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Black, White & Red All Over: Book 3 by Rob Sharp

EXTRACT FOR
Black, White & Red All Over: Book 3 
(Rob Sharp)


Black White and Red 3

Epitaph

 

October 7th 2003

Torrential rain lashed across New York City, as the grey cloud hugged the tops of the skyscrapers like a jealous lover, unwilling to let go. Normally moving at their own, never ending pace, the pedestrians were running for cover as the traffic came to a stand-still and the horns began to blare.

There was a man staggering like a drunk down the centre of 5th Avenue… and he was completely naked. Not that the female population were complaining. He had the toned body of an athlete, and with his shaven head he cut quite a hot figure. But there was something odd about his complexion. His skin had more than a hint of grey. As he stumbled forward, drenched literally to the skin, he was mumbling to himself.

“I failed…” the passers-bye caught him repeating over and over. “I failed to save John Savage…”

The naked guy had one deep blue eye and one swirling golden eye. Having brought the traffic to a standstill, it was with the golden eye that he managed to cut through the rain and see an odd man in a baggy orange jumpsuit and a metal helmet looking down at him from the roof of one of the surrounding buildings. The Tourist, as these intruders were colloquially called, had to wipe the rain from his visor to see out.

When Mr Jupiter’s eagle-eye zoomed in on this khaki helmet, he saw a cartoon of a shark, mouth open and baring its teeth, but some property in the metal refused to let him see inside with his pentra-vision.

“Screw this rain,” the guttural voice of the squat, but powerfully built man in the orange suit complained. “This is Jaws to Sunnybrook Farm. Jupiter has finally been spat out by Ouroboros. He’s below my current location, making a complete twat of himself. Suggest immediate extraction.”

Not expecting the luxury of a reply, the agent coded as, Jaws crouched down and tightened his shield-system. Across the street, barely visible in the rain, a projection of a giant graphic Egyptian Eye was moving across the side of the building like a searchlight. As it slithered down onto the street with all the caution of a lizard, the Tourist held his breath, counting down the seconds. But when the Eye got within six feet of Mr Jupiter, the half-alien flickered like a bad hologram and faded out.

Not realizing its near miss in its search for posthumans, the Eye moved on down the road.

“The Enemy was here,” said Jaws softly to whoever was listening 19 years into the future. “She’s becoming far bolder than we remembered. I’m fading.” Then he too blinked out and the rain kept on thundering down.

***

September 10th 2003

Anthony Leibowitz had decided to take his little sister (who was actually his elder sister by a good stretch) out for lunch. Since she had been granted a second life by the pagan goddess, Hecate, Rebecca had mostly stayed inside their papa’s House, cataloguing and researching Mordecai Leibowitz’s life’s work.

As part of those diaries, essays, ramblings and general notes written on anything from the back of beer-mats to the reverse of Hittite tablets, the growing archive was extremely eclectic. Last week, Rebecca had been correlating the known history of the Shifting Empire, a society of traders who used Warp Ships to navigate into the Gap, just before the last Ice Age. The trouble being some of their wasp-striped ships had developed a habit of cropping up right through to the 13th Century AD.

This week she had found a list of familiar looking names of Long-Lifers, written in the back of a handwritten draft copy of Shakespeare’s missing play, ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’.

She had looked forward to having lunch with her brother all week. What she hadn’t expected was sandwiches and a Coke, perched on the observation deck of the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, with her legs dangling into infinity. Somehow, the curator of the strange had been allowed to rent the entire floor for two hours, just for the pair of them, with part of the safety screens removed.

“Like the view, Becca?’ asked Anthony, taking a swig of tea from his thermos flask cup. It always surprised him how the prince amongst beverages took on a well-stewed taste when kept in a flask for over six hours. A tincture of over-boiled milk, metal and plastic. Nice.

“Well, you promised me some fresh air. That is certainly some view!”

“The floor behind us has been the headquarters of several notable Masks since the building was finished in 1931, probably the most famous being Doc Caliban and his friends. The press of the time knew him as an adventurer and a philanthropist. The secret world called him, the Golden Avenger.”

“You’re waffling, Anthony,” sighed his sister. “I asked for this dinner date for a specific reason. When are you going to tell Yory Keighley that he is most likely one of your mysterious seventeen pilgrims?”

“Ah, you got me there. But they are not my seventeen pilgrims, per se, just a group of champions chosen by fate to protect the world from all manner of evils.”

“I know that, you plank!” the girl snarled at him. For a 13-year-old, she did a fine selection of snarls. “There’s also your even older friend, Acer Via, who is still not talking to you after you – well, after you saved his life.”

“He’s just being a meshugenah. ‘I was meant to die at the turn of the millennia’ – meshugenah. Acer always was a touch over-sensitive.”

“I like him. He visits the House all the time… when he knows you aren’t going to be there.”

“Does he? Well, that’s just rude.”

“He also thinks part of his new destiny is as one of the seventeen chosen pilgrims.”

