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Fisherman’s 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. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. 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.


With the exception of God, all the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.




Dedicated to:

Michelle Knight, for being a candle in the darkness;

My father Charles Pearce, for being my Hero;

And my children Harry, Emily and Rebecca, that amaze me every day.

Table of Contents

The Informant

Arthur McGee

The Letter

Box in the Attic

Deck of Cardinals

Phil

Cardinal Dovizi

Ginger Cake and Tea

Cardinal Cassini

Father Frances

Saint Pancras Station

Father Michael

Roma

London

The Gun

Border Control

Belgium Beers

Cracking Eggs

Frankfurt

Nuremburg

Munich

Vienna

Professor Almesh

Zahra

Don Marconi

Werewolves

Bucharest

Istanbul

The Safe House

Pierre

Just a Scratch

Bari

The Chase

Naples

The Vatican Vault

Home Sweet Home

About Bradley Pearce

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The Informant

Several days earlier, somewhere in the Vatican, a telephone rang. It rang several times before the handset was lifted from its cradle.

“Hello.” Answered the respondent economically. Words were never spoken unless they needed to be. Words could kill if used recklessly. It was not the first time these two had spoken. The informant spoke giving details of a forgotten relic.

“Tell me more.” The respondent replied and listening intently to his informant.

“I understand.” He knew how the world operated. The voice on the other end of the phone continue to relay the details of the treasure.

A deliberate pause allowed the answer to sink in.

“The First? Are you sure?” A concerned look came over the respondent’s face, surprised by the discovery.

“How can I help?” Asked the respondent listening carefully to the instructions being given.

“A son … Yes I see.” The respondent acknowledged.

“I understand ... Follow the son.” Added in a grave voice. “I will take care of the son … rest assured.” There was a click on the other end of the phone and the caller was gone.

His informant had been reliable in the past. Very reliable. The informant knew the location of a Holy Relic. The first of its kind. The respondent knew he would have to tell his superior. There was only one, unless one counted God. The treasured relic must be re-appropriated by his organization. He needed resources. His Organization had resources. The respondent dialed a simple three digit number. The phone range several times before a voice slowly answered.

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



Arthur McGee

A sunny autumn morning broke upon Watford Terrace. The cold breeze blew from the north-west. And a postman cycled along whistling an unrecognizable tune to himself. Much to the annoyance of Arthur McGee waiting at the mailbox, who thought no one should whistle unless it was in tune. And preferably a tune one could recognize.

“No mail today Arthur!” The Postman called out as he cycled passed by the gate and continued on his annoyingly whistling way.

Arthur returned inside the terraced homestead. Closing the door in time to keep the cold breeze from following him inside.

“Any mail today Arthur?” His Aunt enquired.

“Not today Aunty.” Not that he was expecting any, other than the gas bill.

Arthur was twenty-nine years old and successfully unemployed. Having been be laid off from the local council after another global recession had sent shock waves around the world. To pass his day he would read. He read about brave new worlds of courage and adventures of sailing to distant lands. Rounding the Horn in a fierce gale. Facing danger and living tell of the story. When not reading, he would go on walks around the streets of Watford and day-dream of the places he had read about in his books. The only adventure Arthur would face for now would be to the corner pub to watch football games with Phil over a pint. And a packet of Walkers crisps. Phil was Arthur’s best mate, and he had also been laid off from the Council.

His father, Alistair McGee, was a travelling salesman for an international Supply Chain Group. Selling stationary and tissue paper. He would often away for weeks travelling around Europe peddling the company’s wares. On his return he would tell Arthur tales of exotic places, exotic foods and equally exotic people.

Arthur’s mother had died of cancer when he was young. Old photographs reminded him of her beauty. And vague memories of her love. Everything happens for a reason. But what that reason was, was beyond him. But he believed she was with him in spirit. Watching over him.

Arthur lived with his Aunt. Or should it be said, his Aunt lived with him. Having moved in after his mother’s death. Someone to look after him while his father travelled. And she was the closest thing he had to a mother. After so many years of being around she had become a part of furniture. And something one could not throw out. She was a lovely lady as anyone who did not live with her would attest. Taking a daily supply of medication that would kill a small horse. 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 a drug cartel in the East End of London. Expecting a dawn raid by the drug squad any day. She had a habit of taking in stray cats and giving them names like Dizzy, Lizzy, or Cuddles.

Often she could be heard humming an unrecognizable tune. For as much as Arthur detested whistling. Humming was second on his list of objectionable reverberations. He called this her fairy tune, for he was sure she was humming along with the fairies that only she could hear. On occasion she could be heard making an involuntary ‘Hmm!’ Unsure whether it was pleasure or pain, Arthur did not enquire. Despite the stray cats, the humming and the involuntary grunts, Arthur could not begrudge her these few comforts.

When not reading, day-dreaming, or at local with Phil, Arthur could be found drinking incalculable cups of tea and watching re-runs on the television with his Aunt. He felt he was slowly slipping into his Auntie’s silent 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 around him. 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 if something was about to happen. But could not put his finger on it.

In the evenings Arthur would retire to his bed room to continue reading. Aunt would stop by and wish him sweet dreams and turn off his light. He would say a quiet prayer giving thanks for the day and asked to be dealt a decent card soon. Arthur would cross himself, not knowing why he did. He considered himself more spiritual than religious. In 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 universe were turning. And cards were about to be dealt.



