The story has an epic and “thriller” flavor covering timelines spanning thousands of years, re-imagines critical historical events and beliefs, including religious dogma, cleverly explores the domain of symbols, numerals and encryption, and involves charismatic characters.
Book Website: www.boysetfiretobible.com
Three seconds; two seconds. Sophie, reacting strictly on instinct, threw the bomb into the vertical mining shaft. “Stay put!” she screamed at Cameron, throwing herself onto the ground. One second; zero. The bomb exploded two-thirds way down the shaft.
The force of the explosion shook the entire mine, triggering a massive cave-in. Earth and rocks fell everywhere, tumbling over each other, and a thick suffocating cloud of dust rose, instantly saturating every passage way. It took 20 seconds until the last chunk of rock plummeted to the ground, rolling over Cameron’s left leg.
“Cameron! Speak to me!” shouted Sophie, covered in dust and powdered rock, and looking like a very creepy ghost. She had been fortunate: only pebble-size rocks had showered her body. Apart from several bruises, she was otherwise unscaved.
Cameron, on the other hand, had been battered by larger rocks, severed from the stone wall. While his upper body and head had been largely spared, his legs had been severely pelted. “I think my left leg is broken…and I can’t feel my right one. What about the kid?”
“Roy! ROY! Are you ok?” Sophie cried out loudly. “ROY! Answer me!”
“I’m ok,” replied Roy, in a trembling voice that was far clearer and more distinct than before; “but it’s kinda hard to breath; I can’t see through the dust.”
“Don’t do anything, Roy. We’ll find a way to get to you,” promised Sophie before moving on to her other patient. “Hang on, Cam, I’ll free you.” She scrawled to her brother on all fours, and began removing the rocks pinning him down. The stones she could not lift, she rolled, hop¬ing not to exacerbate his wounds. “There, it’s done,” she announced, now flapping her arms to chase away the remaining mist. “How are your legs?”
“Feeling in my right leg is coming back,” said a relieved Cameron. “The left one hurts right below the knee.”
Placing her hand over the designated area, Sophie applied pressure. “Does that hurt more?”
“Only slightly,” replied Cameron.
“You have a partial fracture,” concluded Sophie. Flashlight in hand, she looked around for the blue cloth, finding it among the rubble, and tied it around Cameron’s leg as tightly as she could. “Can you get up?”
“No problem,” bravely said Cameron as he grabbed on to his sister, using her as a crutch. “There! Straight as an arrow.” Spotting the handle of the shovel protruding from the debris, he had Sophie retrieve it—it would make a fine crutch, far more robust than his sister’s delicate frame.
As the haze finally dissipated, Cameron and Sophie noticed that the light emanating from the mine entrance had grown faint. Half of the main passage way was congested; only the top half was clear, providing enough space for escape. The immediate area around the stone wall had resisted mostly, having being reinforced by additional wooden beams that extended over the vertical shaft, no doubt to prevent rock falls into the shaft. The stone wall, however, had swayed and foundered, creating a large opening in the left side of the wall.
“Bingo!” hollered Cameron, thanking Saint Christopher, the patron saint of good luck. “We’re coming through, Roy. You’re safe now.”
“Safe,” thought Sophie, fully recognizing that if the bomb had detonated where it had been originally placed, the whole mine would have completely caved-in—and no one would have been discharged from an early demise.
They entered a chamber twelve feet wide by twenty-two feet deep. The first thing they spotted was the freckled face of a nine year-old boy. “Hi!” he said bashfully and nervously, holding a Batman comic book. “I’m not that afraid of explosions, you know. My father lets me light up the fireworks every fourth of July.”
“You’re a courageous boy, Roy,” said Sophie, noting a dozen or so lit candles spread over a five feet radius in the center of the chamber. “So, this is where you hide…and read?”
“Yes, it’s my place, and nobody knows about it…except you and the mean man.” Roy ran to the lit area. “Do you want to see my collection? I have Superman, Spiderman, Iron Man, and my favorite: the X-Men.”
“Really, my son loves the X-Men too,” said Sophie. “In fact, he says he’s a real X-Man, with powers and all.”
“I wish I had powers,” admitted Roy. “I could have fought the mean man. I bet he was as mean as Mister Hyde.”
“Mister Hyde?” wondered Cameron. “As in Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde?” He was surprised a boy so young would know of the 19th century tale.
“I’ll show you,” gleefully said Roy, running to the back of the tenebrous chamber, and returning with a hand-written manuscript. The cover page read: Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; First Draft; August 1885; Robert Louis Stevenson.
“Good Lord!” exclaimed a stupefied Cameron as he riffled through the document. “This is the first version of the story, the one the author presumably burned.”
“There are more stories,” revealed Roy, “but they’re either too complicated or in a language I don’t understand.”