Anthony nearly dropped his tea into the abyss. “Does he? How fascinating! That means if he’s right, I’ll have identified six of the pilgrims!” Then his face fell. “Oh. He’s not taking to me. I don’t suppose you can–”

Rebecca scowled at him. “No I am not doing the Troughton Test on your friend! You call him and get him to talk to you…” She stopped her big sister/little sister nagging, as she saw how sad her brother was suddenly looking.

Well, half-brother at any rate. Same father, different mothers; which showed in the contrast between Anthony’s skeletal appearance, all tightly curled dark hair, his proud Jewish nose and those sticky-out ears, and Rebecca’s softer features, rounder face and long blonde hair.

“I’m a mess when it comes to personal relationships, aren’t I? Look at the other week when I screwed things up with Shi-Kane.”

“Because she asked you to sleep with her and you declined? What a putz!”

For a second or two, Anthony looked horrified at the words coming out of his 13-year-old sister’s mouth. Then he remembered she was technically over 200, thanks to her years as a spirit playing Time away in one of Hecate’s faerie-gardens.

The Leibowitz family tree was a wild thing sprouting thorns and dropping its seeds where it may. It would have given a Genealogist a cardiac arrest.

“I’ll leave you to mend the bridge with Acer. By the sound of things, you’ve been rummaging about in my office amongst my private papers again, when I distinctly asked you to keep out of!”

Rebecca had the decency to blush. “You left the door open.”

“I did not! Did the Da Vinci woman break in for you?”

“Her name is Isabella and I picked the lock myself… oh, buggery-shit!”

Anthony smiled. Game, set and match to him, at least on this occasion.

“So tell me, brother, who else do you think is part of these seventeen?”

Anthony sighed, being dragged into this conversation whether he liked it or not. “There’s Keighley of course, Isabella da Vinci, who I will try to get to know better, and Shi-Kane our Seer friend. Then I’m fairly sure the big feller who runs Valhalla, the school for Halfling children, registers as one. His name is Saint Jude.”

“School for Halfling children? That sounds interesting,” Rebecca spluttered, her mouth full of cucumber sandwich.

“It’s hidden away in Alaska. Its intake is mainly Halflings, but they accept most kind of supernatural people. I went to a frozen hole in Dublin, Ireland when I was 17… missed out big time.” He started to gnaw at his thumbnail just at the mention of Azrael Fireheart’s Proprietary School for Young Gentlemen, where he had spent three of the most miserable years of his life.

Deftly, Rebecca slapped his hand to make him stop eating himself. “So are you going to have a conversation with this Saint Jude?”

“I’d rather not. He’s a renegade Angel in eternal exile. They can get rather nasty with their righteous rhetoric and all that smiting.”

“You are such a bloody wuss! So who’s number five on your list?” she asked, already knowing the answer thanks to her burglary skills.

“You have to understand, identifying these special people is a fine art. Before he disappeared, even papa had only identified four of them… shame the old rebel-rouser didn’t write their names down.”

“Your fifth, brother…”

“That one’s a bit complicated. I only recently discovered that this particular gentleman died in 1905, along with a lot of his friends. There is even a tomb hidden somewhere beneath London celebrating their lives. He was the leader of a Victorian group of rebel-rousers known as, the Freakshow, a gentleman named, Captain Shark.”

“So what are the rules when a pilgrim croaks it, before fulfilling his destiny?”

“Like you did.”

“Like I did.”

“According to papa’s notes on all of this, nature picks another candidate to take their place… unless that first pilgrim finds some way to cheat death, of course. So if I am crass enough to include Acer Via on my list, I’m back to five again.”

“Return to square one,” said Rebecca, swinging her legs 86 floors above street level. “Do not pass ‘Go’ and do not collect $200. This puzzle is turning out to be a bit of a bastard, isn’t it?”

Anthony Leibowitz, the self-styled curator of the strange, nodded his head glumly.

“So… Tell me more about this secret school hidden in Alaska… Valhalla, was it?” said Rebecca brightly, the germ of an idea coming to her as she finished off the last of the salmon-paste.

Whilst her brother prattled on, as was his want, she wondered when would be the right time to announce that she had in fact discovered two more candidates for the seventeen hidden in their father’s diaries. A witch called Rosalyn Ashes and a man of mystery named, Mr Jupiter.

But it was her new theory that was eating her away with excitement.

Trying to get a look at the master of mysteries, Leonardo da Vinci’s original writings as he first predicted the rise of seventeen blessed souls who would gather to save the world in its hour of need, was paramount to her new idea.

What if the sentence had been mistranslated from Leonardo’s reverse mirror writing, done in a mixture of contemporary Italian and Latin? Had that one tiny word, ‘the’, been added by accident, making ‘the seventeen’ a one-off cosmic event? Rebecca felt that the maestro had really been predicting that seventeen different souls could be gathered at any time to tackle every pants-wetting dangerous event.

She was just wondering when the polite moment would be to hijack Anthony’s pet project and bring his theories crashing down around his ears.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…