The Templar Legacy (Page 15)
FRIDAY, JUNE 23
MALONE AND STEPHANIE RODE OUT OF COPENHAGEN ON HIGHWAY 152. Though he'd driven from Rio de Janeiro to the Petropolis and along the sea from Naples to the Amalfi, Malone believed the path north to Helsingor, along Denmark's rocky east shore, was by far the most charming of the seaside routes. Fishing villages, beech forest, summer villas, and the gray expanse of the tideless Oresund all combined to offer an ageless splendor.
The weather was typical. Rain peppered the windshield, whipped by a torrential wind. Past one of the smaller seaside resorts, closed for the night, the highway wound inland into a forested expanse. Through an open gate, beyond two white cottages, Malone followed a grassy drive and parked in a pebbled courtyard. The house beyond was a genuine specimen of Danish baroque--three stories, built of brick encased in sandstone, and topped with a gracefully curving copper roof. One wing turned inland. The other faced the sea.
He knew its history. Named Christiangate, the house was built three hundred years ago by a clever Thorvaldsen who'd converted tons of worthless peat into fuel to produce porcelain. In the 1800s the Danish queen proclaimed the glassworks the official royal provider, and Adelgate Glasvaerker, with its distinctive symbol of two circles with a line beneath, still reigned premier throughout Denmark and Europe. The conglomerate's current head was the family patriarch, Henrik Thorvaldsen.
The manor's door was answered by a steward who was not surprised to see them. Interesting, considering it was after midnight and Thorvaldsen lived as solitary as an owl. They were shown into a room where oak beams, armor, and oil portraits conveyed the appurtenances of a noble seat. A long table dominated the great hall--four hundred years old, Malone remembered Thorvaldsen once saying, its dark maple reflecting a finish that came only from centuries of dedicated use. Thorvaldsen sat at one end, an orange cake and a steaming samovar on the table before him.
"Please, come in. Take a seat."
Thorvaldsen rose from the chair with what appeared to be great effort and flashed a smile. His stooped arthritic frame stood no more than five and a half feet, the hump in his spine barely concealed by the folds of an oversized Norwegian sweater. Malone noticed a glint in the bright gray eyes. His friend was up to something. No question about it.
Malone pointed to the cake. "So sure we'd come you baked us a cake?"
"I wasn't sure both of you would make the journey, but I knew you would."
"Once I learned you were at the auction, I knew it was only a matter of time before you discovered my involvement."
Stephanie stepped forward. "I want my book."
Thorvaldsen appraised her with a tight gaze. "No hello? Nice to meet you? Just, 'I want my book.' "
"I don't like you."
Thorvadsen retook his seat at the head of the table. Malone decided that the cake looked good, so he sat and cut a slice.
"You don't like me?" Thorvaldsen repeated. "Odd, considering we've never met."
"I know of you."
"Does that mean the Magellan Billet has a file on me?"
"Your name turns up in the strangest places. We call you an international person of interest."
Thorvaldsen's face grimaced, as if he were undergoing some agonizing penance. "You'd think me a terrorist or a criminal."
"Which one are you?"
The Dane stared back at her with a sudden curiosity. "I was told you possess the genius to conceive great deeds and the industry to see them through. Strange, with all that ability, you failed so utterly as a wife and mother."
Stephanie's eyes instantly filled with indignation. "You know nothing of me."
"I know you and Lars had not lived together for years before he died. I know you and he differed on a great many things. I know you and your son were estranged."
A flush of rage colored Stephanie's cheeks. "Go to hell."
Thorvaldsen seemed unfazed by her rebuke. "You're wrong, Stephanie."
"A great many things. And it's time you know the truth."
DE ROQUEFORT FOUND THE MANOR HOUSE PRECISELY WHERE the information he'd requested had directed. Once he'd learned who was working with Peter Hansen to buy the book, it had taken his lieutenant only half an hour to compile a dossier. Now he was staring at the stately home of the book's high bidder--Henrik Thorvaldsen--and it all made sense.