The injured Cameron lurched towards the back, haphazardly sweeping the zone with his flashlight, its light first coming into contact with a perfectly stacked load of rectangular items enclosed in individual burlap bags marked Ernst Udet. “It’s damn solid,” he said, tapping one of the bags. Sitting on the pile, he removed one of the items from its bag. “Gold! 400 troy-ounce gold bars! There must be over a hundred bars, worth about $50 million.”
“Udet’s hidden stash.” Sophie passed her fingers over the bar. “Talk about dumb luck.”
Scanning the area further, Cameron came upon what appeared to be paintings wrapped in wax paper. He tore the paper off the closest one. “I must be dreaming; The Medusa by Da Vinci.” Agitated and aroused, he ripped the paper off another one. “The Poet’s Garden by Van Gogh.” And another one. “Portrait of a Young Man by Raphael.”
“All right, Mister Art critic, I get the picture,” yammered Sophie, thinking how clever and witty she was. “Can we please get the boy out of here.” She was also eager to find out if the other teams had spotted or captured the killer.
“Roy, show me the stories, now!” Cameron, giddy as a drunk coming upon his next drink, was deaf to his sister’s plea. And Roy was more than happy to oblige; he had found someone—an adult no less—who was not only agreeable to his juvenile secretiveness, but also impressed by his treasure trove, his cavern of Ali Baba. This more than offset the
adversities of moments past.
“Open Sesame,” exclaimed Roy in delight, handing Cameron an 18-inch stack of papers. No password was necessary to enjoy his fortune.
“Ur-Hamlet by Thomas Kyd,” announced Cameron; “it’s an earlier version of the play Hamlet predating William Shakespeare’s version. Le Fagotier by Molière. And the cantata Per la ricuperata salute di Ophelia by Mozart and Salieri.”
“Cameron!” wailed an irate Sophie. “Let’s go! We’ll contact FBI headquarters to impound all this stuff.”
Just as Cameron was finally about to comply, he met with a manuscript whose existence was unknown even to the most invested and most fervent historians, antiquarians and archeologists: the missing quatrains of Nostradamus.
Born in December of 1503, in France, Michel de Nostredame grew up to become a notorious prophet and visionary known to this day as Nostradamus.
He wrote a book of one thousand mainly French quatrains (four-line poems), grouped into ten sets of 100 called Centuries, constituting the largely undated prophecies responsible for his fame. Feeling vulnerable to opposition on religious grounds, he devised a method of obscuring his meaning by using virgilianized syntax, word games and a mixture of other languages such as Greek, Italian, Latin, and Provençal. For technical reasons connected with their publication in three installments, the last fifty-eight quatrains of the seventh Century had not survived into any extant edition.
“Ten,” counted Cameron, turning the page. “Twenty,” counting and turning again. “Thirty…Forty…Fifty…Sixty…Seventy…Eighty… Ninety…and One Hundred. They’re all here. The missing fifty-eight quatrains are included. I have a complete set of the seventh Century.” Cameron vaguely recalled the quatrains, having reviewed some of them, interpreted them and written about them, as the yield of a high school assignment. His teacher hadn’t been at all pleased by the poor quality of the work, or by his choice, given the macabre nature of Nostradamus’ masterpiece, and had given him a ‘C’. In truth, his amateur fortune teller of a mother had chosen the subject matter for him, and he resented that.
Flipping back the pages, he arrested his heed on quatrain forty-three, the first of the missing quatrains, and read:
(translated from the original French version)
He shall be born of humanity and inhumanity;
Cast into a well only to be risen from a well;
He shall prosper among the innocent and the oblivious;
And the people of the New Land shall call the Evil friend.
Deeply disturbed, Cameron read the next few quatrains:
Begotten by the Son of Mohammed and Daughter of the Dragon;
He shall become the dark destroyer of all, The One King;
Mabus will die by the sword and resurrect onto himself;
A thousand times more powerful, he shall raise hatred and virulence.
The well from which he sprung shall be filled with human darkness;
As those who seek the mark of Mabus shall be seared by it;
The souls driven by deception shall plunge into the pits of perdition;
And the bloody war of seven and twenty years on Earth shall carry through into the Heavens.
“Let’s get a move on!” yelled Sophie, interrupting Cameron’s reading.
“Right, right,” said a troubled Cameron as he rolled up the document and shoved it in his vest pocket. Noting his sister’s expression of disapproval, he assured her, “I’ll return it in a few days, swear to God.”
“Cast into a well only to be risen from a well.” Cameron kept repeating the line in his mind, terribly disconcerted by it. He was equally unsettled by the phrase: “The One King,” although he didn’t quite know why. In French, it read: “Le Roi Unique,” which he suddenly realized wasn’t the true source of his concern—it was his English translation of it that bothered him.
