PRINCE PAULO DA SARACENA, Count of Campobasso, rapped his pen on the smooth surface of the round walnut table. “Gentlemen, ladies, please! We have been here for five days, and as lovely as our accommodations are, everyone is anxious to go home. We have one more item to discuss, and that is the emergence of another terrorist group. Please refer to item sixty-three in your agenda.”
Four men and three women comprising the worldwide leadership of The Mundus Society opened their leather-bound folios once again. These seven represented each of the planet’s continents. Combined, they and their membership wielded more influence, wealth, and sheer power than Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
Outside, a passing cloud momentarily blotted out the late afternoon sun’s brilliance, plunging the high-ceilinged room into gloomy gray. Jan glanced at Margarita Corona, Mundus Master of South America, and nodded to the darkened room.
“I hope that’s not an omen!”
Margarita smiled, arching her eyebrows. “Me too,” she whispered.
The room, a long oak-paneled gallery flanked with heavy beveled glass windows, grew quiet. Against the wall, a narrow case clock ticked away the minutes.
Paulo cocked his head toward Sebastian Faust and said, “Our Master for Africa will report.”
For the past two hours, Sebastian Faust had been looking over Paulo’s shoulder at a short sideboard, in the center of which squatted a decanter of vintage claret. Seven crystal glasses shared the small space.
Sebastian stood to address his colleagues. Clearing his throat, he picked up a glass of water, frowned, and returned it to the table. He looked over his half-rimmed glasses at each one, and said, “I’ll try to be brief. As you all know, al-Qaida, while most notorious, is not alone in making terror in the world. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have a new kid on the block. They call themselves al-Qâdi, which means judgment or justice. Make no mistake. They’re every bit as ruthless, resourceful, and dangerous as Bin Laden. We know that al-Qâdi has spread into Europe and parts of Asia—perhaps even the Americas. We know they have linked up with outlaw elements in the former Soviet Union. They gather much of their funds through murder, extortion, slavery, and child exploitation.”
Sebastian paused, eyed once more the carafe and its liquid balm, and continued, “Although our agents are exploring all the places al-Qâdi is likely to use for its bases, we believe that an inner city, or a very remote locale—a rainforest for example—is most probable. Our intelligence also suggests that, due to their close-knit nature, small communities would pose a threat of discovery. Al-Qâdi avoids these.”
Sebastian waited for everyone seated to absorb the information before continuing. “What we suspect, but have not yet confirmed, is al-Qâdi has done what Bin Laden has yet to achieve. We believe they have gotten hold of a small amount of weapons-grade plutonium.”
Sebastian’s disclosure brought the members to their feet in a frenzy of questions.
Dagmar Lintz, Iceland’s Mundus Master, representing the Artic Regions, stood next to Sebastian. Snatching the report from his hand, she ignored the noise around her and read for herself the information and its source.
“My God! Sebastian, if this is true, we have no time to lose. We have to find them!”
Australia’s Margo Whitefield looked at Jan accusingly. “Did you know about this?” she asked.
Jan plopped back into his chair and stared at his copy of the report. Jan had been North American Master for almost fifteen years and was regarded as the group’s nominal leader.
“No. I didn’t.”
“Please,” Paulo said, “take your seats. This report is preliminary. We will issue updates as we get them.”
Arata Tsukamoto, Jan’s counterpart in Asia, looked over and mouthed, “This is bad—very bad.”
Jan nodded back and sighed.
Sebastian Faust looked around the room. “There is one more item about al-Qâdi. Bin Laden ordered al-Ansar, in Iraq, to stop the beheading of hostages. It seems al-Qaida feared a public backlash. Al-Qâdi, however, does not share that fear. They have picked up where al-Ansar left off and now hold a Korean man hostage. We know where they are holding him and are attempting his rescue. I can share details of that operation with anyone interested, after the meeting.”
Sebastian turned to da Saracena. “That is all I have.”
“If there are no objections,” Paulo said, “I adjourn this meeting.”
Sebastian headed for the wine.
Jan stood, walked to the windows, and stared out at the boxwood maze below. He tried to blot out the jabber behind him as he hung his head and whispered a silent prayer for the Korean hostage.
“THIS is BBC World News, and I’m Felicity Fellstone, sitting in for Malcolm Talley.”
