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'The Nine Men' is part three and the final part of 'The Angels of Destiny,' available as a novella.

Robert McPherson is sent to Russia to find and retrieve a priceless, ancient manuscript. 
Disguised as the harmless Dr. Michael Waterman from Havard University, visiting the Holy Danilov Monastery in Moscow, his task seems impossible.

But, with the help of the famous French archaeologist, Victor Canseliet and a young, disillusioned monk, Robert McPherson devises an ingenious plan. 

Unfortunately for Robert McPherson, a Russian FSB Commander, a Professor of Archaeology from India, Bishops from the Russian Orthodox Church and a paid assassin have very different ideas.

A fast paced thriller set in and around Moscow.

 

 

Author’s notes:

 

The locations in Italy, France, India and Russia, depicted in this story, are all real.

The story of the Holy Danilov Monastery bells is true and well documented.

The Nine Unknown Men is a myth and well documented.

The ch,aracters in this novel are purely fictitious and bear no resemblance to anyone, living or dead.

The spelling is US English.

 

 

Chapter One

 

The Vatican City, Rome

 

On a cloudless, blue Italian day, the majestic dome of St Peter’s Basilica dominated the skyline.

Below, in the famous square, an excited congregation of some 60,000 people were gathered in a buzz of anticipation.

   Priests and nuns mingled, as if equals, with the expectant worshippers. There were many Italians in the crowd but the gathering included numerous flag waving visitors from around the world, all yearning for their holy experience.

Some were looking for enlightenment, some for reassurance that God had not forsaken them and hoping desperately that the event would revitalize their waning faith. And many were tourists, with no faith to wane, simply enjoying the spectacle in the glorious Italian sunshine.

   There was a colorful and animated group of East-African missionaries in the congregation who were attending a week-long ‘sales’ course at the Vatican College, entitled: “Catholicism in the Modern World” and advertised as an empirical appreciation of how Catholicism enriched people’s lives.

   As the balcony doors of the Basilica opened and Pope Francis appeared, silence gripped the square, as if controlled by the flick of a switch.

   Clothed in his familiar white attire, his Holiness raised his hand to acknowledge his flock that inundated St Peter’s Square.

   Robert McPherson stole a glance at his wife and watched a tear run down her cheek.

   With the tip of her finger she quickly wiped away the evidence before turning to her husband and whispering: ‘It’s him, it’s the Pope! This is just magical isn’t it? My whole body is tingling with excitement,’ she said, as live images of the Pope were relayed around the square by three massive screens, akin to a rock concert, for the benefit of those behind the VIP area.

   McPherson smiled and wrapped his arm around her, pulling her close and feeling the warmth of her slender figure next to his. He quickly reminded himself of how close to death he and his family had come, on more than one occasion; in the name of religion!

   Rob glanced up to the perimeter of the square and the imposing array of carved, stone saints looking down at him.

   ‘…Yeah… it’s very special my love,’ he said, tenderly kissing the top of her head.

   Vicki hugged his waist and another tear found its way down her cheek. ‘I don’t want this vacation to end, but at the same time I can’t wait to see Daniel,’ she said.

 

Far too quickly for the gathering, the mass ended with a blessing and the Pope waved a final farewell to the crowds below before leaving the balcony. Today, unfortunately, ill health had prevented him from a walkabout to meet the faithful.

   Robert and Vicki held hands and melted into the throng of people pouring through Piazza Pio X11 onto  the Via della Conciliazione; leaving behind a few souls who had chosen to sit and contemplate the whole experience, plus a handful who seemed to be walking aimlessly around the square as if in a holy trance; presumably hypnotized by the word of God. Soon though, even they would be politely asked to leave.

 

Later, near Ponte Sant’ Angelo, Rome

 

Rob smiled at Vicki as they walked hand in hand beside the river, shaded from the sun by a leafy avenue of trees. The smell of fresh Italian coffee wafted towards them from a small wooden trattoria. Quaint rows of books were neatly stacked on shelves around its eaves, adding to the place’s cozy atmosphere.

