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"Some say his ancestor is the long Ju Ju of Arno in eastern Nigeria, the man who would oracle, sitting in the mouth of a cave, as his clients stood below in shallow water.
"Another story is that he is the reincarnation of the famed Moor of Summerland himself, the Black gypsy who according to Sufi Lit. sicked the Witches on Europe. Whoever his progenitor, whatever his lineage, his grandfather it is known was brought to America on a slave ship..."
(Ishmael Reed)

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Number One
An Omega limited series by Marc Singer

From the journal of Jack Russell. July 20, 1995. First page.

I don't know if I should be writing this down. I really don't know if I should. But then I think, if Hannibal hadn't written everything down, I'd be lost now. And if I don't write anything down, then the next person will be even more lost... assuming there is a next person... anyway, it seems that the duty of recording this has passed on to me, now that Hannibal's XXXXX—now that the duty of recording has passed on to me, whether I like it or not. And today's as good a day to start as any.

That's because my current troubles began a year ago today. A year ago today was when a son of a bitch named Cornelius Owen, who was then running the government's Special Intelligence Resources Command, ordered his agents to arrest one Anne Benson, simply for the crime of being a superhuman "Omega." The agents made the mistake of arresting her while she was at her grandfather's house, and they found that her grandfather was an Omega, too—a fugitive from World War II named Harvey Hauptmann. Benson and Hauptmann routed the agents and fled the law, and that was where I came in.

I was a detective, back then. For the P.G. County cops. I got embroiled in the search for Hauptmann and Benson, and I didn't drop the case when SIRECOM and my own bosses told me to. I didn't even drop it once I got kicked off the case. Instead, I had to go get involved in a civil war in SIRECOM, and all that got me was a couple of bullets to the head courtesy of one of Owen's assassins. She left me to die by the side of the street... and by all rights, I should have.

But I didn't. It turned out I was an Omega, a regenerating one, and even death couldn't stop me. After I got stolen from the morgue and thawed out, I began to wonder how long I was going to live. But I didn't know for sure until I met Hannibal. He's an Omega too, a regenerator like me, black like me, and he's been around for at least two thousand years. He never told me exactly how old he was, just like he never told me if there was any relation between us—he just "adopted" me, and started initiating me into some group of immortals called the "Vitalongae." He also started teaching me how to get used to being immortal. My two biggest lessons in that didn't come until recently, though.

Last week I found out that my father has cancer. Pretty bad cancer.

I suppose that as soon as I learned I was going to be immortal, I should have realized I was going to outlive my parents. I just didn't think I was going to outlive them now.

And then, of course, there are all the other people I have just recently outlived...

[Washington, D.C.]
[July 19, 1995.]
[Two o'clock in the morning.]

Tony D was black. He wore expensive shades and high-tops, he carried a beeper, he drove a flashy sportscar purchased with the money he made selling drugs. Tony D was a living stereotype, the kind of stereotype that kept getting shoved in other black men's faces every time store owners watched them, or pedestrians avoided eye contact with them, or cops asked them what they were doing in such a respectable part of town. Tony D was a drug dealer and the Little Black Sambo of 1995, and he made the man he was talking to sick to his stomach. Apparently, that man, also a black man, wasn't doing a very good job of hiding it, either.

Tony D lowered his sunglasses and gazed over them, giving a wry chuckle. "You live in Northwest, don't you Mister Lazarus?"

"Yeah." The man fidgeted with his expensive tie, with hands that wore fine leather gloves. "Why?"

Tony chuckled and counted his money again. "Because you Northwest Negroes, y'all don't even like to pretend we from the same race. Like we the field niggers and y'all the house niggers." The other members of Tony's network, who had come along to make sure the deal didn't go sour, started laughing. The jolly shaking made their automatic weapons clatter slightly.

Okay, the lone man thought, he knows I don't like him but I can still work with this, play his game a little while. "Nice big house, too," he said. "Up by Rock Creek. Where the neighbors have kids who'll pay ten times what I'm paying you."

"Nice big house, huh?" Still peering over his shades, Tony turned around to deliver the punchline to the other members of his network, who were scattered around the abandoned tenement. "Well, you know what they call a nigger with a nice big house." Tony's hand flashed to his jacket and then back out again before Lazarus could react—Tony was leveling a Beretta at him. All around the tenement, the other dealers and stooges raised their weapons. Tony smiled, and said, "'A nigger.'"

