The Pope is dead, the apparent victim in a murder-suicide carried out by his most loyal secretary in Vatican City. But the strange disappearance of a sacred relic suggests that the truth is even darker than it first appears. And it’s a link in a terrifying chain of events that could devastate the world’s three major religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—and hasten the end of all things.
In Israel, a potentially devastating explosion at the Dome of the Rock is narrowly averted, as Mossad agents rush in prevent the early morning destruction of the sacred site where Solomon’s temple stood, where Christ was crucified, and where Muslims the world over come to worship at their holiest mosque. In the raid’s aftermath, an Israeli intelligence agent forms an unlikely partnership with an Interpol art expert. But their hunt for answers leads them into the dark heart of an ancient conspiracy, as the world’s oldest, most secret society prepares to unleash a power more destructive than anything ever imagined.
The Day of Atonement is an ingenious international thriller from the author of The Tarleton Murders. Packed with unrelenting suspense, it is a breathtaking adventure that fans of Inferno, The Da Vinci Code, and the bestselling fiction of Daniel Silva and David Baldacci will eagerly devour.
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SATURDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2027
The man stood erect, all in black, waiting in the autumn cold for the Pope to appear. On one side of the great square the twin towers of the cathedral and the ancient palace of St. John Lateran rose out of the morning darkness. On another side stood the rose-colored Renaissance face of the sanctuary of the Holy Stairs. Between them in the center of the square the Egyptian obelisk soared into the frozen sky; from the base of the obelisk a great stone eagle soared upwards and a granite lion lapped hungrily at a frozen cascade of fruit and flowers.
He worked over and over in his mind the geometry of the next hour, thinking mechanically through his preparations — weapon, route, timing. What could reasonably be expected ... what unexpected.
He concentrated on a sharp diagonal line between sun and shadow descending the façade of the sanctuary. Reflexively he stroked with his thumb the unfamiliar gold ring on his fourth finger, then re-focused his mind on the number of stairs, the sequence of the ritual, the cubical room inside.
The crowd grew larger, and as a cold wind raced over the square people around him jostled and stamped their feet to warm themselves. He remained still and kept his eyes on nothing. The voices of the crowd were like the wind on his neck — prickly, scraping. Otherwise, the people seemed infinitely remote. He felt utterly and triumphantly alone. He knew there was no one like himself in all the world, no one with the singular mission he had to perform, no one with the peculiar knowledge he had.
No one, of course, but his holy father, who had willed him here.
Inadvertently, the man looked up the lines of the obelisk to the icy, unwavering blue sky, then back to the chapel steps. His concentration ebbed only slightly; his mouth tightened. What he had done so far had been hard ... very hard. What he had yet to do would be far harder, but just as necessary. For that, he would need ice and stone within himself.
He lowered his gaze to the ground. His dark face looked back at him from the twin black mirrors of his shoes. He sighed, then with a strong effort he silenced his breathing, concentrated his hearing, immobilized himself.
There was a cheer from the crowd. The time had come.
Today he would carry out his mission. Today the long preparation would end, the years of training, the decades of planning, the centuries of confused hope — it would all make sense soon. Today the genetic swirl that had given rise to himself would meet its apex. Today would be not just another gust in the deceptively chaotic storm of time — it would be the eye of time. The event toward which all history had flowed in a breathless rush.
Piazza San Giovanni, Rome, 0930h
"The crowds this Pope draws," thought Antonio Bevo as he surveyed them intently. From his perch near the corner of the square he could see everything; and to him everything looked very odd.
The piazza of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome, sloped away from him like steps in a fountain. The cobbled stairs were usually dotted with the sellers of tourist trinkets, but today most of them had been crowded off the square. He had dealt with crowds for years, but mobs like this one were new to him.
Bevo was head of the detail of Roman police designated to guard the Pope when he ventured out of the Vatican and into the city of which he was nominally bishop. Bevo's job was to coordinate with the Vatican authorities and secure the sites the Pope would visit. Only yesterday he had been the featured speaker at the Papal Visitation Security conference, and had, he thought, impressed the audience. He was under no illusion that his flat black suit and sunglasses made him inconspicuous; in his work he wanted to be conspicuous, to be seen as authoritative and even fearsome. He had efficiently guarded popes since the days of John Paul II. The Vatican police had made occasional attempts to recruit him, but he had no desire to immure himself there.
Nevertheless, he did not know what kind of security he could ensure in this situation. A hugely muscled cowboy walked past him with spurs tinkling, a great gold cross hanging around his neck. Three men dressed in identical rainbow-colored sweat suits giggled as they followed the cowboy around the square. Gypsies squatted on the pavement, showing their scars to passersby and begging for euros; Arabs tried hawking souvenirs in the crush. Scattered throughout were groups of protesters with banners pleading for a return to old ways; the protesters, a tight-faced lot of men in old black suits, were ignored except for a couple of Bevo's men who kept close watch on them.
