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And Mathew's son. Born that year. He wonders if she came to the hospital, peered, alone, through the gla.s.s.
He looks at the dial, and sees the letters of his name. And switches off the Apprehension Engine.
Overhead, the bees cease their wild swirling. The cloud becomes orderly, then sedate, and finally they drop to the ground and settle, returning to the hive in neat little lines. Around the world, if Frankie is to be trusted-and Joe no longer knows, mercifully: he has to trust-the same thing is happening.
He follows the procedure through to the end, sending the last signal, the one which will cause the other hives to burn and die, leaving only this last one.
He cuts the power and removes the calibration drum, then the book.
It is the first time he has held them both. They're very light and small to be so dangerous. He puts them in his pocket.
Finally, Joe hefts a discarded sledgehammer. In the rows upon rows of magnetic tape and cinematic film; in the books and records and photographs of his repugnant life, the Opium Khan persists. The potential for his resurrection lurks in every line and grain of it. This is the full and original copy of the Recorded Man. Even what was destroyed at Happy Acres will surely have been incomplete. Shem Shem Tsien would not permit the thing out of his hands, would not countenance the possible creation of a second true Khan.
And nor will Joe.
He hefts the hammer, and strikes.
It takes a very, very long time. Or perhaps just moments. His shoulders ache and his back screams at him. He batters the archive over and over, rips at it with his hands, bleeds from cuts and splinters. When he tires, he drives himself with images of the dead, of Polly's fear in the last moments. He uses everything to make himself go on.
At some point, there's nothing big enough left to smash, and Joe piles all the remains together and runs the main electric current through the stack, so that the tapes spit and sparkle and the celluloid burns. When the blaze has caught properly, he lifts the corpse of Shem Shem Tsien and throws it onto the flames.
Joe Spork is the most arrested man the world has ever known. He stands in front of Sharrow House, face shining in the glow of searchlights and news cameras, and lays down his father's gun on the gravel. Lays it down very carefully, because it seems to him that every single member of CO19, every spare Marine and Special Air Serviceman, and even a few members of the Household Cavalry have turned out to shoot him dead.
Behind him, with great dignity, the small but righteous army of Crazy Joe does the same, and the hundreds and hundreds of rifles which are trained on all of them follow like a vast cloud of lethal geese, long metal necks swaying, beady eyes paying the closest attention.
There is, however, an issue of priority. Joe has broken so many laws that he represents something of a quandary. A knot of small bureaucratic men and women tussle in the midst of the arresting force. Issues of competence are thrashed out line by line with venomous politesse. All the while, the gooseguns do not waver. Joe supposes that is understandable.
And then, at the very back of this great tide of official disapproval, someone takes charge. Someone very grave, with a troubled, serious face and a sonorous voice which speaks of sepulchres and secret dooms.
"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. May I have your attention? Thank you so much. My name is Rodney Arthur Cornelius t.i.twhistle, of the old and venerable family of t.i.twhistles of this city, and I am the Warden in Chief of the Legacy Board! Thank you, Detective Sergeant Patchkind, your services will not be required. Mr. c.u.mmerbund, will you be so kind as to explain the matter to the very charming Basil? Thank you." And, indeed, a large man with a salmon tie does indeed bustle off the elfin Patchkind, who looks none too happy about it-but if it is the original Arvin c.u.mmerbund, he has lost some considerable weight from his belly and transferred it to his shoulders.
"Now, where was I? Ah, yes, if I might just pa.s.s by, sir, good heavens, they grow them big where you come from, don't they? And where would that be? Shropshire, of course, of course, very A. E. Housman. If I might all the same pa.s.s by, very good.
"Joshua Joseph Spork. By the power vested in me by Her Majesty's Government, I hereby take you in charge for the crimes of Murder, Arson, Treason, Terrorism, Banditry, and Brigandage. I have always wanted to arrest someone for Brigandage, Mr. Spork, I feel it has a high tone, now if you will yield yourself up to this good fellow here ... thank you. You will swing, sir, swing by your giblets from the mizzenmast of the ship of state, oh yes! Don't imagine some clever lawyer will get you out of this, Mr. Spork, though I understand that your lawyer is in fact the cleverest one available to mortal man, a positive paragon of the profession, a sort of earthbound G.o.d of advocacy. Bring him on, Mr. Spork, I shall shatter him with one prosecutorial fist! And you, missy," adds this terrifying personage to Polly Cradle, "you should be ashamed of yourself as well. A woman's place is in the home, girl, darning the socks of her family and scouring the pots and pans, not out skulduggering! Shame!"
"Don't push it," Polly Cradle mutters as t.i.twhistle claps her in irons. The Warden in Chief leans away from her in alarm. "Wildcat! Witch! Be along with you! Wait? Where is the ghastly dog? Tell me it's been incinerated! No? Blast. Well, he's under arrest, too. And the rest of you felonious scoundrels should also consider yourselves charged with conspiracy, fortunately I have brought a bus, yes, over there, you will wish to shackle yourselves with the leg irons provided ..."
It takes a few minutes, but very shortly, Joe's entire company is aboard the black prison bus with tinted windows, and the men of the Legacy Board drive them away.