   ‘Let's sit here under the trees and enjoy a coffee,’ Rob suggested. ‘That was one mother of an experience, wasn’t it?’ he said, offering a seat to his wife at a table for two.

   Vicki seemed focused on some distant point. ‘…It was an experience I’ll never forget,’ she eventually said.

   ‘You were quite emotional in there, weren’t you?’

   ‘Yeah, I can’t explain it. You know I don’t consider myself to be a religious person but the atmosphere  certainly got to me.’

   Between them and the trattoria a skinny young Italian walked by carrying a wooden crate full of leafy herbs, tomatoes and colorful vegetables; the distinctive scent of basil drifted towards them on the warm air.

   A waiter approached and said, ‘Prego — cosa desidera ordinare?’

   Rob answered, ‘Vorrei due cappuccino, per favore.’

   Vicki joked, ‘Don’t tell me — a few days here and you’re fluent in Italian!’

   Rob laughed. ‘Not quite,’ he said, knowing that Vicki would have difficulty with the truth. He just knew what to say; and he’d never studied Italian in his life; he also knew the reason why.

   The couple were soaking up the smells, sights and sounds of the vibrant city; the ‘Italian Experience’ as Vicki aptly described it when the waiter returned with their coffees.

   ‘Grazia mille,' Rob responded, with a warm smile.

   ‘Prego,’ replied the young Italian waiter.

   Vicki rolled her eyes at the aroma of the coffee before taking a sip. ‘Ohhhh!…Why does it only taste as good as this in Italy?’ But the moment was spoilt when Rob’s cellphone rang in his jacket pocket. Removing it, he frowned when he saw who the call was from.

   ‘What’s the matter?’ Vicki asked.

   'I’m not sure… It’s a call from Hunter.’

   ‘Oh, for God’s sake, Rob, we’re on vacation. It’s not as if we take many.’

   ‘Well, it must be pretty important.’ Rob accepted the call. ‘Hi, Colin, what can I do for you?’

   ‘Rob, I’m really sorry to call you during your vacation but something has come up and we need you to go to Paris.’

   'Paris?’

    ‘Yes, it’s important you go to Paris on the way home. Linda has booked you on first-class flights from Rome. Take Vicki out for a romantic meal and put it on your expenses — Paris in the springtime and all that romantic stuff.’

   Rob’s mood began to soften. ‘So what’s it all about?’ he enquired, winking at Vicki who still looked confused. She mouthed Paris and Rob smiled and nodded.

   ‘We need you to check out a guy by the name of Victor Canseliet. He’s a bit of an authority on secret societies, coded texts and all that weird and wonderful shit. Writes books on the subject.’

   Rob frowned at Vicki and she frowned back. ‘So why do I need to see him, Colin?’

   ‘Well, as you’ve now joined GIMA, I think he might be of interest to you.’

   ‘Go on.’

   ‘Do you know anything about a secret organization called, The Nine Men?’

   ‘…The Nine Men?’ Rob shook his head, ‘…No, never heard of them. Who are these guys?’

   ‘We believe they are the most powerful secret society on earth and we’re hoping that Victor Canseliet will enlighten you further. Linda’s sending you all the intelligence details by secure email; good luck, Rob, and give my regards to Vicki. Tell her the nation’s satellite communications are in disarray since she’s been away.’ Hunter ended the call.

   ‘What’s going on, Rob?’

   ‘I’m not sure, but we’re going home via Paris, to meet a gentleman named, Victor Canseliet.’

 

Chapter Two

 

 

 

“Behold,” said Boheme, “he will show it to you plain enough if you be a Magus (Sorcerer) and worthy, else you shall remain blind still.”

 

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

 

Smiling tourists enjoying the Easter sunshine were standing in awe as they gazed upon France’s most famous gothic cathedral and the durable facade of the cathedral’s brooding, carved-stone masterpiece with its hideous gargoyles that peered ominously back at the visitors; the place synonymous with Victor Hugo’s grotesque, hunchbacked bell-ringer, Quasimodo and his gypsy beauty, Esméralda.

