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Authors: Jefferson Bass

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The Inquisitor's Key

BOOK: The Inquisitor's Key
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The Inquisitor’s Key
Jefferson Bass
Dedication

In memory of J.W. (Bill) Jefferson

Epigraphs

There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow, but only
Now, as it was a thousand years ago and as it will be a
thousand years hence.

—M
EISTER
J
OHANNES
E
CKHART, CIRCA
1300

Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the
Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will
happen in the Now.

—E
CKHART
T
OLLE
,
The Power of Now,
1999

Knoxville, Tennessee
The Present

A MOCKINGBIRD TWITTERED ON A BRANCH OF A DOGWOOD
as a middle-aged man—his hair going to salt-and-pepper, but his body fit and his movements brisk—approached a chain-link gate at the edge of a wooded hillside. The man wore a black Nomex jumpsuit, which was heavy and hot for Knoxville in June, but he’d scheduled a meeting with the university president later in the day and didn’t want his street clothes reeking of human decay. Sewn to each shoulder of the jumpsuit was a patch embroidered with the words “Forensic Anthropology” and the image of a human skull, a pair of swords crisscrossed beneath it.

The gate, like the rest of the fence, was topped with shiny coils of concertina wire. Above the gate, the unblinking eye of a video camera kept constant vigil; other cameras monitored the perimeter of the fence, which enclosed three wooded acres. A large metal sign wired to the mesh of the gate proclaimed U
NIVERSITY OF
T
ENNESSEE
A
NTHROPOLOGY
R
ESEARCH
F
ACILITY
. K
EEP
O
UT
.
O
FFICIAL
U
SE
O
NLY
. F
OR
E
NTRY OR
I
NFORMATION
, C
ONTACT
D
R
. B
ILL
B
ROCKTON
, A
NTHROPOLOGY
D
EPARTMENT
, 865-974-0010. The gate was secured by a padlock whose shackle was as thick as the man’s index finger.

The man in the jumpsuit—Brockton himself—unclipped a large ring of keys from his belt, selected one, and opened the padlock. Swinging the chain-link gate outward, he proceeded to a second, inner gate, this one made of solid planks. The wooden gate, part of a high privacy fence shielding the enclosure from prying eyes, was secured by a second padlock, which was fastened to a heavy steel chain threaded through holes bored in each door of the gate. When the lock clicked open, Brockton fed one end of the chain through the hole in the board, link by clattering link, and then pushed the wooden gate inward. It opened onto a small grass clearing surrounded by locust trees, oaks, maples, dogwoods, and climbing honeysuckle vines. Stacked at one edge of the clearing, just inside the gate, were three aluminum cases, each the size and shape of a no-frills coffin. Faded shipping labels hung from the cases, along with red B
IOHAZARD
warnings.

Retracing his steps, Brockton exited the enclosure, returned to a white University of Tennessee pickup idling just outside the fence, and backed it through the gate and into the clearing. At the far edge of the grass, he tucked the truck between two trees and shut off the engine. Opening the camper shell and the tailgate, he slid out a sheet of plywood, pulling it across the tailgate until it was close to dropping off.

His muscles strained with the effort, for atop the plywood lay a black vinyl bag seven feet long by three feet wide, as thick and lumpy as a human body. He lowered the end of the plywood to the ground, forming a ramp, and then slid the bag down. Kneeling beside it, he tugged open the zipper—a long C-shaped zipper edging the top, one side, and the bottom of the rectangular bag—and then folded back the flap. Inside was a fresh corpse, a white male whose abundant wrinkles and sparse white hair seemed to
suggest that he’d lived out his allotted threescore years and ten, maybe more. The face appeared peaceful; the old man might almost have been napping except for the unblinking eyes…and the blowfly that landed and walked unnoticed across one of the corneas.

From the back of the truck Brockton retrieved two thin dog tags, each stamped with the number 49-12 to signify that the corpse was the forty-ninth body donated to the research facility in the year 2012. With a pair of black zip ties, he fastened one tag to the corpse’s left arm and the other to the left ankle: a seemingly insignificant act, yet one that conferred a whole new identity on the man. In his new life—his life as a corpse, a research subject, and a skeletal specimen—the man would have a new identity. His new name, his only name, would be 49-12.

Upriver, the bells of a downtown church began to toll noon as Brockton lay 49-12’s hands across his chest. The anthropologist looked up, listening, then smiled slightly. Peering into the vacant eyes of the corpse, he plucked a line of poetry from some dusty corner of memory. “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls,” he advised 49-12. “It tolls for thee.”

At that moment, the cell phone on Brockton’s belt chimed. “And for me,” he added.

