Ford took the hand of his female companion after he had pulled the lever to unfold the hydraulic fold-out steps of the Gulfstream that had carried them from Majorca, Spain. They descended onto the tarmac of Rome's Leonardo da Vinci International Airport and began to run as automatic weapons fire peppered the tail section of the sleek private jet. He'd anticipated trouble upon landing, but he hadn't thought that the special forces of Cardinal Ricci would intercept him so quickly. There was obviously a mole in the French embassy, and Ford was fairly certain as to who it might be. Only a diplomat with the highest security clearance would have the ability to contact a high-ranking official in the Roman Curia within a matter of hours.
Ford pulled Monette behind the Gulfstream, and then both of them broke into a run, headed for the hangar twenty-five yards in the distance. The gunfire ceased before resuming, but this time it targeted the darkness behind the tail. Whoever was firing hadn't seen the pair angle right towards the hanger.
"Are you certain you know where the Q Document is hidden?" Monette asked, gasping for air as she ran.
"No," Ford said, less winded than his companion. He was a triathlete who trained five days out of seven. "But I have a pretty good idea as to where it might be."
The couple reached the shadows of the unused hangar and halted.
"What is the password?" queried a male voice, low and gravelly.
"Origo," Ford replied. The word is Latin for "origin."
"Very well," the male voice said. "Get in."
As Ford and Monette climbed into the black Escalade, the Gulfstream burst into flames, sending a yellow and orange fireball high into the night sky. Someone had launched a shoulder-mounted missile at the jet, thinking perhaps that the targets had somehow doubled back and re-entered the plane. Debris rained down on the tarmac as the Escalade's engine roared to life. the vehicle exiting the hangar and swinging onto a service road that ran along the south runway. It was pushing sixty miles per hour, the headlights off. Suddenly, a second explosion rocked the night, fragmenting the asphalt roadway behind the Cadillac. The Escalade was lifted onto its two left wheels before rocking back onto all four tires. The driver, the same man that had spoken to Ford in the hanger, battled to control the steering wheel as the vehicle went into a spin.
"Punch it!" Ford ordered as he drew Monette close to his body.
The SUV sped into the night, its headlights now on as it merged into the traffic of the three-lane autostrada. Ford and Monette were safe – for now – but Ford knew that Ricci would be searching the city for the newly-arrived visitors. Ford possessed, after all, knowledge that the Q document was real, a document upon which contained the sayings of Jesus, some of which had never come to light. It contained passages that might rock the Christian world since the sayings had been omitted from the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Cardinal Antonio Ricci would do anything to keep the document from coming to light.
* * *
Gregory Ford paced the floor of his office at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. The letter sitting on his desk verified his own research that the Q Document was real. For centuries, theologians and biblical scholars had argued for the existence of this document, one that contained most of the information found only in the synoptic gospels of Matthew and Luke. What had Christ really said and done? St. Mark had allegedly written the first gospel, and Matthew and Luke, while using Mark's gospel as source material when writing their own accounts of the life of Christ, had both used additional material not found in Mark, material thought to have been gleaned from the Q Source, later called the Q Document. But there was one problem: no one had ever actually seen this hypothetical source material. By the end of the twentieth century, most scholars asserted that the document had never existed.
Ford now had proof that the document upon which all of Christianity was built was real indeed, and he had a reasonably good idea of where it was hidden. But the ramifications of its existence were far-reaching, for the document, according to his research, contained additional passages not used by the gospel writers – passages that might threaten the Roman Curia, the intricate and pervasive bureaucracy that administered the church's activities from its offices in the Vatican. Christ's dire warnings about future corruption among his disciples could threaten the very existence of the church.
