Professional killer Adam Bergman has just washed up on the Bahamian shores, naked inside a skiff, without any idea of how he got there or who shot him. Determined to find answers, he returns to his childhood church in Germany, meets his former pastor, and learns that the pope wants to achieve peace in the Middle East through religion. The Holy Father cannot fulfill his mission without Adam's help in protecting him from those who want him dead. But when tragedy strikes without warning, it leaves Adam reeling, the world in chaos, and just one man holding the answer to peace.
In this religious thriller, a course of transformative events unfolds when the pope decides to make peace in the Middle East and hires a hit man to help him achieve his goal.
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By Papal Decree
The Middle East Solution
By Norbert E. Reich
Balboa PressCopyright © 2016 Dr. Norbert E. Reich
All rights reserved.
Berry Islands, Bahamas
The waves splashed gently against the worn, light-blue skiff that was drifting aimlessly in the calm Bahamian sea. The sun had not yet crossed the horizon, but it was about to do so. It was June. The waters were calm because there was no wind. The craft was carried only by the currents. The old wooden boat drifted toward the shores off Chubb Cay, one of the many Berry Islands in the Bahamian waters. The skiff slowly made its way toward the rocky shore. It had no motor, sails, or master. It was but driftwood, an old wooden boat that had seen better days.
The naked man inside the skiff was barely conscious and hardly breathing. His skin was burned, the kind of burn seen after many days in the sun. The burns were red blisters, raw and oozing, the skin fried by the rays of the sun. He lay motionless, about to die. The twenty-foot fishing boat was barely afloat in the gentle waves. It had no steerage. The sea was its captain as it drifted toward the shore, each wave helping it on its way. Finally, the wooden boat found its resting place when a lazy wave pushed it between two coral heads. That was where it would stay. It would not — could not — go any farther. It had seen its end.
The sun entered the horizon, illuminating the water, making it crystal blue and then changing it to turquoise. It lit up the sky and shone on the waves breaking softly on the shore. The sun rose quickly, generating much warmth. Soon it was blistering, emanating all its power. Then came the wind, and with it, a squall. It carried heavy, menacing gray and black clouds, but it was just a bark without a bite. All Bahamians knew it would rain. All knew it would not last.
By midmorning a heavy shower flooded Chubb Cay. For moments it saturated the grounds, grass, and gravel walkways at the marina. It also flooded the skiff — the boat that had drifted ashore and was now anchored between two coral heads just half mile from the docks. The rain drenched the man who lay at the bottom of the old boat. His body was prone, his breathing was still labored. He was severely dehydrated. The cool rain pounded his almost-lifeless body, and the bottom of the boat slowly filled with the cool water from the sky. As the water reached and covered most of his body, his body temperature gradually returned to something more normal. Life crept back into the motionless being. The first movement was the tongue; it exited the mouth, searched, and found the fluid he needed so much. It was the rainwater, the water at the bottom of the skiff, the water from the sky, that saved his life.
It happened slowly. He had no control, acting only on instinct for survival. He gathered the fluid, the fresh rainwater. He gained strength — not much strength, but enough to tell him he was still alive. The rain lasted for less than thirty minutes. It was a heavy downpour typical for the Bahamian islands. Two to three inches of the precious liquid had accumulated in the old boat. He took the water in slowly; instinct told him it was what he should do. He rolled over and took a deep breath. He lifted his right arm and touched his forehead and chest. He wanted to be sure he was alive, not just living a dream. Touching his body was painful, because his skin had been burned by the sun for several days. He did not mind — not now that he was still alive.
He continued to examine his body as he lay on his back in the boat. Suddenly he felt a sharp pain. His hand had touched his belly just below the left side of his rib cage. That was where the bullet had passed through him, he now remembered. The bleeding had stopped long ago. The saltwater had helped to irrigate the wound, but the wetness hadn't helped heal it. It was still raw and open, but there was no pus: it was clean.
He turned his body in the skiff and took another drink of the precious fluid. As he did, he saw his cross. It was a reminder of his grandfather — a gift, Grandma had told him — that had been given to his grandpa by his best friend, a renowned artist and devout Catholic. It was a gift his grandfather had worn around his neck when he had shot himself.
Now the wooden cross was floating, drifting in the rainwater that had saved the man's life. Adam Bergman reached for it and retrieved it. He brought it to his lips. He kissed the cross and said a silent prayer.CHAPTER 2
The church bells of the Jesus Christus Kirche in the fashionable suburb of Dahlem rang and filled the air on this beautiful, warm summer morning. Adam heard the sound and was reassured. He had come here as soon as he could after hearing the unforgettable message: "To be certain, your pastor is next, and thank the pope." His small wooden cross had also told him to come. Now the sound of the bells made it certain. Only here could he find the answer as to why someone had tried to kill him. And what did his pastor have to do with it? The bells continued to ring, calling for him.