"What is this shit!" screamed Lazarus. "What the fuck is going on!"

"There's something I don't like about you and I wanna know what it is," Tony said coldly. "Search him." The hapless businessman offered no resistance as two of the gangsters frisked him roughly, even ripping off his jacket and shirt to check for wires. But they didn't find anything out of the ordinary, except a heavy gold coin pulled from his shirt pocket.

"What's this?" said one of the gangsters. "It's fucking pirate's gold."

"Yeah," said Tony D, staring down the Beretta, "and it came from a dead man's chest. We got any cops?" he screamed.

"Nothin', D," said a man hunched down next to an expensive portable communications array that included a police scanner. "I think our boy's solo."

"That's because I am not a cop," the businessman said, outraged. "Now lower your fucking guns and give me my merchandise."

"I don't think so," Tony said coldly. "Somethin' about you just reeks of cop... or something. But to be honest with ya, Mister Lazarus, I didn't really want to deal with you anyway. Even if you ain't a cop, you sure as hell ain't no pro and I don't want you leading the cops back to me." Tony grinned and pushed his sunglasses back up with his free hand. "Thanks for all the money, though. Boys."

The man called Lazarus raised his arms. "Now, just a min--"

A half-dozen guns barked thunder and sprayed fire across the room, from the pistol in Tony D's hands to the big full-auto rifle that they'd bought in Virginia for "hunting" and carried into the District. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of bullets riddled Mr. Lazarus's body, jerking it like a macabre puppet and staining the wall behind him with a sticky red mist. In an instant it was over, and the body fell backwards to the ground.

"That'll teach the cops, the Feds, and the feebs not to fuck with Anacostia D Crew." Tony reholstered his gun, again with blinding speed, and laughed at Lazarus's body. To him, the whole execution had been in slow motion, and he'd seen each bullet hit the incompetent snob. "Brillo Head, gimme that coin, I want it as a reminder."

But the gangster with the coin was standing over the corpse. "D, I wonder if there's something funny about this body. I mean, I seen guys fucked up a lot worse --"

"I'm gonna see you fucked up a lot worse if you don't shut up and give me that fucking coin."

Brillo Head just knelt closer to the body, lowering his rifle. "No, I'm tellin' you, D, he looks... holy sh--"

The dead man's dead hand, no longer bleeding and no longer full of holes, swept up and struck Brillo Head in the temple. The man called Lazarus rose, grabbed Brillo Head's rifle, and started laying down arcs of suppressive fire at the other dealers. A few shots hit them, but the intent was just to keep them from firing back, not to kill them.

The reanimated man charged into the crowd, heedless of the hail of gunfire that was starting up. The bullets that were impacting into him now, punching through his thigh or his lung or even his heart, were barely slowing him. His earlier fall had mostly been for show; as long as no major bursts caught him in the head or legs, he could keep right on fighting. Because Lazarus, or Jack Russell as he was normally called, had gotten used to getting shot.

Jack fired three quick bursts at the portable lights scattered around the tenement, shooting them out and plunging the building into darkness. Jack's eyes adjusted instantly, and far better than any normal human's could; he also had the advantage of being able to hit anyone and knowing they were an enemy. The gangsters, on the other hand, would often shoot around him—or through him—and hit their own partners. Using the butt of the rifle, Jack started silently taking out the gangsters one by one.

They were still shooting at Jack, a very foolish tactic because the muzzle flashes gave them away. Their frightened faces would appear for a moment, illuminated by the bursts of light and violence. Then Jack would close in on them, and their faces wouldn't light up again. The sound of the gunshots, the sight of the flashes, and the number of remaining gangsters all dwindled rapidly. Within a minute, the dealers were all either unconscious by Jack's hand, or dead by their own friends'.

Except one. Tony D was pumping bullets into Jack as fast as the Beretta would go; he was emptying clips and putting in new ones in instants, but it did no good. Jack ducked behind a post to protect his head, not because a shot would kill him but because he didn't want this sleaze getting away. Returning fire, Jack laughed the high-pitched cackle of a maniac.