The Letter

Dawn broke on another autumn morning on Watford Terrace. Much like the day before. The same cold breeze still blew from the north, chasing behind the postman that still whistled the same unrecognizable annoying tune. The postman slowed down and reached to his basket. And pulled out two envelopes.

“Two today Arthur.” Declared the postman who had stopped whistling momentarily. Passing them skillfully to Arthur. Before carrying on his annoyingly whistling way.

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

Examining the envelopes he gauged a Gas bill as expected. Recognizing the cheap brown envelope with Gas Company’s logo in the corner. Shuffling the letters he looked at the second of the envelopes. This was a white envelope. A letter. Not a bill. The address had been hand written. The writing looked strangely familiar. But he could not immediately place it. It was addressed to him. The stamp looked foreign. European he guessed. But again he could not place it. Arthur flipped it over hoping to gleam the sender’s name. But it was blank. ’Hmm, strange? … Who would write to me’, thought Arthur himself. Shoving the white envelope into his pocket he went inside.

“Any mail today Arthur?” His Aunt enquired.

“Just the gas bill Aunty.” Replied Arthur fibbed to avoid any inquisitive questions from his nosy, but loveable Aunt.

“I’m just popping down to the shops.” Called out Arthur, leaving the Gas Bill on the dining table alongside the other bills that required paying. “Do you need anything Aunty?” Hoping the answer would be no.

“Ohh … Pick us up some more Ginger Cake will you… We’re getting low. And some tea … Not that bags… The loose kind … Would you be a dear?” Asked his Aunt picking up a washing basket and heading to the laundry.

“No worries Aunty.” Arthur confirmed reaching for his coat. Wrapping an old university scarf about his neck and headed out the door. The day was nippy and the breeze lazy. Preferring to blow through him, rather than around him.

The excursion to the shop was half a fib to be able to read his letter in private. Arthur had not had a letter from anyone in what seemed like a hundred years. He would pick up his shopping items afterwards and so satisfy the covenant he had entered into with his Aunty. The shopping center was a few blocks from Arthur’s home and the refreshing walk would stretch his legs. It would take him away from the solitary confinement of his bedroom. But more so the prying eyes of his Aunt.

The shopping center had a cafe where he could read his letter. He knew the girl that worked there, Zara. An exotic name he thought and was often curious about its origin. She was about his age, with long dark hair and hazel eyes. With a seductive smile that made Arthur smile when he saw it. He was hoping Zara would be working that day. She was. Small talk about the weather would bond their momentarily romantic relationship.

“Regular latte, one sugar. Right?” Asked Zara as Arthur was about to ordered his coffee.

“That’s right. Good memory Zara.” He replied with a smile. And thought that could be more between them.

“Take a seat … I’ll bring it over.” Zara instructed with a infectious smile.

Arthur found a vacant table and waited for his coffee to arrive. 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.

Pulling the letter from his pocket Arthur examines it again. Just then his coffee arrived and Zara smiled again.

“Thank you Zara.” Arthur smiled. And she returned to serve another customer waiting.

Taking a sip of the coffee, he could savor its smooth texture, bitter coffee flavor and the sweetness of the sugar. The English cup of tea had its merits. But it could not match coffee’s invigoration. His veins pumped with caffeine. He finally felt alive for the day.

Arthur read the address on the envelope and examined the writing that looked so familiar. But could not place it. There was a date stamp. But as with most date stamps, it was illegible. The stamp was from a country he could not recognise from its features or text. East European perhaps? Displaying a picture of a large building. Not a church, but more like an official governmental building perhaps? Much like the Parliament building at Westminster. Only larger. Grander. 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 or address was still absent. Carefully lifting the edge of the seal, ran his finger along it and opened the envelope. Inside was a single piece of paper folded over twice. Removing the page Arthur opened it, but he was not prepared for what he was about to read.

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

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

“Dad.”

‘This must be one of my father’s jokes’, Arthur thought. Looking outside the café for his father who might be laughing at him. 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. Instinctively he sank lower in his seat, as if this would avoid an assassin’s bullet. And his heart quickened with anxiety. Taking another sip of coffee to calm himself.

Now he recognized his father’s handwriting. A worried look came over his face. What was this all about? There was only one way to find out. 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.”


Budapest? That’s in Hungary, if Arthur recalled his geography correctly. That explained the stamp. Besides a few years in Edinburgh for his engineering studies, and a weekend to France, Watford was the size of Arthur’s world. Who was Professor Almesh? What’s in the shoebox in the attic? Who was after him? Was he on the run from the police? Did Arthur want to get involved, aiding and abetting? What does he say to his Aunt? ‘Oh, by the way Aunty, I’m just popping off to Budapest for a few days’. Arthur’s mind was swamped with constipated questions. How was he going to get to Budapest? He barely had enough money to buy coffee and ginger cake.

Strangely, 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 that would stall and eminent danger. Finishing his coffee he stood up and waved to Zara, who smiled and waved back.

“See you again soon Arthur” She called out smiling.

“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 basket.

“What did Aunty want me to buy?” He asked himself trying to recite the shopping list. Ginger cake, tea, loose, not bags. Nothing else? Arthur could not recall. His mind was already in Budapest. He would have google that when he got back.



