There’s a hidden battleground in the sky—so says this classic novel from the award-winning author of the Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries featuring Bryant & May. You’ll never look at a roof the same way again. . . .
Welcome to Roofworld. High above London’s teeming streets exists a timeless universe with laws and codes known only to itself, suspended by a complex system of cables and wires. Two rival factions wrestle for control of this elevated realm—and eventually the city below.
When a beautiful, feisty amateur photographer named Rose and a shy, cynical screenwriter named Robert witness a kidnapping on a London roof, they figure it’s an isolated incident. But after strange rooftop murders are reported almost daily, they have to know more. In their clumsy efforts to understand, they’re caught up in an intense power struggle between the forces of good and a power-mad tyrant manipulating society’s most hopeless citizens. Rose and Robert have a part to play in a war that’s nearly invisible from the ground—and nothing less than world domination is at stake.
Look for Christopher Fowler’s fantasy and horror classics, now available as ebooks:
CALABASH | DISTURBIA | PSYCHOVILLE | RED GLOVES | ROOFWORLD | SPANKY
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||1 MB|
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Getting him into the bell tower proved to be a laborious business. The door at the top of the narrow stone steps had been securely padlocked, so that they had to stand with the boy propped between them, waiting for Chymes to suggest some way of gaining entry.
‘It will have to be broken open from the inside.’ The passionless voice flattened within the curved brickwork of the corridor, as if the stones themselves had absorbed his words.
‘Which of us will go?’
Inevitably, it was Dag who was sent to scale the outside of the church in the pouring rain. He was the most loyal, the most foolhardy—and the most expendable.
Gripping the slippery keel moulding above his head, he inched around the parapet at the top of the building and kicked the wire mesh from the nearest arched window. Then he carefully lowered himself into the small square bell tower. Beneath the incessant drumming of water on the roof and the purr of sheltering pigeons he could hear the others scuffling impatiently beyond the sealed door.
‘Stand away,’ Dag shouted, raising his right boot at the lock.
‘For f***’s sake get a move on,’ came a muffled reply. ‘He’s starting to wake up.’
Dag kicked at the lock once, then again. On his third thrust the wood splintered and the door burst open, revealing Imperator Chymes, his two hierophants and the prisoner. Dragging their captive to the middle of the room, they loosened his bonds and forced him to kneel while Chymes dug into his cloak and produced a small leather pouch.
‘Tear his shirt open.’ Chymes unthreaded the drawstring of the pouch and tipped its contents over the boy’s head. The black powder cascaded like a fall of soot, clinging wherever it touched.
‘Thus we destroy the outward form of the Primal Material,’ Chymes intoned as the boy at his feet spluttered and coughed, ‘to remove from this base matter the impurities of the soul. First must come the sublimation, then the calcination of the outward form, to pulverize the matter by fire. Through powder the volatile spirit is fixed and made permanent. Only then can it flower and bear fruit.’
Dag and the others shuffled uncomfortably and kept their eyes downcast, unsure of the etiquette required for such a moment. Chymes reached down and raised the boy’s chin with almost loving concern, as if addressing his own son.
‘It is time for the Rebirth. Winged Mercurius sits guarded by the sun and moon. You are in safe hands at last.’ The boy was barely able to react. He swayed to one side, hardly conscious of his surroundings.
‘Now take him over to the window.’ Chymes gestured to the others. ‘We must wait until the height of the storm.’
So they sat in the vaulted red-brick bell tower of St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church (Cantonese and Spanish services on Sundays), watching the rain lash the slated rooftops of the buildings below, waiting for the appointed time of execution.
As the prisoner slowly came to his senses, he found that he had been perched on the very edge of the chamfered stone sill with his thin long legs dangling out over Soho Square. Firm hands clamped his shoulders to prevent him from falling. The knees of his jeans darkened as water poured from the eaves above his head and mixed with the powder covering his body. His mouth seemed full of the sour black mud, but the muscles of his face were beyond his control and he was unable to spit it out. The drugs he had been forced to ingest in a sheltered corner of the church half an hour earlier were beginning to bristle and knot his body.
Gingerly he leaned forward and looked down. The drop was a considerable one, some hundred and fifty feet he guessed. Of course, it was nothing compared to the height of the old Centre Point run, which now stood abandoned and neglected after so many near fatal accidents. . . .
‘I feel that it is very nearly time,’ said the voice behind him.
