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Excerpt for The Ring by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Ring

Copyright 2017 Bradley Pearce

Published by Bradley Pearce at Smashwords


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. Unless stated by the author, this story is fictitious and a product of the author’s imagination. With the exception of God, all the characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Dedicated to:

Michelle Knight,

For being a candle in my darkness.

And to:

Zara.

The coffee shop girl that inspired a love story.









“… when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

John 21:18


Table of Contents

Simon of Antioch

Rufus

The Call

Arthur McGee

The Letter

Box in the Attic

Deck of Cardinals

Phil

Cardinal Dovizi

Ginger Cake and Tea

Cardinal Cassini

Father Francis

Saint Pancras Station

Father Michael

Roma

The Vatican

London

The Gun

Border Control

Belgium Beers

Hunters become the Hunted

Cracking Eggs

Frankfurt

Nuremburg

The Great Escape

Munich

Vienna

Hungary

Professor Almesh

Werewolves

Zahra

Don Marconi

Transylvania

Bucharest

Owe you One

Istanbul

The Safe House

Looking for Bond Girl

Pierre

Just a Scratch

Bari

The Chase

Home Leg

Cathedral di Santa

The Vatican Vault

Home Sweet Home


About Bradley Pearce

Simon of Antioch

Imagine if you will a darkened grotto lit only by torches beneath an imperial palace an old man is dragged from his cell to a place of execution. Two thousand years ago, an old man weathered by the elements and three decades, weary from the countless footsteps that had gotten him to this glorious day. An old man once arrogant and cocky, now humbled and an obedient servant even at his time of death. Obedient to the Roman guards that dragged his broken body and threw him beside a heavy wooden cross.

“Stand up Christian!” Barks a guard in disgust, kicking at the old man laying flaccid.

Too weak to protest the old man staggers slowly to his feet. There would have been a day he would had seen to the guard and toppled him. But those days had long passed, not from old age for his mind was willing, but from the faith that had been planted so many, many years ago. His mind drifts to a fishing boat and his brother. Andrew, wondering what had become of him. Suddenly a sharp blow from guard snapped back him back to the reality of darkened cavern.

Striping the old man to his soiled loin cloth the guards dress him in prison garb and laugh among themselves.

“Where is your God?” A guard asks inspecting the frail prisoner standing hunched with age.

Small beady eyes peer back at the guard through bushy grey eye brows and through lips now covered with a long grey beard the old man mutters a reply.

“He is within you…” A soft voice advises the Guard

The reply is met with a heavy punch to the old man’s stomach, buckling him over but not to the ground. The old man stood defiant. An instinct told him to lash out, but another told him to forgive him and offer the other cheek. How often had his preached these words? Countless, perhaps more. The old man straightens himself expecting another blow that came by way of a shaft of a spear across the back of his legs.

Falling to his knees before a guard, looks to the guard’s dirty feet. Vague memories surface and he smiles recalling his reluctance to have his master wash his feet. What would he give to be there now to recall the journeys of years to come? But he was not there. He was in a Roman prison. About to be executed. The guard’s feet would remain dirty, stained with sin, and unforgiven.

Looking up to the guard before him, as though to beg for his life, but the old man knew there would be no reprieve. A quick death was the privilege of the few Romans that had professed their alliance to the new faith that was spawning itself across the Roman Empire. Christianity. In Rome where all things hideous and shameful flourished Emperors would proclaim it a mischievous superstition, and those caught or professing to the new faith would be executed. Those who were Roman citizens would be beheaded.

Those who were not would be tormented by a prolonged agonizing death. Tied to poles and set alit as human torches, feed to wild beasts and in the case of the old man, Simon Peter of Antioch, Crucified.

The guard examines the scroll in his hands and looks down at the old man with his head bowed.

“Simon of Antioch?” The guard barks again at the old man.

“Petrus…” The old man humors the guard for his over sight.

“Hmm… Whatever… You are charged with being a Christian, a crime against the state of Rome… You are sentence to die… Any last words?” The guard asks.

“I have said all that needs to say… All that needs to be heard… All but one…” Petrus leaves the guard intrigued.

“What’s that old man?” The guard asks keenly.

“I forgive you…” Petrus disgorges a final absolution on the guard, his last on this earth. “… but I seek one request of you…”

The guard is taken back by solemn words, no one had ever forgiven him for killing them. What is this strange religion that forgives the enemy at their door? The guard looks over to the other guard unsure what to make of the atonement. Only see his shrug his shoulders in ignorance. He had heard other guards mentioning such words to them. This superstitious religion that had gathered interest among Roman citizens, preaching love and glory. Of one God? How was that possible? The looks at the old man wondering if he should hear him out or simply run his sword through him and end both their miseries now.

“What is it old man? … What do you seek of death?” The guard asks stares into Petrus’ eyes, now glaring brightly back at him in the flickering flames.

“I am not worthy to die as my Lord had… I beg of you to crucify me upside down…” Petrus asked, lowering his head exhausted.

The guards looks to the other guard and again is greeted with a shrug of shoulders and he examines the parchment again to confirm the edict. The thought amused the guard. A crucifixion was a crucifixion, upside down of otherwise.

“Shame you are not a Roman Citizen old man and your death a swift one… but my orders are orders…” The guard remises the slow death to be inflicted.

His mind was perplexed by the growing interest in this new religion that was infecting Rome and its Citizens. Spreading its tentacles through the Empire. Tentacles that wrapped itself around the gentiles and Jews alike, offering salvation beyond death. Dare he spoke words aloud and find himself on the wrong end of a sword about to remove his head. The grotto offered no ears other than his own, curiously he wanted to know more.

“Say be your master’s name?” The guard asked eying the other guards own curiosity.

Petrus looked up to the guard, perhaps he had heard a doubt in the guard’s voice. A fertile mind that cried out for a seed. To his last breath he would preach.