Tony turned and ran towards the door, becoming a fuzzy blur of color and motion. Jack stepped from behind his post and let out a long, wide burst at leg level. One or two bullets must have caught Tony, for he stumbled and skidded into a wall. He just lay there, slumped up against the wall, and Jack started to move.

He stalked across the dark room, his newest wounds already sealing and healing. By the time Jack reached the far wall, his body—if not his clothing—looked like he hadn't been in a gunfight at all. "Looks like you weren't faster than a speeding bullet, Tony," he called. "That's okay, I know Overman and he isn't faster than a bullet either. He wouldn't be such a fucking baby about getting clipped by one, though." Jack picked up another clip, loudly reloaded his rifle, and walked up to Tony. "I gotta apologize," he said, "it just occurred to me that I should have used the 'faster than a speeding bullet' line right before I shot you. Or I could have said something like 'Not so fast.'" Jack spoke in a very thick, very fake Austrian accent. "I thought that one up just now. Damn, I don't know how Schwarzenegger comes up with 'em so quick." Jack pressed the hot barrel into the side of Tony's face. "So, you got any suggestions for a little joke I can make right now? Might make a nice epitaph."

"Yeah," Tony said calmly. "Fuck off and die." Raising his arm so fast the air whistled, he produced a concealed gun and shot Jack in the head.

Jack reeled back and tried to stay on his feet... he could feel brains flying out the hole in the back of his head, and that made it so fucking hard to think... his blood was running into a gutter, Nicola Dare was shooting him in the head... no, not this time... not final...

Some cells must have regrown, because Jack remembered he was in the tenement, and he could see Tony D firing at him again. Jack squeezed off another burst in the general vicinity of the arm, and again managed to hit it. This time it was a little messier, with a lot of blood and screaming, but Tony dropped the gun. Jack stared at the mess that used to be Tony's arm and almost regretted that it had come to this... but the memories of Nicola Dare and the blood still running down the back of his head quickly erased any regrets.

Jack lifted the rifle to Tony's face again. "Any more fucking surprises?" Tony, weeping, shook his head. "Good," Jack said. "Pulling a second gun out... you got a lot of spirit, kid, it's a shame you had to waste it by selling crack." Jack started getting mad, really mad—his skull had mostly sealed up, front and back, and maybe his brain was growing capable of producing the more intense emotions again. "Why did you do it, you little bastard? You couldn't just fuck yourself up, you had to drag your own brothers and sisters down with you. Didn't your parents..." Jack thought about just pulling the trigger, right then and there, getting one scum off the street forever.

But then Jack calmed down, and thought of Nicola's bullet to the head, and remembered just how cruel a punishment forever could be. Jack took a couple of deep breaths, and calmed down, and... serotonin. "Shit," he mumbled, "my brain wasn't making serotonin... or one of those chemicals that calms my ass down. Tony Dynamo, you have no idea how that stupid gun stunt almost got you killed."

Tony wasn't paying attention. He was cradling his splattered arm, trying to stop the spurting arteries by applying pressure to the elbow. "Who... who the fuck are you?" he mumbled.

"I'm a dead man," Jack said, "and I'm here to keep you from making other dead people in this community." Jack slid back into the prearranged speech, letting it calm him. Since he could remember the speech now, the memory centers must have sewn themselves up... "I'm here to shut down your little ring, but more importantly to warn you on the straight and narrow. You keep that gold coin, because it's going to remind you that if you ever fuck up your neighbors again, I'll be back... and then it's your dead man's chest." Jack smiled; improvisation, that was good, most of the synapses were firing up again. He turned and prepared to leave the grisly scene. That was one gang that wouldn't be screwing up this town any more.

Except Tony had to go and say something stupid. "Who are you to fucking come here and shoot me? We're brothers too, man!" Tony was on the verge of hysteria, probably going into shock just as Jack was coming out of it. "Why'd you come and shoot up me and my boys, your own people! And I'm an Omega, too, you fuck, you fucking Uncle Tom, you..."

Jack whirled around, lifting the rifle; Nicola Dare was shooting him in the head again, and he knew whose 'brother' Tony D really was. "Your crimes cancelled out any obligations your skin held over me. And as for being an Omega..." Jack aimed the rifle and said, in a really fake Austrian accent, "run on these, asshole." Jack fired two bursts, each one obliterating a kneecap.