Box in the Attic

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

Depositing the small bag of shopping on the dining table and proceeding to unpack the bag. Placing the ginger cake away in a tin with the remains of the last cake, and refilling the tea tin with the new 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 Arthur was still ten years old. “I’ll put the kettle on”.

“I’m just popping up to the Attic Aunty … I need to find an old text book I need … I won’t be long … I think I know where it is.” Said Arthur keen to know what was in the shoe box his father had indicated to find.

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

No one actually knew what was up in the Attic. It was a graveyard of unknown possessions and keepsakes. It had been years since anyone had been up there and most of the boxes were unmarked. But there was one particular box of interest to Arthur.

Opening the ceiling door Arthur pulled down the attic stairs and with them an amount of dust that floated in the air. Checking the stair’s sturdiness Arthur climbed up apprehensively and through the opening. The room was semi lit with light filtering through the large round grilled air vent. Reaching for the light cord.

“Click, click”, Went the switch. But nothing. The bulb was dead.

’Must change that while I’m up here’, Arthur thought. There were spare lightbulbs on the shelf on the other side of the attic if he recalled correctly. Finding his footing between the boxes and he eased his way to the shelf. Making out the likely box that contained the spare light bulbs. He reached inside and fumbled for a bulb.

His eyes were becoming adjusted to the dark. Finding a bulb Arthur exchanged it for the dead one. Placing the deceased bulb into a cardboard coffin for later burial. Returning to the light cord, he pulled down it.

“Click.” Went the switch.

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

The darkness was replaced with the brilliant radiance of the single bulb. Arthur could see stacked boxes before him, each covered with years of dust. Boxes containing old photo albums and nick-nates. Boxes that would never be opened ever again. Boxes one could never part with. They had souls. ‘And one can never throw souls away’, he thought.

At the far corner of the attic. Behind several stacked boxes. He spotted what looked like an old shoe box. The strong dark shadows hid it discovery. It had been shoved into a far dark corner as his father had described in the letter. Covered in dust, but not as much dust as the other boxes around it. Arthur reached into the corner and pulled the shoe box towards him. String had been wrapped repeatedly around it as if to keep what was inside from escaping. Arthur’s curiosity deepened. It had been tied off in a knot. Not a bow. It was meant to remain closed. Nervously he untied the knot and unwound the string from around the box. Placing the string next to the box of bulbs as if preforming a surgical autopsy. The breeze blowing through the outside vent stirred up the dust that floated and sparkled in the air as the sun projected its rays into attic. Was it trying to prevent him from opening the box? But these thoughts never entered Arthur’s mind. His curiosity was too far ahead of the skeletal fingers of light that were reaching for him.

“Arthur! … What are you doing up there … your lunch is almost ready, come down before it gets cold.” His Aunt suddenly hollered from the bottom of the stairs.

“It’s ok 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 instructed.

Lifting the lid of the shoe box Arthur 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 only immediate person was his father. 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? He had only ever seen them on television. Though it appear familiar, he could not put a name to it. Why would he? Arthur could make out something laying underneath the gun. Carefully he lifted the gun from the box. It had weight. It felt awkward in his hand and he placed it on the lid beside the box.

The single bulb threw a dark shadow of Arthur’s body over the box. Arthur reached for the items that had laid beneath the gun. And discovered several bundles of cash. British Pounds and Euros he could make out. Mostly in 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.” Carefully replacing the gun on top of the bank notes, and closing the lid. Rewinding the string around the box. And finishing it with a secure knot like his father had done. Sliding the box back to its deep dark hiding position.

He would need to come back late, before he left. Left? Was he serious about going to Budapest? His was heart racing. His mind spinning in confusion. Returning to the opening Arthur switched off the light and the attic went dark again. But the thought of the gun and money remained. Climbing cautiously down the stairs as if he had a secret. And brushing away any dust that may have hitched a ride.

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

“Yes …Eventually … but I couldn’t find the book, it must be buried in one of the boxes somewhere. I’ll have another look later.” Hoping that would end her curiosity. With his mind was distracted by the box Arthur’s lunch was not as appetizing as it usually would be.

“You feeling ok Arty? You’ve barely touched a bite. You’re not coming down with something are you? … You look flush.” Aunty 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 several more mouthfuls. “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. It had gotten them through several world wars. Though they had lost the American continent because of it.

After watching television with his Aunt, Arthur excused himself to his room and to jump on the internet to research his father’s contact. Professor Almesh. He wondered how much his Aunt really knew about his father. Arthur dismissed her connection to the shoe box. Calmly sipping on his tea and quietly watched the midday news.

“Ginger cake Arty?” Aunty asked.

“Oh that would he lovely”, Arthur replied. Ginger cake always settled the stomach and the mind Arthur thought. But today the Ginger cake had little effect on him. His mind was distracted by the shoe box, the gun, the money. And for the time being, the journey to Budapest. In between the tea, the ginger cake and watching television, Arthur had formulated a cover story to tell his Aunt.

“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.” Hoping she hadn’t 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, Mrs Salisbury is only next door. How long will you gone?” She asked.

Arthur was taken back by his unreactive Aunt to his lie and his leaving.

“Oh, I thought I might stay about a week, catch up with some old classmates”.

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

“Yes it will.” Arthur replied wondering if she knew he was lying. Or it was just a coincidence. “I’ll start packing this afternoon. I want to catch up with Phil before I go.” Added Arthur to embellish the truth of 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.



