God's Lions - House of Acerbi (9 page)

BOOK: God's Lions - House of Acerbi
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“I know.” The pope exhaled as he looked up at the ceiling. “I’ve read some of their
enlightened
theories. But I still believe faith plays a greater part in our belief in God than any tangible scientific proof. I’ve always thought that those prone to intellectual debate about the existence of God have an agenda, although I have to admit that I’m not sure just what that agenda is.”

“I agree, Your Holiness, but the questioning, litigious society we live in today requires proof, and I believe God has provided it by giving us little snippets of our future through a hidden code in the Old Testament. However, it’s still our position that the code itself is not a tool for predicting the future. Humanity was never meant to know or predict its own destiny, for only God can know that.”

“But you’ve uncovered future events before.”

“Yes, but unless one knows exactly what one is looking for, or accidently stumbles upon a hidden phrase predicting a future event while running a random skip sequence, as we have done in the past on a few occasions, the future remains invisible. Nothing will be revealed to us unless God wants it revealed. Through the code, God has provided proof to a modern world that He exists and that the Bible was divinely inspired. Who else could have known our future? God is still talking to us through the code. I like to use the analogy of God talking to Moses thousands of years ago through the medium of a burning bush, but today He’s communicating with modern man using a complex code that can only be unraveled by a computer. Let’s face it, our lives have become dominated by computer technology ... technology that was predicted thousands of years ago by whoever inserted the code within the Bible.”

Staring into his wineglass, the pope brought it up to eye level and swirled the red liquid around. “And the biohazard symbol we discovered today on the chapel wall ... coincidence?”

“Obviously not,” Lev said. “I emailed the images to the villa in Israel. They’re being analyzed as we speak. Hopefully we’ll come up with a match in the code. Occasionally, a phrase or group of words jumps right out at you with startling clarity, while others seem almost hopelessly cryptic. It takes a lot ...”

Lev’s cell phone erupted with the tune from the Hebrew folk song
Hava Nagila
.

“You’d better answer it, Professor. From the sound of your ringtone, I’m guessing it’s probably your team in Israel calling, and I’d like to hear what they have to say.”

Lev read the incoming number. “Yes it is, Your Holiness. Please excuse me.” Lev punched a button on the phone and walked out of the room to take the call.

The lull in the conversation provided Morelli with an excuse to begin exploring the pope’s wine cabinet, while Leo wandered over to the window to gaze out at the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica. The iconic structure had remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years, and the seemingly ageless presence of a building designed by Michelangelo was somehow comforting to him. When it came to matters of faith, it had always provided a timeless reference point upon which to guide his thinking, especially now that the world was experiencing yet another horror. Some men were capable of creating such beauty, he thought, while others seemed destined from birth to commit abhorrent acts of evil—a dichotomy within the human species that had been an unnerving paradox to philosophers throughout the ages.

Looking down into Saint Peter’s Square, Leo was suddenly aware that the entire area below was literally undulating with movement. Where only hours before the square had been deserted, now thousands of people were crowded shoulder to shoulder, staring up at the windows of the pope’s apartment, and in the distance, he could see the streets around the Vatican were also filled with people heading in their direction. “Your Holiness ... the people ... they are here!”

Rushing to the window, Pope Michael and Bishop Morelli saw the mass of humanity flowing into the square from all directions. In the face of an invisible menace that could already be drifting on the wind over the Eternal City, the faithful were obviously flinging aside their fear and venturing outside, leaving the safety of their homes so they could be together to pray on sacred ground.

“What’s going on?”

The men at the window turned to see a pale-looking Lev Wasserman walking toward them with his cell phone still in his hand. Moving in beside them, he leaned forward and gripped the window sill. “We’ve got to stop them!”

CHAPTER 8

None of the men in the room had ever seen Lev Wasserman display an ounce of fear before. They stood there dumbstruck, waiting for an explanation.

“I’m afraid I have some disturbing news. Daniel just found an encoded passage in the code that mentions Rome as being the next target for the same mysterious illness that just struck New York. All of those people down in the square should have stayed in their homes. We’ve got to warn them somehow!”

