Having barely escaping the crosshairs of a deadly cult, Robin Jessop and David Mallory crisscross Europe, seeking to unlock the truth behind a conspiracy unresolved for seven hundred years—the mystery of what has given the enigmatic Templars their unwavering power.
Infiltrating the group’s vast archives, Jessop and Mallory make a startling find. An ancient Templar passport hints at a sacred mission: the transportation of a priceless treasure, an artifact of incomprehensible value. Delving through centuries of clues and deception, the two come face-to-face with a secret that could shake Christendom to its core—and cost their own lives along the way.
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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Villeneuve du Temple, Paris
19 November 1307
He had endured with fortitude. That nobody could deny.
They’d started relatively gently, placing rods between his fingers and squeezing his hands in a kind of vise, to break the bones in his fingers one by one, but he’d said nothing in answer to their repeated questions. Then they’d subjected him to the searing agony of the strappado, tying his hands together behind his back, attaching weights to his feet, and then jerking him off the ground by a rope secured to his bound wrists. But still he’d remained silent, even when they’d used the red-hot iron to burn deep furrows in the flesh of his naked body, but when they lost patience and put him on the bed, he knew he would finally break.
They tied his body down, lashing his arms and legs with ropes so that he couldn’t move at all, his feet projecting over the end of the iron frame. Then they coated his feet in oil, stoked the charcoal brazier, added more fuel, and positioned it just inches away from the soles of his naked feet. Almost instantly, a wave of unbearable agony swept through his body as he felt—and could even smell—his own flesh start to cook.
And then he screamed. A scream that cut through the dark and gloomy silence of the makeshift torture chamber located in the cellars under the Paris preceptory of the Knights Templar. A scream that sounded as if it could echo for a thousand years, or imprint itself forever on the dank stone walls of the chamber. A scream that sounded as if it might never end.
But it did. As the last of his breath was forced out of his lungs, the man jerked twice against his bonds and then lay still and silent, his ruined body limp.
“Insert the screen,” the inquisitor ordered.
The two torturers stepped forward and slid a thick and heavy plank of wood between the brazier and the feet of the heretic, feet from which smoke was rising and from which most of the skin had already been burned away, the flesh beneath blackened from the heat, blood dripping steadily onto the unyielding and stained stone floor.
For a few seconds the inquisitor said nothing more, just stared at the body lying in front of him. Then he seemed to come to a decision.
One of the torturers stepped over to the brazier, wrapped a length of heavy cloth around the end of an iron bar which projected from the side of it, pulled it out, and moved across to stand beside the body on the metal bed. He looked across at the tall wooden chair in which the black-robed inquisitor was sitting, awaiting final confirmation. Then he lowered the glowing end of the bar on to the stomach of the heretic and simply left it there.
Again, the smell of burning flesh rose from the bed as the red-hot iron seared its way through skin and flesh, but the body of the man remained silent and motionless.
The inquisitor made an impatient gesture, and the two torturers began loosening the bonds from the dead body, preparing to drag the corpse out of the chamber.
“If we go on at this rate, Brother Guillaume,” the second inquisitor said, “we will have none left to subject to the cleansing flames. How many is that now?”
Guillaume Humbert, better known as Guillaume of Paris, the Grand Inquisitor of France and Confessor of the King, and the man given the task of extirpating the heresy of the Knights Templar, shook his head.
“Do not be concerned. He is the twenty-third soul we have failed to save, another suicide prompted by our gentle and righteous questioning. There are plenty of others still awaiting our attentions.”
The rules governing the use of torture by inquisitors were based upon a papal bull issued on 15 May 1252 by Pope Innocent IV and entitled Ad extirpanda, and were comparatively rigid. But, like all rules, they were subject to discussion and interpretation. No individual, for example, could be tortured more than once, but the inquisitors simply regarded each new session as nothing more than a continuation of the first or the previous interrogation, and would continue indefinitely, until they’d either got what they wanted from the subject or he or she—because with regard to the appalling danger of heresy the church made no special allowances for women—was dead.