Deck of Cardinals

Somewhere in the Vatican several days earlier, a second telephone rang a short interval after the first had been laid to rest. The respondent let it ring. They did not have to answer to anyone. But God. The respondent picked up the receiver after several iterations.

“Hello.” The respondent quietly answered.

“Please excuse my intrusion, your Holiness. But I have some very important news.” Cardinal Cassini started to explain to his boss. The Pope.

“Go on please.” The Pope replied with authority recognizing the Cardinal’s voice.

“We have a situation I think you should be aware of.” Advised Cardinal in a grave tone.

“Ire placet” The Pope repeated, slipping into Latin.

Cardinal Cassini gave details of the location of the relic he had received from his informant.

“A relic. The first? … I see.” The Pope repeated to confirm what he had heard.

“Go on my friend.” The Pope requested, hoping the call was not being monitored by outsiders.

The Cardinal emphasized the significance of the discovery, and how critical it was to have the relic must be returned to the Church. The Pope nodded to himself acknowledging the importance.

“Do what you must do to return the relic to the bosom of the Church. Sit angeli custodiat te (May the Angels protect you).”The Pope instructed and blessed his caller before hanging up.

Early dawn light shone through the tall open arched windows. Fine lace curtains filtered the light, sending shadows of twirling angels across the black and white checked marble floor. The Bishop of Rome sat at his stately desk, his fingers tapping on the ancient surface. As if to keep beat to the dancing angels on the floor. ‘Tap-tap-tap’. His mind was deep in thought.

“Hoc non est bonum” He muttered to himself. “This is not good at all”.

The holy fingers continued to tap upon the holy desk of his holy predecessors. Then the tapping stops. He would gather the Cardinals to advise them of the situation. He would take whatever measures that were necessary to repatriate the founding relic to the Church. Albeit by an Act of God. “ita sit (so be it)” The Pope added as he finished the thought.

Within the hour the Cardinals had gathered in the large meeting room. Long dark purple drapes, trimmed with gold braids, hung heavily from the tall ancient windows. On the walls hung portraits of former Cardinals and Bishops of Rome. The room was cool, with the early morning air still lingering. The Cardinals mingled among themselves, moving slowly about the room as they conversed and nodded to each other. A pair of large wooden doors slowly opened. Nothing moved very fast at the Vatican, even the sun’s rays were taking their time to reach this room. Haste, was not in the holy vocabulary. Urgency, on the other hand was. But never the two shall meet. His Holiness entered the room to a series of ritual bows and nods. Like the Red Sea, the Cardinals parted way as the Pope walked his way through them to the head of a large round table. And waited for His Holiness to be seated, before they too took their own places.

The Pope took a sip of water from a nearby glass, to clear his throat before speaking.

“Thank you for coming at such short notice … I have had word of a pressing matter that concerns the Church”. He paused to gather his thoughts. Then continued, “I have been informed a certain Englishman will soon be in possession of a unique Holy Relic.” Stated the Pope as if to wet the Cardinal’s ecclesiastical appetites. “I have this on good authority from Cardinal Cassini whom you know very well for his services to the Church.” Accentuating the word services as if it did not need qualifying. They all knew of Cardinal Cassini, none of whom wished their paths to cross. “Cardinals …” He began again, “I understand the Holy Relic is a Fishermen’s Ring. The first of its kind. Saint Peter’s.” Said the Pope, looking around at the faces of Cardinals for the significance to sink in.

Audible inhalation of a gasps could be heard.

“Let us pray” Exclaimed one of the Cardinals. There was a series of ritual nods. And a shaking of the heads among the more senior Cardinals.

“Yes, prayer would be helpful. But I am thinking of a more earthly solution can be found for our earthly English friend.” The Pope advised.

“I have placed Cardinal Cassini in charge of returning the Ring to the Church.” The Pope informed the Cardinals. “You are to give him your full support if called upon. This was not a request, but a direct Holy Order.”

A deafening silence echoed about the room. There was a nodding of heads again. And the Pope dismissed his deck of Cardinals.



Phil

Though Arthur’s mind had accepted his father’s directives, his heart however had doubts. He had often wished for an adventure from of one of his books. But had never expected it to be granted. He would be treading blindly into the unknown. Watford was a foreign enough place, little alone Budapest and getting there. And by the tone of his father’s letter it would be sooner rather than later. What was the danger his father spoke of? Dangerous enough to require a gun? The thought slapped Arthur across the face and woke his senses as to the seriousness of what he was about to undertake. How would he get to Budapest? Money was obviously not an issue anymore.

Plane or train? Flying was out of the question. Security checks and X-Ray machines would detect the gun in minutes. There would be a lot of questions for which he had no answers. Trains. They would take longer, but would be effective. More room to maneuver. More places to hide the gun. More stops to exist the train if required. Settled. Trains it would be. It would take an extra day to get to Budapest, but if it meant not getting caught with the gun. Then so be it. He would plan the itinerary that afternoon. The thought of buying his tickets online crossed his mind, but then decided buy them as he needed them. Would the people that were after him could trace pre-booked tickets. Who were these people that were after him? Were they sophisticated enough to trace tickets like the CIA? He was Arthur McGee, not Jason Borne. His life was in Watford. Not some remote Indian coastal village. Were they watching him now? Waiting for his next move? He looked towards the lace curtains of the window. The afternoon sunlight filtered through the white lace curtains, sending dancing angels over the floor. Nah. Not in Watford, Arthur thought.

