The Sins of the World

by David Hearne

CHAPTER ONE

THINK THOU NO EVIL OF THY CHILD


I could see and hear beauty in everything around me. A waterfall played a hypnotic symphony on a lake. The ripples on the lake's surface spent their short lives in drawing perfect circles. Nature had painted the cavern walls with both brilliant and subtle colors carefully drawn from buried minerals. Even the very space of the wide cavern had the quality of a painting.

And there was my father sitting at the shore of the lake. His existence was as much a poem as the one he was reading. His clothes were anachronistic but utterly suitable for him. His clawed hands and lion's face spoke of the violence he could commit, but the gentle way with which he held the book and the fascination in his eyes for the words spoke of his peaceful, refined soul. He was a work of art with a message that brute strength could find a companion in love.

I was inspired. I had to add some poetry of my own to this great scene. I opened my mouth and declared in a ringing voice --

"And if you want beef, then bring the ruckus

Wu-Tang Clan ain't nuttin ta fuck with

Straight from the motherfucking slums that's busted

Wu-Tang Clan ain't nuttin..."

"Jacob?"

"Yes, Father?"

"That'll be enough."

I grinned. "Just droppin' some flava."

"I appreciate that, but I'm trying to read Shakespeare. Rap lyrics don't go very well with him."

"Are you kidding? If he were alive today, he'll be writing dope rhymes for Snoop Dogg."

"Your cynicism is impressive, my son."

"Are you trying to tell me that 'My mind on my money, and my money on my mind' is not better than 'But, sir, methinks you walk like a stranger?'"

"I agree that was not one of Shakespeare's better lines. However, I am reading one of his finest works here."

I looked at the book's cover. "The Sonnets?" I snorted. "Gee, Father, why don't you read 'The Second Coming' and 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?' As long as you're going to read what a hundred thousand people have already read."

"I wasn't aware that a poem's quality was measured by its obscurity."

"Well, I'm just tired of writers quoting some classic poetry every semi-literate person knows. That's why I stopped reading Robert B. Parker."

Father looked up from his book and said, "If my choice of literature bores you, then you can leave."

I gave Father another grin and turned to the lake. As I skipped a pebble across its surface, I said, "Read to me."

In that gentle yet resonant voice he said --

"How like a winter hath my absence been

From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!

What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen,

What old December's bareness everywhere!

And yet this..."

I threw a large rock into the water. The smack sounded like breaking glass. Father stopped reading. I wasn't looking at him, but I could feel his concerned eyes watching me.

"Pretty cheery selection, dad," I muttered.

"I'm sorry."

I turned to him. Father had closed the book. He waited for me to speak.

I said, "'And thou away, the very birds are mute/ Or if they sing, 'tis with so dull a cheer/ That leaves look pale, dreading the winter's near.'" I smiled weakly. "You're not the only one who has been reading the Sonnets."

Father stood up and walked toward me. "You have not lost Alexandra," he said.

"It's been two months since I've seen her. When can I officially call it a loss?"

"You must wait, Jacob. Her situation is...delicate."

"Then maybe I should make a move."

Father's expression changed from sympathetic to stern. "I hope you're not serious."

I made no response.

"I thought you had learned the value of patience. Was I wrong?"

"I'm not going to barge into 817 again, okay? But I don't see why I should do nothing. And that goes for all of us."

"What do you mean?"

"This community came within an inch of irreversibly pissing off the world's most powerful secret society."

Father raised his eyebrows.

"All right, I came within an inch of irreversibly pissing off the world's most powerful secret society. But the fact remains that the Tower looks upon us as a threat simply because we know about them. Do we just sit here and hope the hammer never falls?"

Father looked down at the book and rubbed his thumbs on its cover. When he raised his eyes to me, he said, "This community is a shelter, not an army. We don't even like to strike back in defense..."

"What do you mean 'we,' paleface?"

Father smiled briefly. "You know what I mean."

"Yes. I do. And I've learned to appreciate that. But can't we do anything besides wait for the Tower to make a move?"

"For the moment...no."

"Well, you've been thinking about what that move could be? Right?"

Before Father could answer, Pascal came running into the cavern. Both Father and I were surprised to see him. We were even more surprised to hear him say, "There's a message." Pascal hardly ever left the Pipe Chamber during his working hours and even more rarely came in person to relay a message.

So this had to be big. And it was.

Pascal took a breath, then said to me, "It's from Edward Bradbury. He wants to meet you tonight."

Father and I looked at each other. "First move," I said.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The smell of curry and the sound of recorded tablas greeted me as I entered the small restaurant. I stood at the entrance and saw one of the powerful men in the world. He was eating a dinner at one of the tables.

