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The Book of Names
By Jill Gregory, Karen Tintori
St. Martins PressCopyright © 2007 Jill Gregory and Karen Tintori
All rights reserved.
NINETEEN YEARS EATER
Raoul LaDouceur hummed as he opened the trunk of his rented Jaguar. As he slid the rifle from beneath a plaid wool ski blanket, he became aware that his stomach was grumbling. Well, not for long. He'd spotted an open air taverna some ten miles back and had a sudden irresistible yen for a platter of braised lamb shanks and a glass of ouzo.
He checked his watch. There should be time. He'd already dispatched the two security guards and rolled their bodies down the hillside. He was ahead of schedule and still had five hours before he had to return the rental car and fly back to London to await his next assignment. Time enough even for two glasses of ouzo.
He walked purposefully through the olive grove, feeling vaguely uncomfortable. Despite his sunglasses, he was aware of the waning, still-hot Mediterranean sun. He preferred to do his work in darkness.
But as he'd learned to tolerate the sun on so many scorching digs during his younger years, so, too, he would tolerate it today. Ignoring the perspiration running from his armpits, he selected his position, the one that best afforded him a view of the entire rear of the house. Then he took a puff from his inhaler and settled in to wait.
The fragrance of these olive trees made his throat burn. It brought back memories of his grandfather's farm in Tunisia, where he'd labored as a grafter from the age of six. Slicing off branches and rooting them into new olive trees, he'd spent ten hours a day at monotonous work beneath an unforgiving sun, his throat dry and raw as pipe ash.
And what did he get when he was done — a crust of bread, a scrap of cheese? And more often than not, a beating with a switch made from one of the very branches he had cut.
His grandfather was the first man he'd killed. He'd beaten him to death on the day he'd turned fifteen.
Today, too, must be someone's birthday, he thought, his gaze flitting over the balloons tied in bunches to the lounge chairs, then to the table piled high with gaily wrapped gifts.
The party was about to begin.
Beverly Panagoupolos had been baking all afternoon. It wasn't that her brother's chef was incapable of making a birthday cake, it was just that for her grandchildren, she liked to do it herself.
Her littlest granddaughter, Alerissa, was nine today. In an hour the birthday girl and her big brothers, Estevao, Nilo, and Takis, would all be gathered around the pool deck with their parents, their cousins, aunts, and uncles. Alerissa was so timid she would be shy throughout the party, then would talk of nothing else for days to come.
Beverly licked the cinnamon frosting from her thumb and strode outside to check that the pink and silver balloons and bright array of gifts were arranged as she intended.
She paused for a moment, gazing with pleasure at the silvery blue water of the pool, where soon all the children would be splashing before dinner.
She didn't hear a thing until the gunshots cracked through the palm trees.
She didn't feel a thing until the bullets razored across her back.
She didn't see the silvery blue water turn crimson with her blood.
She died with cinnamon frosting at the corners of her lips.
The car snaked out from the secluded hilltop and roared down the road. Flipping the radio dial in search of a classical station, Raoul caught the tail end of a news broadcast. Terrorists had blown up the Melbourne Airport's international terminal and thousands were feared dead inside the collapsed building.
He smiled to himself. He was good. The best. The proof was written across the ever-increasing chaos in the world. Soon he'd be hailed as one of the principal heroes of the new order.
The thirty-six Hidden Ones were dwindling. Beverly Panagoupolos was the fourteenth to die by his hand. No one else had ever killed so many. Now, only three of the thirty-six remained. Once they were eliminated, Raoul thought with pride, God's foul world would be finished.
Already it was deteriorating. War, earthquake, famine, fire, disease — one by one, every type of natural and man-made catastrophe was proliferating across the globe like never before. It was merely a matter of days now.
When the final three were gone — the light of the Hidden Ones extinguished — the time of the Gnoseos would dawn and the world would be no more.
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Time was running out.
Nearly five thousand miles away, in his small office on Avenue Z, Rabbi Eliezer ben Moshe closed his rheumy eyes and prayed.
Throughout his eighty-nine years, those eyes had seen much tragedy and evil, simcha and goodness in the world. But of late, the evil seemed to be multiplying. He knew it wasn't a coincidence.
Desperate fear filled his heart. He'd spent his entire life in the study of Kabbalah, meditating upon God's mystical secrets, calling upon His many names. He'd murmured them, praying for protection — not for himself — for the world.
For the world was in peril, a peril greater than the Flood. The dark souls of an ancient cult had found the Book of Names. He was convinced of it.
And all of the Lamed Vovniks listed in the ancient parchment were being killed, one by one. How many were left? Only God and the Gnoseos knew.
