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Son of perdition, p.15
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       Son of Perdition, p.15

           Wendy Alec
 
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  Nick froze. The voice was coming from behind him. But how? The steel security door had clicked shut and had not re-opened.

  Whoever it was knew his name.

  ‘Legend has it that our Lord carved this cross when He was but an infant.’

  Nick swung around.

  The stranger raised his head. His features were covered by the cowled hood of a monastic order.

  ‘Right here in this spot,’ he said softly. ‘He used to sing to His Father an infant’s lullabies.’

  Very gently, he reached out his hand and took the cross from Nick’s grasp

  ‘The power is not in the cross. It lies with the One who carved the cross.’

  A strange inexplicable agitation coursed through Nick’s being.

  ‘You don’t think they are legends, do you?’ he said, fiercely, moving towards the stranger, seized by a sudden rising fury. His voice was hard.

  ‘No,’ the stranger murmured. ‘There are no legends in this place, Nicholas De Vere.’

  The stranger’s hessian cloak fell open.

  Nick gazed, suddenly confused by the silk now plainly visible under the simple outer garment. He stared in disbelief at the stranger’s feet which were emitting a strange unearthly glow. Nick’s gaze travelled upwards – from the hem of the indigo silk robe, past the girdle of gold around stranger’s chest and, finally, to his head.

  ‘There is only grace, Nicholas.’ His features were still concealed by the cowl. ‘And truth.’

  The stranger’s hood fell. Nick gasped and shielded his eyes, suddenly blinded by the blazing light that emanated from the stranger’s countenance.

  Trembling with terror and ecstasy, Nick was transfixed. He could faintly distinguish the stranger’s hair and beard, which seemed a deep brown, almost black. On his head was a golden crown embedded with three great rubies.

  But it was the stranger’s face that held him completely mesmerized. It was as though Nick was staring into the face of a long-distant sweetheart, or a childhood best friend, whom he hadn’t seen for years but who had known and loved him for ever.

  He stared transfixed at the imperial countenance, the high bronzed cheekbones, the blazing dark eyes that flashed like flames of living fire.

  He had seen this face a thousand times before.

  In the Sacred Heart picture of the Saviour, at Mass when he was a ten-year-old altar boy.

  In the works of Michelangelo, Raphael, Fra Angelico, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Botticelli.

  At Christmas and Easter. In Lilian’s private chapel.

  In Lawrence’s monastic chamber.

  It was the most familiar face in the world. And yet there was nothing familiar about it at all.

  He was looking into the face of a King. Regal. Courageous.

  The stranger reached out his hand to Nick and touched his chest.

  Nick’s entire body shuddered violently as he struggled desperately for breath.

  It felt as though arcs of flaming fire were surging through his veins like a violent electrical surge. He fell, clutching at the stranger’s indigo robe.

  And still Nick De Vere stared into his face.

  The all-consuming waves of light engulfed him. Bathing him. Washing over him.

  He felt as if some inconceivable deluge of light was coursing through every cell of his body. As if he were alive. Alive for the first time in his whole existence.

  Images of his life flashed before him. The night of Lily’s accident. Nick and Jason fighting. Nick injecting heroin in Amsterdam. In Rome. In Monte Carlo. Snorting cocaine in Miami. In Soho.

  A thousand nights. With a hundred nameless, faceless bed partners. Men. And women.

  And still he stared transfixed into the stranger’s face.

  The afternoon Nick and his father argued violently. The morning James De Vere died. The day Nick received his death sentence. AIDS.

  And still he stared into that face. Fully accepted. Fully embraced.

  Sin not condoned. Yet wholly identified with. Every weakness fully exposed. Every vulnerability apparent.

  And yet the stranger still gazed back at him in sheer adoration.

  And Nick remembered the far-flung days of innocence.

  ‘Forgive me,’ he gasped. Tears streamed down his face. He collapsed to the ground, prostrate, trembling violently.

  Desperately, he strained to open his heavy eyelids for just one more glimpse of the face that he instinctively knew he would never see again this side of eternity. Just one more glimpse . . .

  He held out his trembling hand to the stranger.

  His eyelids were growing heavy . . . so heavy.

  Just one more glimpse.

  The stranger reached for his hand.

  And as he fell into the darkness of oblivion, suddenly it became crystal clear to Nick De Vere.

