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Authors: Kathleen McGowan

Tags: #Fiction, #Religious, #Thrillers, #General, #Mystery, #Historical, #Religion, #Contemporary, #Adult, #Thriller

The Expected One

BOOK: The Expected One
8.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Rockefeller Center
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, and incidents either are products of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2006 by McGowan Media, Inc.

All rights reserved,
including the right of reproduction
in whole or in part in any form.

and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Designed by Jan Pisciotta
Map by Paul J. Pugliese

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.

ISBN: 1-4165-3568-3

Visit us on the World Wide Web:

This book is dedicated to:

Mary Magdalene,
my muse, my ancestor;

Peter McGowan,
the rock I built my life on;

My parents, Donna and Joe,
for unconditional love and interesting genetics;

and to our Grail princes,
Patrick, Conor, and Shane,
for filling our lives with love, laughter, and
constant inspiration

To the chosen lady and her children,
whom I love in the truth;
and not I only, but also all who know the truth;
because of the truth which lives in us
and will be with us forever.

2 J


Southern Gaul
the year 72

here wasn’t much time left.

The old woman tugged the tattered shawl tighter around her shoulders. Autumn was coming early to the red mountains this year; she felt it in the marrow of her bones. Gently, slowly, she flexed her fingers, willing the arthritic joints to loosen. Her hands mustn’t fail her now, not with so much at stake. She had to finish the writing tonight. Tamar would arrive soon with the jars, and all must be ready.

She allowed herself the luxury of a long, ragged sigh.
I have been tired for a long time. Such a long, long time.

This latest task, she knew, would be her last on earth. These past days of remembering had drained all of the remaining life from a withered body. Her ancient bones were heavy with the unspeakable sorrow and weariness that comes to those who outlive their loved ones. God’s tests for her had been many, and they had been harsh.

Only Tamar, her sole daughter and last living child, remained with her. Tamar was her blessing, the flicker of light in those darkest hours when memories more terrifying than nightmares refused to be tamed. Her daughter was now the only other survivor of the Great Time, although she had been a mere child while they all played their part in living history. Still, it was a comfort to know that someone lived who remembered and understood.

The others were gone. Most were dead, martyred by men and methods too brutal to be endured. Perhaps a few still lived, scattered across the great map of God’s earth. She would never know. It had been many years since she received word from the others, but she prayed for them in any case, prayed from sunrise to sunset on those days when the remembering was very strong. She wished with her heart and her soul that they had found peace and had not suffered her agony of many thousand sleepless nights.

Yes, Tamar was her only refuge in these twilight years. The girl had been too young to recall the horrific details of the Time of Darkness, but old enough to remember the beauty and grace of the individuals God had chosen to walk His sacred path. Dedicating her life to the memory of those chosen ones, Tamar’s way had been one of pure service and love. The girl’s singular dedication to her mother’s comfort in these end days had been extraordinary.

Leaving my beloved daughter is the only difficult thing I have left to do. Even now, as death comes to me, I cannot welcome it.

And yet…

She peered out of the cavern that had been her home for almost four decades. The sky was clear as she raised her lined face, taking in the beauty of the stars. She would never cease to feel wonder at God’s creation. Somewhere, beyond those stars, the souls she loved most in the world awaited her. She could feel them now, closer than ever before.

She could feel

“Thy will be done,”
she whispered to the night sky. Turning slowly, deliberately, the old woman returned inside. With a deep inhalation, she examined the rough parchment, squinting in the dim and smoky light of an oil lamp.

Picking up the stylus, she resumed her careful scratching.

