"And when he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven, as if it were for half an hour."
What dread secret is the Vatican protecting at all cost?
Which lives will be sacrificed to keep an awful truth buried behind a code of silence?
"My name is Monsignor Capelletti," the voice replied. "I’m the chief of staff for the papal nuncio to the United States, Francis Cardinal Kettering. Your name was given to me as someone to be trusted, someone who can help. And I very much need your help."
"Why, has your cardinal murdered somebody?" Justin asked with a deliberate lightheartedness meant to convey to Capelletti that his use of dramatics was not necessary.
"That’s exactly what’s happened, Mr. Scott," the priest said, his words barely audible.
After hearing that utterance from a terrified priest, ex-FBI agent Justin Scott soon finds himself in the fight of his life. Hired by the Vatican to ferret out the truth – or so it says, Justin uncovers a hair-raising conspiracy involving powerful Vatican prelates and Italian and Russian crime syndicates, all racing against the clock and each other to take possession of the richest prize in Christendom. With time fast running out, Justin’s high-stakes quest leads him to the very steps of the Throne of Peter, then back to Washington DC where he confronts the murderer in a cat-and-mouse stalking that plays out to its deadly finish on the mean streets of the nation’s capital.
The second printing of The Seventh Seal was released May 2015.
The Seventh Seal by Ian A. O'Connor was submitted for a 2006 Edgar Award in the category of best murder mystery paperback novel published that year.
"Speak," Justin Scott commanded, his tone tense, angry, barely civil. Twice in the last ten minutes his dinner had been interrupted by in-your-face salesmen hawking junk, and in all likelihood this intrusion would make it three despite his number being on the national do-not-call list. He stood ready to sever the connection with a curt, I’m not interested.
"Mr. Justin Scott?" The voice was tentative, polite, formal.
"Who’s this?" he challenged.
"My name is Monsignor Capelletti," the voice replied. "I’m the chief of staff for the papal nuncio, Francis Cardinal Kettering. Your name was given to me as someone to be trusted, someone who can help. And I very much need your help."
Justin took note of the caller’s accent, the rhythmic ebb and flow of his words. Sure sounds Italian, he allowed, anger fast fading. And calling on behalf of the Vatican’s ambassador, no less. Easy, he immediately cautioned, you more than most know this town’s an asylum without walls which means the caller could be nothing more than a talented prankster.
Inquisitiveness, however, won over the moment and nudged aside the last vestige of his anger. "What kind of help?" he asked in his most noncommittal voice.
The question was ignored. "I have a car en route to your home as we speak, Mr. Scott. My driver’s been instructed to take you back to the embassy."
"Whoa, not so fast," Justin replied, his newfound inquisitiveness giving way to a skepticism honed by twenty-five years of FBI training. Though retired from government service, he was now self-employed as a private investigator, his skills eagerly sought by the city’s coterie of rich and powerful trial lawyers. "This old fool has no intention of climbing into any car simply because an unknown voice over the phone asks him to. What did you say your name was?"
"Monsignor Capelletti," the voice replied.
Well, you sure have the accent down, Capelletti, or whoever you are. It was time to see where this conversation was really going. "Hang up," he abruptlycommanded.
"But why?" The puzzlement was genuine.
"So that when I dial the Vatican Embassy and you come back on the line I’ll know you’re legit, that’s why," he replied in a voice a tad more sarcastic than he’d intended.
Justin broke the connection, counted to three, and called directory assistance. A minute later he dialed the embassy and was immediately put through to Capelletti. His manner mellowed considerably upon hearing the familiar voice.
"So, what can I do for you, Monsignor?"
"It’s really Cardinal Kettering who has need of your services, Mr. Scott," Capelletti said, using the diplomat’s ecclesiastical rank as a hook. "He begs you come as soon as possible," he added, in a voice trailing off to a whisper.
"Why, has your cardinal murdered somebody?" Justin asked with a deliberate lightheartedness meant to convey to Capelletti that his use of dramatics was really not necessary.
"That’s exactly what’s happened, Mr. Scott," the priest said, his words now barely audible.
The enormity of Capelletti’s acknowledgment caught Justin by surprise. Did I hear what I think I heard? It took him a long moment to conclude that indeed he had. "Well, you’ve certainly piqued my curiosity," he managed. "Who did you say recommended me?"
"I didn’t, Mr. Scott, but it was Jack O’Bryan. He called from Rome less than an hour ago and said you’d remember him. I don’t want to say any more because I’m no longer sure this line is secure."
Justin knew O’Bryan. He was a priest; no, a monsignor, he corrected himself. But more importantly, Jack O’Bryan was a man who passed muster.
Capelletti’s use of his friend’s name worked its intended magic. "I’ll see you just as soon as your driver can get me to your embassy."
For twenty minutes Justin sat and listened as Capelletti recounted a tale as strange as any he had heard over a lifetime of strange tales. Through it all he kept thinking it more than just a little peculiar that Cardinal Kettering had remained conspicuously absent. Especially in light of the fact that he had supposedly begged for this meeting.
"Would you ask the ambassador to join us," Justin said when Capelletti had finished. "I’d like to hear what he has to say about the murder last night." Something’s definitely not kosher here, he found himself thinking with a sense of foreboding.
Capelletti shook his head. "I’m sorry, Mr. Scott, the ambassador will neither be seeing nor speaking to anyone. At least not for now. Those orders came from the Holy See only minutes before you arrived."
Justin stared at Capelletti, willing himself to believe the man. His inner voice warned that he was probably being used—if not by this priest—then by someone in Rome. But he couldn’t figure out why. And, yet, he reasoned quickly, if Capelletti was indeed telling the truth, then he had to assume that the wall of silence was already up and this man was merely the messenger. Which meant someone far up the ecclesiastical ladder was firmly in charge.
Justin only had to look at Capelletti to know the man was under enormous pressure. His sense of unease blossomed. It was time to leave. He rose and Capelletti followed suit. The priest led the way to the front door.
"I’ll speak with the police first thing in the morning," Justin said, his voice deliberately cold as he stood on the top step and offered his hand. "I’ll need to hear what their homicide folks have to say before I decide whether or not to take on your case. I’ll be in touch, Monsignor. Goodnight."
Capelletti shook the proffered hand, nodded a silent good-bye and slipped back inside his embassy.
Justin had made no promises. He hoped Capelletti realized that what little he had agreed to do was only because of his friendship with O’Bryan.
Homeward bound in the luxury of the embassy’s limousine, he summarized what he knew and what he suspected. None of it was good.
Tell you one thing, he thought, as the car whizzed past the floodlit Capitol, there are folks in Washington and folks in Rome who’re now in some serious trouble because of the stunt the Pope’s ambassador apparently pulled last night.
And he mouthed a prayer that his friend O’Bryan wouldn’t be counted among the soon-to-come casualties.
A Justin Scott Thriller
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