Tony howled in pain and Jack recoiled in horror. He dropped the rifle and stumbled through the tenement. I did that, he thought. I did that. I didn't have enough of... of the chemicals that make you sane. That was it. Jack stepped over some fallen bags of cocaine and wondered if there were any chemicals that made you sane.

Jack reeled out into the alley and ran from the sound of approaching sirens. He did that... Jack ran away, muttering "Run on these, asshole." It wasn't even that funny.

[Three o'clock in the morning.]

It took Jack almost an hour to dispose of his bloody clothes, his gloves, and anything else that could lead the cops back to him. Fortunately, he knew Homicide's procedures in and out, and he knew exactly how to confound them. The only clue he left behind was the doubloon; Hannibal had told him the coin came from a slave who bought his own freedom, so Jack thought it an appropriate signature and reminder. By three a.m. Jack had made it back to his current residence, a large house in Northwest overlooking the Potomac. Apparently, it was owned by a some friend of Hannibal's, possibly another immortal.

Jack tiptoed into the house like a guilty teenager hoping to sneak back from a late-night party without waking his parents. It seemed Jack had as little luck now as he did when he was a teenager; Hannibal was up and waiting for him. Jack saw him as soon as he passed the library, and froze like a kid who knew he was caught.

The older immortal was seated on a stiff wooden chair that dated to the Moors' occupation of Spain. Sipping gently at a cup of herbal tea, Hannibal almost looked like an old man—though not anywhere near as old as he actually was. "I trust your evening went well," he said quietly.

Jack slumped down into another chair. The back of his head smeared dried blood on the authentic Frank Lloyd Wright design. "It went terribly," Jack replied. "I mean, I shut down the gang, but..."

"Did you kill any of them?" Hannibal took another sip.

"No, I'm not that mad yet. Some of them might have killed each other, but hell, they were doing that anyway. I guess I was just a catalyst to speed up the process." Jack's head sank into his hands. "I hurt one of them real bad, though. I was—I was really bad. Shot a kid in the kneecaps. On purpose. While he was already down."

"Did you leave any clues that could lead to us?" Hannibal stayed perfectly calm, and took another sip.

Jack looked up at his mentor. "Jesus, you're a cold one. I shot up a bunch of kids and all you can say is, did I leave any clues?"

Hannibal leaned forward. "Jack, in a hundred years they would all have been dead anyway; probably more like ten years, given their unfortunate choice of lifestyle. But we will still be around, and we cannot compromise our secrecy for one rash act of vigilantism." He placed his teacup and saucer on a small endtable, then rose and paced around the library. "Am I 'a cold one'? I have to be, Jack, and you will have to become cold as well. Or else every death, every tragedy, will hurt you just as badly as this one. Most will hurt you far worse. And there will be more tragedies, Jack." Hannibal walked around behind Jack, looking at the books on the shelves. "Perhaps you should read my voluminous journals sometime. Jack, Jack, I'm not so sure if it was wise of you to invite tragedy by pursuing this gang," he said.

Jack quickly rose. "You talk about tragedy an awful lot for somebody who can't die. I'll tell you what tragedy is, it's letting the D Crew ruin more lives and kill more cops. That's something they won't be doing anymore, thanks to me. I didn't just hurt people tonight, I saved a lot more." Jack jabbed an accusatory finger at Hannibal. "What have you done to help... your people?"

"My people? Exactly who do you think 'my people' are?" Jack stammered a bit, but offered no answer. "Don't bother saying it," Hannibal said, "I know what you think. Though whether you want to be right or wrong, I doubt even you can say." Hannibal stepped closer to his protege. "To answer your question, I have tried to help 'my people.' And it didn't end too well, for me or for them. At least in the short run."

"What about the long run?"

"In the long run?" Hannibal said. "In the long run, they all died and I am still alive. I think you'll find that answer works well in a variety of situations. Now, it's quite late, and you'll probably want to get some sleep if you plan on going to Harvey Hauptmann's birthday party tomorrow—or today, I should say."

"I thought we didn't need sleep."

"We need dreams." Hannibal left the room and started walking upstairs to his bedchambers. "They are the only things that keep us sane... even if reality has a way of dashing them."

Jack sullenly climbed the stairs a few minutes later, feeling for the world like a kid who'd just gotten a severe scolding. That he, a grown man, should get that kind of treatment just made him more resentful and sullen, which made him feel more immature, which made him resentful...

