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Chapter 2

Allie barely made it around the corner when she heard the low roar of the Count’s vehicle coming down the narrow lane. She ducked back as it rumbled past, squealing around the corner and revving as it headed into the square. She hurried towards the Cathedral, seeing a disturbance near the front door, a sudden burst of flames. Whistles and shouting followed. Allie pressed on through the milling mob.

Spotting her brother running towards the cart, she sprinted. “Gus, wait!” she called but too late. Siren warbling, he and Nigel tore through the crowd towards the city gate.

Despite the late hour, the warm summer night, brightly lit by the full Moon allowed for the civil disturbance to blossom into full-scale riots. Alarms and howling dogs provided the background to laughter and screams. Drunken rockers, confused pilgrims, elated tourists, and anxious townspeople filled the streets in loud clumps. Groups of skinheads fought tubbies.

Allie slipped past most of these without drawing notice. A boor assaulted her halfway there, but she twisted away in time. A kick to the groin dissuaded pursuit.

The constabulary and fire brigades were hard-pressed to keep things in check, if not under control. Not much looting yet – most of the roving bands of youth seemed more intent upon partying than pillage – and so far most fires set were contained in bins.

But the square became progressively more crowded and disorderly the closer to the Cathedral she came. The North Transept doors hung ajar with people freely traipsing in and out. No light shone within, but moonlight flooding through lancet windows on the south side provided colorful splashes of illumination across the floor. She picked her way carefully across the sanctuary.

The South Transept looked as if hit by a tornado. The iron framework which held the screen and painting stood empty. Her bed sheet overlay was torn apart and scraps of the wooden screen strewn across the crumpled remains of The Ascension and its gilt frame. The tables with the equipment were overturned, electronics destroyed; her laptop and several cameras gone. Finding her huge bag half-concealed under a mound of papers proved an unexpected, but welcome, relief.

As she dug in the pouch, her phone rang. It was Gus, but the connection broke mid-ring.

She continued feeling around in her purse and found an electric torch. A few searchers with flashlights, one or two with church candles, looked for wounded among the remains. She joined them, methodically working where she had seen Marcel go down. An arm stuck out from beneath the heavy canvas. She couldn’t lift it, but fortunately a woman in a loose sundress joined her. Together they dragged the wounded agent free.

Marcel’s head still bled, so Allie grabbed a bottle of water and tissues from her bag.

“Easy, Anton, hush now.” She cleaned him as best she could, and for good measure, put the bag like a pillow beneath his head.

A limping long-haired man looked like a tubby but much more well-built soon joined them. He began looking at Marcel’s injuries.

“Call me Moonbeam, Miss MacLantis,” the blonde said. “This here’s Sundog. You don’t know us, but we know Gus. Have you heard from him?”

“Oh you must be the spy guys.”

The man looked surprised and the woman laughed. “The dude just can’t keep a secret, can he?” he said. “Where are your brothers?”

“I don’t know. The Count’s gone to Maureven to look for the Holy Tub. Maybe he and Skip went after him. He just tried to call and the line went dead.”

“Go after them,” came a weak voice from Anton. “I’ll be just fine.”

“No way, I’m staying,” Allie said. She looked at Sundog, pleading, “Send help with weapons. They’ll need them. The Count is ruthless, determined not to let anyone get in his way – and his stooges are armed to the teeth.”

“Sorry,” the agent shook his head. “We’ve more immediate problems. I just heard over the radio more are coming. Not just wasted fools from the concert. Apparently word’s spread. There are gangs of skinheads and worse from the southern slums headed our way.”

“It’s already begun,” came a man’s voice. It was Galliard. He stumbled into view. The slender prelate’s usually immaculate cassock was torn, collar comically sprung, his lower lip bloody.

“Look,” he said, pointing over his shoulder. “They’re looting the sacristy. Punks, drunks, and just now I heard Arabic, too. God help us; the Cardinal was right to keep them out.”

Behind him, in the middle of the mob, a man wore a miter sideways, waving a bottle. Others were dancing around, laughing and drinking. A few began handing out candles.

Moonbeam rose. From somewhere, she took out a massive automatic handgun. “God helps those who help themselves, Padre,” she said.



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“The dreamer believes the dream is real.
Dreams may die,
but illusions
never bleed:
only dreamers do.”

– Jean-Baptiste Beauregarde,
Betrayers of the Red Cap, 1839

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