They were also forbidden to spill blood, to cause mutilation or death. This meant that no cutting instruments such as knives or pincers could be used, but crushing devices such as thumbscrews or iron boots which shattered the bones of the feet were felt to be entirely acceptable, and any mutilation which resulted was simply seen as an accidental by-product of the process, merely collateral damage. One favored technique was to extract the teeth, one by one and ignoring the comparatively small volume of blood which resulted as each tooth was pulled out, and asking a question before each extraction. Then they’d probe the fresh cavity with a slim but red-hot spike if the answers failed to satisfy the inquisitors.
Death, when it occurred, was considered to be either an accident caused by the overenthusiastic application of a particular technique or instrument, or a deliberate act of suicide by an unreformed heretic, unable to speak the truth to his inquisitors. In fairness, as the task of the inquisitor was to save souls, torturing an individual to death was generally seen to be counterproductive, because of the certain knowledge that the soul of a suicide would be immediately and permanently consigned to the devil and the flames of hell. It would be an obvious and unfortunate failure of their task.
When Guillaume of Paris had begun his work, there were 138 members of the Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici, or the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, more commonly known as the Knights Templar, languishing in the dungeons of their own preceptory, located just outside the city walls on the northern side of Paris. Thanks to the range of tortures applied, only 115 still remained among the living after exactly one month of questioning, and many of those would clearly not emerge from the building alive. And if Guillaume of Paris had his way, those that did survive would only be permitted to walk the short distance from the preceptory to the heavy wooden stake where they would end their days in the flames which would consume their bodies but ultimately, if the teachings of the church were to be believed, save their immortal souls.
The men chosen to extract detailed confessions of the heresies perpetrated by members of the Knights Templar were friars of the Ordo Praedicatorum, or Order of Preachers, the religious order approved by Pope Honorius III on 22 December 1216. They had become known as the “Black Friars” because of the black cappa, or cloak, they wore over their white habit, and from the fifteenth century onward they were commonly referred to as the Dominicans, after the name of their founder, Saint Dominic of Guzmán. A more irreverent Latin name that would later be given to them was Domini canes, meaning “Hounds of the Lord,” a play on the name Dominican.
The order was founded to preach the gospel and combat heresy—meaning anything that the church did not agree with—and its motto was Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare, which translated as “To Praise, to Bless, to Preach.” But there was little evidence of any such noble and intellectual paths being followed in the dungeons of the Villeneuve du Temple. Instead, the two black-robed friars spent their days sitting on their elevated wooden seats watching with total impassivity as a seemingly endless number of men were dragged into the chamber and their bodies progressively broken in front of them as the questioning, and the tortures, grew more intense.
The inquisitors knew, of course, that there was not the slightest possibility that any of the members of the Knights Templar were innocent of the charges laid before them. That would imply that the pope, Clement V, and the king of France, Philip IV, better known as Philippe le Bel or Philip the Fair, the men who, on Friday 13 October 1307, had orchestrated the arrest of every member of the Templar order they could lay their hands on, were both wrong. That could obviously not be the case, as Clement V, as the occupant of the Throne of Saint Peter, was relaying the word of God, Philip acting as his secular confederate. The guilt of the Templars, therefore, was undeniable, well-established and common knowledge, and all the inquisitors were doing was trying to extract signed confessions for the crimes and heresies that they were certain the knights had perpetrated.
Because their guilt was certain, no witnesses for the defense would ever be called, no denials of the charges accepted, and of course there was no possibility of counterarguments. Anything the accused men said apart from a confession was clearly intended as nothing more than a devious way of excusing their very obvious guilt, so it could be—and invariably was—disregarded.