He stood up from the park bench, the one he had sat on to reminisce. A few hours ago he had arrived in this city and had gone directly to the small park adjacent to the church. He had sat on one of the benches overlooking the pond covered with water lilies. The pond was not as he recalled it. It was smaller now than it had been years ago when he was a child. Then the pond had been more like a lake. He and his friends had often played there. He recalled playing ice hockey in the winter, and in the spring they had played the daring game of floating on the pieces of ice as they melted. Whoever stayed the longest was the winner. Not once had he lost.
He stretched and straightened his trousers. He was a handsome man with green, soft eyes that made you feel at ease, and a relaxed and reassuring smile. Curly, dark-brown hair almost touched his shoulders. His movements were fluid, relaxed, confident, and athletic. He was a man who stood out and was sure of himself. His six-foot-two-inch frame and muscular body barely fit in the gray, pin-striped suit he'd bought on his brief stopover in Frankfurt. He didn't know why he'd bought the suit, but he had known he had to come here.
Adam left the park bench and followed the sound of the church bells. He knew it was coming from the tower that he and his older brother had climbed years ago while attending Sunday school. The bell tower had been responsible for his fear of heights. Ever since he'd first climbed it at the age of six, he'd had nightmares of being chased by a pack of vicious dogs and falling off the tower.
It was here that he had first learned about a new world. He was but six years old when his brother had taken him along. He'd always followed his older brother, whom he adored. His brother had hated every Wednesday, the day of Bible school. But Adam had loved Wednesdays. That was when the pastor talked to all the kids about religion, Jesus, God, and peace on earth. His brother had hated these sessions. He wanted to be out on the soccer field, chasing the ball or chasing the girls in the park. But Adam loved to hear the stories about Abraham and the baby Jesus. Most of all he loved to hear about God, the almighty Father. That was when he'd first heard about the Holy Land. He'd learned that most people there believed in what Abraham had preached centuries ago: there is but one God for all people, for all humankind.
* * *
Adam left the park and entered the square in front of the church. The bell tower was to his right. The red-brick square appeared cold and larger than he remembered. It wasn't as intimate, not as familiar. But he knew it had been years since he'd last stood here — years that had changed his life, his perceptions, and his outlook. Years that had changed everything about him. Those years, however, had never changed his core.
The large wooden doors to the church were wide open, and well-dressed parishioners were making their way into the sacred walls of the house of God. Adam did not join them at once. He stood for a moment recalling many years. Then he joined the crowd and entered the house he was so familiar with.
Adam did not listen to the sermon; his mind wouldn't let him. Instead he remembered. He recalled all the Sundays his family had come to worship, all the holidays, festivities, and plays he had always been a part of as a child. He looked at the large wooden cross above the altar and smiled. Now he remembered being a child of five or six years of age. He had been the baby Jesus in a Christmas play, and he had been the main attraction.
That was when the pastor had given him the wooden cross, the cross his grandfather had worn, the cross that had been given to his grandfather by his best friend, a world-renowned artist. In his will, Adam's grandfather had donated the cross to the church. And his grandfather had made it clear that the pastor had full discretion to award the cross to someone. He had asked the pastor to decide who was the right person to receive the cross. When Adam had won the prize for being the best of the flock, the pastor had given him the cross.
Once the service was over, the people left slowly. They enjoyed their Sunday morning in church. They respected their pastor. He stood proudly at one of the large wooden doors leading to the square. As his flock left his house of worship, he shook many hands. He had built a large following. His was one of Berlin's most successful parishes.
Adam Bergman did not move. He stood erect in the last row of the church. He did not pray but stood silently and stared at the large wooden cross above the altar. He showed no sign of emotion as he stood and stared, his gaze fixed on the large, plain wooden cross high above. Then his right hand reached for the necklace around his neck. It was a replica of the cross he was staring at. Gently his fingers caressed it. It was the wooden cross that had given him the will and the faith to live.
He continued to gaze at the cross above the altar, the cross he had known since he was a child, the cross he trusted, the cross that had saved his life. Suddenly his gaze shifted, and he noticed an older man walking slowly with assurance and dignity. The man had come out of one of the two doors that adorned both sides of the altar. He still wore his black-and-white robe. Adam did not react, but he noticed every move. He noticed that all was quiet. There were no other people in the house of God, not even in hiding. There was no one but himself, the pastor, and God.
