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FROM USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR J. ROBERT KENNEDY
A TWO-THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD DESTINY IS ABOUT TO BE FULFILLED!
USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy delivers another action-packed thriller in The Thirteenth Legion. After Interpol Agent Hugh Reading spots his missing partner in Berlin, it sets off a chain of events that could lead to the death of his best friends, and if the legends are true, the entire planet.
A civil war has split the Triarii, a two-thousand-year-old organization descendant from the Roman Empire’s fabled Thirteenth Legion, a desperate battle underway to control the crystal skulls they have sworn to protect, one side relentless in their mission to unite the skulls to reveal their power, the other equally determined to protect mankind from the potential consequences.
In true Kennedy style, this globe-spanning thriller provides all the action, humor, romance and heartbreak only he can deliver. Loyalties will be tested, blood will be shed, and friends will die, as archaeology professors James Acton and Laura Palmer are once again pulled into the troubled history of a cult they had hoped had forgotten them, with only their wits and friends to rely upon.
"James Acton: A little bit of Jack Bauer and Indiana Jones!"
Though this book is part of the James Acton Thrillers series, it is written as a standalone novel and can be enjoyed without having read any of the previous installments.
With over 800,000 books sold and over 3000 five-star reviews, USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy has been ranked by Amazon as the #1 Bestselling Action Adventure novelist based upon combined sales. He is the author of over thirty international bestsellers including the smash hit James Acton Thrillers. He lives with his wife and daughter and writes full-time.
"A master storyteller." — Betty Richard
"A writer who tells what we are thinking but sometimes afraid to say." — Bruce Ford
"Kennedy kicks ass in this genre." — David Mavity
"One of the best writers today." — Johnny Olsen
"If you want fast and furious, if you can cope with a high body count, most of all if you like to be hugely entertained, then you can't do much better than J Robert Kennedy." — Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer
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The Protocol Brass Monkey Broken Dove The Templar's Relic Flags of Sin The Arab Fall The Circle of Eight The Venice Code Pompeii's Ghosts Amazon Burning The Riddle Blood Relics Sins of the Titanic Saint Peter's Soldiers The Thirteenth Legion Raging Sun Wages of Sin Wrath of the Gods The Templar's Revenge
Rogue Operator Containment Failure Cold Warriors Death to America Black Widow The Agenda Retribution
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“A fanatic is a man who consciously over-compensates a secret doubt.”
“And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.”
John 19:17-18, King James Version
The crystal skulls referred to herein are real and confirmed to be of unknown origin and unknown method of manufacture by top scientists at Hewlett-Packard.
The Home Depot, Forest Plaza Shopping Center, Annapolis, Maryland
“I don’t know why we don’t just pay someone to do this.”
Professor James Acton grinned at his wife, Professor Laura Palmer, as he pushed the large cart containing several boxes of floating flooring along with a few bags of supplies. “You know me, I love working with my hands. Besides, installing a floating floor in the basement is something I’ve been meaning to do for years.”
“You could hurt yourself!”
Acton laughed. “You do realize how many bullets, grenades, knives and vehicles have been aimed in my direction, don’t you? If a rubber mallet is what finally takes me out, then so be it.” He winked at her. “Just don’t have it written on my tombstone.”
“Here lies James Acton, beloved husband and son, finally bested by his basement.”
Acton laughed, reaching over and squeezing the back of Laura’s neck. He leaned in and gave her a quick peck, noticing several beads of sweat on her forehead. “You okay?”
She nodded, but suddenly appeared weak. “Just tired.” She placed a hand on the left side of her stomach where she had been shot in Paris. “It still acts up from time to time. It just drains me of energy.”
Acton felt his chest tighten at his selfishness. It had been his idea to come here, and he had encouraged her to come along. Then he had travelled up and down almost every aisle of the massive store wanting to get everything he would need in one stop. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice slightly subdued. “I should have come alone, this was too much walking.”
Laura reached out and squeezed his arm. “I’m a big girl. I could have said no, or gone and waited in the car.” She took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “I just need to get home and lie down, I’ll be fine.”
She shook her head. “No, just weak.”
Acton looked down the long row of cars, their SUV near the end. “Why don’t you wait here and I’ll get the car?”
Laura gave him half a smile. “It takes almost as much effort to stand as it does to walk.”