…All these years later and it is no easier to write of Judas Iscariot than it was in the dark days. Not because I hold any judgment against him, but rather because I do not.
I will tell the story of Judas and hope to do so with justice. He was a man uncompromising in his principles, and those who follow us must know this: he did not betray those — or us — for a bag of silver. The truth is that Judas was the most loyal of the twelve. I have had so many reasons for grief these years past, and yet I think there is but One whom I mourn more than Judas.
There are many who would have me write harshly of Judas — to condemn him as a betrayer, as a traitor, as one who was blind to the truth. But I can write none of those things for they would be lies before my pen touched the page. Enough lies will be written about our time, God has shown me that. I will not write more.
For what is my purpose, if not to tell the whole truth of what occurred then?
Chapter One

September 1997

arseille was a fine place to die and had been for centuries. The legendary seaport retained a reputation as a lair for pirates, smugglers, and cutthroats, a status enjoyed since the Romans wrestled it from the Greeks in the days before Christ.

By the end of the twentieth century, the French government’s efforts at whitewash finally made it safe to enjoy bouillabaisse without the fear of getting mugged. Still, crime held no shock value for the locals. Mayhem was ingrained in their history and genetics. The leathered fishermen didn’t blink when their nets yielded a catch that would prove unsuitable for inclusion in the local fish stew.

Roger-Bernard Gélis was not a native of Marseille. He was born and raised in the foothills of the Pyrenees, in a community that existed proudly as a living anachronism. The twentieth century had not infringed on his culture, an ancient one that revered the powers of love and peace over all earthly matters. Still, he was a man of middle age who was not entirely unworldly; he was, after all, the leader of his people. And while his community dwelled together in a deeply spiritual peace, they had their share of enemies.

Roger-Bernard was fond of saying that the greatest light attracts the deepest darkness.

He was a giant of a man, an imposing figure to strangers. Those who did not know the gentleness that permeated Roger-Bernard’s spirit might have mistaken him for someone to be feared. Later, it would be assumed that his attackers were not unknown to him.

He should have seen it coming, should have anticipated that he would not be left to carry such a priceless object in absolute freedom. Hadn’t almost a million of his ancestors died for the sake of this same treasure? But the shot came from behind, splintering his skull before he even knew the enemy was near.

Forensic evidence from the bullet would prove useless to the police, as the killers did not end their attack on a note of simplicity. There must have been several of them as the sheer size and weight of the victim required a certain amount of manpower to accomplish what came next.

It was a mercy that Roger-Bernard was dead before the ritual began. He was spared the gloating of his killers as they set about their gruesome task. The leader was particularly filled with zeal for what came next, chanting his ancient mantra of hate as he worked.

“Neca eos omnes. Neca eos omnes.”

To sever a human head from its resting place on the body is a messy and difficult business. It requires strength, determination, and a very sharp instrument. Those who murdered Roger-Bernard Gélis had all of these things, and used them with the utmost efficiency.

The body had been at sea for a long time, battered by the tide and chewed by hungry inhabitants of the deep. The investigators were so disheartened by the ragged condition of the corpse that they assigned little significance to the missing digit on one hand. An autopsy, buried later by bureaucracy — and perhaps something more — simply noted that the right index finger had been severed.

September 1997

Old City of Jerusalem was filled with the frenetic activity of a Friday afternoon. History hung heavy in the rarified and holy air as the faithful hurried to houses of worship in preparation for their respective sabbaths. Christians wandered the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow, a series of winding and cobbled streets that marked the path of the crucifixion. It was here that a battered and bleeding Jesus Christ shouldered a heavy burden, making his way to a divine fate atop the hill of Golgotha.

On this autumn afternoon American author Maureen Paschal appeared no different from the other pilgrims who made their way from distant and varied corners of the earth. The heady September breeze blended the aroma of sizzling shwarma with the scent of exotic oils that wafted from the ancient markets. Maureen drifted through the sensory overload that is Israel, clutching a guidebook purchased from a Christian organization on the Internet. The guide detailed the Way of the Cross, complete with maps and directions to the fourteen stations of Christ’s path.

“Lady, you want rosary? Wood from Mount of Olives.”

“Lady, you want tour guide? You never get lost. I show you everything.”

