Unholy Fire

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Young scientists scheduled to begin work at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva are being systematically murdered . . .

Hunter McCoy discovers that their deaths are somehow linked to his search for a lost book—a book written by a Spanish physician who was burned at the stake by the Inquisition in the sixteenth century . . .

A shadowy group with ties to high-energy particle physics has its own compelling and deadly reasons to find the book first . . .

McCoy, trying to stay one step ahead of ruthless unknown adversaries is running out of time as his partner, a beautiful French archivist, is set to become the next victim—unwittingly unleashing a cataclysmic international disaster.

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Chapter 1 

 

MENDEZ CASTLE, MADRID, SPAIN
PRESENT TIME 

Basilio grew increasingly convinced the man was deranged. Had he always been like this?  How had he missed it before?  The man hadn’t physically hurt him, at least not yet, but he wouldn’t leave, so Basilio tried once more.

“Look. I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s not in my collection. It never was. I don’t know anything about it. Where did you get this idea, anyway?”

The man paced and glowered. He was as tall as Basilio’s six feet but considerably younger and stronger than the ninety-two-year-old man.

“Look, Mendez, I know you’ve got it. I know what you’re planning to do with it. Just tell me where it is—now!”

How could he possibly know?  From the time he’d taken possession of it in 1942 Basilio had only told three people about it. Two were his closest friends, and the third had every reason not to tell anyone. The real irony was, he didn’t actually have it. He didn’t even know precisely where it was. He couldn’t tell even if he wanted to. And what did the man mean, he had a right to it?

The intruder, his face now just inches from Basilio’s, grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. “You won’t get away with this.”  With that he slammed Basilio into the chair.

Hyperventilating, the old man found himself staring at the ceiling of his library. Then looking down, he watched as the man stomped to the single oak door that was the only access to the room. There he paused and fixed a withering stare at Basilio.

“This isn’t over, Mendez. The Restitutio is mine. I’ll get it. One way or another.”  With that he left, slamming the door behind him.

Basilio Mendez exhaled loudly. A proud man with patrician white hair, he was the current heir to the ancestral Mendez family title and fortune. He clutched his chest, willing his pounding heart to be quiet. The very existence of the book had been a carefully guarded secret for so many years. But now he knew he had to call the police. No question about it. He’d just been threatened, and the man had gotten physical. Damn.

He went to the door and opened it to make sure the intruder was really gone. He poured himself a large brandy and tried to calm down. For the first time, since he’d taken possession of the book, nearly seventy years earlier, he was afraid. Not for his physical well-being. He assumed at his age he wouldn’t live much longer. Basilio feared the man could interfere with the plans he’d recently set in motion.

He finished his brandy and poured another one. Unable to readily shake his growing anxiety, he paced the perimeter of the library.

He wondered how the man could know about the Christianismi Restitutio. The bastard had even implied he knew what Basilio had planned. It just wasn’t possible. Dr. Lazodelavega would never have told him or anyone else. Hugo Alvarez would never tell either. The only other people who even knew about it were his close wartime friend, George Blackwell, who’d been dead for fifty years, and Señora Honoria Calderon, who’d given it to him in the first place, and she’d been dead even longer. Where was the leak?

His breathing gradually returned to normal and the brandy finally began to take its longed-for effect. Basilio returned to his desk in front of the library’s immense stone fireplace. He leaned back in his chair and sipped his drink beginning to convince himself his plan would still work.

Twenty-five feet on a side, and completely lined with bookshelves from its Spanish tile floor to its oak-beamed ceiling sixteen feet above, the library had always been his favorite retreat when he wanted to be alone. Comfortable leather chairs, in groups of two, provided snug reading zones. The leatherbound books on history, art, science, geography, and philosophy collected largely by his ancestors, lent the room a pleasant musty aroma. Basilio’s own additions to the shelves gave him a satisfying sense of continuity with his ancient and noble family.

Freed from the need to earn a living in the conventional sense, the old man had devoted his life to philanthropy and scholarship. A passionate bibliophile, his collection of books, manuscripts, documents, and implements of torture related to the Spanish Inquisition of the sixteenth century was extensive, having been started by his ancestor, Count Allisandro Mendez, in the seventeenth century.

Basilio himself wasn’t interested in collecting the actual torture devices that had been used against heretics and Jews. Others of his ancestors did that. Instead, he collected historical papers and books related to the trials. These included such documents as writs of arrest and orders for appearance before the inquisitors. The collection even held entire or partial trial transcripts. The poor souls condemned by these tribunals were ordered to undergo torture or death by formal documents signed occasionally by public officials, but most often by the holy inquisitors of the Church.

Basilio had gone to considerable expense to have the entire collection properly catalogued four months back, hiring Professor Isandro de la Peña of the University of Madrid’s history faculty to undertake the task. The professor was a world-renowned scholar on the Inquisition and had done an excellent job.

