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The Blood of the Lamb, страница 1

 

The Blood of the Lamb
 


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The Blood of the Lamb


  Note: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.

  THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB

  Copyright © 1992 by Thomas F. Monteleone

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

  Cover art by Dave Fishman

  A Tor Book

  Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.

  175 Fifth Avenue

  New York, N.Y. 10010

  Tor ® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.

  ISBN: 0-812-52222-2

  Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 92-3604

  First edition: July 1992

  First mass market printing: April 1993

  Printed in the United States of America

  0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  This one is for

  the memory of

  Mario Martin Monteleone,

  my father,

  who gave me the power to dream.

  Thanks, Dad. I’ll always love you.

  “And I say unto thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

  —Matthew 16:18

  CONTENTS

  BOOK ONE

  BOOK TWO

  BOOK THREE

  BOOK FOUR

  BOOK ONE

  “And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.”

  —John 1:14

  PROLOGUE

  Rome, Italy—Ponti

  * * *

  August 8, 1967

  In the five years he had been working for Father Francesco, Amerigo Ponti had been requested to do many strange and secretive tasks.

  But nothing had resembled this latest assignment.

  First, the old Jesuit had obtained special passes so that Amerigo could work at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences—a small miracle when one considered the immense web of Vatican bureaucracy. But in a more amazing display of power and influence, Father Francesco had given him the extra-special photo-ID badge which proclaimed Amerigo Ponti to be a member of the Pope’s Commissione Straordinaria.

  The Special Commission.

  Everyone in Rome had been wondering about the Commission. What made it so “special”? Where were the men who comprised its ranks? The rumor mill, which normally ground loud and long in the Holy City, remained curiously quiet. The true nature of the Special Commission was locked in a vault of total secrecy. The Commission was getting ready to begin its work—whatever that might be—this very morning in the lower levels of a building of the Academy of Sciences.

  And an intense young Jesuit, Amerigo Ponti, had been handed a skeleton key! He would know everything about the mysterious Commission. Amerigo was struck once again by just how powerful and influential Father Francesco was—especially for someone not yet forty. Did he have a direct line to the Pope himself?

  Incredible!

  It was eight o’clock on a bright summer morning. Amerigo walked through the Vatican gardens, heading east with a firm athletic stride, entering the Academy through the employees’ entrance. A guard sitting by a turnstile idly glanced at Amerigo’s workpass and waved him on. The tall, handsome young man was merely one of many workers funneling through the checkpoint.

  His instructions from Father Francesco were simple: enter the building using your Academy pass and take the elevators to the basement installation, where another set of turnstiles would admit only members of the Commissione. Show the guardia there your photo-ID and proceed to the nearest washroom. Inside, in private, open the envelope containing your final directions.

  Simple, he thought. Amerigo patted his breast pocket, where he’d tucked Francesco’s envelope. As he waited for the elevator, other government workers gathered around him. None of them could possibly suspect he was on a secret mission for the Society of Jesus! Just the thought made Amerigo proud. Only five years out of seminary school, and already he was one of the Society’s most trusted soldiers.

  The elevator doors opened and he stepped inside with a handful of men all wearing the plastic-coated badges that identified them as Commission members. Amerigo tried to appear calm, disinterested, but his heart had begun racing. “This is the most important assignment of your life,” Father Francesco had told him. “You must not fail.”

  And he would not, thought Amerigo. He could not.

  The doors eased open and everyone filed out, quietly queueing up for review by two uniformed guards. The line moved slowly as each Commission member’s photo was scrutinized and name checked against a list on a clipboard. Amerigo had never seen Vatican security guards take their jobs so seriously. When his turn came, his heart was beating so fast, he feared the guards would hear it.

  The security man reached out, held his badge at an angle to cut down the glare, his gaze shifting from the photo to Amerigo’s face, then back down to the badge photo.

  “Ponti,” the guard said as he checked off a name on the clipboard. “Bene. Avenzate, presto.”

  Nodding as nonchalantly as possible, Amerigo pushed through the stile and headed down the main corridor. Commission workers surged around him. Everyone seemed very familiar with the vast warren of hallways which comprised this lower level of the Academy—a part never seen by the tourists. Amerigo walked straight ahead, firmly and with confidence, as though he too knew what he was about. Inwardly, he grew ever more frantic as he searched for a washroom. Every door along the hallway bore a number followed by a single letter. Was there some code he had not been told?

  No, thank God. To his right he spied a door plainly labeled LAVATOIO. Selecting the stall farthest from the door, Amerigo quickly pulled the heavy, manila-stock envelope from his pocket. It was small but sturdy, the sort of envelope that might contain someone’s weekly salary. Breaking the wax seal marked with Father Francesco’s own signet ring, Amerigo looked inside to find a single typed sheet of paper and a key taped at its bottom.

  My God! he thought repeatedly as he read his orders. Unbelievable!

  And yet, he must believe…accept, and obey.

  He employed his Jesuit training to remain as calm as possible, accepting his instructions as work in the service of God. After memorizing every word and removing the key, Amerigo dropped the paper into the toilet, where it dissolved immediately upon touching the water.

