Shakespeare's Dark Lady
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[OTHELLO]: . . . Then must you speak
Of one that lov'd not wisely, but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe.

William Shakespeare

After his blow-up with Amelia, Daniel's days passed in the shadow of an elusive nightmare. Thanks to, or perhaps despite his Prozac habit, he struggled to climb out of bed in the morning, then struggled to work, where his mood with each new sign of progress--thanks to a "weeping" gene that went back four hundred years--turned illogically and increasingly black. Time rushed past like a freight train that wouldn't slow down enough for him to jump off. He still shared the same bed with Amelia and she kept trying oh so hard to make up for what had happened. But all he wanted to do was push her away. He didn't, but since he went to bed at all hours and usually woke up around four in the morning, their lovemaking had ceased to exist.

He'd found out a little about Frieda Harris, the woman who had painted Amelia's Tarot deck. It seemed like more than coincidence when the New Scientist published an article about Lady Harris's intimate friend for whom she had painted the cards in the first place: Aleister Crowley, the publicity-hungry magus who'd been a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Was that bogus sect still around? The article said no but he was less than sure. If Edgar Hungerford knew Lady Frieda Harris, had he been close to Aleister Crowley as well? Had he been given the cards by the Beast himself?

When he asked Amelia she said she hadn't the foggiest

He was trying to forgive her, but at this rate it could take forever. All he had left to call his own were his mother - and Janey, absent more often than not. Even William, who was due to pop in a couple of months, hardly seemed to belong to him.

He couldn't shake the idea of a secret society. Something was going on that he couldn't understand, something that had to do with Lawrence and the Tau cross. He tried to believe Amelia had told him everything she knew--but if so, why did he feel menaced by an invisible force programmed to destroy him little by little? And by Shakespeare's curse?

He needed to talk to someone he could trust The closest he'd come to talking to anyone besides Amelia about secret societies was Gillespie. When he called Balliol he had to identify himself this time, then they passed on the number of the Radcliffe and Gillespie's extension. The hospital switchboard operator seemed reluctant to put him through, and once they did he understood why.

Gillespie was incoherent, poor bugger. He got on to one of the consultants, who explained that there was nothing more they could do for him. The tumor would probably kill him by early January, before his sixty-second birthday. He got Gillespie on the line again anyway and said he'd be thinking about him, in case he understood.

.....curst be he yt moves my bones.

When he hung up the phone, Tillman was muttering to himself in the next room. He could see him through the open door, tambourining the top of a bench with his fingers and shuffling his feet. Maybe all the tension was getting to both of them as they got closer to breakthrough. Tillman never grumbled about going to California or coming back to Oxford. Work was work to him. The place didn't matter.

Daniel leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. The other avenue that kept coming to mind was Freemasonry. There was Lucy's father, who had belonged to the Isaac Newton lodge and had tried unsuccessfully to get him to join a few years before. But Sir Maurice Humpherson was doddery now, and Daniel doubted whether his lodge had much in common with the kind of secret society he was after.

There was Dunkley. He was Daniel's age and an active Freemason, but Daniel had a nasty feeling--nothing he could pinpoint--that he wasn't to be trusted, especially where something like Freemasonry was concerned. After all, they did take a vow of secrecy when they joined, and rumor had it that the price of disclosure was meant to be a cruel if symbolic death. In practice, of course, many Freemasons had told at least part of the inside story--how else would the rest of the world know they even existed? There were hundreds of books on Freemasonry, two of which Daniel had read. In one he'd learned that Teddy Roosevelt had been a very active Freemason. And Amelia said her great-grandfather had gone hunting with him. . .

He'd give Dunkley a miss, but there was someone he felt he could trust: Geoff Alton, head of Genetics at Leicester University. As the man credited with the discovery of genetic fingerprinting--Daniel's part in it was minor compared to his--he came into close contact with senior police officers and lectured regularly to police pathologists. Unless he'd joined very recently, he wasn't yet a Freemason, but Daniel knew that Alton had been pressed more than once to join.

Daniel dialed his direct line, which Geoff answered himself.

As they exchanged pleasantries he imagined Geoff standing at the phone, his short dark beard brushing his polo neck, smoking one of his Golden Virginia rollos, as unlikely a Fellow of the Royal Society as you could hope to meet. He was probably even more overloaded with work than Daniel was, but that was the nice thing about Geoff: he always made you feel he had all day to spend talking to you

Daniel asked whether he'd become a Mason.

