The nine men (a novella), p.1
The Nine Men (A Novella), p.1
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.’
“Behold,” said Boheme, “he will show it to you plain enough if you be a Magus (Sorcerer) and worthy, else you shall remain blind still.”
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Smiling tourists enjoying the Easter sunshine were standing in awe as they gazed upon France’s most famous gothic cathedral and the durable facade of the cathedral’s brooding, carved-stone masterpiece with its hideous gargoyles that peered ominously back at the visitors; the place synonymous with Victor Hugo’s grotesque, hunchbacked bell-ringer, Quasimodo and his gypsy beauty, Esméralda.
Nearby, the gently meandering waters of the Seine sparkled and folded into bubbling wavelets in the wake of the passing tour boats.
In front of the cathedral’s main entrance a small group had gathered and a tall, distinguished looking man with a white goatee and Panama hat was ticking off names on a clipboard. He was wearing a cream linen suit, blue shirt and a yellow silk scarf that draped loosely around his neck. His brown suede shoes were hand-made.
The man smiled authoritatively as he looked over the rim of his glasses at his latest group of twenty enthusiastic, wannabe mystics, gazing back excitedly at their esteemed guide; happy to have paid him the three-hundred euros each for the privilege of being in such esteemed company.
‘Kito?’ the guide called out.
A spectacled Japanese girl with a pallid complexion raised her hand. ‘That’s me,’ she said.
‘Bon! That means everyone’s here.’ The man paused as he slipped his pen into his inside pocket and did some simple mental arithmetic; Ca fait six-mille euros. ‘Is everyone happy for me to speak in English?’ the guide asked. Smiling heads nodded their approval.
‘Excellent!’ he paused for effect. ‘I’m sure you already know who I am, but I’ll introduce myself anyway… My name is Victor Henri Canseliet. A votre service,’ he said, doffing his hat.
‘The one and only!’ someone called from the crowd. Canseliet bowed in acknowledgement. ‘Most kind,’ he added with a gratified smile.
Trained as an archaeologist in France and the Middle-East, the young Canseliet had soon acquired a fascination for alchemy, especially Islamic, and the secrets locked in its ancient symbolism.
Now, some thirty-years later he was still working tirelessly, trying to unlock the secrets of a little-understood subject, painfully aware that, for him, time was running out.
To the common man, alchemy was simply a throw-back to the Middle Ages; conjuring up images of a studious crackpot, working next to a flame-belching Athanor (alchemical furnace) intent on turning lead into gold.
The astute Canseliet was conscious that alchemy was much more than that, with its hidden instructions, false clues dead-ends and a strange ‘chemical’ language. Canseliet realized that alchemy was a recipe, a set of coded instructions on how to attain enlightenment; a way to transmute mind, body and soul through the medium of a mysterious substance known as the Philosopher’s Stone…But only for the worthy…the privileged few who break the code.
The exact way to enlightenment, annoyingly, still eluded him. He did not yet, know. But, if events go to plan, all that could change; he would then reap the rewards attributed to the chosen few; the secret elite who have climbed the Ladder of the Wise and tasted the Elixir of Life. People like the chemist and physician, Van Helmont (1577-1644) and the mysterious twentieth-century, Fulcanelli. Only then would his life-long dream be realized.
Throughout the world, fifty-seven-year-old Victor Canseliet was considered to be the leading authority on secret societies and their manuscripts.
Raising his clenched hand to his mouth, he cleared his throat with a gentle cough. ‘…Ladies and gentlemen, bienvenue à Paris and to this magical place,’ he said, gesturing to the cathedral. ‘Today, I intend to take you on a tour of Notre-Dame; a tour unlike any other tour. I will prove to you that this magnificent building is not just a gothic masterpiece of structural engineering… it is not just a place of religious worship or where Victor Hugo’s, Quasimodo, once rang the bells… Non, ce n’est pas, mes amis!…This place is something much more than that… Incredibly, it is actually something beyond the imagination of most people… It is in fact, the custodian of the symbols; symbols that are cut into the stone for everyone to see, for all eternity. Symbols with hugely significant meaning, that I, Victor Canseliet, will interpret for you.’ He pointed to the cathedral.
‘Soon, ladies and gentlemen, you will understand the real reason why this magnificent place was built. And, after the tour, I will be selling signed copies of my latest book, “Reading between the Lines,” which dedicates a whole section to this very cathedral… So, let’s waste no more time.— Allons, mes amis!’