“The One King,” he whispered to himself as Sophie picked up Roy and headed for the opening in the stone wall. “The One King; The One King,” he kept on obsessively. Then, it hit him; he pronounced it differently. “TheOn e King. Theon e King. Theon E. King. Theon Ethan King,” expanding on the middle initial. “King,” he muttered anxiously. “King, King…Rex!” It occurred to him that Rex was the Latin translation for King. “Theon Ethan Rex! That’s it. THEON ETHAN REX!” His son.
Cameron was shocked by the parallel. “Theon Ethan Rex: The One King.” Was this the product of pure coincidence or of purposeful design?
Dumont remained still, studying the type of weapon the soldiers carried. “Impressive, and an expensive arsenal for an underground Holy militia. I suppose the Pope let you dip into the Vatican coffers.”
Normand shrugged his shoulders playfully, avoiding an answer.
Cardinal Romeo, however, mustered the courage to provide one. “Many Popes of yesteryears supported the cause of the Knights Templar; and the soldiers supported their reigns with honor. A Templar Knight is truly a fearless knight, and secure on every side, his soul protected by the armor of faith, and his body by the armor of steel. He is thus doubly armed, and need fear neither demons nor men. If a true Templar ever lived today, it would not be you.” Romeo spat on the floor in disgust.
“Oh, but we are Templars,” rebutted Normand; “and killing heretics is our most sacred duty—a duty sanctioned by a very resolute Pope. You should be honored; you’re at the top of his hit list.”
“Pope Benvenuto may often be an inflexible man, but he is no murderer,” insisted Romeo.
“All Nazis are murderers, in one way or another,” said Normand. “Don’t be fooled by the white skullcap and the nice dress; the killer instinct is very much there.”
Pope Benvenuto was German and his real name was Carsten Maximilian Reiniger. As a boy subjected to the demands of the Nazi regime, he attended the elementary school in Aschau am Inn for several years. Fol¬lowing his 14th birthday in 1941, Reiniger was conscripted into the Hitler Youth. And in 1943, he was drafted into the German anti-aircraft corps as Luftwaffenhelfer (child soldier), and then trained in the German infantry.
Not many people knew of these events, but Normand did—and it was only the tip of the iceberg. He knew how deep the iceberg really went.
Normand, quite full of himself, rotated his aim 45 degrees away from
Dumont, now pointing his revolver at Dresdner. “Tell Romeo, and the others, what you know about Reiniger. I’ll kill you if you don’t.”
“You’ll kill me no matter what,” replied Dresdner.
Normand grinned. “I’ll kill somebody else if you don’t loosen those lips.”
Dresdner acquiesced and confessed to a ghastly story. “Reiniger and I spent three months in an American POW camp in 1945. I was twenty-two and he was only eighteen, and looked towards me for guidance and protection. We were the youngest of the camp. One night, while we sat on the balcony of our barrack, an American soldier we had befriended gave us a bottle of moonshine. He told us to drink it quickly since curfew was almost upon us.
“In no time, we became heavily inebriated. Reiniger then began telling me of his tour of duty in the Hitler Youth. As part of his initiation, he had to prove his devotion by ending an unworthy life. While he refused to kill of his own hands, he did divulge the place where one of his cousins, a fourteen-year-old boy with Down syndrome, was being hid. The boy was found and was taken away by the Nazis and killed as part of the Aktion T4 campaign of Nazi eugenics.”
Nazi eugenics were Nazi Germany’s racially-based social policies placing the improvement of the Aryan race through eugenics at the center of its concerns. Those humans the Nazis identified as life unworthy of life (Lebensunwertes Leben) included criminals, degenerates, dissidents, the feeble-minded, homosexuals, the insane and the weak, all marked for elimination from the chain of heredity. More than 400,000 people were sterilized against their will, while 70,000 more were killed under Action T4, a euthanasia program.
“How can you say such things about the Pope?” shouted Romeo to Dresdner. “We may not agree with him on several matters, but that is no reason to sully his good name.”
Normand waved his gun up and down as a gesture to continue the damaging account.
Dresdner went on reluctantly. “Reiniger also told me that, as part of his infantry training, he had to practice shooting moving targets. He had just turned eighteen, and his commandant informed him that it was time to become a real soldier.
“A Jewish man was ordered to run across the field. The commandant put a gun to Reiniger’s head and said he had to choose who would die. Reiniger aimed his firearm and shot the man through the heart. A Jewish
woman and her ten-year old son were then ordered to run across the field as well. He shot her through the neck, and the boy through the head.