 

A BELL JETRANGER HELICOPTER SKIMMED LOW ACROSS
a wooded ridge and dropped toward a river junction, the confluence where the Holston and the French Broad joined to form the emerald-green headwaters of the Tennessee. Beneath the right-hand skid of the chopper, a rusting railroad trestle spanned the narrow mouth of the French Broad. Just ahead, at Downtown Island Airport, a small runway paralleled the first straightaway of the Tennessee, and a single-engine plane idled at the threshold, preparing for takeoff. The helicopter pilot keyed his radio. “Downtown Island traffic, JetRanger Three Whiskey Tango
is crossing the field westbound at one thousand, landing at the Body Farm.”

“Three Whiskey Tango, this is Downtown Island. Did you say landing at the Body Farm, over?”

“Roger that.”

“Three Whiskey Tango, are you aware that the Body Farm is a restricted facility?”

“Downtown Island, we’re a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation aircraft. I reckon they won’t mind.”

Two miles west of the airstrip, the modest skyline of downtown Knoxville sprawled above the right-hand riverbank. The skyline was defined by two twenty-five-story office towers built by a pair of brothers who began as bankers and ended as swindlers; a wedge-shaped pyramid of a hotel, Marriott-by-way-of-Mayan; a thirty-foot orange basketball forever swishing through the forty-foot hoop atop the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame; and a seventy-five-foot globe of golden glass balanced on a two-hundred-foot steel tower like a golf ball on a tee—the Sunsphere, a relic of a provincial world’s fair orchestrated by the swindling banker brothers in 1982.

The epicenter of Knoxville, though—its beating heart if not its financial or architectural nucleus—lay another mile down-river: the massive oval of Neyland Stadium, home and shrine to the University of Tennessee Volunteers. During home games against the Florida Gators or the Alabama Crimson Tide, the stadium roared and rattled with the fervor of 102,000 rabid fans. Beneath the stadium, in a grimy building wedged under the stands, was the university’s Anthropology Department, home to twenty professors, a hundred graduate students, and thousands of human skeletons.

A mile beyond the stadium, the TBI helicopter crossed to the river’s hilly, wooded left bank. Easing below the treetops, it touched down just outside the fence of the Body Farm. Brockton emerged from the research facility’s entrance. Fighting the
blast of the rotor wash, he wrestled the wooden gate into place and locked it, followed by the outer fence. Then he ducked under the spinning blades and clambered into the cockpit. As he swung the door shut, the turbine spooled up and the chopper vaulted upward, buffeting the fence and shredding oak leaves as it climbed. The pilot banked so steeply that Brockton found himself looking straight down at the naked form of 49-12, and he realized with a queasy smile that if his harness should fail and the door fly open at this moment, he would deliver his own fresh corpse to the Body Farm. But luck and latches held, and the chopper leveled off and scurried upriver with the anthropologist strapped safely aboard.

The GPS screen on the instrument panel displayed a map and a course heading, but the pilot didn’t need either. He simply aimed for the plume of smoke twenty miles to the east.

The plume marked the smoldering remnants of an airplane hangar, and the charred remains of a dead undercover agent.

PARIS, FRANCE
MARCH 18, 1314

Jacques Fournier has three advantages over most of the spectators filling the square of Notre Dame. He’s uncommonly tall, so he’s able to see over everyone else; he’s uncommonly stocky, so he’s able to push his way through the throng; and he’s uncommonly dressed—in the white cassock and black scapular of a Cistercian monk—so he benefits from grudging deference as he nudges his way toward the cathedral. If someone moves to protest or shove back, he makes the sign of the cross, and that generally settles the matter. Nudge by nudge, foot by foot, cross by cross, Fournier edges toward the front of the cathedral, where a platform has been built for this morning’s spectacle. The cathedral’s façade is shadowed, backlit by the rising sun, but the massive rose
window—fired from within by sunbeams slanting through the nave—blazes red and gold.

A murmur of excitement stirs the crowd, and a shout sweeps across the plaza like rolling thunder: “They’re coming! They’re coming!”

To a chorus of cheers and jeers, a chevron of royal guards pushes through the square leading four shackled men. The men are France’s most famous prisoners: the last and most illustrious of the Knights Templar, the warrior-monks who acquired staggering wealth and power during the Crusades. For more than a century, the Templars were highly valued by both the king and the pope. Escorting pilgrims to the Holy Land, the Templars provided safe passage and carried letters of credit—less appealing to bandits than gold or silver—and, upon arriving in Jerusalem, cashed in the credit for currency from their vaults on the Temple Mount. But when the Holy Land was lost to Saladin and his Muslim hordes, the Templars began falling from favor. And seven years ago, in 1307, King Philip the Fair arrested hundreds of the knights, charging them with acts of heresy and perversion. “God is not pleased,” the arrest warrant began—a phrase Fournier finds applicable to many situations and many people. “We have enemies of the faith in the kingdom.”

