The Newton Cipher – Snippet 12
After lunch, the Tube’s Jubilee line deposited her at the Westminster stop, right in the heart of London’s tourist district. If she needed proof she was in London, this was it. The buildings of Parliament were there, with the massive gothic clock tower that tourists called Big Ben — although, as Trina read in a guidebook she downloaded to her phone, Big Ben wasn’t the name of the tower itself, but rather the nickname of large bell inside the tower. The tower everyone called Big Ben was actually called the Elizabeth Tower.
You learn something new every day.
The river Thames flowed slow and wide behind Parliament, and across Westminster Bridge she saw the London Eye, a huge ferris wheel. Unlike the tiny, two-person seats on the ferris wheels she’d ridden at the Wyoming state fair as a kid, the London Eye had thirty or so glass-enclosed capsules that could hold over twenty people each. And they could stand and walk around inside, too.
Trina stared at the wheel, wondering if she had enough time for a ride. The views from the top must be magnificent. The guidebook said it rose four hundred feet in the air.
But it was past three o’clock now, and the sun was close to setting. Reluctantly she turned away and walked past the buildings of Parliament, toward the beautiful, thousand-year old collection of religious buildings known as Westminster Abbey.
The biggest of the Abbey’s buildings was the main church. As she approached the tourist entrance she noted with pleasure there were no lines waiting to get inside.
Until she got closer … and her heart sank. The ticket office was closed. The church itself was closed; opening hours were Monday through Saturday only.
“Shit,” she said aloud. An elderly couple walking by glared. “Ah … sorry.”
She scurried around to the front of the church and was surprised to see the doors open, a man in a suit and overcoat standing at the main door. He had the door open a crack, and was peeking inside. There was no one waiting to get in. A limo was parked nearby, in the semi-circular drive that came off Victoria Street, and suddenly Trina recognized where she was from the televised royal weddings she’d seen — it was the same place the crowds had watched as Diana and Charles, and much later Kate and William, arrived and departed for their own weddings in horse-drawn carriages.
And now it was nearly empty, just another old church on a blustery November afternoon.
A placard nearby said: No Entry. Wedding in Progress.
Clearly whatever ceremony was going on inside was no royal wedding, given the lone usher out front and the single waiting limo. Then she saw a discarded invitation on the ground nearby, and picked it up.
Mr. & Mrs. Francis Carlisle, of Chelsea, London
Request the Honor of your Presence
at the Marriage of their Son
Ms. Emma Mary Hobarth, of Houston, Texas
at the Church of the Abbey of Westminster
On Sunday, November …
at 3 o’clock
Trina did a double take as her memory flashed back to breakfast. Hobarth … Texas …. Wasn’t that the name of the family she’d overheard at the cafe that morning? The one planning their day, and with the sick family member in the hotel?
She glanced at her phone. It was 3:23 pm. The usher was still peering into the church. Outside the limo was idling quietly, its driver reading a paper in the warmth of the front seat.
A few tourists were walking by, taking pictures in the fading light. At the far end of the semi-circular drive, past the waiting limo, Trina saw a man, quite tall, in the shadow of an arched stone doorway. His dark hair was parted, and she caught a glimpse of his mustach and beard, a darkness that framed the rest of his face. But it was the cruel, amber eyes she instantly recognized from earlier that morning.
The tall Russian.
Trina turned, eager to leave, and saw, across the road, a man and a woman strolling slowly toward her. Both had short, cropped hair, and she saw the glint of streetlights reflecting off the smaller man’s spectacles.
Behind the limo, the tall man had stepped down onto the sidewalk and was coming her way. He moved his hand in a circular motion between them, and at first Trina thought he was giving her some sort of wave. But then his face set in a scowl, and he pushed his hand toward her. The air around her was suddenly freezing. Or maybe it was her blood. He increased his pace, as she suddenly began to feel weak … slow … cold …
Suddenly her chest felt hot, and she inhaled rapidly. Energy rushed back. Instinct, or fear, or panic — maybe all three — urged her to act, to do something, anything to get away. Trina jogged up the steps and approached the usher.