“His gruesome tale ended, a smiling Reiniger came to me. He said shooting sub-humans was a cathartic experience, an emotional purging of sorts; something he never expected to feel. I was appalled and so angry at the boy-turned-sadist that I never spoke to him again.”
“And there it is,” exclaimed Normand. “Reiniger was never an unenthusiastic member of the Nazi army, and nor did he ever desert back to his family’s home in Traunstein, as many would attest. He was as indoctrinated and as conditioned as any other young German soldier. And now, this Nazi rules Christendom. He is a man to be feared and obeyed.”
Dumont appeared unswayed–he had faced far more terrifying men in the line of duty. “What’s your real interest in all of this?” What have these men done to you or the Pope?”
“They offend me and they offend the Pope. As devout Christians, we cannot let them fester and multiply,” retorted Normand. “They threaten the very tenets of our faith.”
“All I see here is a ploy to maintain power,” said Dumont. “Being the instrument of the Church of Rome—the valiant Knights Templar—must be very lucrative. What ever happened to the Templar Oath of Poverty?”
“Protecting the faith doesn’t come cheap,” laughed Normand, who replaced his revolver in its holster. “Now, enough about my employer. Let’s get back to business.” The two armed soldiers moved closer, while the traitor picked up all the copies of the Vitruvian Man document, and walked to the stone fireplace right next to the kitchen area, depositing the stack over a pile of wood, and igniting it with his lighter. “You don’t have to worry about the original document; I’ve taken care of that.”
At the sight of destruction of such paradigm-shifting information, Dresdner lost it and rushed at Normand. “You ignorant fool!” He was immediately pelted by a dozen machine gun bullets, and crashed to the ground.
Normand stared at Dresdner’s prostrate body. “What a shame.” He then pulled out a knife and cut out the canvasses of the Demon Kiss and Last Supper-version one paintings, throwing them into the burning fire¬place.
As Normand crouched before the fireplace, enjoying the heat of the fire, and reveling in his superiority, Dumont noticed the handle of his own gun sticking out of the back of Normand’s pants. He glanced at Blanchard, who gave him a quick nod, hoping the ex-special agent of Interpol was
not only signaling his approval to act, but was also indicating he had a weapon of his own. In a flash, Dumont barreled towards Normand, while the two soldiers instinctively aimed their machine guns at him.
Simultaneously, Blanchard pulled out his weapon and shot six rounds, three at each soldier, emptying his gun. One soldier collapsed and died instantly, a bullet to the head. The other, wounded, fired randomly at the group. Blanchard had just enough time to deck below the table. Romeo and Pubudu were shot dead, while Lefoux and Lapierre were shot to the arm, and Ramsay to the thigh.
Dumont had now tackled Normand to the ground. He grabbed his revolver, twisted his upper body a full 180 degrees, and shot the injured soldier in the head. In that same moment, Normand kicked Dumont off balance, who dropped his gun, and pulled out his own weapon. The men struggled, somehow both getting up. Dumont latched on Normand’s gun, and violently pushed his assailant over the table and onto the glass-framed painting, shattering the glass. Both men then rolled over and fell to the floor.
As for Blanchard, he wasted no time. He picked up Dumont’s weap¬on from the ground, and rushed to Dumont’s aid. Without hesitation, he pressed the barrel of the gun against Normand’s temple and fired. The blood spat over Dumont’s face.
“Thanks for the shower,” said a groggy Dumont, who clumsily got back up. “What’s the damage?”
“Lefoux, Lapierre and Ramsay are the only ones who made it, present law enforcement excepted,” replied Blanchard.
Shaken and disoriented, Lefoux, Lapierre and Ramsay wept in relief. The only graphic violence they had ever witnessed before today came from cable television.
“We need to call an ambulance,” insisted Dumont.
“No!” sternly replied Blanchard. “I’ll take care of everything. As for you, get as far away from this place as you can.” He grabbed Dumont by the arm. “This is not finished, not by a long shot.”
Dumont headed for the front door and just as he reached the threshold he stopped in his tracks and turned around. “I have to know.”
“Go ahead, but be quick about it,” said Blanchard as he examined the wounded. “Dresdner was going to do it anyway.”
Dumont walked back to the table and pulled the bastardized painting towards him. He removed the larger shards of broken glass, and swept the rest to the side. “What are you hiding, mystery girl?” he whispered to
himself as he stared at the woman to Jesus’ right.
Blanchard handed him Normand’s knife. “This should help.”
Dumont peeled off two large chunks of acrylic paint, and then began carefully shaving off the rest until he could clearly make out what had been shrouded by myriad brushstrokes of imposturous paint. “Holy Mo¬ses!” he suddenly cried out in astonishment.
What he saw, he never would have expected to see in such explicit and manifest fashion: a baby boy nestled in the woman’s arms, sucking milk from her breasts.