Acton nodded toward the cart. “Hop in, there’s room.”
Laura laughed, wrapping herself around one of his arms for support, resting her head on his shoulder. “Don’t tempt me.”
They continued down the row, Acton pulling out the fob and unlocking the doors. He positioned their cart behind the bumper then opened the passenger side door as tires squealed behind them. He glanced over his shoulder casually. “Asshole, he could kill someone driving like that in a parking lot.” Laura didn’t look, instead gripping his arm tighter.
She’s definitely not well.
The van was a sleek affair, a Mercedes emblem on the front grill suggesting some coin had been spent to purchase it, yet it was being driven as if it had been stolen. As it raced up the lane toward them, Acton stepped around Laura, redirecting her toward her door and away from the van.
Brakes were hit hard, the Mercedes Sprinter shuddering to a stop as the side doors burst open, two men erupting out, covered head to toe in black, both aiming Berettas at them. Laura yelped, her cellphone flying from her hand as she threw her arms up.
“Professors James Acton and Laura Palmer?” asked one of the men as he advanced toward Acton, Acton now pushing Laura behind him as they retreated, the cart forgotten.
Acton said nothing.
The man with the unanswered question extended his arm, placing the gun directly in Acton’s face. “You will answer the question.”
Acton was quite certain the men already knew who they were, and if they were here to kill them, identifying themselves would only hasten their deaths. If they were here to kidnap them then any form of delay, even a few seconds, might get cameras out and people calling police, police that just might happen to be in the area if they were lucky.
“Who wants to know?”
“That kind of talk gets people killed, Professor.”
I guess they do know.
“If you know who we are then why are you asking?”
Suddenly there was a clap of thunder from behind them and the man was shoved back toward the van, his arms and legs outstretched toward Acton, the other man frozen in place, his jaw dropping in shock.
A second shot rang out, smearing him against the van as tires screeched to their left, a black SUV careening toward them. The driver of the Mercedes hit the gas, the vehicle jerking forward just as a third shot removed him from existence, his head now a red mist filling the cabin.
The SUV came to a halt at an angle behind the van as Acton turned to grab Laura and make a break for it between the rows of vehicles.
Acton spun toward the voice and his jaw dropped at the sight of his friend, Martin Chaney, reaching for them.
Chaney cut him off.
“Come with me if you want to live.”
Golgotha, Judea April 7th, 30 AD The Ninth Hour
“Sir, we found something you need to see!”
Decanus Vitus wiped his brow, ignoring his underling’s excitement, instead staring up at the top of the hill, three solitary crosses standing in the darkness, the daylight gone, a storm like none he had experienced before on land engulfing them.
The gods were angry.
The wind carried the wails of their supporters, though from what he had heard, they were all there for him, the one who claimed he was the son of the Jewish god. It was ridiculous of course, these misguided Jews knowing no end to their arrogance in claiming there was only one god, and he had chosen them.
If he’s all-powerful, then why are we the conquerors?
Two soldiers ran down the hill, talking excitedly. “It wasn’t a trick! He can see!”
“Impossible. I can’t believe it. I’ve never trusted Longinus. You know he only needs three more months before he earns his retirement. He’ll say anything to stay in.”
Vitus reached out. “You two, come here!”
The two men froze, their eyes widening in further terror as the skies raged upon the landscape. “Sir!”
“Did you say Longinus can see?”
They both nodded.
Vitus looked up the hill again then shook his head. He flicked his wrist. “On with you.”
Salem, Virginia Present Day, One Day Earlier
Madely stretched then yawned.
“You know, sometimes I wonder why we’re here all the time.”
His partner, Johnson, looked at him, stifling his own yawn. “Because it’s always been done this way?”
“Right, but just because we’ve always done it this way, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. I mean, you and I have been on this detail for what, twenty damned years? Nothing has ever happened.”
“Well, that’s not true. Remember London.”
Madely nodded. “True, but ultimately that didn’t affect us. It was just a precaution that we took it into our safekeeping. In the end it went right back to her, and she knew who we were the whole damned time. Hell, she’s even invited us to do our shifts in the comfort of her living room.”
“HQ would never go for that.”
Madely chuckled. “No, but what they don’t know…”
Johnson grinned. “I’m in if you’re in.”
