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Son of perdition, p.3
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       Son of Perdition, p.3

           Wendy Alec
 

  Soho. London at night.

  Back in full swing after the end of the Third World War.

  London had been living under threat of nuclear annihilation from Iran and Russia for eight nail-biting months. The atomic-weapons site in Aldermaston, twenty-four miles out of the city, and the Faslane nuclear submarine base in Scotland had both been razed to the ground by the Russian equivalent of the mini-nuke B61-11. As for Manchester and Glasgow . . . Nick sighed.

  Everyone was on tenterhooks waiting for the Ishtar Accord to be ratified. But the theatres had reopened to the public last week and scores of creative agencies, post-production houses and recording studios were back in full swing.

  It was business as usual in Soho.

  Nick pushed the ever-straying fringe out of his eyes and surveyed the restaurant, his innate archaeologist’s sensibilities in gear. The boutique hotel had been carved from a pair of Soho townhouses once occupied by MI5. Private cinema. Roof garden. Vintage-style leather banquettes. He scanned the faces at the entrance for Klaus von Hausen. Still no sign of the lean antiquities expert although Von Hausen, true to his Germanic heritage, was a stickler for promptness, and for detail. He was the youngest senior curator of the Department of the Middle East in the British Museum’s existence, overseeing the most comprehensive collection of Assyrian, Babylonian and Sumerian antiquities in the world. Klaus had been uncharacteristically guarded on the phone earlier. Nick would find out why over drinks.

  He closed his eyes, a rare tranquillity on his features.

  There was no sign of the invasive British paparazzi who dogged his every move. Today he had given them the slip. Nine years ago, at twenty-four, Nick De Vere, brilliant archaeologist, heir to the De Vere banking and oil dynasties and London pop culture icon, had been sex symbol of the year, feted by every gossip magazine in the Western hemisphere. He stared up at the bank of televisions that hung above the crimson leather bar, each broadcasting the familiar VOX branding in the top right-hand corner.

  VOX. His eldest brother’s monolithic communications company.

  He sighed.

  Jason had never forgiven him for the accident.

  Nick put down his coffee cup, exchanging it for the John Smith’s bitter on his left.

  For that matter, he had never forgiven himself.

  Lily De Vere, Jason’s seven-year-old daughter, had been permanently disabled. Julia, like the older sister he never had, had forgiven him instantly. But Jason hadn’t talked to him from that day to this. So the rich young playboy had drowned his sorrows and a large portion of his trust fund in a score of exclusive private clubs strung from London to Monte Carlo to Rome.

  His antics had been splashed across the front pages of the News of the World and The Sun, much to his father’s chagrin and his mother’s despair, and to his elder brother’s outright horror.

  His father, James De Vere, a strict traditionalist, had found out about his affair with Klaus von Hausen and had frozen Nick’s trust fund the week before collapsing with a fatal heart attack.

  And now Nick had AIDS. One evening too many – the sex, the heroin.

  Nick De Vere had been given six months to live.

  ‘Hey!’ A soft German accent broke into his reverie.

  Klaus sank his tall, lean frame into chair opposite Nick. Their relationship had been intense but short-lived; yet they were still close.

  ‘Good to see you,’ Nick murmured.

  ‘I can’t stay long,’ Klaus said. ‘I have to pack. Classified dig in the Middle East. They’ve uncovered a historic ancient artefact of international importance.’

  Nick raised his eyebrows.

  Klaus lowered his voice.

  ‘Look, Nick – I don’t know what they’ve discovered. But it’s huge. MI6 and Interpol. They were . . . ’ He frowned. ‘How do you say it in English? “Swarming” all over the museum today. The Vatican’s involved.’

  ‘And you don’t know where?’

  Klaus shook his head.

  ‘Iraq . . . Syria . . . Israel. The beginning of civilization. I know the way they work – it’ll remain undisclosed until my arrival.’ His eyes shone with exhilaration. ‘No mobile phones. No laptops. All communications confiscated till I return to British soil.’

  ‘Which is . . . ?’

