Secret of the Templarsby Paul Christopher
The adventures of retired Army Ranger John “Doc” Holliday and his quest to uncover the secrets of the Templars continue to thrill in the new novel from New York Times bestselling author Paul Christopher....
After his niece and her fiancé are brutally murdered, Holliday vows to avenge their deaths and finish their work by finding a/b>/i>
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The adventures of retired Army Ranger John “Doc” Holliday and his quest to uncover the secrets of the Templars continue to thrill in the new novel from New York Times bestselling author Paul Christopher....
After his niece and her fiancé are brutally murdered, Holliday vows to avenge their deaths and finish their work by finding a long-lost Dead Sea Scroll. But in doing so, he stumbles upon a conspiracy linking the Catholic Church to an illicit art forgery operation involving the Nazis.
Hunted by those determined to hide the truth, Holliday and Interpol agent Peter Lazarus embark on a desperate race from the vaults of the Vatican to the deserts of Pakistan to unravel a mystery born in the final days of the Third Reich, and to recover the scroll—the contents of which could destroy the very foundations of the Christian faith.
Read an Excerpt
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a man who taught history at West Point Military Academy and he loved his job and he loved his wife, Amy, even more. He had a favorite uncle, who’d taught him almost everything worthwhile he knew, and a cousin named Peggy, who was funny and full of laughter and, when you got right down to it, was probably his best friend.
But that was once upon a time and that fairy-tale life was over. Amy died a torturous death as cancer ate her alive; his uncle was dead along with the job he loved at West Point. And now, so was Peggy. He was wanted for murder in the country he’d fought for so many times and he had a legion of enemies trying to track him down for the things he knew and the power he had. Power that he didn’t want, power that he’d never asked for, power that he wished desperately he had never known existed.
He stood on the high cliffs of the Dorset coast feeling the cold, slanting rain from the English Channel slashing into him, chilling him to the bone. On a clear day, you could make out the coast of France from the muddy pathway, but it hadn’t been clear for weeks now.
Lieutenant Colonel John “Doc” Holliday, U.S. Army Rangers (retired), turned away from the cliffs and followed the path back up to the old thatched cottage that he and Eddie Cabrera had rented for the winter, paying six months in advance and in cash. He and Eddie were living completely off the grid now—no credit cards, no cell phones, no wireless devices of any kind. The only communication they had with the outside world was a big Grundig Satellit 900 portable radio with short wave, long wave and police bands.
Holliday turned up the walk and stepped through the little gate and into the overgrown garden in front of the cottage. The old woman who owned the place was willing to have the dead plants and dry grasses cleared away, but Holliday had declined the offer. The tall grass and the windswept undergrowth gave the place a deserted look, which was just what he wanted. The cottage was located on a low hill and there wasn’t a neighbor for a mile in any direction. The closest village was Pelham Buckthorpe, a three-mile walk inland, or twenty minutes away on the bicycle that served as their only means of transportation. The nearest constabulary was in Swanage, twenty miles up the coast. “Isolation” was a word he and Eddie were taking quite seriously these days.
Holliday tapped his boots on the fieldstone step and gave a triple tap twice on the worn plank door, announcing his arrival. He pressed down the latch and stepped into the cottage.
Eddie was sitting in one of the old overstuffed armchairs in the living room with an old Purdey Nitro Express elephant gun resting across his legs. The radio stood on the Victorian end table beside him, chattering quietly.
“Anything?” Holliday asked.
“Very quiet, mi amigo,” replied his Cuban friend. From the kitchen Holliday could smell the rich aroma of some kind of stew. Thankfully the Cuban loved to cook and was good at it; Holliday’s repertoire of culinary expertise ran to overcooked fried eggs, charred burgers and barely edible mac and cheese from the box.
Holliday waited until they had sat down for the evening meal to lay out his thoughts. “I was thinking today while I was out for my walk,” he said.
“Only poets and sailors’ wives should think while walking by the sea.” Eddie smiled, mopping up the last of his stew with a chunk of bread.
“Maybe you’re right, but I’ve still been thinking.”
“About what, compadre?” asked the tall black Cuban, his intelligent brown eyes searching Holliday’s expression.
“I’ve been thinking it’s time we parted ways,” said Holliday.
