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Authors: J.F. Penn

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One Day In Budapest

BOOK: One Day In Budapest
4.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Cover Page

Quote and Dedication

Prologue: Basilica

Chapter 1: Synagogue

Chapter 2: Mob

Chapter 3: Escape

Chapter 4: Delicatessen

Chapter 5: House of Terror

Chapter 6: Bridge

Chapter 7: Jump

Chapter 8: Szechenyi Baths

Chapter 9: Bosnia

Chapter 10: Labyrinth

Chapter 11: Relic

Chapter 12: Footage

Chapter 13: Memento Park

Chapter 14: The Raven

Chapter 15: Synagogue

Thank you

Author’s Note

About J.F. Penn


One Day In Budapest

A Thriller By J.F. Penn

© J.F. Penn (2013). All rights reserved.

This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is fictionalized or coincidental.

“All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”


Dedicated to the memory of those buried in the mass grave of Dohany Street Synagogue, Budapest


The gun-metal dawn ended another bleak night of Hungarian winter. The sky lightened from pitch black to the colors of bullets and armor, the military might of Hungary’s past resonant even in nature, a landscape unable to forget its violent past.

Father Zoli Kovács pulled his vestments closer about him and hurried across the square towards the Basilica of St Stephen, looking up at the grandeur against the backdrop of rain clouds. Although physically chilled, he felt the spiritual warmth of ownership, a pride that came from working at the heart of Hungary’s faith. The grand Neo-Classical facade was flanked by two bell towers that stretched into the brightening sky, beacons of faith in a country that had suffered so much. Over the gigantic entranceway were carved the words of Christ,
ego sum veritas et vita
, I am the truth and the life. Father Zoli murmured as he crossed himself, his fingers crippled with arthritis now, but still able to perform his most treasured of gestures.

As he slowly mounted the Basilica steps, he thought that he heard a footfall echo in the square behind him. He turned, but it was empty, with only a few desultory pigeons pecking at the litter left by yesterday’s tourists. There were homeless around here, of course, but he felt a shiver up his spine as he sensed something different. After a moment, he shook his head, dismissing his feelings as the wandering of an old man’s mind.

Entering the Basilica, Father Zoli paused and breathed in the cool air, the scent of incense hanging like a prayer. Every morning he went through this same ritual, for he felt closer to God in the dark. When he turned on the lights, the splendor of gold seemed to push the vault of heaven far from him, so he savored this quiet moment as a special blessing before he started his day. Sometimes he imagined that the angels guarding the church were watching, that his gentle presence allowed them to drift into the ornate dome and find a place to rest, knowing that he would protect the church during the day. Father Zoli was at peace as he began to light candles around the church, making his way deeper into the nave as the day began to seep in through the stained glass. He stopped to light a special candle in front of the altar dominated by a huge statue of St Stephen, known as St Istvan in Hungarian.

Stephen had been the first King of Hungary, reigning in the early eleventh century, conquering the lands of Transylvania and the Black Magyars, extending his realm and power through battle. As he lay dying with no living heir to succeed him, Stephen had raised his right hand and implored the Blessed Virgin Mary to take the Hungarian people as her subjects and to reign as their Queen. After his death, miracles occurred at his tomb and King Stephen was canonized as the first confessor king of the Catholic church, venerated as the patron saint of Hungary as well as of all kings and dying children.

Reflecting on Stephen’s devotion, Father Zoli crossed himself again and headed into the side chapel to check on the holy relic that lay at the heart of the Basilica. As he turned, the candles flickered and he heard a door bang, but the entrance to the church was too far away now to see clearly. Father Zoli debated whether to go and greet the early morning faithful, but he was a man of routine and his duty called.

He unlocked the door to the side chapel from a bundle of keys at his waist and walked through the wooden doors to the shrine. The Holy Right was St Stephen’s mummified and incorruptible right hand, the very hand that had given Hungary into the keeping of the Virgin Mary. The brown, shriveled flesh was bunched into a fist and lay upon a bed of scarlet velvet, studded with pearls and rubies. The relic was surrounded by a glass case with a vaulted roof, decorated with gold and silver filigree and protected on all sides by angels and winged beasts. Crossing himself once more, Father Zoli approached with reverence and placed his fingertips gently against the glass. This was the closest anyone could get to the most holy relic of Hungary, a representation of the State itself, precious as both a religious treasure and a national symbol. World War I had seen the decimation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and subsequent regimes had oppressed the people, but this hand was a sign that one day Hungary would rise again.

Taking a clean white handkerchief from his pocket, Father Zoli polished the glass, wiping it clean of his prints and making it new again. Tourists paid for the privilege of lighting the shrine in order to take photographs, so he felt that they deserved a clear view.

He heard footsteps and then the creak of the door opening into the shrine. He turned to see a man enter, clean cut, well dressed, with the air of the privileged. His nose was like a beak, his hair waxed to a perfect shine.