“Yeshua Bar Abba... Taken before your time... Yet he lives… I have seen him after death…” Petrus spoke reverently recalling that glorious day he appeared to him.

“He survived? ... How can this be?”

“He is the Son of God... He who have faith, will join him in paradise.”

“Which God? … Zeus, Hercules? … Mars?”

“The one and only true God.” Professes Petrus has he had over a thousand times before.

“What is his name?” The guard persists.

“His name cannot be spoken…” Petrus’ head drops in despair.

“Hmm…” The guard ponders the significance and power of such a God, that brings the dead back to life again.


Watching on from the shadows a small boy where he had been playing. A son of the guard. Watching with interest the coming and going of prisoners, wondering of their fate and the magic they spoke bringing people back to life. Were the really cannibals as his father suggested. Did they really drink blood?

The small boy crashes the two wooden horses in his hands together as though playing out an ancient Greek battle his father had told him. Every so often looking up to the old man, about to die. He had seen many over the past months. The Emperor had an insatiable appetite for Christians, or for crudity. And the boy wondered if it would where it would end or who would be next. He lived in troubled times. He had heard rumors and stories from other boys of these Christians and their strange beliefs that defied the Roman Gods.

Overhearing the old man’s soft spoken words, young ears listen, his mind a sponge for news beyond the walls of Rome, of the barbarian world outside. Wondering if Christians were as dangerous as the Emperor suggested.


Petrus catches a glimpse of the small boy’s blonde head in the flickering torch light. Wondering what a child was doing in such a place and not playing in the light of day. Perhaps a son. He looks to the guard standing over him and compares the similarities of the two.

“Your son?” Petrus asks with a distance stare.

“Rufus.”

“I had a child once…” His mind struggling to recall her face.

Having cured her of palsy became a convert, a spiritual child as if she was his own blood.

“…Petronilla!” He calls out to her as though she had appeared before him to save him.

His eyes lit with delight and a smile grows on his face. The guard looks about for anyone who had approached, but saw no one and assumes the old man had lost his mind.

“Hmm.” The guard grunts ending their brief conversation.

It was time to get on with the execution, there were others and the day was long enough without delaying it further. Clearly the old man was a Christian and deserved to die. The scourge on the empire, disrupting businesses, involved in immoral practices professing love between brothers and sisters. Atheists, refusing to honor the Roman Gods angering them and inflicting flood, famine and other disasters upon the people of Rome. Christian were dangerous and needed to be exterminated before they could corrupt the populace.

“Give me hand…” The guard calls out to the other.

Pushing the old man onto the rough wooden cross. The old man willingly allowed his body to pushed and shoved about as the guards got him into place. His eyes fixed on his daughter, shining unseen behind the guards. Beside her stood someone in black he did not recognize.

“Tis time…” Michael speaks.

Rufus looks to the man standing in a halo of light. Innocent eyes witnessing what his mind could not comprehend. From a wooden tool box the guard pulls out an old iron nail, stained with blood. Reaching for the heavy hammer feels its weigh knowing it would do the job. Pulling the old man’s arm out, stretching it for tension, presses the sharp tip of the heavy nail into the old man’s wrist. Without warning slams the head of iron mallet onto the nail. The sound echoed around the grotto.

Petrus grit his teeth and took the pain his Lord had borne decades before as though it were pleasure on his flesh. He would give the Roman the satisfaction of the infliction. Again the mallet slams down, and again. Penetrating flesh and bone and wood. And not a word, a cry or a tear. The guard looks at the old man staring into space. At something or someone. Only Rufus. Now standing beside Michael watching on with uncertainty.

Rufus had witness his father nailing many Christians to crosses, but this one was different. Captivated he watched on. His father thinking the boy was enjoying the sight of pagans being tortured. As he should. Not wanting his boy to go soft on him and convert and he too be crucified.

“Watch carefully how it’s done.” The father calls back to him. “Come closer… Watch.”

Michael nudges the boy closer. Lest he misses anything.

One arm complete, now the other. Pulling on it to gain tension, sweating muscles strain in the torch lit space. Pressing another large nail into the wrist, slam, slam, slam, came the repetitive blows. The old man flitches in discomfort and remains silent. His breathing quickened as his heart anxiously awaited the next blows. More painful than the first.

Placing the old man’s feet on the knob of wood, crosses them over and takes a longer larger nail reserved for the purpose. Takes aim at the nail head with the mallet and drives the first massive blow through the first foot.

“Ahhh!” Petrus grimaces.

“Like that one did you?” Muses the guard.

Slam, slam, slam the repeating blows fells, each less painful than the last. Slam. One final strike to complete the task. Petrus’ eyes roll in their socket. The man in black stared back him emotionless, unable to interfere with the will of man.

The guard stood back and inspected his handy work. Looking at the old man as if he were piece of carpentry.

“Should hold.” He informs the other guard.

Then recalled the old man dying wish.

“Upside down did you say?” He asks seeking conformation.

Petrus looked over the guard and closed his eyes to acknowledge what words could not. The pain of the punctured limbs growing by the moment. Blood seeping over the wood and earthen floor. Rufus watches on with interest.

“A crucifixion is a crucifixion…” The guard iterates.

A hole was already prepared for the post to slide into.

“Come on you… Give us a hand…” The guard instructs the other as they pushed and shoved the heavy cross now burdened with a body nailed to it. “A bit more! …” The guard grunts with exhaustion. “Why we just don’t burn you it would be a lot easier… or feed you to the lions… You like that wouldn’t you Rufus?”

But no answer came. Hoping the torment would end there. His view of the world may have been restricted to the grotto, but somehow what his father was doing was not right. Speechless he watch his father and the other guard lever the cross and the old man into air and allowed it to slide into the hole.

Trud!’ The vertical post of the cross strikes solid earth.