Madely smiled. “No, no, just wishful thinking.” He poured himself another cup of tea from a thermos the old lady had provided them and took a sip.
Best damned tea I’ve ever had.
He handed it to Johnson who filled his own cup. “Tea and cookies at the beginning of every shift is a nice perk that I bet no one else gets.”
“True. I don’t know how many more days like this we’ll have. She’s an old lady.”
Johnson frowned, nodding his head slowly as he glanced down the street at the humble home. “She’s been looking weaker.”
“Yeah, I guess when you think about it, that’s why we’re here. If she dies, we have to get in there and retrieve it before anyone else does.”
A car pulled up behind them, Madely adjusting his mirror. “Huh, they’re early.” He rolled down his window, turning toward their approaching relief. “Hey guys, you’re not due for another hour.” Suddenly a gun was pulled, pointed directly at his head. “Hey, wait a—”
A shot fired to his right and he felt something wet hit his face. He spun to see Johnson’s lifeless body fall against the dash just as another shot thundered behind him.
Friedrichstrasse, Berlin, Germany
Martin Chaney stood under the awning of the Rossmann Drogeriemarkt, the Scotland Yard Detective Inspector, on an indefinite leave of absence after being shot in the deserts of Egypt, having no business here, his business actually just now emerging from the train station across the street.
Former Detective Chief Inspector Hugh Reading of Scotland Yard, now an Interpol agent.
He hadn’t seen Reading in over a year, a man he considered his best friend, at least his best friend outside of the Triarii. Though the Triarii was different. It was a brotherhood formed over two thousand years ago, something you were essentially born into, and by the time you were of age, so indoctrinated into, you could think of no other thing you would rather do.
Though some did.
He had never had any doubts about devoting his life to the Triarii, but life within it wasn’t like some cult. He had trained to be a doctor, yet after seeing so many lives wasted in the ER to crime, he had instead turned his attentions to law enforcement, working his way up through the ranks, a good chunk of his career spent working for the man now walking out the doors.
I miss you, old friend.
He stepped out, quickly crossing the street, searching for his friend’s shadow. He spotted him, about ten paces behind.
He slowed, turning his back so they wouldn’t spot him, he not yet ready for his old partner to see him. The sometimes crusty old bastard walked by, oblivious to him being there, Chaney desperate to reach out and say hello.
The shadow passed him and Chaney stepped back into the flow, his hand gripping the pistol in his overcoat pocket. He raised the weapon, took aim, then fired.
There was a loud pop, the noise lost among the din of the busy street, the tiny dart embedding itself in his target’s back. The man reached for it, his shoulder blades squeezing together as he gasped in shock, then collapsed slowly to the ground, passing out within seconds.
Somebody shouted for help, a crowd immediately forming around the downed man. Chaney stared at his old partner who turned to see what was happening.
Okay Hugh, do you see me? It’s time to talk.
“Let me through!”
Chaney spun to see another man rushing up, pushing the crowd aside then kneeling beside the unconscious man. He then glared directly at Chaney.
Fear gripped him as he recognized the man, he failing to take into account there might be two watching his old partner. He knew that Reading would be watched, just in the off chance he attempted to contact him, though he had never thought they’d spare two resources.
And he knew this man.
He was a friend.
Rage filled his friend’s eyes.
He means to kill me.
Chaney looked at Reading, their eyes meeting, his old partner’s jaw dropping in recognition. But there was no time for a reunion.
Interpol Agent Hugh Reading stared, his mouth agape, his heart slamming with shock and excitement at the sight of his old friend. They had been partners for years, he the senior of course, but Martin Chaney was a good friend, they spending many an off-hour together.
Until about a year ago, when he had last seen him in Venice.
Then heard nothing since.
The fear in his friend’s eyes was clear, a wave of relief washing over Reading as that meant Chaney had probably disappeared for some good reason. It had pained him that his friend would leave without saying anything, that he wouldn’t trust him enough to say something.
Yet he knew the reason.
The bloody Triarii.
It had been a shock to learn where his partner’s true loyalties lay, and it had hurt their relationship, the trust having to be earned yet again, but it had. And it wasn’t until Venice when they had learned the true extent of the battle raging within the Triarii that he had an inkling of doubt return.
