Authors: Sean Chercover
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright ©2012 by Sean Chercover
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
For my father
Murray H. Chercover
(August 18, 1929 – July 3, 2010)
I love you, Dad.
“For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed…”
n 1983, Pope John Paul II officially abolished the Office of the Devil’s Advocate—the Vatican’s department responsible for investigating miracle claims. Only, he didn’t. The ODA continues its work, unofficially and in secret, to this very day…
New Orleans, Louisiana…
he Deceiver had not yet arrived, but the multitudes preceded him, and Jackson Square was packed. A sea of clamorous believers stretched from the rocky bank of the Mississippi River all the way to the microphone stand set before the blazing white façade of Saint Louis Cathedral. A turbulent sea of believers, jostling and sweating under the oppressive midday sun.
Some in the crowd carried placards.
REPENT AND BE SAVED
PREPARE FOR THE RAPTURE
TRINITY SPEAKS FOR THE TRINITY
The man wondered if he would get a clean shot.
It’s in God’s hands.
He stepped back from the window and again checked the action of the well-oiled rifle that had been left here in this room for him.
There were cops everywhere, of course. National Guard too. And media. News vans below and helicopters above. The timing had to be perfect. No one would see him at the window, so long as
he was quick and careful. The lights inside the apartment were off, and the sheers—yellowed by years of sunlight and nicotine—were duct-taped to the wall against any wayward breeze. This too had been done for him in advance.
He had set up a table with a sandbag rest, four feet back from the window. This far back from the sheers, he wouldn’t be seen from the street outside, yet with the scope, he could see right through them.
The crowd outside roared to life. It was time. The man lifted the rifle from the bed, seated the magazine, and racked a round into the chamber.
. He carried the rifle to the table, set it firmly on the sandbag. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with a sleeve and put his eye to the scope.
His target had arrived. About a dozen cops cleared a path to the small stage that had been set up in front of the cathedral, and the Deceiver followed in their wake, carrying his famous blue Bible from the television. He wore a shiny silk suit, which picked up the highlights in his wavy silver hair. His skin glowed with a deep salon tan. The tan contrasted with his brilliant smile. His teeth looked like dentures, or implants.
Perfect, and perfectly fake.
The Deceiver hopped up on the stage and waved to the cheering horde with both hands. He approached the microphones and signaled the multitudes into submission. The cheering subsided.
All at once—
—the cops backed away, providing a clean shot.
It’s in God’s hands.
The Shepherd had said not to pull the trigger before one thirty. He checked his watch. 1:34.
The man mopped his brow with his sleeve one more time, put his eye to the scope, and carefully positioned the crosshairs, center-of-chest.
Flicked off the safety.
Put his finger on the trigger.
“State of grace,” he said. He took a deep breath, held it, and squeezed the trigger.
Lagos, Nigeria – four weeks earlier…
aniel Byrne didn’t notice the boy with the gun until they were standing face-to-face, six feet from each other in the quiet alley behind the fruit stand. Before he saw the gun, Daniel Byrne had been enjoying the best day of his trip.
First day off in two weeks, seventh in the nine since he arrived in Africa. A day free of commitments or obligations or expectations. A day he didn’t have to live up to his rep as Golden Boy of the department. He spent the morning working on his tan, reading a novel on the beach, and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, bathtub warm and salty soft. Back in his executive suite on the top floor of the Federal Palace Hotel, he showered, made the executive decision to give his face a day off from the razor, and dressed—light chinos, a plain black silk Tommy Bahama shirt, and deck shoes, no socks.
Out on the balcony, Daniel stood with the salt air caressing his face and looked out over the white sand beach, the sparkling blue ocean beyond. He leaned forward until the balcony railing pressed against his waist, just above the pelvic bone. Then he leaned farther, keeping his hands free, bending over the railing, looking down at the concrete patio and swimming pool below.
He started to get the tingle.
He leaned even farther. There was a little give to the railing, but it was unlikely to give way completely. Unlikely, not impossible.
The tingle grew into an adrenaline rush. Heart racing, Daniel imagined concrete screws shredding mortar, imagined the sudden jolt of the railing ripping free of its mooring. Imagined falling. Like the dream of falling that jerks you back from the edge of sleep.