Eddie sat back in his chair. “And why would that be?”
“Because it’s me they’re after, not you. I’m the one they want to kill. I’m the one with the notebook and all the secrets. I have no right to drag you into all this.”
“Nobody drags Eddie Vladimir Cabrera Alphonso anywhere he does not want to go. Anything I have done, I have done willingly.”
“That’s all well and good but I don’t think you should share in a burden you never chose.”
“No one chooses their burdens, Doc. Fate throws them in our direction and we either avoid them or we do not.”
“One of these days they’re going to find me and eventually they’re going to kill me. There’s no reason you should die too.”
“We are friends, Doc, and friends do not abandon each other just because life becomes difficult.”
“I still think we should split up.”
“And what do I do with myself? There is very little call for river pilots these days.”
“You’re making this difficult,” said Holliday.
“And I intend to keep on making it difficult with every sentence you speak, amigo, so why not shut up and help me with the dishes?”
Someone knocked at the door.
Holliday and Eddie both stood up. Eddie picked up the shotgun leaning on the table at his side and both men moved silently toward the door, keeping out of a direct line of fire. Holliday reached the door and stood with his back against the wall. Eddie lowered himself behind one of the upholstered chairs, aiming the elephant rifle over the back and directly toward the door at latch level. Anyone coming through unannounced would be cut into ribbons.
“Who is it?” Holliday called out.
“It’s Carrie Pilkington, Colonel Holliday. We spent some time together in Cuba a while back. There’s an MI5 kill team fifteen minutes out. We don’t have much time.”
Eddie cocked the huge-bore rifle. Holliday thumbed down the latch and threw open the door. A pretty woman with dark hair pulled into a ponytail stood there, dressed in climbing gear with a long skein of nylon rope over one shoulder and a gym bag over the other. Her black vest was hung with pitons, clips and locking rings. She was also wearing a 9-millimeter Glock 19 in a sling holster. “Let me in,” she said. “I’m dripping wet.”
Holliday stood aside and she stepped into the cottage. Holliday closed the door behind her and the young woman dropped the gym bag onto the floor.
“How do you know that MI5 is coming with a kill team?”
“I still have connections,” said the young woman.
Holliday remembered. “Black, the Englishman.”
“That’s right.” She nodded. “But we can reminisce later. We’ve got about ten minutes before they start throwing flash-bangs through the window.”
“Where do we go?”
“The cliffs. Put on something waterproof and come with me. Colonel, bring that bag. Forget everything else.”
A hundred feet down the path, with the cottage lights blazing behind them, they reached the cliff edge. The rain was coming down in windy sheets from the sea and Holliday could barely hear the waves crashing in on the rocky beach a hundred feet below them. There were already two heavy pitons holding lengths of rope pegged into the chalky soil when Carrie Pilkington opened the bag and pulled out two climbing harnesses.
“Either of you do any rappelling?”
“No,” answered Holliday.
Eddie shook his head.
“I hope you’re quick studies. Get into the harnesses,” she said sharply. From somewhere behind them there was the harsh coughing sound of a rifle-fired grenade launcher.
By the time the two men figured out the trusslike harnesses and fit them around their legs and thighs, Carrie had set the third line. She slipped a self-locking carabiner at their waists through each of the lines and guided them to the edge of the cliff, standing away from the sea.
“Go down backward and ease yourself over the edge and walk down the cliff until you feel comfortable. Then do small jumps outward while letting the line slip through your hands, but keep the loop around your elbow. Ten or fifteen jumps should get you to the bottom.”
There was the sound of automatic fire coming from the cottage now. “They’re playing our tune, guys. Time to bug out. Don’t look down, as the saying goes.” She pushed Holliday lightly on the chest and he went over into the rain-filled darkness.
The girl was right. His feet hit the beach with a crunching clatter after less than a minute and a half of unholy terror as he gave himself over to the thin nylon rope and the steel clip on the heavy belt around his waist. Before he had time to slip out of the harness, Eddie and Carrie had both reached the beach.
“Santa Madre de Mierda Cristo!” Eddie exclaimed, breathing hard.
“What now?” Holliday asked.