An inkling that had turned into outright suspicion when he had disappeared, putting in for an indefinite leave of absence to recover from his gunshot wound.
And not telling his old partner why.
Chaney turned, running in the opposite direction. Reading rushed after him, his tired bones not as quick to react as they used to, he raising his hand and shouting after him. “Martin, wait!”
Another man cut in front of him, stepping away from the man who had collapsed, and chasing after Chaney. Car tires squealed ahead, an Audi A4 racing toward them on the opposite side of the street, the wheel suddenly cranked as it swung across, pulling a 180 just ahead of the oncoming traffic. It screeched to a halt, the passenger side door thrown open.
Chaney dove in, the tires spinning, the traction control off, before it peeled away in a hail of blaring horns. The other man jumped out into the street, raising a weapon, oblivious to the vehicle about to run him down. Reading slammed into him, they both hitting the ground hard, the gun clattering away before a shot was fired. He spun him over onto his back, his fist raised when he froze.
Wait a minute!
He couldn’t remember the man’s last name, though he had been a guard at the British Museum, a guard who had fled the British Museum, rather than face questioning. He was a man he knew to be a member of the Triarii, and apparently a friend of Chaney’s.
“What the bloody hell is going on?” He hauled the man to his feet, keeping a firm grip on him as he pulled him out of traffic. “Why are you trying to shoot at Martin?”
Rodney shook his head. “Agent Reading, you don’t know what’s going on. You need to let me go, now.”
“Not going to happen.”
Rodney swung his arm in a loop, breaking the grip before placing a foot behind Reading, pushing him off balance and onto his ass.
Reading cursed, glaring up at the much younger man.
A car pulled up beside him, two men jumping out and grabbing the still unconscious man, carrying him to the curb and placing him in the backseat. The car pulled up slightly, Rodney getting in the passenger seat. He pointed at Reading. “Don’t get involved, Agent, or someone you care about could get hurt.”
Outside Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Faisal gently pushed his laughing boys inside their almost palatial home. As a member of the Saudi royal family, life was good. Extremely good. He had more money than he knew what to do with thanks to the generous stipends paid out by the family, and though he was far down the line of succession, there was so much money to go around, it meant little whether he was ten times removed or fifteen.
He was rich.
Life was good.
And he had to do little for it, other than run his small corner of the kingdom, with an iron fist granted him by blood.
A good life.
He just hoped the rumors of the treasury being broke within five years due to the low price of oil were just that. Rumors. He knew the reasoning behind it. Saudi oil production costs hovered around $10 a barrel, a price no one outside of the Middle East could compete with. Their aim was to bankrupt shale oil and oil sand production, then lower production, jacking up the price.
But the plan had to work before they ran out of money.
“Safiya! We’re home!”
He pulled off his gloves, tossing them to his manservant then dropped in a chair, his boots promptly pulled off. He looked at his servant. “Where is she?”
“I don’t know, sir. I had thought she was home.”
“Of course she’s home, she’s not allowed to leave!” He shoved his now bare feet into sandals and dismissed the boys, heading toward their bedchambers.
Perhaps she’s asleep.
He felt a stirring down below.
Maybe I’ll wake her with a surprise!
He pushed aside the slightly ajar door to their bedchambers and smiled, his wife lying on the bed, a satin sheet covering her. He closed the door, locking it, then stripped naked, his excitement now raging as he grabbed the end of the sheet and yanked it aside.
He cried out.
Two round holes, dripping with blood, were torn through her back, a pool of blood soaking the sheets. He spun toward the far wall, screaming for help, staring at the sheets hanging there, pulled aside. The door to his secret vault lay open and his heart leapt into his throat. He rushed forward into the room, surveying his treasures, the stacks of cash in various currencies and gems of varying sizes and settings, ignored, his eyes seeking what he already knew was missing.
He collapsed to his knees as his servants pounded at the locked door.
Golgotha, Judea April 10th, 30 AD
Decanus Vitus strode into the room, one of the prefect’s assistants, Junius, bowing, holding out his hand and stopping him. “A warning, sire, the prefect is not in a good mood.”
Vitus pursed his lips then nodded. “Thank you for that.” He held up a small bag. “Perhaps this will improve it.”
Junius smiled, his eyes widening slightly. “A gift?”
“You could call it that. A curiosity at the least.”
