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Michael Byrnes - The Sacred Bones

By Louise Murray,2014-11-24 17:08
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Michael Byrnes - The Sacred Bones

THE

SACRED

    BONES

A NO VEL

    MICHAEL BYRNES

For Car oline, Vivian, and Camille

Contents

Prologue Looking out from the eastern parapet of Kolossi Citadel‟s

    square… 1

    1 Salvatore Conte never questioned his clients‟ motives. His many

    missions… 5

    2 Salvatore Conte rapped a gloved hand on the wall‟s limestone… 8

    MONDAY THREE DAYS LATER 13

    3 As the El Al captain announced the flight‟s final descent… 15

    4 Charlotte Hennesey was battling the unforgiving eight-hour time

    difference, and… 21

    5 Deep beneath Temple Mount, Razak and Farouq stood amidst the… 24

    6 At the end of the dimly lit corridor Charlotte Hennesey… 29

    7 Razak led the Englishman over to the blast hole, motioning… 31

    8 Father Donovan and Charlotte rode a noisy freight elevator down… 36

    9 Returning from his meeting with the archaeologist, Razak found

    Farouq… 39

10 On the wide cement walkway along Stazione Termini‟s loading zone…

    41

    11 The wooden shipping crate was a sturdy, four-foot cube with… 46

    12 Father Patrick Donovan devoured what lay before him. Only weeks…

    48

    13 Attached to a rail on the side of the workstation… 50

    14 Outside the Vatican Museum, the sun was low over western… 52

    TUESDAY 57

    15 The rising sun cast a faint glow of deep blue… 59

    16 The two scientists convened in the lab at eight a.m.,… 63

    17 “Surely you don‟t expect me to desecrate the remains of… 69

    18 Having spent the past two hours completing a comprehensive journal…

    73

19 Down the corridor from the lab, in a cramped space… 78

    20 In a dim, cramped cell beneath the Fort du Coudray… 81

    21 In the Apostolic Palace, Father Patrick Donovan sat at a… 85

    22 Outside Temple Mount‟s northern gate, Barton avoided the chaos of… 90

    23 Charlotte Hennesey was still grappling with the notion that the… 95

    24 Graham Barton turned off Souk El-Dabbagha in the Christian Quarter… 97

    25 Each time Father Patrick Donovan walked down the Apostolic Palace‟s… 100

    26 Returning from lunch, both scientists felt refreshed. The afternoon had… 103

    27 Watching Giovanni Bersei at work on the other side of… 105

    28 As Charlotte exited the Vatican Museum through the upstairs service… 110

    WEDNESDAY 113

    29 Sipping qahwa, Razak sat on the veranda of his apartment… 115

    30 Charlotte Hennesey turned to see her alarm clock‟s digital readout… 116

    31 At precisely twelve o‟clock, Razak strolled over to the square… 122

    32 Bringing up the skeletal scans in full-screen view, Giovanni Bersei…

    129

33 Razak found Farouq in the small upstairs room in the… 133

    34 Standing to get a better look at what Charlotte had… 137

    35 An hour southwest of Jerusalem, the lush farmlands of Israel‟s… 139

    36 Just after five o‟clock, Father Donovan entered the lab. 147

    37 Crossing the Ponte Sant‟ Angelo Bridge, Charlotte strolled down Via… 149

    THURSDAY 153

    38 Just after nine a.m., Barton negotiated his way past Akbar… 155

    39 Shortly after nine a.m., Father Donovan buzzed the lab intercom,… 160

    40 When Ari Teleksen‟s cell phone rang, he already knew the… 163

    41 Both scientists stared in amazement at the screen. 167 42 Evan Aldrich threaded his way past the workstations heaped with… 172