“There,” said the girl, pointing down the beach. A four-man Zodiac with a fifty-horsepower Evinrude had been pulled up onto the stony beach, the engine tilted up on the transom. They ran down the beach and Carrie hopped in first, heading for the bow. Eddie and Holliday pushed the inflatable into the water and jumped into the stern. Eddie lowered the engine and hit the electric start. Carrie took a small GPS unit out of her vest. “That way!” Carrie yelled, her hand pointing just left of center. “Full bore! They’ll have us in a minute or two.”
Eddie twisted the throttle and they blindly moved out into the choppy water. The flare went up less than thirty seconds later.
“Shit,” said Carrie from the bow, looking up from the GPS unit. She watched as the flare burned brightly overhead and began to flutter down on its parachute. They were outlined as though they had been caught in the eye of a searchlight, the light twitching and casting shadows as the flare skirled downward erratically. Finally it fizzled out and darkness shrouded their position.
“Kill the engine!” she ordered sharply. Eddie didn’t ask any questions, just followed orders. “Holliday! Get down there and help your friend. We’ve got to tip the engine overboard—fast!”
Holliday knew exactly why and it raised the hairs on the back of his neck. Eddie had the first of the big cleats loosened and Holliday helped him with the other one. There was a sharp echoing crack-bang of a Stinger or its British equivalent as they pushed the outboard into the sea. Another flare went up, this one fired at an angle away from the bow of the boat. A split second later there was a brilliant explosion three hundred yards to port as the infrared heat-seeking surface-to-air missile impacted with the closest source of heat—the flare rather than the Evinrude, which now lay at the bottom of the sea. “You’re pretty good at this.”
“Don’t get excited—we’re not out of the woods yet. There’s two oars clipped to the gunnels. Set them up and row like hell. They’ll figure things out quickly enough.”
Eddie and Holliday pulled together, their backs to Carrie and facing the cliffs, which were now no more than shadows through the rain. There was another detonation from the one-man SAM at the summit of the cliffs, but, hearing it, Carrie fired another flare, this one high and to port side again. The infrared tracker in the missile took to the white-hot flare and there was a second explosion with a shock wave that slammed hard enough to hurt their eardrums. A few seconds later Holliday felt the inflatable bump into something.
“We have arrived, folks,” said Carrie.
Holliday looked to his right. Rising out of the water was the gray-blue hull of a boat. From what he could see, it was about sixty feet long. “What the hell is this and where did you get it?”
“It’s a refurbished World War II motor torpedo boat. A Vosper,” Carrie said. She gripped the rope and plastic ladder hanging over the gunnels. “I got it because I know people who like to smuggle cigarettes and other things across the Channel. Now climb aboard and let’s get the hell out of here.”
There are five main bodies that make up the Channel Islands, an archipelago located off the coast of Normandy—the last remaining “bailiwicks” of the Duchy of Normandy. The islands are British protectorates, but are not governed by the United Kingdom or the European Union. Even so, since the citizens of the islands have full UK status, they are also holders of all the privileges of the European Union.
The five islands are Jersey, Guernsey, Herm, Alderney and Sark, with Sark being slightly different from its neighbors since it is ruled by the hereditary Seigneur of Sark. The Channel Islands are an interesting and sometimes confusing place to live. They’re also very useful for people hiding money or themselves from various and sundry government agencies since they take both their privacy and their independence very seriously.
Herm is the smallest of the islands. The northern end is craggy and mostly full of cliffs while the southern end is all sandy beaches. Cars are not allowed on the island, nor are bicycles. Quad bikes and tractors are allowed for the locals. Its main source of income is tourism, but there is some farming, animal raising and fishing. There are no customs agents except at the ferry terminal and no local police at all.
Carrie Pilkington guided the Vosper into a small cove on the west side of the island and then led them along the beach to a small fisherman’s cottage that had been built on a low rise above the beach. The dawn was just beginning to light the sea behind them and the fog was so thick it was unlikely that anyone saw them arrive.
The cottage was a plain two-story affair with a living/dining area, a kitchen and a bathroom on the ground floor, and a narrow staircase leading up to a pair of small rooms. The roof was slate, the floors were wide planked and the small windows were covered with faded yellow curtains. It had that lonely feeling of a house that hasn’t been lived in for a very long time.