Prefect Pontius Pilate’s voice echoed down the halls, his words shouted, though unclear. Apparently, a group of soldiers has pissed off the Jewish elders, they now demanding the men’s deaths for blasphemy. Strange things were afoot since the Rabi claiming to be the King of the Jews and the son of their god, had been crucified at the behest of the Jewish elders. Vitus had heard rumors that Pilate had reluctantly agreed, his wife urging him not to, he even giving the crowds the choice between the peaceful man’s life, or that of a murderer.
The crowd had chosen.
Vitus thought poorly.
But control of Judea was paramount, and tenuous. Pilate, as prefect of the region, couldn’t risk losing control, so in an effort to placate the locals, gave the elders wide leeway in administering their own affairs as long as they didn’t interfere with Rome’s will.
And in this case, some religious man being executed meant little to them.
A group of senior officers marched by, not pleased by what they had heard, a hint of fear in the eyes, Vitus not sure of the source, everyone still on edge after the violent storm that erupted around the time this man called Jesus had gasped his last breath.
The aide held out his hand. “He will see you now.”
Vitus strode with confidence into Pilate’s office, snapping to attention then delivering a salute. “Decanus Vitus, I have—”
Pilate cut him off with a raised hand. “I understand you were witness to the crucifixion?”
“From a distance, Prefect. I was at the foot of the hill.”
“And you witnessed the storm? Did it start as they say, the moment he died?”
Vitus thought for a moment, choosing his words cautiously. “I cannot say with any certainty. The skies darkened I think before he died, but there was a shaking of the earth followed by a much more severe storm, that I do believe began when he died.”
“And what makes you say so, if you were so far away?”
Vitus gulped. “I heard the wails of his loved ones just after the ground shook. I heard them before, but they were much more pronounced after.”
Pilate nodded slowly, apparently satisfied with this response. Vitus breathed, not realizing he had been holding it. Pilate looked up, though not at him, as if addressing someone else. “These Jews are a difficult people to rule. They believe fervently in their god, and I get the distinct impression merely tolerate us, as if they think they could overthrow us at a moment’s notice, as if we were the ancient Egyptians of old. I sometimes wonder if we will have ten plagues visited upon us at some point.” He suddenly stared directly at Vitus. “I understand you have something for me?”
Vitus stared blankly for a moment then lifted the forgotten bag. “Yes, something that was found only moments after the ground shook. A large boulder rolled down the hill where the crucifixion took place then split in two. This was found inside.” He untied the string binding the bag then reached inside, pulling out the surprisingly heavy object, placing it on the prefect’s desk.
A shiver raced up his spine and he noticed that Pilate himself shook slightly as well, rubbing his arms, goosebumps visible despite the heat. “What is it?”
“I’m not certain, Prefect, a curiosity for certain. Please, keep it with the complements of the soldiers who serve you.”
Pilate nodded, staring at the object intently before picking it up. “Heavy.”
He turned it, holding it up to a candle burning on his desk, the light playing about it, giving it an eerie glow. “Fascinating.” He tore his eyes away, looking up at Vitus. “This pleases me. Thank your men, and give them an extra ration of wine for their brave service.”
Vitus smiled. “Yes, Prefect. Thank you, Prefect.”
“You are dismissed.”
Vitus snapped out another salute then turned, marching from his leader’s presence, passing the aide at the doorway, a smile on his face, he apparently pleased his master’s mood had improved.
“Junius! Come here!”
The man flinched, obviously the Junius referred to, rushing toward Pilate’s desk as Vitus left the room.
But his mood quickly turned, for he was certain he knew whose heads the Jewish leaders were demanding, and they were men under his command, good men, men who didn’t deserve to die.
I must warn them.
He glanced back and felt his chest tighten, for if the prefect were to find out, his own head would be added to the pile.
Despite the gift he had just bestowed.
Junius rushed into the prefect’s office, his eyes immediately locking onto the object held in Pilate’s hands. A chill ran through him, reminding him of the terror he had experienced when the ground had shook and the storm had nearly overwhelmed them. It had been vicious, terrifying, and he had wanted to hide in a corner until it was over.
Pilate had shown no fear, and demanded none be shown by his staff, an order no one dared disobey, he clearly in a foul mood.