“Ahhh!” Cries out Petrus, jerking him from a delirium of thoughts.

His eyes open widely as pain recoils down his arms and legs. His world now upside down. He orientates himself and sees Rufus looking at him confused. The man in black beside him, his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

‘Sshh…” Michael instructs Petrus.

There will be time for talk soon.

And with that thought a brilliant light filled the grotto, leaving the old man, Rufus and guards alone. The guards look about wondering the source of the lightning. Gods were not happy with something. The sooner this Christian was dead the sooner the Gods would be pleased. Only Rufus stood undeterred by the light. Protected by the innocence of youth. His mind a sponge. His appetite had been whetted.





Rufus

Reluctant to leave the old man Rufus remained behind to play in the shadows hoping to avoid his father’s attention. Leaving his son unnoticed in the far corner shrouded in darkness. Clashing his two wooden carved horses together. Uttering battle cries with each assault on the other. Every so often looking up to the old man suspended inverted on the other side of the cavern. Wondering if he was dead or when he would die. A sadness came over him as though it were his grandfather hanging there.

He eyes the old man suspiciously, restrained by heavy nails. His body broken and grey. Trickles of blood seeped down his arms to his neck and dripped onto the ground. Blood from his feet trickled down over his body and gathered on his loin cloth. Staining it red. A child’s mind grappled with the old man’s imminent death. For someone so young, death was a daily occurrence. But what happened after death. Was it true what he had heard? You lived again? No, not possible. He had seen the dead. And the dead stayed dead.

Caught in a curious conundrum his mind got the better of him and he approached the old man and sat before him. Petrus could sense someone or something was close. He heard the roar of a lion from a distant cell and fear one was on the loose. Opening his eyes sees not a savage lion with golden mane but a placid young boy with blonde hair. Clear pale blue eyes looked back at him. In his hands two small wooden horses.

With neither wishing to begin a silence feel between them. Perhaps he had one last sermon left in him.

“Lord… Give me strength…” Petrus begins.

With his world disoriented upside down and blood filling his brain. There was nothing comfortable about being upside down, but then crucified never is. And he allowed himself a grin at the thought, if only to divert his attention briefly from the pain straining at his wrists.

“Rufus? ... Your name? Rufus?” Petrus reaches out with words.

The boy nods, hearing strength in the old man’s voice.

“Who are you?” Rufus asks softly wondering if anyone else was listening.

He should not be talking to the prisoners, little alone a Christian one. If his father caught him he fear the beating he would receive. Confident they were alone he awaits the old man’s reply. Perhaps he could confirm the rumors he had heard first hand.

“Who am I?” Petrus parrots back unsure if he knew the answer himself anymore.

The man he once knew had been no longer existed. Angry, arrogant, aggressive to mention his more subtle traits. How had he changed from the roughed fisherman he once was with his brother on the Sea of Galilee?

“My name is Simon… I am but a fisherman…” Then added, “A fisher of men.”

“You fish men?” Rufus’ eyes light up with thoughts of cannibalism, “Is it true you eat them?”

“No, no my dear boy… Never.” The old reassures Rufus in a gentle voice.

“It is said you eat bodies and drink blood…”

Petrus grins as if he found Rufus’ innocence appetizing. Rufus leaned back afraid the old man would lunge at him at any moment and bite him.

“Only bread and wine… Bread and wine… To remember Him.”

“Oh…” Whimpers Rufus, “Remember who?”

“The Son of God… Yeshua.” States Petrus, the name bringing make more distant memories as life drained from his body.

“Yes_hu_a…” The repeats boy. “He is the Son of your God… We have Gods like yours.”

“I know… But this God is the only true God…”

“Only one God?” Rufus asked confused. “Where is Yeshua? Why is he not here to save you?”

“God sacrificed him so we our sins can be forgiven… But you are too young to have sinned Rufus…”

“What is a sin?”

“A sin is something we do that we know is not right…”

“Has my father sinned?” Rufus asks curiously.

“No… He has sinned in innocence, he too is too young to understand what he does… He is simply following orders…” Petrous wondered if he had said too much watching Rufus’ taking it in.

“Yeshua will come back? … To save you?” Rufus’ eyes light up with hope.

“Yes, He will be back… But not to save me. My days on this earth is over… It is up those we feed with the body and blood of Christ that will carry the Word of Yeshua to others…”

“The bread and the wine.”

“That’s right… The bread and the wine… Remember that next time you eat… But not a word to your father I fear.”

“What is the Word you speak of? … A message?”

“Your ears are keen Rufus… Are you sure you wish to know… Your young life will be in danger… Are you prepared to risk your life for the message?”

Without thinking his head nods up and down at the inverted man before him. Intrigued by the mystery of unfolding before him.

“What is it? … I will keep it a secret… I promise.”

“No, this is no secret we keep… But a word we spread…”

“Oh…” Rufus wavers with conviction, “…Tell me.” He pleads having gone too far to go back.

“That the Son of God walked on this earth… That God gave up His only Son to forgive our sins… And that he who believes in Him will live forever in eternity…”

“Do you believe in Him? … Yeshua?”

“There was a time I denied Him three times… And I wept in shame.”

“Do you believe in Him?” Rufus asks again confused by the old man’s answers.

“With my life I believe in Him… With my life… That is why I am here.”

“Why did you deny Him?”

“I was afraid… Afraid of what the Roman’s would do to me… ha.” The old man chuckles looking over to the nails protruding from his wrists. “…And that was after all the miracles Yeshua performed… All that He gave me.”

“Magic?” Exclaims Rufus.

“Nay Magic… These were by the hand of God.”

“What miracles? Tell me… So I can believe too.” Pleads Rufus looking to the opening of the stairwell.

“Too many for young ears to hear… But to say Yeshua walked on water, cured the deaf, dumb and blind….” Responded the old man recalling the visions in his mind, then added, “…and raised the dead.” As to confirm the revelations.