And up to that point in the interrogations, most of the Templars had admitted to at least some of their crimes after only the mildest of torture techniques had been applied to them. Most, for example, had admitted denying Christ upon their reception into the order, and even more that they had spat upon a crucifix during some of their secret ceremonies. Because it was known that members of the Knights Templar were forbidden to enjoy carnal relations with women, it was widely believed that they engaged in homosexual activities, but this charge, perhaps unexpectedly, bearing in mind what they were suffering, was admitted by almost none of the imprisoned knights. On the other hand, most agreed that they had been required to indecently kiss their superior in the order, usually on the navel or at the base of the spine. In truth, and a fact that was certainly known but totally ignored by the inquisitors, according to the established rules of the Knights Templar, sodomy was regarded as an entirely sufficient reason for a knight to be expelled from the order, an offense which was considered just as serious as the murder of a Christian or desertion on the battlefield. And those knights who had admitted to this crime against nature had only done so when the agony of their tortures reached levels that almost no human being could endure.
Some other members of the order had admitted virtually everything the inquisitors suggested, in some cases even before they’d received their first wound from the glowing iron bar or had any of their fingers broken, but others stubbornly refused to say anything no matter what persuasion was applied to them, and even after having been shown a forged letter purporting to have been written by the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay, in which he confessed to every crime and practice suggested by the inquisitors and urged his subordinates to promptly do the same.
And although Guillaume of Paris was satisfied with most of the answers he was extracting from the rank-and-file members of the order, there was one question about which he had been specifically ordered by King Philip to obtain an answer. So far every knight he’d questioned had either denied any knowledge of this matter or had simply refused to reply. To make matters worse, it was not a question which directly related to what Guillaume privately regarded as the “Templar heresy,” but concerned an entirely different matter, definitively secular rather than religious.
In fact, it was a question that he did not feel was appropriate to ask in the circumstances, though he knew he had no choice in the matter. If he disobeyed the King, he knew he could easily find himself back in that selfsame torture chamber, but this time as a victim rather than as an interrogator. And he would do anything to avoid that happening.
Having disposed of the broken body of the last victim, the two torturers returned to the chamber and stood before the pair of inquisitors, awaiting further instructions.
“Who do you wish to question next, Guillaume?”
For a few moments, the Grand Inquisitor did not reply to his fellow friar, considering the strategy he would use for the next interrogation. The problem he had was that he was certain very few members of the Knights Templar order would know the answer to the question he’d been told to ask, and that those high-ranking knights would probably be prepared to endure any torture, and even go to their deaths, rather than reveal that particular piece of knowledge. But he was certain that the Grand Master, the knight in charge of all the other Templar Masters around the world, would know the information he sought. The two other men likely to have had access to the information were Hugues de Pairaud, the Visitor of the Temple, and Geoffroi de Charney, the Preceptor of Normandy. A third possible knight was Geoffroi de Gonneville, the Preceptor of Acquitaine. None of these four men, all of whom were just yards away from the torture chamber, chained to the walls of the dungeons, would be likely to talk easily, and he dare not run the risk of any of them dying under interrogation. Those four were destined to publicly burn, or never emerge from prison again. His instructions in that regard had been most explicit.
But perhaps there was an alternative, a way of persuading them to give up the information without running the risk of permanently damaging them. They were, after all, four comparatively elderly men who would never be able to withstand the kind of tortures that a man in his twenties could tolerate.
Guillaume of Paris made his decision.
“Bring in Jacques de Molay,” he ordered.
Minutes later, the two torturers reappeared, half carrying and half dragging a bearded man with long white hair, barefoot and wearing a stained and filthy gray robe, who had clearly already suffered from the attentions of the inquisitors.
Against one wall of the chamber was a metal chair which was used to support a victim while his feet were being crushed in the iron boot, and Guillaume of Paris pointed at it.
“Tie him to the chair,” he ordered.
As soon as de Molay had been immobilized, one of the torturers seized the metal boot and placed it in front of the chair, and started to make it ready for use, but the inquisitor stopped him with a single command.
“No,” he said, “go back and bring another one of the prisoners. One who has not yet been questioned, and who is young and strong and able to last the rest of the day.”
The torturers nodded almost simultaneously, turned, and left the chamber. They were paid to use their strength and ability to inflict the maximum possible level of pain on their victims, and to work under the specific instructions of the inquisitors. In short, they were paid to listen and to obey, and not to talk.
“Until today we have only questioned one man at a time,” the second inquisitor said. “Why are you involving a second heretic?”
