A reckoning that will destroy them all
Trials, persecutions, false accusations, the Inquisitionfor archaeologist and TV host Annja Creed, the current episode they're taping for her show is a fascinating one. But while Annja is filming the last segment in France, a vicious "accident" nearly kills her. It looks to be unintentional until a man calling himself Cauchon claims responsibility.
The name Cauchon strikes a chord in the exceptionallysome might say unnaturallylong memory of Annja's friend and mentor Roux. Discovering the old man's secret years ago, Cauchon wanted to blackmail Roux before fate put the matter to rest. Or so Roux thought. Now this powerful fanatic has turned from seeking out the divine to meting out "justice." Vengeance. And he will single-handedly resurrect the violence of the Inquisition to ensure that Annja and her friend are judged and found guilty. With so much at stake, Annja may soon find that friendship can be fatal.
Read an Excerpt
On a winter's night
Twenty years ago
"You have my attention," Roux said.
The young man who sat across from him had been insistent, refusing to be put off no matter how many times Roux ducked the meeting. His excuses had become more and more elaborate, but that only made the young man try harder. That dogged persistence paid off. Eventually. The old man had been tempted to arrange the sit-down in a very public space, given the personality type that kind of persistence hinted at. There were some people he didn't invite into his home, but Roux was tired. The search for the fragments of the blade wasn't going well, with what he thought might be the final shard eluding him still, so just this once Muhammad could come to the mountain, or, in this case, chateau.
He regretted that decision now. Something about the intense young man's scrutiny was decidedly uncomfortable. It wasn't so much the stare as it was the slight twitch of his lower lip, like it was fighting back the urge to smile. It made his skin crawl. One thing the years had done for Roux was to offer an education in human nature. He liked to think himself a reasonable judge of character. This boybecause that's what he was, really, a boy in man's clothingwas somehow off.
So he waited, knowing the young man had something to get off his chest, and equally sure he didn't want to hear it.
"I thought I might, eventually."
"So how can I help you?"
"I suspect it's more a case of how I can help you." He settled a briefcase on the Louis XIV coffee table that acted as a barrier between them.
Roux winced as the young man pushed the case back an inch and thumbed the locks. It was all he could do not to reach out and slap the stupid boy. The table was a priceless work of art; the briefcase was not. "I wasn't aware that I needed any help," Roux said.
"Then allow me to enlighten you, Mr. Roux." He drew a manila folder out of the briefcase. Roux had seen a million of these over the years. In his experience, they never contained good news when they were hand delivered like this. He sank back into his chair and feigned disinterest. The young man didn't need to know his curiosity had been piqued.
Roux picked up the business card the young man had given him when he first turned up at his door. The name was the same as the one in Roux's appointment diary. Patrice Moerlen, freelance journalist. After the seventh call he had done his due diligence and had some of his people run background checks on the man that would have made the CIA envious, and by the time he had finally agreed to the sit-down Roux knew everything there was to know about Patrice Moerlen, and had his own dossier almost twice as thick as the folder the journalist pulled from his briefcase.
"I saw this picture of you in a magazine," he said, handing over the first clipping.
Roux had seen it before.
He had been disappointed that the photograph had been published, but it couldn't be helped. The photograph had been taken at a charity event organized by an old friend, and obligations to the social compact necessitated he attend, because that's what friends did. He'd been promised it was going to be a low-key gathering, but the late addition of one of those Hollywood darlings with too-blond hair and an impossibly plastic smile and her politico beau had transformed it into an irresistible honeypot for the paparazzi.
"Not the most flattering, I'll grant you, but hardly a crime against humanity," Roux said. "I rarely accept invitations to events like that, but you know how it is. Sometimes it's hard to say no."
"I understand," the young man said, smiling. "The thing is, seeing it, I couldn't help but think your face looked familiar."
"I have one of those faces," Roux said, not liking where this was going. "Isn't that what they say? It's embarrassing sometimes because everyone thinks they've seen me before, or that I remind them of someone else."
"Which is what I thought at first. In my line of work I see a lot of faces. So I decided to check, just to be sure."
"So." Roux offered a slight smile. "Who did you think I reminded you of?"
"No one in particular, not some celebrity at least. But I had this nagging feeling that I'd seen you in another picture."
He picked the next piece of paper from the folder and handed it over.
Roux remembered the picture being taken, even if he had forgotten the joke that had put a smile on everyone's lips a long time ago.