“The dead?” Rufus gasped.

“The dead… I have seen this with my own eyes…”

Rufus sat stunned by the claims unsure whether to believe a man nailed on a cross before him. The bread and wine made sense, but raising the dead. His young imagination spun with questions.

“What did he give you?” Rufus recalls.

“Ah yes… I almost forgot… He gave me Keys.”

“Keys… Keys to what?” Rufus face screwed up as to why a dying man would need keys.

“Heaven.”

“Heaven? …” The small voice parrots back. “…Don’t you mean Hades?”

“Christians call it heaven.” Corrected the old man kindly.

“You have the keys? Would you let me in when my time comes?”

“Do you believe Yeshua was the Son of God?”

“I don’t know…”

“Do you believe in Miracles Rufus?”

“I don’t know…”

“That man you were standing with… You spoke with him…” The old man asked taking Rufus by surprise he had seen him as well. “That was your miracle.”

“You saw him? I was afraid to say…”

“What did He say?”

“He said you had something for me… Something to keep safe… A Ring.” Said Rufus looking out to the old man’s fingers now covered in blood.

“Hmm… Did he say his name?”

“Michael… Who is He?”

“More what is He … He is an Angel Rufus… an Angel… You have been truly blessed and chosen.”

“Why me?” Rufus’ eyes search for answer in the old man’s eyes.

“Why any of us Rufus… You are young… free from all but the Original Sin… For that I can absolve.” Declared the old man, feeling weaker, knowing the end was but words away.

“Absolve? Will it hurt?” Asked Rufus hesitantly wondering what was to be asked of him.

“Not at all… Get me that cup of water and place it in my hand.” Directed the old man.

Fetching the cup Rufus places it in the old man’s hand and Petrus blesses it. Then instructed Rufus he was about to pour some water over his head. Telling him to lean his head back. As he had performed a thousand times before, Petrus repeated the scared words of baptism.

“Rufus… With this water I baptize you in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.”

As he tilted the cup and allowed the water to wash over his forehead. And with a strained forefinger made the sign of the cross on Rufus’ forehead.

“Go my son… In the name of Christ.”

“Is that it?”

“That’s it I’m afraid... How do you feel?”

“No different.” Wiping the water from his face over his hair with his fingers like a comb.

“Good... Then it worked.” Mused Petrus feeling a pain in his chest and letting it pass.

A putrid colored snake hissed in disgust at the ceremony from the damp shadows. There would be others. The boy was lost. His master would not be pleased. Michael watched on unseen.

The old man looked to the Ring he had been given by Yeshua decades earlier, feeling it on his finger and gestured for the boy to remove it lest it be stolen when they stripped him from the cross. Rufus struggled to remove it but it came off eventually, stained with blood, leaving a silhouette on the old man’s finger.

Rufus examined the dull looking ring. Its relief showing the two crossed keys the old man had spoken of. Unsure of its significance.

“Do I have the keys now?”

“In some way you do… I should rename you Petrus… The Rock… As my master had done when he gave me the keys.”

“I don’t think my father would be pleased with that.”

“No... I don’t think he would be… Let it be our secret shall we?” Winked the old man to the young boy.

“Okay.” Rufus promised. “What do I do with it? The Ring?”

“Keep it safe… You were chosen for a reason Rufus…”

“How?”

“Ah there’s the mystery… Only you will know… Now go and let an old man die in peace.” Asked Petrus feeling the sharp pains in his chest growing more intense.

This was no place for a young boy to witness the death of an old man. His time was over. The boy’s had just begun.

“You’ll be okay? … Do you believe?” Asked Rufus as if to test Simon one last time.

“I believe, Yeshua is the Son of God.” Petrus told his new Apostle.

Rufus nodded his approval and looked back at the old man suspended inverted. His chest now heaving as the spasms took hold. Wanting to stay, he tore himself away and disappeared up the stone stairwell from sight.

Alone, Petrus took in the dimness of the grotto, unsure if it was that dim originally or if it was him. To one side he saw the man in black watching on.

“You…” The old man asked looking at Michael watching on.

“Tis time.” Spoke Michael.

With that Angelic command a brilliant light radiated from the grotto up the stairwell into the Imperial Palace and over the city of Rome. Citizens looked up to the heavens expecting thunder that never came. And resumed their persecution of Christians.

And a darkness befell the grotto.


Rufus returned to his home and found his father napping on a wooden bench. Exhausted having crucified half a dozen Christians that morning. Climbing to the attic takes the two wooden horses and the ring places them in a small wooden box, closed its lid before tying it off with string and shoved the box into a dark corner.

Safe from prying eyes.








The Call

Somewhere in the Vatican, some two thousand years later. In a very large lavishness office assigned to a man of rank and position. An office void of sound and movement other than the fluttering lace curtains in the morning breeze. Sat a man behind a large ancient wooden desk, just as his predecessors had. Deep in thought. And allowing the early morning rays of light to capture him. Imaging its warm embrace as the fingers of God.

He had sinned. But it was his job to sin. To do what was required of him. Killing was never easy. He had served the Church devoutly for decades, perhaps his whole life. Wondering how God would judge him when that day ever came? Did his transgressions in the name of the Church transcend the Original Sin?

The telephone rang un-expectantly. Echoing its alarm off polished marble surfaces. Filling every square inch of the large room with its incessant ringing as though pleading to be answered. Breaking the impasse of the silence and the man’s thoughts, or prayers. The man eyes the defiant phone with suspicion, who would be calling at this early hour? Who would be calling him? The man reluctantly lifts the handset from its cradle to annul the intrusion. Filling the large room with a deafening silence once again.

“Hello.” The man spoke softly and economically.

Words were never spoken unless they needed to be. Words could kill if spoken carelessly. Ears could be listening. The man listened carefully for subtle crackles on the line. It was not the first time the two men had spoken.