    43 Farouq had just hung up his phone, in utter disbelief,… 173

    44 The two scientists rode the elevator up one level and… 174

    45 By the time Graham Barton returned to his second-floor rental… 179

46 Hands bound behind his back, Jacques DeMolay was escorted by… 184

FRIDAY 189

    47 Opening the front door of his quaint townhouse overlooking Villa… 191

    48 Bersei didn‟t say a word until they were safely outside… 198

    49 In the Secret Archive, Father Donovan placed the Ephemeris Conlusio… 200

    50 Veering off congested Via Nomentana through the Villa Torlonia park… 208

    51 For fifteen minutes, Giovanni Bersei worked his way deeper into… 212

    52 Inside Station Zion‟s cramped detaining cell, Graham Barton stared hopelessly… 219

    53 Huddled inside a loculus high on the passage wall, Giovanni… 223

    54 At ten to ten, Father Patrick Donovan entered the lab… 226

    55 Traversing the Apostolic Palace‟s grand corridor, Donovan stole a glimpse… 227

    56 Cardinal Santelli was the first to break the atmosphere. “Are… 231

    57 Carefully resting the ancient, weathered manuscript on the glossy mahogany… 233

    58 Leaving the Apostolic Palace, Charlotte headed directly to the lab… 240

    59 Charlotte sprinted down the corridor, the rubber soles the lab… 242

    60 An hour northeast of Rome, Salvatore Conte‟s rented black Alfa… 246

    61 Donovan dragged Conte‟s broken body into a thicket of bushes… 252

    62 Seated at his kitchen table, sipping a late afternoon tea,… 254

    SATURDAY 257

    63 After dawn prayer, Razak headed straight for the El-Aqsa Mosque.…

    259

    64 Inside Farouq‟s office, Razak sat anxiously awaiting the Keeper‟s explanation… 262

    65 In their suite at the Fiumicino Hilton, Evan and Charlotte… 266

    66 Cardinal Antonio Carlo Santelli stared dejectedly out of his office… 271

    67 Razak waited for Farouq to put on his reading glasses… 275

    68 Aldrich moved closer to Charlotte. “Charlie, what if I told… 279

69 St. Peter‟s Basilica had closed promptly at seven p.m. and the… 281

    SUNDAY 287

    70 Graham Barton had never been so glad to see the… 289

    71 Farouq sat on his veranda, overlooking the red-tiled roofs and… 290

    Acknowledgments About the Author Credits Cover Copyright About the Publisher

PROLOGUE

    Limassol, Cyprus April 1292

    Looking out from the eastern parapet of Kolossi Citadel‟s square tower, Jacques DeMolay gazed across the open expanse of the Mediterranean, his white mantle and thick auburn beard .uttering against a warm breeze. For a knight nearing .fty, his regal featureslong nose, penetrating

    gray eyes, .rm brow, and sculpted cheekboneswere surprisingly youthful.

    His cropped hair was thick and peppered with gray.

    Though he couldn‟t actually see the shores of the Holy Land, he swore

    he could smell the perfume of its sweet eucalyptus trees. It had been almost a year since Acre, the last major Crusader stronghold in the eastern Kingdom of Jerusalem, had fallen to the Egyptian Mam?luk‟s. The siege lasted six bloody weeks, until the then Grand Master, Guillaume DeBeaujeu, had thrown down his sword and retreated from the citadel wall to the rebukes of his men. DeBeaujeu had responded: “Je ne m‟enfuit pas...Je suis mort.”—“I‟m not running away. I am dead.” Rais?ing up his bloody arm, he had shown them the arrow plunged deep into his side. Then he had fallen, never to rise again.

    Now, DeMolay wondered if DeBeaujeu‟s death had foretold the fate of the very Order itself.

    “Monsieur,” a French voice called over to him.

    He turned toward the young scribe standing by the steps. “Oui?”

    “He is ready to speak with you,” he announced.

    DeMolay nodded and followed the boy down into the belly of the cas?tle, the chainmail body armor worn beneath his mantle jingling as he de?scended the stone steps. He was led into a vaulted stone chamber where the new Grand Master, a haggard Tibald DeGaudin, lay in a bed positioned at its center. The fetid air reeked of physical neglect. DeMolay tried to not focus on DeGaudin‟s bony hands, covered with open

    sores. His face was equally appallingghastly white with yellow eyes

    bulging from sunken sockets. “How are you feeling?” The attempt at being cordial sounded forced.

    “As well as I look.” He contemplated the bloodred pattée cross that dec?orated DeMolay‟s mantle, just above his heart.

    “Why am I here?” Regardless of the Grand Master‟s unfortunate con?dition, he was .rst and foremost DeMolay‟s rival.

    “To discuss what will happen when I am gone.” DeGaudin‟s voice was scratchy. “There are things you need to know.”

    “I know only that you refuse to gather a new army to take back what we have lost,” replied DeMolay de.antly.

    “Come now, Jacques. This again? The pope is dead and with him, any hope of another crusade. Even you can admit that without the support of Rome, we have no chance of survival.”

“I will not accept that.”

    Pope Nicholas IV, Catholicism‟s .rst Franciscan pope and an advocate of the Knights Templar, had tried in vain to garner support for another crusade. He had held synods attempting to unite the Templars with the Knights of St. John. He had raised funding to equip twenty ships, even sending emissaries as far as China to foster military alliances. Only days earlier, the sixty-four-year-old pope had died abruptly from natural causes in Rome.