“I have received the most detailed orders from my master, the king,” Guillaume of Paris said. “There is one matter which concerns him deeply and which I have been instructed to resolve if I am able. I believe that the information the king seeks is known to de Molay, but I also believe that he will not divulge it without extreme persuasion. I therefore intend to make him watch as the torturers practice their dark arts on a younger member of his order. Perhaps he may be induced to give the answers that I need, knowing that if he does not, the young man will suffer unbearable agonies in front of his eyes, agonies that I will make clear de Molay can end with a single word.”
The second inquisitor nodded, clearly recognizing the logic of the older man’s argument.
“If the matter is confidential,” he said, “perhaps I should leave you.”
Guillaume looked up as the door opened and the two burly torturers reappeared, dragging a third man, struggling ineffectually in their grip, between them.
“Yes,” Guillaume said. “Perhaps you should.”
He waited until the other friar had left the chamber, then stepped down from his seat and walked across to where Jacques de Molay was secured to the metal chair, looking at him with hostile, frightened eyes.
“You know the information that I want from you, old man,” Guillaume said, his voice soft but laced with menace. “But it will not be you who suffers if you fail to give it to me. Now, will you answer the question I asked you before?”
De Molay shook his head, and then very deliberately spat, his spittle landing squarely on Guillaume of Paris’s cloak and sliding slowly down the material.
The inquisitor looked down at the spittle for a moment, then back at the man in front of him.
“Very well,” he said. “When you are ready to talk, nod your head. I will be watching both you and the suffering of this young knight, who I believe is a recent recruit to your godless order.”
Then he turned and walked back to his chair, seated himself comfortably, and then looked across at the two torturers, the young Templar knight still writhing in their grasp.
“Prepare him,” he instructed. “We will begin with the strappado.”
“What we have here,” David Mallory said, looking carefully at the ancient piece of vellum and running his fingers through his slightly untidy blond hair, “is yet another puzzle. And I don’t mind telling you that this is getting a bit tiresome.”
Robin Jessop looked from the vellum—a piece of fine calfskin used in the medieval period for only the most important of documents—to the three sheets of paper upon which, a few minutes earlier, Betty Howarth had transcribed the ancient text, letter by letter, under Robin’s direction. She glanced at Mallory and then again at the vellum. It had been folded about the midline, the outer surface darkened with age, while the other, inner surface was much lighter in color, having been protected by the fold and the narrow confines of its hiding place under the false bottom of the wooden chest. The writing on this inner surface was clearly legible, the ink still a solid black. Not that they could read it, of course, because the author of the text had done his best to make sure that that would not be possible. Or at least, not possible without a lot of effort and, more importantly, knowledge.
The three of them were sitting at two of the small circular tables Robin had positioned at the rear of her small antiquarian bookshop in the old coastal harbor town of Dartmouth in Devon. Behind the tables was a long counter on which stood a cutlery tray and a pile of assorted side plates, plus two covered glass cake stands, one bearing the remaining third of a Victoria sponge and on the other a couple of slices of walnut cake. At one end stood a till, and beside that a basic Windows laptop connected to a laser printer. Behind the counter was another long shelf on which stood a professional coffeemaker, cups and mugs and bags of beans on the shelves above it, and a large kettle next to half a dozen boxes of teabags of different types.
The idea of the tables and the catering equipment was simple enough: the lady who actually ran the bookshop, Betty Howarth, was a very accomplished cook, with a particular talent that leaned toward the production of delicious cakes. Antiquarian books were not popular purchases with casual browsers, much of Robin’s business being conducted through her specialist website and by e-mail, but the allure of coffee or tea and carrot cake or whatever sweet delicacy Betty had prepared the previous evening was more than many of the people who stepped through the door could resist. It was slightly galling to Robin that on some days her bookshop made far more money from providing refreshments to the passing trade, many of whom had no discernible interest in any kind of printed publication, ancient or modern, than from any books that Betty managed to sell.
But there were no customers in the shop that afternoon. The sign on the door had been turned around so that the word CLOSED was prominently displayed, and underneath that Robin had taped a single sheet of paper on which the slightly more informative message CLOSED FOR STOCKTAKING. OPEN TOMORROW AS USUAL had been printed using the laser printer at the end of the counter.