Ford had been a priest, a member of the Society of Saint Anthony, but he'd left the priesthood seven years earlier, when he was twenty-eight. His sister had died of leukemia, and he'd been bothered by the church's participation in the Inquisition, the Crusades, and colonialism. And corruption on the part of so many popes in the Middle Ages, when added to the sexual abuse coverups of the twentieth century, had shaken his faith. He left the ministry even though he still believed in Christianity and God. He'd studied theology and become a professor at Candler, where he had become one of the foremost New Testament scholars in the country.He inhaled deeply, seated himself at his desk, and checked his reservations to fly out of Atlanta. He was to meet with the young and beautiful Monette Bienvenue, the French ambassador to the Vatican. She had a Master's degree in political science and a doctorate in history. She was currently conducting a seminar in Majorca, Spain, on ancient Christian artifacts found at an excavation site that had once been the Palestinian village of Petrus. After their rendezvous, they were to fly to Rome and attempt to secure the Q Document, if such a feat were possible. Ford had every reason to believe that the document was hidden at Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer residence south of Rome.
Ford glanced at the letter on his desk. It had instructions on how he might breach a building that was literally a fortress protected by the Swiss Guard. The missive also contained warnings that the Roman Curia had somehow become aware of his discovery – was there a Vatican spy at Emory University? – and that he and Monette might be in danger. Monette's diplomatic status might help them gain admission to Castel Gandolfo, and her political and historical knowledge would be invaluable in navigating any bureaucratic snafus they might encounter. She also had considerable charm that helped her gain admittance to various libraries and museums around the world that were normally inaccessible to the average person.
It was going to be an interesting trip – and quite probably a dangerous one – but Ford knew that he had an obligation to the truth. He also had a personal stake in finding the Q Document, for if he could see the passages that had been omitted millennia earlier, perhaps his faith might be restored.
* * *
Ford and Monette settled into adjoining brown leather seats minutes before the chartered Gulfstream took off from Majorca.
"I took the liberty of having a bottle of Dom Perignon brought aboard and chilled a few hours ago," Monette declared. She had deep blue eyes and long black hair, and her smile was utterly disarming.
"We need to stay sharp," Ford countered. "As I explained in my last email, we can expect resistance when we arrive in Rome."
"Just one glass?"
Monette's smile had won Ford over."So who are the bad guys?" Monette asked as they sipped their champagne.
"Those who work for Cardinal Ricci."
Monette nodded. "Of course. The man who intends to become the next pope. He's only sixty-two and is rumored to be ruthless in his quest for power within the Curia. Some say that hje wields more power than then the pope."
Ford nodded. "Do you believe in the Vatican Mafia?"
Monette paused. She'd heard rumors of such an organization within the Vatican, rumors that had persisted for decades. Many Vatican observers, in fact, believed that the Vatican mafia, as it was called, had murdered Pope John Paul I, although others adamantly insisted that the pope who had sat in the chair of St. Peter for only thirty-three days – Albino Luciani – had died of heart failure. Ford had his suspicions given that John Paul I had intended to make sweeping reforms within the church, changes that might have caused the Curia to disintegrate altogether.
"I don't know," Monette said, "but I have something that may be of use when we get to Castel Gandolfo."
She stood and produced a carry-on bag from the overhead luggage compartment. Unzipping it, she carefully extracted a small leather pouch and pulled from it a small, round stone with a hole in the middle. It was the letter Q in the upper case, which she handed to her companion.
"The bowl and the tail," Ford said as he handled the stone letter that was four inches in diameter. "The tail cutting through the bowl has two notches on its end. This is a key."
"Undoubtedly," Monette said. "An archaeologist friend of mine found it at the dig at Petrus. And look at this." She handed Ford a piece of weathered brown parchment. On it was an ichthys, a first century symbol of Christianity drawn in the shape of a fish, two arcing lines intersecting to create the fish's profile.
"The word ichthys is a word dating from first century Koine Greek," Ford pointed out. "Koine Greek is the language in which the Q Document was written."
Monette nodded. "The scroll was rolled up and inserted through the bowl of the Q. My friend discovered it in the ruins of a home at Petrus. I thought it might be helpful in our investigation."
"Helpful? It might lead us straight to the Q Document – and change the foundation of Christianity in the process."
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