" … [Balling] draws the reader into his provocative premise with well-defined characters and accessible technical info." - Publishers Weekly
But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. Luke 11:20
When an archaeological dig in Jerusalem unearths an ancient scroll written by Saint Stephen along with a piece of mummified flesh, no one really understands the importance of the discovery.
Then Allison Reese, a scientist working on the discovery, is beaten into a coma in a Harvard laboratory and the relic is stolen. Her father, John Reese, vows to uncover the truth behind his daughter's attack. But the truth is layered in shrouds of secrecy that go as far as the Opus Dei, and he is not the only one hunting for answers. His search takes him to a remote island off the coast of Maine and the compound of a maniacal evangelist whose revelation based on the relic is bound to shock the entire world!
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|File size:||1 MB|
About the Author
L. Christian Balling lives in New Hampshire.
Read an Excerpt
John Reese sat astride his black BMW motorcycle in the midst of Baxter Academy's pitch-dark playing fields. Overhead the stars shone brightly, but there was no moon and the light from the nearest school buildings did not reach the fields. Reese stretched to relieve the stiffness in his back and glanced at the luminous dial of his watch. It was 2 A.M.
Spring had come late to New Hampshire, and this was the first warm night of the season. Baxter's students were always restless after the long winter term, and this was a perfect night for an illicit outdoor drinking party. After more than twenty years as a teacher at the elite prep school, Reese knew what to expect. Yet he hoped he was wrong, for he disliked this part of his job.
The rules had to be enforced at a coed boarding school or the kids would blow the lid off the place, but Reese had never intended to become the enforcer. It had just happened that way, and Baxter's successive headmasters had come to depend on him. Over the years, his late-night ambushes had become the stuff of legend.
Legend had it that Reese had once been a Green Beret, and that was true. Legend also had it that no student had ever escaped him. That wasn't true, but it helped keep the lid on.
Reese shifted restlessly and looked at his watch again. Christ, I'm too old for this. The air had cooled, and a patina of dew was collecting on his black leather jacket and dampening his jeans. If there actually were kids out this late, he thought, the damp and dropping temperature should have broken up their party by now. He allowed his hopes to rise. Maybe the kids would surprise him for once. Reese always hoped.
Then, as if on cue, he heard a distant giggle far to his right and his hope died. He sighed resignedly and peered into the darkness in the direction of the bushes at the far end of the playing fields. Seconds later he heard several more giggles, leaving little doubt that the kids had been drinking.
They had partied in the bushes, and now they were returning across the playing fields to their dorms. Reese grimaced and eased the motorcycle off its stand. He would have to bust them, and his only hope now was that no seniors were in the group. This close to graduation, Baxter's rules for seniors became draconian. Any senior he caught tonight would be expelled.
Reese had extraordinary night vision, and it wasn't long before he could make out the indistinct shadows of the group moving toward the dormitories. He slipped on his black helmet and waited for them to cross in front of him. Clad in black, one with his black motorcycle, Reese knew they'd never spot him. The shadowy figures kept coming, and when they were directly in front of him, forty yards away, he switched on the ignition and hit the starter button.
The motorcycle's headlight beam leapt across the field, transfixing four boys and three girls. For a split second they stared into the light like jacked deer, and Reese's heart sank. They were all seniors, and one of them was the last kid Reese would have expected to risk his diploma on a lark. Grady, the geek -- the star of Reese's calculus class.
"Scatter!" yelled another boy, breaking the spell, and the kids started running.
Reese revved his engine and let out the clutch, but even as the motorcycle shot forward, he knew he was going to let them get away. Reese knew he couldn't bring himself to bust Grady, so he would have to let them all go. Grady was a scholarship kid, and the loss of the Baxter diploma would be a severe blow to him, yet Grady's parents were what Reese saw in his mind's eye as he bore down on his quarry.
He had met them on Parents Weekend, and they'd made an indelible impression. They were a shy, blue-collar couple, painfully ill at ease among the other parents, who'd flooded the campus with BMWs, Mercedes, and Jags. Hopelessly out of their depth, they had clung to their pride in their talented son like a life raft. Reese might have taken the Baxter diploma from Grady, but he couldn't take it from Grady's parents.
The yell for the kids to scatter had been good advice, but no one heeded it. They all ran in the same direction, making a beeline for the safety of the dorms. As Reese closed on them, they finally did scatter, but Grady was an awkward kid and undoubtedly under the influence. He stumbled and fell headlong to the ground.