Carrie went to the kitchen larder, brought out cutlery, a loaf of sourdough bread, a brick of cheese, a pot of mustard, some butter and the remains of a ham. “Dig in—we won’t be here long,” she said, sitting down. She began slicing up the bread.
“Where exactly are we going?” Holliday asked, building himself a sandwich. He was starving and realized that he hadn’t eaten since the previous afternoon.
“First Guernsey on the ferry and then to France by air.”
“Leave that to me.”
“Last time I checked you were a CIA analyst working out of Langley. What the hell are you doing out in the field?”
“As far as the Company knows I never made it out of Cuba alive, if you remember that little drama.”
“Vividly,” said Holliday. He and Eddie had gone looking for Eddie’s vanished brother and found themselves in the middle of an invasion.
“I was recruited by another group, and I’ve been working for them for the last two years.”
“Officially, it’s the Joint International Office of Intelligence Oversight, but it’s generally called JOI, when it’s called anything at all. In-house, it’s just called the Office,” she responded.
“Another acronym.” Holliday sighed. “What’s this one supposed to do?”
“Just what it says. The big intelligence agencies around the world have become their own governments—they do what they want to, and get what they want. They’re out of control. We’re supposed to rein them in, or at the very least gather intelligence about what they’re doing.”
“So just who is the Office made up of and why is it interested in me?”
“The Office is a joint committee of high-ranking government and military officials from the UK, the United States, Germany, France and Russia.”
“Not to be trusted.”
“Why me and why now?”
“The Vatican has recently allied with P2, Propaganda Due, the old fascist paramilitary group that worked with the Pope after the war and into the late fifties. It was a P2 assassin that killed your cousin and her husband at Qumran—on the Vatican’s orders.”
“Because they’re afraid of what you’re looking for and they want the notebook given to you by Brother Rodrigues. They want the money and they want its power.”
“Why should we believe you?”
“Because you have no other choice.”
René Dubois, assistant director of operations for the DGSE—Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (General Directorate for External Security)—was sleeping peacefully in his family’s apartment in the Saint-Mandé district of Paris when the telephone on his bedside table screeched at him. He opened his eyes and looked at the illuminated numbers on his alarm clock. It was four thirty in the morning.
Dubois sighed. Beside him his wife, Marguerite, didn’t even lose the rhythm of her snoring. She was used to such calls. Dubois picked up the telephone.
“It’s Leclerc, sir. We’ve just had a facial recognition alert from Saint-Malo. It’s the American and the Cuban.”
“When did they enter France?”
“Nine hours ago,” said Leclerc, Dubois’s assistant.
“Fils de pute!” Dubois groaned. “We have the technology to pick their photographs out of thin air but we can’t get a message to Paris for ten hours? This is madness!”
“Don’t swear, René. Remember the children,” muttered Marguerite from beneath the duvet beside him.
“To hell with the children. They have a lifetime of sleep ahead of them. Leclerc, get me a car. I want it at my door in half an hour.”
Showered and shaved, Dubois was standing on the curb in front of his building when the big black Peugeot 607 pulled up with Leclerc behind the wheel. Dubois climbed in the back and found a large cup of steaming black coffee in the holder and a thin dossier in a red cover on the seat beside him. He lit a cigarette and leaned back in the seat, closing his eyes and wondering about the idiotic intricacies of a bureaucracy created by the nation that had invented the very word. After a few moments of self-indulgence he opened his eyes, picked up the dossier and began to read.
The headquarters of the DGSE is at 142 Boulevard Mortier in the twentieth arrondissement, just beyond the Père Lachaise Cemetery. It is a château-style fortress on three sides with a high wall and guard stations on the boulevard side. Beyond the entrance, a gravel drive leads around the treed courtyard to the main doors of the building. At this time of the morning, the entire building was bathed in the light of a score of mercury-vapor lamps throwing the courtyard trees into stark silhouette. Leclerc left the car for the attendants to care for and he and Dubois walked up the steps to the main lobby. There was a security post and two ornate staircases. They passed through security and took the right stairway to the third-floor conference room. Dubois, like any other bureaucrat in France, reported to a committee. In his case the committee consisted of four men: Deputy Foreign Minister François Picard, Deputy Minister of Justice Émile Redon, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Jean Granville and Deputy Minister of Transportation Henri Jarre. None of the exalted politicians was happy about being dragged from his bed at such an early hour, and their faces showed it.