The shackled prisoners are led up the steps and onto the platform just as Fournier reaches its base. The first is Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Order of the Knights Templar. A tall, silver-haired seventy-year-old, de Molay appears gaunt and haggard—seven years of captivity have taken their toll—but he walks with as much dignity as chains, weakness, and advanced age allow. Behind him shuffles Geoffrey de Charney, the Templars’ chief commander in Normandy, followed by Hugues de Peraud and Godefroi de Gonneville. After the prisoners and guards have mounted the stage, one of the cathedral doors opens and a procession of sumptuously robed clergymen emerges: the high-ranking officials who have decided the Templars’ fates. At
their head is William, archbishop of Sens, who serves also as Inquisitor of France and as the king’s own confessor. The archbishop is followed by Cardinal Arnold Novelli—Fournier’s own Uncle Arnold. Three years ago, when he was made cardinal, Uncle Arnold handpicked Jacques to succeed him as head of Fontfroide Abbey, a remarkable opportunity and honor. Three weeks ago, a missive bearing Cardinal Novelli’s wax seal arrived at Fontfroide, inviting Jacques to journey to Paris for the sentencing: “an event,” the cardinal wrote, “that cannot fail to reinforce your zeal for protecting the faith.” And indeed, the young abbot already feels a surge of inspiration as he surveys the solemn clerics, the chained heretics, and the mighty façade of Notre Dame.

The cathedral occupies the eastern end of the Île de la Cité, the slender island at the center of the river Seine. The island’s western end is dominated by the royal palace and gardens, and this division of the island into two halves—God’s half and the king’s—is pleasing and instructive, Fournier thinks.
Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,
he reminds himself,
and unto God that which is God’s
. Evenly ballasted by church and state, the boat-shaped isle maintains an even keel, at least most of the time. Occasionally the balance of power on the island shifts to one end or the other, causing France itself to tip precariously. But not today; today, king and cardinals alike agree that the Templars must be punished, for the good of the kingdom and the salvation of their souls.

As the watery late-winter sun rises above the twin bell towers, the archbishop steps forward. Quieting the crowd, he reads the Templars’ names and the charges against them. “Having confessed to these crimes fully and freely,” he tells the four, “you are hereby sentenced to perpetual imprisonment. May Almighty God have mercy on your souls.” The crowd roars, some in approval, some in protest.

De Molay, the old Grand Master, steps to the front of the scaffold and raises his hands for silence. After a scattering of whistles
and catcalls, the noise subsides. “Listen to me, and hear me well,” de Molay calls out, his voice thin but strong. “We have indeed confessed to these terrible crimes.” He pauses to let those words sink in, and the archbishop bows his mitred head gravely. Then de Molay shouts, “But those confessions were false—forced from us by torture!” Geoffrey de Charney steps forward, nodding and shouting that what de Molay says is true; meanwhile, the other two prisoners shrink back, distancing themselves from de Molay and de Charney. At the other end of the platform, the archbishop of Sens, Cardinal Novelli, and the other clerics huddle in consternation; then the archbishop hurries to the captain of the guards, whispering urgently and pointing at de Molay. “The Order of the Knights Templar is holy and pure,” de Molay cries as the soldiers converge on him. “Our sin was not heresy—our sin was weakness! We betrayed the Order! We signed false confessions! These clerics are the real traitors to God!” A blow from one of the guards knocks the old man to his knees, and the crowd surges forward, on the brink of mayhem. As the soldiers drag the prisoners from the scaffold and force their way back to the prison, swords and lances at the ready, Fournier feels a mixture of outrage and sadness: outrage at de Molay’s brazenness; sadness for Uncle Arnold and the other holy men, publicly denounced by a lying heretic!

 

WORD OF DE MOLAY’S OUTBURST IS RELAYED TO THE
palace. King Philip—taking a late breakfast—roars his rage, rakes the dishes to the floor, and roundly cudgels the unfortunate messenger. Next, he swiftly convenes a council of civil and church lawyers. The lawyers, no fools, assure the king that a relapsed heretic—what better proof of heresy, after all, than
denying
one’s heresy?—can be executed immediately, without further trial or appeal. With equal parts fury and satisfaction, the king decrees that de Molay and de Charney will die before the sun sets.

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