"No--though if I had, how could you tell? I might be lying about it."

"I'm willing to take you on faith."

"Glad to hear it," he said. "What do you want to know?"

"For starters, how well do you know the Masons now?"

"Pretty well, I'd say. Some of the locals have been putting the pressure on again, so I've been sniffing around a bit and you're welcome to anything I've learned." He laughed. "In fact that's as good a proof as any that I haven't signed on yet. If I had, I'd have sworn high and holy oaths never to reveal a word."

"Geoff, are the Freemasons capable of having someone killed?"

"What on earth makes you ask? Most of that stuff you read about the Masons is a load of crap."

Daniel told him about Drake and his investigations into his mother's death.

"Is there any way you can find out if Drake is linked to Freemansonry--or maybe something more secretive?"

"As it happens, I know the Leicestershire Chief constable, Derek Enderby, pretty well--in fact he's the man who's trying to recruit me. I think he'd be willing to part with some information for a future brother."

Alton rang back the same afternoon. He didn't have a lot of information, but the little he had was interesting. Detective Chief Inspector Drake was a member of lodge number 9179, one of the most powerful Masonic lodges in the UK. Manor Lodge, as the Manor of St. James's Lodge was known, was made up almost entirely of present and past high-ranking police officers.

"Most of them have been Masters of other lodges, including Drake," Geoff said in a quiet voice. "I mean, the CID is riddled with men on the square, but Manor Lodge is the cream of the crop. And Drake is a long-time personal friend of Manor Lodge's Master and a drinking crony of the chairman of the London Superintendents' Association."

It struck Daniel that Manor Lodge, if it was in St. James's, was right where Dunkley had his offices--next door to the safe deposit company where Dunkley had concealed the Tau cross.

"Is Drake likely to belong to other similar organizations?" Daniel asked.

"More than likely. The higher you go up the ladder the further the tentacles reach in all directions, the more secretive it gets and the more power-broking goes on."

"So Drake might well belong to some ultra-secret society inside or outside the Craft?"

"Possibly, but that's one I don't think Derek Enderby would answer even if he could, even if I were to sign on. You know something, I think ninety-nine percent of Freemasons are used as a smokescreen by the other one percent. All the stuff that leaks out--bribery and corruption, secret passwords, hairy-knee initiations--some of it happens, but mostly it's a load of old cobblers leaked deliberately to draw attention away from what the real insiders are up to."

"Which is?"

"God only knows."

Since his return to South Parks Road he'd been checking himself weekly for HIV. Now he stepped it up to once a day. He also had an Oxford security agency check the telephones--office and home-to see if they were bugged. They weren't.

Oh Amelia, it wasn't just a false alarm.

February was already upon him and with it the AIDS conference at the Pasteur Institute. Daniel received an ovation like a guarantee of professional apotheosis. At the dinner afterward the bullshit flowed, with Tillman, he thought, killing him softly with his resignation to accept the directorship of the Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Minnesota.

Look into my eyes, Roderick Tillman. The fact that you'll probably be drawing a paycheck in the neighborhood of 200,000-would that be dollars or pounds?--suggests you've sold out to the opposition. Is that why you wouldn't fly with me?

He was still in Paris when the call came through. They'd rushed Amelia into hospital, in labor two weeks early. Daniel tore from Charles de Gaulle to Heathrow and thence to the maternity ward at the Radcliffe, where Gillespie had died three weeks earlier.

Then he was at the lab, where he turned on the office TV to catch the news and was treated to thirty seconds or so of one Daniel Bosworth at an AIDS conference....

He laughed aloud for the benefit of his absent Amelia as he raised a lager to himself. She'd stood there the previous morning--so rotund in her latest smock, holding her tummy--and called him a workaholic. And lain there in her hospital bed an hour earlier gazing at him from almost lifeless eyes.

Blessed is the fruit of thy womb¼Hell, Mary--

His exuberance drained. He got up and sloped off for another handful of P......

Why liest thou on the lab sofa? It's cold in here.

May as well stuff another tab to go with the beer.