Turning a page that lay before her on the shiny glass desk, the newscaster continued, “Al Jazeera television today aired a film of what it said was a Korean hostage taken by yet another terrorist group, calling itself al-Qâdi. The Korean man, twenty-year-old Soo Kwon, worked for Save the Children, an arm of the Christian Children’s Foundation, when armed men took him from the parking lot of his hotel in Mosul. The kidnappers threatened to behead Mr. Kwon unless the South Korean government announces an immediate withdrawal of its presence in the Middle East. We advise viewers, these scenes are graphic.”
A moment later, a scene all too familiar appeared on the screen. A terrified young man, flanked by masked men armed with assault rifles, stood shaking and sobbing. Behind them, a black banner proclaiming Death to Infidels and Glory to Martyrs stretched across a blood-spattered wall.
“Please! Please!” begged the Korean youth, Kwon, his hands tied behind his back. “I want to live! I know you want to live… but I want to live too! Please! Please! I want to live!”
A sober Felicity returned to the screen and said, “The South Korean government rejected al-Qâdi’s demands, insisting it would not be held for ransom by terrorists. A spokesperson for the South Korean government went on to say that Mr. Kwon is not affiliated with Korea’s military presence in the region, which consists of hospital support for the civilian population. As of this date, efforts to locate Mr. Kwon or contact his captors have failed.
“Moving on to other news, Buckingham Palace announced today….”
JAN PHILLIPS and his estate manager, Kevin Andrews, sat wrapped in wool blankets on the terrace of the Chateau Coeur d’Alène. A pale morning sun struggled to burn away the night’s shade as they sipped their coffee. Beyond the marble balustrade, the broad expanse of dull green lawn, flanked by rows of naked beech trees, stretched far into the lingering morning mist.
Kevin eyed his boss a long moment and then asked, “Did you see the video al Jazeera aired last night?”
“Yeah.” Jan’s tone twirled with resignation and anger.
“Did you try to save him?”
“Mundus tried. We were too late. You saw the video on TV. They never intended to let him go. He was dead the minute they took him. These killings have become a blood sport.”
“You’re awfully calm about it,” Kevin accused.
“When you’re calm, you can focus your energy. When you’re not, you end up running in circles.”
Jan looked over at Kevin.
“We’ll get ’em in the end… we’ve got to.”
Kevin shivered at the thought of the young Korean begging for his life minutes before his head was pulled back, exposing his throat to the knife.
“Isn’t it kind of cold out here?” Kevin said, trying to mask the real reason for his discomfort.
“Think of it as self mortification. Besides, it’ll never hurt you,” Jan mumbled, his mind wandering far away, back to a sunny autumn day, the day Tim Morris first brought him to the chateau. Suddenly, the phone rang, jarring him from guilty memories of Tim. Jan had behaved badly on that first day. Tim tried hard to please him by showing his exclusive private world of wealth and privilege—wealth and privilege that one day would be his. All Jan did was to retreat into sullen anger. Overwhelmed, he was reluctant, unsure of his budding gay sexuality, and scared stiff by the real chance that Tim just might get him killed.
When Jan didn’t move to answer the intruding bell, Kevin sighed.
“I’ll get it,” he said.
Heaving himself out of the chaise lounge, he jogged across the terrace and through the open double doors. Jan could hear Kevin as he spoke to the caller.
“What! No, no—do nothing! Le seigneur will be there right away.”
Kevin returned, slightly out of breath.
“What’s going on?” Jan asked.
“Big trouble. There’s a bulldozer about to raze the Chapel of the Transfiguration, and a crowd of protesters is blocking the way! The cardinal called the police. He wants the mob dispersed so the demolition can proceed. He’s on his way there now. That was Father Malreve from Saint Sebastian’s on the phone. He’s going down, and he wants you there too. I think the chaplain is making a speech. You know the French!”
“Well, if we can get one more priest to show up we can baptize a jackass,” Jan said sarcastically. “I knew this was going to be a problem as soon as I heard the rumor.”
“You know, sometimes you can be a real prick,” Kevin complained.
“Flatterer. All right, go get the car. I’ll change into my shining armor just for you.”
Situated smack in the middle of four hundred ninety-six acres of prime bottomland, stretching in a narrow band along the banks of the slow moving Rhône River, the Chapel of the Transfiguration was considered the soul, if not the heart, of the village. Farmers had planted wheat, barley, and lavender on this ground for hundreds of years. To the north and west, the land was bounded by church property. The Monastery of Saint Sebastian and a sliver of Jan’s estate shared the southern line. The only paved road cut across Jan’s portion. Built not long after the Roman Empire imploded, the chapel was a provincial, some might say ugly, attempt at recalling the architecture of a defunct order. Unlike churches of later design, the interior of the church was unadorned, while multicolored mosaics depicting the life of Jesus and the promise of a glorious afterlife clad its four exterior walls. The front wall featured adoring apostles surrounding the resurrected Christ. After nearly two millennia, it retained much of its original brilliance.