“Tell me more.” The man asked wanting specifics.

The informant continued to dispatch the details of the treasure. A concerned look came over the man’s face as he in the news of the discovery of a forgotten Holy Relic in Istanbul.

“The First? … Are you sure?” The man asked as though he questioned the find as true.

This was a unique find, unheard of until now. Yet if true, would exalt the word of God. The informant had been reliable in the past, there was no need to begin to doubt him now.

“I understand my friend...” The man said in a grave voice pondering the significance of the discovery.

Deliberately pausing, the man weighed the situation with an urgency building in his mind. There would be others very interested in the relic. His mind filters through the names of those in the immediate vicinity. He had men on the ground that could assist if the situation escalated, or deteriorated. He needed resources, his Organization had resources.

“How can I help?” Asked the man dismissing his competitors.

Listening carefully to the request being asked by the informant.

“Yes I see… The son… I understand... Follow the son… To the Ring… I see… Rest assured my friend… I will take care of the son.” A grave voice promised as the man listened to further instructions.

And the phone goes dead as the informant hangs up leaving the dead signal on the line ringing in his ear. The man listens carefully for un-expectant clicks that never came. Replacing the handset he contemplates the relic’s repatriation. There would be competition also with their eyes on the prize. Men that would kill to attain it. The man knew them all too well. His mind calmly thinking out a strategy to obtain the Relic.

The treasured relic must be re-appropriated by the Church. It was too scared to be left in hands of relic collectors. Grubby little men who scavenged for personal gain and boasting rights. He who possessed the relic would be king among kings.

He would have to inform his superior. There was only one, unless you counted God. The man lifted the handset of the old phone and dialed a simple three digit number. Scrolling each digit deliberately. Unhurriedly. And listened patiently to the dial tone waiting for it to be answered.

“Please excuse the intrusion your Holiness… But I have some very important news.” Cardinal Cassini started to disclose to his Superior, His Holiness the Pope.


Arthur McGee

Some days later in East London, a sunny autumn morning broke upon Watford Terrace. The cold north breeze blew, carrying with it a postman whistling an unrecognizable tune to himself. Much to the annoyance of Arthur McGee waiting at the mailbox, who believed no one should whistle unless it was in tune. And preferably a tune one could recognize. Arthur waited for the annoying whistle to arrive.

“No mail today Arthur!” The Postman called out as he cycled by.

The north breeze pushed the annoying whistle on its way again. Arthur returned inside the terraced homestead. Closing the door in time to keep out the cold breeze that was following him inside.

“Any mail today Arthur?” His Aunt called out from the kitchen.

“Not today Aunty.”

Not that he was expecting any, other than the gas bill. Arthur slumped his father’s comfy arm chair and allowed it to engulf him. As though to hold him prisoner. And he contemplated his existence, as he did most days since being laid off. He was twenty-nine years old and successfully unemployed, after yet another global recession had sent shock waves around the world and with it redundant ripples through the local council at which he had once worked. Staring out the lace curtained window onto the suburban street outside. Lined with identical terraced houses.

Michael sat quietly unseen in a chair opposite, eating what he imagined was Ginger cake and drinking what he imagined was tea. Taking in the manger that was Arthur’s home. Watchful of the young man sitting opposite.

The morning sun’s rays filtered through the curtains, diluted and straining to reach him. Surrendering to its warmth, as though it would re-inflate his deflated self-esteem. The days blurred as they rolled over themselves and into months. He could see no change on the grey horizon of his life as he stared blankly out onto the terraced street.

Collecting the mail and watching football matches over a pint and a packet of Walkers crisps at the local bar, was the highlights to his day. That and catching up with his best mate Phil who had also been laid off from the Council.

Arthur’s father Alistair would be away for weeks travelling peddling his company’s stationary products over Europe. He would return and tell Arthur exotic tales of his travels, of places and foods and equally exotic people. Rousing Arthur’s sense for adventure. Adventures he had read about in Michener’s books. To escape the capture of the arm chair as his father had done. To escape Watford Terrace. Sensing something was calling him. He could smell it, and it was not the Gas Works down the road.

Arthur’s mother had died when he was young. Old photographs reminded him of her beauty. Vague memories of her love would flash to mind, imaginary, but real.

Everything happens for a reason.’ He had told himself trying to reconcile her premature death.

But what that reason was, was beyond him. Believing she was with him in spirit, somehow watching over him. His Aunt had moved in after his mother’s death, to look after him while his father travelled. And she was the closest thing he had to a mother and after a while she had become a part of furniture. Something one could not throw out.

His Aunt was a lovely lady as anyone who did not live with her could attest. Taking a daily dose of medication, he thought there were more drugs in her medical cabinet than there were on the streets. It would not have surprised him if she turned out to be head of an East End drug cartel. Taking in stray cats and naming them Dizzy, Lizzy, and Cuddles. She would often be heard humming an unrecognizable tune and for as much as Arthur detested whistling, humming was second on his list of objectionable reverberations. Calling it her fairy tune for he was sure she was humming along with the fairies that only she could hear. Arthur preferred not to enquire and would not begrudge her these few comforts.

When not at the local bar with Phil, Arthur could be found drinking incalculable cups of tea, eating Ginger Cake and watching re-runs on the television with his Aunt. Feeling himself slipping slowly into his Auntie’s medicated world. And he wondered how long it would be before he too would be making involuntary grunts and humming a fairy tune to himself.

Sitting in his father’s large comfy arm chair and Arthur took stock of Watford Terrace and the world outside. It might have been the chill in the late autumn air that had unsettled Arthur that day. It could have been the postman’s annoying whistle. But something did not feel right. As though something was about to happen and he could not put his finger on it.

