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Authors: Mario Reading

The Templar Inheritance

BOOK: The Templar Inheritance
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THE

TEMPLAR

INHERITANCE

Mario Reading
is a multi-talented writer of both fiction and non-fiction. His varied life has included selling rare books, teaching riding in Africa, studying dressage in Vienna, running a polo stable in Gloucestershire and maintaining a coffee plantation in Mexico. An acknowledged expert on the prophecies of Nostradamus, Reading is the author of eight non-fiction titles and five novels published in the UK and around the world.

Also by Mario Reading

THE ANTICHRIST TRILOGY
The Nostradamus Prophecies
The Mayan Codex
The Third Antichrist

THE JOHN HART SERIES
The Templar Prophecy
The Templar Inheritance

Published in paperback in Great Britain in 2015 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.

Copyright © Mario Reading 2015

The moral right of Mario Reading to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities, is entirely coincidental.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Paperback ISBN: 978 1 78239 533 1
E-book ISBN: 978 1 78239 534 8

Printed in Great Britain.

Corvus
An imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd
Ormond House
26–27 Boswell Street
London
WC1N 3JZ

www.corvus-books.co.uk

For my brother, Rainer

I have loved in life, and I have been loved
I have drunk the bowl of poison from the hands
of love as nectar.

Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882–1927),
from
Nirtan, or The Dance Of The Soul

Listen, O drop. Give yourself up without regret
And in exchange gain the Ocean.

Rumi (1207–73)

ONE

As Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

WEDNESDAY 1 MAY 2013

Later, John Hart came to feel that he had anticipated the explosion by a split second. That there had been a momentary vacuum before the blast during which he had reached towards Nalan Abuna, his guide and translator in Kurdistan, and taken her hand in his.

Either way, the makeshift metal screen that separated their private seating area from the main expanse of the teashop had undoubtedly saved their lives. Hart had awoken on the shard-bedecked tiles with Nalan curled tightly against him, hip to hip, as if they had dozed off on the floor together in flagrant disregard for public decency.

Hart let Nalan’s fingers reluctantly slip from his. He pressed both hands to his ears and swallowed. Ten times. Twenty. He knew enough about the percussive effects of bombs not to risk getting to his feet before he could hear again. It would be like succumbing to an attack of acute labyrinthitis.

For Hart was no stranger to sudden outbreaks of violence. He had undergone his first major bombardment in Sarajevo, twenty years before, when he was cutting his milk teeth in photo-journalism. The memory of that bombing could still jolt him awake at night, his sheets drenched, his body aching with a form of muscle memory that led his limbs to flex and contract with no discernible input from his conscious mind. It was at that time, too, in Sarajevo, that he had seen what they call the ‘dervish effect’ at work. People flailing around in the immediate aftermath of a bomb strike, their faces blank, their eyelids ticcing, their arms, if they still had any, feeling out for non-existent support.

No, Hart decided. He would have none of it. He would lie there on the ground until his hearing and his senses returned. Only then would he act.

When next he awoke, Nalan was crouching over him. She was cradling his head in her lap and encircling his face with her arms. He could see her lips moving, but he could not hear what she was saying.

A man lurched past them and then turned back, in slow motion, as if he had forgotten something. A single red star appeared in the centre of his forehead.

Hart began to make out Nalan’s voice through the fog that was inhabiting his head.

‘They are firing at us. They are massacring people. We must leave here. I know where to go. It is very near. There are high walls. They will not get in.’

Hart tried to get up. He pitched forward onto his knees, as if that single wild movement was what he had always intended
to do. Nalan took him by the hands and helped him to his feet. Her touch felt familiar to him now, despite the fact that their physical knowledge of each other had barely progressed beyond the most fleeting of handshakes.

He had known Nalan Abuna for a total of three days. To all intents and purposes they were strangers. Until this moment – this freak occurrence – their relationship had been an entirely formal one. Businesslike. Mutually convenient. He was a forty-year-old freelance photojournalist, with all the collateral damage that such a profession entailed, and she was thirteen years younger than him and his paid employee. A Chaldean Christian and a Kurd. Engaged to be married, as she had swiftly informed him, no doubt in a bid to anticipate, and thereby disarm, any likely passes. Strictly out of bounds.

Hart began to run. He lurched from side to side, with Nalan keeping pace beside him. He saw more people fall. Out in the street, bodies and body parts were scattered across the asphalt like the tossed pieces in a jackstraws game. Hart saw the remains of the burnt-out car in which the bomb had been hidden upended on the pavement three doors down from the teashop. As he ran, he inadvertently kicked a woman’s unattached hand. He knew it belonged to a woman because it was freshly painted with henna in honour of the public holiday which had been due to begin that day at sunset.

Ahead of him another man spun round and fell to the ground. The firing intensified. Hart pulled Nalan down beside him. They flattened themselves on the asphalt, fully expecting to be killed.

As he lay beside her, with his cheek pressed tightly against the warm tarmac, Hart could feel his wits slowly returning. This wasn’t the first time that he had been pinned down by gunfire. As a photojournalist, guerrilla warfare and street-fighting were his stock-in-trade. He knew he needed to get a grip on himself, or they’d never get out of this. But he was still shaking from the seismic effects of the bomb.

