God's Lions - House of Acerbi (4 page)

BOOK: God's Lions - House of Acerbi
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These facts were very much on Bishop Morelli’s mind as he waited in the hallway outside the private chapel, for he had just received the terrible news that the private jet carrying the much beloved Cardinal Orsini, the Vatican’s longtime Secretary of State, had just slammed into the side of a mountain in Spain.

Without fanfare, a tall man with blonde hair and piercing blue eyes emerged from the papal chapel, his long white cassock trailing on the floor behind him.

“Good evening, Anthony. I heard you were coming.”

“Thank you for seeing me, Your Holiness.”

The pope smiled as he clasped Morelli on the shoulder. “You are a welcome sight this evening, Bishop. What’s so important to bring you out in this horrible weather?”

Morelli paused just long enough for the pope’s blue eyes to focus in on him with a steely gaze.

“I’m afraid I bring Your Holiness some bad news.”

“Is it someone close to us?”

“Very close, I’m afraid. It’s Cardinal Orsini. We received word a short time ago that his plane disappeared from radar as it passed over the Pyrenees on the return trip home from America. We were waiting for further news when the Spanish Ambassador called to confirm that their military had found the plane’s wreckage on the side of a mountain in the northern part of the country.”

“Were there any survivors?”

“No, Your Holiness. The military rescue teams on the scene reported that it must have been a very high-speed impact. The weather at the crash site was clear, so the implication at this point is that there was some sort of mechanical malfunction. There was no radio communication from the aircraft.”

The pope glanced down at the gold papal ring on his right hand before removing his rosary from beneath his robes and reciting a brief prayer.

“Why don’t we go to my study and have a glass of wine, Anthony.”

The two men passed down a short corridor until they reached a tall-windowed room that looked out over Saint Peter’s Square. As the pope looked for an appropriate selection from inside a wood-paneled wine cooler built into the wall, Morelli took a seat on a facing sofa and casually scanned the selection of books lying on a side table.

Next to a few leather-bound editions of classic works by well-known theologians and philosophers, he noticed several copies of the
International Defense Review
along with other surprising titles like
The Problems of Military Readiness, Military Balance and Surprise Attack
, and
Worldwide Terrorist Organizations
. Then, next to these, he saw another interesting title:
Spiritual Warfare.

Although it was well known that Pope Michael was a prolific reader and that his grasp of geopolitics was formidable, Morelli smiled with the knowledge that the subject matter of the books the pope was reading had always provided him with a window into the pontiff’s thinking at the moment.

Turning his attention away from the side table, Morelli saw that the pope had finished pouring the wine and was looking straight at him with an unwavering gaze as he stretched back in the red leather chair behind his desk.

“Have any of our people made it to the crash site to offer prayers for the souls of those onboard?”

“I’m afraid not, Your Holiness. Apparently, the plane went down in a very mountainous region of the country.”

Sipping his wine, the pope turned toward the window and looked out at the dark, rain-drenched skies. “You know, Anthony, over the years you have always been one of my closest and most trusted friends, but I have purposefully kept from promoting you to a higher office so that you would be free to work behind the scenes for me. Your strength lies in your obscurity. A man can accomplish much without the hindrance of a title, and as much as you deserve to become a Prince of the Church, I hope you understand my desire to keep you out of that particular political mix.”

“Titles have never been my goal in life, Your Holiness. My only desire is to serve God and the Church.”

“That, my friend, is what I have always known about you. Your faith is what makes you one of the Church’s most valued soldiers of the cross, and your earthly reward will come in time. Now that Cardinal Orsini has passed over, we must find a replacement.”

Morelli managed a weak smile. “I sincerely hope now is not the time Your Holiness is thinking of rewarding me.”

Both men smiled at one another, their facial expressions frozen in a diplomatic dance.

“What about Cardinal Amodeo?” Morelli asked, watching the pope’s stark blue Norwegian eyes in an attempt to spot the tell-tale flash that would answer his question just as surely as any spoken words.

