Nothing is as it seems in this intriguing thriller in which a Pope is kidnapped, and an Interpol inspector must take charge of the disorganized case
Pope Clement XXI is kidnapped, and the Curia, the Swiss Guard, and the Italian police are overwhelmed. Thierry Dulac from Interpol is called in, but he, too, is thwarted at every turn. His investigations hint at secrets held for centuries, revenge, and omerta in the arcane, twisting corridors of the Vatican itself. It seems the pontiff too has been less than open. From the shadowy world of the Vatican to the bustling Parisian boulevards, from the charms of the Florentine piazzas, to the searing bleakness of Libya's Great Sand Sea Desert, Dulac fights to prise open the plot which could cause havoc and disbelief among the billions of Catholics across the globe and bring the pontiff back to safety.
|Publisher:||Hale, Robert Limited|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
André K. Baby is the author of Dead Bishops Don't Lie. He lives in Montreal.
Read an Excerpt
The Chimera Sanction
By Andre K. Baby
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2014 Andre K. Baby
All rights reserved.
Mount Assiniboine, Canadian Rockies
Inside the alpine shelter, nestled in the warmth of his duvet sleeping bag, Thierry Dulac looked at his watch: 6:25 a.m. He noticed the rain had finally stopped its relentless pounding on the Hind Hut's aluminum roof. Beside him Karen was still fast asleep, snoring peacefully. Dulac rose from the uncomfortable wood cot, stretched his tall, thin frame, and dressed quickly. They would have to start their ascent soon if they were to summit and get back down before dark. He rummaged in his backpack for the small Icom VHF radio and went to the hut's door, opening it discreetly. Outside, the air was damp, windless. A thin gauze of mist hung precariously over the valley below, its veil beginning to evaporate under the heat of the morning light. Behind the hut, Mount Assiniboine's daunting pyramid rose imperially, its outline etched into the mauve sky. 'The Matterhorn of the Rockies', boasted the lodge's brochure. And just as dangerous, Dulac thought. He inhaled deeply, savoring the purity of the thin atmosphere, then glanced at the thermometer on the side of the hut. It read -3°C. Perfect for summiting.
Dulac turned on his VHF radio and pressed the small WX button, the weather channel. The electronic voice droned in a monotone, interspersed with static: 'This is the 6 a.m. ... forecast for the greater ... which includes Mount Magog, Mount Assiniboine, The Marshall and ... A hazardous weather warning is in effect from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today. A strong cold front is moving ... Winds of ... to 60 km an hour, with gusts to 80. Expect heavy snowfall, up to 25 cm in higher elevations. Repeat, a hazardous ... warning is....'
Damn. A spring blizzard. Just our luck. He stood looking at the mountain, its peak clear, inviting. A cool chill ran up his spine at the thought of how quickly mountain weather could change, how deadly it could become. The memory of Mount Mercedario started to resurface. He willed himself not to dwell on it, pushing it back into the recesses of his subconscious. After a moment Dulac, despondent, returned to the warmth of the prefabricated hut, went to the cot, and gently shook Karen's shoulder.
'Karen, wake up.'
'What time is it?' she said drowsily.
'It's get-off-the-mountain time.'
'What?' Karen sat up abruptly, pushing aside wisps of hair from her face. 'What do you mean?'
'The weather just went south. There's a blizzard coming in. We've got to get back down.'
'But last night's forecast was fantastic.'
'This morning's is downright ugly.'
'Shit! Just once I'd like to get a hold of one of those meteorologists and....'
'There's plenty of time if we leave now. It's five hours to the lodge. We'll be down and off Gmoser's Highway before the storm hits.'
'And then what?'
'We wait it out at the lodge and try again later. We still have a full week.'
'But we're so close to summiting. Why not wait here?'
'And risk being trapped? No thanks. That storm could last a day, maybe a week. I ... I....' Mercedario flashed before Dulac's eyes. His younger brother Eric....
'What is it, Thierry?'
'Nothing. It's just a. ... Nothing. We must go.'
After a breakfast of tepid, glue-like oatmeal downed with cups of rancid coffee, they finished packing their gear. While Dulac adjusted the scope of their walking poles for the descent, Karen tidied up the inside of the hut. Moments later, they started their downward trek to Assiniboine Lodge, the clanging of their poles against the path's stones marking their brisk, steady pace.