  He had not been looking into the face of a stranger at all. He had looked into the face of Jesus Christ.

  * * *

  Shifting Sands

  Gabriel stood quietly watching Jether as he bent over Nicholas De Vere.

  The ugly weeping sores on Nick’s body were disappearing. The thin torso was filling out before their eyes.

  Gabriel stared at the luminous white mark on Nick’s forehead.

  ‘He wears the Seal,’ Gabriel whispered.

  ‘Oh, what is man that He is mindful of them?’ Jether said softly. He pushed Nick’s matted hair away from his forehead. Every sign of his earlier stress and pain had disappeared. And now on Nick’s face was a deep tranquillity. Even in deep slumber he smiled.

  ‘He must rest.’ Jether stood up. ‘Then he will enter the dark night of his soul.’

  Leaning down, he picked Nick De Vere up in his arms as easily as if he were lifting a child, and carried him down the ancient winding corridors to Nick’s chamber on the far side of the monastery just as dawn was breaking in the Egyptian skies.

  * * *

  ‘Nicholas! Nicholas!’ Lawrence St Cartier gently shook Nick awake.

  Nick was still in a deep stupor. Groggily he opened his eyes and raised himself to a sitting position.

  Lawrence opened the curtains behind Nick’s bed. Daylight flooded in. Nick turned his face from the light.

  ‘How long have I been asleep?’

  ‘Two days.’

  ‘Two days?’ Nick frowned. ‘Was I sick? I dreamed so strangely, Lawrence . . . ’

  His voice trailed off in mid sentence as he stared down at his arms. The red weals had vanished. In their place was brand new baby-soft skin. He stared up at Lawrence, a strange apprehension coursing through his entire body.

  Trembling, he lifted his T-shirt. The ribs that had already been partially visible through his chest were undetectable. His chest had filled out overnight.

  He swung his feet around onto the floor, then stared up at Lawrence, completely unnerved.

  ‘My hips,’ he stammered.

  Nick walked over to the mirror. He looked up at Lawrence in disbelief. ‘My hip joints – they’re free from pain.’

  He stared into the mirror, then opened his mouth. The invasive thrush and ulcers had vanished. The raised white patch on his tongue was gone.

  He tore off his T-shirt, his breathing shallow. The reddish-purple blotches that had ravaged his limbs and chest had disappeared. He stared at Lawrence, disorientated, an incredible ecstasy on his face.

  Every ravaging hallmark of AIDS was gone. Tears pricked his eyes.

  ‘Lawrence . . . ’ he uttered.’

  The professor grasped Nick’s shoulder. Nick buried his face in the old man’s chest.

  ‘Was He . . . ?’

  Nick’s tears soaked Lawrence St Cartier’s immaculately pressed linen shirt.

  ‘He was here, Nicholas,’ Lawrence whispered. ‘He was here.’

  Fifteen full minutes later, the professor extricated himself from Nick’s grasp as he tried to compose himself.

  ‘Come, Nicholas, dear boy.’ He held Nick at arm’s length, a solitary tear fall
ing down his weathered cheek.

  ‘It is time to discuss many things.’

  * * *

  Nick and Lawrence St Cartier walked side by side down the avenues of date palms. Lawrence stopped, gazing out at the vast expanse of desert that stretched before them.

  ‘There is so much more that I want to divulge to you, Nicholas.’ He stopped. ‘But I cannot. The Tenets of Eternal Law forbid us, the Angelic, to interfere first-hand in the affairs of the Race of Men. Even the Fallen have to adhere to the Tenets of Eternal Law. They are legally binding. I can only point you in the right direction but I cannot operate in full disclosure.’

  ‘And Jotapa?’ Nick asked.

  Lawrence looked at him gently.

  ‘Jotapa has faith. Faith burns brightest in the face of adversity and hers is more powerful than the strongest evil. The Royal Household of Jordan has been chosen. Jibril has been chosen for the end times to be a great King, like his ancestor Aretas before him. Jotapa’s mission is to prepare him. This she knows. Her faith will prevail.’

  Lawrence closed his eyes. ‘And she will not be alone. Your family has been chosen. Chosen for repercussions of great good or terrible evil. Great good must triumph. If it fails, the consequences are inconceivable.’

  Lawrence’s expression softened.

