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Son of perdition, p.17
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       Son of Perdition, p.17

           Wendy Alec
 
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  And there He was. Just as Lucifer had known He would be.

  With trembling fingers, Lucifer pushed open the simple wooden gate.

  Standing in the centre of His garden, His back faintly visible through the rising mists, stood Christos.

  Lucifer leant against the gate, suddenly weakened. He struggled for breath.

  Slowly Christos turned. Lucifer fell to his knees, his arm shielding his face from the glorious white light emanating from the other’s countenance.

  ‘It was here that you kissed me so many aeons past,’ Christos said softly, ‘before your treason.’

  Lucifer’s hands trembled uncontrollably.

  ‘It was here that your treachery began. The hour you learned of the advent of the Race of Men.’

  Lucifer stared up at Him, ashen-faced.

  Christos gazed out as the shimmering rays settled to reveal – a hundred feet ahead, across a vast chasm – the magnificent Rubied Door, ablaze with light, embedded in the jacinth walls of the tower. The entrance to Yehovah’s throne room.

  Lucifer followed His gaze to the shimmering rainbow that rose over the crystal palace.

  At length, Christos spoke.

  ‘In the midst of the Tribulation there will be war between Lucifer and Michael in heaven. For surely you will be cast out from heaven. Never to return.’

  Christos stared out towards the great Rubied Door. Slowly it opened, and with it lightning and thunder grew in intensity and a tempestuous wind blew.

  ‘Mark well the sights and sounds of the First Heaven, Son of the Morning. They are nigh your last.’

  Lucifer stared after Christos, frantic as He vanished into the mists. Then He reappeared across the chasm and walked through the Rubied Door, leaving Lucifer sobbing wretchedly, bereft and alone under the eight olive trees of Christos’s garden.

  Chapter Twenty

  Mont St Michel

  Western Coast of Normandy

  Nick rounded a bend in the road and the bell tower of Mont St Michel became visible, the golden statue of Archangel Michael on the spire towering 560 feet above the English Channel. Soaring above the Normandy wheat fields, the fortress abbey rose like a Gothic apparition through the fading morning mists.

  Nick stared transfixed at the towering mass of granite 3,000 feet in circumference The new European Superstate had appropriated the island from UNESCO for the sole use of the European President. And Adrian now divided his time equally between his palaces in Normandy, Rome and, recently, Babylon.

  It was low tide. The mile-long embankment of the early 2000s had been bulldozed and replaced with a shorter one and an 800-yard low bridge. And the dam at the mouth of the Couesnon had recently been replaced by a hydraulic dam double its size, a feat of hydrological engineering with a price tag of 164 million euros. Nick shook his head in wonder. But it had stopped the island from literally sinking into the sand.

  The Aston Martin crossed the new dual-lane causeway and slowed down in front of a huge black iron gate with the Mont St Michel crest scrolled in gold at its top.

  Nick looked up at the six remote cameras positioned above the gate. He turned to the iris scanner that automatically lowered to his eye level on the left-hand side of the car. He looked directly into the lens.

  Six seconds later the gates opened electronically and he drove slowly past the newly erected gatehouse with its polycarbonate-layered bulletproof windows.

  He was well aware that in the ten seconds he waited outside the gate, every detail of both his private and public life had been transmitted to ‘The Core’ – the President of the European Union’s secret operations base, a sprawling underground city beneath the Atlantic below Mont St Michel, where the notorious Kurt Guber, Adrian’s autocratic director of security operations, reigned supreme.

  Nick drove through the old medieval village on cobbled winding roads reconstructed in accordance with Guber’s exacting security procedures. The village housed over two hundred of Adrian’s presidential staff including the head of the European Security Agency and his top economic and legal advisers. The medieval façade was precisely that – a façade. Surveillance cameras and sensors spied from every rooftop, window and doorway. Unending teams of military police and guard dogs patrolled the perimeters of the double chain-link fence.

  Nick finally drew to a halt outside the stables. He slammed the car door and threw the keys to a slightly built man in chauffeur’s livery who caught them neatly.

  ‘Be a pal, Pierre,’ Nick said, ‘Park her for me, will you?’

  When James De Vere had been alive, Pierre had been James’s manservant, second only in his affections to Maxim.