  ‘As long as it takes.’ Klaus signalled to a waitress. ‘Espresso.’ ‘When do you leave for Egypt?’

  ‘Tomorrow,’ Nick answered. ‘I overnight in Alexandria, then meet St Cartier at the monastery.’

  ‘Ah – Lawrence St Cartier.’ Klaus raised his eyebrows. ‘The enigma . . . ’

  He gestured to the bank of televisions above the bar. ‘It looks like your brother’s actually got the Iranians to the table. It’s all over the news.’

  Nick stared up at the six screens, all transmitting the handsome angular features of Adrian De Vere.

  ‘Thank God for Adrian,’ Nick muttered.

  Klaus laid his hand gently on Nick’s frail forearm.

  ‘He’s still paying for your medication?’

  Nick nodded. ‘The meds, clinics, my apartment, my car . . . He’s saved my life. Literally. The Jordanian monies are released this week. I’ll be of independent means again.’ Nick shook his head. ‘God. Dad hated you and me. Our relationship.’

  ‘It’s in the past, Nicholas.’ Klaus said gently. ‘We have to get you strong. You know I’m always here if you need anything.’

  Nick smiled faintly. ‘Thanks, Klaus. You’ve been the best.’

  ‘How’s the Jordanian Princess?’

  ‘Things are good,’ he said softly.

  ‘Serious?’

  Nick took a sip of his bitter. ‘Very serious.’

  ‘And Jason?’

  ‘You know Jason.’ Nick shrugged. ‘I don’t exist.’

  ‘Leave him to it.’ Klaus frowned, visibly upset. ‘He has the problem.’

  He gestured back to the television screens.

  ‘All Germany’s calling Adrian Der Wunderkind. Even my grandmother in Hamburg.’ He shook his head. ‘It was so awful what happened in Berlin.’ He fell silent.

  ‘Hey – turn it up!’ An unshaven executive in a shiny black suit called out.

  Nick watched, intrigued, as the restaurant quieted. All eyes were riveted on the former British Prime Minister, Adrian De Vere.

  ‘For the first time in the history of the world since Hiroshima, major cities have experienced the utter devastation of a nuclear strike.’

  Adrian’s voice was quiet but hard as steel.

  ‘Moscow, St Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Damascus, Tel Aviv, Mashhad, Tabriz, Aleppo, Ankara, Riyadh, Haifa, Los Angeles, Chicago, Colorado Springs, Glasgow, Manchester, Berlin. The list goes on.’

  He hesitated.

  ‘Entire cities erased from the face of the earth. Communities. Families. Fathers. Mothers. Sons. Daughters. Their bodies incinerated.’

  Adrian looked directly into the camera. The entire restaurant fell silent.

  ‘Next month – in Babylon – a pact between Russia, the Arab nations, the United Nations, the European Union and Israel will be signed. A nuclear disarmament pact that will last for forty years. The first phase – the seven-year Ishtar Accord – to be signed in Babylon. It is my personal and fervent aspiration. By that I mean that I am determined.’ He paused. ‘Let me repeat . . . I mean determined . . . ’

  His eyes blazed with intensity. With passion.

  ‘ . . . that under the guidance and protection of our formidable newly formed European Union Military Defence Force, and under my leadership as President of the European Union, the threat of nuclear warfare between the East and the West will be erased not only for an entire generation but for all time.’

  He paused.

  ‘I can think of no better way to end this address than to quote directly from the thirty-fifth President of the United States. From John F. Kennedy’s speech on 10 June 1963 to the American University.

  “What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we
seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace – the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living – the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children – not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women – not merely peace in our time . . . ”’

  Adrian looked straight into the camera lens, his sapphire blue eyes like steel.

  ‘ . . . but peace for all time.’

  Nick looked on in amazement at the faces gazing up in adulation at Adrian. The sceptical British public were hanging on his every word.

  He shook his head in wonder.

  It was an indisputable fact. His elder brother was, at this moment, the most influential public figure in the civilized world.

  Nick had promised Adrian he would drop in on his way back from Egypt.

  He’d book his flight to Paris in the morning.