But if Arthur had looked outside his window, he would have spied a small grey Humber that seem to blend into the road side. Much like the driver who seem to blend into the upholstery of the seat he was sitting on. Unnoticed. Invisible. He was a patient man. If anyone enquired of him, he would say he was clergy from Italy to visiting their English brethren. If troubled further he would speak Italian or Latin, and any conversation would be abandoned. If troubled further, then Cardinal Cassini had a final solution in his pocket. He appear would of no importance to anyone and so would passed under the radar. Even the prying eyes of Arthur’s watchful Aunt could not detect the Cardinal’s presence.

Arthur googled ‘Budapest University Professor Almesh’. And waited for less than half a second before the search listing came back. There was a Professor of that name there, connected to the Department of Historical Antiquity. That did not sound like stationary and toilet supplies thought Arthur. But then neither did the gun in the box. Reading the Professor’s background but could not fathom a connection to his father’s occupation.

Arthur spent the rest of the afternoon packing. Then decided he would visit Phil and advise him of his pending journey. Albeit to help cement his alibi with his Aunty. Wondering how much to tell him about his summons to Budapest. It was nearly three in the afternoon, and Arthur had to be back for dinner by five. Phil lived a couple of streets over. And like Arthur, lived at home with his parents. Arthur knocked on the door.

“Hello Arthur.” Said Misters Atkinson, Phil’s mother, “How have you been? I haven’t seen you in ages”.

“I’m good Misters A.” Arthur replied cheerfully, “I was wondering of Phil was home?”

“Come on in Arthur … would you like a cup of tea?” She inquired, then called up the stairs to an open door at the top. “Phillip, are you up there?”

“What’s up mom?”

“Arthur is here to see you.” She relayed back.

“Send him up thanks Mom.”

“Thank you Misters A, I’ll go on up.” Said Arthur following the echoed instructions.

“Call out if you’d like a cup of tea.”

“Will do Misters A.” Said Arthur climbing the narrow stairs to Phil’s room.

Arthur arrived at the door of Phil’s bedroom. The room was unchanged from since he was a teenager. Heavy metal rock posters adorn the walls and a well arranged shelf of old vinyl LP’s. Phil was surfing the net.

“What you up to?” Trying to peer over Phil’s shoulder.

“Nothing much, just surfing.” The page quickly changed as Arthur got closer. “You?” Asked Phil ricocheting a back question to Arthur.

“Not much …” Arthur paused as he thought of what he wanted to say or how to say it, “… Well actually … something has come up and I need your help”.

“Sounds interesting, what you been up to? … Is it a woman?” Phil hoping to expel his wisdom upon Arthur. The amount of which could be written on the back of a postage stamp. Which, not to be unfair to Phil, was generally more than most men knew about women.

“Interesting yes … A woman? No.” Replied Arthur. “I don’t know how much I can tell you.” Reluctant to continue. “I shouldn’t be telling you any of this! I’ve been told not to ... It could put you in danger as well” Arthur advised cautiously. If ever there was a hook to catch Phil’s attention it was the word danger.

“Danger? How can you ever be in danger? You live in Watford for God sake man. Besides, danger is my middle name.” Joked Phil.

“Yeah … though sometimes I wonder if it should be your first.” Replied Arthur, not joking. Phil was a reputation for being handy with his fists. And not afraid to step up to anyone twice his side if they crossed the line with him.

“So what’s happened to get you in all this trouble? Have you robbed a bank and the police are after you?” Asked Phil.

“Well actually, I don’t know …” Arthur thought about the money in the box. “ … If I tell you … you have to swear not to tell anyone okay?”

Phil stood and went to the door closing it quietly and returning it to his desk. And looked at Arthur with a solemn look on his face.

“Ok big guy … spill the beans and don’t hold anything back. Half a story won’t do, okay?” Said Phil taking a serious tone.

“I had a letter from my father.” Arthur started.

“It’s a women isn’t it?” Phil surmised the problem.

“No. It’s not a women … Not everything is about women Phil.”

“Sorry Mate, I just thought … Go on, I won’t interrupt again.”

“I had a letter from my father … He’s says I may be in danger … says I should go to Budapest. See a Professor there … He told me to tell no one, or I will put them in danger.” Arthur reached to his pocket and pulled out the letter to corroborate his story. Passing it to Phil, who opened it and read it to himself. Phil’s face became solemn again and he lifted his eyes to Arthur’s.

“Shit … you’re not joking …. So what was in the box?” Phil enquired.

“A lot of money …” Arthur paused, “… and a gun.”

“A gun?!” Exclaimed Phil. “The money sounds well and good … but what is your father doing with a gun?” A silence ensued as Phil became entangled in the same knotted thoughts Arthur had been.

“What you going to do?” Asked Phil handing the letter back to Arthur.

“I have to go. My father wants me there … He seems to think I’ll be safer than staying here.” Reasoned Arthur aloud.

“Who’s this Professor … Almesh?” Asked Phil

“I did a search for him on the net and it seems he has something to do with History and Antiquity at Budapest University. So I guess dad is tied in with him somehow.”

“I thought your father was a travelling salesmen, when did he become a secret agent? … Cool!” Joked Phil.

Arthur tried to restrain himself from laughing, but could not help it. Phil managed relieve the anxiety that had been building within Arthur.