Dubois entered the room, paused at the door to offer a short, polite bow and then took his regular seat at the foot of the table. Picard, the man from the foreign ministry, was the first to speak. He was a tall, shallow-cheeked man, and of all the deputies around the table he was the only one dressed in a three-piece suit and a perfectly knotted tie.
“I hope you have a good reason for taking us from our homes at this hour, Dubois.”
“I believe I do.” Dubois flipped open the folder in front of him. “Colonel John Holliday and his Cuban friend have been spotted coming through customs at Saint-Malo.”
“Merde,” said Jarre, the bald-headed deputy from Transportation. “When was this?”
“Seven thirty o’clock yesterday evening.”
“That is intolerable!” Redon exclaimed. He was a big man with unshaven jowls and a very large nose. The red explosions of color on his cheeks marked a man who drank too much.
“These men did not come into France on their own passports, Deputy Redon. They were identified through facial-recognition software. By the time the red flag went up they had been gone for some time.” He didn’t add that the bureaucracy of the Justice Department was so unwieldy that it was a miracle he’d been notified at all.
“Do we know where they are now?” Picard asked.
“No, Deputy Picard, but we almost certainly know why they have come to France.”
“The notebook,” said Picard flatly.
“We searched the castle Holliday purchased in Talant and found nothing. There was only one small apartment there that had ever been used. The notebook is not there,” Dubois said.
“Then it must be somewhere else,” said the heavy-set Redon, his tone snide as he looked down the table at Dubois.
“Yes, this was a conclusion I had reached as well,” said Dubois.
“And what do you intend to do about it?” Picard asked.
“Find them and then follow them.”
“We are talking about a trillion-dollar asset that arguably belongs to France,” said Granville, from Internal Affairs.
“There are several Bourbon kings and Napoléon Bonaparte who might argue that, Deputy Granville, but by the law of uti possidetis it is fair game.”
“But you have to possess it first.” Dubois smiled.
“So go and find it,” said Picard. “If everyone is agreed, we shall all meet here at six o’clock each evening for further briefings.”
It was an obvious signal to break up the meeting and everybody stood. But before he could slip out of the room, Dubois was cornered by Picard.
“This must have your full attention, Dubois. Nothing else is to be entertained while this notebook or whatever it is remains out of our possession. If you need anything, ask my assistant, Jobert. Anything you need. You understand this?”
“Of course, Deputy,” answered Dubois.
Dubois had been dismissed. He went down to his small, drafty office one floor below. Leclerc was waiting for him.
“Full speed ahead. We’ll need more computers, a coffee machine and one of those folding beds from the guards’ barracks in the basement. This will be a twenty-four-hour-a-day job for at least several weeks. You have no wife, so that will not be a problem. Mine will probably enjoy being without me.”
“Why are you standing there? Get going. But find the coffeemaker first.”
The target was a three-story villa on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy owned by the designer Max Feramiglia. The villa was stuccoed in yellow with a slate roof and brown shutters. There was a large pool in the rear; the lawn leading down to the water was perfectly manicured by a local gardener. The entire place was surrounded by pine trees sculpted into perfect tall cone shapes.
Paulo and Tonio Broganti had been thieves since they were small children in Rome. Over the years they had become more specialized and were now robbers on commission only, stealing specific items from particular people. Mostly it was art, as was the case this afternoon.
In the absence of maestro Feramiglia, the estate by the lake was taken care of by Mr. and Mrs. Tucci. Emilio Tucci took care of the pool and grounds while Helena Tucci was the cook and housekeeper. There was a complex alarm system to cover insurance qualifications, but it was always turned off during daylight hours. This, of course, was the reason the Broganti brothers preferred daytime robberies to those at night.
They drove up to the estate in a van with a magnetic sign saying they were plumbers and went to the side of the house where they knew Mr. and Mrs. Tucci usually enjoyed a light afternoon meal sitting at a small patio table. Both brothers carried bright red toolboxes, which they set down on the patio and opened.
“We’re here about the pipes,” said Tonio.