In the evenings Arthur would retire to his room to read. His Aunt would stop by and wish him good night and turn off his light, as though he was still nine. Before sleep he would recite a quiet prayer to himself, giving thanks and asking for a decent hand. Having faith that God believed in him, more than he believed in God.


And that was a typical day for Arthur, as it had been since being laid off from the Council. But the cogs of Arthur’s world were turning. Cards were about to be dealt, and Arthur was about to be dealt a very strange hand that would set in motion the End of Days.


The Letter

Dawn broke on Watford Terrace and Arthur awoke to the new day stretching his tired limbs. The universe had shifted overnight, stars were aligning and forces were at play beyond his control. Like a dream he could not remember, a feeling of déjà vu struck him, as though something had crept insidiously into his soul. Sending a chill over his body.

“That’s weird.” He said to himself shaking himself of the peculiar feeling.

“Breakfast Arty.” His Aunt calls out from the kitchen.

“I’m coming Aunty.”

The same cold breeze still blew from the north. Chasing the same whistling Postman who peddled frantically trying to keep ahead of it, as if it too wanted him to stop whistling annoying tune. Slowing down, he reached into the basket of letters and pulled out two envelopes.

“Two today Arthur.” Declared the postman who had momentarily stopped whistling.

Passing them skillfully to Arthur in one continuous motion. Before carrying on his annoyingly whistling way. Only to be chased again by the rabid breeze snapping at his peddles.

“Two? … That must be a record.” Arthur said to himself.

Trying to suppress his excitement, Arthur examines the envelopes and gauged one as a Gas bill he had been expecting. Recognizing the cheap brown envelope and the Company’s logo in the corner. Shuffling the letters he examined the second of the envelopes. A white envelope, a letter and not a bill. It was addressed to him and was hand written. The writing looked strangely familiar. But he could not place it.

“Hmm.” Arthur thought to himself taking in the oddity of receiving a letter.

Arthur had not had a letter from anyone in what seemed like a hundred years. Perhaps two. The foreign stamp a siren as to its origin. European he surmised, but he could not place it. Flipping it over hoping to gleam the sender’s name. But this was blank.

“Hmm, strange… Who would write to me?” Asked Arthur himself.

Hoping to avoid his Auntie’s inquisitive questions from his nosy but loveable Aunt he folds the envelope and shaves it into his pocket hoping she was not watching from the window.

“Any mail today Arthur?” His Aunt enquired.

“Just the Gas bill Aunty.” Arthur half fibbed placing it on the dining table.

Arthur had an idea that would avoid his Auntie’s prying eyes and questioning.

“I’m just popping down to the cafe…” He called out, “… do you need anything from the shops?” He asked, hoping the answer would be no.

“Ohh… Pick us up some more Ginger Cake… we’re getting low. And some tea… the loose kind… Would you be a dear?” Asked his Aunt heading to the laundry.

“No worries Aunty.” Arthur called back reaching for his coat.

Wrapping an old blue university scarf about his neck, he headed out the door. The day was nippy. Arthur hated a lazy breeze that preferred to blow through him than around him. He scans the street outside as though he could see the lazy breeze to avoid it. Pulling a red woolen beanie over his ears he buries his hands deep into his pocket.

The excursion to the cafe was half a fib to be able to read his letter in private. He would pick up his Aunt’s grocery items afterwards. The cafe was three blocks from Arthur’s home and a refreshing walk to stretch his legs. Taking him away from the solitary confinement of his bedroom and ever prying eyes of his Aunt. There was another reason he wanted to visit the café, Zara. You could say Arthur was smitten with her, but lacked the courage to ask her out. Wondering if he should ask Phil for his advice, then quickly decided otherwise.

Zara was about his age, with long dark hair and hazel eyes, with a seductive smile that made Arthur smile. He was hoping Zara would be working that day. And she was. The small bell above the café door announced a patron’s arrival. Zara looks up to see Arthur and smiles. He smiles back half blushing. Arthur begins with small talk about the inclement weather hoping it would bond their momentary romantic relationship.

“Regular latte… one sugar, right?” Asked Zara just as Arthur was about to order.

“That’s right.” Replied Arthur taken back by her personal interest in his particular coffee.

A thought passed through his mind that could be more between them. Time slowed down and more thoughts about the status of their relationship ricocheted at the speed of light about his mind.

“Take a seat… I’ll bring it over.” Said Zara with an infectious smile drawing Arthur back to from his dazed delirium.

Arthur found a table by the window and waited for the coffee to arrive. Staring out the shoppers and passersby. One day he would have the courage like Phil to ask her out, maybe for a coffee. But then wondered if that was a good idea given how she served it all day?

One day…’ he thought. ‘…One day.’

Remembering why he had come to the café, he pulls the envelope from his pocket and re- examines it again. Just then, Zara arrives with his coffee and places on the table beside the letter.

“Thank you Zara.” Said Arthur using her name as though it would personalize her, and watched her return to serve waiting customer.

Taking a sip of the coffee he savored the bitter caffeine against the sweetness of the sugar. The English cup of tea had its merits, but it could not match coffee. His veins pumped with the elixir of life now invigorating his senses and resurrecting his spirit.

Picking up the envelope looks at the familiar hand writing. But still could not place it. The date stamp like all date stamps was illegible and from a country he could not make out from its markings.

East European perhaps?’ He thinks to himself.

A large building was portrayed in dark red ink. Not a church, more like that of a government building of some kind? Much like Westminster. Only grander. Transfixed by the oddity his mind running through the possibilities of countries and wondering who he knew in Eastern Europe that write to him. His father was in France. Or so he thought. Turning it over, the sender’s name had still not appeared.

Running the handle of a teaspoon along the inside edge of the envelope to tear it open to reveal a single piece of paper, folded over. Removing the page Arthur opened it and began to read words he was not prepared for…


Arthur, if you’re reading this, you may in danger.”