“Yeah.” Chuckled Arthur with a grin forming on his face.

“How you going to get to Budapest without your Aunt knowing?”

“I’ve told her I’m heading up to Edinburgh for a funeral of an old Professor.”

“Good story mate! … I’d be proud to think of that one. So … when do we leave?” Asked Phil, never to left out of an adventure.

“We?” Arthur looked at Phil, “You can’t come … I can’t get you caught up with this.” Pleaded Arthur.

“Danger is my middle name remember. Besides, you’ll need someone handy with a gun ... I‘ll be your wing man ... Four eyes are better than two. They won’t be looking for two guys travelling together. I can watch your back, while you’re watching mine ... Safety in numbers mate ...” Said Phil exhausting most of the clichés he knew and let it for Arthur to accept his invitation.

“I suppose you’re right. If you don’t mind being killed along the way.” Arthur half joked.

“Mate. They have to get through me, to get to you.” Stated Phil. And Arthur knew he meant it. No one got pass Phil without a bruising to show for it.

“Yeah ... That’s what I’m afraid of … Okay. We leave tomorrow morning. There’s a train leaving St Pancras for Brussels at 10:07am. Don’t worry about money. There seems to enough for several round trips ... I’ve sorted a rough itinerary that should see us in Budapest in a couple days. Bring your Identity Card and Passport for the border checkpoints, and for any hotels we may need to stay at along the way.”

“Can’t we simply fly there?” asked Phil?

“Not with a gun as hand luggage mate.” Reminded Arthur.

“Oh yeah. Security doesn’t like that sort of things these days. I forgot.” Said Phil correcting himself.

“It will take longer, but we’ll get there. You sure you still want to go? You don’t have.” Asked Arthur checking again.

“Mate. I wouldn’t let you go without me.” Responded Phil.

“Yeah …Somehow I thought you’d say that. I’ll see you tomorrow morning. My place by 9am, okay? We’ll get a taxi from there to the station. Cover story you’re coming to Edinburgh with me for a funeral for a week. Okay?” Instructed Arthur.

“See you tomorrow mate.” Grinned Phil keen to get going.

“I’ve got to get back for dinner before my Aunt puts out a search party.” Said Arthur heading down the stairs.

Arthur got home just before a search party could be alerted and settled in for one last dinner with his favorite Aunt before leaving on unknown journey. To a man he did not know. In country he had never visited. Informing his Aunt that Phil had decided to accompany him to Edinburgh.

“That’s nice. Safety in numbers.” She humored.

“Yes, safety in numbers … And who better than Phil right Aunty?” Arthur replied playing alone.

After the habitual cups of tea, ginger cake and television shows Arthur excused himself to bed. Usually he would read a few pages before he slept, but tonight his book would serve as another purpose. Placing the letter between the open pages of the large he re-read his father’s brief letter. Hoping there was more than what he had already had read. Go to Budapest. Find Professor Almesh. A fantasy of spies and espionage erupted in his mind that soon vanished when his Aunt appeared at his door.

“You okay Arty? You look tired.” Asked his Aunt.

“I’m fine thanks Aunty, just getting into the book.” He half fibbed.

“Don’t stay up too late. You have a big trip tomorrow. Get some sleep. Sweet dreams.”

“You too Aunty.” He could hear her going down the hallway, the floorboards creaking underfoot.


‘I don’t think I’ll be having sweet dreams tonight’, thought Arthur. Closing the laptop and book, he switched off the lamp. Had he made a mistake telling Phil? Against his father’s directions. Arthur’s weakness was Phil’s strength. They complimented each other. Phil was coming along, wanted or not. That night Arthur would not sleep well at all. But somewhere between the puzzling thoughts and searching questions, Arthur eventually fell into a restful sleep.



Cardinal Dovizi

A deafening silence echoed about the room. There was a nodding of heads again, and the Pope dismissed the deck of Cardinals.

The Cardinals moved unhurriedly through the large opened doorway, discussing amongst themselves the implications of the finding. The deck shuffled and split itself. Cardinals were then dealt in various directions of the Vatican compass. Paired off as if by some primal mating ritual. Except for one Cardinal. Cardinal Bernardo Dovizi.

As within any society, there is good and evil. Moral and immortal. The Vatican was no exception. Cardinal Dovizi was no exception. Though old and well past his expiry date, he clung to his position as Cardinal, as he did to life. Over the decades he had made associations with people and organizations around the world. Some reputable, some less so. And some of those less so associations had grown into friendships. But the edge between good and evil had become blurred. We all have friends less moral than ourselves, yet we still find ourselves associating with them. Somehow they complete they us.

Cardinal Dovizi too had friends less moral than himself. While the Pope and the Church fulfilled the one half, his less moral associates fulfilled the other. Dovizi was too old to be concerned moralities anymore. He may not be Pope, nor ever would be, and allowed himself with a few digressions from his ordained position. And during his final years on God’s earth. Having served many Popes in his time, this may well be his last. An opportunity had presented itself on the silver platter. He had a friend that would reward him favorably should the relic fall into his possession.