“I didn’t call a plumber,” said Mr. Tucci.
“No, you didn’t,” said Tonio.
He and his brother reached down into their toolboxes and each withdrew a Pneu-Dart tranquilizer pistol and shot a single dart into the Tuccis’ chests. They were unconscious in seconds and would remain that way for several hours.
The two thieves went through the side entrance and made their way to the main salon. There were a number of paintings that hung there, but the brothers went to one in particular, a Giotto Madonna and Child.
The painting, like many of Giotto’s mature works, was done on board with tempera. It was held into the frame by eight iron staples, which Tonio quickly clipped using a pair of short-handled bolt cutters. They popped the painting from the frame, then carried it out to the van, where they put it into a foam-lined case specifically built for it. They were at the villa for exactly twelve minutes.
The brothers drove away from the lake and traveled due south to the little town of Lucino. There they switched the sign of the van so that it now advertised a courier service based in Rome and put the painting into a hidden slot in the rear of their own Peugeot estate wagon.
At Lucino they split up, Tonio heading back to Rome and his brother heading to Tuscany for a meeting with the winemaker Meucci.
The Meucci Vineyards were located just north of Siena in the sunlit Tuscan hills. The vineyard had been in the Meucci family for more than two hundred years, producing a Chianti Ruffino called Chianti Meucci.
Meucci himself was every inch the Tuscan: round faced, gray, curly balding hair with a bushy mustache, broad shoulders, strong square-fingered hands and the build of a wrestler. He was sitting in the vineyard office going over bottling receipts when the telephone rang.
“Is it there?” The voice was familiar to the vintner. Clearly Parisian.
“Yes.” Meucci glanced up from his desk. The painting in its special container was resting on top of a row of filing cabinets.
“A man is coming from Geneva. His license plate is GE90619. Give him the painting.”
“The financial matters?”
“Already taken care of.”
“As you wish.”
Cardinal Pierre Hébert, Archbishop of Paris, sat in the vestry office of Nôtre-Dame Cathedral after saying a requiem Mass for a dead premier who couldn’t even remember his own name in the end. With him was a priest from Saint-Sulpice.
“Tell me exactly what was said,” ordered the cardinal.
“Holliday and the Cuban are in France, Your Eminence.”
For a moment the cardinal looked surprised. But surprise quickly changed to anger, his lean, austere features hardening.
“Where did they enter and how?”
“Saint-Malo. The ferry.”
“Two days ago.”
“Have they been found?”
“Not yet, Your Eminence. But a task force has been organized.”
“Who have they got heading it?”
“René Dubois, assistant director of operations for the DGSE.”
“Find out everything you can. I want reports daily.”
“Yes, Your Eminence.”
The man bowed out of the vestry, closing the door behind him. Cardinal Hébert dressed in simple black priest’s daywear, then stepped out of the side door of the vestry. He walked down the short hall until he reached a second door, this one leading into the alley beside the famous cathedral. He stepped into the black Citroën, which was already waiting for him, and settled back into the soft leather seat.
“Paris–Le Bourget,” said Hébert.
The car moved off. The traffic was heavy and it took them the better part of an hour to reach the airport. He wasn’t concerned; his flight wasn’t going to leave without him.
When they arrived at the airport, they drove through the private jet entrance, drove across the tarmac and stopped at the lowered stairway of a dark blue Gulfstream G650 with the gold crown insignia of Hébert et Cie. on the tail.
Cardinal Hébert exited the limousine, climbed the steps up into the plane and settled into his seat. As the engines spooled up, a male steward in a blue uniform fitted his place with a table, laid out cutlery and went to fetch the cardinal’s meal, while a second steward opened a bottle of 2010 Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He offered the cardinal a small sip and at Hébert’s nod he filled the glass. A moment later the first steward appeared carrying a plate holding a meal of chateaubriand, haricots verts and gratin dauphinois potatoes, Hébert’s favorite. He waited for the jet to take off and settled down to eat. He would be in Rome before he finished dessert.