To the chagrin of the local cardinal, busloads of savvy tourists regularly siphoned themselves from the glitzy Arles Cathedral to see the village’s rare art treasure.
When they arrived at the site, Jan and Kevin saw a demolition crew of twelve beefy men arguing with an equal number of hysterical townsfolk. The chaplain stood in the church’s doorway defying anyone to move him. The milling mob, added to the heavy morning dew, made the usually hard packed dirt soft and muddy.
Jacques Malreve, the father abbot of Saint Sebastian’s, had pulled the village leader aside and was attempting to get her, and her followers, to leave before the police arrived and arrests were made.
Jan and the abbot had been friends since Jan was eighteen. Père Malreve was still as chubby as the day Jan had met him. Patting his stomach, Jacques would say, “It’s my one weakness… well, perhaps not the only one.”
“Jacques, you’re just making up for what His Arrogance doesn’t eat,” Jan would joke.
“Jan! I wish you would stop calling the cardinal that! The man is anointed of the Lord, a priest, according to the Order of Melchizedek. Come Judgment Day, you will be sorry,” the monk warned with a wagging finger.
“Well if Cardinal Cock Robin allows Jesus to be my judge, I’ll have nothing to worry about,” was Jan’s standard reply.
Jacques usually replied by putting his head in his hands and mumbling something about praying for Jan. In Jan’s estimation, a better person than Jacques had never lived.
The cardinal, on the other hand, was a high-handed, mean man. When Tim’s body arrived in Arles to rest in the tomb of the Lords of Guyencourt, the cardinal made a loud and public objection. “Homosexuals have no place among the nobles of France,” he opined.
The cardinal’s rant sparked a deep, abiding dislike of the prelate in Jan. Over the years, the two men quarreled openly. Jan hated these episodes because they produced nothing but more ill will—something very much out of his character.
“Okay, okay, Jacques. I’ll be more respectful of the Lord’s anointed.” It was a promise Jan never kept.
Jan shook off the remembered conversations. Handing his briefcase to Kevin, he said, “Hold on to this and wait here. I may need you.”
Leaving Kevin in the car, Jan walked to where Jacques stood. The crowd got louder. Juliet Dufort, the village representative, moved off to confer with her fellow protesters.
Jan caught the abbot’s eye as he approached. “Jacques, how nice of you to invite me to the party!”
Jan looked around for his nemesis. “Where’s His Arrogance?” he asked acidly.
“My Lord Cardinal!” Between clenched teeth, the abbot said, “Jan, you promised to stop calling him that.” Then, sotto voce, “He is right behind you, Jan. Please, help us!”
Jan turned and beamed a smile any car salesman would envy, his hand extended in a friendship he didn’t feel. “Ah, Your Eminence!”
A gaunt man clothed in red silk moiré from nose to hose stood glaring at Jan. His billowing red cape and matching skullcap proclaimed Alphonse Paré de Breton as a Prince of the Church. If not for occasional movement and speech, he could have served as a cadaver for an anatomy class. Many said his emaciated look was due to his holy fasting. Jan’s take was that good food refused to digest in his sour stomach.
Ignoring Jan’s outstretched hand, the cardinal said, “Monsieur Phillips, the salutation for a cardinal changed some time ago. Please address me as, ‘My Lord Cardinal’.”
Jan made a deep bow.
“And since I am the lord of the Chateau Coeur d’Alène, you, My Lord Cardinal, may address me as le seigneur. You may as well, everyone else does.”
“I will do no such thing!” snapped the cardinal. “Have you come here to add your sarcasm to this chaos? I phoned the police and demanded they clear away this rabble. It would be wiser for you to leave now and avoid arrest.”
Looking around with the hauteur only one confidant God is on his side can muster, the prelate pointed toward the chapel.
“That,” he sneered, “and all the surrounding land is the Church’s property. It belongs to the Diocese of Arles, not to these villagers, and certainly not to you! Holy Mother Church has decided to put it to better use—for the benefit of all, I mean.”
“I don’t suppose the cathedral’s loss in tourist Euros has anything to do with Holy Mother’s recent interest toward land reform,” Jan said.