The boy refused to turn about and confront his captors. His face, patched in black and white, loomed eerily from the darkness of the tower, like some half-glimpsed gothic spectre. His bony hands clutched the wet outward edge of the parapet as he prepared himself for his death. The storm was reaching its peak. It may have been the effect of the drugs, but he was no longer afraid. Still, he knew that if he hesitated, one of them would come forward and throw him into the square below. There was no longer any choice. If he failed to act bravely, Chymes and his men would refuse him any dignity in dying. For them, humiliation had become an essential element in any death ritual. Slowly he leaned his body out once more.
He could no longer feel the bitterness of the wind as it swept around the tower, flapping the cable which led from one of the piers off into the drizzling darkness beyond. The lights of the London streets seemed blurred and muted by the falling rain, all sound muffled beneath the angry rush of air and electrical static. He had never intended it to end like this, bound and drugged far above the city, unwilling and unable to go on with the others. The rain plastered his lank fair hair across his forehead, the wind corpsing his skin with cold, but all he felt was the tingling of his nerves and the heightened pulsing of his engorged heart.
He closed his eyes and listened below; a taxi cab’s insistent horn, the throb of a bus engine, faint sounds which grew clearer as the thunder died down. He leaned forward and tested the nylon cable with his fist. It was taut but slippery, thrumming in the storm gale, flicking wavelets of water along its length each time it shook, like pegs being tossed from a wash line. Behind him, Chymes released a sad sigh.
‘It is time for you to leave us, brother.’ He stepped forward from the darkness, watching his prisoner intently.
The boy peered out into the night and tried to see the far end of the cable, although he knew all too well where it led. This was a run constructed like no other, created for this moment alone. Now that the time had come to use it, he felt a growing elation uprooting his fear. It seemed that he had been seated in the tower for an age and, as he rose shakily to his feet on the parapet, the joints of his knees creaked in protest.
Tensing with excitement, the others moved forward. This was the storm they had been waiting for, one which would cleanse the city and bring with it a new beginning.
Carefully he grasped the cable with both hands and tightened the muscles in his arms, as he had done a million times before. Further along, huddling against the abutment of the arch, half a dozen bedraggled pigeons watched disinterestedly as he clipped himself to the metal sleeve and attached it to the line.
Counting to ten, he drew a deep, slow breath.
Perfectly timed thunder rolled deafeningly over the city. It appealed to his sense of drama. He released an angry bellow of a battle cry and, with a mighty push, his plimsolled feet pressing hard against the ledge, launched himself from the arch and out above the streets of London. The blast of icy wind around his body, carrying with it great slews of rain, smacked his senses into crystal-sharp alertness. He watched the greenery of the park square passing between his feet far below and felt that, had he been able to slow his speed, the microscopic markings of each branch and leaf would become indelibly clear to him.
Back in the bell tower, Chymes had run forward to the window in order to study the boy’s descent across the city. He and his men stood watching until the figure on the line had vanished into the rain.
The soaked orange brick of the bank on the corner of Greek Street loomed close and slid past the boy on his right side. His speed slowed as the angle of the cable between his hands decreased and he approached a junction point, rather like a cable-car station, mounted on the roof of the Prince Edward Theatre in Old Compton Street. Below, smart couples alighted from taxis and made their way across neon-streaked pavements toward the steamed windows of Chinatown restaurants.
The cable hissed beneath the metal sleeve, the tiny inner rollers of the sleeve vibrating in his hands as he swung across Soho to the roof of a bank near the bottom of Regent Street. The muscles in his arms, unused to working without his brace, began to cramp and sting as he neared his final destination. Sweeping over the Air Street junction point mounted from the roof of the Regent Hotel, he noted with surprise that he was considerably further from the ground than when he started. It was a run he would have been proud to have built himself, for the drops and inclines had been carefully planned so that they would steadily increase his height and speed throughout the journey.
As he shot out from between the buildings over Piccadilly Circus he glimpsed people halting in mid-stride and looking up, aware of something moving above their heads. Ahead of him a vast wall of pulsing light grew until it filled his field of vision. He screamed his terror into the sky and prepared for impact, raising his legs as if this futile gesture would somehow help to lessen the force of the coming collision. Finally the gigantic red and white Coca-Cola sign which covered the north side of the Circus loomed large before him, blotting all else from his mind.
He hit it like a bug on a windshield, dead centre, at just over sixty miles an hour. For a moment, his form was imprinted in the flickering neon strips which made up the football-pitch-sized sign. Then, silhouetted against bursting light, his body pulled away from the wall as the tubes exploded and broke loose, cascading to the pavement like jagged drops of luminous rain. He fell like a burning comet, his body ablaze with electrical fire, to be extinguished with a hiss as he hit the rain-bloated gutter of the city street below.
If there had been a last dim thought in his charred and shattered brain, it would have been the happy realization that he had returned to the place which he had been so long forbidden. At last he could say he had both feet on the ground.
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