“Hey, um, I’m so sorry I’m late — cough, cough. I’ve been sick and was supposed to stay in the room, but I simply couldn’t stand to miss, uh, Ella’s wedding.”
“Right, Emma,” Trina said, leaning in. Achoo! “My head’s a little foggy. All that cold medicine.” Sniffle.
The usher backed away, and pulled a list from his coat pocket. “And you are?”
“Jenn — Julie Hobarth,” she corrected quickly. Please be Julie, please be Julie.
He looked her over, clearly unimpressed by her attire: jeans, running shoes, and a Notre Dame sweatshirt (“Go Irish!” it said, which could mean something very different on this side of the Atlantic), and her puffy coat.
“I know, I know, but I’ve been sick, like really sick. Never had a chance to get my, uh, dress fitted.”
“I’m quite sure no one has ever worn denim to a Westminster wedding,” he scoffed. “What exactly is your relation to the bride?”
“I’m Emma’s, ah, aunt.”
“It says here you’re one of her cousins.”
“Ha!” Trina laughed, then feigned a spasm of coughing to cover her sheer panic. “Whoops! It’s so hard to keep track. You know us Texas Hobarths, there’s so dang many of us.”
“I’m quite sure I do not,” the usher said.
She hawked a faux wad of phlegm and spat it at his feet. He jumped back.
“Sorry ’bout that,” Trina said. “They say it’s best to get rid of the gunk right away. So, can I go in or what?”
“You’re rather late. It started half an hour ago.”
“Oh, come on, please?” she glanced around. The tall Russian was still there, watching her intently from the sidewalk beyond the limo. The other two were pretending to take pictures of a nearby ceremonial column, but they were inching closer. “Please? Emma would kill me if I missed her special day, with, um, Roger.”
“Rupert,” the usher said, icily.
“Oh, so you know him?”
“We were at Oxford together.”
“Oxford! I hear that place is off the hook! And so full of well dressed men, too.” She reached in, as if to stroke the lapels of his coat, then suddenly tripped forward, right into his chest, while letting loose with the wettest Ahh-choo! she could muster.
“Jesus Christ,” he said, regarding her with a look of utter revulsion. “Fine. But for God’s sake, be quiet. Go through the Nave, the ceremony is in the Choir. Bride’s family on the left.”
He pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket and handed it to her.
“Such a gentleman,” she said. “But don’t let Emma’s daddy hear you goin’ and cussin’ like that. We Baptists don’t take kindly to hearing the Lord’s name taken in vain. Especially at church.”
Trina gave him her cheeriest smile and ducked into the church’s dark interior.
“Americans,” she heard him mutter as he closed the door behind her.
The Nave of the church rose high overhead, delicate stone columns merging into pointed gothic arches that hung like stone curtains draped high above. It was astounding to think that stone could be made to appear so weightless, like fabric, especially having been crafted so many centuries ago. Between each column, on the outside walls, stained-glass windows that depicted kings and queens, and bishops and saints, turned the last light of day into rainbow shadows that tinted the tile floor.
It was quiet, and Trina took a breath to calm her nerves. What the hell were the Russians doing here? It was Sunday. Maybe Alfie Gill kicked them out of the library early. But why come here? Were they following her?
Toward the front of the Nave, in a space enclosed by elaborately carved wooden screens, she heard the rustle of a seated crowed and the amplified voice of someone leading a ceremony.
The wedding was still going on, which meant she had time.
Walking quietly, thankful for the rubber soles of her running shoes, she crept from column to column until, in an alcove near the choir, she found Isaac Newton.
Not the real Isaac Newton, of course, but a Greek-god like version, sculpted in marble, draped in rippling stone robes, all muscled and square-jawed and serene. He was reclining on four carved-marble books, representing his most important publications, including the Principia Mathematica and Optiks. His work on alchemy was, Trina noticed, conspicuously absent.
