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Son of perdition, p.19
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       Son of Perdition, p.19

           Wendy Alec
 
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  She knew her father had done his utmost to be even-handed in his affection for his offspring, but Faisal’s character deficiencies were not easily overlooked.

  In his twenties, much to her father’s dismay, Faisal had run wild for months at a time with the younger Saudi princes. Her father had received constant reports of the clubbing, the orgies, the drugs. Just as Nick’s father had.

  But, unlike Nick, Faisal was cunning and ruthless. And dim. And in time, the noble elderly King came to despise his oldest son. Jotapa was born when Faisal was eleven, then, seven years later, Jibril came along. The eighteen-year-old Faisal had loathed the calm and sunny infant, the jewel of the King of Jordan’s latter years.

  She studied Jibril as he concentrated on the game. He was so like their father. A clean, angular face, thick black straight hair and clear, piercing brown eyes. He was only sixteen, but he had wisdom beyond his years. And far beyond that of his older brother.

  ‘Your Highness,’ a steward leant over ‘we are preparing for descent.’

  Jotapa looked out of the Gulfstream’s window. Thousands of feet below, the sprawling runways of the King Fahd International Airport became visible through the early-morning haze.

  Jotapa looked back once more at Jibril, still engrossed in his game, then down at her jeans – a banned item in the Royal Household of Saudi Arabia. She closed her eyes, trying to shut out the dreadful foreboding that the twenty-first century and all that was safe and familiar was about to be wrenched away from her forever.

  And the dreadful foreboding that Jotapa, Princess of the Royal Household of Jordan,was about to cease to exist.

  * * *

  Adrian and the British Foreign Secretary relaxed in the orangery under the balmy winter sun. Two butlers cleared the lunch crockery, while a third poured Earl Grey tea into porcelain cups monogrammed with Adrian’s initials. Guber and Chastenay were in deep conversation outside the orangery entrance.

  ‘So I still can’t persuade you to reconsider becoming a member of the Eurozone?’ Adrian said in his easy, disarming tone.

  ‘You know our stance on it, Adrian,’ the Foreign Secretary replied. ‘Nothing’s changed since you left office. The people would lynch us if we surrendered the pound. The Lisbon Treaty pushed it as far as we dare.’ He smiled. ‘Sorry, Adrian. Your London Pact lies gathering dust in some Downing Street archive.’

  ‘Some day, George,’ Adrian said.

  ‘I’m betting it’s not in my lifetime.’ The Foreign Secretary leant back in his chair and sipped his tea.

  His aide stepped forward and whispered surreptitiously in his ear. Nodding to the aide, the minister said, ‘An urgent phone call – the Prime Minister.’

  Adrian smiled graciously. ‘Chastenay, show Mr Hayes to the secure area.’

  The Foreign Secretary hastily left the room, his aide in tow, following Chastenay to a row of glass booths outside the orangery.

  Adrian pressed a button on a writing desk. ‘Guber.’

  He took the envelope from his inside pocket and placed it on the bureau.

  Guber appeared at his side almost instantly.

  Adrian spoke without turning. ‘A minor hitch.’

  He gestured at the envelope.

  Guber opened it, staring mystified at the blank compliments slip. He frowned, turned it over.The photograph was gone.

  ‘When did my brother leave?’

  Guber pressed the intercom line to the main gate.

  ‘When did the Dauphin leave the building?’

  ‘The Dauphin’s Aston Martin left through the front gate forty minutes ago, sir.’

  ‘A problem, Mr President?’ Guber waited.

  ‘My brother had in his possession a photograph,’ Adrian said, quietly. ‘Supposedly from our father, James De Vere.’

  He looked up at Guber.

  ‘A photograph of my grandfather with our current house guests.’

  He let the words sink in.

  ‘And this . . . ’

  Guber scanned the execution document and turned pale.

  ‘James De Vere sent it to St Cartier. Apparently your hoodlums left their tracks uncovered.’

  ‘I’ll deal with it.’

  ‘You’d better.’ Adrian raised his hand and Guber clutched his throat, struggling for air.