  Leaving the lavatory, he slipped into the main corridor and walked to the designated area. No one took any special notice of him as he sought out Room 009-C. When he found it, he openly produced the key from his pocket and slipped it into the lock. Only if it did not work would he look foolish. Holding his breath, he turned the key.

  The tumblers gave way; Amerigo sighed involuntarily as he pushed open the door, stepped through, and closed it quickly behind him. The room had been outfitted as a miniature laboratory, full of chemical glassware and rack-mounted electronics he could not identify. In the center of the room, on a large table, lay a large laminar-flow cabinet. Its triple-paned glass panels and micron-machined edges made it perfectly airtight. Through the glass he saw the object of his mission.

  Santa Sindone! thought Amerigo. He made the sign of the cross and approached the table.

  He worked quickly and efficiently, and was gone within fifteen minutes.

  Later that evening, Amerigo sat at the bar of a
discotheque in the heart of the tourist district. He sipped a Coke and tried to look as though he belonged. The music was loud, colored lights flashed in all directions, and the women in their miniskirts and long, straight hair looked more provocative than ever. He felt uncomfortable even sitting in a place like this. The smoke, the noise, and the alcohol were all combining to make him feel ill. This was no place for a soldier of Christ.

  He could not believe Father Francesco had chosen a disco as a meeting place.

  “Ah, Amerigo,” said a familiar voice at his back. “It is good to see you.”

  Turning on his stool, Amerigo Ponti was surprised at the sight of Father Francesco, towering over him. The priest wore a baggy, double-breasted suit, a white shirt, and a dark tie. Amerigo had never seen Francesco dressed in anything but his clerical collar and vestments. It was startling to see him in street clothes. Francesco was a tall, thin man in his thirties—so young to be so powerful. His cheeks were sallow and gaunt, and his cold blue eyes gave his face a distinctly vulpine aspect. The Jesuit’s military brush-cut hair made him look very unstylish despite the suit and tie.

  “Good evening, Father. You look…different.”

  The priest smiled briefly, grimly. “You have it?”

  Amerigo nodded. “Yes, Father.”

  “There were no problems? You were not noticed?”

  “It was easy! Just as you promised. There was not the slightest suspicion, I assure you.” Amerigo was proud to report his success.

  Father Francesco nodded. “Good. Good.” The bartender drifted by, but the Jesuit sent him away with a practiced wave of the hand.

  Amerigo sipped his cola, staring at his boss expectantly.

  “Well?” asked Father Francesco.

  “Well what, Father?”

  “Aren’t you going to give it to me?” The priest’s voice was hard, cold; his gaze, merciless.

  Amerigo felt immediately foolish. Digging into his jacket pocket, he handed a glass vial to his boss.

  The Jesuit slipped the container into the breast pocket of his suit without even glancing at it. “You followed the procedures exactly?”

  “Of course, Father.”

  “And you are certain you obtained what I required?”

  “I would stake my life on it,” said Amerigo.

  The priest smiled again, ever so slightly. “Yes, of course.” He paused and looked about the club. “Very good, Amerigo. As usual, you have performed well. Come, let us leave this ugly place.”

  Happy, Amerigo slid from his stool and followed the lean priest to the street. A black Mercedes sedan was waiting at the curb. As Father Francesco opened the back door he motioned to Amerigo. “Come, son. Tonight you can ride with me.”

  Feelings of pride and honor washed over Amerigo as he climbed into the back seat. His superior was truly pleased with his work! Father Francesco moved into the front passenger seat, next to his driver. Amerigo settled into the plush leather of the rear seat, suddenly noticing another person in the car—a mustachioed man wearing a black suit and Roman collar.

  “Amerigo Ponti, this is my friend, Father Masseria.”

  “Good evening, Father,” said Amerigo, smiling at the priest.

  “Good-bye, my son,” said Masseria.

  Amerigo was confused. The Mercedes accelerated away from the curb and he was pushed deeper into his seat. Father Masseria reached into his outer jacket and suddenly there was a 9mm Beretta in his hand, pointed at a space between the young man’s eyes.

  “Father, I don’t underst—”

  There was a soft pfftt! as the gun discharged through its silencer, sending a single slug into the center of Amerigo Ponti’s skull. He was dead before the back of his head slammed against the car window.

  “Presto,” said Father Francesco to his driver. “The docks. We’ll dispose of him there.”

  The driver nodded, accelerating around the nearest corner.

  ONE

  Brooklyn, New York—Carenza

  * * *

  August 15, 1998

  Father Peter Carenza had gotten up early to take a walk through the neighborhood of Bay Ridge while the temperature was still moderate. He was not a lover of hot weather, especially the high-humidity days that marked August in New York City.

  As usual, he stopped at Curtis’s corner grocery for the Daily News. Strangers who spotted the young man dressed in a T-shirt and jogging shorts would never suspect he was a priest. Peter’s lean, athletic body was made for playing left field or shooting three-pointers from the top of the key. Only his regular parishioners recognized him as a padre.