In reality, they weren’t stocktaking. For an antiquarian bookshop, where the goods on offer are obtained as job lots from private buyers or purchased, often in bulk, at auction, the very idea of stocktaking is not simply redundant but largely meaningless. The products that the establishment sold were the books displayed on the shelves, and that really was the end of it. The only items individually recorded by Robin were those few books which each had a significant value—her threshold figure was one hundred pounds—and those she kept in a couple of locked glass-fronted bookcases near the back of the shop. They were on display, but not accessible to casual browsers, just in case.
No, the reason the shop was closed was because Robin had received a delivery of books and a number of ancient pieces of parchment and vellum. These much older documents had not been specified on the bill of lading produced by the bookseller in Switzerland who had sold her the bound volumes, simply because Robin and Mallory had added the undeclared ancient deeds and other records to the shipment before dispatch, and nobody had known about it apart from the two of them. Those documents comprised the long-lost and much sought-after Templar Archive, the detailed records of properties and other assets owned by the order as a part of their estate holdings. Houses, castles, manors, extensive tracts of land, and in some cases entire villages, all of which had been bequeathed or handed over to the order in the centuries before the Knights Templar were purged by King Philip the Fair of France in October 1307.
They had managed to locate the Archive among several chests of documents hidden away for over half a millennium in a complex cave system they’d found at the end of a valley in Switzerland, caves that extended in a network below the nearby hills. In some ways, that had been the easy bit, but they had also managed to convince both the Swiss authorities and a group of armed Italian thugs that the Archive had been destroyed. These men were enforcers employed by a militant arm of the Ordo Praedicatorum, the Dominican order whose members had emerged to become the pope’s personal torturers and assassins in the medieval period.
And that wasn’t all. They had also been able to get a courier company to send the medieval box that had originally contained the Archive, complete with a sophisticated antitheft device built into the lid, from Switzerland to Dartmouth, where it had arrived at more or less the same time as the books and parchments.
Robin still had to make a decision about what to do with the documents they had recovered, because in many cases the medieval records showed clearly that hundreds of acres of real estate in many European countries didn’t actually belong to the people and organizations that claimed ownership of them. In fact, the documents unambiguously stated that these now extremely valuable properties had been given to the Order of the Knights Templar in perpetuity, often with a caveat that should the order be disbanded for any reason, that ownership should pass to the then Grand Master of the Templars, and from him to his heirs and assignees. It was entirely likely that there were hundreds or even thousands of ordinary citizens living in Europe and descended from high-ranking Templars who were the proper legal owners of these pieces of land and, more importantly, the documents Mallory and Robin had found in the Archive could prove this beyond the slightest doubt.
To say that the deeds and records were dangerous was a huge understatement; explosive was much closer to the mark. Certain important families and organizations throughout Europe could end up with many of their assets seized from them if these documents were made public, and would no doubt take any measures they could to ensure that the deeds never saw the light of day. Exactly what they were going to do with the Archive was a question that Robin and Mallory still had to address.
“It’s not just a puzzle,” Robin said, pointing at the piece of medieval vellum. “If what we transcribed on that first piece of parchment is correct—and you know as well as I do that it almost certainly is—then what we have here is most probably a solid clue. Something that could lead us to the third trial or trail that Jacques de Molay put in place over seven hundred years ago. What we’re looking at could be the first tangible evidence to show what really happened to the Templar treasure before the order was purged.”
Mallory nodded, his gaze still fixed on the vellum in front of him, a relic that neither he nor Robin had any idea existed until the faintest of anomalies had struck him about the medieval chest that they had recovered from the cave system. There was a tiny, but noticeable, mismatch in its dimensions: the interior depth was slightly less than the outside measurement suggested, a discrepancy that he had verified using a ruler. From that point, finding the hidden compartment in the base of the chest had taken just a few minutes. He’d used a knife to lever out the false bottom of the chest and, inside the space that this action had revealed, they’d found the vellum.