An hour later, the path had widened. On either side, the dull green lichen had given way to buds of yellow cinquefoils and pods of white avens, piercing through a luxuriant bed of purple saxifrage. Dulac was admiring nature's rich bounty when something far ahead on the horizon caught his attention. He stopped short. Karen, following a few steps behind, smacked into his backpack.
'Hey, careful,' she said, annoyance in her voice.
'Look.' Dulac pointed to the speck in the distance.
The speck grew quickly, until Dulac could see the distinct bubble and skids of a helicopter and hear the rhythmic whirring of its blades. The helicopter approached, slowed, then began to hover, a hundred yards away. Dulac recognized the red Canadian maple leaf insignia on the helicopter's yellow tail, surmounted by large red letters: SAR. Search and Rescue. That's odd. Why ...? Suddenly, Dulac's satellite phone started ringing in his backpack. He threw the pack off his shoulders and grabbed the phone.
'This is Search and Rescue chopper Bravo Juliet Uniform. Are you Inspector Thurley Doolake?'
'Thierry Dulac, yes?'
'We're coming down.'
'Why? We're fine.' Dulac threw an inquisitive glance at Karen and hunched his shoulders in bafflement.
The pilot didn't answer and the helicopter landed, coming to rest slightly off-kilter to the right of the path. The chopper's blades were still rotating slowly when a helmeted man jumped from the open side-door and made his way towards the couple.
'We have orders to pick you up, you and Ms Dawson,' said the man, lifting his helmet's visor.
Dulac looked quizzically at Karen, then back to the man, busy rubbing his left eye. 'From whom?'
'From our base colonel in Edmonton. It's urgent.'
'What's this about?'
'Don't know. I just execute. Something to do with a secretary general or something?'
'You mean the General Secretary of Interpol?'
'We'll see about that,' said Dulac, fuming that Harris had interrupted his first vacation in three years. He punched Harris' number into the sat phone. After three rings, the all too familiar voice came on.
'Dulac. We're being told to get into an SAR 'copter, supposedly on your orders?'
'Don't talk. Your phone is corrupt. They've hacked our lines. See you back here in a few hours.'
'But why ...?'
'Just get on the damn chopper.'
The line went dead.CHAPTER 2
'Where are we headed?' yelled Karen to Dulac, seeking reassurance in the Frenchman's deep-set brown eyes.
'I'll ask the pilot,' said Dulac. After a moment, he turned to Karen. 'Canadian Forces Base, Edmonton.'
'But our things are at Assiniboine Lodge.'
'They picked them up earlier,' he said and pointed to the suitcases behind them. Karen looked at Dulac in stupefaction. As the Griffon banked steeply left, she caught a last glimpse of the arched-shaped Hind Hut, their love nest for a night. Behind it, Mt Assiniboine surged suddenly into view, its sharp summit piercing the cloudless azure sky. Karen felt the pang of yet another foreshortened vacation coming rapidly to an end. And it was going so well.
Dulac's resentment was growing by the minute. See you back in Europe in a few hours? Is he drunk? It's at least thirteen hours from Edmonton to Paris by the polar route. Even more if we fly east. Harris was not in the habit of being inaccurate. At least not when sober.
Just as Dulac strapped himself into the narrow seat, the rotor's vibrations shook the helicopter, awakening his old demons again. He nervously ran his fingers through his thick locks. He hated flying. 'Flying is strictly for the birds,' he'd proclaimed during a dinner with Rebecca, the humorless airline pilot, after enduring her endless lecture on landing an Airbus 360 with only one engine. She'd ended their relationship that night.
He was beginning to feel nauseous when Karen pointed out the window. 'Look down there. Mount Magog. Beautiful, isn't it?'
An hour later, the fog wrapped itself around the low-flying Griffon and the pilot, adjusting the main rotor's pitch, signaled their impending arrival. As they landed and the din subsided, Dulac could hear Karen mumbling something to the co-pilot. He nudged her.
'Just asking him why we're going to Edmonton,' she said. 'He doesn't know.'
It was raining hard, and as they followed the pilot and co-pilot towards the small, gray building, Dulac shot a side glance at Karen. Despondency and reproach were sketched all over her face.