Sighing, he turned to the talismans arrayed on his desk. Some he understood. Some he did not. He picked them up, one by one, and stuffed them back inside the cracked leather satchel sitting open on his desk. His fingers ached from arthritis as he pulled the ancient volumes of the Zohar and the Tanach away from the bookshelf and spun the dial of the safe hidden behind them. Only when the lock clicked and the satchel was again secured within the fireproof metal did he pick up his worn Book of Psalms and shuffle toward the door.
His long silver beard quivered as his lips moved in prayer.
Dear God, give us the strength and the knowledge to stop the evil ones.
Beneath his desk, the tiny microphone carried his prayer.
But not to God.CHAPTER 2
When David Shepherd walked into Houligan's Bar after teaching his morning classes, the only things on his mind were a pounding headache and the desperate need for nourishment. He'd been too wired to sleep last night after having hosted Tony Blair's two-day visit to the campus. Blair's address had brought the students to their feet and the afterglow at Dean Myer's had lasted until nearly one.
Blair's visit had been considered a coup on his part, but really it was only luck. David had met the British statesman seven months ago when he'd been invited to present a seminar at Oxford. Following the seminar he'd been feted at a dinner at Boisdale of Belgravia, and Blair, seated across from him, had complimented him on his latest book, Empowering the Nations: The Struggle for Peace in an Era of Nuclear Proliferation.
They'd exchanged e-mails, and to his surprise, the statesman had accepted his invitation to speak at Georgetown.
The visit had been a huge success but this morning had been pure hell. He'd floundered, sleepless, until four in the morning, snored through the alarm, and then rushed in late to deliver his 8 A.M. lecture. There hadn't even been time to gulp some Tylenol, much less grab a power drink from the fridge. He hadn't even shaved, he'd only taken time to jump in the shower and to slick back his thick dark hair.
"Dave, what gives?" He recognized Tom McIntyre's nasal voice above the din. Tom waved him over from two tables away.
"For Myer's golden boy, you sure look down in the mouth. Did your pal Tony have you contemplating the state of the world a little too deeply last night?"
The balding assistant professor with whom David shared an office in the poli-sci department signaled to the waitress across the room. Also single and in his mid-thirties, Tom was a brilliant sparring partner and one of the most popular professors on campus. Each semester Tom kept a running check on which of them filled up their classes first. David sensed more than friendly competition in the way Tom tried to needle him, but as the son of a U.S. senator, David had grown up surrounded by politics and was immune to it.
He usually shrugged off Tom's need to be top dog — except when the two of them took their annual rock-climbing trip out west. Tom was a good guy and a hell of a climber and excelled in the one area where David enjoyed competition — pitting himself against man and nature, testing himself against the cliffs.
With a groan, David folded his long muscular body into a hardbacked chair opposite Tom.
His office mate hoisted a beer. "One of these might cure what ails you."
"And a sledgehammer might knock this headache loose." David forced a smile. "You happen to have one of those handy?"
Tom's attention had already shifted away, his gaze fastened on the TV screen above the bar. "Chicken Little was right, my friend. The end is near."
"No argument from me." David ordered a hamburger, chili with onions, and a Heineken. He slouched back in his seat, rubbing his temples. His gaze automatically followed Tom's to CNN. Another terrorist attack in Melbourne. He grimaced. Disasters were erupting all over the world with the regularity of Old Faithful.
He'd been teaching political science for nearly ten years now, the last four here at Georgetown, but nothing in his career had been as challenging as this past semester. The words of Plato, Thoreau, Churchill, and other great political thinkers didn't come close to explaining the current turmoil storming through the world. Hurricanes, tsunamis, war, assassinations, terror — an amalgam of nature's caprice and man's violence against man. His students had more questions than he — or even Tony Blair — had answers.
By the time the waitress slid his beer in front of him, David was almost relieved to look away from the screen. Tom leaned forward and dropped his voice.
"Okay, my friend, this is your lucky day. Kate Wallace just parked her beautiful blond self two tables away. Get over there and invite her to the dean's Labor Day barbecue."
David resisted the urge to turn around. Kate Wallace was a thirty-one-year-old English professor who was writing a racy novel about Ferdinand and Isabella's court. And she was the first woman he'd seriously lusted after since Meredith filed for divorce. They'd had coffee in the staff lounge a couple of times, and so far he hadn't scared her off.
Hell, why not?
He quirked an eyebrow at Tom and wheeled out of his chair. Two minutes later he was scribbling down Kate's phone number and the directions to her town house.
When he got back to the table, Tom chuckled. "I'm impressed. It only took you a semester and a half to make your move."
"I hear timing is everything." David took a bite out of his hamburger and stared down at the scrap of paper.
He stopped chewing. What the hell?
