Friday, September 21, 2007


Free Fiction Friday: "Secret Histories: Lord John Carmody, 1939"

Here's the second installment in my irregular weekly series of free fiction, kicked off last week with a stand-alone chapter from Cybermancy Incorporated. This week's selection is another from the same work, this time focusing on a pair of members of the Carmody branch of the extended Bonaventure-Carmody family.

(To my embarrassment I discovered last week that I'd inadvertently stolen the name of this feature from the good folks at Futurismic, who have been doing a whole Friday Free Fiction thing of their own. Go check out their splendid blog, won't you? And try to find forgiveness for this subliminal thief in your hearts...)

For more about the Carmodys, and about Lord Arthur in particular, stay tuned for the forthcoming End of the Century. For more about floating islands of doom, check out "Secret Histories: Professor Peter R. Bonaventure, 1885" (and maybe sneak a peak at the devil-bat sections of Set the Seas on Fire...).

Secret Histories:
Lord John Carmody, 1939
by Chris Roberson

New Year’s Day, and the public room at the New York chapter of the Hythloday Club was all but deserted. Membership had fallen off in the preceding decades, until there were very nearly more men on the waitstaff and cleaning crew than there were on the rolls of the club itself. With rising wages and expenses threatening soon to reach, and then surpass, the meager dues raised each year, there was a good chance the doors would close forever on the Club within a few months’ time. Which would mean that the man seated in the far corner would need to find another locale for his annual meeting with his brother. Half-brother, to be precise, but neither man liked to split hairs.

Dressed immaculately in a style a few years past fashionable, with dark hair worn long and brushing his high collar, the man in the far corner seemed more reflective than celebratory. The few staff members in attendance were hardly surprised. The Hythloday Club had never been what one might call boisterous, and Lord John was certainly among its more sober members. Still, a shadow seemed to lay across his brow, and the ancient scar along his right cheek stood out like a scarlet welt, as it did only in his darkest moods. He seemed troubled, but it wasn’t the place of the staff members to approach him. They held back, waiting to come when called, and worried where they themselves would be in another year’s time.

Lord John sat alone in his far corner, the only member of the Club in attendance. To the natives of his adopted home in the south African veldt, he was known as Nkosi, the Pride of Lions; to the Arab traders that crisscrossed the burning sands of the Sahara, he was known as Al Abbas; to the other members of the Club, and to a dwindling few peers back in fog-wrapped England, he was known as Lord John, the 11th Baron Carmody. But to his brother, he was known simply as…


Lord John, roused from his dark thoughts, half rose from his chair, but his brother was on him before he had reached his feet, encircling him in strong arms and almost crushing the breath from his lungs.

“Hello, Rex,” he managed, returning the embrace.

Had it been any other two men, the staff members might have thought they were watching wrestlers grappling with one another, whipcord muscles standing out like steel bands beneath bunched cloth, both with grips sufficient to snap trees in half. But they had grown used to the sight over the previous years, and turned to their duties without remark.

The newcomer finally released his hold on Lord John, and gracefully slid into the chair opposite him.

“What are you drinking?” the newcomer asked.

“Brandy,” Lord John answered.

The newcomer signaled for a waiter, and ordered another round for the pair of them. The waiter hurried over with the tray, his eyes wide, and after setting the drinks on the table lingered on, his mouth half open.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, ‘King’,” the waiter sputtered. “That is, Dr. Carmody. I read about you in the papers every week. I mean, the way you handled that fink the Scarlet Spectre …” The waiter mimed a few punches, shadow boxing. “That was really something, and I mean it.”

“Well,” the newcomer answered, smiling slightly, “you can’t believe everything you read.”

The Club’s major-domo, who’d been on the staff longer than anyone could remember, rushed over to the table, taking the waiter by the arm.

“I apologize, gentlemen,” he began, his tone obsequious. “Reggie here is new, and I’m afraid he hasn’t quite learned all of our rules just yet.”

The waiter looked from his boss, to the two men at the table, and back again, his face falling.

“Gee, Dr. Carmody,” he said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it….”

“No problem,” the newcomer answered. “No harm done.”

“Thank you, sir, thank you,” the waiter replied, nodding nonstop and carrying the tray back to the bar. The major-domo followed, his expression set.

When they were out of earshot, the newcomer turned to Lord John and smiled broadly.

“I never thought I’d see the day,” he said. “What do they think I am? Some kind of matinee idol?”

Lord John shook his head, chuckling softly, and regarded his brother. Though they’d had different mothers, John thought he could see something of their father in his brother’s slate gray eyes. Rex “King” Carmody, boxer, inventor and, if their waiter was to be believed, darling of the masses. Over a decade John’s junior, Rex had been trained to the peak of physical and mental perfection by their father, and for the last ten years had been making use of that legacy to wage a one man war on crime and injustice, both at home in New York City and abroad. Lord John couldn’t help but feel jealous over Rex’s relationship with their father, though he knew he could hardly blame either of them. After all, John had been thought dead and buried back in Africa for almost ten years by the time Rex had been born, dead and buried along with his mother.

