French Kiss

French Kiss

by Eric Van Lustbader

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504045421
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 07/18/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 498
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Eric Van Lustbader is the New York Times –bestselling author of the Nicholas Linnear series, the Testament series, First Daughter , and Blood Trust , as well as several of the Jason Bourne books, including The Bourne Legacy , The Bourne Betrayal , The Bourne Sanction , The Bourne Deception , The Bourne Objective , The Bourne Dominion , and The Bourne Retribution. For more information, visit www.EricVanLustbader.com. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
 

Read an Excerpt

French Kiss


By Eric Van Lustbader

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1988 Eric Van Lustbader
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-4536-0


CHAPTER 1

SPRING, PRESENT: Tourrette-sur-Loup, France/New Canaan, Connecticut


All spirits vanish with the dawn. That was what Terry Haye thought as he walked across the square fronting the medieval town of Tourrette-sur-Loup.

He had driven his rented Opel up the winding road from Nice during a rainstorm that had driven gray clouds in off the Mediterranean. In the rooftop restaurant of his hotel in Nice, he had had coffee and croissants while looking at the indigo mountains of Haute-Provence below the blue-black sky that presaged sunrise.

Lingering over his coffee, he had wondered whether it was experience or action that destroyed morality. It must be action, he decided, eating the last of his croissant. If he had become a writer, everything would be different now. A writer created only words. A writer was, by definition, a master of deceit; but it was a deceit that had no existence save on the printed page. Morality did not enter into it; a writer could create, but he could not destroy. That was his power — and his weakness. That was why Terry had chosen the other path: action. Action was life; and it was death.

He had watched the first blush of dawn give way to a morning filled with wind and dust as if it were an omen by which he could tell the future. He had walked the streets of Nice with an aimless energy that turned pleasant streets silent and deadly.

Needing company on the drive north into the Loup Valley, he had turned on the radio. The instant of recognition, Isabelle Adjani sang in French, is like seeing the sun at midnight. The copper trees glow in the heat of your eyes. And time falls asleep in your arms.

Terry thought of black olives swimming in oil and crusty pain de campagne, the quintessential Provençal lunch. Five miles out of Nice, he was already hungry. It was just past ten o'clock.

Black clouds hung in the sky, as if pinned to a backdrop. The sun refused to show itself. When the rain came, it did so in thick curtains. Mist, clinging to the low foliage, curled up the ancient stone walls surrounding the village. Tourrette, sitting atop the spinal ridge of the serpentine mountainside, appeared not as a village at all, Terry thought, but rather as the magical horn of a great beast of the earth.

Pigeons scattered in front of him, swooping across the cobbled square. Terry felt the weight of the stainless steel briefcase chained to his left wrist. He felt abruptly conspicuous striding past the children at play, the scattered groups of tourists emerging from their autos like rats from a hole, their faces buried in their green Michelin guides.

A ball the children were throwing bounced toward him. He caught it, lofted it back at them. As he did so, the chain rattled, and the children stared. The ball went bouncing across the ancient cobbles of the square, making the pigeons squawk as they took flight, vanishing like spirits with the dawn.

He passed through the stone portals on the far side of the square, and was transported back five centuries. Ahead of him, narrow, twisting streets sloped downward. He could hear a baby crying through an open window, then a plaintive lullaby sung in a soothing voice. The facades of the stone houses rose up like sheer cliffs on either side. There was barely room for two people to walk abreast.

This early, there was hardly anyone on the streets, save for shopkeepers turning oversized keys in the rusty locks of their storefronts. They smiled at him, and wished him good morning. The smell of baking bread was tantalizing.

He paused to peer through a slivered gap in the buildings. Olive trees, dripping in the misty rain, covered the mountainside all the way down to the hazy lower elevations from which he had come. Within a month or two the lavender would be in bloom, a carpet of fragrance and color for miles in all directions. Terry craned his neck, saw a car ascending on the D 2210 from Vence, the road he had taken earlier. From his vantage point, the rest of the world looked remote, a scene viewed the wrong way through a telescope.

He went left at the first crossroads, then took an immediate right. Down a long, curving flight of stairs worn as smooth as if it had been part of a centuries-old watercourse.

It was darker here. He passed a black, long-haired cat half asleep on a sooty, stone sconce that centuries ago had been used to light nighttime streets. The animal opened its eyes just as Terry passed, staring at him with the intense, dumb curiosity peculiar to cats.

Farther along, he came upon a shop at the corner of a cross street. Pausing, he looked inside its window. He saw a marionette hung by strings that were invisible against a black velvet backdrop. It was handmade, of exquisite workmanship: a female harlequin. She was dressed in the traditional red and white diamond-patterned suit. A single teardrop was painted on her checkered mask. And then, as Terry peered more closely, he made out a second figure half hidden in the shadows behind her: it was the devil, with a horned head, a beautiful, garish face, and skeleton arms outspread against the black background. Terry stood, transfixed by the marionettes for a long moment. Then, nodding to himself, he turned away.