Thorvaldsen was one of the wealthiest citizens in Denmark, with family roots reaching back to the Vikings. His corporate holdings were impressive. In addition to Adelgate Glasvaerker, he possessed interests in British banks, Polish mines, German manufacturing, and European transportation. On a continent where old money meant billions, Thorvaldsen was at the top of most fortune lists. He was an odd sort, an introvert who ventured from his estate only sparingly. His charitable contributions were legendary, especially to Holocaust survivors, anti-communist organizations, and international medical relief.
He was sixty-two years old and close with the Danish royal family, especially the queen. His wife and son were dead, the wife from cancer, the son shot more than a year before while working for the Danish mission in Mexico City. The man who'd taken down one of the killers was an American lawyer-agent named Cotton Malone. Even a link to Lars Nelle existed, though not a favorable one, as Thorvaldsen was credited with some unflattering public comments about Nelle's research. A nasty incident fifteen years ago at the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve in Paris, where the two had engaged in a shouting match, had been widely reported in the French press. All of which might explain why Henrik Thorvaldsen had been interested in Peter Hansen's offer, but not entirely.
He needed to know it all.
Bracing ocean air whipped in off the black Oresund and the rain had slackened into a mist. Two of his acolytes stood beside him. The other two waited in the car, parked beyond the property, their heads woozy from whatever drug had been shot into them. He was still puzzled by who'd interfered. He'd sensed no one watching him all day, yet somebody had covertly traced his movements. Somebody with the sophistication to utilize tranquilizing darts.
But first things first. He led the way across the spongy yard to a row of hedges that fronted the elegant house. Lights burned in a ground-floor room that would, in daylight, offer a spectacular seaside view. He'd observed no guards, dogs, or alarm system. Curious, but not surprising.
He approached the lighted window. He'd noticed a car parked in the drive and wondered if his luck was about to change. He carefully peered inside and saw Stephanie Nelle and Cotton Malone talking with an older man.
He smiled. His luck was indeed changing.
He motioned and one of his men produced a nylon case. He unzipped the pouch and removed a microphone. He carefully affixed its rubber suction cup to the corner of the damp window pane. The state-of-the-art receiver inside the nylon bag could now hear every word.
He wedged a tiny speaker into his ear.
Before he killed them, he needed to listen.
"WHY DON'T YOU SIT?" THORVALDSEN SAID.
"So kind of you, Herr Thorvaldsen, but I prefer to stand," Stephanie made clear, contempt in her voice.
Thorvaldsen reached for the coffee and filled his cup. "I would suggest calling me anything but herr." He set the samovar down. "I detest all things even remotely German."
Malone watched as Stephanie took in the command. Surely, if he was a "person of interest" within Billet files, she knew that Thorvaldsen's grandfather, uncles, aunts, and cousins had all fallen victim to the Nazi occupation of Denmark. Even so, he expected her to retaliate, but instead her face softened. "Henrik it is, then."
Thorvaldsen dropped one lump of sugar into his cup. "Your facetiousness is noted." He stirred his coffee. "I learned long ago that all things can be settled over a cup of coffee. A person will tell you more of their private life after one good cup of coffee than after a magnum of champagne or a quart of port."
Malone knew Thorvaldsen liked to ease his listener with nonsense while he appraised the situation. The old man sipped from the steaming cup.
"As I said, Stephanie, it is time you learn the truth."
She approached the table and sat across from Malone. "Then by all means, destroy all my preconceived notions about you."
"And what would those be?"
"I could go on for a while. Here are the highlights. Three years ago you were linked to an art theft syndicate with radical Israeli connections. You interfered last year in the German national elections, funneling money illegally to certain candidates. For some reason, though, both the Germans and Israelis chose not to prosecute you."
Thorvaldsen made an impatient gesture of assent. "Guilty on both counts. Those radical Israeli connections, as you call them, are settlers who do not feel their homes should be bargained away by a corrupt Israeli government. To help their cause, we provided funds from wealthy Arabs who trafficked in stolen art. The items were simply stolen back from the thieves. Perhaps your files noted the art was returned to its owners."
"For a fee."
"Which any private art investigator would charge. We merely channeled the money raised to more worthy causes. I saw a certain justice in the act. And the German elections? I financed several candidates who faced stiff opposition from the radical right. With my help, they all won. I saw no reason to allow fascism to gain any foothold. Do you?"