   Nearby, the gently meandering waters of the Seine sparkled and folded into bubbling wavelets in the wake of the passing tour boats.

   In front of the cathedral’s main entrance, a small group had gathered and a tall, distinguished looking man with a white goatee and Panama hat was ticking off names on a clipboard. He was wearing a cream linen suit, blue shirt and a yellow silk scarf that draped loosely around his neck. His brown suede shoes were handmade.

   The man smiled authoritatively as he looked over the rim of his glasses at his latest group of twenty enthusiastic, wannabe mystics, gazing back excitedly at their esteemed guide; happy to have paid him the three-hundred euros each for the privilege of being in such esteemed company.

   ‘Kito?’ the guide called out.

   A spectacled Japanese girl with a pallid complexion raised her hand.‘That’s me,’ she said.

   ‘Bon! That means everyone’s here.’ The man paused as he slipped his pen into his inside pocket and did some simple mental arithmetic; Ca fait six-mille euros. ‘Is everyone happy for me to speak in English?’ the guide asked. Smiling heads nodded their approval.

   ‘Excellent!’ he paused for effect. ‘I’m sure you already know who I am, but I’ll introduce myself anyway… My name is Victor Henri Canseliet. A votre service,’ he said, doffing his hat.

   ‘The one and only!’ someone called from the crowd. Canseliet bowed in acknowledgement.        ‘Most kind,’ he added with a gratified smile.

   Trained as an archaeologist in France and the Middle-East, the young Canseliet had soon acquired a fascination for alchemy, especially Islamic, and the secrets locked in its ancient symbolism.

   Now, some forty years later he was still working tirelessly, trying to unlock the secrets of a little-understood subject, painfully aware that, for him, time was running out.

   To the common man, alchemy was simply a throw-back to the Middle Ages; conjuring up images of a studious crackpot, working next to a flame-belching Athanor (alchemical furnace), intent on turning lead into gold.

   The astute Canseliet was conscious that alchemy was much more than that, with its hidden instructions, false clues dead-ends and a strange ‘chemical’ language. Canseliet realised that alchemy was a recipe, a set of coded instructions on how to attain enlightenment; a way to transmute mind, body and soul through the medium of a mysterious substance known as the Philosopher’s Stone…But only for the worthy…the privileged few who break the code.

   The exact way to enlightenment, annoyingly, still eluded him. He did not yet know. But, if events go to plan, all that could change; he would then reap the rewards attributed to the chosen few; the secret elite who have climbed the Ladder of the Wise and tasted the Elixir of Life. People like the chemist and physician, Van Helmont (1577-1644) and the mysterious twentieth-century Fulcanelli. Only then would his life-long dream be realised.

   Throughout the world, sixty-seven-year-old Victor Canseliet was considered to be the leading authority on secret societies and their manuscripts.

   Raising his clenched hand to his mouth, he cleared his throat with a gentle cough. ‘…Ladies and gentlemen, bienvenue à Paris and to this magical place,’ he said, gesturing to the cathedral.

   ‘Today, I intend to take you on a tour of Notre-Dame; a tour unlike any other tour… I will prove to you that this magnificent building is not just a gothic masterpiece of structural engineering… it is not just a place of religious worship or where Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo once rang the bells… Non, ce n’est pas, mes ami!…This place is something much more than that… Incredibly, it is actually something beyond the imagination of most people… It is in fact, the custodian of the symbols, which are cut in the stone for everyone to see, for all eternity. Symbols with hugely significant meaning, that, I, Victor Canseliet, will interpret for you… Soon, ladies and gentlemen, you will understand the real reason why this magnificent place was built.

   And, after the tour, I will be selling signed copies of my latest book, "Reading between the Lines," which dedicates a whole section to this very cathedral… So, let’s waste no more time. Allons, mes amis!’

 

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