Who the hell did Hannibal think he was? Just because Hannibal was a little older, he thought he could lecture him... who did he think he was? Jack stopped in mid-flight and realized he'd gotten his 'he's confused. Who did Hannibal think he was, or who did he think Jack was, or who did Jack think Jack was... he needed sleep badly.

The thing was, Jack really was like a child compared to Hannibal. And he did need the man's guidance if he was going to survive the pressures of immortality. In some ways, Hannibal was like a father... but a father to whom? Jack? Immortals? Omegas? African-Americans?

But putting Hannibal in that role scared Jack. What the hell kind of a father just abandons his children, lets them run astray like Tony D? Jack knew that what he'd done was wrong, yet it seemed more wrong to just let him keep running and dealing and killing. And... and dammit, Tony was like some kind of sick nineties Sambo, playing right into the stereotype of the black drug dealer.

Or was he only playing with the stereotype, using the slang and the clothes when they helped him most, dropping them when they didn't? When Jack first met with Tony, Tony wore a suit and spoke quite intelligently. Maybe Tony was a better example of how to play the game than Jack himself, Jack who was the perfect Dead Black Cop Sidekick, the guy who played second fiddle to the white superheroes in their stories and who could get shot up and killed as often as the needs of the audience's bloodthirst and the white hero's angst demanded it. And even when Jack gave all that up, he just became a sidekick to another black man, a man who couldn't care enough about his brothers and sisters to stop the scourge that was killing them. Maybe Tony was a better alternative... except he was also the scourge.

Jack realized he was still on the staircase; he'd been thinking so much he forgot to walk. It reminded him of some book he'd read back in college, right before he dropped out... he'd seen a copy in the house's library, author was Stern or somebody... dammit, he was thinking again. Jack wearly trudged up the rest of the stairs (damn rich man can't have normal sized floors like the rest of us), walked to his bedroom, and flopped down on the bed. He was asleep in an instant, and although he drifted off thinking of fathers and stereotypes and other weighty matters, he dreamt of Nicola Dare shooting him in the head.

[Two o'clock in the afternoon.]

Jack was awake and clean, feeling completely healthy and not at all like a man who had been shot dozens of times less than twelve hours earlier. He'd found a few lumpy red bullets staining his bed's white satin sheets; Jack's body expelled them so gradually while he was asleep that he hadn't even noticed. As for the bits of dried blood and brain, those came off in the shower. There were no wounds remaining—no visible ones, anyway.

Jack was wearing a suit now, not as expensive as the one "Mr. Lazarus" had been killed in, but pretty nice nonetheless. He'd decided he would probably go to Hauptmann's party, after all. Jack's fears about becoming a sidekick notwithstanding, Harvey was a good guy who'd saved Jack from a killer, and saved him from becoming a killer. Jack owed it to him to show up.

But apparently Hannibal didn't feel the same way. Jack lounged around the huge foyer for several minutes while Prufrock, the butler and only servant, went to get Hannibal. The house's owner must have been paying Prufrock a small fortune to keep confidential about his strange guests. Prufrock returned, carrying a small note on a silver tray. "Mister Hannibal declines to leave his chambers, Master Russell, but he has left this message."

Jack regarded the pale white butler and chuckled. "You're calling me 'master,' that's a good one."

"Actually, sir, my use of the term 'master' refers to a young man not yet at the point of maturity."

Jack glared at Prufrock. "Give me the damn note." He snatched it, and read it, a small message in Hannibal's distinctive hand:

[July 19, 1995.]

Jack -- I will be unable to attend Mr. Hauptmann's birthday party today. I fear that I have seen far too many birthdays pass by and run together to attach special significance to any one date anymore. Please purloin a bottle of amontillado from our host's cellar and convey it to Mr. Hauptmann with my apologies. I have thought a great deal about our discussion last night, and if you are still in search of a father, I recommend that you restore ties with your biological one. You have no idea who I am but plenty of time to learn; you know your father already, but have far less time to admit it. Better to spend time with your own folks than with the po' folks. --H. P.S. Do hold onto this note for later.

"That son of a bitch," Jack said, crumpling and dropping the note in disgust. "Harvey saves his life and this is the thanks he gets. And me--!" The racism of that last sentence turned Jack's stomach.

