Authors: Gregg Loomis
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General
There was no guard rail. On the right, Lang could see occasional tree tops and roofs of the town far below. Twice he saw a large bird below, wings outstretched over the farmland as it coasted along thermals. On this motorcycle, he thought, I’m almost that free.
He was never sure what pulled him from the euphoria of the day. He only knew he was surprised on one of the short straight stretches to see the bike’s mirrors filled with a truck. Not the eighteen-wheeled behemoth of American Interstates, but large enough to fill its half of the road.
Lang leaned into a sweeping right-hand turn and set up for a hairpin to the left. No doubt about it, the truck was gaining on them, swerving all over the road as it struggled to stay on the pavement.
Lang searched ahead for a turn-off, even a space between paving and mountainside. There were none. Straight drop right, perpendicular rise left. Nowhere to go.
Taking his left, non-throttle hand from the handlebar, Lang tapped Gurt’s leg and pointed behind. He heard a German expletive over the roar of the truck’s engine. She squeezed him tighter.
The bike shuddered as its fiberglass rear fender shattered and Lang braced against the impact. The bastard intended to run them over! He opened the throttle to stop.
How had they found him?
Other books by Gregg Loomis:
The Coptic Secret
The Sinai Secret
Gates of Hades
The Julian Secret
Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.
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Copyright © 2005 by Gregg Loomis
The Shepherds of Arcadia
Photo Credit: Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY
Louvre, Paris, France
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
ISBN 13: 978-1-4285-1142-2
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Thanks to Mary Jack Wald, my agent, whose help and suggestions were priceless, not to mention her efforts to make sure this book saw print. Thanks to Don D’Auria, editor, for his help, too. Henry Lincoln’s video on Rennes-le-Chateau was helpful, as were the suggested translation of the Latin puzzle in Poussin’s painting by Richard Andrews and Paul Schellenberger’s
Tomb of God
Father Saunière had made a strange discovery.
The roll of vellum parchment was so old that the ribbon tying the sheets together had crumbled into dust when he took the bundle from its hiding place in the altar. He had never seen writing like this, faded lines that looked more like worm tracks than script.
He had been doing some work in the little church, repairs his parish could ill afford to hire out. The roof leaked, a number of the pews were going to collapse without new nails and the altar . . . Well, the altar was older than the church itself.
He frowned as he looked up at the altar. Basically a stone slab, centuries of serving the Holy Eucharist had worn it so unevenly that it was about to fall from the two
short plinths supporting it. Even at six feet and over two hundred pounds, he had barely been able to lift the block from its supports. That was when he had discovered that one of the columns was hollow—with the parchments inside.
No one knew the origins of the altar. Saunière supposed it had come from the ruins of one of the many castles nearby. Its intricate carvings were far too elaborate for a church whose poor box rarely yielded more than a few sous at a time.
The area was old. Romans, Templars, perhaps even Moors when it had been part of Catalonia in Spain. The altar could have come from any one of their chapels.
Or Cathars or Gnostics.
The possibility that the altar could have been part of heretic or pagan services made Saunière wince. God alone knew what heathen use the stone might have served. He looked over his shoulder as though someone might be there to reproach him for the thought.
Mere objects could not be evil, he told himself. Still, holding these pages made him uncomfortable. It might be best if they were destroyed. No, that was not his decision to make. He would show them to the bishop on the prelate’s next visit, let authority decide.
What harm could mere inanimate documents do, anyway?
The answer came to him as he was conducting evening mass: It had been paper nailed to a cathedral door that had torn the church apart forever.
The explosion shook the entire Place des Vosges as well as a good part of the Marais district. Had the thirty-six town houses, nine on each side of the square, been built with less sturdy material than the handmade bricks of four centuries past, the damage might have been greater. Even so, the antique glass had been blown out of every window of the largest of these stately homes, the former Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée, the second floor of which had been the home of Victor Hugo.
