The Newton Enigma.  A novel by Linton Herbert

Chapter 8 a


Atlanta, October 26, 6 PM


Jon had simply looked at the capital letters, and after a little unscrambling had read the message, “Read the rhyme of Mother Shipton.  Ask for Hellen.”  The rest of the code was giving him a little trouble.  Letter frequencies had been no help at all. 


As James slowed down with Atlanta late rush hour traffic, Jon said, “He usually gives a clue at the end.  What does ‘irritate’ mean?”


“Abrade,” said Tracy.




“Just joking.  Like it was a crossword clue.”


“Abrade.  Yes, it’s a braid.  Three lines are braided together.  Of course.  It’s addressed to Ivan, but the letters are spread out on all three lines.” 


After a few minutes working out the pattern, he read: Ivan, the world’s birth rate is falling.  Dat’s based on numbers published by the UN.  The world’s sperm count is falling.  You can check it in the book Y by Steve Jones.  Take the date he gives for zero sperm count in the West.  Subtract ten years roughly for zero birth rate.  Since no civilization has reported a zero birth rate, the west must fall at least ten years before that.  Subtract another ten years for the fact that the most able people have the fewest babies.  Subtract probably ten more years since the process is accelerating.  So how did Newton know?  He found the apocalypse should happen about sixty years from now.  You have to find out why, prove it and tell all the world.


“‘Dat,’ really now Terra,” said Jon.


“What’s that?” asked Hapgood.


“He’s tampered with one message to make the other easier to fit it.”  Then Jon read the message again.  Then he said, “So we need to find a book store.  Should be easy enough here in Atlanta.”


“I thought we were going to stay away from Atlanta,” Ivan said mildly.


“Yes, we should.  But it’s a big place.  They won’t be watching the book stores.  Let’s pick up the book, get a bite to eat and put some more miles behind us before getting a motel.”


“Suits me,” said Hapgood. 


 The bookstore was one of a giant chain, tucked among the skyscrapers of the heart of Atlanta.  There were more books than most libraries boasted of not many years ago.  There were no books about the War Between the States in the history section; they were in the Civil War section, the largest in the store.  There were places to sit, to read and to get a cup of coffee and a snack.  Jon reflected ruefully that there were probably enough resources in sight to complete their task, but the shadow of a band of mercenaries combing the city for them made them shorten their stay.  They collected the book Terra Lane had mentioned.


On the way out Hapgood said, “It might be a nice night to visit Underground Atlanta.”


“Where’s that?” asked Ivan.


“Near here.  It used to be the shed for the Atlanta street cars.  There was a huge fleet of them, and they would put them up for the night in a big underground shelter.  After the street cars, it was abandoned and about forgotten.  Then in the 1960’s they spruced it up and turned it into a night spot, with lots of shops and restaurants.  It was very spiffy.  Then it slowly became less attractive and was in decay again.  Then they gentrified it again.  We could have a look and see if it is in an up phase or a down phase.”


It was in an up phase.  The huge low cavernous expanse was bright with commerce.  Somewhere a loudspeaker was playing a sentimental version of “Dixie.”  Merrymakers called to each other.  The shops were full of the latest impulse buying lures.  They found a quiet restaurant and ordered up the best the Piedmont had to offer for food, unsurprised to find that it was far more simple fare than New Orleans offered, but fresh and wholesome. 


“Eat up,” said Jon.  Terra Lane is paying for this, I think.”  Just what the inheritance legalities might be, he wasn’t sure.


They were feeling far less ambitious as they left and were wondering whether to take hotel rooms for the night when two young men grabbed Ivan.  A third shoved Hapgood to the ground and wrestled Jon against the wall.  Two more grabbed James, and another started to grab Tracy.


Undeterred, Hapgood pulled himself up and planted a well intentioned and well aimed punch at the man holding Jon.  But the attacker ducked it.  Tracy broke free, landed a satisfying kick in the belly of her attacker and blocked a roundhouse he aimed at her left cheek. 


Ivan slammed the two men holding him together without much effect, so he slammed them together again.  His eyes had gone flint hard, and he fought with cold fury.  James had his arms pinned behind him by one, while the other tried to put him out of action with a series of punches to the abdomen.  Failing to impress the muscular abdomen, the stranger aimed a punch at the head, which James managed to give the slip so that it glanced off the face of the man behind him.  It wasn’t enough to break the grip. 


Jon got a knee up and into the abdomen of the man pinning him and shoved.  It didn’t work.  The man spun him around facing the wall and kicked his feet apart.  Hapgood, hesitant to hit a man in the back even under such extreme circumstances shouted, “Turn around.  Turn around.”