"Excuse me, sir?" Prufrock said, bending down to retrieve the crumpled note.

Jack realized he'd been thinking out loud. "Nothing. Uh, Prufrock, could you bring me the most expensive amontillado in the house? I mean that you could still drink." Jack had just decided he was definitely going to Harvey's.

"A fine choice, sir." Prufrock started towards the wine cellar.

"Thanks, Prufrock. And, uh, could you give back that note?"

[Six o'clock in the evening.]

Jack tried to slip into the Benson house in Laurel, Maryland inconspicuously, just in case the press was there to cover Harvey's birthday party. The world at large still thought Jack dead, and he didn't plan on disillusioning anyone. But staying inconspicuous proved difficult; Jack was going there in broad daylight, driving an expensive BMW (the least flashy car in the mansion's garage), in a part of Laurel where he seemed to be the only black person. He actually noticed a few pudgy, sunburnt suburban types giving him suspicious glares as he drove by them. They probably thought he stole the car. Jack hoped nobody called it in, because he had no way of proving that the owner—whoever that was—loaned this to him.

Jack's momentary fear was replaced by anger. Why the hell should he be afraid of the police, damn it? Didn't he have the right to drive an expensive European car? And he used to be a cop himself... before he started shooting kids in the kneecaps.

Jack pulled up to the Benson house, and sighed with relief when he saw the press was nowhere to be found. He guessed Tempest didn't feel like showing up for this holiday... probably a good thing, after those messes in Texas and New York. Jack was welcomed by Anne Benson, and he stepped into the house. Where he was, once again, the only black person in sight.

"Hannibal sends his regrets," Jack told Harvey, not quite able to rein in his bitterness, "but he also sends this. Happy birthday."

Jack handed over the bottle, and Harvey unwrapped it. When he saw the rare sherry, he exclaimed, "Jesus H. Christ!", much to the consternation of his more decorous relatives. "This must be worth a fortune... are you sure you want to fork this over, Jack?"

"Take it, Harvey. And drink it up, that's what it was made for. Not to be catalogued and stored like some fossil."

Since Anne and Harvey were being monopolized by their family, Jack gravitated towards the small crowd of non-relatives. He mostly hung around Richard Cage, the only person there besides Anne and Harvey who knew who and what Jack really was.

Jack suspected there was another reason they both got along so well: both had been brainwashed assassins at the disastrous Rolling Stones concert last December where Anne and Harvey had won their freedom. So both knew what it was like to be a gunman and a slave.

They ended up standing out on the backyard deck, sipping glasses of amontillado in the long summer twilight. There were other people out on the deck, but they somehow knew to avoid Jack and Rich. Or, Jack wondered, would the good Anglo-German stock of the Hauptmann and Benson families have avoided him anyway? Jack had another swig of amontillado. Why had race, specifically his race, been obsessing him so much lately? And why did Hannibal steadfastly refuse to make their race an issue at all?

"Are you feeling okay, Jack?" Rich asked. "You don't look so good."

"Yeah, well, last night I... I'm just having a bad day, that's all." Jack liked Rich, but he knew Rich could never understand what he was going through. The idealist in Jack said that was because Jack was going to be immortal and Rich wasn't; the cynic feared it was because of their racial differences. And the cynic had taken over Jack Russell long ago.

But the idealist wasn't quite ready to give up yet. Jack stayed on the deck for a while, a black thirty-something made very young by his harsh experiences, trying to build a bridge to a white twenty-something made very old by his ordeals. It was hard, but not as hard or as scary as trying to build a bridge to Hannibal, or to his own father.

Anne stopped by, and Rich quipped that he and Jack were forming a "sidekick support group." Jack laughed politely, but a sidekick wasn't what he wanted to be.

"The thing is, I get shafted even as a sidekick," he told Rich. "You get Anne, but I'm stuck with Hannibal. And you guys have Harvey, this wonderful connection to your past... I never felt that. Until I met Hannibal, and he won't give away that past. Hell, he tells you guys more stories than he tells me. I didn't even get to hear the Satchel Paige story firsthand."

"Maybe if you work on him, he'll open up to you," Rich said. But even he was starting to realize that there was something more to Hannibal's distant attitude towards Jack.