The cardinal was the younger of the two sons of Jean Hébert. Even before World War II, Hébert was a name to conjure within France. The elder Hébert owned Cément Hébert, the largest concrete plant in the country, in addition to several oil refineries and a fleet of transport ships among many other enterprises. The war itself only served to increase the company’s wealth. Hitler’s supposedly unbreakable Atlantic Wall was built with Hébert concrete and Hitler’s panzers were fueled with Hébert’s gasoline. Most war profiteers would have been hung after the war for such gross collaboration, but the truth was Hébert was too important and knew too many people in high places to make any charges stick.
As with many younger brothers of wealthy families, the only way to gain power and prestige in the world was through the Church. With his family’s money behind him, Hébert had risen quickly, working hard to cultivate relationships with the right people in the right places and proving himself to be an asset to both the Church and to France. He spent six years in the Vatican working as an assistant to important figures while simultaneously refining his own goals and objectives. When he was named cardinal of Paris, most people thought he’d reached the pinnacle of his career. They were wrong. Hébert was just beginning.
Cardinal Hébert was just finishing his coffee when the jet landed at Ciampino Airport. He stepped down and was ushered into a waiting Lancia Thesis limousine bearing Vatican City plates and began the half-hour journey into the center of Rome. Exactly forty-five minutes later he was being ushered into the Vatican secretary of state’s office in the Apostolic Palace.
“Cardinal Hébert,” said Ruffino, standing up and coming around his enormous seventeenth-century Spanish desk, hand extended.
“Arturo.” Hébert smiled, taking Ruffino’s hand. “It has been too long.” The Frenchman pointed an index finger upward. “How goes it with our new leader?”
“Our Argentinian Papa wanders around with his big brown eyes wide, wondering how he got here. He speaks good English but poor Italian, despite his name, which means he has no friends in his own court. In the end I think we’ll find that he’s as much a conservative as his predecessor.”
“It sounds like you’re not having an easy time of it,” said Hébert.
“Except for your news about Holliday.”
“Like the cockroach he is, he keeps on popping up everywhere, and no matter how you try to stamp him out, he returns just to spite you.”
“Any idea why he’s chosen to reappear in France?”
“Presumably because France is where he settled after meeting with Rodrigues the monk. There are some people in the government who think his massive hoard is still hidden there. They’ve even created a task force.”
“You have access to it?”
“Excellent. The Church is tearing itself apart, Hébert. These men must be stopped before it is completely destroyed. Sexual depravities with children and gross financial blunders are bad enough, but Holliday is taking aim at the very heart of things—our credibility that trusting the faith that can be honored and believed in. If the faith is rich, then the Church is rich.”
The French cardinal shook his head. “It’s so difficult to believe—that one man and his friend could do such damage to an institution that has lasted for two millennia.”
“It only requires a hole the size of a child’s finger to destroy an entire dam, Hébert. And we must remember that it was only one man who began the whole institution that we are a part of.”
Soon they were out of Rennes and heading for Le Mans and then Paris. The rental car hadn’t made it any farther than the ferry parking lot in Saint-Malo, where they’d exchanged it for an old Renault 4 provided by Carrie’s “people.” It had the name “Pleine Mer” on the side panels and a poor painting of a leaping trout logo.
“We’ve got cops on our tail—two motorcycles coming up fast,” said Carrie.
“Get off the main road,” said Holliday. The A81 was a broad, modern highway, but this early in the day there was very little traffic. “There,” said Holliday, pointing to an exit. Holliday looked over his shoulder. “Anything we can use back there, mi compadre?”
“Nets, fish traps, floats for the nets, basura en su mayoría—mostly junk,” replied Eddie.
“That could work.” Holliday crawled between the front seats and scrambled into the cramped back of the van. The truck had long oval windows on the doors. Holliday looked back down the side road. The motorcycle cops were closing in, less than fifty yards now, lights flashing and sirens howling.
“Slow down just a bit,” called Holliday.
Carrie lifted her foot off the gas and simultaneously tapped the brake. The men behind them were caught by surprise and in a split second they were less than fifteen yards behind the rear of the van. Then Holliday kicked open the rear doors while he and Eddie tossed everything they could into the path of the oncoming motorcycles.
Both drivers were instantly tangled in net and other debris. The bikes, which were traveling at speed, smashed into each other, bounced and finally tipped over in a screeching spray of plastic parts and a dazzling fury of sparks, tossing the leather-dressed and helmeted drivers head over heels into a ditch at the side of the road.