The pastor was much older now. He walked slowly and with care. He measured each step. He had to, because his vision was beginning to fail him. He had been told to use a cane, but he'd refused. He would need no help to find his way in the house of God. He had walked the path many times, and he had always walked it with God. He was dressed in his Sunday dress, the simple robe Adam remembered well. As the holy man stepped up to him and extended his hand in greeting, Adam recognized the smile. He saw the dimples, the curled lip, and the flicker in the old man's eyes. None had changed in more than twenty years. Adam took the pastor's hand, gave it a firm shake, and looked him directly into the eyes.
"It has been a long time since I was here last. I'm sure you don't remember me."
"Yes, I do," the answer came. The voice was much stronger than Adam had expected. "You and your family worshipped here for years, many years ago. And I recall you in particular. You always took part in all of our plays — Easter, Christmas, you name it — you wanted to be part of it. And not just part of it. As I recall, you always had to be the star, have the leading role. Tell me, does my memory serve me correctly?" He said it with a smile, fully knowing he was right. He was not only a servant of God; he was a diplomat.
"Yes," Adam replied, somewhat humbled and embarrassed. "Yes, your memory is perfect."
"Thank you," God's man replied. "Thank you for being honest. As I recall, you always were. You were not always on your best behavior, but you were always honest. That I do remember."
"Well, I tried," Adam responded. "That was how I was taught to be. That was what my parents wanted me to do."
"You had the best parents," the man of the cloth said as he put both of his hands on the other man's shoulders.
The pastor reminded Adam that he had known the young man's mother well for many years. He had confirmed her and had performed the wedding ceremony when she had married Adam's father, Daniel. The wedding had been a bit unusual in those days, he recalled.
Daniel Bergman, an American, was the son of German immigrants — and a Jew. He had been an assistant professor of history at New York University. When he'd published his first book, a text on the Bismarck era, he had become an instant success in academic circles. Many universities had offered him a position, and he had chosen the Freie Universitaet in Berlin. He'd wanted to go back to his roots — for a while, anyhow.
Soon after his arrival in Berlin, he had fallen in love and married. The pastor had had many meetings with the couple. They had discussed at great length the differences in their beliefs and religions. His wife had insisted on raising her firstborn as a Lutheran. Her husband had not objected. He always said that belief in Abraham's teachings, the belief in only one God, was all that mattered.
They'd had a wonderful marriage, the pastor reminisced. Adam and his mother had attended church each Sunday, and he had always been eager to take part in all of the church's functions. On most occasions his father had attended. Daniel was proud to be Adam's father.
"I am glad you came back. It honors me. It tells me I do have a loyal flock."
"You do. Yes, indeed, you surely do," Adam responded.
The pastor smiled. "Now tell me why you are here? We are in God's house. Here we have no secrets. With me you can share all of your troubles, all of your dreams. Then it is up to God, only he can decide."
But the pastor knew full well why Adam had come. He had received a message from the Catholic bishop of Berlin. It was a very unusual request, but the bishop had assured him that the pope himself had made the request. He had asked that the pastor meet with a man who would come, a man who had once been part of his flock. Only he and the pastor should meet, and no one was to know about the meeting. The pope wanted the pastor to pass on a message to the man — a message he insisted could make peace between all religions — and the pastor had agreed without hesitation.
Adam was nervous now. He felt uneasy, unsure. With his right hand, he reached for the wooden cross that hung around his neck and touched his hairy, muscular chest. He rubbed the cross gently between his thumb and index finger. This was a gesture he always used when he was nervous or unsure of what to do. He recalled that he had made the decision to come here to find answers. Why had he been shot? Who had done it? The decision had not come easy. He had thought about letting go, starting a new life, forgetting about the past. But as he had lain in the skiff, slowly regaining consciousness in God's rainwater as it filled the boat and gave him new life, he had known there was only one path for him. He had to go back and find answers.
And he knew that the servant of God who now stood in front of him held the key. At least, that was his best guess.
"I don't know where to start," Adam said. "Actually, I'm not sure I should have come. I don't know any questions I want to ask. Some voice inside told me to be here, to be with you." But Adam remembered the message. He could still hear the voice on the yacht as it had left the Miami Beach Marina: "To be certain, your pastor is next, and thank the pope." He would never forget it.
"That, my son, is how God leads the way. He leads mysteriously. None of us mortals will ever know the way, but I know we all play a role. We all have a purpose. We all need to serve him. I know that is his way."
"Father, please, I have traveled long. More importantly, I have struggled in my mind over whether I should be here. I just don't know. I need direction. I need purpose. I am adrift. I need God."
"Son, you made the right decision. Rome called me, and your God has chosen you for a mission. I waited long for God's chosen one to arrive, knowing through my prayers that he was a lost soul who used to be one of my flock. When I saw you today, I was certain that you were the one. I saw the wooden cross around your neck, and I knew my God had spoken."
Excerpted from By Papal Decree by Norbert E. Reich. Copyright © 2016 Dr. Norbert E. Reich. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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