  Adrian watched him dispassionately for a moment, then walked over to the orchids in the orangery and nonchalantly picked up a hand mister. He began spraying the orchids as Guber started to choke violently.

  At last, Adrian laid the mister back down, then walked over to Guber and laid a hand on the man’s shoulder. Instantly Guber caught his breath.

  ‘It will never happen again, Your Excellency.’

  ‘Good,’ Adrian said softly. ‘Then we understand each other.’

  The Foreign Secretary returned onto the terrace followed by two waiters bearing fresh tea.

  ‘Let me know when my brother arrives in London.’ Adrian smiled genially to Guber and gestured to the Foreign Secretary to sit. ‘And tidy up any loose ends in Egypt. I have it on good account that our professor friend winters in Cairo.’

  ‘Yes, Mr President,’ Guber replied, and walked briskly out of the orangery.

  The two waiters removed the used crockery, reset the table and poured the freshly brewed tea into clean teacups.

  ‘Earl Grey? Glad to see you’re still supporting English exports, Mr President,’ the Foreign Secretary quipped.

  Adrian smiled faintly and stirred his tea. Lost, deep in thought.

  Aveline, the name of Hamish MacKenzie’s biogenetics foundation, had been scrawled by James De Vere on the back of the photograph.

  Nick had requested De Vere Asset Management’s financials.

  He knew about the International Security Fund.

  Nicholas De Vere was becoming quite the private investigator.

  Just what did his little brother think he was up to?

  * * *

  Nick gazed out of the vast Gothic drawing-room windows onto the floodlit helipad far below.

  The noise of the gunship’s engines as it hovered above the mansion was almost as deafening as the violent Atlantic storm now raging overhead. He watched as the huge black helicopter landed. The fourth so far that evening.

  He had already recognized several dignitaries: princes of three European states, the queen of a fourth. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. He studied the other figures exiting from the gunship. Crown Prince Assad of Syria, followed by the head of Russia’s FSB.

  Nick frowned. He recognized the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank followed by the head of the International Monetary Fund. Strange.

  He gazed up to where three more gunships were hovering over the stormy black Atlantic.

  Nick poured himself a mineral water.

  Adrian had lied to him. But why?

  * * *

  Jotapa stepped out of the first black limousine in a convoy of eighteen. She stared down at her feet. The streets of heaven were paved with gold, but the streets of the Royal Palace of Mansoor were paved with solid Italian marble. She watched as Jibril exited. They were instantly surrounded by a dozen swarthy armed men wearing ghutrahs and black uniforms – Mansoor’s brutal private army.

  Jotapa stared up at the high-walled mile-long compound of monolithic Versailles-like buildings surrounded by hundreds of palm trees. She braced herself, then smoothed down the black abaya that she had been required to change into upon her arrival at the royal terminal, the attire demanded by Crown Prince Mansoor for all his four hundred wives.

  Jotapa and Jibril followed the uniformed soldiers up the marble walkway beneath swaying palms, past magnificent pools and through a massive forty-foot gilt door into the foyer of the palace.

  A soldier gestured her forward into the foyer with his machine gun. Jotapa stared up at the forty-foot ceilings of painted glass in an Art Deco frame. They walked past gilt marble pillars, beneath crystal chandeliers and swathes of gold leaf. Twenty-first-century Islamic, she noted, starin
g up at the framed Koranic verses about the glory of God.

  They marched down unending corridors, past Mansoor’s harem of hundreds of women, and continued until they reached a smaller section of palaces, then stopped outside a vast silver-gilt door. The soldier gestured to Jotapa to remove her jewellery. Slowly, she took off her bracelets and plain gold ring, then emptied the contents of her bag into a glass chamber. A second soldier pushed Jibril roughly towards the door. Jibril’s eyes flashed. Jotapa stared, a dark fury rising in her heart.

  They passed through a scanner. Jotapa turned to retrieve her phone.

  ‘No,’ a swarthy-looking soldier said. ‘No phone.’

  Jotapa glowered at him. ‘My phone,’ she said coldly.

  He smiled a slow nasty smile and reached out his big hand, caressing Jotapa’s neck. She stared up at him, her eyes filled with loathing.

  ‘No phone, Princess.’