“So you think we should go for it?” Mallory asked, looking up at Robin, his blue eyes searching her face.
“We’ve come a long way already,” she said, “but those bloody Dominicans grabbed the chests we found in Cyprus and pretty nearly killed us—”
She broke off for a moment as she saw the expression on Betty’s face.
“I didn’t tell you that bit, Betty,” she said, “but you know that we came out of it completely unscathed.”
“Despite the grenades,” Mallory added mischievously, the fingertips of his left hand unconsciously running down the faint white mark of a jagged scar on his left cheek, an old healed injury that had become more visible as his face had acquired a tan.
“Grenades?” Betty said, her voice carrying the barest twinge of incipient hysteria.
“Actually,” Robin chimed in, giving Mallory a hostile glance, “it was only one grenade, and when it went off it wasn’t anywhere near us, so stop trying to frighten Betty. I grant you that this time we definitely came out on top, because we’ve still got the chest and the most important single bit of the Templar Archive, but realistically that’s not a huge amount to show for all our efforts. The Archive has the potential to make a lot of people a lot of money, especially the lawyers, but that doesn’t really include us, unless we’re going to sell the individual property deeds either to the people who presently think they own particular bits of real estate, or to the people who actually own those same bits. And I think either option would be difficult to achieve successfully, and might be extremely dangerous. And we can’t even really sell the medieval chest, because of the booby trap built into the lid. I’ve no doubt the local woodentops would class it as a lethal weapon and confiscate it, because those two sword blades are like a kind of giant flick-knife. So our total financial benefit from everything we’ve done so far amounts to precisely zero. And a lot less than zero if we add up what it’s cost us in airline tickets, hotels, and hire cars to get to where we are right now.”
Mallory pointed at the piece of vellum.
“But there’s no guarantee,” he said, “that this piece of encrypted Latin text is actually going to take us any closer to the lost treasure of the Templars. And even if we can work out how to decipher it and follow whatever clues are hidden within the text, realistically it’s quite possible that the contents of the treasure chambers of the order were broken up and dispersed hundreds of years ago by the surviving knights. There may quite literally be no treasure left to find.”
“I fully accept that,” Robin said, “but I absolutely feel that it’s worth a try. We might just as well decode this—if we can—and then follow the trail to see where it leads us. At the very least, then we’ll have explored every possibility. And don’t forget the Dominicans. They aren’t going to give up the quest they’ve been committed to for the last seven hundred years, and we’re still right in their sights. That bastard Toscanelli, in particular, is almost certain to come after us at some time, just looking for revenge, so getting to the end of the trail first could be extremely beneficial to our health.”
“I thought you might say that. I was really just checking to make sure that you know what we’re letting ourselves in for—again. But before we make a start doing that, there are another couple of decisions we need to make.”
Robin nodded, her serious expression a contrast to her normally cheerful disposition. She had quite short black hair, large dark brown eyes that Mallory always felt he could lose himself in, and a slightly bent nose above full lips. Not a classically beautiful face, perhaps, but enormously and compellingly attractive, certainly as far as Mallory was concerned.
“I know,” she replied. “The chest and the Archive. What do we do with them?”
“I think the Archive is probably the easier of the two to sort out. At least for the moment, we can’t let anybody know that it didn’t go up in flames on that hillside in Switzerland, because if word of that gets out I can pretty much guarantee that all sorts of extremely unpleasant people will come out of the woodwork and do their level best to inflict severe harm on us and either recover or destroy all the documents. So the easiest thing to do, in my opinion, is to put it all in a cardboard box, walk it round to your bank, or preferably to an entirely different bank where you’re not a customer, and stick it in a safe-deposit box. And then more or less forget about it.”
Robin considered what he’d said for a few moments, then nodded agreement.
“That makes sense,” she said. “And the chest? I presume you think that putting it on display in the window of the bookshop would be a pretty bad idea.”