“What is it, Prefect?”
“A rather unique sculpture, don’t you think?”
Junius stared at it, his hands trembling to reach out and touch it, an action he dared not take whilst the prefect was so engaged. “It-it is that. I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it.”
“Nor I. They claim it was inside a stone, broken in half when that Jew was crucified.”
Junius bowed repeatedly, unsure of what to say, it sounding fantastic to him. He didn’t believe in the Jewish god, though he had to admit his faith had been shaken enough to hedge his bets, directing a silent prayer to him. And if this sculpture were related to what had happened, then their god’s power was truly great.
And perhaps he was more real than any of his own gods.
I’ve never had a prayer answered, at least not one I could say wouldn’t have happened anyway.
Suddenly Pilate placed the object on his desk. “Take it.”
“Yes, Prefect.” Junius reached forward, lifting the object and turning it toward him, it seeming to stare back at him. He gasped, an uncontrollable shiver rushing over his body, he nearly dropping it.
“Be careful, you fool!”
“Y-yes, Prefect.” He carefully placed it back in the bag the Decanus had brought it in, tying the string around the top. “Wh-what should I do with it?”
“Take it, put it somewhere. I don’t care. I don’t have time for it.”
He turned to leave when Pilate barked a final command at him.
“But don’t dispose of it! I may have use of it someday.”
Junius rushed out of the room, gripping the object tightly to his chest, heading toward his own modest office. He placed the bag on a shelf carved into the wall then sat, taking several deep breaths as he tried to get control of his frazzled nerves.
There was a knock at the door, sending his heart racing once again.
The door opened and an old man stepped inside, closing the door behind him. But was he an old man? He appeared frail, yet his posture was good, his stride and motions strong. If Junius were to see him walking in the dark, merely a dimly lit shadow, he would swear he was half the age he appeared to be.
“What do you want?”
The man nodded toward the shelf with the sculpture.
“My name is Ananias, and I have come to speak to you about your new acquisition.”
Acton Residence, St. Paul, Maryland Present Day
“It was strange. He looked scared.”
Professor James Acton’s eyes narrowed as he looked at his wife, Professor Laura Palmer. Their friend, Hugh Reading, was on speaker, Acton’s cellphone sitting on the couch behind them, they having one of the more riveting conversations he could recall having, at least recently.
“Scared of you?” asked Laura.
“That’s what I thought at first, but then like I said, someone started chasing him. He got in a car and the guy was going to take a shot but I stopped him.”
Acton shook his head. Their friend, for he did think of Martin Chaney as a friend, had been missing for over a year. They weren’t as close with him as Reading, though they had spent social time together, Chaney even coming to one of their digs in Egypt. It was there that he had been shot, trying to protect some of Laura’s students.
And it was there that things had descended into a mysterious spiral that deepened with each ongoing day. Chaney had slipped into a coma then came out of it, appearing in Venice when they had found an artifact the Triarii for centuries had been searching for.
And then had disappeared.
It had deeply troubled their good friend, Reading, the two men very close. Reading was a bit of a loner after his divorce many years ago, he and his son estranged until only recently. And he had found love once only to have it tragically ripped from him, the poor soul swearing off ever falling in love again.
It pained both him and Laura, knowing what their friend was going through.
And it had thrilled them when Reading had called, his excited utterance of “I saw Martin!” momentarily giving them hope the two would be reunited.
But it wasn’t to be so, apparently.
“And you said it was Rodney who tried to shoot him.”
Laura leaned toward the phone. “Are you sure? He seemed like a nice young man when I met him.”
“Same here,” agreed Acton. “He was clearly indoctrinated into the Triarii, but then again, so was Martin.”
“Exactly!” exploded Reading. “They’re both members of that damned cult! And remember what we were told, that there’s some sort of split in the Triarii. Clearly Rodney is on the other side and has been after Martin.”
“Maybe that’s why he disappeared? He’s afraid for his life?”
Reading grunted. “Could be.” He sighed. “Things were never really the same after London, you know, when we all met.”
Acton laughed. “How could we forget? You two spent your time chasing me down as a multiple murder suspect.”
“I didn’t arrest you, did I?”
Laura dropped her chin. “You arrested me!”
“Nooo, I merely took you in for questioning.”