Instead of "Kate Wallace," he'd written down something else.
Oh, no, not again, he thought. The headache, which had receded slightly as he'd eaten, now suddenly pounded with renewed vigor. Another random name. There were so many. Where did they come from?
"Hey, Dave, you all right? Seriously — all of a sudden you look like the walking dead."
David tensed. Tom had no idea how close it was to the truth. But he never talked about the fall that had almost killed him when he was a kid. He'd never even shared it with Meredith.
"It's just this damned headache." He forced down another bite of his burger but he was no longer thinking about his food, or Tom, or Kate. He was thinking about Beverly Panagoupolos.
And he didn't want to.
An hour later, David drove past Eastern Market, doing a little over the speed limit for Capitol Hill. By the time he swung into the alley to park his Mazda6 at the rear of his town house, David could barely wait to see if Beverly Panagoupolos' name was in his journal. He was about to turn off his ignition when the CBS hourly news update began.
We have breaking news out of Athens: Police have surrounded the residence of Greek Prime Minister Nicholas Agnastou after his sister, Beverly Panagoupolos, was discovered brutally murdered there just hours ago. ...
David's hand froze on the ignition key. Sweat beaded on his forehead, but he felt icy cold inside. Why is her name in my head today — on the day she died? This has never happened before. He yanked the scrap of paper from his pocket and stared at it, his mind racing. Or had it?
He ran up the front steps and jammed his key into the lock. He shot across the short hallway to his office as the door slammed shut behind him. His desk was in controlled chaos, strewn with the pieces of his life: partially graded papers, binders and books, a box of Sharpie fine-point pens, a framed photo of himself and Stacy on their last ski trip to Vail, and the milky gray-blue gemstone he kept perched in the hand of the red ceramic monkey that Judd Wanamaker, his father's best friend, had brought him from Thailand when he was eight.
Yanking open the center drawer of his rolltop desk, he fumbled under bank statements and bills until his fingers closed around the thick red notebook. Heart pounding, he scanned the pages where all the names were written.
One hundred forty-five pages, filled with names. Thousands and thousands of names.
And then he saw it. Right there in the middle of page forty-two.
He'd written it on October seventh, 1994. He always marked down the dates when the names found him. Beverly's had found him when he was twenty-two.
All those years ago, he'd written her name. And today he'd written it again. On the day she died.
He looked at the names. A United Nations of names. Encompassing, he was certain, every nationality on earth.
Throughout his teens, he'd thumbed through phone books in every city his family vacationed, trying to find the names he was writing.
He never had, and after a while he'd given up.
But today he knew for certain one of the names belonged to a murdered woman. A chill came over him as he wondered if there were more.
VILLA CASA DELLA FALCONARA, SICILY
Irina was in darkness. Cold. Afraid. Naked.
Holy Virgin, how long will they keep me here, waiting? For what?
The silk blindfold was soft against her eyelids, but she had no idea how long it had been on. Even when they brought her food and unbound her hands so she could eat and use the toilet, she was never permitted to remove the blindfold.
She wanted to go home, to sit by the front window and embroider her wedding pillowcases. She had five more to finish before she married Mario.
Would she marry Mario? Was he looking for her? Weeping for her? Would she ever see his face again?
Warm tears soaked the silk that bound her eyes. She shivered and sent up a silent prayer. The same one she said every day, over and over.
Where are you, God?
On moonlit nights in August, the Italian prime minister liked to sit in the garden of his hilltop villa and smoke the Cuban cigars his father had first let him smoke there on his eighth birthday. Casa della Falconara, which overlooked the age-old amphitheater at Segesta, had belonged to his family for over four generations. His parents had chosen its grand terrace with its spectacular views for their sunset wedding reception seventy years ago, but the garden was his own favorite sanctuary, where no one dared disturb him.
There, on hot August nights, he could close his eyes and savor the fragrance of the lemon groves wafting up from the valley while he listened to the ancient Greek and Latin plays reenacted in the amphitheater below.
Tonight the amphitheater was quiet and the garden deserted, but within the weathered walls of his villa, Eduardo DiStefano presided over a select group of guests, twenty men conversing in muted and dignified tones.
The prime minister's butler moved silently around the long table where they sat, refilling their goblets with thirty-five-year-old port. No one spoke of anything beyond the broiling weather, or the six-course meal they'd just enjoyed, until Silvio had slipped from the room and they heard the intricately carved mahogany door click closed behind him. Then Eduardo DiStefano stood, locked the door, and began to speak with the charm and elegance for which he was known.
Excerpted from The Book of Names by Jill Gregory, Karen Tintori. Copyright © 2007 Jill Gregory and Karen Tintori. Excerpted by permission of St. Martins Press.
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