"What you did was illegal and caused a multitude of problems."
"What I did was solve a problem. Which is far more than the Americans have done."
Stephanie seemed unimpressed. "Why are you in my business?"
"How is this your business?"
"It concerns my husband's work."
Thorvaldsen's face stiffened. "I don't recall you having any interest in Lars's work when he was alive."
Malone caught the critical words I don't recall. Which meant a high level of past knowledge concerning Lars Nelle. Uncharacteristically, Stephanie seemed not to be listening.
"I don't intend to discuss my private life. Just tell me why you bought that book tonight."
"Peter Hansen informed me of your interest. He also told me that another man wanted you to have the book, too. But not before the man made a copy. He paid Hansen a fee to make sure that happened."
"He say who?" she asked.
Thorvaldsen shook his head.
"Hansen's dead," Malone said.
"Not surprising." No emotion claimed Thorvaldsen's voice.
Malone told him what had happened.
"Hansen was greedy," the Dane said. "He believed the book had great value, so he wanted me to purchase it secretly so he could offer it to the other man--at a price."
"Which you agreed to do, being the humanitarian sort you are." Stephanie was apparently not going to cut him any slack.
"Hansen and I did much business together. He told me what was happening and I offered to assist. I was concerned he would simply go somewhere else for an anonymous buyer. I, too, wanted you to have the book, so I agreed to his terms, but I had no intention of turning the book over to Hansen."
"You don't honestly believe--"
"How is the cake?" Thorvaldsen asked.
Malone realized that his friend was trying to take control of the conversation. "Excellent," he said through a mouthful.
"Get to the point," Stephanie demanded. "That truth I need to know."
"Your husband and I were close friends."
Stephanie's face darkened into a look of disgust. "Lars never mentioned a word of that to me."
"Considering your strained relationship, that's understandable. But, even so, just as in your profession, there were secrets in his."
Malone finished his cake and watched as Stephanie contemplated what she clearly did not believe.
"You're a liar," she finally declared.
"I can show you correspondence that will prove what I am saying. Lars and I communicated often. Ours was a collaborative effort. I financed his initial research and helped him out when times were tough. I paid for his house in Rennes-le-Chateau. I shared his passion, and was glad to accommodate him."
Thorvaldsen appraised her with an even glare. "You know so little about him. How your regrets must torment you."
"I don't need analyzing."
"Really? You come to Denmark to buy a book you know nothing about that concerns the work of a man dead for more than a decade. And you have no regrets?"
"You sanctimonious ass, I want that book."
"You must first listen to what I have to say."
"Lars's first book was a resounding success. Several million copies worldwide, though it sold only modestly in America. His next were not as well received, but they sold--enough to finance his ventures. Lars thought an opposing point of view might help popularize the Rennes legend. So I financed several authors who wrote books critical of Lars, books that analyzed his conclusions on Rennes and pointed out fallacies. One book led to another and another. Some good, some bad. I myself even made some rather unflattering public remarks once about Lars. And soon, as he wanted, a genre was born."
Her eyes were aflame. "Are you nuts?"
"Controversy generates publicity. And Lars was not writing to a mass audience, so he had to generate his own publicity. After a while, though, it took on a life of its own. Rennes-le-Chateau is quite popular. Television specials have been made, magazines devoted to it, the Internet is loaded with sites dedicated solely to its mysteries. Tourism is the region's number one draw. Thanks to Lars, the town itself has now become an industry."
Malone knew that hundreds of books existed on Rennes. Several shelves in his shop were filled with recycled volumes. But he needed to know, "Henrik, two people died today. One leaped from the Round Tower and slit his throat on the way down. The other was tossed through a window. This isn't some public relations ploy."
"I would say that today at the Round Tower you came face-to-face with a brother of the Knights Templar."
"Ordinarily I'd say you're nuts, but the man screamed something before he jumped. Beauseant."
Thorvaldsen nodded. "The battle cry of the Templars. The screaming of that word by a mass of charging knights was enough to instill absolute fear in an enemy."
He recalled what he read in the book earlier. "The Templars were eradicated in 1307. There are no knights."