The only real damage, though, was to number 26, the source of the blast. By the time the
from the 11th arrondissement, the district fire department, arrived twelve minutes later, the building was four stories of inferno. Saving the house and its occupants was not a possibility.
A line of gendarmes kept spectators a respectful distance
from the blaze while others interviewed bathrobe- clad residents. One man, an apparent insomniac, told the officers he had been watching a rerun of the past year’s World Cup championship match when he had heard a crash of shattering glass followed by a flash of light brighter than any he had ever seen. Rushing to the window, he had nearly been blinded by the intensity of the blaze.
The glass, the policeman asked, could it have crashed when something was thrown through a window?
The man stuffed a fist into his yawning mouth, his interest diminishing now that the best part of the show was over. How does one distinguish between glass shattering when something is thrown into it rather than something being thrown out? He shrugged as only the French can, conveying uninterested ignorance as well as annoyance at a stupid question. “Je ne sais pas.”
He turned to go back home, almost bumping into a middle-aged man in a suit. The spectator wondered what anyone would be doing in business attire at this hour. Not only dressed, but in a shirt freshly starched, jacket and trousers neatly pressed. He shrugged a second time and trudged homeward wondering if
reception in the neighborhood had been affected by the fire.
The gendarme touched the brim of his cap with a nod, an almost involuntary sign of respect as he wished the new arrival, “Bon soir.” A straightening of the back and an air of deference were obvious. It was not every neighborhood fire that drew the attention of the Department of State Security and Investigation, the DGSE.
The DGSE man gave the slightest of nods before staring intently into what was now a smoldering shell. Plumbing, twisted by the heat, poking into emptiness like supplicating arms. The adjacent homes exhibited an ugly black patina of soot as they stared onto the square with windows void of glass. Hot embers hissed with steam as firemen
hosed them down. It was as if a shaft straight from hell had broken through the earth’s surface where the townhouse had once stood.
“Any idea as to the cause?” the DGSE man asked.
The fireman was fairly certain the nation’s security service would not be interested in leaking gas or a match carelessly dropped into the home’s supply of kerosene. “No sir, none.” He pointed. “The chief fire inspector is over there.”
The security department man stood for a moment as though digesting the information before walking over to a short man almost swallowed by his flame-retardant uniform and knee-high boots. The impression was of a child playing in his parents’ clothes.
The security man displayed a badge. “Louvere, DGSE. Any idea as to the cause?”
The fireman, too tired to be impressed by what was, after all, just one more bureaucrat, shook his head. “Whatever set it off, it had help from some sort of accelerant. I’d be surprised if it was an accident.”
Louvere nodded in apparent agreement. “Ether in an adjoining unit, perhaps?”
The fireman gave a derisive snort. Ether was used in the process of turning cocaine powder into “rocks” of more potent crack. Few narcotic dealers knew (or cared) how to handle the highly volatile anesthetic safely. Misapplication of the heat necessary to the process could and did frequently result in spectacular results.
“In this neighborhood?” He swept a hand, indicating the pricey homes. A three-day tournament had been held here in 1615 to celebrate the marriage of Louis XII. The Place had been home to Cardinal Richelieu and other notables. Duels had been fought in the center of the square while spectators watched from the shelter of the arcades that fronted the buildings. In 1962 President de Gaulle had declared the Place a national historic monument. The
prices of homes here, in the rare event one became available, were not set to be attractive to crack labs.
Louvere’s eyes followed the fireman’s gesture, taking in the perfect symmetry of the pink brick buildings. “I suppose not.”
“Besides,” the fireman said, “DGSE hardly bothers itself with the dope trade. What’s your involvement?”
“Let’s say it is personal. I have a friend, an old acquaintance in the States, who asked me to meet his sister, show her around Paris. She was staying with a schoolmate in number 26. Someone I had introduced her to called, said he had heard there was trouble here. So I came.”