Chapter 4, 46: Dawn’s Rosy Fingers
“So that’s settled, then,” Rose said. She lurched, whole-bodied. “That was me trying to get to Rome. Funny. It’s not working. It’s almost like we have no idea how to travel between dimensions from Babylon to Rome.”
Charlotte looked around the cool, slightly crummy community-centre-meeting-on-a-budget room where Library Security had left them after leading Kelvar the Mandaarian off to wherever suspected extra-dimensional book thieves went. “We do need a ride,” Charlotte conceded. She looked around. Mrs. Crudup’s time-and-dimension spanning pink Cadillac was supposed to show up at this point. Unfortunately, there was still no sign of it. Her horse, at least?
“Holy crap! I had no idea they came so big!” Dora sounded excited. Like the others, she was ignoring the cheap, black institutional chairs to stand in a half-circle around a bookstand showing an open, touristy map of the Forum Boarium on the left bank of the river Tiber in Rome, just north of the Vatican. Like the rest of them, she was not paying very much attention to it.
Actually, from the sound of her, she wasn’t paying any attention to it. Another of the oversized pages of the ancient volume turned. Her fingers even sounded eager as they rasped the paper. “I don’t even. . .” Charlotte suppressed a temptation to take a peek at the illustrations.
“Ahem,” Twelve said. Charlotte gave him an elbow, hard. And regretted it, because he was built like a brick –you know.
Charlotte turned to her friend. “If you’re not going to help, I’m going to take your book away.”
The whole top half of Dora had somehow settled into Twelve, putting the open pages of the book in his face. “This big?”
Twelve blushed. But he also didn’t stop leaning into Dora.
“I think that’s a blush for ‘yes,’” Brian said.
Dora scolded with one free finger from the hand that was holding the rightmost corner of the book open, “You’re not supposed to notice these things, Brian.”
Now it was Brian’s turn to blush.
“Guys?” Charlotte asked.
“If we could just use your horse to calibrate the gate in the Smythe stable . . .” Rose began.
“Since when are you are a sorcerer, Rose?” Dora asked.
“It can’t be that different from science, Dora.”
“Yes,” Brian said, “It can. Magic is esoteric knowledge. If it was like science or math, it wouldn’t be magic.”
“Let’s not make this any harder than it has to be,” came a growling interruption.
Charlotte wasn’t the only person too astonished at the way that Bruce that suddenly sounded like Christian Bale doing Batman without the slightest hint of imitation.
“Eldritch wouldn’t have left us without a ride, and there’s only one person here who can pick up what Eldritch is putting down. Brian?”
Brian blushed again, held up a scrap of paper. “He gave me a magic formula.”
“On a page?” Dora snorted. “What century is this?”
“Twentieth, apparently,” Charlotte said, taking the page from Brian’s unresisting hand. “It’s a phone number. A Babylon phone number? ‘For a good time, call. . .” Some distant part of Charlotte was aware that it should be feeling jealous. Other distant parts were feeling other emotions, and wanted to cry. But not about jealousy. About . . . something else? Charlotte took a moment to wish that her Cousin May was here, so that she could talk it out. Just a short moment, though, because the world was at stake here, and it was probably at stake wherever May was, too, from the sounds of things.
“He said it was the magic formula that unlocked my heart’s desire!” Brian protested. Weakly.
“A phone number?” Rose echoed.
“Hey, Liberty Belle gets her powers by reciting magic algebra, Rose.”
“Liberty Belle?” Charlotte was lost.
Rose looked abstracted for a second. “Jesse Chambers. Sometimes Jesse Quick. Daughter of Johnny Quick and the original Liberty Belle. Currently has super-strength and super-speed when she recites the magic formula ‘3X2(9YZ)4A’.” Rose took a long breath. Charlotte could feel it. That was a lot of formula, especially if you had to say ‘parenthesis’ out loud.
Even so. “A comic-book character.” Charlotte led that hang, because while she believed in her team, this might be a moment to push them a bit.
“A comic book character,” Brian confirmed. “Now, gather round. I’ve got a blind teleport spell, home on image, and pictures of the Temple of Portunus on my phone. Spell’s not nearly powerful enough to punch through to our Earth, but let’s see what happens when I cast it while dialling this number.”
“Wait a minute,” Bruce growled. “I need to text Mill first, let him know that the East Side is after him.”
“Don’t you think he already knows that?” Dora sounded exasperated.
“Not like they are right now,” Bruce said.
“You detecting again?” Charlotte asked.
Bruce turned and looked at her, and Charlotte looked back, and Bruce’s eyes had never been more blue, more deep, more sad and more . . . mysterious. It took her a long moment to break their spell, and she shivered her whole body when she did. “I guess you are.” Because now was not the time to step up and put her arms around his head and drag it down to her chest and tell him that it was going to be okay.
“Now,” Brian said, and while the meeting room had been in a pretty loud part of the Library, it was nothing like this. Their ears were full of traffic, their eyes with the brightness, the wash of colours that Charlotte remembered from the evening of their family trip to Disneyland, when they’d finally got tired of the rides and were headed to find something to eat.