That wrenched Arthur to attention more than the coffee had. Quickly looking to the bottom of the letter he was not prepared for what he was about to read there as well…


Dad.”


Now he recognized his father’s handwriting. A chill came over him, unsure what to make of the short letter.

This must be one of dad’s jokes.’ Arthur thought, looking outside the café for his father who might be laughing at him.

But he was not, just passersby and ordinary people going about ordinary lives. The taste of the coffee in his mouth was not feeling as pleasant as it had when he took his first sip. Nevertheless, he took another sip. Hoping to buy him time before he would have to read the contents that would hopefully explain why he would be in danger. His eyes shifting the café and exterior for suspicious eyes watching him. Instinctively he sank lower in his seat, as if this would avoid an assassin’s bullet. His heart quickened with anxiety, beating delexically in his chest.

What was this all about? There was only one way to find out. Taking another sip of coffee to calm himself. Arthur’s eyes went to the top of the letter again.


Arthur, if you’re reading this, you may in danger.


I will explain all when we meet. I need you to go to the attic and in the far corner you'll find a shoebox. Take the contents and go to Budapest University and find a Professor Almesh. He will tell you where to find me. There are people after me, and they may well be after you. Don’t tell anyone, or you’ll endanger them. We don’t have much time.


Trust me.

Dad.”


It made no sense to Arthur. Budapest? That’s in Hungary, if he recalled his geography correctly. That explained the stamp. Other than a few years in Edinburgh to study engineering, and a weekend to France, Watford was the size of Arthur’s world. Hungary was half a world away.

Arthur’s mind was swamped with constipated questions. Who was Professor Almesh? What’s in the shoebox in the attic? Was his father on the run from the law? Did Arthur want to get involved? Was he already involved? All these questions went unanswered. Then there was his Aunt, what would he say to her?

Oh by the way Aunty… I’m just popping off to Budapest for a few days… Yeah, right.’ He thought to himself.

His life was already in tatters being unemployed. How was he going to get to Budapest? He barely had enough money to buy coffee and ginger cake. Strangely enough, the thought of forgetting to buy his Auntie’s ginger cake was more fearful than the assassin’s bullet that was about to explode his brains all over the cafe walls. Not leaving a good impression for Zara. Nor himself for that matter. Looking outside for a grassy knoll, Arthur decided it was safe for the time being.

Carefully re-folding letter he returned it to its envelope hoping to deny its existence and eminent danger. He rocked quietly in his chair as tough to a tune in his head. But this was no tune he recognized. Perhaps he had wished to hard for the adventure he had longed for. Finishing his coffee he stood up and waved to Zara as he was leaving.

“See you again soon Arthur.” She called out with a smile.

Infecting him and causing him to smile back.

“Let’s hope so Zara… Let’s hope so.” Arthur replied unsure if anyone would see him again.

Arthur headed to the Shopping Centre and grabbed a shopping basket from the stacked pile.

“What did Aunty want me to buy?” He asked himself trying to recite the shopping list.

Ginger cake… Tea… Loose... Anything else?’ Thought Arthur unable to concentrate.

His father’s letter causing him mental indigestion. He would have Google the Professor when he got home. Hopefully somewhere among the few cryptic clues his father had given him he would see a picture of what it was all about.


But the universe does not work that way. You cannot Google God’s grand design. You can only experience it one moment at a time. There are the chosen. Those with a divine purpose that keep the order from becoming chaos. Arthur, an unemployed civil engineer from Watford Terrace, had been chosen.


Box in the Attic

“I’m home Aunty.” Called out Arthur closing the front door behind him.

Depositing the small shopping bag on the dining table. Placing the ginger cake away in a tin with the remains of the last cake. Refilling the tea tin with a fresh supply. His Aunt appeared just as he finished unpacking.

“Did you get the cake? She enquired.

“I’ve already put it away Aunty.” Indicated Arthur.

“That’s a good boy…” She replied as if he were still a child. “… I’ll put the kettle on”.

Keen to know what was in the shoe box Arthur had a thought of how to get into the Attic.

“I’m just popping up to the Attic Aunty… I need to find an old text book… I won’t be long… I think I know where it is.” Said Arthur.

“Don’t make a mess up there… And brush the dust off before you come down… I’ve just vacuumed!” His Aunt warned.

“Will do Aunty.”

Content he had a plausible excuse to venture into no man’s land. The Attic. No one actually knew what was up in the Attic. A forgotten graveyard of possessions and keepsakes. It had been years since anyone had been up there. Arthur had no interest in those boxes, but there was one particular box he did have an intense interest, the shoe box.

Opening the ceiling door Arthur pulled down the attic stairs. An amount of dust floated in the air. Descending on him and his Auntie’s clean carpet. Checking the stair’s sturdiness he climbed apprehensively through the opening into a semi-lit room. Light filtered through the large round grilled vent and he reaches for the light cord.

Click, click.’ The bulb was dead and the small room remained stained in darkness.

Must change that while I’m up here’, Arthur thought.

There were spare lightbulbs on a shelf on the other side of the attic if he recalled correctly. Finding his way between the boxes in the dimly lit room, he eased his way to the shelf. His eyes were becoming accustomed to the darkness. Making out the likely box that contained the spare bulbs. Reached inside and fumbled for a bulb. Arthur exchanged the bulb and placed the deceased bulb into a cardboard coffin for later burial.

Returning to the light cord.

“Let there be light!” Arthur pronounced to himself.

Click!’ He tugged on the cord.

“And there was light!” Arthur glorified the known universe with brilliance, albeit the Attic.

Darkness was replaced with the illuminated radiance of the single bulb. Stacked boxes confronted him. Each covered with years of thick dust. Boxes containing old photo albums and nick-nates. Memories of his mother. Boxes that would never be opened ever again. Boxes one could never part with. Their contents were their souls.