“The shrine isn’t open to the public yet, my son,” Father Zoli said as the man stepped further into the chapel, his hands in his pockets. His eyes darted around the room, but as he confirmed that they were alone, they were drawn irresistibly to the shrine. Father Zoli felt a sudden stab of alarm and moved in front of the Holy Right, to shield it from the voracious eyes.

“I only come to worship, Father,” the man said, stepping closer, but in his voice Father Zoli heard an echo of the past, a whisper from the dungeons of the Secret Police where the screams of the tortured drowned out all other sound. Cold fear crept over his skin as two more men stepped into the room behind the first, and closed the door behind them.

“What do you want?” Father Zoli said, his voice breaking as his heart pounded with fear.

“You protect the Holy Right,” the first man said. “But what you give to us now, Father, will take the cause of Hungarian nationalism to new heights. St Istvan will be waiting for you with all the treasures of Heaven. You believe that, don’t you?”

Father Zoli heard the intent and turned, desperate for a way out. He wasn’t ready to go to God yet, and despite his aged body, he clung to life.

The man stepped to the side of the altar and picked up one of the ornate candlesticks, hefting its weight in his hand. Behind him, the other two men fanned out, one taking up a heavy Bible and the other pulling a knife.

“Please, no,” Father Zoli fell to his knees, knowing that he couldn’t outrun them. “I can get you money, my sons. I can get you help. I’m no threat to you.” His voice was hysterical, sobs choking his throat as his desperate fingers clutched at the shrine for divine help.

“Sorry, Father. We need this symbol more than you need your life.”

The man stepped in and swung the candlestick like a baseball bat, smashing it against the side of Father Zoli’s head. The priest crumpled to the floor, pain exploding, vision clouding. He called out to St Istvan, the mummified hand now obscured by spots of his own blood. It was the last thing he saw as blows rained down and his old body became a sacrifice in that holy place.


Dr Morgan Sierra stared out of the window as the taxi from Budapest airport sped towards the city. It was raining and the grey light served to emphasize the monotone of passing streets, punctuated only by the bright neon signs of fast food outlets and sex shops. She noticed banners advertising candidates for the upcoming elections, faces she didn’t recognize and words in a language that was alien to her. Morgan smiled, for it was one of the aspects that thrilled her about European travel. Within a short plane ride, or even just a train journey, you could be in a different culture with unpronounceable words, making an adventure of even the shortest business trip.

Morgan had volunteered for the short assignment to Budapest, desperate to get out of the ARKANE headquarters and renew the boundaries of her independence. She had joined the
Arcane Religious Knowledge And Numinous Experience Institute with the understanding that she could focus on her own research, but there had been little opportunity for that so far. The last few missions had taken their toll on her body and emotions, so Director Elias Marietti had asked her to remain close to base, and let time heal the scars. But Morgan was restless if she spent too much time thinking, and while her partner Jake was still in recovery, she wanted to get out of the office. She smiled to herself, because that office just happened to be an astounding complex under Trafalgar Square in London, with access to the secret knowledge of the world. Still, it felt good to be somewhere different, even for such a short time.

Her hand rested on a thick briefcase, a discreet handcuff attaching it to her wrist. Morgan touched the leather, warm from her skin, as she had held it on her lap for the short plane flight from London.
The briefcase contained two precious artifacts: an early painting by the Jewish-Hungarian artist Béla Czóbel and an antique Torah. Both had been stolen from the Gold Train during the Second World War and now they were finally being returned to the Jewish synagogue in Budapest. Their provenance had been determined beyond question by the ARKANE Institute, and Morgan had volunteered to return them personally.

Morgan was brought up in Israel, her father Jewish and her mother a Welsh Christian. Although she had never converted to Judaism, Morgan knew the pain of European Jewry and wanted to honor her father’s memory by being the courier who restored just a tiny part of the plunder. She had read of the history of the Gold Train, one of the many scandals of the aftermath of the war. The Nazi-operated train had been carrying valuables stolen from Hungarian Jews when it was intercepted by American forces in 1945. Many of the owners, nearly 600,000 Hungarian Jews, had been shipped off to Auschwitz-Birkenau to be murdered in the gas chambers, so the treasures had not been returned. After 1946, much of the valuable property was sold and the proceeds given to the International Refugee Organization, but two hundred paintings disappeared into personal collections. In 1998, the Hungarian Gold Train records finally became public and in 2005, the US government had settled with the Hungarian Holocaust survivors, with the money allocated to Holocaust charities.

The taxi pulled up in front of the Dohany Street synagogue and Morgan paid the fare, exiting into pouring rain. The smell of baking and fresh coffee made her stomach rumble, and she glanced at her watch. There was just enough time to grab a bite before her appointment with the Curator of the Museum at the Synagogue.

BOOK: One Day In Budapest
4.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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