“I warn you, monsieur, you place your immortal soul in peril by impugning the purity of our intentions.”
“Ha!” Jan scoffed. “I place my soul’s safety in God’s hands. Somehow, I feel it’s safer with Him. You understand. By the way, where is Monsieur le Maire and his cadre of gendarmes? I thought…. Oh! There they are.”
Jan waved mockingly at an unmarked van parked under a naked chestnut tree. The mayor slid low in the front seat, obviously wanting no part of this mêlée.
“They are keeping a safe distance at my request. Of course we hope force will not be needed,” the cardinal said.
“He’s more likely afraid of a bolt lightning,” Jan mumbled.
“What did you say, monsieur?”
“Nothing,” Jan lied. “Look, Eminence, why do you want…? Uh, no, let me rephrase, what plans has our Holy Mother for this property? It isn’t as if the cathedral hasn’t enough land already.”
The cardinal ignored the repeated slight, yet his face flushed with rising anger. “I do not need to justify Holy Mother’s decisions to you! However, because of your generosity to the Church in the past, I will tell you that we have a gentleman’s agreement of sale, on condition that we remove the chapel. It is that simple. We need the money, and the community will benefit from the income derived from the sale, as will the Church.”
Jan eyed the old man with a knowing look and shook his head at what he knew was a lie.
“Lose again at chemin de fer in Monte Carlo? Hmm…?” Jan mocked.
“Monsieur! If that was an attempt at humor, it failed.”
Ignoring the cardinal’s fury, Jan said, “Well, if your prospective buyer is a devout Catholic, as so many of the French are, I can see why he would be reluctant to pull down God’s house by himself. It seems appropriate that he should turn to your Eminence to get the job done.”
Jan thought the skinny old man was going to have a conniption. The cardinal’s face turned as scarlet as his hat.
Before the cleric could regain his composure, Jan added, “I have a proposal that may suit us all.”
He looked at the cardinal for a sign of compromise. “Shall I proceed, or do you prefer to prolong this charade?”
By now, the mayor, a balding, rotund man of fifty or so years, had extracted himself from the police van and joined them. He nodded to Jan but did not offer his hand. He seemed unsure whether, under these circumstances, Jan was friend or foe.
Jan motioned to Kevin to join them and whispered in his ear, “Bring me my briefcase, please. I’ll need you to stand by too.”
Taking the cardinal and the mayor by the elbow, Jan led them to a nest of unoccupied picnic tables and chairs. Safely out of the mob’s earshot, Jan asked, “Has the prospective buyer signed anything in the way of a contract for this land?”
“How do you know about this?” the mayor snapped.
“I told him,” said the cardinal.
The mayor immediately backed down like a dog with the spirit whipped out of him.
“As of now, there is no contract,” replied the cardinal. “The buyer refuses to sign anything as long as the chapel remains.”
“I see,” Jan said. “Well, Eminence, how much is he willing to pay for the land once the church is gone?”
“That is between the Church and the buyer! It is no concern of yours,” the cardinal said imperiously. A hint of color returned to his cheeks.
Jan turned toward the mayor and narrowed his eyes. “How much?”
Prelate and mayor shifted uncomfortably. The cardinal gave the mayor a warning look.
“How much!” demanded Jan, raising his voice.
The mayor owed his position as much to Jan as to the cardinal. Frightened, he looked to the clergyman and then to Jan, unsure which was master of the situation. Finally, he murmured, “A half million Euros.”
Jan whistled his surprise.
“A tidy sum, and how much do you, Monsieur le Mayor, get for supporting this bit of larceny?” Jan said.
The mayor leapt from his chair in righteous indignation.
“Larceny! That is a legal term! A criminal term!”
Jan offered a sardonic smile. “Yes, Monsieur, I am, after all, a lawyer. I also know the duke ceded this ground to the town of Christ a Amélioré in 1750.”
“The City of Arles annexed this land forty years ago. The village has no claim to it!” shouted the mayor defensively.
Ignoring the man’s outburst, Jan said in a calm even tone, “What I propose, gentlemen, if I may use the term, is this: I will buy the land and the chapel as it stands today, for the sum of seven hundred thousand Euros.”
The cardinal and the mayor exchanged glances. Jan could almost hear the sound of cash registers ringing in their greedy heads.
“Well?” Jan said. “Do you accept my offer?”
The cardinal spun the amethyst ring he wore on his right hand. He looked out over the river and said, “I will consult with the parish council, but I’m sure there will be no obstacle.”