“It would. I’m quite certain that we’ve not seen the last of those murderous Dominicans and I wouldn’t be surprised if they mounted a surveillance operation against you and against this shop. I know they probably think at the moment that the Archive and the box it was hidden in have both been destroyed, but putting that medieval chest on display anywhere would certainly give them second thoughts. So I think you need to hide that away as well. But in that case, I think you could just leave it upstairs in your apartment, tucked away somewhere in your office.”
“Right,” Robin said briskly, “then that’s exactly what we’ll do.”
Packing the Archive away took about twenty minutes, because Robin was determined that the fragile old documents should not deteriorate any further while they were in her possession. So she used a number of sheets of special packing paper designed to be used to wrap ancient books and parchments, paper that was mechanically and chemically stable, and packed the entire collection into a cardboard box that met the same specifications. The last thing she wanted was for the parchments in particular to be damaged by chemicals leaching out of the packing material. Once she was happy, she sealed the box, made a brief phone call to the bank that was the actual owner of both her bookshop and the apartment she lived in above it, and arranged for a safe-deposit box to be leased to her. Then she and Mallory walked around to the bank, Mallory carrying the box, and saw it locked safely away in part of the vault after completing the required paperwork.
When they walked back into the bookshop, Betty was already busy with the coffee machine, and when they sat down she placed a slice of Victoria sponge on a side plate in front of each of them, and followed that with a mug of coffee.
“We’ll take the chest upstairs later,” Robin said. She pointed at the slice of cake on the plate in front of Mallory. “Now you can throw that down your throat, wash it down with the coffee, and then put on your Latin decryption hat, because that’s probably what we’re going to be doing for the rest of the day.”
Gary Marsh selected a radio station that was playing middle-of-the-road music, turned the volume down until the sound was barely audible, and then reclined the driver’s seat of his car a couple of notches to give himself a bit more comfort for what might turn out to be a very long day indeed. The car was unremarkable, a characteristic that was also embodied by the driver. Middle-aged, appearing to be somewhere between about thirty and fifty, but with one of those faces that’s hard to age, short grayish hair, and no features that made him stand out in the memory of most people who saw him. Which of course was the point. A surveillance specialist who people would remember for some reason was unlikely to ever prove good at his job. And Marsh was very good at what he did. Even his long-suffering wife, Ginny, who frequently wished he’d take up some other, more conventional employment because of the time he inevitably spent out on the road and often incommunicado, had to admit that.
His mobile phone—a somewhat larger unit than most people carried, with an extended-life battery fitted as well as a number of unusual and in some cases technically illegal apps—was clipped to a holder on the dashboard, the charging lead snaking down to a power socket on the center console. A copy of the Daily Mail newspaper was propped on the steering wheel, and he gave every impression of a man waiting for his wife or somebody, and reading the paper just to pass the time.
In fact, Marsh never read newspapers of any type, simply choosing one by size for whatever job he was contracted to perform. In this case, he’d wanted a paper he could hide behind whilst in the car, but not one so large that it would be cumbersome to carry when he left the vehicle.
He had found a parking place in Dartmouth—no mean achievement on its own—but also one that gave him a distant but uninterrupted view of Robin Jessop’s antiquarian bookshop, which he frankly hadn’t expected. He’d anticipated that he would have to park the car somewhere and then walk the streets of the town until he found a suitable vantage point from which he could watch the target premises. The space he had found was in one of those free-parking-for-two-hours-but-no-return-within-one-hour zones, but that didn’t bother him.
He owned two virtually identical vehicles, the same make, model, and color, and tucked away in the trunk of each of them was a spare set of number plates applicable to the other vehicle. They were fitted with slim but powerful magnets, and it would be the work of only a few seconds for him to replace the existing number plates with the spare set. If a traffic warden or police officer walked past, a check on the vehicle details, whichever plates were visible, would confirm that it was properly licensed and insured. The practical upshot of this technique was that he could change the identity of the car at a moment’s notice and so remain in the same parking place all day if he wished, and if it proved necessary to do so.
As he stared down the road toward the bookshop, he reflected again at his surprise at being where he was and doing the surveillance that he was being paid to perform. About two weeks earlier, he had been contracted to mount a surveillance operation against Robin Jessop by a man that he remained convinced was a senior police officer, and probably up to no good. But surveillance, while not the kind of activity that most men would boast about in their local bar, was at least fundamentally harmless, and he had been paid a substantial sum of money for his time and expertise.
