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HereticThe Templar Chronicles
By Joseph Nassise
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Niall O'Connor watched those around him intently. It was early evening, and the Vienna streets were still crowded, which meant spotting a tail could be difficult. He was a veteran of this kind of operation, however, and took his time, carefully examining all that he could see. When he was certain he had not been followed from the museum, he stepped into the phone booth on the corner and shut the Plexiglas door behind him. Ignoring the mounted public telephone, he removed a satellite phone from his pocket and dialed an overseas number from memory.
The phone rang several times before it was picked up. O'Connor could sense someone's presence at the other end, could hear the sound of breathing, but nothing was said, not even hello.
Into that silence, O'Connor said, "It's done."
"And?" The voice was deep and liquid, like water running over gravel.
"The Hofberg object is a fake."
Another long moment of silence. Then, "And the other?"
O'Connor thought back to the long hours he'd spent in the Vatican Basilica the previous day; the endless lines, the quiet hope of the faithful, the majestic beauty of the cathedral itself. He'd walked beneath Michelangelo's Dome and examined the pilasters, the four square columns that supported it, paying particular attention to the great statues of the saints -- Andrew, Helena, Veronica, and Longinus -- that rested in niches within them.
There was power in the cathedral, great power. He'd sensed its ebb and flow as it reacted to the faith of those inside; in some fashion almost every object within the building had glowed with traces of it. Even the statue of St. Peter, its right foot worn smooth after generations of caresses by the faithful, had glistened with the faintest of auras though it wasn't known to be anything more than an ordinary sculpture.
The greatest concentration of power had clearly been beneath the Dome. Three of the four statues that he'd examined had blazed with it, a result of the True Relics each of them contained, relics that were easily discernible to a man of his particular talents.
But the statue of Saint Longinus, the one supposedly containing the remnant of the Holy Lance, had not. It was barren, bereft of the spark of Divinity that so encased the other statutes and their contents.
"That's a fake, too," he said.
"Yes. I'd stake my reputation on it."
"Very well. Return to us, and we will begin the next phase of the operation."
"As you wish."
O'Connor closed his satellite phone, put it back in his pocket, and stepped out of the phone booth. Night had come, the Vienna air grown cold and still. He pulled the collar of his greatcoat closer about his neck, glancing around again as he did so. When he was satisfied that he was still alone, he walked to the end of the street, gazing in contempt at the closed iron gates of the Hofberg palace as he passed. Reaching the intersection, he paused for a moment to light a cigarette, waiting for the traffic signal to change. When it had, he stepped out into the street, confident in the performance of his mission and already dreaming of the ways in which he would spend his exorbitant fee.
The smile of expectation still on his face, he didn't see the city bus surge through the intersection against the light, didn't see the wide front grill bearing down on him until it was far too late.
O'Connor's body bounced off the unyielding surface of the speeding vehicle, flipped high into the air, and came crashing back down several yards away. From where he lay broken and twisted in the gutter, his sightless eyes stared through the windshield of the vehicle and at the empty driver's seat just beyond.
Across the Atlantic, in a darkened room, a grey hand reached out in the half-light and finally replaced the phone, severing the connection.
Copyright 2005 by Joseph Nassise
Excerpted from Heretic by Joseph Nassise Copyright © 2005 by Joseph Nassise.
Excerpted by permission.
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