The expected flash never came as the pope’s expression remained neutral. “Yes, I suppose Leopold would make an excellent Secretary of State. He’s one of the finest Jesuit scholars in Church history, but as much as I would like to see him in that position, the ceremonial obligations of that office would make him completely miserable. He already complains about his duties as a cardinal. Sometimes I think I did him a great injustice by making him a Prince of the Church.”

“I’m afraid Leo’s hopelessly lost in the past, Your Holiness. He loved teaching. Just last week, he was talking about how much he missed the intellectual stimulation of academic life at Boston College. He seems distracted lately. In fact, I took the liberty of encouraging him to take a much needed sabbatical at my country house near
Sermoneta
. I left a message at his apartment for him to call me as soon as he returns.”

“Phones?”

“Turned off. He has only his thoughts for company.”

“Good. I only hope our brother is well-rested when he returns. I will need both of you at my side when I make my final decision concerning Orsini’s replacement. How did you ever convince our good friend the cardinal to take a sabbatical?”

“It was easy. I simply told him you ordered it.”

Both men laughed as Morelli took a sip of wine and rolled it over his tongue.

“California Cabernet Sauvignon?”

“Yes, excellent, isn’t it?” The pope held his glass up and watched the light pass through the red liquid swirl. “But I’m afraid you know your wine too well to have to ask me a question like that, Bishop. Something else is troubling you, my friend, and you’re stalling for time. What’s on your mind?”

Morelli realized his friend had seen right through his efforts at small talk. Setting his glass on the table, he clasped both hands together before leaning forward.

“Yes, Your Holiness, there is another problem. It concerns our old friend, Lev Wasserman.”

“Was he also on the plane?”

“No, sir. He’s quite safe at his villa in Israel.”

A look of relief crossed the pope’s face, for it was well known that Lev Wasserman, the famous Israeli mathematician who had discovered the hidden code in the Bible the year before, was also a close friend of the Church and sometimes flew to meetings with top Vatican officials.

“What’s our Israeli friend got to do with all of this?”

“It has nothing to do with the plane crash, Your Holiness. He’s requesting a meeting with you.”

“Of course. Lev knows my door is always open to him. What’s on his mind?”

“He’s just informed me that ...” Morelli’s words drifted off as he stood to watch the rain pelting the windows in the darkness outside.

“Informed you of what, Anthony?”

“The
code
, Your Holiness ...
it is speaking to us again
.”

CHAPTER 3

Closing the back door to her condo, Sarah Adams stepped out into the early morning darkness and shivered in the cold air as wisps of steam rose from the cup of hot coffee in her hand. Her only consolation at being awake at this hour of the morning was the realization that the days were growing longer and that her drive to the train station would soon be in brilliant sunlight as the seasons rotated in a slow dance with the rhythms of life.

Although she sometimes complained about the time it took to travel from her suburban home on Long Island to her new job at a Madison Avenue advertising agency, she secretly loved the train ride into the city. Now that it was springtime, she was looking forward to watching the new green leaves re-populate the trees outside the windows of the fast-moving commuter train as it sped toward the faint gray outlines of the giant skyscrapers that rose in the distance.

Her new life was so completely different from the familiar surroundings of her home town. There were no commuter trains in West Texas, or giant skyscrapers for that matter. Six months ago, Sarah had moved to New York after finally earning a marketing degree at Texas Tech University. Her new career in advertising was a radical departure from her former job as a flight attendant, and at times it seemed more confining, but she had decided to give it a year and see what developed. After that, who knew? She was still involved in a long-distance relationship with Daniel Meir, the young Israeli mathematician she had shared an adventure with in Italy the year before, and the pull there was strong. Now in her mid-twenties, she was rapidly approaching the established age limit for making life decisions, and the clock was running.