She heard the bride and groom, amplified by the bishop’s microphone, exchanging their vows.
Above Newton, two little cherubs held a mathematical digram, while above them was a celestial globe, decorated with the symbols of the zodiac. At the pinnacle, atop the globe, a woman — Astronomy herself, the “Queen of the Sciences,” wept.
“Sheesh,” Trina muttered. “Get a grip, lady.”
Below the sculpted Newton was the sarcophagus with the actual Newton, which was decorated with eight little boys, all playing with a variety of scientific instruments and tools: a telescope, a prism, an oven. An oven — one symbol, at least, indicative of Newton’s work with alchemy.
The wedding ceremony was wrapping up. She heard the bishop announce that the bride and groom were now husband and wife. There was an audible kiss, followed by thunderous applause.
Beneath Newton’s sarcophagus, at the very bottom of the tomb, was a Latin inscription. Trina skimmed it, translating rapidly in her head; it was long and full of praise, a summary of Newton’s accomplishments.
Then, in a sudden crescendo of celebration, organ music erupted from the center of the church. The wedding was over.
She snapped a few photos of Newton’s tomb, then hid behind the closest column as the bride and groom rushed through the Nave and out the doors.
Wedding guests followed, chatting happily. Trina waited until the last few guests went by, then stepped out behind them, phone to her ear.
“Uh huh, uh huh,” she said. As she passed by the usher, she spoke even more loudly. “Yep, it’s over. Yeah, yeah. Beautiful service. Oh, and Emma was simply stunning. Wait, hold on a sec … Achoo!”
She smiled as the usher cringed. Then she stepped out into the chilly London evening.
Beyond the Serpentine
Though not yet five o’clock, it was dark outside Westminster Abbey. The wedding party crowded around the limo to see the bride and groom off, and Trina joined them, using the crowd as cover to look around.
The Russians were gone — or, they were well hidden in the shadows.
Just in case, Trina followed a small group of wedding guests around the north side of Westminster Abbey toward the Tube station. A few minutes later she crossed a road and made it to the wide sidewalk in front of Parliament.
Police patrolled back and forth, dressed in dark blue with semi-automatic rifles slung at their shoulders. Their presence was reassuring. An alert-looking German Shepard on a tight leash sniffed at her as she passed, cocked its head at the officer who controlled it, and moved on.
Only then, with police all around her, did Trina risk looking back the way she’d come. There was no sign of the Russians.
She exhaled, suddenly aware of how tense she’d been, just as the deep chime of a bell erupted high above her. Big Ben tolled five times. The sound spilled down, vibrating her bones.
As Trina approached the Westminster Tube station she saw a police car, blue lights flashing, parked on the sidewalk, blocking the entrance. Two female officers stood before a large crowd, checking identification of those taking the escalator down to the Underground.
“All central London Tube stations are currently under guard,” one of the officers called out. “All riders must show identification. On behalf of the City of London, we apologize for the inconvenience. Please form an orderly line.”
“What’s going on?” someone asked.
“Was there an accident?”
“There was another murder, wasn’t there?”
The other officer raised her hand for silence. “There have been more murders. The victims were found nearby — “
“Where?” someone asked.
“The crime scenes are still under investigation, their locations are not being disclosed.”
“Scenes?” the panicked voice asked. “There was more than one?”
A man was peering at his smartphone, flicking the screen. “It’s right here, on BBC News. ‘Bodies found beaten, bruised and with those strange cysts.’ Near Charing Cross, Knightsbridge, Grosvenor, and … Victoria Station!”
“Those places are all around us!” someone else said.
The two officers were waving people through, one by one. “We advise you to head directly to your destination, and please, if possible, do not travel alone.”
“Keep calm and carry on,” a father said with a chuckle, holding the hand of his young daughter as the officers checked his ID.
Trina was next. She fumbled at her coat pockets before realizing she had left her passport at the hotel. She pulled out her British Library reader card and offered it with a shrug.