  Pierre bowed slightly.

  ‘Of course, sir,’ he said, smiling with affection. ‘So good to see you, Master Nicholas.’

  He opened the Aston Martin door, sat down and adjusted the seat.

  ‘How is Beatrice?’ Nick asked.

  ‘Stubborn as ever.’ Pierre grimaced, though his eyes twinkled. ‘She was up at dawn baking bread.’ He lowered his voice. ‘Drop into the kitchen on your way out or my life won’t be worth living.’

  Nick smiled, remembering the Rhode Island family mansion and his childhood Christmases when he would sneak into the kitchen where Beatrice, the De Veres’ formidable French housekeeper,was baking spiced bread and be summarily ejected and threatened with a rolling pin.

  ‘Those were good days, Mr Nicholas, the days with your parents.’ Pierre turned the keys in the ignition. ‘Good days,’ he muttered.

  Nick watched the Aston Martin disappear in the direction of the garage. He filled his lungs with the Atlantic air, then walked the short distance to one of the looming Gothic doorways of Mont St Michel.

  He stood beneath the huge ivy-covered ramparts, in front of the facial recognition scanner, then waited for one of the four security service agents to clear his access.

  Slowly, the huge iron Abbey doors opened. An elderly man in tails nodded curtly to Nick.

  ‘Hi there, Anton,’ Nick greeted him nonchalantly.

  ‘Your brother is expecting you, Mr De Vere.’ Anton’s English was stilted and guttural. He scanned Nick’s torn jeans and faded leather jacket with disapproval.

  Nick followed Anton through the vestibule, down Mont St Michel’s huge vaulted hallways, down a series of long stone corridors hung with priceless old masters until they arrived at two massive steel doors.

  He stood in front of a second-facial recognition computer scanner. Seconds later the doors parted, revealing eighteen-foot mahogany doors.

  Two of Guber’s special forces materialized.

  ‘I know the drill,’ Nick muttered, removing his satchel and camera. He waited while Guber’s men ran them through a high-tech scanner.

  Anton pushed open the doors to the European President’s magnificently furnished foyer.

  Adrian’s chief of staff, Laurent Chastenay, welcomed Nick. He was tall and well spoken.

  ‘Follow me, if you please, Mr De Vere,’ he said. ‘Your brother is waiting for you in the drawing room.’

  Chastenay led him down yet another corridor and turned sharp left. Holding a door open, he gestured Nick through to a magnificent chamber.

  Nick admired the salon’s priceless tapestries embroidered with Picardy wool and Italian silk and gilded silver threads, the pastel Aubusson and Savonnerie carpets and Chesterfield sofas. He stared up at an enormous canvas by the iconic artist Francis Bacon.

  Nick smiled. Typical Adrian. A complete contrast in style.

  On his last visit, the drawing room was being refurbished in preparation for Adrian’s inauguration. Now it was magnificent. A reflection of Adrian’s impeccable taste.

  His hands behind his back, Adrian stood, gazing out of the enormous cherrywood doors at the monumental view across the bay to the open sea. Helicopters circled overhead.

  ‘May I present your brother, Mr Nicholas De Vere, Mr President.’

  ‘Why, thank you, Laurent.’ Adrian turned.

  ‘Your
video conference with the Russian Premier is in fifteen minutes, sir.’ Chastenay bowed again, then disappeared from the room.

  ‘Nicky,’ Adrian said, smiling in delight. He gestured to the bay. ‘The wonder of the West. “À la vitesse d’un cheval au galop,” – Victor Hugo – “the tides move as swiftly as a galloping horse.” Three feet a second, the most dangerous tides in the world.’

  Nick studied Adrian. He was immaculate as always. In fact he looked the epitome of a modern-day royal, all the way from his custom-made ostrich-skin shoes to his obscenely expensive Alexander Amosu suit, crafted from gold thread and Himalayan pashmina with its nine 18-carat-gold-and-pave-set diamond buttons.

  Adrian’s weakness for designer suits and modern art were the only indulgences in his normally spartan regime. While Nick had been the proverbial spendthrift, Adrian had hoarded his cash since he was young, a tendency that had become more ingrained through the years.