In a corner of the attic. Behind several stacked boxes. He made out the faint outline of the shoe box his father had indicated his in letter. Dark shadows shrouded its presence. It had been shoved into the dark corner. Covered in dust, but not as much as the other boxes in the room. This had been a recent addition. Arthur reached into the corner and carefully pulled the box out. Unsure of the frailty or its contents. Feeling an unusual weigh it contained. Not shoes.

Arthur’s curiosity deepened.

String had been wrapped repeatedly around the box and had been tied off in a knot. Not a bow. The box was meant to remain closed and not opened. As if to keep what was inside from escaping. Or those on the outside peering inside. Nervously he untied the knot and unwound the string from around the box. Placing the string next to the box of bulbs as though preforming a surgical autopsy. The attic breathed a gust of air through the open vent from outside, stirring up the dust. Skeletal fingers of sunlight reached for him, illuminating the suspended dust particles. Was it trying to prevent him from opening the box?

But these thoughts never entered Arthur’s mind. His curiosity had gotten the better of him.

“Arthur! … What are you doing up there… Your lunch is almost ready.” His Aunt suddenly hollered from below the opening.

“It’s okay Aunty… I’m just changing the light bulb… I’ll be down in just a couple minutes.”

“Hurry up… Before it gets cold.” The prying voice ordered.

Hesitantly he lifted the lid of the shoe box and was shocked to see what he saw. His mind took a moment to register it.

A gun.

More questions filled his head. Multi-choice would have been useful. What was a gun doing in this box? Who had put it there? Whose box was this? The immediate answer was his father. But his father was a travelling salesman. When does a salesman need a gun? What sort of clients did he deal with? Gangsters need stationary and tissue paper? Perhaps. His Aunt was hardly a double agent. Head of a local drug cartel of East London, he could accept. But a gun? It appeared familiar, but then guns do when you see them enough on television.

The single bulb threw a dark shadow of Arthur’s body and over the box. There was something laying underneath the gun. Carefully lifting the gun from the box. It had weight. It felt awkward in his hand and he placed it carefully on the lid beside the box as though it was sleeping bird, not wishing to awaken it.

Arthur reached for what had laid beneath the gun and discovered bundles of cash. British Pounds and Euros of fifty and hundred denominations.

There must be tens of thousands in here.’ he thought.

So much for not affording coffee and ginger cake anymore.

“Arthur!” His Aunt called out again.

Her voice carried up the stairs so clearly it sounded like she was standing behind him.

“What are you doing up there? Your lunch is ready, come down at once!” His Aunty ordered.

“Yes Aunty… Sorry Aunty… Coming now Aunty.” Arthur answered flustered by the coercing voice.

Carefully replacing the gun on top of the bank notes he replaced the lid. Rewinding the string around the box. And finishing it with a secure knot like his father had done. And slid the box back into its deep dark hiding position. He would have to come back later. Was he really about go to Budapest? He still did had more questions than answers.

Returning to the opening Arthur switched off the light and darkness fell again on the attic. Only the thin boney fingers of sun light reached into the room illuminating the suspended dust now dancing on the drifting air. Climbing cautiously down the stairs, he brushed away any dust that may have hitched a ride.

“Did you fix the bulb? …” Aunty asked wondering why he had taken so long. “…Did you find the book you were after?” She machine gunned him with another question.

“Yeah fixed the bulb… But I couldn’t find the book… It must be buried in one of the boxes somewhere. I’ll have another look later.” He half lied hoping that would end her inquisition.

His father’s letter and now shoe box added to his indigestion such that lunch was not as appetizing as it usually would be. If the gun had not disturbed him enough, the amount of cash that laid beneath certainly had. Desperately his mind tried to rationalize the contents to his father’s behavior, but finding no connection. His Aunt could sense something was amiss for Arthur.

“You feeling okay Arty? You’ve barely touched a bite. You’re not coming down with something are you? … You look flush.” His Aunt asked with concern for her nephew.

“I don’t think so Aunty… I think I must have had too much for breakfast. This is a lovely lunch. Thank you very much.”

And he forced himself to take another mouthful. Then another.

“A cup of tea would be lovely.” He suggested.

A cup of tea was the British answer to everything. Especially when it came to settling stomachs. That and Ginger Cake. Tea had gotten them through several world wars. Though they had lost the American continent because of it. Perhaps things would have gone differently had it have been coffee.

Calmly sipping on his tea he sat quietly with his Aunt and watched the midday news.

“Ginger cake Arty?” Aunty asked.

“Oh that would he lovely.” Arthur replied.

Somewhere between the tea, the ginger cake and the re-run on the television, Arthur had formulated a story to tell his Aunt as to how he could escape for a few days and not arouse her suspicions. It is amazing how the subconscious mind compensates for the deficiency of the fearful conscious mind. Planting ideas we think are our own.

“I had an email earlier from a friend saying that one of our old Professors had just died... I was thinking about heading up to Edinburgh for the funeral… To show my respects…” He began to lie.

Hoping she had not been reading the Scottish obituaries in her spare time, as old people habitually did.

“But I don’t want to leave you here all alone.” He added, baiting the hook.

“That’s nice of you Arty, how thoughtful.... It will do you good to get out of the house for a while... Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine… How long will you gone?” She asked.

Arthur was taken back by his Aunt’s unreactive response to him leaving. Stunned he quickly calibrates the number of days.

“Oh… I thought I might stay about a week…Catch up with some old classmates and all that.”

“That’s a lovely thought Arty… Make sure you pack something warm… It will be getting cold where you’re going.” She advised.

“Yes it will.” Arthur replied wondering. “I’ll start packing this afternoon... I want to catch up with Phil before I go.” He added to embellish some truth to the lie.

“Will you have enough money? … I can spare you some if you need.”

“Ohh… I think I’m good for money, thanks Aunty.”

Very good’, he thought.


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