  Jibril moved forward just as two more soldiers grasped him. One held him while the second slammed a fist into his solar plexus. He crumpled to the floor.

  There was the sharp sound of a single clap. The soldier released Jotapa’s neck instantly.

  She turned to see a tall, thick-set figure looking down at them from the marble balustrades. He smiled slowly.

  ‘Hadid,’ the stranger spoke in soft seductive tones, ‘give the Princess her phone.’

  With trembling hands, Hadid took the silver mobile from the glass chamber. Jotapa snatched it from him, then tucked it out of sight, deep in one of the abaya’s pockets.

  She watched as the tall stranger came towards her. She recognized him from the previous year’s Al-Hayat newspaper photographs of his public disgrace. It was Mansoor. His dark features were coarse. He had a full beard and a thin hawk-like nose. His beady eyes were cruel. He walked like a panther towards her.

  ‘My Princess.’ He turned to Hadid and with one vicious blow knocked him down. His head smashed violently against the marble floor.

  Mansoor spat, then smiled at Jotapa. He reached out his huge palm and caressed her long dark hair. She flinched violently away.

  Mansoor’s eyes hardened.

  ‘Bring me the boy,’ he ordered. The soldiers pulled Jibril up from the floor and shoved him toward Mansoor.

  ‘A piece of important information, Your Highness.’ Mansoor grabbed Jibril in a vice-like grip. ‘In the event of your non-cooperation – I am not averse to games with boys.’

  ‘No wonder your father loathed you,’ Jotapa hissed.

  Mansoor looked at her with contempt, then reached his hand out to Jibril, sucked his fingers, then caressed Jibril’s face.

  ‘You take me,’ Jotapa snarled, ‘but don’t you ever . . . ’ her entire body trembled with seething rage ‘ . . . ever touch Jibril.’

  Casually, Mansoor dealt a savage blow to her face. Blood seeped from her mouth. Mansoor disappeared down the hall.

  Chapter Twenty-two

  The Robes Are Behind the Suits

  Mont St Michel, Western Coast of Normandy, France

  Nick watched through the camera lens, unseen from the window in the darkness, his eyes riveted on a pulsating blue glow moving rapidly in from the sea. It stopped a hundred feet above Mont St Michel.

  The enormous dome-shaped object stayed suspended in mid-air for a full minute. There was complete silence apart from the rapid fire clicking of Nick’s camera.

  * * *

  Adrian strode past the columns of the refectory, followed by Laurent Chastenay and Guber.

  ‘Our guests are well looked after?’ Adrian continued at his steady pace.

  ‘Yes, Mr President,’ Chastenay replied. ‘They are gathered in the cathedral. Dinner is being served as we speak.’

  ‘We must have no interruptions until we have taken delivery.’

  He stopped in mid-stride and turned to Guber.

  ‘Everything is proceeding according to plan?’

  ‘Like clockwork. The Phoenix has landed. The package will be unloaded in precisely 3 minutes and 20 seconds.’

  Adrian nodded. ‘Return to your posts.’

  The two men disappeared.

  Adrian walked alone through the deserted corridors to the huge doors of the drawing-room terrace and flung them wide open.

  A deafening howling erupted from the Rottweilers and Dobermans guarding the perimeter. The powerful beams of the Mont St Michel searchlights went dark.

  An instant later every light in the mansion switched off.

  Adrian walked onto the balcony and stared out at the hanging garden between sea and sky – then he looked up at the pulsating blue light hovering over the ocean.

  He stood mesmerized by the descending object.

  Then he smiled.

  * * *

  Nick walked through the master bedroom to the library and games room.

  He stopped in front of rows of massive yew bookshelves and ran his hand over the palace’s vast collection of first editions just as the whole wing plunged into pitch darkness.

  Walking over to the window, he gazed out at the West Wing, now shrouded in darkness.

  Who was Adrian’s special guest? Beatrice had said he was staying in the West Wing. A prince? Nick frowned. He pressed his face to the window.

  To his right, on the West Wing terrace, Nick could make out the silhouette of a man, a tall, lean figure dressed in black robes.

  A prince? No. More like a priest.