"Not true, Cotton. An attempt was made to eradicate, but the pope reversed himself. The Chinon Parchment absolves the Templars of all heresy. Clement V issued that bull himself, in secret, in 1308. Many thought the document lost when Napoleon looted the Vatican, but recently it was found. No. Lars believed the Order still exists, and so do I."
"There were a lot of references in Lars's books to Templars," Malone said, "but I never recall him writing that they still actually exist."
Thorvaldsen nodded. "Intentional on his part. Such a great contradiction they were, and are. Poor by vow, yet rich in assets and knowledge. Introspective, but skilled in the ways of the world. Monks and warriors. The Hollywood stereotype and the real Templar are two different beings. Don't be swept into the romance. They were a brutal lot."
Malone was not impressed. "How have they survived for seven hundred years without anyone knowing?"
"How does an insect or animal live in the wild without anyone knowing it exists? Yet new species are cataloged every day."
Good point, Malone thought, but he still was not convinced. "So what's this all about?"
Thorvaldsen leaned back in the chair. "Lars was looking for the treasure of the Knights Templar."
"Early in his reign, Philip IV devalued the French currency as a way to stimulate the economy. The act was so unpopular a mob came to kill him. He fled his palace for the Paris Temple and sought protection with the Templars. That was when he first spied the Order's wealth. Years later, when he was desperate for funds, he concocted a plan to convict the Order of heresy. Remember, anything a heretic owned became the property of the state. Yet, after the 1307 arrests, Philip found that not only the Paris vault, but also every other vault in Temples across France was empty. Not an ounce of Templar wealth was ever found."
"And Lars thought that treasure was in Rennes-le-Chateau?" he asked.
"Not necessarily there, but somewhere in the Languedoc," Henrik said. "There are enough clues to warrant that conclusion. But the Templars made finding its location difficult."
"So what does the book you bought tonight have to do with this?" Malone asked.
"Eugene Stublein was the mayor of Fa, a village close to Rennes. He was highly educated, a musician, and an amateur astronomer. He first penned a travel book about the region, then wrote Pierres Gravees du Languedoc. Inscribed Stones of the Languedoc. An unusual volume that depicts gravestones in and around Rennes. A strange interest, granted, but not uncommon--the south of France is noted for unique tombs. In the book is a sketch of a headstone that caught Stublein's eye. That drawing is important because the tombstone no longer exists."
"Could I see what you're talking about?" Malone asked.
Thorvaldsen pushed himself up from the chair and lumbered over to a server table. He came back with the book from the auction. "Delivered an hour ago."
Malone parted the binding to a marked page and studied the drawing.
"Assuming Stublein's sketch is accurate, Lars believed the gravestone was a clue that pointed the way to the treasure. Lars searched for that book for many years. One should be in Paris, as the Bibliotheque Nationale maintains a copy of every printing in France. But, though one is cataloged, no copy is there."
"Was Lars the only one who knew about this book?" Malone asked.
"I have no idea. Most believe the book does not exist."
"Where was this one found?"
"I spoke with the auction. A railway engineer who built the line from Carcassonne south to the Pyrenees owned it. The engineer retired in 1927 and died in 1946. The book was among his daughter's possessions when she recently died. The grandson placed it for auction. The engineer had been interested in the Languedoc, especially Rennes, and kept an inventory of tombstone rubbings himself."
Malone wasn't satisfied with his explanation. "So who alerted Stephanie to the auction?"
"Now, that is the question of the night," Thorvaldsen said.
Malone faced Stephanie. "Back at the hotel, you said a note came with the journal. You have it?"
She reached into her bag and retrieved a tattered leather notebook. Tucked within its pages was a folded sheet of taupe-colored paper. She handed the paper to Malone and he read the French.
On the 22nd of June in Roskilde a copy of Pierres Gravees du Languedoc will be offered at auction. Your husband searched for this volume. Here is an opportunity for you to succeed where he failed. Le bon Dieu soit loue.
Malone silently translated the last line. God be praised. He gazed across the table at Stephanie. "Where did you think this note came from?"
"One of Lars's associates. I just thought one of his cronies wanted me to have the journal and thought I'd be interested in the book."
"After eleven years?"
"I agree, it seems odd. But three weeks ago I thought little about it. Like I said before, I always believed Lars's quests were harmless."