Like the weather the McPherson’s left behind in Italy, the sky over Paris was cloudless. The taxi carrying Rob and Vicki from the Intercontinental Hotel on Rue Scribe approached L’arc de Triomphe from the Champs-Élysées, and moments later, exited the Place Charles de Gaulle onto the 16th. Century tree-lined avenue named after the famous French writer, Victor Hugo.
‘It’s such a beautiful city, Rob.’ Vicki reached over to hold her husband’s hand. ‘We needed this, after what we’ve been through.’
Rob smiled and kissed her. ‘You’re right, we definitely needed this.’ He peered out of the taxi window at the fresh, green canopy of leaves that flashed by above him as they headed towards Place Victor Hugo and the recent past came flooding back in vivid images. There was Hunter, bleeding profusely from a shoulder wound, trying to keep the chopper steady and shouting, “KILL THE BASTARD.” Rob could see the golden flares from the guns as the bullets ripped Adam Domaradzki apart. His thoughts flashed to the tense moments as he landed the Jumbo Jet packed with nerve gas and the terrified cry of Captain Boeker “Please God, spare us!” as the huge plane touched down on the sea. Then, in his mind the cold, dark eyes and scared face of Ahmed Shah appeared, before fading into an image of the crystal. The crystal that saved his son’s life and changed his life, forever.
And to think I was once an astrophysicist, he thought.
Moments later the taxi stopped at a circular place with a central fountain and tree-lined avenues stretching off all around them.
The driver turned to face his passengers, ‘Nous sommes arrivés.’ He pointed through the windscreen. ‘Cafe Victor Hugo, it is there, Monsieur.’ The driver was dark-skinned and unshaven. He had a shaven head and on his right cheek, a deep scar crossed from his nose to his ear lobe.
Rob paid and thanked him. Not someone to argue with, he noted, before exiting the taxi. In his hand he was carrying his leather briefcase containing his iPad and the encrypted file on Victor Canseliet that Linda had emailed to him the evening before.
‘There he is,’ Rob said to Vicki as they crossed the road. ‘The guy with the white goatee, sitting under the red canvas awning.’
Victor Canseliet was sitting at a table sipping coffee when Rob and Vicki arrived at the cafe.
‘Pleased to meet you. I’m Robert McPherson and this is my wife, Vicki.’
Canseliet stood up and held Vicki’s hand. ‘Enchanté, de faire votre connaissance, madam.’ He then shook Rob’s hand. ‘Welcome to Paris, both.’ He gestured to them to join him at the table. The Frenchmen checked his watch. ‘You are very punctual, Dr. McPherson.’
‘Call me Rob, please.’
‘May I order a drink for you both?’
‘Coffee would be just fine.’
‘Coffee for me too, please,’ Vicki added.
Canseliet gestured to a waiter and ordered the drinks as they settled down around the table, overlooking the glistening central fountains of the Place Victor Hugo.
To Vicki the Frenchman looked like a cross between a gentlemen and an aging hippie. He was tall and thin and had an air of elegance about him that she found quite charming. His thick head of white hair was tied back into a ponytail. His eyes were large and blue and his bearded face was lined around the eyes; but his bubbly personality seemed to negate his years. One arm of a pair of gold-framed glasses hung down from his jacket’s breast pocket.
‘I must say, Robert, your secretary, Linda, is it?’
‘She is persistent if nothing else.’
‘Yes, she is — and I’m very grateful to you for seeing me at such short notice.’
‘Well, Linda explained that you were returning to America from Rome and it was an opportunistic meeting.’ Canseliet took a cigarette from a blue pack of Gauloises Caporals and tapped the end of it on the table before flipping open his zippo and sucking the golden flame into the tip of his cigarette. He pointed to the pack. ‘I presume…’
Rob raised his hand in refusal. The smell of the zippo was distinctive, sparking a vivid evocation of his childhood and his pipe-smoking father.
‘You don’t look like smokers. Not many of us left now,’ Canseliet said, inhaling the smoke deep into his lungs and blowing it upwards towards the roof of the awning. ‘Too late for me, I’m afraid; started smoking when I was eight-years-old. If it was going to kill me I think it would have got me by now, don’t you think? …So, Robert, what exactly can I do for you today?’
Robert briefly glanced at Vicki. ‘I work for an organization in the USA called, GIMA, which, incidentally, doesn’t exist!’
Canseliet sat upright and dabbed his cigarette out in an ashtray on the table. ‘How exciting! And what does this non-existent GIMA stand for, Robert?’
The Nine Men (A Novella) by Haydn Jones / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3.4 out of 5 / Based on34 votes