  Nick attributed it to Adrian’s rigorous background in economic analysis, his degree in philosophy, politics, and economics from Oxford, two years at Princeton and a year specializing in Arab studies in Georgetown before four years as Director of De Vere Asset Management.

  Nick frowned. Lawrence’s disclosures about the family business were still ringing in his ears. Politics was Adrian’s passion but economics was his genius.

  Adrian had become Chancellor of the Exchequer two years after the crash of 2008 and had single-handedly revolutionized the British economy. Then came two terms as British Prime Minister. Until his tenure as European President, Adrian had no yacht, stately home, beachfront mansion or classic-car collection. He had lived in Downing Street with Melissa, their second home a functional semi-detached house in Oxford.

  Instead of living in luxury, he had donated millions to the Marie Curie Hospice, children’s charities in South East Asia, to both Georgetown and Oxford Universities, to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and he had financed the restoration of Michelangelo’s frescos in the Vatican’s Pauline Chapel.

  Adrian held Nick at arm’s length and surveyed his brother. Jeans and T-shirt as always. Leather jacket, satchel, bleached hair. The ever-present camera. Still the pretty celebrity boy, even though the AIDS had had a devastating effect on him.

  ‘It’s good to see you, Nicky.’

  Nick grinned and looked down at his torn Levis.

  ‘I think your butler disapproved of my attire.’

  Adrian smiled. ‘They said the antiretroviral treatments had stopped taking effect but you look good. You’ve filled out.’

  Nick turned to look at the paintings above Adrian’s desk, uncomfortable. It was the first time in his life that he had made a deliberate decision not to confide in his brother.

  ‘New?’ he asked, changing the subject.

  Adrian smiled sheepishly. ‘I indulged on my fortieth. Warhol self-portraits.’

  Nick frowned. ‘Not exactly what I’d call pretty.’

  ‘That’s rich, coming from someone who hangs Edvard Munch’s Vampire in pride of place in his home,’ Adrian retorted, with a grin.

  ‘It’s tongue in cheek, Adrian. A numbered print, by the way.’ Nick grinned back. ‘It hides a safe.’

  Adrian surveyed the Warhols. ‘Jason says they’re monstrosities.’ He chuckled. ‘Of course, what he doesn’t know about art would fill the Louvre.’ He stared up at the three portraits. ‘Incredible investment. Worth forty million dollars.’

  Adrian walked over to the drinks cabinet and picked up a chilled bottle of cider.

  ‘It all goes to developing children’s charities on my demise. It soothes my conscience. Cider? It’s local – very good.’

  Nick shook his head. ‘Perrier, thanks. I’m detoxing. By the way, happy birthday.’

  ‘Thanks, Nicky. Sorry you can’t stay longer – I should have let you know. We’ve got dignitaries and government officials arriving from six continents.’

  Adrian poured Nick’s Perrier. ‘All classified – preparations for the Ishtar Accord.’ He handed Nick the glass. ‘It all happens in less than three weeks. If there are no setbacks.’

  He walked to his desk and started sifting through a sheaf of papers.

  ‘You said it was urgent. Do you need money?’ Adrian opened a drawer and pulled out a chequebook.

  Nick shook his head. ‘I’m fine – I got paid excessively by the Jordanians. I’m of independent means again.’

  Adrian frowned. ‘Then what, Nicky? You said it was important.’

  ‘It concerns Dad . . . his death.’

  Adrian looked at him, perplexed. ‘Dad died over four years ago. I don’t want to seem crass, but couldn’t this wait?’

  ‘I’ll get straight to the point. Lawrence St Cartier believes Dad was killed . . . ’ Nick hesitated. ‘By a group of elitists. Globalists. An extremely powerful cabal. You could be in danger.’

  Adrian looked up from his papers. ‘Killed? As in murdered?’ He stared at Nick in disbelief. ‘That’s ludicrous. He had a heart attack. There was an autopsy. The old professor’s been feeding you his conspiracy theories. Dad used to rag him mercilessly behind his back.’

  ‘Yes, I know it looked like that, Adrian but – ’

  ‘Look, thanks for your concern, Nicky . . . ’

  He drew Nick with him to the windows, pointing to a ship in the English Channel far in the distance.