Down here, the Chapel of Our Lady of Benva stood at the end of a crooked, shadow-laden alley. It appeared as if even at noon the sun would not touch its white stone walls. The enormous, arching wooden doors stood open, their thick ironwork glinting dully.

Inside the church, the air was filled with dust motes and echoes. History pressed inward as if impelled by heaven itself. Terry sensed rather than saw the height of the inner galleries. A small, handwritten sign in French announced that Benva was a corruption of the early Provençal ben vai, meaning good journey.

Terry went into the main sanctuary, and stood at the back for a long time. His eyes probed every inch of the gloomy interior. He could not say for certain that he was entirely alone, but he could discern no movement, no other presence. Still, he was vigilant, recalling the biblical verse: "Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves."

He walked down the center aisle, past the rows of empty wooden pews, black with age and use. Terry guessed that these were the same seats used when the world was lit only by fire.

He sat in the second row, as he had been instructed to do.

The walls on either side were decorated with frescoes depicting in graphic detail aspects of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Terry found the florid and exaggerated aura of pain and torment suffocating. Directly in front of him was a gigantic wooden carving of Christ on the Cross. His head was turned to the side, His crown of thorns had already taken on the aspect of a halo, and His sunken eyes stared out with what Terry could only define as a disturbing hunger. It was as if this Christ was asking a question of all who entered the Chapel of Our Lady of Benva. Though Terry was not religious, he found himself wondering what that question might be.

"Bonjour, Monsieur Haye."

Terry turned, saw a man sitting in the row of pews behind him.

"You startled me," Terry said. "I didn't hear you come in."

"I expect not," the man said. "I was already here." His voice was oddly muffled, as if it were being telephoned in.

"And you are Monsieur —?"

"Mabuse," the man said.

Terry peered more closely at the man, but in the dim, dusty light, it was as if the man were part of the shadows. All he could tell was that the man was small. "Surely not," he said. "Are you serious? Isn't Mabuse a name from a classic film?"

"I wouldn't know," the man said, "since I do not frequent the cinema." He had brought out a fan and, opening it, began to wave it back and forth just below his chin.

Terry wanted to laugh. "You're not the man I spoke with on the phone," he said. "That was Monsieur Milhaud."

"Milhaud reaches out his hand for what he wants," M. Mabuse said, "and I close my fist upon it." The portentous phrase was oddly fitting — and powerful — in this setting.

When Terry shifted his position a bit, M. Mabuse moved the fan in response; his face remained a part of the shadows. "Do you need that fan? It isn't warm in here," Terry said, abruptly annoyed.

M. Mabuse seemed to smile from the shadows. "My gunsen is always with me," he said. He leaned forward, closer to Terry. "Have you brought the item?" Now Terry could see that the fan was made of metal. It was thickly engraved, and looked heavy — odd for such an object.

"Have you brought the ten million dollars?" Terry asked.

"In diamonds," M. Mabuse said. "As you requested."

"Let's see them."

M. Mabuse continued to fan himself. "Show me what will they buy, Monsieur Haye."

Terry hefted the stainless steel case still chained to his wrist. At the same time M. Mabuse stood, lifted a bulky black attaché case onto the top of the pew.

Terry placed his case beside the other, opened its combination lock; M. Mabuse snapped the levers on his black attaché. Together, they opened the tops. What was inside M. Mabuse's attaché were plastic bags of blue-white diamonds, all, as Terry had requested, between one and three carats. What was inside Terry's case was another matter entirely.

M. Mabuse sucked in his breath at the sight of it. "La Porte à la Nuit," he said.

Terry lifted his case up a bit higher. It was lined in midnight-blue velvet. What lay in its center could only be described as a dagger, but it was like no other dagger in existence. Its gleaming blade, nearly a foot long, was carved from a single piece of Imperial jade. The guard was polished ivory, wrapped with solid gold wire. The hilt was ebony, engraved and acid-etched with incomprehensible runes. At the very end of the pommel was set a single cabochon ruby the color of pigeon's blood. As M. Mabuse had said, the dagger was known as the Doorway to Night.

Terry picked up a diamond at random, put a jeweler's loupe into one eye, extracted a pocket flashlight. In the narrow beam of light he examined the gemstone. He put it back, took another, examined it as well. When he was done, he said, "La Porte à la Nuit is what M. Milhaud wants." He shut the lid of his case. "The deal is done."

"One moment," M. Mabuse said. "Milhaud has given me strict orders. I must make certain that this is, indeed, La Porte à la Nuit. Please open the case again."

From somewhere within the chapel, prayers had begun. The Agnus Dei was being sung, voices drifting down on them, the Latin words like ancient rain.

"What kind of test?" Terry said. "I have told you. This is the Doorway to Night."

"Open the case, Monsieur Haye."

"I don't think so. This is not in the —"

"Monsieur Haye, even as we speak, your brother Chris is under surveillance in New York."

"Chris? What does Chris have to do with anything?"

"Just this, Monsieur Haye. If you attempt to cheat us in any way, we will kill your brother. Call it a reminder, if not a warning. Rules must be kept."

Terry saw that M. Mabuse had put aside his attaché case. To Terry's amazement he saw that there was a smaller version of the dagger in the other man's hand. Another piece of the Forest of Swords.