The pope began waving to the crowd below as he looked back over his shoulder. “Have we received any reports of illness in the city?”

“None in the city, Your Holiness,” Morelli answered, “but we’ve just received a report that a few people have fallen ill in a village nearby.”

“This man who called you from Israel, Professor ... this man Daniel ... is he usually reliable?”

“Yes, very reliable. His full name is Daniel Meir, and like the other members of our team, he’s an Israeli Christian. He’s also a brilliant mathematician and one of the world’s premier code breakers. Daniel is the one who was responsible for finding most of the encoded passages we discovered in the Bible last year.”

The Holy Father turned away from the window, his public smile slowly fading. “I would like to speak with Bishop Morelli in private for a moment.”

Leo felt his face flush. “Why yes ... of course, Your Holiness.”

This sudden, matter-of-fact dismissal by the pope had taken Leo by surprise. After all, he was a cardinal, a Prince of the Church—a member of a select group from which the next pope would be chosen.
Had he lost the pope’s trust for some reason?

The pope placed his hand on Leo’s shoulder. “Why don’t you and the professor go to my kitchen? Sister Marcella makes wonderful sandwiches and a decent cup of espresso.”

Sister Marcella was also known for her foul temper.

“Thank you, Your Holiness,” Leo said. “We wouldn’t want to put her to any trouble. We’ll just wait out in the hall.”

“Really, she makes delicious sandwiches, Cardinal ... I insist. I have a feeling you’ll both need your strength in the hours ahead. This will just take a moment.”

Ten minutes later, Leo was watching a grumpy Sister Marcella make sandwiches as she glared at them from the kitchen. Sitting across from him, a very worried-looking Lev Wasserman stared down at a simple, white-painted wooden table and drummed his fingers. As a former Special Forces officer and member of the elite Israeli security service known as the Mossad, Lev had stared death in the face more than once, but he had always been the picture of calm and restraint, maintaining a thoughtful, almost relaxed demeanor in the face of danger. No opponent had ever seemed to faze him, except for one. Unbeknownst to others, Lev Wasserman had always harbored a secret fear—the fear of germs.

Ever since he was a young man, Lev had been acutely aware of the invisible foe that lived all around us—the unseen enemy that killed with the same indiscriminate finality of any gun or explosive. On the Israeli kibbutz where he had been raised, the constant threat of Arab attacks had forced him to confront terror on a daily basis, but nothing had frightened Lev Wasserman so much as one of mankind’s most insidious enemies—the microscopic bacteria that vastly outnumber all other living things.

At the age of nineteen, he had begun his mandatory service in the Israeli Army. After basic training, he had been standing guard duty one moonlit night along the Jordanian border when a soldier standing next to him was bitten on the leg by something neither one of them ever saw. Within days, the man’s leg had turned black from the knee down, prompting the army surgeons to amputate. But the infection had not been stopped in time. Within hours, it was obvious that the bacteria had continued up the body, and less than twenty-four hours later, Lev Wasserman found himself helping his fellow soldiers lift the young man’s plain wooden coffin into the back of an army truck for its journey back to his family in Jerusalem.

From that day forward, Lev had been left with a permanent fear of germs. He marveled at how divine providence had singled out the man next to him for an attack from a microscopic enemy that was invisible to the naked eye.
There but for the grace of God go I
—the phrase had played over and over in his mind ever since that fateful day.

Now, sitting at a table munching on a sandwich in the papal Apartments, Lev Wasserman suspected that the thing he feared the most was now already drifting silently through the air in their direction.

“Lev.”

Leo’s voice startled the professor.

“I’m sorry, Leo ... did you say something?”

“Your phone is making a noise.”

“Oh.” Lev pulled the phone from his pocket and quickly read a text message on the screen. “It appears that Daniel wants to e-mail us some encoded phrases that he’s just discovered on a page from Leviticus, but he needs to send it on a secure network.”