  ‘See that ship? It’s one of eight NATO naval craft that patrol the bay day and night – backed by round-the-clock air surveillance, four helicopters, four fighter-bomber aircraft, dozens of cutters and speedboats, 121 magnetic gates, 60 X-ray machines, 132 metal detectors, 18 explosives detectors, 196 CCTV cameras and 62 vehicle-tracking systems. Guber monitors the C41 system – digital communications radio network and IT systems that give picture, sound and data to 36 security commanders at any given time – all to protect the European Pres – ’ He stopped in midflow recognizing James De Vere’s signature on the paper in Nick’s hand.

  ‘What is this, Nicky?’

  ‘A letter from Dad to Lawrence and a document he enclosed. Sent the day before he died,’ Nick explained. ‘The document is evidence that the AIDS virus that infected me was deliberately placed in the needles used that night in Amsterdam. Look. Requisition from Fort Detrich. Monies paid to low-level thugs in Amsterdam.’

  Adrian scanned the document. He turned it over and frowned.

  Nick pointed to a section.

  ‘Live virus delivered 4 April 2017. Injected 12.07 a.m. Signed warrant for my execution. They gave me AIDS.’

  ‘Who, Nicky? Think about it – who would want to give you AIDS?’

  For a split second, Adrian almost lost his genial manner. ‘Forgive me, little brother, this is nothing more than a hoax. To be brutally frank, Nick, you’re harmless. No one would go to this much trouble to eliminate you. You know St Cartier. Ex-CIA, Jesuit priest. Hell, he’s over eighty. When they leave the agency, it’s hard for them to tell fantasy from reality. He must be in the first stage of dementia. Using Dad’s name to give this credibility.’ Adrian shook his head. ‘The old man’s losing his marbles.’

  Adrian’s intercom buzzed on his desk. Adrian chose to ignore it.

  Nick reached for the envelope in his pocket, and the photograph of Julius De Vere, Lorcan De Molay and the three other men fell from his grasp on to the rug.

  Adrian bent down and carefully picked it up.

  ‘Do you recognize anyone?’

  ‘No. Except Grandfather and Chessler, Jason’s godfather. I’ve never seen any of them before in my life.’

  ‘There’s a woman’s name on the back.’

  Adrian turned the photo over.

  Nick pointed. ‘It’s Dad’s handwriting.’

  Adrian studied the writing. His face turned pale.‘Aveline,’ he murmured and shook his head slowly. ‘A woman’s name. It’s Dad’s writing all right. But what it means I’ve no idea. Where did you get it, Nicholas?’

  ‘In some old boxes at Mother’s,’ N
ick lied. Immediately his conscience pricked him but there were extenuating circumstances.

  Nick studied Adrian. He never called him Nicholas unless he was aggravated. But it was now or never. He had to push it as far as he could.

  ‘Tell me something, Adrian. Is it true that we’re so wealthy?’ He put his glass down and took the photo from his brother’s hands. ‘I mean – inordinately wealthy?’

  ‘You know how much we’re worth, Nicky.’ Adrian’s eyes narrowed.

  Nick shook his head. ‘No. No, I don’t think I do, Adrian. How much are we worth?’

  Adrian caressed the rim of his glass. ‘Around five hundred billion dollars by today’s standards. Half our wealth was wiped out in the run on the banks in 2018.’ He gave Nick a penetrating look. ‘What are you doing? You know all this.’

  Nick paused, then decided to fling caution to the wind.

  ‘Does that take into account that we own more than 40 per cent of the worldwide bullion market, have an effective monopoly on the diamond industry and undisclosed stakes in Russian oil?’

  Adrian looked back at Nick. Inscrutable as ever.

  The intercom buzzed again. Adrian gestured to Nick to wait and strode over to his desk. He hit the button with uncharacteristic impatience.

  ‘What is it?’

  ‘Your two o’clock video conference call, Mr President – the Russian and the Iranian Premiers are both on hold, sir.’

  Laurent Chastenay walked in through the door. Adrian looked at his watch and sighed.

  ‘Put them through.’

  He pressed the mute and looked over to where Nick stood at the far end of the room, then studied the document in his hand a second time. He folded it up and placed it in his pocket.

 
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