"So why did you come?" Thorvaldsen asked.
"As you say, Henrik, I have regrets."
"And I do not want to aggravate those. I don't know you, but I did know Lars. He was a good man and his quest was, as you say, harmless. But it was nonetheless important. His death saddened me. I always questioned whether it was suicide."
"So did I," she said in a whisper. "I tried to place blame everywhere to rationalize it, but in my gut I never accepted that Lars killed himself."
"Which explains, more than anything, why you're here," Henrik said.
Malone could tell she was uncomfortable, so he offered her emotions a way out. "Let me see the journal?"
She handed him the book and he thumbed through the hundred or so pages, seeing lots of numbers, sketches, symbols, and pages of handwritten text. He then examined the binding with a bibliophile's trained eye and something caught his attention. "Pages are missing."
"What do you mean?"
He showed her the top edge. "Look here. See those tiny spaces." He parted the binding to one. Only a sliver of the original paper remained where it had once adhered to the binding. "Slit with a razor. I watch for this all the time. Nothing destroys the value of a book like missing pages." He restudied the top and bottom and determined that eight pages were gone.
"I never noticed," she said.
"A lot slipped by you."
A hectic flush came to her face. "I'm willing to concede that I screwed up."
"Cotton," Thorvaldsen said, "this whole endeavor could mean much more. The Templar archives could well be part of any find. The Order's original archives were kept in Jerusalem, then moved to Acre, and finally to Cyprus. History says that after 1312 the archives passed to the Knights Hospitallers, but there's no proof that ever occurred. From 1307 to 1314 Philip IV searched for the archives, but he found nothing. Many say that reserve was one of the medieval world's greatest collections. Imagine what locating those writings would mean."
"Could be the greatest book find ever made."
"Manuscripts no one has seen since the fourteenth century, many surely unknown to us. The prospect of finding such a cache, however remote, is worth exploring."
Thorvaldsen turned to Stephanie. "How about a truce? For Lars. I'm sure your agency works with many 'persons of interest' to achieve a mutually beneficial goal. How about we do that here?"
"I want to see those letters between you and Lars."
He nodded. "You may have them."
Stephanie's gaze caught his. "You're right, Cotton, I do need some help. I'm sorry about my tone earlier. I thought I could do this on my own. But since we're all asshole buddies now, let's you and I go to France and see what's in Lars's house. I haven't been there in some time. There's also a few people in Rennes-le-Chateau we can talk with. People who worked with Lars. Then we'll go from there."
"Your shadows might come, too," he said.
She smiled. "Lucky for me I have you."
"I'd like to come," Thorvaldsen said.
Malone was surprised. Henrik rarely traveled from Denmark. "And the purpose of you gracing us with your company?"
"I know a bit about what Lars sought. That knowledge might prove useful."
He shrugged. "Fine by me."
"Okay, Henrik," Stephanie said. "It'll give us time to come to know one another. Apparently, as you say, I have some things to learn."
"As do we all, Stephanie. As do we all."
DE ROQUEFORT FOUGHT TO RESTRAIN HIMSELF. HIS SUSPICIONS were now confirmed. Stephanie Nelle was on the trail that her husband had blazed. She also was the custodian of her husband's notebook, along with a copy of Pierres Gravees du Languedoc, perhaps the only copy still in existence. That was the thing about Lars Nelle. He'd been good. Too good. And now his widow owned his clues. He'd made a mistake trusting Peter Hansen. But at the time, the approach seemed the right one. He would not make that mistake again. Too much was riding on the outcome to trust any aspect to another stranger.
He continued to listen as they finalized what to do once in Rennes-le-Chateau. Malone and Stephanie would travel there tomorrow. Thorvaldsen would come in a few days. When he'd heard enough, de Roquefort freed the microphone from the window and withdrew with his two associates to the safety of a thick stand of trees.
There'd be no more killing tonight.
Pages are missing.
He would need that missing information from Lars Nelle's journal. The sender of the notebook had been smart. Dividing the spoils prevented rash acts. Clearly, there was more to this intricate puzzle than he knew--and he was playing catch-up.
But no matter. Once all of the players were in France, he could easily deal with them.