  ‘Your mother lives daily in the knowledge that her own life is in danger. She understands many of these things, Nicholas. My task is to protect her until her allotted time in the Race of Men is at an end. Her time draws to a close. She will of her own accord unveil some appalling truths.’ He hesitated. ‘At a terrible cost.’

  Lawrence felt inside his jacket and brought out an old photograph. He handed it to Nick.

  ‘Your grandfather.’

  Nick recognised Julius De Vere but not his four companions: Lawrence named them for him: ‘Xavier Chessler, Piers Aspinall, Kester Von Slagel and Lorcan De Molay.’

  Nick turned the photograph over.

  On the back was written in James De Vere’s precise lettering. ‘The Robes are Behind the Suits.’ And then a single word – ‘Aveline’.

  Nick handed the photo back. ‘It’s Dad’s writing.’

  St Cartier took the photograph and slowly circled De Molay with a pen.

  ‘Lorcan De Molay, Jesuit priest, a member of the Black Robes. Your father knew I had been on his trail for decades.’

  Nick gave him a puzzled glance. ‘His trail?’

  ‘Your father knew they were going to kill him. He enclosed it with his letter. He was giving me a clue.’

  St Cartier brought out a yellowed photograph from his wallet and circled the same face. He passed it to Nick.

  It was a photograph of De Molay and seven men all in Jesuit robes. Nick studied it closely. The caption at the bottom read ‘Class of 1874’.

  ‘1874!’ He glared at St Cartier. ‘A common fake.’

  St Cartier looked calmly back at Nick.

  ‘You are the archaeological photography expert. You can tell these things apart. Go ahead – put it to the test.’

  Nick took a small loupe from his leather jacket and studied the photograph.

  The magnified lettering read: ‘The London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, 108 & 110 Regent Street and 54 Cheapside [London] [England] [U.K.] Photographers to HRH, The Prince of Wales. 1874.’

  Nick stared, stunned. He turned the photograph over.

  ‘It can’t be – it would make him over a hundred and thirty years old.’

  ‘Over two hundred years,’ St Cartier said quietly. ‘De Molay was excommunicated from the Jesuits in 1776. Legend has it that he was the hooded figure who delivered the great seals of America to Thomas Jefferson one misty Virginia night in 1782. In 1825 he disappeared without a trace – all records erased. Rumours among the Jesuits held that in 1776 he sold his soul to the devil and was granted immortality and became custodian of the New World Order.’

  Nick looked again at the image of Lorcan De Molay standing next to James de Vere.

  Lawrence watched Nick’s face closely. ‘Some legends have it that he is the devil incarnate.’

  Nick shivered. ‘And?’

  ‘I left the order in 1986. The Jesuits have become “untouchable” over the years. The ruling members are very, very wealthy and powerful.’

  Lawrence held out the photograph to Nick.

  ‘Take it. It’s yours.’

  Nick looked at him questioningly.

  ‘The men in the photograph hold the answers to your father’s death.’ Lawrence paused. ‘And your attempted murder. I can tell you no more.’

  Nick placed the photograph carefully in the inside pocket of his leather jacket.

  ‘Come with me, Lawrence,’ he pleaded.

  ‘I have a prior engagement, Nicholas,’ Lawrence said, softly. ‘I cannot.’

  They took the wooden lift, which landed on the ground with a jolt.

  Nick and St Cartier got out and walked towards Nick’s Jeep, still parked under the monastery walls.

  ‘Bring evil to account. Protect the innocent, Nick. Find the truth.’

  Lawrence looked into his face intently.

  ‘You enter a time of great danger. Nothing is as it seems. The most evil now adopts the façade of the most noble. He whom you trust implicitly will cold-bloodedly beguile and deceive you. He whom you presently regard with misgiving shall become your greatest benefactor. Trust no man’s appearance readily.’ St Cartier’s eyes flashed with fervour. ‘Not friend, not brother.’ Lawrence hesitated. ‘Not even Adrian, Nick,’ he murmured.

  ‘Don’t go there, Lawrence,’ Nick warned. ‘Adrian’s kept me alive.’

  He opened the Jeep door and flung his rucksack onto the back seat, then eased his lanky frame into the vehicle.

  ‘Remember – the robes are behind the suits,’ St Cartier said.

  Nick leant out of the Jeep’s open window.