Leo laid his sandwich on his plate. “I believe there’s a computer in the library.”

Both men pushed away from the table and crossed the hall to the pope’s private library. Lev spotted a black and silver laptop sitting on a small table next to a red wing chair.

“Is that a secure laptop, Leo?”

“Yes. All of the pope’s personal computers have military-grade encryption software installed.”

“Can we use it? Daniel will need the pope’s personal e-mail address.”

Without hesitating, Leo walked over to the computer and typed something in. “That should work.”

Looking down at the screen, Lev was unable to keep from smiling when he saw the address: [email protected].

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Morelli had too much wine one night and changed the pope’s e-mail address as a joke. Marcus ... I mean, Pope Michael, got such a kick out of it that he left it like that. As it turns out, it’s a pretty secure address, because no one would ever believe that email address actually belongs to the pope.”

Lev began typing and fired off a short e-mail. They waited. A few minutes later, an e-mail with an attachment arrived. Lev hit the download button and soon they were looking at a page from Leviticus that contained several encoded phrases circled in red.

Running vertically on the page was the phrase—
Same as New York.
Running horizontally across the top of this phrase was a single word—
virus
. Then, at the bottom of the page, they saw another single word—
Rome
. Leo and Lev stood frozen in silence when they read the phrase next to it—
many will die
.

Lev hit print and grabbed the warm page off the printer. “We’ve got to show this to the pope.”

The sound of someone clearing their throat behind them caused both men to jump. It was Enzo Corelli. “His Holiness would like you to rejoin him in his study now.”

“Thank you, Enzo,” Leo said. “We’ll be right there.”

The old Jesuit started to leave, then stopped and turned around. “You’ll be saying a lot of Hail Mary’s for using that computer without his permission.” The old priest winked in their direction before turning back to leave the room.

Entering the study, Lev handed the printout to Pope Michael and watched as his blue eyes scanned the page. Removing his reading glasses, he handed the paper to Morelli.

“What would you like us to do, Your Holiness?” Leo asked.

“Nothing.”

Leo’s face turned ashen. “But ... Marcus ... I mean, Your Holiness ... didn’t you say earlier that you wished we could have used the code to warn the people in New York? This is clearly a warning about the same virus striking Rome. We must do
something
!”

The pope remained silent as Morelli let the printout fall into his lap. “I’m afraid His Holiness is right, Leo. A warning now will only cause panic. People will want to know where we obtained our information, and when they find out we’re basing our actions on a hidden code in the Bible, they will only laugh at us. Most of them have never heard of the code, and those who have remain skeptical, despite the proof.”

“At least we could save
some
,” Leo said. He was thinking of the smiling children who had waved at him from the window earlier in the day.

“I understand your deep felt desire to preserve life, Leo,” the pope said, “but a warning from us now will only cause panic and confusion, and if the pathogen is already loose, then we are already too late.”

“How do we know unless we at least try, Your Holiness? It would be unconscionable for us not to act. We are men of God. If ever there was a time to stand and fight, this is it.”

“Spoken like a true Jesuit warrior, but I’m afraid the time for warnings has passed.” The pope’s eyes narrowed at Leo before he walked to the window and looked down at the square below. Raising his right hand, he made the sign of the cross before the thousands of people staring up at him. A loud cheer went up from the crowd as he waved and blessed them once more before turning away. Without speaking, he walked from the room and strode down the hall to his private chapel.

The men waited patiently for the pope to say his private prayers, and after several minutes of uncomfortable silence, the pope reappeared at the door looking totally exhausted. “Gentlemen, I fear it is only a matter of time before the city and the countryside around it is overrun by this invisible enemy. I must remain here in Rome to guide the Church, but you must all flee the city.”

“And just where are we to flee, Your Holiness?” Leo asked.

“I’ve given instructions to the Bishop. He knows where you must go.”

Leo glanced at Morelli, who was staring off into space, seemingly unfazed by the events unfolding around them.

BOOK: God's Lions - House of Acerbi
5.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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