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First pages

-One-

The rumble of the locomotive shook the night, and the blast of its horn pierced the stillness. The train screeched to a halt in front of the dark station. The New Englander Line made its stop at the little station every night except Saturday. The train’s engine continued to growl and chug as if eager to be on its way. The conductor stepped onto the deserted platform, but there was no one waiting to get off the train into the darkness and there was no one waiting to board. Although it was already spring, he shivered in the late evening chill.

There was only one unseen figure at the station, hunched down into a black overcoat. The figure watched the train from a rickety wooden bench in the shadows at the far corner of the platform. The conductor took one more look up and down the platform as he fidgeted with his ticket punch. Then he hopped onto the nearest car, eager to return to the warmth and light of the familiar passenger car. The train chugged and squealed on its southerly journey, and the dark figure’s gaze followed the last car until its lights disappeared around a curve on its way to Boston and New York. A half mile from the station, the headlights of a truck pierced the darkness with two beams like searchlights, otherwise there was nothing but the silence of a sleeping Maine mill town that had seen better days.

The figure shouldered its worn leather bag and stepped carefully down the dark stairs of the railway station. As it passed by the underpass of the railroad bridge, an old man huddling under the bridge felt a cold breeze chill his bones. He took the last burning swallow from a bottle of cheap whiskey, tugged his tattered Army jacket up around his throat, squeezed his eyes closed tight, and tried to retreat into dreams of better times, warmer times, softer times.

The dark figure made its way through a silent side street where two startled raccoons scampered away into the woods, disappointed that their feast of moldy pizza crusts had been interrupted. The figure warily stepped down the quiet streets past peeling three-decker houses and through a haphazard trailer park until it came to the banks of a river. Beer cans and plastic shopping bags littered the muddy ground, and a solid row of dented pickup trucks lined each side of the roadway. The figure stepped in and out of the shadows as it made its way toward the glare of a flashing pink-and-blue neon sign.

The neon sign spelled out “Ambassadors Lounge” during the day, but at night the flashing tubes could only muster up a half dozen letters. A wrinkled vinyl banner rustled in the cool breeze under it. Next to an icy beer bottle the block letters read “Amateur Night Tonight—Great Prizes!”

The figure watched from under the trees just across from the doorway to the club. It turned its collar up against the chill and clutched the leather shoulder bag tightly. A flash of light spilled out onto the street as the bouncer, a burly man dressed in black with a shaved head, dragged a drunken teenager out into the roadway. The teen retched when he tumbled to the pavement. As the door swung open, the hidden dark figure glimpsed a slender young girl wearing nothing but silver high heels and a thin chain belt. She clutched a chrome pole with one hand and reached between her legs with the other. The dancer swayed her hips in time to the thumping music, but her gaze was up over the heads of the customers as if she wanted to be somewhere else, far away from the leering eyes, catcalls, and groping hands. The door slammed shut, cutting off the figure’s view, but leaving behind a whiff of stale beer, cigarette smoke, and vomit. A growl, slow and barely perceptible, rose in the figure’s throat as it turned away from the river.

Suddenly the thump of dance music gave way to shrieks and shouting. Smoke filled the air as a wall of flame tore through the interior of the building. The patrons pushed, shoved, and trampled one another as they squeezed through the narrow doorway and sprawled on the pavement outside the club, coughing and gasping. Soon sirens split the stillness of the night air, and firefighters quickly aimed the torrents of their hoses on the structure, which was now fully engulfed by the fire.

The dark figure smiled as it made its way through the town center. It glanced at a spotted, flaking sign on the town common that read “Welcome to Ashton Falls—The Friendliest Village in Maine.” The only sounds that could be heard were the faraway wail of ambulances, the echo of dogs barking, and a low mutter that said, “We’ll see … we’ll see.”

 

The first time Chris Murphy saw Ashton Falls, Maine, was in late March after most of the winter snow had melted and before the warmth of spring brought out the buds on the trees—what New Englanders call “mud season.” It reminded him of the set of a B-grade 1950s black-and-white movie. Shuttered store fronts, spiderwebs of power lines, and nothing but three-decker houses as far as the eye could see. The entire town seemed to be either black, dirty white, or gray. Adding to the general gloom was the stench of the Micmac River that flowed, or rather oozed, through town and emitted a low, sulfurous odor caused by low tide and failed septic systems. But in some odd way, on that damp, foggy March morning, this down-on-its-luck New England town had a sort of attraction for a thirty-something engineer who was stuck in a stalled career while his marriage was gradually falling apart.

