Introducing Harvard professor Cal Donovan in the first of an intriguing new series of religious conspiracy thrillers.
Responding to an urgent summons from the Vatican, Cal Donovan flies to Italy to interview a young priest who has developed the stigmata of the crucifixion, determined to uncover the cause of the mysterious wounds. When Giovanni is kidnapped, Cal comes to realize that the priest holds the key to an earth-shattering secret. Can Cal track him down before an apocalyptic catastrophe is unleashed?
Fast-paced, thrilling and bursting with intrigue at every turn, Glenn Cooper takes us on a heart-stopping trip to Italy we won’t forget! Wish you were there? Get ready for an exhilarating journey with this extract postcard from Italy.
The young priest, Giovanni Berardino, awoke from his afternoon nap damp with sweat. The shutters were closed and his room was dark and uncomfortably warm despite the whirring table fan. Even the simple act of switching on his bedside lamp had become difficult. He had already taught himself how to get out of bed without using his hands by throwing his legs down with speed and using the momentum to stand. Once upright he hesitantly inspected his gauze-wrapped wrists. They were stained through with fresh blood. Choking back tears, he gingerly placed his palms together and bowed his head in prayer.
The painful bleeding had begun a month earlier. So far he had been able to hide it from his new parishioners in the medieval hill town of Monte Sulla but he feared he would be found out and compelled to see a physician. Already the nuns and a few parishioners had noticed that the jovial disposition he’d displayed on his arrival to the town had turned sour and tongues were wagging. Was he upset about something? Was he facing the self-doubts that plague many a young man in the early days of priesthood? Or was there something about his new brothers and sisters that displeased him?
The priest’s house was directly across the piazza from the ancient church of Santa Croce. His small room had an en suite bathroom and there, after donning his black trousers, he slowly unwrapped the gauze. He didn’t like to look at the wounds. They were deep and bloody, the diameter of a two-euro coin. He applied some ointment and rewrapped them with the last of his fresh gauze. He would have to get more at the pharmacy that afternoon. The pharmacist had made a light comment about his need for so many bandages – are you making a mummy, padre? He dreaded the scrutiny but what was he to do? He couldn’t ask Sister Theresa or Sister Vera to make the purchase for him.
Despite the heat he had been forced to eschew his short-sleeved black clerical shirts in favor of long-sleeved ones. He slipped one over his undershirt and began the slow, difficult task of buttoning it. When he was done he flinched as slid the plastic Roman collar into the tab on his shirt.
The vision began as suddenly and unexpectedly as always. Since the wounds had appeared, not a day had passed without at least one. This was his second since breakfast. He had come to welcome these interludes for so many reasons, one of which was the remission of pain that accompanied them. He closed his eyes tightly and let his arms fall to his side, letting the vision wash over him, through him.
His face softened and he spoke. “Yes, yes, yes, yes.”
At the exact same time, Irene Berardino was shopping in the city center of Francavilla al Mare some ninety kilometers to the east of Monte Sulla on the Adriatic coast.
Lugging a heavy nylon shopping bag, she traded the air-conditioned supermarket for the steamy humidity of Viale Nettuno. She began heading toward the apartment she shared with her mother when she stopped dead in her tracks to stare at the man walking into a shop. At first she thought the abrupt temperature change was playing tricks on her mind but it took little time to conclude her eyes weren’t deceiving her.
No one else looked like her brother and this was his favorite gelato café.
He was easy to spot – over six-feet tall, roly-poly, short black hair with a widow’s peak, and long retro sideburns. Then there were his feet, so large he used to be teased for them. “What are those, shoes or rowboats?” the children used to cry. And of course, there was his clerical collar.
“Giovanni?” she shouted as the door closed behind him.
She rushed down the street and peered through the window of the shop. The owner was behind the counter scooping chocolate chip gelato into plastic cups for a mother and her two young children. She couldn’t see Giovanni.
She pushed the door open and went inside.
“Excuse me?” she asked. “Where did the priest go?”
“What priest?” the owner asked.
“The one who just came in.”
“I didn’t see any priest.”
“I’m sorry,” Irene said. “I just saw him go inside.”
The mother stared over her glasses at the young woman. “No one came in,” she said.
“That’s impossible,” Irene said. “Is there a toilet or a back door?”
“Only behind the counter,” the owner said, becoming irritated. “No one came in. Now, do you want a gelato or do you want to leave?”
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