“Who can blame them,” Lord John answered. “With those devilish good looks of yours?”

“Watch it, Jungle Boy,” Rex replied, his fists held comically before him, “these are the hands that took down the Scarlet Spectre, remember?”

Lord John laughed, and took a long draw of his brandy.

“I’ll try not to forget,” he said. “Speaking of which, I have to add my compliments to those of our outspoken Reggie. I followed the news of that encounter as best I could in Europe, and was most impressed. Nice work.”

“Aw,” Rex answered, shrugging, “he wasn’t that much trouble. Just had to have my men block the play of those Dark Overlords of his, and when it came down to just the two of us, it was a cakewalk.”

“Ah, yes,” Lord John said, “your men. ‘The Four Aces.’ Isn’t that what the papers are calling them now? Is Wainwright still with you?”

“Sure is. And I don’t know who hates that Aces name more, me or the boys. Thanks for sending Wainwright to me, by the way. I know I’ve said it before, but he’s been worth his weight in gold these last few years.”

“I knew he would be,” Lord John replied. “When his battalion accompanied me into the Lost City of Ôr, all those years ago, Wainwright was the only one on whom I found I could rely. When he was ‘retired,’ shall we say, by his superiors, I knew he could do much worse than to join your associates.”

“He doesn’t get bored, if that’s what you mean. Just a few weeks back we were down in Mexico City, mixing it up with some Nazis trying to bring on the end of the world or some damned thing, and all of the guys got their fair share of excitement.”

“Nazis,” Lord John spat, his face dark. “They seem to cover the planet like a pestilence, these last few years. The Baroness von Eiszeit, damn her eyes, just last month tried to lure me into another one of her plots, this time to use some Viking hoodoo to turn Africa into a frozen wasteland, with her as Snow Queen and me her simpering page boy.”

“I’m guessing you didn’t take her up on the offer.”

“Hardly.” Lord John took another long pull of his brandy. “What is it with these women? They all either want to eviscerate you, or lure you to their conjugal bed, or both.”

“Who knows?” Rex answered. “Maybe they just have a thing for guys raised by cats.”

“There’s that stellar wit I’ve grown to love this last decade,” Lord John answered, with hardly a trace of humor.

The two brothers had both been grown when first they met, some ten years before. Their relationship had begun as a tenuous one, at best, the bonds that drew and kept them together not really forming until after the death of their father, Arthur Carmody. The senior Carmody had been a member of the Hythloday Club while still living in England, and though he had let his dues lapse after the tragic events of his expedition to Africa, with the loss of his young wife and the apparent death of their infant son, the Club had recognized the legacy rights of his grown sons, and with little reluctance admitted them as members. That each of them was, in his own way, an explorer of the highest rank in his own right, could not but help their case.

In the years since, the two brothers met once a year at the Club, either the branch in New York City or the founding chapter back in London, to share a quiet drink or two, and remember their father.

“I had a brief run-in with an old friend of yours this past year,” Lord John continued, after signaling for another pair of brandies. “The tall fellow with the eye patch and the pronounced limp, always on about the evils of modern society and the treacheries of men… What was his name?”

“Dr. Fox?” Rex asked.

“That’s the one.”

“Aw, ain’t he a peach?” Rex leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his broad chest. “I had a scuffle with him myself since we met last. He’d managed to find that island of his again, and was threatening to bomb the Eastern Seaboard back into the stone age if he wasn’t named Emperor of America.”

“Oh, yes,” Lord John answered, smiling slightly, “I’d almost forgotten the island. What does he call it again?”

Rex grimaced.

The Floating Island of Doom,” he replied, chagrined.

“Where do they come up with these names?”

“Beats me,” Rex answered. “It’s like they all go to the same tailor, and all play using the same goofy rule book.”

“And they all want to take over the world, in one way or another, of course.” Lord John paused for a moment, rubbing his chin. “But they never seem to have a very solid idea of what they’ll do once they actually do take over the world, do they? Just your standard, ‘Nations will bow before me’ rigamarole.”

Rex seemed lost in thought, the bottom of his brandy snifter occupying his attention.

“I don’t know,” he finally answered, distracted, “sometimes I don’t blame them.”


Rex looked up, not seeming for a brief instant to realize that he had spoken.

“I mean, taking over the world,” he continued. “I don’t know that I blame them. Come on, Jack, look around. We traipse all over the world, stop the Jaguar Men from taking over this banana republic, stop the Steel Dragon from using his death ray, and at the end of the day, what have we really accomplished?

“You said it yourself. These Nazis are every damned place, and me keeping them from unleashing some ancient Aztec demon or you keeping them from turning Africa into an ice skating rink doesn’t do a damn bit of good for those poor bastards in Europe. The Germans just walked into Austria, and barely got a slap on the wrist. Hitler has promised they’ll keep to themselves, but I wouldn’t trust that mook to hold my wallet, much less march his troops up and down in my backyard. Any day now they’ll go rolling into Czechoslovakia, or Poland, or God knows where else, and then we won’t have to worry about closing the barn door after the horse takes off, because the blasted barn’ll be burned to the ground.”