“Armpit of New England” was how Chris described Ashton Falls to his New York friends at the local bar after he and his colleague, Tom, returned from their visit to the power plant in Maine. “It was so dead at night, Tom and I had to choose between the baked bean supper at the Methodist church, bingo at the high school, or drinking lukewarm light beer cans staring at the fisherwomen doing the bump and grind at the strip joint.”

“Which one did you two city slickers choose?” asked one of the guys.

“Tom, tell them how much money you made on that winning bingo card,” Chris replied.

The guys all laughed, and Tom added, “I hope we don’t have to go back anytime soon, because I heard that strip joint went up in flames the week after we visited.”

Chris couldn’t resist coming back with, “Maybe they actually found a smokin’ hot dancer from New Hampshire who lit up the place.” Then he ordered another round.

He continued to make them laugh as he mimicked a Maine drawl and gave vivid descriptions of the tourist attractions of Ashton Falls, from the ancient candlepin bowling lanes, which served as the town’s unofficial youth center, to last year’s first-run movies playing at the drive-in theater. Somehow, though, as he exaggerated the town’s peculiarities, he realized that he had spent a lot of time thinking about it. Perhaps it reminded him a little bit of the small town in the Berkshires where he went to visit his grandparents when he was a kid. Life was simpler away from the big city, and he always remembered being happy there. He recalled the good times when he went for long walks in the pine forests while his grandfather told him stories about Indians and the first settlers. Then they would come home to the smell of fresh-baked Toll House cookies as his grandmother offered him the first one from the oven, still warm and soft and gooey.

Maybe that’s why, when his boss called him to the corner office on the Friday before the Fourth of July weekend, he had a sense of what was about to be discussed.

Elliott Jackson, his boss, had never been particularly cordial to Chris in the past. Now Elliott invited him into the corner office with a broad smile and motioned for him to sit in the soft upholstered chair next to the couch. As Chris settled into the chair, he noticed that it placed him a few inches lower than anyone seated on the couch. Elliott offered Chris a drink and, before Chris could state his preference, Elliott poured two meager shots of scotch into elegant cut-glass tumblers, explaining that the whiskey was a twenty-year single malt that he had acquired on his last golf trip to Scotland. Chris realized that the drink was not so much meant for his enjoyment as it was an effort to cultivate his host’s image of himself as a gentleman of refinement and good taste.

Elliott eased himself onto the couch and, draping his arm casually over the back, struck a pose of exaggerated nonchalance. After making small talk about their respective plans for the Fourth of July weekend, Elliott tugged his pants up over his considerable paunch and leaned forward.

“So, Murphy, what did you think about the operation up in Maine?” Elliott asked.

“Well, obviously the place has a lot of problems, Elliott. The infrastructure is badly aged, and some of the equipment is definitely in need of replacement. There are also a few issues that could become environmental hazards if we’re not careful.” Chris shifted uncomfortably in the overstuffed chair. “The workforce seems hardworking and committed, but they need a good deal of professional development to update their skills. But, I guess it has the potential to be a profitable power plant with a few changes and some hard work. It’s all in the report we filed in April.”

“Do you think you have what it takes to turn it around?” Elliott’s hawk-like stare locked onto Chris’s eyes. Chris’s suspicion about the purpose of the meeting was confirmed, and he was prepared for battle.

“I’m sure I could,” Chris responded carefully, “but you’re asking an awful lot.” He took a sip of his whiskey and concluded that it tasted like cough syrup. “You’re asking me to relocate my family to a shit-hole town in Maine, and you’re asking me to invest a hell of a lot of time and effort in a turnaround plan.” Chris wanted to be sure that Elliott knew that this would be a sacrifice, and to be prepared to bargain accordingly.

