The Nine Men (A Novella)Haydn Jones / Thrillers & Crime
THE NINE MEN
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My sincere thanks to Paul Llewellyn:
Editor, advisor and dear friend.
The locations in Italy, France, India and Russia, used in this novel, are all real.
The story of the Holy Danilov Monastery bells is true and well documented.
The Nine Unknown Men is a myth and well documented.
The characters in this novel are purely fictitious and bare no resemblance to anyone, living or dead.
The Vatican City, Rome
On a cloudless blue Italian day, the majestic dome of St Peter’s Basilica dominated the skyline.
Below, in the famous square, an excited congregation of some 60,000 people were gathered in a buzz of anticipation. Priests and nuns mingled, as if equals, with the expectant worshippers. There were many Italians in the crowd but the gathering included numerous flag waving visitors from around the world, all yearning for their holy experience. Some were looking for enlightenment, some for reassurance that God had not forsaken them and hoping desperately that the event would revitalize their waning faith. And many were tourists, with no faith to wane, simply enjoying the spectacle in the glorious Italian sunshine.
There was a colorful and animated group of East-African missionaries in the congregation who were attending a week-long ‘Sales Course’ at the Vatican College, entitled: “Catholicism in the Modern World”; and advertised as: An empirical appreciation of how catholicism enriched people’s lives.
As the balcony doors of the Basilica opened and Pope Francis appeared, silence gripped the square, as if controlled by the flick of a switch. Clothed in his familiar white attire, his Holiness raised his hand to acknowledge his flock that inundated St Peter’s Square.
Robert McPherson stole a glance at his wife and watched a tear run down her cheek. With the tip of her finger, she quickly wiped away the evidence before turning to her husband and whispering: ‘It’s him, it’s the Pope! This is just magical isn’t it? My whole body is tingling with excitement,’ she said, as live images of the Pope were relayed around the square by three massive screens, akin to a rock concert, for the benefit of those behind the VIP area.
McPherson smiled and wrapped his arm around her, pulling her close and feeling the warmth of her slender figure next to his. He quickly reminded himself of how close to death he and his family had come, on more than one occasion; in the name of religion!
Rob glanced up to the perimeter of the square and the imposing array of carved-stone saints looking down at him. ‘…Yeah… it’s very special my love,’ he said, tenderly kissing the top of her head.
Vicki hugged his waist and another tear found its way down her cheek. ‘I don’t want this vacation to end, but at the same time I can’t wait to see Daniel,’ she said.
Far too quickly for the gathering, the mass ended with a blessing and the Pope waved a final farewell to the crowds below before leaving the balcony. Today, unfortunately, ill health had prevented him from a walkabout to meet the faithful.
Robert and Vicki held hands and melted into the throng of people pouring through Piazza Pio X11 onto the Via della Conciliazione; leaving behind a few souls who had chosen to sit and contemplate the whole experience, plus a handful who seemed to be walking aimlessly around the square as if in a holy trance; presumably hypnotized by the word of God. Soon though, even they would be politely asked to leave.
Later, near Ponte Sant’ Angelo, Rome
Rob smiled at Vicki as they walked hand in hand beside the river, shaded from the sun by a leafy avenue of trees. The smell of fresh Italian coffee wafted towards them from a small wooden trattoria. Quaint rows of books were neatly stacked on shelves around the eaves, adding to the place’s cozy atmosphere.
‘Let's sit here under the trees and enjoy a coffee,’ Rob suggested. ‘That was one mother of an experience, wasn’t it?’ he said, offering a seat to his wife at a table for two.
Vicki seemed focused on some distant point. ‘…It was an experience I’ll never forget,’ she eventually said.
‘You were quite emotional in there, weren’t you?’
‘Yeah, I can’t explain it. You know I don’t consider myself to be a religious person but the atmosphere certainly got to me.’
Between them and the cabin a skinny young Italian walked by carrying a wooden crate full of leafy herbs, tomatoes and colorful vegetables; the distinctive scent of basil drifted towards them on the warm air.
A waiter approached and said, ‘Prego — cosa desidera ordinare?’
Rob answered, ‘Vorrei due cappuccino, per favore.’
Vicki joked, ‘Don’t tell me — a few days here and you’re fluent in Italian!’
Rob laughed. ‘Not quite,’ he said, knowing that Vicki would have difficulty with the truth. He just knew what to say and he’d never studied Italian in his life; he also knew the reason why.
The couple were soaking up the smells, sights and sounds of the vibrant city; the ‘Italian Experience’ as Vicki aptly described it when the waiter returned with their coffees.
‘Grazia mille, Rob responded, with a warm smile.’
‘Prego,’ replied the young Italian waiter.
Vicki rolled her eyes at the aroma of the coffee before taking a sip. ‘Ohhhh!…Why does it only taste as good as this in Italy?’ But the moment was spoilt when Rob’s cellphone rang in his jacket pocket. Removing it, he frowned when he saw who the call was from.
‘What’s the matter?’ Vicki asked.
‘I’m not sure… It’s a call from Hunter.’
‘Oh, for God’s sake, Rob, we’re on vacation. It’s not as if we take many.’
‘Well, it must be pretty important.’ Rob accepted the call. ‘Hi, Colin, what can I do for you?’
‘Rob, I’m really sorry to call you during your vacation but something has come up and we need you to go to Paris.’
‘Yes, it’s important you go to Paris on the way home. Linda has booked you on first-class flights from Rome. Take Vicki out for a romantic meal and put it on your expenses — Paris in the springtime and all that romantic stuff.’
Rob’s mood began to soften. ‘So what’s it all about?’ he enquired, winking at Vicki who still looked confused. She mouthed Paris and Rob smiled and nodded.
‘We need you to check out a guy by the name of Victor Canseliet. He’s a bit of an authority on secret societies, coded texts and all that weird and wonderful shit. Writes books on the subject.’
Rob frowned at Vicki and she frowned back. ‘So why do I need to see him, Colin?’
‘Well, as you’ve now joined GIMA, I think he might be of interest to you.’
‘Do you know anything about a secret organization called, The Nine Men?’
‘…The Nine Men?’ Rob shook his head, ‘…No, never heard of them. Who are these guys?’
‘We believe they are the most powerful secret society on earth and we’re hoping that Victor Canseliet will enlighten you further. Linda’s sending you all the intelligence details by secure email; good luck, Rob, and give my regards to Vicki. Tell her the nation’s satellite communications are in disarray since she’s been away.’ Hunter ended the call.
‘What’s going on, Rob?’
‘I’m not sure, but we’re going home via Paris, to meet a gentleman named, Victor Canseliet.’