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«The Pegasus Secret», Gregg Loomis

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The first book in the Lang Reilly series, 2005

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks to Mary Jack Wald, my agent, whose help and suggestions were priceless, not to mention her efforts to make sure this book saw print. Thanks to Don D'Auria, editor, for his help, too. Henry Lincoln's video on Rennes-le-ChГўteau was helpful, as were the suggested translation of the Latin puzzle in Poussin's painting by Richard Andrews and Paul Schellenberger's Tomb of God.

PROLOGUE

Rennes-Le-Chateau

Southwest France

1872

 

Father SauniГЁre had made a strange discovery.

The roll of vellum parchment was so old that the ribbon tying the sheets together had crumbled into dust when he took the bundle from its hiding place in the altar. He had never seen writing like this, faded lines that looked more like worm tracks than script.

He had been doing some work in the little church, repairs his parish could ill afford to hire out. The roof leaked, a number of the pews were going to collapse without new nails and the altar… Well, the altar was older than the church itself.

He frowned as he looked up at the altar. Basically a stone slab, centuries of serving the Holy Eucharist had worn it so unevenly that it was about to fall from the two short plinths supporting it. Even at six feet and over two hundred pounds, he had barely been able to lift the block from its supports. That was when he had discovered that one of the columns was hollow-with the parchments inside.

No one knew the origins of the altar. SauniГЁre supposed it' had come from the ruins of one of the many castles nearby. Its intricate carvings were far too elaborate for a church whose poor box rarely yielded more than a few sous at a time.

The area was old. Romans, Templars, perhaps even Moors when it had been part of Catalonia in Spain. The altar could have come from anyone of their chapels.

Or Cathars or Gnostics.

The possibility that the altar could have been part of heretic or pagan services made SauniГЁre wince. God alone knew what heathen use the stone might have served. He looked over his shoulder as though someone might be there to reproach him for the thought.

Mere objects could not be evil, he told himself. Still, holding these pages made him uncomfortable. It might be best if they were destroyed. No, that was not his decision to make. He would show them to the bishop on the prelate's next visit, let authority decide.

What harm could mere inanimate documents do, anyway?

The answer came to him as he was conducting evening mass: It had been paper nailed to a cathedral door that had torn the church apart forever.

Part One

CHAPTER ONE

1

Paris

0234 hours

The explosion shook the entire Place des Vosges as well as a good part of the Marais district. Had the thirty-six town houses, nine on each side of the square, been built with less sturdy material than the handmade bricks of four centuries past, the damage might have been greater. Even so, the antique glass had been blown out of every window of the largest of these stately homes, the former Hotel de Rohan-Guemenee, the second floor of which had been the home of Victor Hugo.

The only real damage, though, was to number 26, the source of the blast. By the time the pompiers from the 11th arrondissement, the district fire department, arrived twelve minutes later, the building was four stories of inferno. Saving the house and its occupants was not a possibility.

A line of gendarmes kept spectators a respectful distance from the blaze while others interviewed bathrobe clad residents. One man, an apparent insomniac, told the officers he had been watching a rerun of the past year's World Cup championship match when he had heard a crash of shattering glass followed by a flash of light brighter than any he had ever seen. Rushing to the window, he had nearly been blinded by the intensity of the blaze.

The glass, the policeman asked, could it have crashed when something was thrown through a window?

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