'Inspector Dulac, Ms. Dawson, I presume,' said a mustachioed, bald-headed man standing in the open doorway of the building, clad in a beige and maroon uniform one size too small for his bulging gut. 'I'm Colonel John Pettigrew, senior officer, CFB Edmonton. I —'
'What the hell is this all about, Colonel?' interrupted Dulac. 'Why all this cloak and dagger crap?'
'I haven't the foggiest. I was told to pick you up, you and Ms. Dawson.'
'Why are we at your base, Colonel?' Dulac said, glaring at Pettigrew.
'You'll see. It should be coming in any minute,' said Pettigrew, almost nonchalant. He went behind the small counter and reached underneath it, pulling out a clipboard and pen. 'We need you both to sign here. Government formalities. By the way, Mr Dulac, have you had a medical recently?'
'What bloody business is that of yours?'
'Just a precaution,' said Pettigrew, holding up his right hand defensively.
At that moment, the unmistakable wail of a jet engine on final approach pierced the opaque fog. Not knowing exactly why, Dulac felt his stomach lurch.
'That will be your limo, sir,' said Pettigrew, pointing to the tarmac and bending over slightly like an obsequious bell-hop.
The F-16 Viper attack fighter emerged menacingly from the fog. Dulac watched, incredulous, as its gray, lithe shape taxied slowly down the runway onto the tarmac. A hundred feet from the terminal, the Viper turned its missile-like nose toward the building and came to a stop.
'Merde,' said Dulac, butting his cigarette on the edge of the water fountain.
'We've arranged for Ms Dawson to take the next commercial flight to Paris,' said Pettigrew.
Dulac watched as the yellow and white fuel truck pulled up alongside the Viper and a man stepped out and went to the rolled-up hose at the back of the truck. The pilot signaled to him. After affixing the hose to the jet's fuselage, the man began quenching the gray bird's thirst for JP-8 kerosene. The canopy opened, the pilot alighted nimbly from the aircraft and walked towards the building, carrying an extra flight suit and helmet.
'Buongiorno. I'm Captain Emilio Zegna, Royal Italian Air Force, Roma base,' said the short, black haired man with a hooked nose, as he entered the doorway. He looked about the room. 'I am here to pick up inspector Thierry Dulac. Is —?'
'I'm Dulac,' Dulac said, turning away from the window.
'Yes, hello inspector, these are for you,' said the pilot, handing Dulac the suit and helmet. 'We leave as soon as they finish refueling.'
Dulac shook his head in disbelief. 'You want me to get into that?' he said, pointing at the F-16.
'We're due back in five hours.'
Pettigrew looked askance at Zegna. 'Captain, Italy is at least three thousand miles from here over the Arctic. You refueled at —'
'In midair,' interrupted the pilot in a condescending tone, as if stating the obvious.
'Resolute could have handled it,' said Pettigrew. He eyed Dulac. 'They must want you there in a helluva hurry.'
'Think so?' Dulac said, grudgingly tugging the flight suit over his damp fleece shirt. He glared at Karen. 'Don't you dare comment.'
'I didn't say a word,' she said, unable to suppress a smile. 'See you in Paris, Thierry.' She tossed her hair back, leaned forward and kissed him.
'Want to trade places?' said Dulac.
Dulac followed the Italian toward the door, when Zegna pointed to the building's restroom sign.
'Better use the facilities here. It's a bit tight in the cockpit.'
As they walked to the plane, Dulac felt his level of discomfort rising, fueled by something more than the imminent plane trip. What could possibly justify Interpol commandeering an F-16? It has to be catastrophic. 'Anything terrible happen in the world recently?' he asked Zegna.
'The usual,' he said with an indifferent shrug. 'Yesterday two car bombings in Baghdad, one in Afghanistan.'
'The bus drivers. Always the bus drivers. Their third strike in two years.'
They reached the F-16 and Zegna helped Dulac up the ladder into the tiny rear seat. Dulac squeezed himself in and fumbled with the helmet.
'Here, let me help you,' said Zegna, as he adjusted and tightened the helmet's strap under Dulac's chin.
'Thanks. Now what do I do?'
'Nothing. Do not touch anything. Just sit back and enjoy.'
'Yeah, sure. Where are we headed?'