I walked up to him. The smell of curry got stronger. Edward Bradbury had selected the spiciest dish that the kitchen of East in the West could make. When he looked up and spoke, I expected his throat to be hoarse. Instead his voice had the same soft, tired tones I had heard months ago.

"Evening, Jacob," he said. "Would you like me to order something for you?"

"I'm not hungry."

"Are you sure?" He smiled slightly. "You know I can afford it."

"I'm still not hungry."

He shrugged and said, "Please, sit."

I seated myself on the chair across from him. I watched Bradbury as he bit into a chunk of lamb covered with the feverish brown sauce. His eyes did not water and his nose did not run. He chewed the curry as if it were mashed potatoes, but delicately. He didn't let one drop of sauce land on the tabletop or his impeccably tailored suit.

"This is a good little restaurant," he said after swallowing. "I had never heard of it until we first met here. Of course, that was the first time we had ever met anywhere."

I nodded as I remembered seeing Bradbury in this restaurant long ago with his head of security. The latter man was dead now, killed by...

"Alexandra," Bradbury said, "is why I asked for a meeting."

"I didn't think you wanted to talk sports. By the way, how long have you known about the pipes?"

"It was a logical inference about your community. We knew you had some means of communication. After listening to the pipes for a month, we eventually deciphered your code."

"When you say 'we...'"

"The Tower, of course."

"I guess your intelligence and security hasn't suffered since Crown died."

"We found a very competent man to replace him. Of course, you know who I wanted for a replace..."

"Look, are we going to gab about old times, or are you going to tell me what the hell you want me for?"

Bradbury placed the fork on his plate and stuck a hand underneath his jacket. He pulled out a folded piece of paper. He extended it to me. I accepted it.

Bradbury had given me a news clipping. I read it quickly and absorbed the main points. A man named Sobukwe Masilela had been killed in South Africa. He had been the chairman of Baba Industries which specialized in providing private security for millionaires and corporations. He had been shot in the head.

"Is this supposed to mean something to me?" I asked.

"Masilela's company had been secretly connected to some very unpleasant groups. It assassinated protesters against the oil companies in Nigeria. While the Hutu militias slaughtered Tutsis in Rwanda, Masilela was creating political connections with them. At the time of his death, Baba Industries was covertly supplying arms to the Janjaweed."

"Okay, I get it. He was a bad dude. Sounds like somebody else caught up with him."

"That somebody was us."

I glanced at the news clipping, then looked at Bradbury. "He was a threat to the Tower?"

Bradbury paused, then said, "Not yet. But a source convinced the Nobles that Masilela would have eventually endangered the Tower's security. As on all the continents, we have certain shelters in Africa that need protecting."

"Yeah, I know how nervous you guys can get about that sort of thing."

Bradbury paid no attention to my sarcasm. "However, I'm not sure if Masilela was a potential problem, much less one that needed assassination. After all, we could have destroyed Baba Industries by leaking proof of their criminal activities. However, our source insisted that Masilela would have been a threat to us as long as he lived."

"I don't think you guys need much prodding to whack anybody."

"On the contrary, Jacob, our experiences with you have taught the Nobles and me that murder -- especially a blatant assassination such as this -- can draw attention to us."

"I'm sure Russ Garner would have appreciated your new maturity." I leaned forward and placed my elbows on the table. "Look, could you tell me what this has to do with Alexa..."

I stopped talking. Bradbury regarded my look of realization with a seeming mildness.

"She told you to kill Masilela?" I whispered.

"She predicted that Baba Industries would have become powerful enough in its region to harm our interests. And that the Tower couldn't risk doing business with Masilela."

I needed many seconds before I could speak. "I guess...she would know."

"Yes, she would, wouldn't she?"

I remembered something Bradbury had said. "But you're not sure," I said, pointing a finger at him.

Bradbury took a breath, then said, "No. A few of Nobles probably aren't sure, either. For one thing, Alexandra did not explain precisely how Masilela could become a threat."

"But this is the woman who predicted 9/11 to the very day."

"That's right. However, six months ago her word alone would have not convinced the Nobles. They certainly would have listened to her, but not let her dictate policy. Since a certain incident, though, she has become quite intimidating."

I closed my eyes, but there was no escape from a memory of fangs and severed flesh. Past the darkness of my lowered eyelids, Bradbury said, "How long she'll be intimidating is an unanswered question."

I opened my eyes. "You were there when she...when it happened. Do you think the Nobles will let go of their fear easily?"

"Oh, no. Not at all. But...what if they decided that she didn't arrange the kill to protect the Tower?"