And a child is born. A son. Praise him on earth. And the Messiah's name shall be William--two weeks early. You stare through the glass at him in his bassinet, burbling away. Every inch a tiny Lawrence Hungerford.

Watched over by the white-hooded figures standing around you in the maternity ward. A phoenix swoops down and lands, wings outstretched. Something strong in the air is burning your eyes. The figure in the middle is removing his hood.

Now you see his giant phallus. Sweet angel, what immortal hand or eye could frame thee? Feel the candle pricket. Down, boy, down. Voices whisper in the glimmer. Giant bodies.

Run, boy, run, before he eats you.

He hath caught hold on the horns of the altar.

Run, boy. Run before she swallows you.

You didn't see them in the candlelight, did you?. Fornicating beasts.

A giant Lawrence Hungerford, his black eyes laughing, here in the ward. The same eyes as William. Black eyes like Penelope Rich. Father and son. Father coupling with daughter. One by one they uncover themselves. They're all there laughing: Joshua, Marcus, Drake, Mannering, Bendix, Dunkley. Someone is missing: your wife, Black Madonna, bride of Christ . . . Black Jenny.

Wherefore receive ye one another?

You look up and she smiles down from her cross, parting her thighs, inviting you into the darkness of her gaping sex that has given birth to this little Lawrence. Out of the Third cometh the One as the Fourth. A star burns your eyes. Open them again and Lawrence is stepping forward, ramming a gigantic Tau into the witch's comb. The others gather round to watch in silence.

Amelia, don't scream. You'll wake the baby.

Too late. William is crying his head off in Lawrence's arms. Lawrence passes you the baby. You fornicating bastard. Kill her, kill the baby.

In the name of the son.

Cry Shekinah and wash another Prozac down. Hail True Redeemer.

There's only you and darkness in the lab. Bedfellows again. A fair old alarum. Bats in the belfry.

Your door's unhinged, Daniel.

Better lock it.

Why is your hand so jittery as you draw your own blood? Safe and sound. Who killed Cock Robin? You, Thomas Drake?

Take the sample from the coolbox--the culture from William's fetal cells. Still sticky after so long, thickened to a bistre hue, and all the seas incarnadine.

Lay down your head, boy.

Is he the father?

Ungarble your head. The weeping gene can't skip a generation through daughter to grandson. Lawrence had Shakespeare's gene. That gene couldn't pass from him through Amelia to William. Genetically impossible. It could only pass direct from father to son.

Take William's culture. Concoct a solution. Watch the preparation turn cloudy yellow. Fumble with the computyper. The bastard. Still loaded with the Shakespeare disk.

Press the numbers, boy. Press. Press.

Lawrence's direct male line's extinct, isn't it? Since his baby boy died at birth. William's meant to be Daniel's boy-child, isn't he?

So why the green light for William's blood?

Ichor of the gods.

Scream, boy, scream. Lawrence screwed your wife. You too. Your Father who art in Heaven....

Lawrence did it. Lawrence is William's father. In the name of the Son. Lawrence and William. Who wants to kill you?

Scream, Daniel, scream. Smash the bright green apple.

Kill, kill, kill, you say. You don't need it. Don't need Amelia. Kill Amelia. Any more. Kill the baby. Let the rain piss down. You're snug. Invisible. No one can get you now. Janey will see to that--won't you?

Air heavy from a downpour. Drag yourself from the lab. Trek up the Banbury Road. Meander under a numinous sky. Dusk is falling.

Don't look behind you.

Streets empty of passersby. Surroundings dim into the distance. Traffic noise grows faint. Eyes and Footsteps. A voice.

Don't look behind you.

Cross the road at Park Town. The trees in the grounds of St. Hugh's bend over the fence. St. Claire's....shops....South front door....flight of stairs.

Janey, Janey, where are you?

Reach the landing and jam your battered key. Into the lock. Lucia Popp on the stereo.

Amelia's favorite aria. From Il Re Pastore.

The room yaws.

Amelia's armchair empty. A movement. Catch your eye.

The phantasm rising. From where you sit. Smiling. Stretches out its left hand. Up the bare forearm. A snake wriggling, no wider than a pencil. Gliding and swirling toward you--

Turns into a livid crimson scar.

Half a second. Under the left eye. A tiny muscle twitching.

Scream, boy.

You hurl yourself --

At the epiphany of Lawrence Hungerford.

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