The young man picked out the faces one by one.
"Bobby Kennedy, JFK and someone beside them, a third man, who you must admit bears a striking resemblance to you."
"There's certainly a resemblance," Roux said. "But I hate to disappoint you. I never had the privilege of meeting either of the Kennedys."
He looked the journalist straight in the eye and lied, daring him to call him on it.
"That's a shame. But maybe this one is a little more familiar?"
This one was slightly out of focus, but Roux remembered the night well.
He'd forgotten a lot of the others in the photograph, but knew the man on the rightPaul Reynaud, the president of France. It had been taken a few months before the outbreak of World War II. Roux stood behind Reynaud's shoulder. He had been less cautious then, less concerned about being seen in public because the proliferation of cameras was nothing like it was today, and the chances of being caught and remembered from one image to the next were almost nil.
Only now Roux had been remembered, and the journalist had followed a trail of photographs into his past and found him impossibly unchanged despite the seventy years between the first and last picture.
"It could be the same man." Roux offered a noncommittal shrug. He needed something to throw the young journalist off the trail, a conclusive spanner in the works that would destroy his faith that it was Roux in the photograph.
"I'm absolutely sure it is, Mr. Roux. It's you, after all." He produced another picture, a sepia-tinged photograph of the Russian royal family. Roux was there again. "Do I really need to show you more? I have them. Plenty of them. Enough, I'm sure, to convince you."
"I'm not sure what you're trying to say," Roux told him. "You can't possibly think these are all of me? They date back nearly a hundred years. That's impossible."
"And yet that's you in each of those pictures, unable to resist the allure of power, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. As you say, there's more than a hundred years between some of these photographs and yet there you are in all of them. And, most interestingly, you haven't changed a bit. I would ask you what the secret of your young skin is, but I'm assuming it's not some moisturizer." His smile was more of a wince.
"A good story, but for one fatal flaw. That's not me in those pictures, no matter how similar the men are. With the billions of people in the world, it's hardly surprising that some of us wear recycled faces, is it? How could it be me?"
"You're denying it?" the journalist asked, gathering the pictures.
"I'm simply pointing out that you are mistaken."
"And that's your final word?"
Roux rubbed a hand over his face, a gesture that could easily have been interpreted as having something to hide rather than simple exhaustion. "I really don't think there's anything else to say." He pushed himself to his feet, indicating their meeting was over. He wasn't about to sit and debate the impossibility of longevity, never mind immortality, with the young man when the only thing he risked was betraying himself with some careless word that would only strengthen his case.
"Then you'll have no objection to me running the story, then?"
"What story?" That brought him up sharply. He'd reacted just a little too quickly to the threat. An innocent man wouldn't have barked out those two words quite as fiercely. He forced himself to sound amused. "There is no story."
"Perhaps, perhaps not. We'll let the members of the public make up their own minds, shall we? Isn't that the joy of a free press?"
"I'm not sure I'd call making up some fanciful story anything more than irresponsible, Mr. Moerlen. It certainly isn't journalism."
The reporter inclined his head slightly, as though conceding the point. "I'm going to be in Paris for a couple of days. Think about it. I'll leave these copies of the photographs with you so you can go through them at your leisure. I do hope you will decide that you'd like to talk to me about this miracle, Mr. Roux. You have my number."
The man got to his feet and held out his hand.
Reluctantly, Roux shook it.
The more he made of the situation, the harder it would be to brush it aside as some bizarre flight of fancy. People didn't live forever. It was impossible. But then, so much about his life was impossible. He needed time to think about this. It would be easy to pull a few strings and make sure that the story was squashed before there was any danger of it being printed. No one made it to Roux's age without collecting an awful lot of favors owed in the checks and balances of life. It helped that the story sounded utterly preposterous.
He stood at the front door and watched as the young man drove away in the small Fiat, white crystals of fog gathering in the night. He could taste snow on the breeze. Maybe not tonight, or tomorrow, but soon, Roux thought. He usually liked this time of year because it was all about the end of things, something he'd experienced so much without having faced it himself.
As the fog folded around the journalist's car, Roux made his way to his study and started to make the calls.
* * *
"You absolute bastard!"
Roux had ignored Moerlen's calls and, when they finally appeared to stop, assumed he'd gotten the message: there wasn't a serious magazine or newspaper in the world that would touch the story. A few of the editors had humored Moerlen and admitted that yes, it was curious, wasn't it? But curious or not, it wasn't for them. A few that Roux knew personally had laughed in the young man's face.