Dulac felt the voltage increase within his central nervous system in anticipation of takeoff. Meanwhile Zegna went through his lengthy cockpit check, flipping the occasional toggle-switch and lever. Seemingly content with the result, he flipped a final switch and the big GE engine rumbled to life, its low pitch slowly increasing to a hissing whine. Zegna released the brakes and the jet slowly taxied off the tarmac and onto the main runway.
Hands sweating, Dulac inhaled and exhaled deeply as Zegna lined up the F-16 on the runway's white line and waited for the green light from the control tower. Suddenly, the GE engine burst into a deafening roar, its 32,000 pounds of thrust compressing Dulac helplessly into the seatback. His head snapped back like a rag doll, as he felt the skin of his face tighten against his jaw and cheekbones. His eyes watered, blurring his vision.
The Viper screamed, and in an instant the runway had disappeared from underneath it. Dulac felt the gray, shapeless sky envelop him, as he hurtled into it at close to the speed of sound. His spine tingled not so much with fear, but with sheer amazement. Despite his phobia, he couldn't help but marvel at man's invention of such a compact, efficient, awesome weapon.
Moments later, the Viper pierced through the clouds and broke into the calm of a cobalt sky. As Zegna throttled back to cruising speed, the angry wail of the jet engine became a dull drone.
'Bellissimo, eh?' said Zegna over his helmet's intercom.
'I suppose,' said Dulac. 'When do we get to Rome?'
'Not so soon. First we have to refuel.'
'I don't see any gas stations.'
'Very funny. We have better: they come to us.'
Dulac looked down inside the cramped cockpit and rubbed the numbness from his long legs, squeezed by the Kevlar sides of his unpadded seat. 'Not much room here. How do the Americans get into these?'
'Only the short, skinny ones. Not many qualify.'
As opposed to all Italians, Dulac thought.
Two and a half hours into their flight, Dulac was still trying to decipher the intricacies of the instrument panel's dials, switches and toggles, when Zegna signaled him to look ahead.
The F-16 slowed and the silhouette of a Boeing 707 appeared through the front of the canopy, slightly overhead. Dulac could see a long, fixed appendage extending from the underbelly of the Boeing.
'Now it's getting tricky,' said Zegna over the intercom. 'We get three tries.'
'Why only three?'
'We run out of fuel,' said Zegna.
'You've got to be kidding.'
'Don't we have parachutes?'
'We're over the Arctic Ocean. It's -80°C outside. We are very dead before we hit the water.'
'Great. Just pissing great,' mumbled Dulac.
As Zegna aimed the F-16 towards the funnel at the end of the tube, the F-16 bolted up suddenly. 'Air pocket,' said Zegna, narrowly missing the Boeing's fueling funnel with the F-16's nose. Dulac gasped, frozen rigid in his seat. Goddamn Italian cowboy. Probably drives a taxi in Rome in his spare time.
Zegna waited until the F-16 steadied, and approached again. Dulac watched him making minute corrections with the joystick and throttle, when suddenly the Boeing suddenly lurched sideways and Dulac saw the funnel alongside his head, inches away from the F-16's canopy.
'Jesus, can't you —?'
Suddenly, a loud beeping interrupted the hissing sound of the jet's motor. 'What's that?' Dulac said.
'Low fuel, first warning.'
'Great, just pissing great.' Dulac instinctively grabbed his knees in a vicelike grip, as the funnel slowly eased forward. Zegna was silent. He steadied the Viper and again approached the funnel with the Viper's antenna-like fueling pod.
'Contact,' Zegna shouted to the Boeing's crew.
'Synchronize autopilots,' a voice replied over the intercom.
'OK,' said Zegna.
'Beginning fueling,' said the voice.
Zegna turned his head back towards Dulac. 'No swimming today.'
Two hours later, the clouds thinned for a moment and Dulac could see the glitter of Rome's lights below. He heard Zegna obtain landing clearance from Guidonia Air Base's control tower and moments later, the Viper swung onto final approach and lined up between the blue lights of the runway's narrow corridor. Dulac read the clock repeater inside the cockpit and adjusted his watch: 9.02 p.m., local time. He sensed Zegna throttling back and the plane begin to decelerate when, to his horror, Zegna nonchalantly raised both hands and clasped them behind his head.
Excerpted from The Chimera Sanction by Andre K. Baby. Copyright © 2014 Andre K. Baby. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
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