Authors: Gary Williams,Vicky Knerly
Tags: #Thriller, #Mystery, #Suspense, #Adventure, #Religion, #Historical
Gary Williams and
Gary Williams and Vicky Knerly
* * * * *
Copyright 2012 by Gary S. Williams and Vicky W. Knerly Partnership
Suspense Publishing, Digital Copy, September 2012
Cover Design: Shannon Raab
Cover Photographer: iStockphoto.com/sculpies
Cover Background: iStockphoto.com/7io
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR
“Dan Brown better look over his shoulder – Williams and Knerly are here for his crown.
is an edge-of-the-seat thriller with great storytelling backed by brilliant research.”
– Greig Beck, best selling author of
This Green Hell
“The more I read by Williams and Knerly, the more I fall in love with their writing style, genre, characters, and most of all, their solid plotline. It amazes me how seamlessly everything falls into place in their novels, especially in
, and it’s obvious that Williams and Knerly put in a great deal of time and effort researching Biblical history while writing this amazing novel. Not only are the authors historically accurate and able to work in even the smallest of historical details, but they also use historical accounts to their advantage, filling in holes with their own added imaginings that cause the reader to stop and wonder, “what if?” It’s an age-old mystery unfolding before the reader’s eyes, giving a different perspective based on recordings and findings of the past, and the way Williams and Knerly present their novel, pulling the reader into the story and causing them to question all they know, is amazing.
“If you’ve enjoyed any of the Dan Brown’s books, or the movies
The Da Vinci Code
Angels and Demons
, then you’ll love
(and all Williams’ and Knerly’s other novels as well).”
– A Book Vacation Review
Gary dedicates this book to his children—Josh, Jeff and Kristin.
Vicky dedicates this book to Kathi and Leanne, who know her secrets and keep her sane at all
Gary and Vicky would like to thank their families and friends for their continuing support and encouragement.
The authors would also like to commend the following people for their efforts with this book: Janice Lake, Maryanne Pease, Susan Parker, Les Williams, Sonya Guess Ashton, Mille & Mark Sorger, Dalerie Fisher, Bob Campbell, Dot Esh, Deborah Wall McGraw and Tony & Margie Hawkes. We value your feedback, and thank you for your scrutiny.
Thanks to Lori Wiggin for her expertise with medical laboratories.
Also, kudos to our publicist, Diane Buckner. We continue to function as a well-oiled team.
With each book, we have gained a larger audience, and our ardent followers have been instrumental in getting the word out. We appreciate your support more than you’ll ever know.
Lastly, we would like to thank all the readers. We hope you enjoy this story and follow us on future adventures.
August 30. Thursday – 6:33 a.m. Oviedo, Spain
Father Juan Carletta gazed upward as he approached the Cathedral of San Salvador, admiring the white stone bell tower silhouetted against the Spanish sky. Daylight broke on the far side, gilding the top of the edifice and sending orange-yellow light streaming through the slitted openings. The elder priest moved with urgency today. The security guard, Javier, had failed to check in at 6 a.m., and he was anxious to know why.
He hurried through the plaza toward the large square abutting the western end of the church. The dew on the grass dampened the bottom edge of his cassock as he went. He reached the central door and pushed it open. As usual, Javier had unlocked the cathedral before the priest’s arrival, and the guard’s adherence to routine brought a small measure of solace.
Father Carletta entered the cathedral and glanced ahead at the cavernous space. The lofty eight-sided dome stretched high overhead. Unlike the bright brick exterior, the lack of natural light here cast a forlorn gloom over the interior.
“Javier?” Father Carletta called out into the shadows.
He received no response.
“Javier, where are you?” he continued more loudly. His words echoed softly.
The smell of cinnamon from the candles stacked at the ambulatory hung heavily in the air. He moved up the center aisle toward the main altar where the image of the Divine Savior spread across a four-column baldacchino. He carefully surveyed the pews as he went, looking for any sign of Javier.
At the transept, he turned left, moving down the north aisle, straining to see in the dim light. An uncomfortable and unexpected aura filled the cathedral this morning.
“Javier, are you here?” Father Carletta’s voice tightened.
He reached the opening off the north transept leading to the Capilla de Nuestra Señora del Rey Casto. Ornate buttresses and regal columns remained cloaked within the shadows. The longer his calls for Javier went unanswered, the more concerned he became. He turned and retraced his steps.
The priest hurried past the apse at the altar and aimed toward the south transept connecting to a spectacular cloister filled with monuments and pilgrims’ gravestones. Father Carletta’s footfalls on the hard surface sounded close and distant at the same time, causing him to look back over his shoulder more than once as an uneasy feeling continued to well up inside him.
He paused, listening intently for any sound. The prevailing silence sent a cold shiver down his spine. He took a deep breath and shook the feeling away, chiding himself for being foolish.
He moved to an adjoining cloister where an elaborate, full-scale diorama depicted Roman guards leading Jesus away from the Garden of Gethsemane. Father Carletta had viewed this diorama many times, yet today, something seemed odd about it. Nevertheless, he continued on.