“Huh, not how I remember it. It was come in voluntarily, or I’ll arrest you.”
Reading laughed. “Sounds like something I’d say. But after I found out Martin was part of this Triarii, and was more loyal to them than the Yard, it just wasn’t the same. He tried, I know, to patch things up, and I think we were headed there, but after he disappeared…” He growled. “A man can’t have two masters.”
“Agreed,” said Acton, “but he did help save Laura.”
“Yes, but in doing so, betrayed his oath. He could have just as easily got her killed.”
Acton squeezed his wife’s shoulder. “But he didn’t.”
“True, but he should be a copper first, cult member second.”
Acton glanced at Laura, they both sensing the pain their friend was in. He could only imagine how he would feel if his best friend, Gregory Milton, were to disappear without a trace, but not before telling the university he’d be leaving.
It meant Chaney had disappeared of his own free will. It may have been self-preservation, yet if he had time to submit the paperwork to leave his job temporarily, surely he could have called his supposed best friend.
“Well, you saw him today, and I don’t believe in coincidences, so I think that means he wants to see you.”
“I think you’re right. He looked directly at me, so he knew I was there.”
“Are you going to keep looking for him?”
“Absolutely. If he’s in trouble, he needs my help.”
Laura pursed her lips then spoke. “Maybe you need to talk to the Triarii directly.”
“That’s exactly where I’m heading now.”
Hope Trailer Park, New Mexico
Leroy flipped the black-tailed jackrabbit on the grill, the aroma filling his nostrils, causing his eyes to close so he could focus his ecstasy on the one sense. The secret was the marinade, a combination of herbs, spices, oils, and a hint of lighter fluid he and his wife had come up with over years of experimentation. There was nothing that could blacken a piece of meat faster than a combustible liquid. Sure, the government bureaucrats and their Bilderberg masters said it was dangerous, but he didn’t believe a thing they said.
If the government says something is bad, then they don’t want you to know how good it actually is.
He avoided all modern medicines and genetically modified foods, and that included pretty much anything in the meat department. He trapped and hunted his own food, had been for years, and he was as healthy as they come, not that he’d trust a doctor to confirm his assertion.
Fit as a fiddle, his wife would say. He was in good shape, could see for miles, and his hearing was fantastic.
He opened his eyes, the sound of a vehicle approaching pushing his enjoyment of his dinner to the side. Peering at the dark SUV, too fine a vehicle for anyone living in these parts, he immediately became suspicious. He flicked aside a latch on the barbeque platform, positioning his foot for what might be about to happen, thankful his wife was visiting friends down the dusty dirt road.
I’m ready for you bastards.
The government had finally come, tired of him challenging their lies on the Internet, calling them out on their deception of the American people.
But he was prepared.
Four men stepped out, weapons raised.
He pressed his foot down.
The barbeque slid forward, its solid metal front easily absorbing the bullets fired at him. He jumped down the escape hatch hidden under the barbeque, hitting the ground then pulling on a lever that reset the entire contraption built years ago. Unless those government agents could figure out how to work it, he was safe.
He sprinted down the tunnel, it extending for several hundred feet, taking him deeper into his property and farther from the road. Yanking on another lever, he was suddenly flooded with light. He climbed up through the hood of a Jaguar he had discovered abandoned roadside a few years ago, several gunshot blasts to the engine telling him the pissed off Texan who had owned it had learned the hard way you don’t travel long distances in one of these.
He stepped out onto the ground, the destroyed engine long since removed, then gently closed the hood, the gunfire having ceased. Peering out from behind the large rock concealing the Jag from the roadway, he spotted the four men leaving his trailer, the SUV soon departing in a cloud of dust.
He waited for them to disappear then sprinted back to his home, rushing inside. He glanced about, nothing out of place, but he knew what they had come for. He threw open the door to his small office and punched the wall, his safe open, his most prized possession gone.
Golgotha, Judea 36 AD, 6 years after the crucifixion
Prefect Pontius Pilate sat at his desk, his wife behind him, massaging his shoulders, she sensing his tension. He had been recalled to Rome, they not happy with how he had dealt with the Samaritan uprising. He had tried his best, of that he was certain, yet his best hadn’t been enough.
But that couldn’t be the reason.
He was good at his job, he was more than capable, yet everything that could go wrong had gone wrong.