Elliott smiled as his eyes narrowed. “Yup. That’s what I’m asking.” He paused and sipped his whiskey. “But what I’m prepared to offer is a ten-percent raise and an opportunity to prove yourself as a manager.”

Chris leaned back and looked at Elliott hard. “Make it twenty-five percent, complete autonomy up there to hire and fire, full payment of relocation expenses, and a reasonable profit-sharing offer. Maybe then I’ll consider it.”

Elliott chuckled. “You really are a prick, Murphy.” He shook his head, massaged his chin, and stared intently at Chris. “Okay, you got it. But I need an answer this afternoon.”

Chris was stunned. Elliott must have been desperate to get the Ashton Falls plant back in the black to go for a raise of twenty-five percent. Chris disregarded the voice in the back of his head that warned him to go slow. He stood up, thrust his hand toward Elliott, and said, “Let’s work out the details next week.”

 

Chris’s friends celebrated his promotion at their usual Friday after-work watering hole. Despite their cheery intentions, the evening felt more like an Irish wake than a party. They toasted him with round after round of trendy microbrews and shots of vodka while wishing him luck, but there was a subtle sadness in the air. As one by one they congratulated him, his friend Tom’s last words stuck in his mind: “One year in Ashton Falls, Maine—it’s kind of like a criminal sentence, but there isn’t any chance of time off for good behavior.” Tom chuckled at his own wit. Chris laughed too, but he didn’t really find it all that funny.

He wasn’t quite sure how his wife would deal with the news of his new assignment. His marriage to Mimi had never been what he hoped it would be. She was still the most beautiful woman in the world to him, but, to be honest, he didn’t really know how much longer she’d be his wife.

Chris would always remember the night they first met at an upscale cocktail party at someone’s apartment in downtown Manhattan. He didn’t know how he managed to be invited. It was a very chic loft with very chic modern art on the wall and a very chic three-piece jazz combo playing softly in a corner of the main room. Servers in black and white floated silently by offering colorful cocktails and unidentifiable little tidbits on paper doilies. Chris was immediately aware of a beautiful young woman who was surrounded by two adoring older men in expensive suits. She was wearing a tight little sleeveless black dress that hugged the gentle curves of her athletic body. Her blond hair fell to her shoulders, and her deep blue eyes sparkled when she laughed. Chris watched her for at least an hour before he had the courage to talk to her.

“I thought you’d never make it over here,” she said as she sipped her martini. “You’ve been making me a little nervous the way you’ve been watching me. Are you a cop or a private investigator or something?”

After she had nearly convinced him that she was a princess from Malta, she confessed that she was really an aspiring actress from Vermont who had a weekend job with an improv group over in Soho. Chris admitted that he really wasn’t a CIA operative as he had claimed, but a junior civil engineer with a big power company who came from a working-class South Boston neighborhood.

She took his arm and confided, “I’m starving. There’s a wonderful all-night diner about five blocks from here. This place isn’t exactly my style. Let’s get out of here.”

They spent the rest of the night talking, laughing, and drinking cup after cup of coffee until the waitstaff at the diner made it clear that they were sick of them. Chris’s heart pounded and his mouth dried up as he thought about asking Mimi if she wanted to come over to his apartment. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been on plenty of dates in college, but he had never met a woman before who was so beautiful, so witty, so wonderful.

He blurted out the invitation. She smiled, squeezed his hand, and said, “That sounds like fun.”

Chris didn’t know what to say or where to put his hands on the long cab ride to his place. Fortunately Mimi cut the tension by continuing to make small talk, just like she did at the diner. He fumbled with the key to the door, turned on the lights, and wondered what he’d do next.

Mimi made it easy for him. She told him she was exhausted and asked where his bedroom was. After he opened the bedroom door, she kicked off her high heels, unzipped her dress, and wriggled out of it. Wearing nothing but a black lace bra and panties, she looked over her shoulder and said teasingly, “Do they mail out invitations in South Boston?”

He had never seen such an amazing woman—from her full, round breasts to her washboard tummy to the sculpted tuft of hair between her legs, she was absolutely perfect. No, more than perfect—she was simply the most beautiful being in the universe.

Chris took her in his arms and they made love with an intensity he had never experienced before. As he watched the first rays of sun peek through the window, he knew he never wanted to let her go.