  * * *

  Lorcan De Molay stared at the television screen, a slow smile spreading across his face.

  ‘When the Accord of Men is signed . . . ’ he murmured. ‘And when Zion’s Gates stand fast . . . The First Seal shall be broken . . . The Tribulation shall come to pass . . . ’

  He drew deeply on his cigar.

  ‘Three weeks until the Accord is signed in Babylon.’

  He clicked the remote. Adrian De Vere’s face disappeared from view.

  ‘Three weeks until the First Seal of Revelation is broken,’ he mused, turning to the Presidents of Iran and Syria.

  Kester von Slagel appeared at his side.

  ‘Everything is going according to plan, Your Excellency. Soon this parched tract of dust shall be a thorn in your side no more.’

  De Molay walked out onto the balcony of the presidential suite of the King David Hotel, his jet-black hair lashing his cheeks in the icy Jerusalem winds that blew up from the west.

  He wrapped his smoking gown tightly around his form and stared out past the Western Wall and East Jerusalem, over the Old City, in the direction of a nondescript rocky hill towards the North. Golgotha.

  He would defeat the Nazarene in his own backyard. The Last Great Battle.

  A thin hard smile flickered on his lips.

  ‘In Jerusalem.’

  Chapter Three

  Brothers

  Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC

  Michael pulled his jade cloak around his lean form, scanning the horizon for what must have been the eighth time that hour. His imperial features were set. Gabriel stood just paces behind, his clear grey eyes lit with a rare intensity. His platinum locks blew in the sudden winds.

  The aroma of frankincense permeated the air.

  Michael frowned. There, striding towards them up the palatial staircase, past the monolithic fluted columns that soared above the porticoes, was a priest. His hair was pulled back from his cheekbones into a single braid and he wore the flowing black robes of the Jesuit Order.

  Lucifer raised his hand to his brothers in recognition.

  ‘I have converted,’ he declared. He grinned at Michael. ‘A soldier of Christ.’

  Michael stared at him grimly.

  Lucifer stopped directly beneath the immense, seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln, his six-foot form dwarfed by the marble figure.

  His entire body started to transform into what seemed to be billions of atoms radiating at the speed of light as six monstrous seraph wings rose from his shoulders. He stood nine feet tall. Lucifer. Seraph. Fallen Archangel.

  Michael studied his elder brother. Still magnificent.

  Lucifer’s alabaster features had been scarred almost beyond recognition in the torrid inferno at his banishment from the First Heaven. Yet tonight, as he stood bathed in the soft moonlight of Washington DC, the haunting beauty of aeons past was evident: the wide, marbled forehead, the high imperial cheek-bones, the straight patrician nose. His gleaming raven tresses were loosed, freed of their intricate gold braiding and now falling past his waist.

  His steel-blue eyes held Michael’s gaze. Abruptly he flung his arms in the air towards Washington’s dawn skies, the ice diamonds on his white velvet cloak radiating with fire. A smile flickered at the corners of his mouth.

  ‘I have a dream . . . ’ he cried, his cultured tones resounding through the Greek Doric Temple. ‘I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low . . . ’

  He watched Michael out of the corner of his eye.

  ‘ . . . the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight . . . ’

  He strode to the very front of the memorial, staring out at the Reflecting Pool, the indigo silk robes beneath his cloak billowing in the sudden gales from the Atlantic.

  ‘Let freedom ring – from the Stone Mountain of Georgia.

  ‘Let freedom ring – from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

  ‘Let freedom ring – from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!’

  He turned with a flourish and walked towards Gabriel.

  ‘And when this happens, brother . . . ’ Lucifer grasped Gabriel’s shoulders with both hands, his voice soft yet intense with emotion. ‘When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city . . . ’

  He closed his eyes, his voice imbued with passion. ‘We will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, “Free at last, free at last”.’

  He stood, silent for a full minute, then turned to Michael, an irreverent smirk on his face.

  ‘Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’ Lucifer bowed with a flourish. ‘To Martin Luther King in whose symbolic shadow I stand.’

  ‘A thorn in your side, I think,’ Gabriel said staring at him grimly.