Like most Western women, she was forced to fend off the unwanted advances of Jerusalem street merchants. Some were relentless in their efforts to hawk their wares or services. Others were merely attracted to the petite woman with long red hair and fair coloring, an exotic combination in this part of the world. Maureen rebuffed her pursuers with a polite but firm “No, thank you.” Then she broke eye contact and walked away. Her cousin Peter, an expert in Middle Eastern studies, had prepped her for the culture of the Old City. Maureen was painstaking about even the tiniest details in her work and had studied the evolving culture of Jerusalem carefully. So far it was paying off, and Maureen was able to keep the distractions to a minimum as she focused on her research, scribbling details and observations in her Moleskine notebook.

She had been moved to tears by the intensity and beauty of the 800-year-old Franciscan Chapel of the Flagellation, where Jesus had suffered his scourging. It was a deeply unexpected emotional reaction as Maureen did not come to Jerusalem as a pilgrim. Instead, she came as an investigative observer, as a writer in search of an accurate historical backdrop for her work. While Maureen sought a deeper understanding of the events of Good Friday, she approached this research from her head rather than her heart.

She visited the Convent of the Sisters of Sion, before moving to the neighboring Chapel of Condemnation, the legendary location where Jesus was given his cross after the sentence of crucifixion had been passed by Pontius Pilate. Again, the unexpected lump in her throat was accompanied by an overwhelming sense of grief as she walked through the building. Life-size bas-relief sculptures illustrated the events of a terrible morning 2,000 years earlier. Maureen stood, riveted, by a vivid scene of haunting humanity: a male disciple as he tried to shield Mary, the mother of Jesus, to spare her the sight of her son carrying His cross. Tears stung at the back of her eyes as she stood before the image. It was the first time in her life she had thought of these larger-than-life historical figures as real people, flesh-and-blood humans suffering through an event of nearly unimaginable anguish.

Feeling momentarily dizzy, Maureen steadied herself with a hand against the cool stones of an ancient wall. She paused to refocus before taking more notes on the artwork and sculpture.

She continued on her path, but the labyrinthine streets of the Old City proved deceiving, even with a carefully drawn map. The landmarks were often ancient, weathered, and easily missed by those unfamiliar with their whereabouts. Maureen cursed silently as she realized she was lost again. She stopped in the shelter of a shop doorway, shielding herself from the direct sunlight. The intensity of the heat, even with the slight breeze, belied the lateness of the season. Shielding the guidebook from the glare, she looked around, attempting to get her bearings.

“The Eighth Station of the Cross. It has to be around here somewhere,” she muttered to herself. This location was of specific interest to Maureen, for her work centered on this history as it pertained to women. Referring back to the guidebook, she continued to read a passage from the Gospels that pertained to Station Eight.

“A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus said, ‘Weep not for me, daughters of Jerusalem, weep for yourselves and for your children.’ ”

Maureen was startled by a sharp knock on the window behind her. She looked up, expecting to see an angry proprietor glaring at her for blocking his doorway. But the face that looked back at her was beaming. An immaculately dressed, middle-aged Palestinian man opened the door to the antiquities shop, beckoning Maureen in. When he spoke it was in beautiful, if accented, English.

“Come in, please. Welcome, I am Mahmoud. You are lost?”

Maureen waved the guidebook lamely. “I’m looking for the Eighth Station. The map shows…”

Mahmoud waved the book away with a laugh. “Yes, yes. Station Eight. Jesus Meets the Holy Women of Jerusalem. It is just out here and around the corner,” he gestured. “A cross above the stone wall marks it, but you have to look very carefully.”

Mahmoud looked at Maureen intently for a moment before continuing. “It is like everything else in Jerusalem. You have to look very carefully to see it for what it is.”