After that first night together, they were never apart for more than a few days at a time. Mimi brought out a crazy, creative side to him that was too often bottled up by the logical thought processes of his civil-engineering career. He loved the fact that he could never predict what life with Mimi would hold—running through Central Park to catch the sunrise, grabbing the train to Newport for dinner by the sea, or driving for hours upstate to sample the best Niagara vintage right at the vineyard. Life with Mimi was rich and exciting and always surprising. He would do anything to hear her giggle, to see the light that radiated through her luminous blue eyes, and feel the warmth of her hand as she squeezed his. Sometimes, when she wasn’t looking, he watched the breeze ruffle her long honey-colored hair and wondered what a gorgeous woman like her was doing with an ordinary slob like him.

Making love with Mimi was absolutely amazing. She was always curious about trying things she’d read about, usually in Cosmopolitan or some novel, and he was only too willing to oblige her. When Chris had a few too many beers, he liked to brag to his buddies that they had never had sex the same way twice that he could remember. Sometimes in the middle of his work day she’d call the office just to describe, in fine detail, what she had planned for later that night. The office staff would tease him about his bright red cheeks after one of Mimi’s calls, but they could never imagine what delights lay ahead in Chris’s future.

Chris and Mimi spent so much time together that it only made sense for her to move into his place. One night he came home from work late and found her sobbing at the kitchen table. Mimi was embarrassed that he caught her crying. At first she wouldn’t talk about it, but after he pressed her gently, she opened up.

“Chris, I’m pregnant,” she blurted out and instantly melted in tears.

Although he was startled, he said unconvincingly, “That’s great, honey.” He reached over and hugged her hard.

“No, it isn’t,” she sobbed. “It ruins everything.” Then she added, “But it’s okay, because I have an appointment at Planned Parenthood on Monday. They’ll let me know how soon I can schedule an … a time to get things taken care of.”

He made her a cup of tea and tried to comfort her, but she wouldn’t stop crying. They lay together in bed entwined in each other’s arms, not saying much at all. Mimi drifted off to sleep, but Chris lay awake most of the night.

They were quiet in the morning until Chris broke the silence. “Mimi, I’ve thought about this a lot. I know that it’s your body and your decision, but I want to marry you. I want to raise this baby together. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” He continued, kneeling down in front of her on one knee as he grasped her hand, “I guess this is the stupidest marriage proposal in the world, but I love you and want you to be my wife.”

Mimi’s tearstained face broke into a half smile. “I love you, too, Chris, and I want to be your wife some day. But I’m not sure I want this to be the way we begin our marriage. I need some time to think.”

It wasn’t exactly what he wanted to hear. All day long at work, he was preoccupied. So much so that he left work right after lunch claiming that he was sick. He decided to walk home instead of taking a cab, even though it was a gray, drizzly September afternoon.

When he walked into the apartment, he was surprised to see Mimi still sitting at the kitchen table. He sat down next to her and asked, “How was your day?”

Without looking at him, she replied, “I talked to my mother for the longest time this morning, and I made up my mind.” Turning toward Chris, she grasped his face between both hands and said, “I love you and I will marry you. We’ll have this baby together, and we’ll start a family.”

He grabbed her in his arms and kissed her face again and again. The tears rolled down her cheeks, and he hoped they were tears of joy.

 

Christopher Edward Murphy was married to Marie Elizabeth Sunshine Julien in a park overlooking Lake Champlain in the bride’s hometown of Burlington, Vermont. Immediate family and a few friends attended the ceremony on an unusually warm afternoon for late October. The red and orange maple leaves glowed and the sunshine sparkled on the water as the couple vowed to “love, honor, and cherish ’til death do us part.” Chris wore a new black suit and a pair of stiff shoes that gave him blisters. Mimi was radiant in a full-length white gown with a wreath of white roses in her hair. The gentle breeze off the lake ruffled her hair, and her blue eyes glistened as Chris bent his head to kiss the bride at the end of the ceremony.