    “Many in Rome claim that Nicholas‟s death was no accident.” De?Gaudin‟s tone was conspiratorial.

    DeMolay‟s face tightened. “What?”

    “The pope‟s devotion to the Church was undeniable,” he continued. “But he made many enemies, particularly in France.” The Grand Master raised

    a faltering hand. “As you know, King Philip has been taking drastic measures to fund his military campaigns. Arresting Jews in order to seize their assets. He‟s levied a tax of .fty percent on French clergy. Pope Nicholas protested these things.”

    “Surely you are not saying that Philip had him killed?”

    The Grand Master shielded a cough with his sleeve. When he pulled it away, spots of blood dotted the fabric. “Just know that Philip‟s ambition is to control Rome. The Church has a much bigger problem to contend with. Jerusalem will have to wait.”

    For a long moment, DeMolay was silent. His gaze shifted back to DeGaudin. “You know what lies beneath Solomon‟s Temple. How can you ignore such things?”

    “We are only men, Jacques. What lies there, only God himself protects. You would be a fool to think that we have done anything to change that.”

    “What makes you so certain?”

    DeGaudin managed a thin smile. “Need I remind you that for cen?turies before we arrived in Jerusalem, many others had also fought to pro?tect those secrets? We have only played a small role in this legacy, but I am certain that we are not to be the last.” He paused. “I know your intentions. Your will is strong. The men listen to you. And when I am gone, you will no doubt try to have your way.”

    “Is that not our duty? Is that not why we swore an oath to God?”

    “Perhaps. But maybe what we have hidden all these years needs to be revealed.”

    DeMolay drew close to the Grand Master‟s haggard face. “Such revela?tions would destroy everything we know!”

    “And in its place, something better may emerge.” DeGaudin‟s voice dropped to a whisper. “Have faith, my friend. Put down your sword.”

    “Never.”

1.

Jerusalem Present Day

    Salvatore Conte never questioned his clients‟ motives. His many

    missions had taught him how to remain calm and keep focused. But tonight was different. Tonight he felt uneasy.

    The eight men moved through the ancient streets. Entirely clothed in black, each was armed with lightweight Heckler & Koch XM8 carbines equipped with 100-round magazines and grenade launchers. Padding along the cobblestone in soft boots, every man scanned his surroundings with infrared night-vision goggles. History loomed all around them. With an abrupt hand signal to hold position, Conte paced ahead. He knew that his team was just as apprehensive. Though Jerusalem‟s name meant “City of Peace,” this place de.ned turmoil. Each silent road was bringing them closer to its divided heart.

    The men had traveled separately from a handful of European coun?tries, convening two days earlier at an apartment leased in a quiet part of the Jewish Quarter overlooking Battei Makhase Square, their accommoda?tion booked under one of Conte‟s numerous aliases, “Daniel Marrone.”

    On arrival Conte had played tourist to familiarize himself with the web of alleyways and winding streets surrounding the thirty-.ve-acre rectangu?lar monument in the center of the forti.ed Old Citya massive

    complex of bulwarks and retaining walls standing thirty-two meters high that re?sembled a colossal monolith laid .at upon Mount Moriah‟s steep ridge. Easily the world‟s most contested parcel of real estate, the Islamic Haram esh-Sharif, or “Noble Sanctuary,” was more familiar by another name Temple Mount.

    As the cover of buildings gave way to the towering western wall, he mo?tioned two men forward. The wall-mounted .oodlights cast long shadows.

    Conte‟s men would blend easily into the dark pockets, but then so could the Israeli Defense Force soldiers.

    The endless dispute between Jews and Palestinians had made this the most heavily guarded city in the world. However, Conte knew that the IDF was rife with conscriptsteenage boys whose sole purpose was to

    ful?.ll three-year service requirements and no match for his hardened team.

    He peered ahead, his night-vision goggles transforming the shadows to eerie green. The area was clear except for two soldiers loitering .fty meters away. They were armed with M-16s, donning standard-issue olive green fatigues, bulletproof vests, and black berets. Both men were smoking Time Lite cigarettes, Israel‟s most popular—and, to Conte, most

    offensive brand.

    Glancing over to their intended entry point at Moors‟ Gate, an elevated gateway on the platform‟s western wall, Conte quickly surmised there

    was no way to gain access to the Temple Mount without being detected. Shifting his .ngers along the barrel, he .icked the XM8 to single-shot mode and mounted the ri.e on his left shoulder. He targeted the .rst green ghost with the red laser, aiming for the head, using the glowing butt of the dangling cigarette as a guide. Though the XM8‟s titanium rounds were ca?pable of piercing the soldier‟s Kevlar vest, Conte found no sportlet alone certaintyin body shots.