  “Good morning, Father!” said Henry Curtis, a short, stocky man with a carefully trimmed beard, who looked a lot like later portraits of Henry VIII. “I wanted to thank you for helping my wife yesterday.”

  Peter smiled. “Henry, it was nothing, really.”

  “Maybe not to you,” said the grocer. “But the one day I gotta drive into Jersey…that’s the day my little Jeanine falls down and cuts her knee! Sixteen stitches they put in her!”

  “How’s she feeling this morning?” asked Peter as he bent down by the cash register to pull a newspaper from the stack.

  “She’s gonna be fine. Because you drove her to the hospital so fast, Father. I don’t mind tellin’ you—you’re the best thing that ever happened to this neighborhood.”

  Peter could feel himself blushing. “Well, thank you, Henry. But I was just doing my job…”

  Curtis nodded, smiled. “Maybe so, but we can still tell you how much we appreciate you, right?”

  Peter chuckled softly, embarrassed, but pleased to know that he had been accepted so readily by the members of the neighborhood, as well as the parish. He did honestly love helping and working with people, and believed that was the most important part of being a parish priest. Father Sobieski warned him not to spread himself too thin, but Peter thrived on the extra projects he’d taken on at Saint Sebastian’s.

  His parish, just north of the Verrazano Bridge, was a mixed bag of nationalities, ages, colors and incomes, and he liked it that way. The parishioners had accepted him quickly and seemed to trust him. They often commented on his lean, handsome features and his naturally resonant speaking voice. Many times his pastor told him that he was a born leader in the Church, and that he would have a very satisfying vocation within the Archdiocese of New York.

  Tucking the paper under one arm, Peter left the grocery and crossed Fourth Avenue to begin his job. He had about fifteen minutes to get down to the ball fields at Dyker Beach Park where he coached the CYO’s Pony League baseball team.

  The sun was heating up the dusty field when he arrived, but he put the boys through a heavy workout anyway. His team was in first place in the East division and he didn’t want to lose any steam with the playoffs coming up next week.

  Two hours later, Peter jogged back to the rectory, caught a quick shower and some lunch, and settled back to watch the Yankee game before preparing the Saturday evening Mass.

  Ever since the rules had been changed, allowing the requirement for mandatory weekly Mass attendance to be satisfied on Saturday evening as well as by the regular Sunday Masses, the parishioners of Bay Ridge had gradually become more accustomed to the new latitude. In the beginning, the more traditional, and usually older, Catholics continued their Sunday rituals, apparently believing the Saturday Mass somehow not quite acceptable.

  To counteract this, Pastor Sobieski began scheduling all Saturday evening Masses with Father Carenza, whose magnetic personality and popular sermons began drawing more and more attendees to the Saturday evening service. Even though Peter didn’t want to feel proud or boastful, he knew the move had been a huge success. He couldn’t help but notice how the old stone church was filled to standing room on Saturdays. And a lot of the attendees could still be seen on Sunday mornings, unable to break old habits, but so eager to hear Father Carenza speak, that they’d begun going to Mass twice each weekend. Peter knew it was a quiet testament to his pop
ularity in the parish. He never talked about it, tried not to dwell on it, but it was fact, just the same.

  Of course, he had mentioned the changes to his friend Dan Ellington, a Jesuit who taught English and Comp Lit at Ford-ham. Jesuits, acknowledged Peter with a wry smile, were more at home with boastfulness.

  And so, that evening, he stood before his congregation, reading the day’s Gospel, a passage from Luke, preparing to speak on the theme of friendship. Though he’d showered again before dressing, he was beginning to sweat heavily under the thick linen and wool vestments. Outside, the air was steaming up as the heat of the day radiated from the city’s concrete and stone. Brooklyn in late summer was like a tropical rain forest—without the rain and without the forest. The oppressive heat and humidity created a stifling, ovenlike atmosphere. To make things worse, Father Sobieski had announced over breakfast that morning, that the air conditioning in the church had broken down. Although the repair crew would do the best they could, the unit probably would not be fixed until Monday because of that most favorite of excuses—they needed a special part. Peter knew his audience was uncomfortable, yet they all sat watching him expectantly.

  Peter never prepared his sermons ahead of time, unlike his colleagues at St. Sebastian’s. Even Father Sobieski, who’d been preaching to his flock for almost forty years, still sat down near the end of the week to pen notes and phrases to be issued from the pulpit. Peter had always felt that speaking from notes was somehow counterfeit. He preferred a more spontaneous approach, making his sermons more casual, like unrehearsed conversation. In his earliest days in the seminary’s preparatory school, studying Elocution, Debating, and Independent Thinking, he had discovered a natural talent for extemporaneous speaking. He loved it and his audiences seemed to love him for it.

  Sometimes, when he was speaking to his parish, he felt like an entertainer, like a stand-up comedian who was ad-libbing his way through the performance of his life. It was a heady, exhilarating experience, like walking a tightrope without a net. It was working right on the edge of his abilities, on the precipice of his next thought. Most of the time, he had no idea what his next words might be, yet the words were always there.

 
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