Chris assumed that Mimi would learn to become a wife and mother and settle down a little bit while she continued with her unpredictable creative side, but that just wasn’t the case. Time after time, Chris had to remind her that she needed to ease up on her gym workouts, get to bed instead of staying up all night watching movies, and that it wasn’t good for the baby when she cheated with a glass of wine or a joint every now and then. As her pregnancy advanced, they both agreed that having a child might be good for their relationship and maybe help them both grow up a little.

In late April, Mimi gave birth to a baby girl. At the moment the doctor held her up in the delivery room, all pink and slimy, and squealing at the top of her lungs, Chris felt a powerful sensation rip through him like an electric shock. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he laughed in embarrassment and grasped Mimi’s hand tightly. He couldn’t explain what he felt, but he knew his life was changed forever. He only hoped that Mimi felt the same powerful emotions.

They decided to name her Veronique Marie, after Mimi’s grandmother. The first few weeks were difficult for Mimi. Thankfully her mother came down from Vermont to help out with the baby. Mimi tried to nurse the baby for a while, but she said she couldn’t deal with feeling like a cow, so they quickly shifted to baby formula. More often than not, Chris found the baby in his arms the moment he came home from work as Mimi complained that she just needed a few hours away from the baby or else she’d lose her mind.

Perhaps the mixture of infatuation and lust soured a bit when blended with obligation and commitment, but a few years after they had their daughter, their relationship began to change. Mimi often talked about how she felt like a caged bird. Chris found himself caring for little Ronnie, as they called her, many nights while Mimi went uptown to the theater, or for a walk, or only God knows where. After five years he thought she might work through it or at least get used to it. Sometimes Mimi was loving and told him that she was going to try to make their marriage work. Sometimes when she crept into their apartment in the dark hours of the morning and slipped into bed beside him, he could faintly smell the unmistakable scent of marijuana smoke, or tequila, or another man’s aftershave. Still, he was thankful that Mimi was a good mother to Ronnie, at least while the sun was up.

When Chris told Mimi about his transfer to Ashton Falls, she took in the news with little comment, and said flatly, “A change of scene might do us all some good.” Ronnie was full of questions about lobsters and lighthouses and their new house. Chris answered every question and surprised even himself with his upbeat, enthusiastic answers. Maybe this will be just what we need, he thought to himself.

Just after dinner that night, Chris heard the front door click shut as Mimi slipped out. Maybe this will be her last fling, he thought as he dried off the dinner dishes and put them away.

Chris bundled Ronnie into his arms, scooped her up off her feet, and plopped her down on her bed as he growled like a bear and nuzzled her neck. She shrieked and giggled until he tucked her under the covers all warm and safe and protected from life’s disappointments. Chris squeezed onto the side of Ronnie’s little bed and read her favorite story, The Runaway Bunny. By the time he read the last page Ronnie was already sound asleep, clutching her own little pink bunny with the well-loved, ragged ears.

Chris looked down at her sweet face. Gently he reached out and stroked her golden hair, just like her mother’s, barely touching her silky head so as not to wake her. He thought with a smile, I wonder if Mimi knows what she’s missing?

He woke to the sound of the front door opening a few hours after midnight and heard a table bump into the wall as Mimi stumbled into their bedroom. He could see the outline of her slender body in the dim light as she pulled her sweater over her head and wiggled out of her blue jeans. Even in the semi-darkness Chris was aroused by the sight of her round breasts, taut tummy, and firm ass. She shook out her hair and moved gracefully, almost gliding to her side of the bed despite the fact that his nose told him that she had obviously had plenty to drink.

Mimi stood over Chris with her hands on her hips. He could see her beautiful body in the half light as she peeled off her thong. With a quick swoosh, she threw the covers back and reached into his pajama pants, grasping his erect penis. She chuckled in a low, seductive way and said, “Pretending to be asleep? We’ll see about that.”

Then she straddled his legs and, leaning down low, licked his erect member starting at the base and slowly working her way up to the tip. She wrapped her warm mouth around the head and swirled her tongue around it until he thought he’d explode. She crawled forward until her thighs cradled his hips. Grabbing his penis, she gently eased him inside her and began to slowly rock forward and backward. Gaining momentum, she bucked and rotated and dug her nails into his chest. Chris reached up and squeezed her breasts as she arched her back. When he could stand it no longer, he picked her up and rolled her onto her back, entering her with a force beyond his control. As he increased the power and pace of his thrusts, they both moaned, grunted, and finally shrieked as they climaxed together.