Just then Basilio heard a loud crashing noise from the great hall outside his library. Fearing the man had returned, he set down his drink, picked up the telephone, and pushed number one on the speed dial. His son Alfonso’s voice mail came on. Damn, where was he?

“Alfonso, I think there is an intruder in the castle. I’m in the library now. Take care of it.”

Knowing his son wouldn’t tolerate an intruder, Basilio hoped he’d just stepped out of his office momentarily and would get the message quickly. Still, puzzled by the noise, he cracked open the library door and looked around the lofty hallway of the castle. Something large must have fallen over, but everything he could see was intact. Carefully, scanning for his earlier intruder, he moved along the hall to the single door of the large room behind the library where the torture implements of the collection were housed. He quietly opened it and stepped in looking around. He was relieved to see and hear no one. Thin strips of natural light shone through the narrow vertical slits in the walls, originally designed for archers, bathing the collection in eerie, wan sunlight.

He crept down the side of the room that housed the large torture devices, past the Judas Cradle and continued quietly past the rack and the knee splitter. Suddenly he heard a noise from the other side of the room, where the smaller implements were kept. He couldn’t see across the center of the room, which was filled with large replicas of horrific torture machines built by his ancestors to specifications found in old documents. But he knew he wasn’t alone. The bastard must be over there looking for the book. He’d probably knocked something over and made the large noise heard earlier.

Basilio slowly turned around and retraced his steps to the entrance. Maybe the man hadn’t heard him come in. He’d leave and get back to the library until Alfonso got help.

Once back in the library, he locked the door from the inside and felt safe. While he waited for help to arrive, he thought of his meeting many years before with Señora Honoria Calderon at her ancestral estate in Toledo, the meeting where she’d entrusted him with the priceless book. It happened during World War II.

Both her husband and two adult sons were sympathetic to the Axis powers and she was afraid they might ultimately let the book fall into the hands of Herman Goering’s art looters. Personally, she abhorred everything they stood for, and she knew Basilio, like herself, was sympathetic to the Allies. Now, close to seventy years later, he was justifiably concerned about the uproar the book’s unveiling would likely present. Nevertheless, he felt an old and personal obligation to Señora Calderon to make it available to scholars and the world at large. He remembered his surprise when she’d told him about it.

“Señor Mendez, I want to give you, for safekeeping, a most remarkable copy of the Christianismi Restitutio. By Michael Servetus.”

Basilio took in a sharp breath. The Christianismi Restitutio?  As an Inquisition historian, Basilio knew, of course, that Michael Servetus had been burned at the stake. The publication of his book, the Christianismi Restitutio was ample evidence of his heresy in the eyes of the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Church. He also knew all copies of his books had supposedly been burned with him. How had this one survived the fire?

Expecting his surprise, she smiled sagely, “Señor Mendez, you should know the night before his execution, Michael Servetus wrote a final message in the margins of the last pages of this book. This message provided arguments he was afraid to use in his defense at the trial, arguments he claimed would have only added to his list of heresies in the eyes of the court. He claimed these arguments were based on knowledge he’d gained from reading an unknown ancient scroll dating from the time of Christ. He also included in this message obscure language that referred to the location of this scroll. To my knowledge, none of the very few people who had ever seen this message over the centuries, had been able to decipher it and locate the scroll, including me.”

Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Señora Calderon nodded, then said, “This incredible message is included in the copy of the Christianismi Restitutio I’m entrusting to your care.”

As Basilio recalled his stunned disbelief at the memory of that meeting so many years before, he sipped more brandy and smiled to himself. Thinking about it reminded him he’d wanted to validate a historical point concerning the Calvinists who supported the Protestant Inquisition. His library contained history books on every imaginable era and people. Basilio, like many of his ancestors, had long appreciated the lessons history taught.

He crossed over to the rolling ladder he used to reach the tomes that sat on shelves high on the wall. He pushed the ladder to the Reformation history collection and then locked it in place. Still spry for his age, he climbed the ladder almost to the top and found the history text he was looking for. As he stretched to shift the weighty volume from its spot, he heard a noise at the door. He twisted and looked down to see the iron latch move and the door open. His prior visitor had returned and had somehow unlocked the door. Basilio made no sound while the man began rifling through the drawers of his desk.

Outraged at this intrusion, and regaining his courage, he shouted, “Hey, what are you doing?”

The visitor jumped, equally startled to see Basilio teetering on the ladder to the right of the door. The intruder paused and then ran to the ladder, released the brake, and started shaking it.

Basilio, terrified, shouted. “What the hell are you doing?”

The ladder jerked side-to-side and trembled, so he had to grip the side rails to prevent being shaken off.

“Stop, you idiot, I’ll fall.”

The shaking became more violent, and Basilio’s ancient fingers lost their hold. He flailed the air as he went over backward, falling toward the hard Spanish tile floor.

“H—help me . . .” he whispered as he caught sight of the visitor, leaving the library—empty-handed. Then there was only blackness.

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