Thinking of time, she jumped into her small green Mini Cooper and gunned the car out onto the tree-lined highway that ran next to her condo. Approaching a curve, she tried to peer through the low ground fog hugging the dark road ahead, looking for the outline of a police cruiser lying in wait. Her heart jumped when she flew past a parked car locked in shadows.
Damn
!
Was that a police car?
Glancing up into her rear-view mirror, she held her breath, waiting for it to pull out behind her. Nothing happened. Sarah stepped on the gas.

Ten minutes later, the red brick train station appeared off to her right as she rounded the final curve and screeched into the parking lot. The train was still sitting in the station, but the platform was empty.
Double damn
! The passengers had already boarded, which meant the train was about to leave.
Great!
She was still considered the new girl in the office, and if she missed this train, she would be late for the battle of egos thinly disguised as the daily morning staff meeting.
Not a good start in her new position.

Grabbing her purse from the front seat, she tried to juggle her keys, laptop, and coffee all at once as she kicked the door closed and punched the button on her key fob. Listening for the sound of the car’s doors locking behind her as she ran, Sarah bolted through the station and out onto the deserted platform.

As soon as she spotted the smiling conductor waving to her, she breathed a sigh of relief as she ran toward the only door in the train that was still open. Reaching out, the conductor grabbed her hand just as the train jerked, signaling the pull from the massive blue and silver engine as it began powering out of the station toward its final destination—New York City.

Closing the door, the conductor turned toward the breathless young woman and looked down at the gold pocket watch in his hand. “You just made it, Sarah.”

Sarah grinned as she tossed a strand of long, blonde hair back over her shoulder. “The cops are running radar again on the road from my house. One more speeding ticket and I’ll lose my license for the rest of the year.”

“I saw your little green Mini Cooper squeal into the parking lot, so I radioed the engineer.” The conductor’s eyes narrowed. “We held the train an extra minute, and you are now
personally
responsible for tarnishing the Long Island Railway’s proud record of being ninety-five percent on time.”

Sarah’s blue eyes blinked back at him. “Really?”

“No ... we’ll make up the time at the next stop. Besides, I reserve the right to hold the train so important women like you won’t be late for work.” The gray-haired conductor winked. It was a ritual they played out every morning.

Sarah giggled to herself as she made her way forward past the familiar faces of the regular commuters. Most were peering into the screens of their laptops, while some of the older passengers were still clinging to the time-honored tradition of reading an actual newspaper. It seemed to be a point of pride to them—an act of generational rebellion proving to the world that they didn’t have to be tied to a battery-powered screen for instant communication.
Any news worth having would be in the paper,
they told themselves,
the rest could wait
.

Breathing more slowly now, Sarah slid into an empty seat and leaned her head against the glass just as the station disappeared behind them and the train gathered speed. She looked back inside the car at her fellow passengers, none of whom seemed at all interested in what was happening outside. It was obvious to her that the scenery had become too familiar to them, as if anything beyond the train’s windows was merely a rotating tableau of color played on an endless loop, the same old backdrop that had become almost soothing to them in its regularity.

Turning her attention back outside, Sarah eschewed joining her traveling brethren as they immersed themselves in their virtual offices or blackened their fingers with the ink of day-old news. Hers was a creative profession, and like others who were successful at inspired pursuits, she had learned over time that daydreaming, combined with the power of observation, was actually a mechanism whereby the trained observer could harvest ideas. Like the farmers back in Texas who stared at their bare fields, waiting for signs of life in the spring, Sarah waited for the tiny sprouts of ideas to spring forth in her imagination. One fleeting image, a single inspired idea, could be the beginning of an entire advertising campaign that would generate millions of dollars in revenue for her firm.

The rhythmic sway of the blue and silver train lulled Sarah into a state of sleepy detachment from her travelling companions as it continued on through the countryside, making several stops along the way, until soon, the scenery began to change as the speeding train crossed an invisible border that delineated the rural world of greenery from the urban grayness that heralded the train’s arrival on the outskirts of the fabled city.

BOOK: God's Lions - House of Acerbi
7.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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