Reese veered left, pretending that he hadn't seen the boy fall, and pursued the fastest of the runners, slipping the clutch and rewing the engine so that it sounded as if he were closing faster than he was. Just before he caught up with them, he veered off again, as if confused by the scattering tactic, and made a show of pursuing the others.
None of the fugitives seemed to realize that they'd been recognized, and they ran from Reese as if their lives depended on it. Aided by Reese's artful maneuvering, they all reached the cover of the bordering woods before he caught up with them. As he braked and turned away, giving up the chase, he hoped they wouldn't realize that he'd deliberately let them escape.
Behind him, he saw Grady running toward the woods. The boy stumbled once again, but he managed to stay on his feet and finally disappeared.
Reese returned in a sour mood to the old Cape in which he lived six blocks from the campus. He had never played favorites, and he disliked teachers who did, yet tonight he'd done just that. He knew why he'd done it, but in his own mind, his reasons were no excuse.
He trudged up the steps to the rear door, entered, and flipped on the overhead light in the kitchen. Two days' worth of dishes stood in the sink, and the floor needed mopping. Tomorrow, he told himself. Tomorrow he'd catch up on the chores.
He went to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of Bass ale. He was thirsty and the beer tasted just right, but for some reason he found himself thinking of what Kathy would have said if she'd caught him drinking in the small hours of the morning. He leaned against the refrigerator, listening to the silence in the house.
Two years had passed since cancer had cut short his wife's life. With time, Reese had come to terms with her death, but tonight the silence in the house weighed on him and he felt the stab of loneliness. Once or twice he had met a woman with whom he might have started a new life, but things hadn't worked out.
Despite the late hour, Reese still felt restless, and he walked through to the living room at the front of the house, turned on a light, and settled onto the couch with his beer. Working out his next chess move, he thought, would make him sleep soon enough. The board was set up on the coffee table, recording the moves of a game he was playing by mail with a friend who'd taken a year's leave of absence from Baxter. Reese's position in the game was precarious, and his next move wasn't going to be easy.
Abruptly the phone rang on the end table, startling him. This late, a phone call was unlikely to bring good news, and as he answered, he hoped it was a wrong number. To his surprise, he heard the voice of his daughter, Allison on the other end of the line.
"Hi, Dad," she said cheerfully, and Reese smiled with relief and pleasure. He could tell from her tone that nothing was wrong, and hearing from her always cheered him up.
"Hi, Alie. What's up? It's almost two-thirty. Why aren't you in bed?"
"I'm working late. Where've you been? I've called every half hour since midnight."
"I was out on my bike."
"Uh-oh. The midnight man strikes again. Did you catch anyone?"
Allison laughed gleefully. "Good!" she said with satisfaction, and Reese smiled. He was sure that she'd taken a few chances herself when she'd been a Baxter student, and she still rooted against him.
"So, what's up?" he asked.
"Dad, don't tell me you've forgotten."
"Happy birthday! I wanted to be the first to congratulate you."
"Thanks." Reese laughed. "I must have lost track of the date. Getting old, I guess."
"Come on, Dad. You're only forty-eight. That's not old."
But no longer young, he thought, his eyes straying to the family photographs on the end table. One was a shot of him just after he'd returned from Vietnam -- a tall, rangy young man with dark hair, a broken nose, and thick, dark eyebrows. Perhaps it was the look in his eyes, or the roughness of his skin, that made him look older than his years, but there was no great contrast with the photo beside it, a picture of him with Kathy more than two decades later. It had been taken the year before she'd died, and they were both smiling.
The years had creased the corners of his eyes and left furrows around his nose and mouth, but he was still slim and his slightly receding hair hadn't grayed. Yet Reese felt the physical effects of age that the photos didn't show. When he got out of bed in the morning, his ankles ached for his first few steps, and although the strength of youth had not entirely fled, he had no endurance.
But these were minor things -- in the same category as the reading glasses he now needed -- and Reese rarely noticed them. Yet, tonight, perhaps because of the errant attack of melancholy, he felt age creeping up on him.
"How come you're working so late, Alie? You know that you always come down with something when you don't get enough sleep."
"That was true when I was a kid, Dad," Allison responded with a good-natured sigh. "You can stop worrying about me. I'm twenty-three, remember?"
"That doesn't mean you can go without sleep." Reese wondered if he would ever stop worrying.