They lay side by side, panting, both staring up at nothing, trying to catch their breath. Chris wondered for a moment if Mimi was really making love to him or just getting off on the most convenient penis she could find. After all, she didn’t even kiss him. He quickly banished the crude thought—of course she still loved him.

Chris squeezed her hand, but she quickly pulled it away. He could sense that something wasn’t quite right. After five minutes or so, Mimi broke the silence. “I really need to talk with you,” she blurted out, her breath sour with stale smoke and wine.

He knew what was coming and resigned himself to it. “Okay,” he whispered.

“I can’t go to Maine with you, or Australia, or Paris, or Africa, or anywhere,” she said, beginning to sob. “I love you, Chris, and God knows I love Ronnie more than you’ll ever know, but the two of you are like two chains holding me down, keeping me from doing what I want to do, flying away to where I want to go. I just can’t live this lie anymore.” She rolled over and buried her face in his chest as she began to weep.

He knew this had been coming for some time, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. Still, he stroked her hair and gently rubbed her back. “Is it another man?” he asked softly, although he feared the answer.

She stopped crying, propped herself up on her elbows, and looked intently into his eyes. “No … and yes, it’s a thousand other men. You’re the sexiest, kindest, most gentle man I’ve ever known, but I can’t be faithful to you, Chris. You can make me crazy and satisfy me physically, but you can’t satisfy my soul. I need to explore, to search, to create, to spread my wings.”

Her eyes searched his face for understanding, and he thought that she hadn’t looked so beautiful in years. She gently kissed his cheek, and he realized that this was the first time they had kissed in a long time. He wrapped his arms around her and they drifted off to sleep, her warm tears dripping onto his chest.

Chris woke up alone to the pale gray light of dawn. He heard the front door gently shut and then noticed the soft whimper of a little girl crying in the next room.

-Two-

The old man ducked behind a lilac bush in the far corner of the backyard as he took the final puffs from his cigarette. He carefully pinched out the butt and buried it in the trash barrel near the back steps. He climbed the stairs to his study, turned on the television, and stared intently as the Boston Red Sox were getting their butts soundly kicked by the Toronto Blue Jays.

“When are those damn Sox going to get their act together?” he muttered as he turned toward the window. The far-off rumble of thunder caused his frown to become even darker. He uttered a curse, then quickly made the sign of the cross and raised his eyes to heaven.

It was a beastly hot, humid afternoon, so all the windows in the house were open in the futile effort to find a cooling breeze. Suddenly the skies grew dark and the rain cascaded down, like someone had just turned on a shower. Lightning crackled across the sky, and thunder shook the house. The old man quickly slammed the windows shut to keep out the rain as he made his way through the large, empty house. When he entered the bedroom of another resident, he closed the windows, but he was fascinated by what he spotted on top of the desk.

It was an old satchel with a long shoulder strap that had been crudely mended at some point. At one time it must have been highly shined black leather, but now it was scuffed and scratched. The old man examined the center of the outer flap and traced the outline of a Nazi swastika that someone had tried carefully to obscure. He knew he probably shouldn’t look inside it, but he couldn’t resist the urge to just take a peek under the flap. Inside the satchel was a lock of blond hair, an Iron Cross war medal, a worn set of black rosary beads, and several old notebooks with yellowed pages. On top of the desk was a scuffed leather-bound journal with loose papers sticking out here and there.

Yes, he realized that this was someone else’s room. He understood that these were probably very personal items. But curiosity overcame him. Besides, the Sox were losing and he was certain that the room’s occupant wouldn’t be back for at least two hours. So, despite the faint voice of caution from his conscience, he opened up the leather-bound journal. It took a few moments before he recognized that the elegant handwriting was written in classic Latin, which he remembered well from his studies in the seminary. He began reading the first page:

 

“My name is Siegfried Benedict Von Halstead. I am a monk of the congregation of the Order of Brothers of the Germanic House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem. Our community was founded during the Crusades, and we carry on the legacy of the Teutonic Knights, which is to protect the adoration of our Lord from those heathens and blasphemers who would harm His followers.

