In Israel, Mossad director Meir Snir has taken notice. He questions why the Vatican would appoint an alcoholic research nerd to team with five Vatican cardinals and the Pope himself, on any project. Snir, who has a sixth sense for intrigue, wonders if this development could have long-reaching implications. He dispatches the clever and beautiful Myra Cohen to keep an eye on McPherson.
During McPherson's quest to solve this biblical yet timely puzzle, he encounters an ancient and secret brotherhood that has vowed to seek revenge for past atrocities and destroy the Catholic Church. The dangerous trail leads through England, Kentucky Bluegrass country, Washington DC, and Amsterdam in search of a mysterious genius who may have unraveled the secret of eternal life. On his journey, McPherson learns the innermost secrets of the Vatican as well as how to resurrect his own life.
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Read an Excerpt
By James William Jones
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 James William Jones
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCardinal Peter A. Stancampiano sat in his office in the Vatican watching the clock on his desk. Almost six o'clock. He had been adamant about arriving before six. He drummed his manicured fingers on the desk. Finally, the phone rang.
"Yes, I am expecting Monsieur Chevalier," he said to the Swiss Guard. "Please show him in."
The cardinal walked to his office door and opened it just as Alix, the Swiss Guard, dressed in a simple solid blue version of the more colorful tri-color grand gala uniform and a black beret, appeared escorting a visitor. The visitor was equally tall and ramrod straight. He carried a large leather briefcase and wore an exquisitely cut black suit with a crisp, white shirt. Cardinal Stancampiano appreciated quality and his visitor exuded expensive yet subdued taste.
"Come in, Monsieur Chevalier. Thank you, Alix. That will be all. You may be excused. I will tell Fritz you have left when he arrives."
"I should stay until he arrives, your Eminence. It is strictly prohibited for me to leave my post until my replacement arrives."
"It is all right, my son. Monsieur Chevalier is here to protect me in case we are overrun with Huns," said Cardinal Stancampiano with a chuckle. "It has been many centuries since we have been attacked. I will give my word to your captain if he asks. I think he will believe me. Don't you?"
"Yes. Of course, your Eminence. I will see you next week. I have the weekend off. I am taking a short holiday."
"Have a wonderful time."
When Alix left, Cardinal Stancampiano motioned toward his guest chair.
"Please have a seat, Monsieur. I assume you brought the money with you."
"Of course, your Eminence. I am a man of my word," said Monsieur Chevalier with more than a little sarcasm in his voice. He patted the briefcase at his side.
"That is a beautiful case," remarked Cardinal Stancampiano, rubbing his hands together in anticipation.
"I had it made especially for you, your Eminence. The leather is Moroccan."
Cardinal Stancampiano resisted the temptation to open the case immediately, saying, "If you will excuse me, I have a small detail to attend."
He opened the door and walked to the Swiss Guard station, turned the logbook around, and found the last entry. Cardinal Stancampiano took out his pen, signed out his visitor, and carefully entered the time as 17:59.
That was a short visit, he mused as he walked back toward his office.
He saw Fritz approaching and called to him.
"Good evening, Fritz. It is good to see you this evening. I have a large favor to ask of you. Would you please go to the cafeteria and bring me a cup of tea. Please ask Mina to brew it for me. She knows exactly how I like it. Thank you. You are a good young man to put up with my idiosyncrasies."
"No problem, your Eminence. We are here to protect and to serve."
"That is not what they mean by service, but thank you. Why don't you get yourself a cup of coffee or tea? It is very quiet tonight. Put it on my charge."
"Thank you, your Eminence. I will be right back."
"Don't hurry, Fritz. I will be in my office working. I will probably be here late tonight."
When Cardinal Stancampiano returned to his office, he placed the brown leather briefcase on his desk and opened the clasps. The stacks of hundred dollar bills were neatly separated by handmade leather dividers, like an egg carton except the eggs were replaced by 10,000 crisp American bills bearing the likeness of Benjamin Franklin.
"How do I know these are real, not counterfeit?"
"How do I know your merchandise is real?" countered Monsieur Chevalier. "If we can't trust each other, who in this world can we trust?"
"When do I get the rest of my money?"
"I prefer to wire it to a Swiss account. I do not like the idea of carrying around this much money. Believe it or not, Cardinal, the world is full of dishonest people. Just remember, I do not want anyone to know about this transaction any more than you do. I will keep my end of the bargain, as well as the secrecy of our agreement, and I expect you to do the same. Agreed?"
"Agreed. Now follow me. We do not have much time. Fritz is conscientious. He will not leave his post very long."
Cardinal Stancampiano opened the door and cautiously peered down the hallway.
"Quick, follow me."
The two men were a study in contrast, one rather short and rotund wearing the cardinal red robes of the priesthood hurrying conspiratorially toward the staircase followed closely by a tall gentleman of military bearing in a tailored Italian suit. They quickly mounted the towering marble stairs to the next floor.
Stopping on the top landing, Cardinal Stancampiano whispered as he gasped for breath, "Wait here. I pass the door to the Pope's apartment on the way to the Swiss Guard station. I'll unlock the door and leave it ajar. When I distract the Swiss Guard, slip into the apartment. The Pope is away. No one enters his apartment except for the morning cleaning servants."