  ‘You’re way off the mark about Adrian, Lawrence,’ he said, grinning.

  St Cartier watched with misgiving as Nick waved and the silver Jeep roared off down the road into the desert haze, heading towards Cairo.

  Nick De Vere might just make the last flight to Paris.

  Chapter Eighteen

  Dark Clouds on the Horizon

  21 December 2021

  Western Coast of Normandy, France

  Adrian De Vere’s Sikorsky S-76 Shadow flew towards the Abbey Fortress of Mont St Michel built near the mouth of the Couesnon River. Adrian stared transfixed at the fairy-tale Gothic castle that rose dramatically 260 feet above the ocean. No matter how many times he made the trip home, it never failed to strike a chord in him.

  ‘You are prepared?’

  Adrian looked up at the man he had trusted since he was a teenager at Gordonstoun. The man who had become his closest spiritual adviser during his formative years.

  ‘I have lived prepared.’

  ‘Once the Seventh Seal is broken – they are all expendable.’

  Adrian nodded. ‘My brothers suspect nothing. The Jewish whore chosen as my mother will be eliminated.’ He spoke without a trace of emotion.

  Kester Von Slagel smiled. ‘Your father awaits you.’

  Adrian looked down at the vast medieval fortress. There, on the very edge of the jagged cliffs, playing the violin, his black Jesuit robes billowing in the gales blowing off the North Atlantic, his face raised in ecstasy to the darkening Normandy skies . . . stood Lorcan De Molay.

  22 December 2021

  Normandy Motorway

  Nick put his foot down. The rented metallic red Aston Martin surged ahead down the A84 autoroute, past the rolling Normandy wheat fields. He dictated a number into the car’s voice-recognition system. Like every vehicle in the European Union satellite footprint, it was linked up to supercomputer databases in Brussels which had universal access to all Internet servers, private records, and global satellite networks in the EU.

  Five hundred million citizens’ personal data, accessible at the touch of a button. The ‘
superbeast’ also recorded every citizen’s personal ATM and debit card transactions within 57 seconds.

  The robotic voice replied first in French, then in English.

  ‘Julia St Cartier. Current GPS location. New Chelsea, London. King’s Road. Last purchase Starbucks. Item: vanilla latte. Skimmed. Lemon pound cake. Slice. One. Purchase completed two minutes ago. Subject mobile. On foot. Dialling.’

  Nick grinned. Typical Julia. He pressed her purchase history. Then smiled, amused. Only 10 a.m. in London and from her records she’d already visited Starbucks twice today.

  Julia’s phone rang once.

  King’s Road, Chelsea, London

  ‘Hi, Nick,’ Julia spoke into her mouthpiece, handbag and cake in her leather-gloved right hand, latte in the left. She glanced at her mobile screen which showed Nick’s GPS location in Normandy.

  ‘So you’ve left Alexandria already – are you on your way to Adrian’s?’

  Nick’s face appeared on the screen. ‘Yeah, Jules, only forty miles away. Enjoying the latte?’

  Julia frowned. Her patent leather boots pounded the pavement. She wore a snugly fitting charcoal wool coat that accentuated her slim form, a fake fox hat and outsized Chanel sunglasses. She walked with long strides down King’s Road, her bleached blonde hair flying.

  ‘Not good for the diet, lemon pound cake.’

  Julia grimaced in frustration, then took a sip of latte.

  ‘You tell Adrian from me that the newfangled Big Brother he introduced before he left Downing Street is an infringement on our personal rights.’

  She took a ravenous bite of the cake.

  Nick watched her savouring every mouthful and grinned. Through all the years he had known her, Julia had dieted constantly. Her resolve was legendary and she reaped the rewards with her svelte figure, but in reality he knew she adored her food. Nick remembered Julia avidly tucking into fry-ups with him and Jason in his summer holidays at Cape Cod. Abstinence was the high price she paid for a flourishing career in a communications industry where cake and carbs were illicit. Lettuce and Perrier water were the staple diet of the thousands of constantly starving industry icons, of whom Julia St Cartier was one.

  He had caught her out this morning.

  ‘When you can’t have a piece of cake in privacy, that’s an infringement, I agree. But it’s very informative, all the same.’ His tone changed. ‘Look, Jules, jokes aside, I need some information on Lawrence St Cartier.’

 
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