Those had been the days, when Mom was alive. And there Dad had been, completely unexpected, with great big scoops of Neapolitan ice cream in crunchy bowls that you could eat, almost like ice cream cones but better. Even Mom had managed not to say anything mean to him. And Charlotte had realised, once again, that it was only the police tails that kept their Dad away from them.
Only that wasn’t really true, was it?
Anyway, there were no animatronic mascots and a lot less plastic in Rome this evening, and from the considered maturity of her fifteen-and-a-half years, Charlotte was ready to concede that standing here, I a grassy park next to a genuine ancient ruined temple in the middle of a busy evening city, Rome looked better than Disneyland in some ways. In other ways. . .
“I want die and come back as a girl who dresses like that,” Charlotte announced, looking at the Italian hottie standing on the sidewalk at the edge of the park, her minidress draping perfect legs that led down to strapped sandals. Since the Italian civilian was staring back at the six superheroes in black-and-white, Charlotte let her gaze fall, so as not to stare. Unfortunately, that left her with far-too-long legs in view. She threw them an angry glare, silently accusing them of liking kung fu and horseback riding a lot more than fashion.
“Is that the Temple of Aurora?” Brian asked.
“Mater Matuta,” Rose corrected him. “And no.”
“It’s the Temple of Portunnus,” Bruce answered. “And that’s the Temple of Hercules the Victor over there. The Temple of Mater Matuta was on the north side of the old Forum, but it’s gone.”
“Char-Char!” Dora attention-whored. “Did you know that the Temple of Portunnus inspired an Eighteenth Century Temple of Harmony, in England? You know, like your sword?”
“Give me that!” Charlotte said. Then, “Wikipedia?”
“Guys? Just because the Temple of Mater Matuta has no above ground remains. . .” Rose began.
“Awesome! Catacomb adventure. Like Angels & Demons!” Charlotte just looked at Brian. People kept trying to ‘explain’ why Charlotte liked John Carter by pointing out that Brian liked Angels & Demons. It was not the same thing. Not. At. All.
“Are there any catacombs around the Forum?” Anyway.
“There’s a manhole cover in the church over there,” Dora answered Charlotte’s question, pointing east.
“It’s on the wall, though,” Rose said. “This neighbourhood’s right up against the river. Any underground levels would be flooded.
“So what’s under all of these buildings?” Twelve asked, waving at the ancient-looking buildings around the forum.
“Foundations, at a guess,” Bruce answered. “More importantly, where is the Tattered Man?”
A police van pulled up, and, behind it, a nondescript, Volkswagen-nosed, white van. Several officers in body armour got out and began talking to bystanders in urgent Italian, while a detective in plainclothes, incredibly handsome in the best suit that Charlotte had literally ever seen, came over. Not counting Uncle Henry, who was too uncly to count.
“Redeeming Daughter?” The detective said, like it was a question.
“Here,” Charlotte said, nodding her head.
“Pleased to meet you. I am Lieutenant Piccolimini. UNTIL has asked me to give you any support you need.”
“I. umh,” Charlotte began.
“As I understand that you are here to stake out a supervillain target, I have arranged an appropriate vehicle, which will be a little less conspicuous.”
Which was how Charlotte came to be sitting behind the tinted windows of a Carabinieri ghost car (van), watching the first hint of morning light brighten the eastern horizon while nibbling an amazing Italian, chocolatey, nutty pastry and sipping equally amazing coffee. Not quite as amazing as the takeout meal the Carabinieri had brought them last night, but amazing.
Taking a sip, she let it roll around. This was her sixth cup. Her heart was beating funny, and for once it wasn’t about boys. “If we don’t get action at dawn, we’re going to have to call this off, guys.”
A line of pink and yellow flamed alight on the horizon, and a crow called from the roof of the van, hard claws skittering on the roof. Ginger was here. Which was kind of a hint that this wasn’t a wild goose chase, Charlotte thought, a moment before Brian announced, excited, “Got it!”
“Got what?” Bruce asked.
“Hunh?” Dora said, stretching her arms and yawning. It had been her and Twelve’s turn to sleep.
Brian gestured north across the street. “One heck of a magic screen just went down right over there. Looks like someone tried to get through a ward and got stopped cold.”
“Casa di Cola di Rienza,” Bruce said. “Figures. It’s the oldest surviving house in Rome.”
“It’s not actually the Casa di Rienza,” Rose began.
“Oh, hush, girl. I read the same websites you did. Point is, all the tourists who’ve come to stare at it for the last four hundred years thought it was the Casa di Rienza, and it’s because of all the tourists taking rubbings and whatever that the actual owners haven’t let anyone in to look at since practically before they invented drawing.”
Then he turned to Charlotte. “So I guess it’s not the Temple of Harmony, after all.”
“Of course it’s not the Temple of Harmony,” Dora said. “I mean, look at her taste in music.”
“If someone still wants to complain that I wouldn’t let her play her Björk mix tape all night, she can do it after we kick the Tattered Man’s ass. Now come on!”