"Maybe you should find your own roots," Anne said. "Try a connection through your own grandparents, or parents. Could you talk to them? Do they live in this county?"

Jack looked around at the deck, the lawns, the station wagons, the houses, the relatives. "Only technically."

Anne's eyes widened as she realized she'd blundered onto a sore point. But Rich kept talking, and said, "So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and see them. Your mom and dad have got to be missing you."

Jack calmly answered, "He's dying. They're dying." Then, as if realizing it for the first time, he clapped Anne and Rich on their shoulders. "Just like all the rest of you."

[Ten o'clock in the evening.]

Jack drove his borrowed BMW past the giant War of 1812 cannon on his host's front lawn, and back into the garage. The party had gone fairly well, or as well as could be expected. Even the few harsh words with Rich had gone alright, because they ultimately forced him to admit that he did need to speak to his father soon. Jack just wished he hadn't been so Rich, who wasn't really responsible for any of his problems. No more than any other white person in America, anyway.

But Jack was going to take some anger out on Hannibal. Last week, when Jack was in the final stages of setting up his D Crew sting, Hannibal had casually told Jack that his father had terminal cancer, right in the middle of dinner. As if it were a minor bit of trivia or a mildly diverting anecdote. And then afterwards, he'd asked Prufrock to pass the butter, in exactly the same tone of voice. And ever since, he'd been carefully, deliberately pushing Jack away, even while telling Jack he had to push himself away from "mortals." As Jack got out of the car and stormed through the back hallway, he decided he was finally going to have it out with Hannibal.

It occurred to Jack that this would still be easier than having it out with his father, but he shoved that thought aside.

Jack emerged into the large foyer, calling, "Prufrock, find Hannibal and—holy shit!"

Prufrock was in no condition to hear the request, or the profanity. He was lying dead on the staircase, shot several times in the chest. Jack ran over to examine him, and found that strangely, there was no blood on the corpse. Instead, the fluid spilling out of him was sticky, white and viscous, with a familiar look and scent that was fascinating and repellent and all too familiar. But there would be time for investigation later; Jack had to find Hannibal.

There was something even more important that had to be done first, though. Jack dashed up to Hannibal's quarters. He sighed with relief when he saw that the safe that contained Astral was still there and still magically sealed. Jack supposed Hannibal would have approved of his checking the safe immediately, if only he were there to see it.

Jack shouted for his mentor, even tried the interhouse phone, but there was no response. He searched through Hannibal's quarters, then his own, then the study, but there was no sign of him—although Hannibal's quarters had been ransacked. Jack had to conclude that Hannibal had either fled the house, or been taken from it. Jack was completely and utterly alone.

[Eleven o'clock in the evening.]

Jack had searched the whole house twice over, and there was no clue as to what had happened. No forced entry or hasty exit, no sign of where Hannibal went, no clues except for the ransacked room and the dead butler who had semen instead of blood. There was nothing at all.

Nothing at all... that hit a chord with Jack. From his time in the police, he knew a conspicuous absence could be just as much of a clue as a presence. So what was missing? Hannibal, of course. The owner of the house, for that matter, but Jack filed that one away for later.... Not the safe or Astral, but somebody was looking for something. Yet none of Hannibal's belongings were missing, except the clothes he'd been wearing the night before.

Jack smacked himself on the head. That wasn't true. Hannibal's journals were nowhere to be found. Jack had only seen them once, in the move from the Georgetown brownstone to this place, but Hannibal had mentioned them many times. Unfortunately, Jack didn't even know where in the house Hannibal had kept them, so he couldn't tell if they'd been taken or not. Had Hannibal lost them, stashed them, destroyed them, taken them with him?

Jack slumped in a chair in the kitchen, wishing for another clue. And he found one, as soon as he sat down and felt the tiny lump in his pocket. The crumpled note. Hannibal had been explicit about saving it for later, and like a good servant or sidekick, Jack had complied. Now he was glad, as he read it again. And again, one part stood out.

"Better to spend time with your own folks than with the po' folks." That line still pissed Jack off. But looking at it a little more rationally, it was completely unlike Hannibal to write that. Jack couldn't see Hannibal using slang... hell, he could barely see Hannibal using contractions. The 'po' folks' bit just didn't make sense. Unless Jack took it in conjunction with Hannibal's recent interest in the library and literature... and with another part of the same note...