The three men stood in a close knot. The cardinal nodded and offered his hand, as did the mayor, sealing the bargain. Jan wondered if there was enough holy water in the chapel font to wash his hands. It would take the sanctified liquid to remove the unclean feeling he now felt.
Jan motioned for Kevin to bring the briefcase and join them.
“Let’s just write a little contract now, and our attorneys can pretty it up later,” Jan said.
Kevin handed Jan a blank sheet of paper, and he quickly jotted down the terms of their agreement. The cardinal signed below Jan’s name. Kevin and the mayor signed as the witnesses.
The cardinal walked a short distance and lifted his arms, quieting the angry mob.
“You may all return home now,” he told the villagers. “It is concluded. God’s light has shown us what to do here. There will be no destruction of the chapel.”
A shout went up from the villagers as they congratulated themselves for preventing a disaster.
“What about my crew?” the demolition foreman shouted. “Is the Church going to pay for our time?”
The cardinal looked at Jan.
The priest drew his scarlet cape around himself. Mustering feigned humility, he made a slight bow toward Jan and spoke to the workmen. “Le seigneur is responsible for your fee. Apply to him for payment.”
The mayor, wishing to make a quick exit away from the situation, had already left the churchyard. The cardinal, his cape billowing like a red sail, was right on the mayor’s heels.
Jacques Malreve hurried to Jan’s side.
“Jan? What does this mean?”
“It means, Jacques, my old friend, that the church will stand, and I’m even more land poor than I was this morning.”
“You purchased the chapel?”
“It would appear so.” Jan sighed. “I’ve no idea what I’m going to do with it!”
“My son, God will reward you in more than this!” the old man said, wringing Jan’s hand.
“Mon père, it is nothing. I must go now. We will meet again before I leave.”
“Leave? You are going away so soon? You only just arrived!”
“Yes, I’m going to Paris for a few days on business, then on to the states. Michael is in China. He’ll return home to Philadelphia soon, and I want to be there. We’ve been apart too long,” Jan said.
“As always, Saint Sebastian’s will miss you. May I light a candle for you, my son?”
“Make it two, okay? One for me, and one for Michael.”
“You know, Jan, Saint Michael’s obedience to God made him the first saint in heaven. You love this man?”
Jan smiled. “He’s my very heartbeat.”
“Then I’ll light two candles,” Jacques said, smiling. “Oh, Jan, umm, before you leave, please come to the monastery… at six o’clock tomorrow morning? I have something important to discuss with you.”
Jan nodded. “Of course I’ll come. Wait! You don’t have another church you want me to buy, do you?”
Jacques shook his head gravely, “No, it is nothing like that.”
THAT afternoon at the château, Jan sipped tea in the main salon and reflected on the years since Tim Morris’s death and on his chance meeting with Michael Lin one foggy night in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. Life was good, even peaceful, considering the tortured world Jan and his Mundus associates wrestled with on a daily basis. For all that, he remained passionately in love with Michael. He had health, and, what seemed to others, an unnaturally youthful appearance.
Then there was the money, obscene piles of it. Some impertinent asshole once asked how much he really had. Jan answered that he had no idea since he never counted it!
Kevin stepped quietly across an intricately woven Tabriz carpet and whispered into Jan’s ear, “Jan, they’re here.”
“Who’s here?” Jan asked, puzzled.
“The delegation from the village, of course. The chapel, remember?”
The afternoon’s peace dissolved into memory.
“Christ in heaven!” Jan spat. “What the hell do they want from me now? They got their church. Damn it! Am I expected to assist at Mass too?”
Kevin looked down at the floor. A sincere churchgoer, he hated it when Jan swore. “I’m sorry. I’ll send them away.”
“No, no… damn it! Show them in,” Jan said wearily.
Four men and two women stood agape as they stared at the salon’s interior. To their right, a long wall of polished chestnut embraced a huge fireplace, carved from a single block of sapphire colored marble. Ceilings high above were painted with allegories depicting the French New World in all its early wildness and now vanished savagery. Books aligned on floor to ceiling shelves occupied the two end walls. An entire wall of French doors faced the fireplace in a glittering jamboree of beveled glass. Braided cord held back heavy damask drapes, allowing sunlit prisms to reflect on the parquet floor. The smell of ripe fruit wafted from an immense crystal bowl.