One more place to check, he thought, although it was a long shot. After that, protocol required him to notify the archbishop.
Father Carletta exhaled a troubled breath. He liked Javier. The thought of the guard losing his job was disconcerting.
The priest returned to the apse. Here the south transept opened on a stairwell with steps leading upward. He took them quickly and turned left, stepping into a rectangular ante-chapel known as a
. Although fitted with sconce lights on either side, he unexpectedly found himself in a pitch-black room.
Father Carletta paused. A prickle at the top of his head caused him to shiver again. The light bulbs were changed monthly. It would be nearly impossible for both to have burned out at the same time. Then he forced an inward smile. Surely it was just a coincidence.
He retreated from the darkness and returned to the main cathedral to retrieve one of the many votive candles that lined the ambulatory. He found a book of matches inside the pulpit, lit the squat red candle, and returned to the
, carrying it by its glass holder.
Once inside the long room, the meager candlelight proved ineffective in reaching either the side rubble-masonry walls or the barrel-vaulted ceiling which soared twenty feet at the crown. Ahead, somewhere in the darkness, the two aisles overlapped into a slightly elevated chamber. There, a barrel-vaulted entryway secured by iron bars and an iron, prison-style door shielded the upper sanctuary.
Father Carletta moved slowly. Warmer air blended with a strange odor, masking the normal, musty smell of aged stone. The fact that he could not account for the peculiar stench was troublesome. He swung the candle from side to side, eyes wide and nerves on edge. The smell grew stronger as he proceeded. His footsteps sounded unusually loud, and he became wary of the noise he made. No matter how hard Father Carletta tried, he could not fend off the overpowering sense of foreboding.
“Javier, are you in here?” he called once more tentatively. A bead of perspiration ran down his cheek. The annoying smell turned rancid. His pulse quickened.
It suddenly occurred to him what had been wrong with the life-size diorama back in the cloister. One of the Roman guards was missing his weapon: an antique halberd on loan from an Italian museum. He tried to remember if it had been there the day before, but he could not be sure. The archbishop had a tendency to rearrange the dioramas often. Still, the thought was unsettling.
He continued to pitch the candle back and forth as he went, as much out of fear for what might be waiting in the darkness as to search for Javier. The candle flame flickered and receded, casting ghostly shadows along the walls. Father Carletta swallowed a dry lump.
Suddenly, two pale men leapt out of the darkness. Terrified, Father Carletta clutched his chest. He could not breathe, could not think. Several long seconds passed before he finally registered the statues of the two Apostles. The stark figures carved on a pilaster had been brought to life by the darting candlelight. With a flood of relief, he exhaled slowly. He crossed himself before continuing.
His heart was now beating in his ears. He raised a section of his cassock to cover his nose. It did little to mask the vile odor. When the iron cell door finally materialized in the dim candlelight, Father Carletta stopped with a sharp gasp.
Please let it be another trick of the light!
He eased closer and realized his worst fear: the door stood slightly ajar. He looked through the iron bars and saw the array of religious reliquary items on display. A jolt of nausea struck him. The centerpiece of the room, the Arca Santa—a large, black oak chest—stood open.
Nearly breathless, Father Carletta rushed forward and yanked open the cell door, almost dropping the votive candle in the process. The flame flickered light into the chamber. His overwhelming concern was for the contents of the Arca Santa. He hurried over to it, ignoring the repulsive stench. The items were kept in strict placement surrounding the central relic. Father Carletta conducted a frantic mental inventory of the contents. To his horror, the Sudarium—the very cloth that covered the face of Jesus Christ immediately following his death on the cross—was gone!
“Ay Dios mio!
Oh my God
!” he gasped. He staggered, lightheaded. Father Carletta regained his balance just before he crashed into the glass case to the side. The jostled candle flame sent light dancing madly across the Arca Santa. His vision blurred, and he struggled to catch his breath.
Moments later as his world slowly came back into focus, he spotted a dark mass on the floor nestled between the back of the Arca Santa and the rear wall: an amorphous form, partly shielded by the chest. His mind could not comprehend what he saw. All he could make out were two long, dark horizontal shapes on the floor. A third, thin linear shape floated parallel six inches above them. The sight was further convoluted by the unstable candlelight casting the unknown objects in shadow on the near wall. His thoughts ran incongruently, spinning with the tragic repercussions of the missing Sudarium from the Arca Santa and now grappling to make sense of the scene before him. Only when he moved to the rear of the chest and held the candle lower did the entire ghastly image solidify.
A man lay on his back, the axe blade of the missing halberd buried deep in his chest. The shaft of the long weapon hovered horizontally, stretching down the length of his body and beyond. The large axe had caused an enormous gash, and tattered flesh spilled out through the blood-soaked material of his shirt. Dark blood saturated the floor near his chest, and droplets splattered the rear wall behind the Arca Santa. The dead man’s unseeing eyes were open, and his lips stretched apart as if his last mortal act had been to scream.
Through his horrified confusion, Father Carletta recognized Javier. Terror infected his mind as he felt his body go weightless, then all went dark.