I leaned back in my chair and folded my arms over my chest. "You think she was just trying to put down a bastard."

"It's a possibility. And you know that the Nobles are not interested in righting wrongs."

"Definitely. So, if Masilela wasn't a threat to the Tower..."

"Then Alexandra manipulated us into going against our beliefs. If the Nobles learn that's true, then they may get over their fear of her."

Bradbury didn't say anything else for a minute. Neither did I while I brooded on many things.

Finally Bradbury said, "How do you feel about the two possibilities here?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Let's say that Alexandra was telling the truth about Masilela. It means that she accepts the High Tower's philosophy. If she wasn't telling the truth, then she has been playing vigilante, like you have."

"I've never killed anyone," I replied quickly.

"That's why I'm asking how you feel."

I tightened my fists hidden under my elbows. I had been dreading a moment like this ever since Alexandra had sank her fangs into Crown's neck. As a wise man told me, you can't kill anybody without becoming changed. Alexandra had crossed a line when she killed Crown. What was she doing now on the other side of that line? Would I see a different person than the one I loved if I knew the answer?

I struggled for a proper response to Bradbury's question until I remembered who he was. "I don't think you're interested in my feelings," I told him.

"I am to the extent that I need your help. And you're the only one who's willing to help me. Or, rather, help Alexandra."

I knew Bradbury's motives could hardly be that simple. He could never miss an opportunity to work a cold agenda into a private concern. At the same time, he loved Alexandra. She was his one soft spot. God knows what kind of bastard he would have become if he had never raised her. He was a pretty big bastard with her.

In the end, though, he was Alexandra's father and I was -- in an odd way -- her lover. At the very least, I could listen to what Bradbury had in mind. "What do you need me to do?" I asked warily.

"I'm going to encourage her to meet with you." He raised a finger to silence my expected response. "No one will object to you two meeting now."

"Except her."

"No. Her least of all, and you know that."

I paused, then said, "Okay. So we meet. Then what?"

"Then you do whatever you want to do."

"Gee, thanks, Dad."

"I mean it, Jacob," Bradbury said with abrupt firmness. "I don't care what you two do together, just as long you find out the truth about Masilela."

"You mean, trick her into telling me."

"Trick her, convince her, whatever. Or figure it out indirectly from things she says or does."

"So I should be a sneak with the woman I love."

"Yes."

"I can't do that."

"If you want to help Alexandra, then you'd better get over your qualms."

"It's not just a question of my 'qualms.' We're talking about a woman who can figure out all the crap you've done in your life just by looking at you. She'll know my motives if I start to pick her brain."

"She's an extraordinary talent, Jacob, but she's not a machine. Her emotions can cloud her gift."

Shit, I thought. I knew that. "And you think she'll be so glad to see me that she won't sense this little meeting you and I had? Hell, she might not even need her gift. What is she to think when you suddenly propose this idea of yours?"

"It won't be a sudden decision. I had suggested many times before Masilela's death that the two of you should see each other again."

"Really," I said in a flat voice.

Bradbury gave me a look that might be described as sympathetic. "If you had accepted my offer, then you could have been with her right now."

"You know what, Eddie? I almost did. She stopped me."

Bradbury looked down at his plate. He stuck his fork into a piece of lamb, but didn't eat it. "If she declines to meet with you," he said with his eyes still looking down, "then I need a new plan. However, you are my best means of finding out why she arranged Masilela's execution." He raised his eyes. "You want to know why, too."

And I just plain want to see her, I added silently. I had been praying every night for such an encounter. I had to hear her voice again, even if I had to confront her darkness as well. Loving her had endangered my life and the lives of my family, but the desire for her couldn't leave me. So here I was again, letting a snake into my heart.

"I'll do it," I told Bradbury. "But there's only one place where we can meet."

Bradbury raised the chunk of lamb to his mouth. "I suspected as much," he told me before he fed the incidenary meat into his mouth.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"You want her to come here?"

"I want her to feel that she can trust me."

"Can she?"

Grandfather addressed this question to me in his chambers. Father was in the chambers as well. Both of them were watching me with concern.

I stood briefly in uncomfortable silence before Grandfather's question, then said, "My intentions are the same as always. I want to protect her. And to protect her I need to know what's going on in her head."

"And what will you do if you find out?"

"Grandfather, I have no goddamn idea at all. But it's better than working in the dark."

Grandfather scratched his gray mustache as he sat in a chair. Father stood near the chair with his hands crossed in front of him.

"Couldn't you just ask her for the truth?" Grandfather wondered.

"I may end up doing just that. However, I'm not going to do anything so blunt if it risks her shutting me out."