  ‘A barb, it is true. But I dispensed with the rabble-rouser.’

  He bowed to Abraham Lincoln.

  ‘As for Lincoln,’ he murmured, ‘his printing greenbacks became a real impediment to creating a central bank. It became essential to remove him.’

  ‘As you did with John F. Kennedy and too many others to mention.’ Gabriel’s eyes narrowed.

  ‘I reward the elite with power . . . they serve me unwaveringly. The Race of Men sell their souls so indiscriminately.’ Lucifer shrugged. ‘Power. Riches. Assets. Reserves . . . ’ He hesitated, then gave Michael a slow depraved grin. ‘Sex.’

  ‘You are contemptible.’

  ‘My sanctimonious brother Michael.’

  ‘Not all succumb,’ said Gabriel, gazing back up at Lincoln.

  Lucifer smiled. A wicked fire flickered in his eyes.

  ‘Ninty-nine succumb. Then we exterminate the one.’

  ‘You delude yourself, brother.’ Michael stared at him coldly. ‘Your kingdom ended at Golgotha. The Nazarene dealt you a death blow.’

  ‘But no one appreciates the fact, Michael.’ Lucifer answered in a patronizing tone. ‘The past two thousand years, I have painstakingly ensured that the sacrifice on Golgotha is a mere myth for the weak and stumbling. For kindergarten. Except that thanks to my fervent disciples . . . even kindergarteners no longer pray to the Nazarene.’ He gave a derisive laugh, staring out over the water past the Washington Monument to the Capitol building.

  ‘His influence wanes,’ he murmured. ‘I shall erase His name and face forever from the records of the Race of Men. Like Europe before her . . . I shall bring America to her knees.’

  Michael held out a missive with the Royal Seal of the House of Yehovah.

  ‘Yehovah offers mercy.’

  Lucifer glanced down at the missive in Michael’s grasp, then directly up into his clear emerald gaze.

  ‘Mercy?’ He frowned, momentarily taken aback.

  ‘If you and the
Fallen abandon your plan to annihilate the Race of Men.’ Michael averted his eyes from Lucifer’s.

  ‘His unfailing compassions are infinitely more than you deserve, Lucifer.’ Gabriel’s voice was hard.

  ‘Tut . . . tut . . . tut . . . ’ Lucifer instantly regained his composure. A disparaging smile flickered on his mouth.

  ‘I see the altar boys are here today.’

  He snatched the missive from Michael’s grasp and tore it open. He scanned it, then walked to the edge of the stairs and gazed out into Washington’s dawn skies. He stood a long time, his back to his brothers, the missive held tightly in his grasp.

  Finally he spoke.

  ‘He offers mercy.’ he whispered. ‘But He of all knows that I am long beyond redemption . . . He taunts me.’ His eyes scanned the heavens. ‘Tell my Father this is a war to the death. I will fight. At every turn. At every opportunity. I will never surrender.’

  Michael’s green eyes bored into Lucifer’s back. ‘Then it is war, brother.’

  Finally Lucifer turned.

  ‘And there was war in heaven!’ he cried. He raised his scarred features in ecstasy to the skies. ‘Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought his angels. The King James Version.’ He opened one eye. ‘It has a certain turn of phrase, don’t you think?’

  He stared at Michael, a half smile on his lips. Michael stared back, fierce.

  ‘And prevailed not,’ Michael said though clenched teeth.

  ‘War between two brothers.’ Lucifer moved. ‘Such a thing . . . ’ he murmured, ‘such a thing should never be.’

  Clasping Michael’s shoulder, he pressed his lips to his brother’s ear. ‘We, above all, Chief Princes – brothers – should never be asked to choose.’

  Lucifer’s features contorted into a mask of disdain.

  ‘It is malevolent.’ He crushed the missive in his palm. ‘It shows His weakness. His Achilles heel,’ he hissed. ‘It is precisely why He should vacate the throne . . . the throne I intend to occupy, Michael.’

  Michael removed Lucifer’s hand from his shoulder.

  ‘That would be a cold day in hell,’ he snapped.

 
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