Tracy had no compunction, and worked her fight around so that she could plant a telling kick to the man’s kidneys.  The man went down.  At that moment her attacker caught her off guard and managed to grab an arm.  He twisted it behind her and said, “Give it up, or I break her arm.”


James gave out a long clear whistle, like a bosun’s pipe, and that area of the trolley barn began to fill with young black men drawing knives.  James slipped away. 


“I mean it,” said the man with Tracy.  “Back off.”


The other fighting stopped.  “Mexican standoff,” said Jon.  “Nobody wins.” 


In return, the man wrenched Tracy’s arm.  She screamed. 


“Look,” said Jon.  “Just tell us what this is all about, and maybe we can work something out.  What is it you want?”


“You’re coming with us.”


“I don’t think these fellows would let us do that, even if I asked.”  Jon turned to the circling crowd showing their knives.  They look appropriately uncertain. 


At that moment there was a blast from a horn.  The crowd parted and James drove the van up.  He opened the door and stood half out of the truck leveling the shotgun.


“All right you bastards.  I just might have enough shells in this baby for all of you.  But I’m damn sure I have two or three for you holding the girl.”  The man held her ahead of him like a shield, but James plunged forward and jammed the muzzle into his crotch.  “Which is your favorite?  Left or right?  I’ll aim to please.  But I’m a lousy shot.”


The man let go.  “All right,” said James.  I want some of you in the car and the rest of you up against that wall.  Try to get it right… facing the wall, Bozo.”


The men lined up against the wall, while James’s friends piled into the van.  James walked backward to the door.  “They’re all yours, fellows.  But I imagine the police will be on the way.” 


James backed out, so as not to risk showing the license tag, then put the van into a howling reverse bootlegger turn and sped for the exit.  Sirens were approaching as he pulled out onto the street.  He did another bootlegger turn and drove back toward the entrance.  By the time the first police car careened into view, he had slowed down and was signaling to enter the Underground.  Police crowded ahead of him, and one got out and waved him away.  Only too pleased to comply, James turned off his turn signal and started to head toward the interstate.


Then James announced, “I bet they don’t follow us for a while, so what say we head north for a bit and then take a side road and look for a little motel.  Unless you want to stay here in Atlanta.”


The others indicated that they would be guided by James’s judgment.


Shortly after daybreak, they were rolling northward again. 


They passed Stone Mountain, the Confederate memorial, still the world’s largest rock carving.  They continued north and east.


“Why would Newton think that Charlemagne was the antichrist?” asked Ivan.  “He had been dead for centuries.”


“That’s true,” said Hapgood.  “But Charlemagne had been the first to conquer all of Europe.  He had established the European royal families that are still respected, and in Newton’s day they were enormously powerful.  The whole of Europe served kings descended one way or the other from Charlemagne.  And Europe was in the process of conquering the rest of the whole world.  The antichrist is supposed to be the master of the world, and by now there is just about nobody who has never been conquered by Charlemagne or somebody Charlemagne conquered.”


“The Seminoles have never been conquered,” said Ivan. 


“True,” said Hapgood.  “Even during the Civil War, when they sided with the confederacy and the Confederates were beaten.  The last Confederate holdout was in Florida, by the way.  The Seminoles were not defeated even then.  I sometimes fear that some of the indifference the US shows to the Indians is because of the Seminole alliance with the Confederacy.”


“It was a matter of principle,” Ivan said quietly.  “The Confederates claimed they had the right to be independent, and the Seminoles felt we had to support them since we claimed the same right.  It didn’t work out very well.  Particularly for Florida, who lost a greater percentage of their men than any other state.


“So you are a Seminole?” asked James.


“My father is part Seminole.”


“Well that’s quite appropriate then.  The last holdout against Charlemagne is the chosen one to lift the curse of the antichrist,” said Hapgood.


“What’s the curse?” asked Ivan.


“O nothing really.  Everyone is supposed to be better off these days than ever before.  But it is true that the whole world is one giant unit, one single empire so-to-speak.  There are those in my congregation who see that as a sign of the antichrist.  I don’t personally.  I understand your father is kind of a leader of the Seminoles.”


“He would be chief of the whole tribe, but he married a white woman and thought it wasn’t quite right.  The other Seminoles didn’t really have a problem with it.”


“So you would be chief yourself some day, maybe.”


“I’ve gone a different way.  I tell you I feel the pull.  But I don’t belong there.  I don’t know where I belong.”


“I should say you belong right here, fighting one way or the other for the truth.  Prince of the last free people.”


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