"So it's true," Terry said. "Milhaud has the remaining pieces of the Prey Dauw. The Forest of Swords."

"Have a care," M. Mabuse said. "Les murs ont des oreills." By which he meant, Who can say who might be listening? "The Prey Dauw is a trinity," he went on in a hushed tone. "A knife, a dagger, and a sword: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. One without the others is useless. But, of course, you know that already."

Terry did not care for M. Mabuse's sacrilegious, mocking reference. "You have the knife. Does that mean that Monsieur Milhaud has the third part, the sword, as well?" He was thinking that no matter what the answer, he had found out what he had come here to discover.

Terry did not like this man at all. Despite the money involved, he was already regretting the deal he had made. He was reminded of a line by Victor Hugo, "There are people who observe the rules of honor as we do the stars, from a great distance."

"What Milhaud has or doesn't have," M. Mabuse said, "is no concern of yours." He brought his knife close to Terry's dagger. "Singly, the three weapons have only a monetary value," he went on. "But together ... they were made to fit against one another to form a single whole: the Forest of Swords, the Prey Dauw, as it is known in the Brahman texts. The three together have an entirely different value, one virtually without limit." The dagger in M. Mabuse's hand moved in and out of the dusty light. "I will know if this is La Porte à la Nuit when these weapons fit together. The method of their bonding is impossible to see — and impossible therefore to duplicate."

Terry made a sudden decision. He shut the case. "I've changed my mind," he said. "I've decided La Porte a la Nuit is not for sale."

"You are being quite foolish," M. Mabuse said. "You need the money to continue your operations. You have been fantastically successful, until a recent series of reverses has put you in a rather nasty vise." As he spoke, he moved into the light. Now Terry could see that M. Mabuse was wearing a mask — a full-head latex mask.

"How do you know all this?" Terry said. Something about M. Mabuse's odd, muffled voice was becoming familiar. In the back of his mind a suspicion began to form. He reached out, and ripped the mask from M. Mabuse's head, exposing a gleaming, grinning skull.

Without warning, M. Mabuse leaned over the pew, swept the knife inward toward Terry, just as Terry instinctively began an evasive maneuver.

"Jesus," Terry breathed in concert with the angelic voices singing the Agnus Dei. He used the edge of his right hand, smashing into the other man's collarbone.

M. Mabuse did not even wince. He kept the knife coming in, sweeping it in a shallow arc. Terry's immediate task was to grab hold of the knife's blade. Because its blade was carved from jade, it could not hold an edge. It could also be broken if it was twisted sharply enough, or if it received a hard, oblique blow.

Struggling, Terry wrapped his hand around the small, slim blade. M. Mabuse grunted, gave a great lunge with his shoulder. Terry cried out as the end of the blade pierced his right palm, impaling it against the scarred wood of the pew back.

Now Terry realized that this had been M. Mabuse's intention all along. Grinning, M. Mabuse let go of the knife's handle and, curling his hand around the metal fan, slashed the top edge of it inward at Terry's shoulder.

Terry had never before known such agony. The hellish fan was a weapon! Its pleated steel edges were honed to razor sharpness. My gunsen is always with me, M. Mabuse had said. Automatically, Terry tried to twist away, but pain exploded up his right arm, emanating from his hand, locked between the wood and the jade blade.

Then M. Mabuse plunged his fist into Terry's sternum, and Terry's body spasmed, his breastbone shattered. He was bent backward over the wooden pew, and his vision was of the crucified Christ, upside down. He saw only those sunken eyes asking their eternal question.

M. Mabuse said, "I'm going to kill your brother, anyway."

As the pain became a river carrying him away to a sea of agony, he tried desperately to move his body. But either the pain or the trauma of his wounds made movement impossible.

It was then that, perhaps as a gesture of his complete control over Terry, M. Mabuse ripped the grotesque skull mask from his face, and Terry saw the true visage of his murderer.

"Oh, my God."

And then he understood everything.

Drowning in his own blood, Terry thought of Chris, and began to pray for his brother's life.

He discovered another kind of urgency inside of himself. To his surprise he felt the proximity of heaven. And, also to his surprise, he found that he very much wanted entrance. He did not know whether he would rise to it, or fall instead into the pit. This uncertainty defined his narrowing consciousness. He began to cry, and as he did so, he saw the image of Christ as if for the first time. It was as if his tears made manifest to him the question Christ was asking. And, as he was dying, Terry Haye answered that question. His lips moved.

M. Mabuse's steel fan whirred, severing Terry Haye's head from his neck.

The Agnus Dei had been sung and now, the only sounds inside the church were the distant echoes of Terry Haye's last words, "I have sinned."


Saved.

Saved was the title of this week's sermon. Not that sermons really had titles. But Fr. Dominic Guarda liked to have titles for his sermons. They helped him to gather his thoughts, to arrange what he had to say, to begin at the beginning, as it were. As the Red Queen said to Alice.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from French Kiss by Eric Van Lustbader. Copyright © 1988 Eric Van Lustbader. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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