The operation had proceeded smoothly enough until he had witnessed another two-man team also targeting Robin Jessop, and he had seen that at least one of these men had been carrying a pistol. That changed the entire thrust of his tasking, at least in his own mind, and after a certain amount of soul-searching he had breached the unwritten terms of his contract and told Jessop what he had been hired to do, and had at the same time also told her about the armed man who was on her trail. Surveillance was one thing, but the only reason anyone carried a gun was to use it, and Marsh had no intention of getting involved in anything like that.
Within a remarkably short period of time his principal—the anonymous police officer who had hired him—had ended the contract and paid him the balance of the agreed fee. But the previous day he had been contacted once again by the same man and told to resume his surveillance. Same target, same briefing. The payment he had been offered was again substantially more than he would normally expect from a job of that type, but he had accepted it immediately, canceling another less interesting and much less lucrative assignment in order to do so.
He told himself that his decision was entirely financial, but in reality it was much more complex than that. Although he had never met Robin Jessop or David Mallory, the man who seemed to be almost permanently by her side, they seemed to be a fairly decent couple, and Marsh rationalized his assignment as being as much about keeping them safe as about watching what they did. For some reason, he felt somewhat protective toward them, a feeling that would certainly not be shared by whatever new surveillance operative would be hired if he declined the job.
That day, almost exactly nothing had happened. There had been two deliveries of reasonably large cardboard boxes by a couple of different courier companies early that afternoon—presumably boxes of books, bearing in mind the profession Robin Jessop had chosen—and Mallory and Jessop had arrived at the shop separately a short time later. They had left the shop only once since then, when the two of them had walked down the street, Mallory carrying a cardboard box that didn’t appear to be particularly heavy.
Marsh had followed at a discreet distance, using his digital camera at intervals, and watched as they entered a nearby bank. A couple of minutes later, he’d walked into the building himself and perused a handful of the brochures extolling in the most favorable terms possible the niggardly interest rates that were on offer. He’d seen Jessop talking to a bank official in a quiet area away from the main counter, watched her complete a number of forms, and then all three of them—the official, Jessop, and Mallory—had disappeared through a door controlled by a keypad and a swipe-card reader, Mallory still carrying the cardboard box. His tiny digital camera, a piece of equipment that fitted comfortably into the palm of his hand, had recorded the various steps in the transaction. They’d reappeared about five minutes later, just as Marsh was fending off the attention of a junior employee apparently eager to make some kind of a sale, and the cardboard box was no longer in evidence. The conclusion was simple enough: Jessop had obviously been depositing something of value in one of the bank’s safe-deposit boxes.
He’d followed the two targets at a distance back to the shop and continued up the street to where his car was parked. And since then, there’d been no movement whatsoever from either of them.
He decided that he would watch for another hour, and if neither of them had emerged from the building in that time, he would walk the fifty or so yards down the street toward the bookshop and visit the convenience store he had spotted earlier and buy himself a handful of packets—sandwiches, if they had any, and if not cookies and chocolate bars—plus a couple of small bottles of water. They would keep him going until Mallory and Jessop settled down somewhere for the night, when he would be able to make his own arrangements and find a place offering suitable—meaning cheap and convenient—accommodation in the town.
And at that point, he would also contact his principal and provide him with a short verbal report on the activities, or more accurately the lack of activities, he had witnessed during the day, and that would include the transfer of the cardboard box to the vault of the local bank. His brief had been to watch Robin Jessop as the main target, and although the fact that she had deposited something at the bank didn’t seem directly relevant to his instructions, he knew his principal would wish to know about it, if only for the sake of completeness.
Excerpted from "The Templar Brotherhood"
Copyright © 2017 James Becker.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed the Templar trilogy by Becker. The characters are interesting, the historic references seem to be spot on, and the plot moves briskly. I plan to read some of his other works soon.
Well written and fun. Lots of interesting historical facts scattered throughout the book.