“Author O’Connor…has written a nifty thriller that…holds reader interest with his breakneck plot…The end result fits nicely in the Tom Clancy–meets–Dan Brown canon.” — Kirkus Review
HISTORY COLLIDES WITH THE PRESENT
Past and present collide in the opening pages of The Barbarossa Covenant when retired FBI agent Justin Scott becomes a target for assassination while en route to Rome at the behest of the Vatican’s secretary of state. Before learning why, the reader is whisked back to 1940 wartime London where British Intelligence is working feverishly on an audacious plan to thwart the imminent cross-channel Nazi invasion. With England’s fate hanging in the balance, a papal emissary hand-delivers a sealed letter to Adolf Hitler from a source no mortal would dare ignore or disobey. The letter is lost to history in 1945 with the fall of Berlin—only to surface without warning in the Vatican seven decades later. A very troubled pope wants Justin to authenticate or disprove both message and messenger—an admitted all but impossible task as the Doomsday Clock readies to strike midnight.
...the time of the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) is now
Day 1. Rome. Monday morning
Justin Scott stood next to a Japanese foursome on the cold, windswept pavement of Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport. Winter had bullied its way into the capital city under the cover of darkness this sixth day of January, leaving in its wake temperatures more suitable to Oslo. Now, in the dawn’s meager light, he thought the two men and two women seemed lost and confused as they shivered inside expensive, ankle length, leather coats.
Justin swung his garment bag up to his shoulder, stepped off the curb and headed toward the line of idling white taxis at the stand across from the International Arrival and Departure Building. Suddenly, a terror-filled scream split the air. Heeding time-tested instincts, he ducked while pivoting to face the unknown, only to see the building’s massive plate glass façade crack, then disintegrate into a million shards. The scream died mid-octave, immediately replaced with a surreal staccato-like chatter.
Justin threw himself to the ground, using his bag as a cushion to absorb the impact. Once down, he abandoned the carryall and began rolling toward the curb, a singular thought crowding all others from his mind: Take cover behind the row of taxis!
His heart pounded in concert to the rhythm of the chaos around him. The firing continued unabated, filling the air with the pungent smell of gunpowder.
The racket ended abruptly. After a long moment, Justin peeked over the trunk of a Fiat, taking in as much of the scene as possible in one quick scan as he had been trained to do at the FBI academy more than a quarter of a century earlier. The seemingly lost and confused tourists of moments ago were now anything but. They had formed a solid phalanx and, with Micro Uzi SMGs drawn from inside their coats, had laid down a withering fusillade into a group exiting the terminal. Bodies lay atop bodies.
Justin reached for his holstered weapon only to remember he wasn’t armed. He jerked backward, startled, as a police car fishtailed to a stop a couple of yards from where he crouched. Godallmighty, I could have been run over! No siren, no warning, no nothing. Two Polizia di Stato officers jumped out, drawing their Berettas as they tried to size-up the impossible scene.
“Get down!” Justin yelled at the top of his lungs.
The smallest Japanese woman wheeled, drew a bead on the two men and fired on full automatic. 9-millimeter Parabellum brass casings cascaded from her weapon like so many shiny trinkets, clinking as they hit the pavement and bounced into the gutter. The officers collapsed in unison. One Beretta went airborne, turning end over end before striking the ground and skidding to a stop within inches of Justin’s feet. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of what looked like a hotel courtesy van as it slammed into the rear of the police car, propelling the cruiser headlong into the side of a taxi, which in turn struck an aluminum light pole.
Then, as if on some silent cue, the four lowered their weapons and sprinted in lock step towards the van. Suddenly, the smaller woman stopped mid-stride. She expertly ejected the magazine from her Uzi, slid her right hand inside her coat pocket and extracted a fresh 25-round magazine, all the while keeping her eyes riveted on a badly wounded, but still-alive officer.
Justin immediately understood her intention. In one seamless move, he scooped up the Beretta, held his breath, took aim at an invisible bull’s eye in the center of the woman’s chest and squeezed off two shots. The would-be executioner let loose a long groan as she crumpled to the pavement, her weapon falling from her left hand, the unspent magazine still clutched in her right. Her companions piled into the van and slammed the door. Because she was either dead or dying, she was expendable. Three pairs of hate-filled eyes glared at Justin through dingy windows and, as the van lurched forward, one of the men drew a finger angrily back and forth across his throat in a wild, slashing motion.
Justin became aware of the yelping and whooping from scores of sirens, all getting louder. He glanced at the gun in his hand then threw it down, knowing he didn’t want to face an army of enraged Italian police officers. He hobbled over to the nearest downed policeman and probed the neck for a pulse. Open and lifeless eyes stared off into eternity. He made his way painfully to the second. Also dead. Ashen-faced, he straightened and turned toward the woman. She was on her back, limbs akimbo but her eyes were wide open, gazing up at the pewter-colored sky. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, her left arm moved, stopped, moved again. She was alive and searching for her weapon.
Ignoring a searing pain shooting down his left leg, Justin covered the distance in less than three seconds and kicked the Uzi out of her reach. She slowly turned her head and looked up at him, her powdered face an inscrutable mask. Satisfied she no longer posed a threat, Justin turned his back on her and went to offer help to the other victims.
“Welcome to carefree, not-so-damn-sunny-Italy,” he muttered as several police cars converged on the corpse-strewn battlefield.
* * * * *
Throughout this brief reign of terror, a tall, regal blonde dressed in a three-quarter length Persian lamb coat followed Justin’s every move from behind the safety of a new Volvo parked at the end of the line of taxis. She held a cell phone close to her ear.
“Make sure Tel Aviv understands that the civilian shooter is definitely Justin Scott,” she said in a carefully modulated voice so there would be no misunderstanding by whoever was listening. She spoke in a Yiddish dialect that had not been in vogue for more than a century and, even now, was only understood by a smattering of people in Israel, Russia, Switzerland, and the Balkans. She hesitated for a moment, eyes riveted on Justin. “You know, of course, this changes everything, because his presence confirms our worst fears. War is now imminent, and either Rome or Moscow will survive, but not both.” She severed the connection, climbed into the car, sat back against the cold leather seat and continued to study Justin as he limped toward to the expanding knot of police officers.
Oh, Mister Scott, she found herself lamenting, you should have just said no when Cardinal Kettering summoned you to Rome. But you didn’t, and now you, too, will soon die, as will many others.
A sense of despair washed over the woman. No longer able to contain her emotions, she lowered her head and allowed the tears to silently flow. After a full minute, she wiped her swollen eyes and whispered prayerlike to the ghost of a man long dead. “Szűrös, you always insisted Winston Churchill had done something long ago which would one day compel Moscow to declare war on the Holy See, yet we all chose to dismiss that warning. What happened here moments ago proves you were right all along, and now the world is about to reap a terrible whirlwind.
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