Maureen watched his gestures, satisfied that she understood the directions. Smiling, she thanked him and turned to leave, but stopped as something on a nearby shelf caught her eye. Mahmoud’s shop was one of the more upscale establishments in Jerusalem, selling authenticated antiquities — oil lamps from the time of Christ, coins with the emblem of Pontius Pilate. An exquisite shimmer of color coming through the window attracted Maureen.

“That’s jewelry made from shards of Roman glass,” Mahmoud explained as Maureen approached an artful display rack of silver and gold jewelry embedded with jeweled mosaics.

“It’s gorgeous,” Maureen replied, picking up a silver pendant. Prisms of color darted through the shop as she held the jewelry up to the light, illuminating her writer’s imagination. “I wonder what story this glass could tell?”

“Who knows what it once was?” Mahmoud shrugged. “A perfume bottle? A spice jar? A vase for roses or lilies?”

“It’s amazing to think that two thousand years ago this was an everyday object in someone’s home. Fascinating.”

Giving the shop and its contents closer inspection, Maureen was struck by the quality of the items and the beauty of the displays. She reached out to run a finger lightly over a ceramic oil lamp. “Is this really two thousand years old?”

“Of course. Some of my items are older still.”

Maureen shook her head. “Don’t antiquities like this belong in a museum?”

Mahmoud laughed, a rich and hearty sound. “My dear, all of Jerusalem is a museum. You cannot dig in your garden without unearthing something of great antiquity. Most of the truly valuable go into important collections. But not everything.”

Maureen moved to a glass case, filled with ancient jewelry of hammered, oxidized copper. She stopped, her attention grabbed by a ring that supported a disc the size of a small coin. Following her gaze, Mahmoud removed the ring from the case, holding it out to her. A sunbeam from the front window caught the ring, illuminating its round base and showing off a pattern of nine hammered dots surrounding a central circle.

“Very interesting choice,” Mahmoud said. His jovial manner had changed. He was now intense and serious, watching Maureen closely as she questioned him about the ring.

“How old is this?”

“It’s hard to say. My experts said it was Byzantine, probably sixth or seventh century, but possibly older.”

Maureen looked closely at the pattern made by the circles.

“This pattern seems…familiar. I feel like I’ve seen it before. Do you know if it symbolizes anything?”

Mahmoud’s intensity relaxed. “I cannot say for certain what an artisan meant to create fifteen hundred years ago. But I have been told that it was the ring of a cosmologist.”

“A cosmologist?”

“Someone who understands the relation between the earth and the cosmos. As above, so below. And I must say that the first time I saw it, it reminded me of the planets, dancing around the sun.”

Maureen counted the dots aloud. “Seven, eight, nine. But they wouldn’t have known there were nine planets back then, or that the sun was the center of the solar system. It couldn’t be that, could it?”

“We cannot assume to know what the ancients understood.” Mahmoud shrugged. “Try it on.”

Maureen, suddenly sensing a sales pitch, handed the ring back to Mahmoud. “Oh, no, thank you. It’s really beautiful, but I was just curious. And I promised myself I wouldn’t spend money today.”

“That’s fine,” said Mahmoud, pointedly refusing to take the ring from her. “Because it’s not for sale anyway.”

“It’s not?”

“No. Many people have offered to buy that ring. I refuse to sell it. So you may feel free to try it on. Just for fun.”

Maybe it was because the playfulness had returned to his tone and she felt less pressured, or maybe it was the attraction of the unexplained, ancient pattern. But something caused Maureen to slip the copper disc onto her right ring finger. It fit perfectly.

Mahmoud nodded, serious again, almost whispering to himself, “As if it had been made for you.”

Maureen held the ring up to the light, looking at it on her hand. “I can’t take my eyes off of it.”

“That’s because you’re supposed to have it.”

Maureen looked up suspiciously, sensing the approaching sales pitch. Mahmoud was more elegant than the street vendors, but he was a merchant all the same. “I thought you said it wasn’t for sale.”

BOOK: The Expected One
8.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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