lilian holding Nick on her lap as he blew out three candles on a huge birthday cake. Jason and Adrian stood behind, dressed in bow ties.

  Jason recalled his seventeenth birthday party at the De Vere Mansion in Narragansett. Nick had run around with a camera, snapping Jason, Adrian and anything that moved.

  ‘Nick.’ Jason sighed. It had been over three years since his brother’s death and he wished with every passing day that he could have had just one chance to put things right. He looked down at his phone. A new text from Aunt Rosemary. Adrian had just arrived at the hospital. Lilian was sleeping. Still stable.

  He turned to look at the Annigoni painting hanging over Lilian’s writing desk, then walked across the room and carefully removed it from the wall.

  Facing him was a small iron safe. He punched in a combination. The door sprang open and Jason took out a wad of aged and bulging files. Carefully, he sifted through them.

  James and Lilian’s marriage certificate. James’s death certificate. Nick’s death certificate. He paused. Copies of Julia and Jason’s marriage certificate and Lily’s birth certificate.

  Why on earth did she keep this stuff?

  There, right at the bottom, exactly where Lilian had said it would be, lay the thin black file with James’s private De Vere insignia embossed on the front.

  Jason placed it on Lilian’s writing desk, then replaced the files in the safe and relocked the combination.

  He poured himself a second whisky, sat back on the sofa and opened the file, sifting through the top papers.

  Three records of money deposits . . . bank-account numbers . . . no names. Nothing else except an innocuous-looking bulky blue linen envelope. He looked at the postmark and frowned. The Isle of Arran. Scotland?

  He opened it. Inside was a wad of cheap lined paper of the sort available at any stationery shop in England.

 
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