Carrie slammed on the brakes as Holliday and Eddie jumped out of the back of the van and ran back along the road. The bikes were ticking and rattling in their death throes, the smell of gasoline heavy in the air. They checked the two drivers. Both were dead, their necks broken.
Carrie joined Holliday and Eddie.
“These guys aren’t cops,” said Holliday. “The bikes are BMWs and the riders are carrying Glocks. Police Nationale drive big Yamahas and carry SIG Pros. The bikes, the uniforms—they’re phony.”
“They were looking for us specifically,” Carrie said.
“Who was?” Eddie asked.
“The CIA. They issue Glocks,” said Carrie.
“There you go.” Holliday nodded grimly.
“Foxes and hounds, and we’re the foxes.”
The CIA’s Department D was located on two floors of the old Tour Albert in the thirteenth arrondissement of Paris, one of the first high-rises in the city. Department D carried out some of the most covert work in Western and Eastern Europe as well as regular surveillance of anyone who was deemed a threat to U.S. national security.
The director of Department D was a fifty-four-year-old named Elliot Foster, a career CIA man who had been recruited right out of Yale. Foster stood on the catwalk outside his second-level office and stared down into the bull pen, a crossword puzzle of cubicles, glassed-in conference areas and computer arrays all surrounded by large-screen displays and sealed off from outside electronic or visual surveillance. It was Foster’s domain.
For twenty of his thirty years with the Company, Foster had been a true believer, climbing the ladder rung by rung as he headed for the top. Everything could be sacrificed to the job, including two wives and three children. But in his twenty-first year, politics had snuck up on Foster, and once again he had become a sacrificial goat and was sent to Paris to prevent him from interfering with the career of a lesser man with better connections.
After two years moldering in Paris, he was quietly introduced to the Ghost Squad, a CIA within the CIA using the Company’s assets, finances and people to increase its own power. It was a hyperintelligence group loyal to no one but its own members. And best of all, its leader was a fellow Bonesman.
Kate Rogers, one of the unit liaisons, climbed up to the catwalk with a folder in her hand. She was in her thirties, seven or eight years on the job, and was being groomed as a field surveillance operative. Foster had made a play for her more than once and had been rebuffed each time. It didn’t seem to affect their working relationship, for which Foster gave her high marks. Give her a few more years, he thought, and he might consider taking a look at her for the Ghost Squad—if the others approved.
“What’s up?” Foster asked as she approached him.
“We were stealing eyes from that French Harfang drone they had up and we sent out a couple of bikes to follow a killer unit.”
“This afternoon.” Foster nodded.
“We haven’t heard from the bikes for almost three hours. They just missed another check-in.”
“Frogs put it to bed. They were looking for the rental; we had the info on the fish truck.”
“We have any assets in the area?”
“Closest is Lyon.”
“Get him down to Rennes and sniff around. I want some news. Fast.”
Holliday sat on the outside terrace of La Squadra Pizzeria and Café on Rue Jean-Boucher in the town of Hédé-Bazouges, eating the French version of pizza and planning the next move with Eddie and Carrie. The sun was going down now and heavy shadows were beginning to swallow the old stone buildings around them. The fish truck was hidden a few blocks away on a narrow side street, safely out of sight. Hédé-Bazouges was ten miles up the road from where they’d taken out the fake motorcycle cops, but everyone knew it wasn’t far enough. Not by a long shot.
“The motorcycles will have pingers on them. They’ll have to know where they are by now,” said Holliday. He turned to Carrie. “How close is the nearest CIA station?”
“They’ve got a small satellite station in Lyon. Half a dozen people at most.”
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Meet the Author
Paul Christopher is the pseudonym of a popular thriller writer. His other works include Lost City of the Templars, Valley of the Templars, and Red Templar.
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Great read one again Paul Christopher knocks it out of the park
This book was ok. Not great nor a real looser. Jus ok
I enjoyed this book.
Can i join?
Hey guys l had an idea for this. I have some propsed rules, like <br> No godmodding: being good sports to bloodclan. <br> More of a military style heriarchy<br> A regular battle place<br> Coming to fight along with the regular clans; helping them out.<br> and other things of the nature. Anyone intrested?