“I left my passport at my bed and breakfast.”
“American?” the officer said.
“Yes,” Trina said.
The officer handed back the card. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I need an official form of identification.”
Trina double checked her coat. “I don’t suppose a letter of introduction from my PhD advisor would work?”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to find an alternate means of transportation. May I suggest a cab?”
But cabs were impossible to come by. She spent the next few minutes walking along Westminster Bridge, trying to hail one. Trina wasn’t the only one in central London who had left their ID at home. She thought about using a ride service, but her phone didn’t have a ride-sharing app.
She was about to go through the process of downloading it when a tattooed-and-pierced teenager looked up from his own phone.
“You trying to get a car, luv?” he asked.
“I was about to,” she said. Looking around, they weren’t the only ones. The entire bridge was full of people tapping at their screens in frustration.
“Don’t bloody bother,” he said. “I’ve checked all the car services. Drivers are slammed, wait times are over an hour, and rates are through the roof because all these bourgeois bankers have to get home to their posh flats. It’s total shite. Looks like I’m walking.”
He spun on his black, high-heeled boots and stuck his middle finger in the air, yelling something about fascism and the government.
Trina took stock. It was now well past five o’clock, dark, and cold. She was hungry. But she had legs and money, and the map on her UK phone gave her multiple routes back to her hotel, most of which estimated a forty-five minute walk.
Easy. Especially after some food.
She searched for pubs. Just south of St James park was one called the Red King. Good reviews, the pictures showed cheery wooden booths and a warm fire. Perfect for a night like this.
Afterward she could take a shortcut through Hyde Park, past Trader Vic’s. She knew the way from there.
The oddly-named Birdcage Walk took her along a well-lit street. The Russians were still on her mind, and each doorway she passed was a potential hiding place. She stayed vigilant until she saw the carved wooden sign of the Red King hanging over a doorway, its cheery yellow light spilling out onto the sidewalk.
Wood and warmth greeted her as she walked in the door. Ruddy faces around the bar downed glasses of beer, and flags from various British football clubs — soccer, to her — hung from the ceiling. She found a corner near the fire and tucked herself behind a small table.
An order of fish and chips and two pints of cider settled her nerves. She reasoned that seeing the Russians was merely a coincidence. They were probably just out playing tourist, too. And maybe the tall one had simply been waving at her, some weirdo Russian greeting she mistook as a threat.
Either way, she was off to Cambridge in the morning, and she could really use a good night’s sleep.
She paid her bill and followed a narrow alley off Queen Anne’s Gate toward the darkness of St James park, which connected through to Hyde Park. A lamplit path led through the dark trees.
Trina was not alone in the park, which was comforting. And the trees had no leaves, so the space around her felt open, despite the shadows around the tree trunks cast by the moon above.
She came to a bridge, and walked over a little lake. More trees, and then, with some relief, she was on a long, wide street called The Mall. To her left, in the distance, was Buckingham Palace — home of the royal family. It was lit up as bright as day, and she was comforted by the sight of guards in red uniforms, the famous ones with the tall bear-skin helmets.
She checked her phone. Go right, it said. Along Constitution Hill, toward Wellington Arch. It was then she noticed that the phone’s battery icon was red.
Battery Life 4%.
“It’s alright,” she thought. “Wellington Arch is just a few blocks from Trader Vics. I can find my way from there.”
Then she was back in the trees, walking past well-lit memorials to various battles. Foot traffic had thinned considerably, and she felt alone. In the distance she saw moving cars, and before long came out on a roundabout.
The Wellington Arch was there, much bigger than the Marble Arch. But at least she knew where she was. She glanced at her phone. She needed to head north, and —
The screen went blank.
“Damn.” Trina cursed herself for forgetting to charge her phone the night before.
Just behind Wellington Arch was the Hyde Park Corner Tube station. But the situation there was the same as Westminster — flashing lights, police checking IDs, people walking away in frustration.