Cardinal Dovizi shuffled unhurriedly to his office. Along a labyrinth of marble hallways and stairways. There are no escalators in the Vatican. No elevators. Just eternally long corridors. Large winding stair ways, each draped with a royal red carpet held in place by polished brass bars. Beams of morning sunlight shone through the towering windows that stood like Sentinels looking down upon the diminutive figure shuffling along the corridor. They had been watching him for many years. But there was an unspoken code. What happens in the Vatican, stays in the Vatican. The Sentinels allowed the Cardinal to pass. His secret was safe. For now.

Before closing the door of his ancient office Dovizi looked down the corridor to ensure his privacy. Staff would not arrive for another half hour and he would have the office to himself. Reclining in his chair Dovizi surveyed his desk of neatly stacked arranged piles of paper. Dovizi was a thorough man and he like things in their place. A cluttered desk was a cluttered mind, he told himself. Opening a drawer he removed a small plastic box of business cards. Then reached for an old pair of reading glasses, wedged them upon his nose and hooked its limbs behind his ears. Removing the cards Dovizi thumbed through them as if he was playing bridge. Wondering what to keep, what to throw out. Dovizi was searching for two cards in particular. Hesitating, he read the card in front of him, as the voices in his head debated what to do next. Would he, would he not? But the question of should he? Never entered his mind. Minutes had passed in what seem like a moments as he stared in contemplation at the card. Taking a deep breath to collect his anxiety, Dovizi reached for the telephone and lifted the large green hand piece.

Dovizi was confident the call would not monitored. In all his years at the Vatican not once had he heard a case of a telephone being monitored. But that was a risk he was prepared to take. The man on the other end of the line also took risks. Dovizi punched the numbers of into the green phone, and waited for it to be answered. It rang several times before a voice answered by a man enjoying his breakfast in the shade of the pergola with over hanging vines. Large stone lions watched on from each corner of the courtyard.

“Cardinal Dovizi, how are you my good friend? What can I do for you?” Came the reply.

“How did you know it was me, my good friend?” Enquired the Dovizi apprehensively.

“Caller ID my friend. Isn’t wonderful?” Laughed the person on the end of the phone. “I can tell whose calling. It is good to hear from you … you have something for me today?” Asked the voice eagerly knowing the only purpose of the call.

They had done business before. The voice was that of Don Marconi. A notorious relic collector, and in particular, religious relics. Already holding several of Dovizi’s pieces in his collection and was always interested in more. Although highly illegal, connections with certain authorities afforded him a level of protection from meddling righteous eyes. Marconi resided on a remote hilltop hideaway, Villa San Michelle. On the Isle of Capri, Naples. The former chapel, dedicated to San Michele, was reputedly built on the ruins of Roman Emperor Tiberius' villa, but was now a forgotten relic to the outside world. A fitting place of residence for the illicit relic collector. Towering three hundred meters above sea level with over a thousand steps to each it. Panoramic views of the town of Capri and its harbor. The sleeping Mount Vesuvius in the distance. It had been rediscovered by a young Swedish Physician named Munthe at the turn of the last century. It is said Munthe made a pact with the devil to acquire the property. Later Munthe come to write about his haunting memoirs in The Story of San Michele. The hilltop hideaway had passed through a series of socialites and eventually onto Don Maroni. Maroni had not made a pact with the devil to acquire it. But he was about to make a pact with the next best thing, Cardinal Dovizi.

“I have news there is a Relic … the first of its kind.” Dovizi offered his initial findings. “We will need to act quickly to secure it.” Including the word we to signify his participation in the arrangement.

“Hmm, most interesting. Do we know what it is?” Marconi asked curiously.

“A Fisherman’s Ring…” Dovizi paused to allow the significance to register, “… The Church is very keen to have it returned.” Dovizi added, baiting Marconi further. “Cardinal Cassini is charged with its return.”

“The first of its kind you say?” repeating the significance of the Ring.

“Saint Peter’s himself.” Dovizi qualified.

“Cassini did you say?” Marconi asked. Having crossed paths with Cassini in the pass and barely escaping with his life. The relic must be prized by the Church to send Cassini after it. This time they would not encounter each other. Marconi had men that would settle the score with Cassini.

“Thank you my dear friend … you won’t go unrewarded.” Marconi enticed Dovizi. “Keep me informed.”

“I’ll be in contact again soon.” Replied Dovizi, and then there was a click on the other end of the line and two men hung up their phones. ‘Caller ID? What was that? I must be more careful’, thought Dovizi.

The electronic age of the internet and smartphones had overtaken Dovizi who never had the time nor energy to catch up. Strange words and jargon associated with the new technology. Dovizi wondered if his Latin was slipping. He would find out more for his friend Marconi on the Isle of Capri. Having never visited the place, he thought it would be nice to go one day. Maybe when all this was over. Before he got much older than he already was. The thousands steps to the top may well be his last. Dovizi had work to do if he was to locate the son. That would lead Marconi to the father, and to the Ring. Nothing moved quickly in the Vatican, not even the paper work. Vatican secretaries talked to each other and it would not be too difficult to know what was happening in other Cardinal’s in-trays.

What happens in the Vatican, did not always stay in the Vatican.

Cardinal Dovizi replaced Don Marconi’s card among the deck of other cards. And thought. Cardinal Cassini was a formidable opponent against the most determined relic collector. If Don Marconi fails, then Dovizi would miss a valuable opportunity that may not present itself again until after his death. Dovizi needed insurance. Thumbing the cards in his hands Dovizi shuffles them until he encounters the one he was in search of. Julius Augustus Braun. Marconi and Braun were fierce rivals. Competition will lift their game thought Dovizi, and ensuring his payday.