"What do you want for your birthday? I didn't send a present because I can come up this weekend for a visit."
"Great! When are you coming?"
"I'll be there Friday evening. So, what would you like for your birthday?"
"How about a bottle of Chivas?"
"Be serious," Allison chided. "That's no kind of birthday present. I -- Oops. Hang on a sec. I'll be right back."
Reese heard a thump as Allison put down the receiver, and several seconds passed before she came back on the line. As Reese waited, he reminded himself to ask her about the incidental aspects of her life, as Kathy had so often urged him to do. By nature, Reese was a listener, not a talker, and to some extent Allison had inherited the trait. He was afraid that unless he made the effort to draw her out, all but the bare essentials of his daughter's life would slip right by him.
"Sorry, Dad," Allison said, coming back on the line. "I heard the elevator and wanted to close the door."
"Aren't you in your apartment?"
"I'm still in the lab -- actually in the computer cluster down the hall. The experiment Singer started me out on has worked out well, and he wants me to write up the results. Can you believe it? Only six months into my thesis research, and already I have something publishable."
"I believe it, kiddo," Reese said happily.
Reese had settled for a master's degree in math and computer science, but Allison had more ambition. Professor Singer, her thesis adviser, was one of the top DNA researchers in the country, and at the rate she was going, she would have her Harvard Ph.D. before she was twenty-five.
"I hope you know how proud I am of you."
"Why did you close the door? Aren't you supposed to be there this late?"
"No, that's all right. We can work all night if we want. But I heard the elevator, and I think the security guard just came up. Usually there's a bunch of us here, but tonight I'm the only one and I don't want him to know I'm here. He's a nice enough guy, but he talks and talks and talks."
Reese frowned. "Why are you there alone?"
"The demonstrations. They have everyone spooked, I guess, and for the past three nights I've been the only one working late. It's really dumb, because the demonstrators don't hang around at night."
"Just the Bible Belt crowd, Dad. Haven't you heard about them up there? It's been in the news. Some antiabortion coalition has been out in front of our building all week, picketing Professor Singer. He's fit to be tied."
"Why? What does molecular genetics have to do with abortion?"
"Nothing. That's the nutty part. They're protesting a speech Singer gave last month in favor of expanded fetal-tissue research. The speech had nothing to do with his own work, but he's a pretty famous guy and the speech got publicity. Apparently that was enough to bring demonstrators out of the woodwork."
"If no one else is working late," Reese said worriedly, "maybe you shouldn't either."
"No problem, Dad. Really. And with no one around, I get a lot done. Actually, I shouldn't have said I'm the only one. Kenji was here until about half an hour ago."
"Kenji Hamada. I told you about him, didn't I? He's a postdoc working with Singer on some sort of hot project. Something to do with the DNA they've been analyzing from an archaeological sample -- some scrap of mummified flesh. Neither Kenji nor Singer is talking about it, but it's clear they're excited. It's got everyone around here buzzing with curiosity, and --"
Allison broke off, and for a second or two there was silence on her end of the line.
"Dad, did you hear that?"
Reese heard a note of alarm in her voice and tensed. "Hear what?"
"God! Hang on, Dad. I'll be right back," Allison said excitedly, and Reese heard the thump of the dropped receiver.
"Alie!" he yelled into the phone. "Alie!"
Reese waited tensely for Allison to return to the phone. He didn't know what had drawn her away, but her reaction worried him. Straining to hear, he caught the faint sound of a splintering crash, followed by a shout from Allison. "Hey!" he heard her yell. Her voice sounded as if it came from the corridor outside her office.
Again he heard a distant splintering crash, followed by another and another. "Alie!" he shouted into the phone.
Then Reese heard a distant, high-pitched cry from his daughter, and he felt as if an icy hand had seized his heart. There was no mistaking the sudden fear in her voice. Reese listened no longer. He stabbed the receiver hook button and punched in the number for Massachusetts information.
"Come on!" he cried desperately as he waited for a response. "Goddamnit, come on!"
"What city, please?" asked the operator.
"Cambridge!" Reese said urgently. "Harvard University Security!"
Copyright © 1998 by L. Christian Balling. Reprinted by permission with Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.
What People are Saying About This
High-tech thriller that explores the terrifying intersection of science, religion, and madness.
If you're looking for a great read...plunge into Balling's Revelation. It has all the elementsintrigue, greed, and evil. More than enough to keep you absorbed until the last page.