Lord John regarded his brother in silence, his elbows resting on the table, his fingers steepled in front of his face.

“And your solution is to beat them to it by letting Dr. Fox take over the world?” he asked, bemused but with a darker undercurrent.

“No, Jack, of course not,” Rex thundered. “But why not somebody better, somebody like you or me? I don’t have any great desire to run the show, but I know I’d do a damned sight better job at it than the jokers we’ve got minding the store now.”

“I’m sure you would,” Lord John allowed, “but then what? Suppose you did use the technology and resources at your disposal to topple all existing governments, and set your self up as ruler supreme. Then suppose that you made some decision with which I didn’t agree…. Not me as some abstract, anonymous individual, but me. Your brother.”

“Half brother,” Rex corrected, but seemed to regret it immediately.

Lord John nodded, his brow furrowed and the scar along his cheek standing out bright against his tanned skin.

“Very well,” Lord John replied. “But tell me, what would you do? The problem with being an absolute dictator is that your dictatorship must be absolute. You couldn’t brook any dissent. You’d need to be prepared either to defend your rule against my challenge, acquiesce to my every demand, or have me imprisoned. Or you’d have to kill me.”

Lord John left off talking, and the two men sat staring at each other for long moments. Each supposed, despite himself, that his brother might be wondering which of them would prevail, if it came to a fight between them.

It was Rex who finally broke the tension, breaking into a smile and relaxing in his chair, slamming his broad palms down onto the table top.

“Dammit, Jack,” he laughed, “leave it to you to take all the fun out of ruling the world.”

Lord John returned his brother’s smile, and sipped his brandy.

“Sorry, old boy,” he answered. “Habits of a lifetime.” He paused for a moment, reflective. “Still, I can’t say that I blame you, these occasional thoughts of yours. Back in Africa, I’ve had to watch over the years as the local tribesmen ally themselves to a never-ending stream of blood thirsty cutthroats and madmen, each seemingly worse than the one before. When the people of the tribe come to me, naturally, as they have on occasion, and ask for my aid in ridding them of these cancerous villains, I give it gladly. But I find myself tempted time and again to take the advantage to set myself up as their leader. They’d follow me, I think, if it came to it. And with the resources at my disposal, and my long years of experience, I think I could be to them a better leader than any they could find elsewhere. A better father, I suppose.” He fingered the edge of his glass, smiling slightly. “I have to remind myself, though, that they are not children, and a father is not what they need.”

Rex nodded, his eyes lowered.

“I have to admit,” he finally said, in a low voice, “that there are times when a father is what I need.”

Lord John reached over, and laid a strong hand on his brother’s forearm.

“I miss him, too,” he answered. He’d known their father such a short time, but had learned in that brief span what he had missed throughout his childhood.

Lord John picked up his brandy glass from the table, and lifted it overhead.

“To Lord Arthur, the 10th Baron Carmody,” he said in a loud voice.

Rex raised his head, straightening, and lifted his glass in response.

“To one hell of a dad,” he added.

The two glasses clinked together, and then the brothers drained them each in one long draught.

“Barkeep,” Rex shouted across the room, slamming his empty glass down onto the table. “Another round.”

Lord John shook his head, chuckling slightly. He wondered sometimes which of the two of them had been raised by wild animals in the jungle, and which was a product of polite society.

“Enough war stories,” Lord John said, his tone lightening. “Tell me about your family. How is young Jacob doing?”

“Jake?” Rex answered, smiling broadly. “He’s as strong as an ox, Jack, you’ve got to believe me, and smart as a whip. Why, just the other day…”

The waiter brought over fresh drinks for the pair, and sighed softly. It was going to be a long night.

Copyright © 2007 Monkeybrain, Inc.


Thanks for posting this! I actually have the book in which this appears... it'd be nice to see it reprinted. Maybe as you build your publishing momentum, one of your publishing will pick it up. (Love the Wold Newton influence, of course)

Cool, thanks.

Hey Chris, have you heard of Mr. Linky's Friday Snippets? I've got it up and running on my website. It's not a webring or anything like that.

Thanks for posting the snippet, cool
well, thanks to you Chris, i now have a copy, so I'm going to get to read it straight thru...looking forward to it...

great job on the Whedon's panel at Fencon...I also enjoyed the panel on publishing...

Hope you enjoyed Fencon well enough to come back in the seems like they're putting together a nice little con up there..
Thanks, Stu and Blue! Glad you liked it. And I'm sure that Cybermancy will be back in print eventually, in one form or another.
Jim, thanks for the tip. I'm off to check out your site!
Thanks, Howard. It was a pleasure to put a face to the name. And I had a great time at Fencon, and most definitely will be back if they ask me. Hope the book doesn't disappoint!
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