I might be one of those old men, Bevo thought to himself, if I weren't here instead. He found the current pope incomprehensible and ludicrous. He wondered how ordinary Romans had felt in the days of the bad Borgia popes, and thought of the many popes in history who had been chased from the city over some obscure point of politics. But Zacharias II seemed on the point of overthrowing everything that mattered. He had called the council now known as Vatican III to address the problem of a moribund church — the pews were empty, the priests dying off, the coffers drying up. Although flourishing in the Southern Hemisphere, the Church had lost its base of wealth in the north.
But to Bevo's mind, Zacharias and Vatican III had spun out of control: granting the priesthood to women, letting go of clerical celibacy, liberalizing constraints on abortion and divorce. Gay marriage. But the results were inarguable — in Europe and America, people were flooding back into the Church. Here in Rome, a new kind of energy flowed into the streets whenever Zacharias appeared. There had been a little gust of this sort of thing when Francis was pope, but nothing like this. Now a small knot of women dressed in new black suits with white clerical collars pushed wildly forward, weeping and clutching at their handkerchiefs. Pope Zacharias II had arrived.
Bevo straightened up and looked at the GeM in his hand. Its screen blazed and its wireless earpiece chattered at him. He gave a few perfunctory orders. The bizarre crowd leaped forward as the Pope descended from the white-and-yellow Popemobile and raised both arms above his head like a prizefighter. Cheering young men waved their intertwined hands. A rotund little woman priest held up her cat to be petted and was nearly pushed over from behind. The Pope reached out, catching her with one hand, touching the cat with the other. The crowd roared.
These people were mostly thin and young, thought Bevo, so different from what he was used to. It had been twenty years since he had seen really big crowds at events like these. In his early days, the crowds were groups of elderly tourists and diminutive, portly rural women in faded black who came to wave their handkerchiefs at the Pope. It had been a quiet assignment, but it was quiet no longer.
The Pope moved briskly toward two large white vans that sat in front of the cathedral doors. He mounted the stairs and was fitted with a microphone even before his retinue had settled in around him. A few silky-haired old clerics were there to greet him, along with the Monsignor, the Pope's ever present young secretary, who had quietly arranged everything and now watched over the crowd with a slight benedictory smile.
The Pope's elegant French-tinged voice filled the square, and the crowd applauded. A tall man with electric white hair encircling his cap, Zacharias offered an energetic blessing on the two vans, which were about to leave on some charitable mission. As always the Pope's gaze was intense and a bit off-center due to an eye injury he received in Nicaragua years before during an anti-government demonstration. Bevo paid no attention to any of this. The crowd was his priority. He watched intently, alert to any unusual movement, listening hard to reports over his GeM earpiece.
After a few words — this Pope was noted for short speeches — he shook hands with the van drivers and bustled up to greet the crowd. People pushed forward, straining to touch him, to catch a look from his clear brown eyes, but he dashed on to his next task with his retinue speeding along behind him.
Bevo followed as the little party, the pope all in white and his attendants in black, crossed the square through a corridor of yellow caution tape. Suddenly, Bevo was worried. There was that faint iron taste of adrenaline in his mouth that told him something might be awry.
The morning had started cold, but it was warming between waves of frigid wind, and he could now see his own men at every corner of the square, mixed into the crowd along with sober agents from the Vatican. They were like little immovable black stones in a flood of colored water, among the Gypsies in dirty red anoraks, idling Arab men in dusty sweaters, university students carrying rainbow banners to counter the modest banners of the protesters, and as usual lots of women. But they were unlike the women Bevo was used to. They were alarming, loud, energetic, and mostly foreign. Many were in clerical dress.
"Women priests!" Bevo muttered, but then snapped around at the sound of a voice in his earpiece. It was just one of his men checking in. He sighed nervously — a tidal wave of people was flowing around the great obelisk at the center of the piazza and toward the pink-and-white Palazzo Fontana, where the next ceremony of the morning would take place. Bevo would not relax until the Pope had carried out his little drama and was safely inside that building.
The Papal Party had arrived at the line of black-uniformed guards who stood security outside the palace. They looked fishlike in their tight black helmets and visors. Bevo walked to a point where he could see clearly into the entrance. He spoke a few words into his mouthpiece and saw the guards come to attention, open the line, and close it again around the party. The crowd cheered as the Pope knelt in the vestibule of the palace.
Just beyond the vestibule was a wide staircase, which the Pope began to climb on his knees. These were the Sacred Stairs by which Jesus had entered the palace of Pilate on the day of his crucifixion. Saint Helena had brought them to Rome from Jerusalem in the fourth century, and since then countless pilgrims had climbed the staircase on their knees as an act of piety. It was said that the bloodstains of Christ could still be seen on the marble. Every year of his papacy on his election anniversary, the Feast of the Guardian Angels, this pope had climbed the stairs in this way. At the top of the staircase, Bevo knew, was the ancient private chapel of the popes of Rome, used only at Easter and a few other feasts. Today the Pope would celebrate his morning mass privately in this most holy of chapels after following on his knees in the footsteps of Christ.
Bevo watched the guards to make sure they were alert. A couple of them seemed distracted. He snapped his fingers in the air as he walked toward them, and they stiffened to attention. He wanted as many eyes as possible on this mob.