    One shot. One kill.

    His index .nger gently squeezed.

    There was a muf.ed retort, slight recoil, and he saw the target buckle at the knees.

    The scope shifted to the remaining man.

    Before the second IDF soldier had begun to comprehend what was happening, Conte had .red again, the round penetrating the man‟s face and cartwheeling through the brain.

    He watched him collapse and paused. Silence.

    It never ceased to amaze him just how token the expression “defense” really wasoffering little more than a word to make people feel secure. And though his native country had a laughable military competence, in his own way, he felt he had become its equalizer.

    Another abrupt hand signal ushered his men onto the sloping walkway approaching Moors‟ Gate. To his left, he glimpsed the Western Wall Plaza

    nestled along the embankment‟s base. Yesterday he had marveled at the Orthodox Jewsmen separated from women by a curtained partition who

    gathered here to mourn the ancient temple they believed had once graced this holy place. On his right lay a small valley littered with exca?vated foundations—Jerusalem‟s oldest ruins.

    A substantial iron gate sealed with a deadbolt denied access to the plat?form. In less than .fteen seconds the lock had been picked and his team funneled through the tunneled entrance, fanning out across the broad es?planade beyond.

    Slipping past the stout El-Aqsa Mosque abutting Temple Mount‟s

    south?ern wall, Conte turned his gaze to the esplanade‟s center where just over tall cypress trees, a second and much grander mosque stood on an elevated plat?form, its gilded cupola illuminated like a halo against the night sky. The Dome of the Rock—embodiment of Islam‟s claim

    over the Holy Land.

    Conte led the team to the esplanade‟s southeast corner where a wide opening accommodated a modern staircase, cascading downward. He splayed the .ngers of his gloved right hand and four men disappeared be?low the surface. Then he signaled the remaining two men to hunker down in the nearby tree shadows to secure a perimeter.

    The air in the passage became moist the further the men descended, then abruptly cold, giving off a mossy aroma. Once they had assembled at

    the base of the steps, ri.e-mounted halogen lights were switched on. Crisp, luminous beams bisected the darkness to reveal a cavernous, vaulted space with arched stanchions laid out on neat avenues. Conte remembered reading that twelfth-century Crusaders had used this subterranean room as a horse stable. The Muslims, its latest occupants, had recently converted it into a mosque, but the Islamic decor did little to mask its uncanny resemblance to a subway station.

    Running his light along the room‟s eastern wall, he was pleased to spot the two brown canvas bags his local contact had promised. “Gretner,” he addressed the thirty-.ve-year-old explosives expert from Vienna. “Those are for you.”

    The Austrian retrieved them.

    Slinging his carbine over his shoulder, Conte took a folded paper from his pocket and switched on a penlight. The map showed the exact location of what they‟d been charged to procure—he didn‟t favor references to “stealing”—the term demeaned his professionalism. He aimed the penlight along the wall.

    “Should be just ahead.” Conte‟s English was surprisingly good. To keep communications consistent and less suspicious to local Israelis, he had in?sisted that the team converse only in English.

    Securing the penlight between his teeth, he used a free hand to unclip the Stanley Tru-Laser electronic measuring device from his belt and punched a button on its keypad. A small LCD came to life, activating a thin red laser that cut deep into the darkness. Conte began to move for?ward, his team trailing closely behind.

    He continued diagonally through the chamber, weaving between the thick columns. Deep into the space Conte abruptly stopped, veri.ed the measurements on the LCD and swung the laser till it found the mosque‟s southern wall. Then he turned to face the northern wall, the gut of the Temple Mount.

    “What we‟re looking for should be just behind there.”

    2.

    Salvatore Conte rapped a gloved hand on the wall‟s limestone brickwork. “What do you think?”

    Setting down the canvas bags, Klaus Gretner unclipped a portable ultra?sound device from his belt and held it over the wall to gauge density. Sec?onds later the result appeared on the unit‟s display. “About half a meter.”

    From the .rst bag, Conte pulled a sizeable handheld coring drillthe

    Flex BHI 822 VR model he‟d speci.ed—the chuck already .tted with an

    eighty-two millimeter diamond drum-bit. Glinting beneath his penlight, it looked like it had just come out of its box. He passed it to Gretner. “You should have no problem dry-cutting it with that. Plenty of outlets along the wall there,” he said, pointing. “The extension cord and adapter

are in the bag. How many cores you going with?”