As the cardinal returned down the long hallway from the Swiss Guard station, he glanced back and saw the Swiss Guard was already engrossed in his magazine. He opened the door to the papal apartment and slipped inside. He swept the wall by the doorframe with his hand until he found the switch. The light revealed Monsieur Chevalier standing placidly in the middle of the room, hands in his pockets.
"Well, we made it this far, your Eminence. What do we do next?"
"I will do my part. The rest is up to you," said the cardinal walking briskly toward a large painting on the wall. He grasped one side of the frame and swung the priceless Raphael out from the wall, revealing a large safe. He immediately began opening the combination lock.
The safe opened with a solid clunk. Reaching inside, Cardinal Stancampiano removed a large gold box, obviously heavy, covered with precious stones and elaborately engraved in Latin. He set the gilded box on a table and looked at Monsieur Chevalier.
"This is as far as I can go. The only key is worn by the Pope. He never removes it."
Monsieur Chevalier approached the box, obviously savoring the experience, looking at it with admiration.
"So this is where you keep them," he said without looking at the cardinal. "A sight few men have seen. I am humbled, your Eminence."
He took out a flat leather packet from his coat pocket and unzipped it. He examined the lock on the gold box and then his assortment of tools. Choosing one, he inserted it into the lock and, after a few deft motions, a click indicated the box was no longer locked.
"This lock is over a thousand years old, Cardinal Stancampiano. If I were you, I would suggest to his Holiness that he replace it lest it be compromised by some unscrupulous gent who would steal the most precious of treasures."
Cardinal Stancampiano ignored the remark and watched carefully as his visitor regarded the sacred box with reverence, obviously relishing the moment.
Monsieur Chevalier opened the lid carefully and examined the contents. He gently, reverently, removed part of the contents and then, just as carefully, replaced the rest and relocked the golden box.
"That amount will not be missed, I assure you, your Eminence. Now, let us retrace our steps and I will be out of your life forever."
"When will I get the rest of the money?"
"It will be in your new account tomorrow morning. I advise you to show restraint when you spend it, your Eminence. It would look unseemly for a man of God such as you to suddenly acquire accouterments unbecoming of your station."
"You needn't worry about me, Monsieur Chevalier. I have plans for the money and I will have a story to explain it."
"Since we shall not meet again, I will say goodbye here, your Eminence. Now if you will kindly distract the Swiss Guard, I will take my leave."
Chapter TwoJoe McPherson could hear a far-off ringing. The sound got closer and closer. It must be time to get up. That damn alarm clock.
Gradually Joe realized, it couldn't be the alarm clock. I haven't set the alarm in years. I don't even have a fucking alarm clock. Why in hell won't that damn thing shut up?
Joe rolled over in his bed and started patting the nightstand. He knocked off the empty two-liter plastic bottle that had formerly contained Popov vodka and heard it bounce away on the bare hardwood floor.
Must be the phone, he thought through the mist. Why is the damn phone ringing?
He finally felt the familiar shape of his cell phone. It was vibrating and ringing. He tried to focus on the lighted face of the phone. No name. Must be a wrong number. He pushed the green bar on his Treo to answer and immediately pushed the red bar, cutting off the call.
Two a.m. Got to be a wrong number. He slammed the phone down and mashed the pillow into a less uncomfortable lump under his head.
Seconds later the phone started ringing. Joe grappled for it again and this time barked, "You have a wrong number. Don't call me again."
Surprisingly, before he could hang up, he heard a response.
"Joe. Joseph McPherson? This is Cardinal, uh, Father O'Riley. I need to talk to you."
"Father O'Riley? Father O'Riley from the Diocese?" Joe slurred into the phone. "I can't talk. Call me tomorrow." Joe hung up the phone and passed out into a fitful sleep.
When the phone rang again it was well past at ten o'clock that morning. Joe McPherson was propped up on his pillow sipping a cup of instant coffee.
"Hello. Yes. How are you Father O'Riley? I'm sorry, I should call you Cardinal O'Riley. It must be almost eight o'clock in Rome."
Joe instinctively pulled up the sheet across his bare chest, and just as quickly mentally chided himself for being stupidly self-conscious.
"Joe, I need a favor," continued Cardinal O'Riley in his sonorous baritone.
"I don't know what ..."
"Just hear me out, Joe. I need your help and I know you are no longer employed by the CIA. This is a very delicate matter, Joe, and you are in a position to provide a great service to the Church. Is there any reason you can't drop everything and come to Rome immediately?"
I don't have any commitments, if that is what you mean. However, I am, uh, low on funds just now."
"That is not a problem. I can help with that part."
"When do you want me there, Father, er, Cardinal?"
"You have reservations on the flight from Dulles to Rome tonight at 11:30. The airline is Lufthansa. You will pick up your ticket at the American Express office at the corner of 14th and K before five today. I have also arranged for a credit card and cash which they will have with the ticket. There will be a car at the airport in Rome to pick you up."
"Are you sure you want me to come, Cardinal? I have been going through ..."