The Pope climbed resolutely up the stairs, his private secretary close behind him. He stopped briefly at each step and referred to a prayer book the Monsignor held for him. Bevo knew that there were twenty-eight stairs and that it would be roughly half an hour before the Pope was safely inside the chapel. The crowd was now subdued; there was a sound like a river as many prayed quietly, and the banners overhead could be heard waving in the wind.
At last the Pope arrived at the top. He turned around, tall and white-robed in the shadow under the archway over the stairs, and raised his hands in benediction just beneath the stormy fresco of the Crucifixion that marked the portal of the chapel. The crowd broke into applause — even the protesters were clapping — and the Monsignor preceded the Pope through the grillwork of the gate. Bevo breathed with relief but ordered his men to stay alert. The Pope would descend again after he said his private mass.
The crowd began to shrink as most of the curiosity seekers passed on or went back to work, but many would stay until the Pope reappeared. Bevo relaxed and lit a cigarette as the Vatican chief in his nondescript dark suit walked over to greet him. While they exchanged pleasantries they never took their eyes off the people in the square, most of whom were gazing up at the Sacred Stairs and waiting. The peculiar menace of these new worshipers discomfited both men, but as the hour wore on they relaxed a little. Then suddenly a flock of startled birds fled the palazzo.
Bevo would relive the next moment for the rest of his life.
There was a catch in a thousand throats; Bevo whirled around and stared unbelieving as the gate at the top of the staircase opened and the Pope stumbled out, his white cassock a river of blood. "Au secours!" he cried. "Help me!" and then fell headfirst down the steps.
Interpol Headquarters, Lyons, France, 1030h
"The Pope has been assassinated."
The sentence ran in six languages quickly around the meeting room. David Kane, the secretary-general of Interpol, turned to speak to the aide who had brought the news. They conferred for a moment.
"We need to verify this," he said, and walked quickly out of the meeting. The aide followed him. In the room behind him, a big flatscreen came on.
Kane, a tall, well-built man with white hair cropped in a style a quarter of a century old, moved with the stride of the commando soldier he had once been. His aide filled him in as they walked to Kane's office. "The Pope was conducting a ceremony at the church of the Lateran. At first glance, it appears to be a murder-suicide. His private secretary shot him and then himself."
Kane pulled off his suit coat, removed his GeM from the pocket, and touched the screen almost in one swift movement. A bright panel inlaid in the wall flared on, fixed on the backs of hundreds of heads and a virtually still picture of the pinkish façade of a Roman building. At a distance, there was the minute and frantic motion of the emergency workers. Kane whispered as he read the stark text running across the screen and mentally translated: "Pope Zacharias II assassinated in Rome." He crossed himself and breathed out what was almost a whistle.
"Get the Vatican police on the line. Offer them whatever assistance they need. Also Interpol Rome," he said to the aide, who turned away immediately and began talking quietly into his headset.
Kane spoke a single number into his GeM, adjusted his earpiece, and his intelligence chief picked up. "What do you have on the Pope?" Kane asked without preliminaries.
The usually smooth voice in his ear sounded edgy. "We know what's on the emergency band. The Pope was saying his private daily mass inside a chapel in the Lateran square. He was alone except for his private secretary ... Monsignor Chandos. Apparently Chandos had a gun, went berserk, shot the Pope and then himself. The Pope was dead on the scene, and so is the shooter."
"Why 'berserk'? Who says that?"
"There was some damage to the interior of the chapel. We don't have details."
"I want everything you have on this Chandos. Who's in charge there?"
"The Vatican have jurisdiction in this particular building. But the Rome police and the Ministry of Justice are on it as well."
"So they think this one man is responsible?"
"No one is suggesting otherwise."
"Okay. Keep me informed." Kane stood up, thought for a moment, and then put his suit coat back on.
"There's nothing to do for it now. But I should go back and adjourn that meeting," he said to no one in particular. He left the office and walked thoughtfully back to the meeting room, the aide following mechanically along. No one was sitting; everyone stood, eyes fixed on the video screen though nothing could be seen but a shifting, silent crowd and officials moving in and out of a dark archway. A French voiceover babbled along, repeating the same basic facts over and over. The people in the room, all powerful people, looked on helplessly.
Kane cleared his throat and spoke up. "We should adjourn the meeting. You'll all want to check in with your people, I suppose."
There were whispers of acknowledgment, but no one left the room. Everyone focused on the useless picture on the wall panel. At length, the commander of the Royal Thai police shook his head and motioned to his aides to follow him; he touched Kane's arm and left. Then others shuffled out of the room: the head of the Russian Interpol office, the governor of the Turkish police, the UK deputy Home Secretary, who muttered, "This is hard."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Day of Atone"
Copyright © 2018 Breck England.
Excerpted by permission of Mango Media, Inc..
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.
Table of Contents
PROLOGUE JANUARY 27, 1984,
CHAPTER 1 SATURDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2027,
CHAPTER 2 SUNDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2027,
CHAPTER 3 MONDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2027,
CHAPTER 4 TUESDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2027,
CHAPTER 5 WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2027,