    “The stone‟s soft. Six should do it.”

    From the second bag, Conte took out the .rst brick of C-4 and began molding the gray putty-like explosive into cylinders while the Austrian drilled into the wall‟s mortar seams.

    Ten minutes later, six neat cores were packed and plugged with remote detonating caps.

    Wiping down the drill, Gretner discarded the Flex by the wall. Then he and Conte took cover with the others behind the columns, covering their faces with respirators. Using a handheld transmitter, Gretner triggered a coordinated detonation.

    The ear-numbing blast was immediately followed by a rush of debris and billowing dust.

    After pulling away some more loose bricks to widen the blast hole, Conte climbed through the gaping opening, followed by the others. They found themselves inside another chamber, its details obscured by the clouds of dust. Stout earthen pillars could be made out supporting the low ceiling. Even with respirators, the air was thin and dif.cult to inhale, tinged with the lingering fumes of cyclotrimethylene, which smelled like motor oil.

    This place had obviously been sealed for a long, long time, Conte thought and for a brief moment he wondered how his client could have possibly known it even existed. He turned sharply to the man next to him. “Give me some light.”

    Moving forward into the gloom, the lights played across a row of ten rectangular forms resting on the .oor against the chamber‟s side wall. Each was about two-thirds of a meter in length, cream-colored, and slightly ta?pered from top to bottom.

    Perusing the inventory Conte paused over one at the end of the row, kneeling down to get a better look. Choosing the correct one was much easier than he‟d have thought. Unlike all the others, this was covered

    in or?nate, etched designs. Tipping his head to view the left side of the box, he compared the distinctive carved symbol to the image on a photocopy he pulled from his pocket. A perfect match.

    “This is it,” he announced to the others, pocketing the papers. “Let‟s keep moving.” Though they were deep beneath the Temple Mount, Conte knew that the sound of the explosions would have been heard beyond the outer walls.

    Gretner stepped forward. “Looks heavy.”

    “Should be about thirty-three kilos.” Somehow, his client knew that

    as well. Rising up, he stepped aside.

    Slinging his XM8, Gretner laid a web of nylon strapping on the .oor. He and another man lifted the box onto the webbing, hoisting it off the .oor.

“Let‟s get out of here.” Conte waved the team forward.

    They worked their way through the blast hole and back into the mosque. Before ascending the staircase Conte collected their respirators, stuf.ng them into his bag.

    Emerging onto the esplanade, Conte scanned the area intently and ver?i.ed that his two sentries remained posted securely in the shadows. He sig?naled to them and both men sprinted ahead.

    The rest of the team assembled on the esplanade.

    Moments later, when the sentries‟ silhouettes swept across the opening of Moors‟ Gate, they were instantly forced back by automatic gun.re em?anating from the plaza below.

    A pocket of quiet.

    Distant screams, then more shots.

    Motioning for the others to remain, Conte ran over to the gate, drop?ping onto his elbows as he neared the opening. Peering out he saw Israeli soldiers and police swarming into the vicinity, blocking the walkways down by the Western Wall Plaza. Someone must have either found the two dead IDF soldiers or heard the detonation.

    The Israelis were hunkered down, waiting for them to make a move. Other entrances provided access to Temple Mount and Conte rapidly con?sidered a revised exit strategy, but he was certain the IDF would be sending reinforcements to those gates as well. It wouldn‟t be long before they scaled the platform.

    He knew that using the rented van parked in the Kidron Valley was no longer an option. Turning back from the gateway, he signaled for the sen?tries to follow him back to the group.

    As he ran by the El-Aqsa Mosque, Conte grabbed the encrypted radio transmitter from his belt. “Come in Alpha One. Over.”

    Nothing but static.

    He moved away from the interfering mosque wall.

    “Alpha One?”

    Through the haze a choppy voice was just audible.

    Conte cut in with the transmitter button. “If you can hear me, we‟ve got a change of plan. We‟re under .re.” Raising his voice, he carefully ar?ticulated his next command. “Pick us up on the southeast corner of the Temple Mount esplanade, beside the El-Aqsa Mosque. Over.”

    A pause.

    More static.

    “Roger. On my way,” a faint voice crackled back. “Over.”

    Conte concealed his relief. Just over the jagged mountain range to the south he detected a dark shadow against the night sky.

    The chopper was approaching rapidly.

    He clicked his XM8 to fully automatic, activating the grenade launcher and the others did the same. Fearing they might in.ict damage on this

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