Traffic was being directed away from Park Lane, which was the way to Trader Vics, and her bed and breakfast.
“Can I cross?” she said, approaching one of the officers.
“No, ma’am.” He was an older man, his stomach paunchy in his officer’s uniform, which was covered by a bright green reflective vest. “We’ve an active crime scene the other way, near Grosvenor. You’ll have to go to the west.”
“You mean the way around the park? But my hotel is just up Park Lane. The Parkview Arch.”
“Then you’ll want to head straight through Hyde Park.”
“Is that safe?” Trina asked. “With the … murders?”
“We’ve an active police presence tonight,” he pointed down a path ahead. “Turn right after the bandstand. Stay east of the Serpentine, there’s a direct path through the open lawns. Carry on past the Lookout to Reformer’s Tree, and from there it’s a straight shot to Hyde Park Place. I believe your hotel is right there.”
“Uh, wait,” she said, patting her pockets for a pen and paper. “Bandstand, Serpentine, Lookout, Reformer’s Tree?”
But the officer was already giving directions to someone else.
Trina took a deep breath. She was just ten minutes away now — ten minutes to a hot shower, her PJs, maybe a movie on her laptop as she dozed off.
One more park to navigate in the dark, she thought. She headed the direction the officer pointed, pleased that the path was wide and well lit. The Hyde Park Bandstand was large and obvious, even at night. And a minute later she came to the lake known as the Serpentine.
That’s where she became confused. From a point next to the lake, sidewalks radiated outward, leaving her six possible paths. If there were signs, she couldn’t see them. There was no one around to ask for directions.
The moon was behind the clouds. For a brief moment, she considered backtracking and taking the long — very long — way around, on London’s well lit streets. But Hyde Park was huge. That could take another hour.
Instead, she picked the fourth pathway, which seemed to be the one headed toward her hotel, and followed it. Very soon she was back in trees, not crossing open lawns like the officer had said. She felt the temperature drop just as the moon broke through leafless branches, illuminating a small side path to her right. A sign read, “Hyde Park Lookout.”
“Where were you a few minutes ago?” she said. She’d obviously gone the wrong way. This path was unlit, and narrow, but it would take her where she needed to go, and more quickly than going back the way she’d come.
It was then that she heard the footsteps. Heavy and steady.
Trina spun around.
Silence. No one behind her, but it was nearly pitch black now, the moon hidden once more by the clouds.
She started to jog. The footsteps came on again, not behind, but to her side. Branches snapped, dry leaves crunched. The steps were steady, thudding. Dull, faintly luminous eyes appeared from behind a tree, disappeared behind another, then appeared again, closer.
Trina’s heart jumped to her throat.
The flesh of her chest was suddenly very warm. She pressed a hand to her heart, wondering if she was having a heart attack, but felt only the tiny bump of Edelstein’s necklace.
Through the trees she saw lights ahead, and heard the distant din of traffic. She was nearing the north end of the park. If she could only reach the street …
The path turned, but in the darkness and her panic, she tripped and fell against a tree trunk. Her temple exploded in pain. Struggling to get up, she was went down again as something cold and fleshy, smelling of rot and earth, fell upon her, pressing her into the soil, into leaves and twigs, squeezing her lungs to asphyxiation.
Putrid breath washed over her, filling her nostrils with the stench of death. A hand was forcing her mouth open, as if pulling her in for a kiss. She twisted hard, feeling viscous fluid ooze down her cheek and neck, sticky like syrup. Then, in a ray of moonlight, she caught a glimpse of decaying flesh, lifeless eyes, and a dribbling jaw. Once more, cold hands grasped at her mouth, crawled over her throat.
Trina screamed, a muffled, strangled scream.
Just as darkness almost took her, the trees were suddenly aglow with silver light. That light warped and swayed around her, condensing into a form, or maybe a figure. That figure spread up and out, growing tall then taller still, and the brightness erupted.
Then all went seriously black.