“Mes amis, welcome to my home,” Jan said. “What, may I ask, is the reason for your visit? I thought—”
“Pardon, mon seigneur,” Juliet Dufort spoke, interrupting Jan. “If you please, it is the custom of our village to work the fields on the church property. We pay rent each year to the cardinal. We wish to know if you will continue this same amount or if you will increase our rent. We must make arrangements if there is an increase.”
Even now, her tone was combative. Jan had rescued her church, her livelihood, and perhaps even kept her out of jail, but here she stood, hands on hips like a reincarnated Madame Defarge. This was one revolution he was determined to defuse.
Jan rubbed his fingers over his brow and sighed. He thought of Kevin, standing at the far corner of the large room, mutilated at age nineteen by the slave traders. That event had caused Jan to launch Project Scimitar against the slave trade in Sudan. Scimitar, Jan’s first Mundus operation, was a spectacular success in its objective, and yet for Jan, it was a crashing failure, one he would always regret.
Rent! Throughout the world, men, women, boys, and girls are enslaved every day. Children everywhere are kidnapped, raped, and murdered while many are hideously mutilated for God only knows what purpose, and these people standing here in health and wealth can think of nothing but their rent!
Jan gazed at them with barely disguised displeasure. “How much did you pay His Arro… His Eminence?”
The woman stepped forward and said, “There are sixty farmers who work the land. Each pays one thousand Euros per year. The rest we make up in what we grow. Last year we paid the Church one hundred pounds each of wheat, barley, and lavender in addition to the money.”
Jan looked into their expectant eyes. He thought a moment and then looked at Kevin’s hopeful smile.
“Very well then, this will be your new rent. Every year I am to receive a single Euro from each man who tills the soil. Along with this, I require one sheaf of wheat, one of barley, and a sprig of lavender. Kevin will draw up the lease, and we will meet again later this evening to sign it. Thank you for coming. Now please excuse me.”
Amid claps on the back and thanks mixed with “God bless le seigneur,” Jan left the salon and their happy jabber. He pulled his shirt collar tight around his neck against the cooling afternoon air. Snow swirled in haphazard squalls as if nature herself was unsure if she truly wanted winter to begin. Jan pushed his hands into his pants pockets and slipped out onto the terrace. He walked down the broad marble steps, along the white gravel path that led to the formal garden of ancient boxwoods. At the center, hidden in a maze of twists and turns and abrupt dead ends, all of which Jan knew by heart, stood the de Main family mausoleum. Generations of the Dukes of Guyencourt were here, along with one American interloper, Timothy Harold Morris of Little Fork, West Virginia. Tim. Jan’s Tim. The man who gave Jan a life beyond anyone’s imagination lay here too. Jan had not visited the tomb for over a year. To do so was to acknowledge for the umpteenth time that, despite his almost palpable presence, Tim was gone. Yet today, Jan felt differently. It was an anniversary of sorts. After years of postponed testimony at the World Court in The Hague, The Mundus Society’s Project Scimitar finally closed with a guilty verdict against the slave trader known as the Pasha.
Kevin Andrew’s horrid mutilation at the hands of the slave trader stood avenged. Not everything had gone the way Jan would have liked, but to the outside world, a great thing had been done.
The fall of the Soviet Empire, peace in Kosovo, all were Mundus initiatives, yet, in Jan’s eyes, the secret society had failed in so many ways. The resorting to violence and the loss of innocent lives tarnished whatever good he had accomplished. Any goal, no matter how nobly conceived or dedicated, derived through violence, is an illusion, he reasoned. Still, Mundus’s North American Chapter, with all its power and responsibility, was his to command without question. Power and responsibility were the twin beams of a cross he carried with equal reluctance.
Today, too, he managed to make a grudging peace with the cardinal, something he thought would never be possible. And then there was Michael. Jan’s heart swelled whenever he thought of Michael.
A few more steps and there it was, an exact replica of the Arles Cathedral in miniature, a spire and gargoyle embossed box of weathered basalt.
Jan pushed aside the heavy bronze door, stepped inside the cold vault, and switched on a tiny lamp, expelling shadows from their customary homes. Jan ignored the rows of ducal sarcophagi and walked straight to a brightly polished gold plaque imbedded in the granite floor. Jan paused as he approached the spot where Tim lay and wiped tears from the corners of his eyes with the back of his hand. He cleared his throat.
“Hey, Tim. It’s me, Jan. Got a minute? Sorry I haven’t been around much. Listen, guess what happened this morning. You know that chapel by the river….”