Dovizi examine the number on the card and dialed it slowly. The man he was calling operated above the law. Braun was a mysterious man of substantial wealth with tacit connections with many of the industrialists, and their wives. Braun had an origin into which no one dared to inquire. He rose from rumble of the Second World War. Braun whose father was unknown, or unspoken, had taken his mother’s maiden name. Undeclared family wealth, amassed in Swiss bank accounts and vaults, providing the capital to amass even greater fortune from the less fortunate. Ruthlessly Braun climbed from the rumble left by the Allied bombings and forged a dynasty of industrial wealth and power. A new order was forming and his family name would be among the elite. His son Augustus being groomed to succeed him. Braun had an insatiable appetite for Religious Relics. As if to possess them would make him closer to God. As if to possess them would provide absolution of his father’s sins.

The phone sounded in Braun’s spacious office. The polished wooded floors and high ceiling amplified the sound. Disrupting Braun that was reviewing the previous day’s stock prices and trades. He had two phones on his desk. One for business matters. One for private matters. Only a select few would have the privilege of the latter. Braun answered the private number.

“Braun speaking.” Wondering who had called him. But knowing it was important enough to be answered.

“My apologies if I have disturbed you Senior Braun.” Dovizi began hoping Braun would recognise him.

“Cardinal Dovizi. What a delightful surprise. It’s been a while since we last talked ... Hope you are well.” Braun knew Dovizi well. The Cardinal’s distinctive Italian accent and aging voice placing him among a few of Braun’s close circle of friends.

“I am well thank you for asking. As are you I hope? How is Augustus?”

“I am very well though the years are catching up. Augustus is well. Too much energy for me to keep up I’m afraid … You bring me good news my friend?” Braun came to the point, intrigued by the surprised call from his Vatican informant.

“I might have news that would interest you Senior Braun.” Dovizi began.

“Go on. You have my attention my friend.”

“There has been a recent discovery of a Ring … The first of its kind … Saint Peter’s Ring.” Dovizi fell silent waiting for Braun to respond.

A silence ensued as Braun to register the relic’s importance. He had known of the Fisherman’s Ring but was unaware of Saint Peter ever having one. A chill ran over his body. The thought that Christ Himself had given the Disciple Peter a Ring. Bestowing him with The Keys of Heaven. Braun held several questionable relics. Nails from Christ’s crucifixion. A sliver of wood from the cross itself. Saint Peter’s Ring would be second only to the Holy Grail.

“Tell me more.” Braun spoke restraining the desire that burnt inside him.

“Cardinal Cassini has been charged with its return. There is a son that will lead us to his father. And to the Ring … I will know more by the end of the day.” Dovizi warned. Cassini’s name always arose fear in Relic Collectors minds. None less so than Braun’s.

“Cassini … damn … forgive me Cardinal.” Braun cursed, knowing Cassini’s abilities. Wishing Cassini worked for him and not the Vatican.

“I understand Senior Braun … Cardinal Cassini can be an annoyance … but nothing we can’t keep a few steps ahead of …” Dovizi soothed Braun’s doubts.

“Yes … of course.”

“I’ll be intact once I have the son’s location. He will lead you to the father.” Dovizi simplified the path to the Ring’s repossession.

“Thank you Cardinal, I look forward to your next call.” Braun hung up the phone to contemplate the worth of the Ring’s finding, both financially and spiritually. He also contemplated Cassini’s involvement. Their paths had crossed before. With Braun’s men had always come away worse for wear. Or dead. Cassini was a torn in Braun’s side that needed to be removed. Braun to see to it personally.

Dovizi hung up the phone. Pleased he had satisfied his two masters. Pleased that held two Kings to the Cardinal’s Ace and Page. Reshuffling Braun’s card among the others he returned the deck to his drawer just as his office doors opened and staff arrived for the day. Dovizi advised his servants of the mission Cassini was to undertake and that they should provide whatever assistance was required. They were to gleam from Cassini’s staff details of location of the son and report back to him. Suggesting that he would be assisting Cardinal Cassini in his quest to repatriate the ring. As to whom, was another matter.



Ginger Cake and Tea

With only a small window of opportunity to access the attic to retrieve the contents of the box Arthur had planned to have Phil distract his Aunt. Arthur’s Aunt was highly unpredictable despite her habitual routines. At any moment she could change flight like a sea gull at Brighton Beach on a windy day. She loved gardening and Arthur had arranged for Phil to ask to see it before they left. Phil could not tell a weed from a chrysanthemum. But he knew enough about gardening to be dangerous. Which was not far from the truth, as leaving Phil to weed a garden would be dangerous.

With that distraction planned, Arthur finalized their itinerary. Hotels visited would need to cheap so as not to attract attention. They would travel with backpacks and eat on the go. Keeping a low profile from whoever may or may not be following them. Arthur was beginning to realize he knew very little about his father’s background. The slate had been wiped clean with the discovery of the gun and was now being etched with a new identity.

Phil arrived earlier than expected, keen to get underway. This allowed more time to maneuver Phil into position. Arthur had sent Phil an email that morning instructing him to distract his Aunt to the garden. Phil was not short of a few surprises himself, despite being shot down more times than Douglas Barter. And had brought a cutting from his mother’s garden as an incentive to distract Arthur’s Aunt.


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