"Mercer," Polly Cradle says, as the bus ducks down into a garage and everyone hurriedly disembarks, to travel home by other means, "that was utterly ridiculous."
Mercer Cradle beams.
The day after, when the proper course of government has been resumed and-though dented by the spectacle-the inst.i.tutions of law and order are once more working to their often impenetrable ends, a man in an old-fashioned flight suit stands in front of a Lancaster bomber. At a little after ten a.m., he hears the sound of an approaching engine and turns his head. A maroon Rolls-Royce, paint job somewhat marred by evidence of a recent gun battle and some species of explosion, comes to a halt a few yards off, and from it emerge a man and a woman. The pilot's pudgy face loses its look of wariness and breaks into a broad smile.
"What ho! You've been busy," the chairman of St. Andrews says.
"Yes," Joe Spork replies, "I suppose we have."
"I brought you a spare pair of socks. And some for the lady. Turns out I had a few extra in the cupboard. Thought after all that affray and arrest and such, you might need some."
The ugliest canary yellow Argyles in the world.
"Thank you. That's ... that's very kind."
"And this is your girlfriend?"
"His lover," Polly Cradle says firmly, "with emphasis on the love part. I have decided."
"Oh, well," the chairman says. "Congratulations! And this is the cargo?"
"Yes, that's all of it."
"I can't help noticing that you seem to have a stuffed pug there."
Bastion opens one eye and growls. The chairman recoils rapidly. Polly grins. "He likes you," she says.
"Should I be concerned?"
"And these are bits of ... it ... I suppose?"
"Yes," Joe says. "We didn't think it was safe to leave them behind."
"No. Absolutely not. b.l.o.o.d.y idiots in government'll have chaps crawling all over them with magnifying lenses trying to do it all again, but better. a.r.s.eholes, the lot of them. Nice plane you've stolen, by the way, how did you find the time?"
"Very good. Delegation. Excellent. Incidentally, you still seem to be rather wanted. I thought that would all go away. Not as if we didn't know the truth, there at the end, is it?" The chairman shudders.
"No. But as soon as that was gone, the damage control started. I'm ... convenient."
"Well, your plummy friend has sorted a registration for us-nefarious little runt. Fond of long words, too. I rather liked him."
"My brother," Polly Cradle says.
"Poor you. You must be very proud. He's not with you?"
"He's meeting us out there."
"Of course. Well, where are we bound?"
Joe Spork pa.s.ses him a piece of paper with a line of numbers.
The chairman quirks his eyebrows. Somehow, this is a little disappointing. "Beach holiday?"
"Actually, we're meeting some friends and going onward from there."
"Really? By boat, then."
"Submarine," Polly Cradle tells him. The chairman looks at Joe Spork, not quite believing, and sees confirmation in the brief, feral gleam in his eyes.
A slow smile spreads across the pudgy face. "Well," the chairman says, "that's more like it."
A few moments later, the Lancaster cuts a path eastwards, and fades from view.
Without my wife, Clare, this book would make a great deal less sense. Her grip on story and her finely-tuned drivel detector are a.s.sets no writer should be without-but I'm not sharing. Find your own.
My agent, Patrick Walsh, is a sort of portable, personable eye of the storm. Rumour has it he trains tigers in his spare time and can bend steel with only the power of his mind. I shouldn't be in the least surprised; with a team like that, anything's possible.
Edward Kastenmeier at Knopf and Jason Arthur at William Heinemann practiced the dark arts of the editor upon me, deployed the Blacksmith's Word to push me in the right direction and occasionally the Rosetta Stone to understand me. This book, or perhaps its author, required some kicking around-but the end product is the story I wanted to tell. There's no greater pleasure than being well-edited. (Yes, all right, that's a lie. But: aside from the obvious exceptions, there's no greater pleasure.) Jason Booher's gorgeous U.S. cover designs arrived unexpectedly on a rather grim day in early 2011 and made me feel the whole thing was real and wonderful. Glenn O'Neill's effulgent U.K. jacket was unveiled a few months later, and it's honestly impossible to pick a winner.
John D. Sahr of the University of Washington was kind enough to advise me casually on matters relating to supercooled water and submarines. I promptly ignored the realities in the name of good storymaking. Thanks are due to John anyway, and to his legal advisor, Grape the Labrador Retriever.
Ginger & White provided tea, and a place to sit. Sometimes that's all you need.
I grew up in a house of stories, and some of those stories were tales of crooks and criminality. Some of them were of derring-do. All of them were amazing. To everyone who sat at our table and took the time to spin a tale for a small, serious child: thank you.
My daughter, Clemency, was born during the edit, weighing approximately the same as the ma.n.u.script and considerably more demanding. Her tiny footprints are all over my life, and Angelmaker-in the case of pages 92, 307, and 513, quite literally. Thank you, little bear.
A NOTE ABOUT THE AUTHOR.
Nick Harkaway was born in Cornwall in 1972. He is the author of one previous novel,
The Gone-Away World. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.
ALSO BY NICK HARKAWAY.
The Gone-Away World.
This Is a Borzoi Book.