Roux said nothing.
Instead, he allowed the journalist to vent his frustration over the phone. He was doing the man a favor, even if he didn't appreciate it. By letting him get it out of his system it minimized the chances of him doing something stupid. Sooner or later Moerlen would find some small circulation magazine that liked the unexplained and un-explainable, which would buy the story and might even run it, but no one took that kind of nonsense seriously.
"It's not going to work. You can't gag me, no matter who you know. I'll find someone who will publish this story. The truth will come out."
"Look," Roux said patiently. "I don't know what you think you know, but believe me, you don't. There is no story to sell. Let it go. Get on with your life. Don't make an enemy of me, son," Roux said, deliberately patronizing the man on the other end of the line.
"You think you are so clever, don't you? You think that you have it all worked out. What you don't get is that the whole world will want to know your story. How can someone live for so long without aging? I'm not naive enough to think you signed some kind of pact with the devil, but something is going on. That is you in those photographs. I know it is. I'll prove it."
"I'm sorry that you've wasted time on this," Roux said, signaling an end to the conversation, but the man refused to go.
"Fine. I'll begin my story by telling everyone how I've been muzzled. That makes for a compelling beginning. How someoneyoudidn't want this story out in the public domain. That just makes it more interesting, doesn't it? Think about it. The fact that the truth is being suppressed is more interesting than the truth itself. Why would you want this kept secret unless you had something to hide? You can try to ridicule me and make me look like a fool, but I won't be silenced. There are other ways to tell this story. This is the modern world now. Information wants to be free. There are bulletin boards and chat rooms that would devour this type of thing, giving it a life of its own. All I have to do is log in and start to tell the world everything I know. It's not about money anymore. It's about the truth. You've misjudged me, Mr. Roux, if you think that all I care about is money. I didn't turn up on your doorstep trying to blackmail you. I came looking for answers."
"And that was a mistake," Roux said, then hung up.
Moerlen was right; the world was changing, and changing faster than it had for decades before. It was already smaller than it had been even twenty years ago with the pernicious invasion of television, but now with so many people having access to computers and those machines somehow connecting like some giant message network, it was so much more dangerous for a man like him.
This was escalating too quickly. The risk now was that it would slip out of his control. There were strings he could pull, more favors he could call in, but once the story had a life of its own there was no way he could put that genie back in the bottle. And that was what those bulletin boards and chat rooms promised to do.
Which meant he had to find another way to stop the story.
He needed to speak to someone who understood this electronic world, and the very real damage that could be done if he were to be exposed. There was one obvious choice, but given that they hadn't talked for longer than Moerlen had been alive, it wasn't exactly an easy call to make. The last time they'd been together Garin Braden had tried to kill him. The same thing had happened the time before. A third time and he'd start to take it personally.
He dialed the number, but he was forwarded straight to voice mail.
"Call me," he said, then hung up.
There was nothing more to say.
Garinhis former pupilwould recognize his voice, and understand just how important it was that they talk simply because he'd swallowed his pride and reached out.
He thought about ignoring the situation and hoping the mess would just go away. The more he fought against it, the more obvious it was he had something to hide, after all. But what if it didn't go away? What if those damned photographs led to more journalists banging on his door, asking more and more questions he couldn't answer? He hadn't asked for this life, even if, looking around him at the riches he had assembled across the centuries, it might look like a blessing rather than a curse. All it would take was the wrong person digging deep enough and everything would begin to unravel. The last thing he wanted to do was to have to begin a new life somewhere else. It was getting harder and harder to do that in this era of powerful computers and international cooperation.
His world, and Garin's, was in danger of falling apart.
He punched a number on his phone again.
"Mr. Moerlen," he said before the man on the other end of the line had had a chance to say hello. "You are right, we should meet. I will be in Paris in a couple of hours."
"I'm so glad you've come to your senses, Mr. Roux. But things have changed since the last time we spoke."
"How so?" Roux asked, not liking the sound of this.
"Remuneration, Mr. Roux."
"Ah, so despite all of your protestations, this is about money, then? I'm disappointed."
"Don't be. I'm a child of the modern age. The modern age, as I'm sure you have noticed, is an expensive place to live. Let's make it the top of the Eiffel Tower shall we?"
Moerlen named a time and hung up.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
These are a vacation with a twist! Fun and very entertaining reads!