Book Excerpt: The Expected One

Kathleen McGowan's first novel has been said to share themes -- murder, conspiracy and religion -- with the infamous and insanely popular "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown. An historical scholar travels to France to unravel the mysteries of her troubling biblical dreams and discovers that there was much more to Mary Magdalene than the Bible lets on.

Marseille

September 1997

Marseille was a fine place to die and had been for centuries. The legendary seaport retained a reputation as a lair for pirates, smugglers, and cutthroats, a status enjoyed since the Romans wrestled it from the Greeks in the days before Christ.

By the end of the twentieth century, the French government's efforts at whitewash finally made it safe to enjoy bouillabaisse without the fear of getting mugged. Still, crime held no shock value for the locals. Mayhem was ingrained in their history and genetics. The leathered fishermen didn't blink when their nets yielded a catch that would prove unsuitable for inclusion in the local fish stew.

Roger-Bernard Gélis was not a native of Marseille. He was born and raised in the foothills of the Pyrenees, in a community that existed proudly as a living anachronism. The twentieth century had not infringed on his culture, an ancient one that revered the powers of love and peace over all earthly matters. Still, he was a man of middle age who was not entirely unworldly; he was, after all, the leader of his people. And while his community dwelled together in a deeply spiritual peace, they had their share of enemies.

Roger-Bernard was fond of saying that the greatest light attracts the deepest darkness. He was a giant of a man, an imposing figure to strangers. Those who did not know the gentleness that permeated Roger-Bernard's spirit might have mistaken him for someone to be feared. Later, it would be assumed that his attackers were not unknown to him.

He should have seen it coming, should have anticipated that he would not be left to carry such a priceless object in absolute freedom. Hadn't almost a million of his ancestors died for the sake of this same treasure? But the shot came from behind, splintering his skull before he even knew the enemy was near.

Forensic evidence from the bullet would prove useless to the police, as the killers did not end their attack on a note of simplicity. There must have been several of them as the sheer size and weight of the victim required a certain amount of manpower to accomplish what came next.

It was a mercy that Roger-Bernard was dead before the ritual began. He was spared the gloating of his killers as they set about their gruesome task. The leader was particularly filled with zeal for what came next, chanting his ancient mantra of hate as he worked.

"Neca eos omnes. Neca eos omnes."

To sever a human head from its resting place on the body is a messy and difficult business. It requires strength, determination, and a very sharp instrument. Those who murdered Roger-Bernard Gélis had all of these things, and used them with the utmost efficiency.

The body had been at sea for a long time, battered by the tide and chewed by hungry inhabitants of the deep. The investigators were so disheartened by the ragged condition of the corpse that they assigned little significance to the missing digit on one hand. An autopsy, buried later by bureaucracy -- and perhaps something more -- simply noted that the right index finger had been severed.

Jerusalem

September 1997

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