"Please purloin a bottle of amontillado from our host's cellar..." Jack had read "A Cask of Amontillado" as a young boy with an interest in mysteries. That made two conspicuous references to Edgar Allan Poe in the letter. Perhaps, underneath the condescension and the insults, there was a deliberate warning, a first clue. A clue based on some racist 19th century drug addict's writing, but Jack was just glad to have a clue. Or did he have an X marking the spot, indicating something was buried with the amontillado...?

A fruitless twenty-minute search through the dank wine cellar was enough to convince Jack that either the note was a red herring, or he was being too literal. Nothing was hidden down there except some really good alcohol, which Jack desperately wanted to partake in right now. But he held back. There had to be something he was overlooking.

Something he was overlooking... the irony was enough to make Jack laugh out loud. Yet another Poe reference, the "purloined" part. If Hannibal wanted to hide something in this monstrous mansion, all he had to do was leave it in plain sight. Jack bolted for the library.

It was an extensive collection, filled with the most acclaimed works in Western literature, from many nations and many times. Jack had read, or tried reading, a lot of them back in college, but he discarded them the same time he dropped academia as a whole. Now, Jack cracked his knuckles and thought, it's payback time. Though he wasn't sure if it would be payback for the books, or him.

Jack pulled volume after volume off the shelves, looking at and through and behind them for anything of Hannibal's. He found precious little, just tome after tome of Great Book, which all ended up in a heap on the floor. Jack was mildly interested to see that many of the books were first editions or autographed copies, like the edition of Tristram Shandy volumes III and IV he was now holding. He dropped it down with the rest of them; Jack honestly believed that few of these books had anything to say to him, let alone about him.

Jack considered looking for Poe, but the collection was almost entirely European. Then Jack found a poetry section with Baudelaire, and the name rang a bell—he'd translated and imitated Poe in France, right? Jack pulled examined the Baudelaire shelf very closely.

The shelf was an inch or so shallower than the others, and looked like it had been adjusted recently. Jack swept every book off the shelf, then located a penknife and pried it open. He took off the back of that shelf, and the backs of those above and below it, in one long pull.

And the books came tumbling out. The secret literature, hidden behind the old masters for Jack's eventual discovery. Not just books, either, but pamphlets, scraps of paper, illuminated manuscripts, even scrolls. If Jack had seen a large slab of stone with mammoths and hunters painted on it, he wouldn't have been too surprised. The treasure trove of Hannibal's journals spilled out around Jack's feet.

He could have spent forever just leafing through them, but time was of the essence. Jack needed to know what happened to Hannibal, and to learn that he'd need to learn the man's history, his enemies—he'd need to finally learn who this man really was. Jack actually found that prospect quite thrilling.

But there was something else in the contents of the secret bookshelf. A modern journal, with every page blank. Though there was no name or inscription on it, Jack knew what it was for. The same thing that happened to Hannibal could happen to him, and unless he took a certain precaution, that would end their story forever.

Jack had a lot of questions he wanted to answer. He wanted to know who the mysterious "Antigone" and "Tiresias" were, as they'd attacked Hannibal only a few months ago. He wanted to delve into "Hannibal" himself, to learn what that name really meant. And he would get to that tonight. But first he had an important duty.

Jack sat at a small writing-desk, picked up a pen, and opened the blank journal. Noting that the old Swiss clocks were all striking midnight, Jack dated the journal July 20, 1995, and then he began, "I don't know if I should be writing this down...."


Next issue: Jack goes way back, to learn the origin of Hannibal's feud with Antigone and Tiresias, and the truth about his name, in a tale set during the height of the Punic Wars.

Jack Russell has previously appeared in Legacy #6, 8-15, and 19-20. Hannibal has appeared in Legacy #12-14 and 19-21. All issues are available at this Omega Website, and are archived (in straight text form) at the Eyrie.

This issue's quote comes from Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo, one weird novel which I highly recommend. The "endless staircase" comes from Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, which I unfairly made the representative of canonical literature, when it's anything but. It's also one weird novel which I highly recommend. Oh, and the scene of an undead black man killing gangsters in a darkened tenement comes from a really bad vampire story I wrote back in 1992. Thank goodness some small part of it could be salvaged...

All characters written by, created by, and 1995 Marc Singer. A Legacy House production.

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