"I am sure. I will see you in Rome tomorrow. Try to sleep on the plane. You will have to hit the ground running here. And Joe, try to lay off the alcohol. I need you at full strength."
"I will be there, sir."
"Good. Now, you better get busy. I suspect you have things to do before you leave. Joe, you should plan to be gone for quite a while. This project may take weeks or even months. Are you prepared for that kind of commitment?"
"I will see you tomorrow. I will be ready to go to work on whatever you need. Thank you, sir."
"See you tomorrow," said Cardinal O'Riley hanging up the phone.
Chapter ThreeJoe threw back the sheet and headed for the shower. His mind started to race through the things he needed to do before tonight. As the warm water cascaded over him, he thought about what he would need to take with him. His clothes were ragged. He hadn't bought a suit for years. Those last few years with the 'company' he had been relegated to the basement laboratory, just staying out of sight until his twenty years were up and they could pension him out. He was hung over most days and couldn't wait until he got home and mix a good strong martini.
They could have fired me, he reflected for the hundredth time. At least they let me stay on until I could draw my pension. What if I can't do this thing? What if I let Cardinal O'Riley down? I can't let that happen.
The sunlight was streaming through his bedroom window. My God. I can't believe how dirty those windows are. Joe walked toward his closet to look for something to wear. He kicked the vodka jug out of the way.
"Shit, I wish it was that easy to kick the habit," he said aloud.
He stared into the closet. He pulled the string twice before he remembered the bare light bulb had been burned out for weeks.
"Lucky it is daylight. Not much to see anyway."
With his foot, he stirred through the underwear and socks lying in a heap on the floor of the closet. He picked up a pair of semi-respectable socks and decided to forgo underwear altogether. I need new stuff for this trip, he rationalized.
In the corner of the closet was his black canvas carryon. It was crushed under the weight of old shoes and clothing that had fallen off hangers.
"Need a new one anyway. I've had that thing since I got out of grad school," he said aloud to no one in particular.
Joe pulled on a black Jack Daniels tee shirt and a pair of faded jeans. He put on the rather stiff socks and slid his feet into the worn out Gucci loafers, probably the last remnant from the marriage. He tightened his belt and adjusted the extra material in the waistband so that the jeans didn't look so big.
When was the last time I ate? he thought. He took a look in the full length mirror on the closet door and decided he wasn't ready for GQ.
Joe passed the front desk on his way out.
"Jack, have my bill ready. I'm checking out of this place today."
"Bring cash or you don't take your clothes," Jack responded without looking up.
"They're all yours, Jack baby. Do with them as you will."
"Sure, Joe. Tell you what. I'll keep them for you. You'll be back."
"We'll see about that, Jack Baby. We will see."
The sun felt good as Joe turned north on 23rd Street and headed toward the Foggy Bottom metro station. He walked by the new row of sorority houses that faced the street. He had met Kim at a party in the old Kappa Kappa Gamma house. Those were the halcyon days, he reminisced.
He was in graduate school at GWU and she was a senior majoring in political science. Molecular biology was just taking off and he was at the forefront of the technology. How lucky to be at the right place at the right time. Dr. Horowitz liked him the best. He always knew that.
I could have graduated a year earlier, he thought, but I wanted to stay on and work with Bernard. We were that close to cloning. The Nobel was hanging out there for the taking. The days rushed by in a whirlwind. I lived well on the NSF grant. Every day I felt the adrenalin rush when I woke up. I had to make myself go to sleep. How I wish it could have lasted.
Joe walked to the traffic circle and headed east on K Street. He remembered how smitten he was with Kim when they first met. He was just a small town boy from Iowa State on a fellowship at GWU getting a Ph.D. in molecular biology. The first member of the McPherson family to graduate from college, much less to get a Ph.D. Kimberly was the daughter of a United States senator. He had never met anyone that was in Congress, much less a senator. Senator Krauss. His mother almost fainted when he told her. 'Too bad your father is not alive to see this', she would say, over and over. The good memories came flooding back as he walked in the spring sunshine. It seemed like it was always spring back then.
The marriage had started out well enough. He wanted to take the post doc. Kim wanted to be settled and buy a house. Her friends were already having babies. The senator made sure Joe got the job at the CIA. Good ol' Senator Krauss. Joe never could figure out how he could live as he did on a senator's salary. The Krausses' did not come from money, but somehow they lived like it.
Joe liked the job with the 'company', but it was clear that he was never going to be able to provide for Kim in the way she was accustomed. The harder he worked, the further in debt they got. The house, the cars, the vacations with Kim's friends eventually over whelmed the government pay scale. Joe turned to drinking and Kim turned to K Street. Apparently, money flows down K Street toward the Capitol Building and soon Kimberly was spending time with one of the lobbyist that frequented her father's office on The Hill. Two years of a disintegrating marriage was enough. They went to see Father O'Riley a couple of times for counseling, but Joe knew it was over. Funny, really, how Father O'Riley had been their counselor before they were married, and then again, when the marriage was ending.
Excerpted from Triple Crossed by James William Jones Copyright © 2010 by James William Jones. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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