My arrival in this world was a complicated and tragic event that resulted in the death of my poor mother, whom I never knew. My father’s sorrow at the loss of his beloved wife was somewhat tempered by the news that his tiny son had survived the arduous birth process. But any joy he might have felt soon faded when he learned that my twisted spine would never allow me to walk fully upright.

My father was Count Otto Von Halstead, commander of the 3rd Bavarian Cavalry Regiment, a highly decorated hero of the war with France. As a serving army officer, he could not care for a small boy, so I was sent to live with my aunt, Gertrude, who raised me as if I were one of her own children. I grew to be a scholarly boy who was more interested in the campaigns of Napoleon than the study of Latin and Greek. Although my heart longed to follow in my father’s footsteps, my body was not suited to the life of a soldier. I rarely saw him, but I adored my father, and I was devastated when he was killed in a hunting accident. I was thirteen years old, and I was an orphan.

I sought comfort in prayer and the gospel of our Lord. Kindly priests in our parish took me under their wing and helped me realize that I had a true vocation to serve God as a priest. Because of the physical deformity that the Lord chose to give me, worship and study in a monastic community was considered the best path for me, and, indeed it has proven to be so. I chose the Brothers of Saint Mary in Jerusalem because I have always admired the medieval knights of Germanic history, and I dreamed that one day I could serve them with prayer to protect our land and defeat our enemies, despite my bodily limitations.

But this journal is not about me. I write this so that my spiritual son will understand his origin and how he came to be the man he is today. More importantly, he will understand why he has been entrusted with the sacred mission of defending our Lord and Savior from those who have turned against Him and chosen a life of sin. He will know why he has been selected to avenge the suffering and crucifixion of our Redeemer.

My spiritual son was born on Christmas Day 1941 to Major Gerhard Friedrich Bachman and Marte Mary Koenig in Colmar, Alsace, France. His father came from Munich, where he was a brilliant, if penniless, student of the classics. When Adolf Hitler rose up to restore the dignity of the German people in the late 1930s, Gerhard was inspired by the Führer’s message. The dream of regaining the ancient glories of the fatherland enflamed his soul. When a Nazi party recruiter visited Ludwig Maximilian University, where Gerhard was enrolled, he was an eager volunteer.

Gerhard’s scholarship was recognized by SS chief Heinrich Himmler, who assigned him to the newly formed branch of the SS tasked with studying the early foundations of the German people and defining their racial superiority. The Ahnenerbe, as this special branch was named, sent teams of scholars worldwide to research the roots of the Aryan race and their early history.

The young scholar gained Adolph Hitler’s favor when, along with other members of his team, he presented conclusive information that linked the legacy of the Olympic flame to ancient Aryan tradition. The Führer was delighted with the findings, and the Olympic flame became a centerpiece of the 1936 Berlin games. As a reward for his scholarship, Gerhard was promoted to major and placed in charge of a group of scholars investigating the occult practices of the early Middle Ages, or Dark Ages, as they are sometimes called.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

P. G. Smith has written for Country Living, Career World, Military History, GX, Canada’s History, the Boston Globe, and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. He is a former special education teacher, mental health counselor, school administrator, and U.S. Army officer. He divides his time between Ashburnham, Massachusetts and Boothbay Harbor, Maine. When he's not boating, hiking, or biking, you can find him digging into the long forgotten mysteries of small New England villages and towns.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
This book started many years ago as a nightmare. The image of the villain left such a creepy, vivid aftertaste that I had to jot down his description in the morning. Over the years I've added characters, settings, and plot twists until finally this book emerged. It's been fun to build the story.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Although the book is meant as a fun, frightening horror story, it has a message. Sometimes wickedness is rooted in self-righteous passion. Human tragedies like the Spanish Inquisition, Salem Witch Trials, and even today's ISIS jihad began as religious crusades that spawned the darkest evil.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
It will come as no surprise that I admire Stephen King, whom I believe is one of our greatest living writers. I've read everything written by British author, Graham Greene, and I'm a big fan of historical fiction writer, Alan Furst. James Nelson, who writes great sea stories in Maine, is a favorite.

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Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
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