  He grabbed his camera and zoomed in on the form.

  Yes. Definitely a religious order. Maybe Jesuit.

  The man’s face was raised in ecstasy to the skies, his black robes billowing in the wind. His hair was loose and fell past his shoulders, lashing against his face in the fierce storm.

  Nick stared in fascination through the camera lens.

  The priest swept a bow with long, passionate strokes over the strings of a violin. Nick hurried to the far side of the library and cranked open the huge casement windows. The West Wing terrace was now directly opposite him. The rain lashed through the windows, drenching his hair and T-shirt.

  Nick stared, oblivious to the rain, lost in wonder.

  The sound of the single violin echoed on the ocean winds.

  Haunting. Exquisite. Poignant.

  The priest’s long fingers moved deftly. His eyes were closed in rapture, his mouth moving softly to the refrain.

  Nick stood in the lashing rain. It was as though the music drew his soul. It was mesmerizing. Hypnotic. Then abruptly, the priest stopped playing.

  Nick stared, transfixed. The man was somehow strangely familiar. Though the face was scarred, the features were almost beautiful. The rain beat down on the chiselled cheekbones, the full passionate lips.

  The priest lowered the violin and turned, as though sensing something. Someone.

  Nick stood frozen. He knew he was now directly in the other man’s line of sight.

  Suddenly, the priest dropped the violin, cradling his head as though in agony. Then he stared up at Nick, his features turning to ferocious rage.

  It was the priest from St Cartier’s photograph.

  Nick slammed the window shut and flung himself against the wall in the darkness, his mind racing. For the first time in his entire life, Nick sensed an overshadowing evil.

  ‘The Robes are Behind the Suits.’

  The old man’s words rang in his ears.

  ‘Some legends have it – he was the devil incarnate.’

  There was no doubting it. There, on the terrace of the West Wing, less than fifty feet away, stood Lorcan De Molay.

  * * *

  Adrian walked through the drawing room into his private elevator. A minute later, he strode outside. He shielded his eyes from the lights and wind.

  The domed flying object, some two hundred feet in diameter, hovered a full ninety feet above the lawn. Adrian stared in awe as the massive metal ship’s doorway opened. A brilliant arc of light radiated over the Abbey.

  * * *

  The entire East Wing balcony lit up
as though it were broad daylight.

  Nick shielded his eyes from the intense flashing strobe. His head throbbed intensely.

  He scrabbled for a lens in his satchel, adjusted it, then lifted the camera back up as the mysterious hovering craft descended.

  Nick stared through the lens, fascinated. He’d never seen anything like it in his life. He took shot after shot.

  He could make out figures standing in the open doors, man-handling a large object – a metal crate. Click.

  The crate was lowered down by steel cables and nine men in uniform manoeuvred it to the edge of the lawn. Click.

  A seal on the outside of the crate was plainly visible under the floodlights. The crest of Mont St Michel. Click.

  Nick stared, stupefied, as another crate was lowered. Then the craft’s doors closed and the dome-like ship ascended back into the sky and vanished. He gazed after it, bewildered.

  Immediately, the power returned to the entire East Wing.

  Nick looked up at the surveillance camera positioned directly above him and moved out of its line of sight.

  Time was running out.

  * * *

  Guber walked towards the first crate.

  ‘Prepare to unload the merchandise,’ he ordered the soldiers.

  The special forces levered it open and the metal sides fell to the ground.

  * * *

  Nick stared in disbelief as the ornate chest became fully visible. It couldn’t be. He rubbed his eyes, bewildered. Instantly, every instinct sharpened by his years of training as an archaeologist kicked into gear.

  Checklist.

  Length – four feet long. Check. Height – two and a half feet. Check. Carved of wood overlaid with gold. Check. Decorated gold rim running around the top. Check. Rings at four corners through which poles could be passed. Check.

  Nick trembled. He ran his fingers through his hair, almost afraid to check the final clinching feature. He took a deep breath, exhaled, then looked through the camera lens.

  There they were. On the lid, facing each other, their wings outstretched, were the two figurines of angels – cherubim – in beaten gold. Double-check.

  ‘The Ark of the Covenant,’ he breathed.

 
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