Hart drew in three lungfuls of air through his nose and expelled them loudly through his opened mouth in a bid to alter the direction of his consciousness. Then he steadied his breathing back to normal and tried to filter out the clatter and clamour of the automatic weapons and focus on the intent behind them. It took him less than ten seconds to realize that the gunmen were not concentrating their fire on him and Nalan, but on a group of people huddled a hundred and fifty metres away, near the entrance to a mosque.

‘We need to move now. It’s our only chance.’

Nalan rose with him, as if they were twin parts of the same person. They ran. Each eternal second they were out in the open Hart expected the deadening thump of a bullet in the small of his back, or to see Nalan pitch to the ground beside him in a welter of blood and tangled limbs. He urged her ahead of him so that he might protect her, at least to some extent, with his body. She glanced back at him in surprise. It was a look only a woman can give a man. To Hart, the look she gave him offered a sort of completion. If he had died at that precise moment he would have died happy. But he did not die.

Nalan led him to a steel-grilled gate set into a high concrete wall. A teenage soldier in a khaki uniform and an antiquated Kevlar vest was standing behind the grille, holding a submachine gun. He was so scared that his shoulders rocked like an old man’s in the throes of a coughing fit. When Hart tried to force open the grille, the soldier raised his weapon.

Nalan shouted at the soldier in Kurdish.

The soldier drew back a little at the sight of the woman. He flushed. Then his shoulders steadied, as though at the orders of an unseen officer. He indicated with his head that Nalan should retry the gate.

Nalan pushed it open and she and Hart stepped inside. Hart glanced back down the street to see if anyone was following them. Bullets pinged off the concrete wall twenty feet above his head.

‘We need to lock this gate,’ he said. ‘Right now. They’ve seen us come in. They are killing everybody. This boy won’t be able to protect us. Look at him. He’s still in fucking nappies.’

Nalan talked to the soldier again. Intently. Quietly. Pointing first at the grille and then at them.

An older man ran up. He pushed the soldier to one side and began shouting at Nalan.

She shouted back.

After a moment the older man withdrew a large key from his jacket pocket and locked the grille. As he did so, an armed figure came into view thirty yards away across the street and started firing.

The older man took two steps backwards and fell heavily onto his buttocks. For a split second the movement seemed almost comical – like a toddler who has lost his footing in the fleeting instant before tears begin. He pitched onto the ground, blood welling from a sequence of bullet holes stitched like poppies down the line of his suit.

Hart hustled Nalan away from the gate. The young soldier followed them.

Nalan pointed to a narrow passageway, thatched with barbed wire, that snaked between two high walls. ‘This is the way.’

They zigzagged down the passageway and out into a large courtyard filled with rusted tanks, superannuated field guns, and the exoskeletons of trucks and armoured personnel carriers. To one side of the courtyard stood the ruins of a building. It was pitted and scarred with the ancient marks of shell holes and bullet gouges. Near to the building was a life-sized plaster memorial depicting six facially bandaged human beings bound so tightly together that they resembled a tree. A tree of death.

‘What is the name of this place? Tell me quickly, Nalan. I need to pass this information on to someone I know.’

‘This is the Amna Suraka Museum. They call it the Red Interrogation House. It was the Ba’ath Party’s intelligence headquarters until 1991. It is here that the Mukhabarat tortured, raped and killed hundreds of Kurdish freedom fighters on the orders of Saddam Hussein.’

‘Jesus Christ.’

‘It is the only place we will possibly be safe, John. It is built like a fortress.’

Hart sprawled against the courtyard wall and took out his mobile phone. His battery was at half power because he hadn’t bothered to recharge it the night before. Hell. Why would he? He wasn’t on active assignment. He was on a reconnaissance tour for photographable locations for a piece his ex-girlfriend Amira Eisenberger had been commissioned to write on Kurdistan’s economic resurgence. No one was meant to be shooting at him. No one was meant to be bombing him. Kurdistan was notoriously safe. Not like Mosul. Or Fallujah. Or Baghdad.

‘Amira? It’s John. Don’t talk. Just listen and record.’ He waited for a moment while she set the recorder. ‘There’s been a car bombing. A hundred yards down from the Amna Suraka Museum in As Sulaymaniyah. My interpreter and I were having tea three doors away from the blast. We’re okay. Shaken, but okay. But we’re pinned down here in the museum. The people behind the bombing are killing everybody. It’s bedlam out there. It’s like the Taj attack in Mumbai. You’d better check what’s coming in on the wires. I suspect they’ve made me as a journalist thanks to the cameras I’m carrying. I’ll be prize meat for them. I’ve got only Nalan Abuna with me and a boy soldier, who looks about ready to piss his pants. And I’m halfway through my battery.’

‘Is the museum secure?’

‘Tight as a drum as far as I can make out. It used to be Saddam’s torture house. But they’ll blow the gates before too
long. Then we’ll be for it. I’m switching off now. We’re going to make for one of the upper floors.’

Hart saw Nalan shaking her head.

‘No. Hold that. Where are we heading for, Nalan?’

‘The basement. We are going down into the basement.’

‘We’ll be in the basement, Amira. Nalan knows this place. I’m taking her word she knows the best spot to hide up in. I’ll call you again when we’re safe.’

‘No, you won’t.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘You’ll get no signal down in the basement.’

Hart glanced again at Nalan. She shook her head a second time.

‘That’s a risk we’ll have to take, Amira. The bastards are at the gates. We need to go.’

BOOK: The Templar Inheritance
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