"So you do plan to tell Bradbury what you learn?"

"Unless I can suddenly get control over the Tower, he's the only one who can protect her." I sighed and leaned against a bookshelf. "The High fucking Tower..."

"Yes. I know." For once, Grandfather didn't mind that I was cursing.

"If I could go back and do things differently..."

"You are not to blame for this situation, Jacob, no matter how stupidly you behaved."

"You're all heart, Gramps."

Grandfather turned to his son. "What do you say, Vincent?"

"I want," Father said, "to meet the woman my son loves."

Grandfather smiled and looked at me. "So do I. So do all the Dwellers."

"Well, get ready for what she looks like."

"Jacob, if there's any place where she can be accepted..."

"I grew up here, but I still freaked out when I first saw her."

Grandfather nodded. "Granted. We'll warn the others."

"Okay. Well...if you don't mind, I'll like to get some sleep."

"It's still early."

"I'm not so inclined to stay up late nowadays." Or to do the things I used to do, I thought. That second part went without saying. The other two men used to look away from some of my questionable activities.

"You know," I said, "I can't express how much I appreciate you two standing by me."

"And we hope you'll always stand by us."

"Of course I will." I walked over to Grandfather and squeezed his shoulder. "I know I haven't been the best Dweller..."

"We want to be worthy of your trust, Jacob."

"You always have been." I turned to Father. "Both of you."

Father held out his arms. I pressed myself against his thick chest, just as I had done as a child. When we pulled apart, I asked if Diana had returned.

"Not yet," Father said. "She's still working on a case out of the city."

"All right. Good night, then."

Father and Grandfather wished me good night in return. I left Father's chambers. Halfway between there and my own chambers I stopped. Grandfather had said something...something about being worthy of my trust...what did he mean...

I casually squashed my doubt. I was about to proceed to my chambers when I heard voices. One of them jabbered; the other occasionally broke into the flow of talk with a confident utterance.

I waited for the owners of the voices to reach me. I wasn't surprised to see Mouse and Jamie. I was surprised to see them dressed for Above. Being a woman after my own heart, Jamie was dressed in a black leather jacket and jeans. Mouse wore corduroy pants, a tweed jacket, and a T-shirt with Albert Einstein's face printed on it. He also wore a long gray scarf. I have a prejudice against men wearing long scarves. With Mouse, however, such apparel seemed unpretentious.

Mouse abruptly stopped his excited discourse when he saw me. "You look worried," he said without so much as a hello.

I said, "Um...well..."

"Hi, Jacob," Jamie said. "And you do look a little distracted."

"Yeah, I guess I am."

"What's up?"

Jamie and Mouse knew about the High Tower, but I didn't want to burden them with my extra problems at the moment. "Nothing you need to worry about," I said. "Going Above?"

"Yeah," Mouse said. "We need a break."

"From what?"

"Just stuff," Jamie said before Mouse could speak.

I nodded, then said, "Well, I hope you have..."

"Want to come along?" Mouse interrupted. "We're going to Knucklebones."

"Knucklebones?" I laughed, then said to Jamie, "Are you trying to corrupt him?"

"It's impossible to corrupt him," Jamie replied as she pinched Mouse's cheek.

Mouse scowled and batted her hand away. "Why do people treat me like I'm Forrest Gump? I am not Forrest Gump."

Jamie leaned close to Mouse. "You're not Forrest Gump," she said sweetly. "I doubt he would be as good in the sack as you are." Then she kissed Mouse, and his scowl changed into a big smile.

"Ooooo-kay," I said. "I'll leave you two..."

"Come with us," Jamie said to me. "You look like you could use a little R&R." She raised her eyebrows. "Maybe we can get you laid."

"Goodness me, could you?" Of course, Jamie knew that I had passed the point of virginity a long, long time ago. In fact, during the last time I had been in Knucklebones I had sex in its stinky bathroom with a redhead whose name I couldn't remember.

"Come with us," Mouse requested. "It'll be fun."

"I'm not sure if I will be fun."

"Please?" Mouse gave me a look which caused me to forget that he was in his thirties. Looking back at our early years together, I'm not sure if he had been my childhood companion or if I had been his childhood companion.

In the end, I couldn't resist both Jamie and Mouse. "All right," I said.

If I had been listening carefully at the time, I could have heard laughter. I had inspired the same laughter when I had gone to a used bookstore months ago and chosen the wrong book to read. It was the sound of Destiny who could have told me that this casual decision would soon make my complicated life even more complicated.

I'm going to kick Destiny in the balls one of these days, I swear.


Continued in chapter 2