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21 days ago
Current Starting up a preimum service of content from actors like Radcliffe, Day-Lewis, Bruhl, and Craig. Calling it OnlyDans.
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21 days ago
Please, guys. The status bar is for more important things... like cringe status updates.
4 likes
21 days ago
Gotta love people suddenly becoming apolitical when someone is doing something they approve of.
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1 mo ago
Deleting statuses? That's a triple cringe from me, dog.
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1 mo ago
My status: So horny you cringe.
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Bio

None of your damn business.

Most Recent Posts



Ural Mountains
Then


The two men lay flat on their stomachs on the snow-covered mountain ridge. They had each come into the mountains with very little supplies three weeks ago when their hunt began. A few weapons and a rucksack with clothing, but no food and no water. They would find their sustenance on the mountain, the same mountain would provide shelter. The only thing they carried now were their hunting knives and the rifle they shared. They opted for knives most times to conserve ammunition. At last count only six rounds were left.

"I see something," the younger man, Bruce Wayne, said under his breath. Like his partner, he wore white camouflage and his face was covered in a frost-speckled beard. A large brown bear stepped out of the snowy woods and lazily plodded towards a stream below. Bruce saw the dark markings on the bear's hindquarters and knew it was the same one they had been tracking for the past week.

"This is your kill," the man to Bruce's right said. For the past six months Bruce had been under his wing. The legendary man they called the Hunter had already him so much about tracking, scouting, and of course hunting. The only hunting Bruce had known prior to this was duck hunting with his uncle once when he was a teenager. And even that had only entailed shooting at a pack of birds as someone else found them and stirred them up. Thanks to the Hunter Bruce could not only hunt, but also survive and thrive in some of the harshest wilderness this planet had to offer.

The Hunter cycled a round into the rifle and began to hand it to Bruce before he stopped himself and laughed. "I forgot. Man who wants to be hunter, but not use guns. For you there is only one thing."

Bruce pulled his hunting knife from its side holster. It was ten inches and had a serrated blade. "Me against a bear with nothing but my knife... Kraven, are you sure?"

"What is the first rule of the hunt?"

"'Know your prey, watch it. Study it, get inside its head. Know it like it were you own flesh and blood.'"

"Da. For past week, we watch, we study. We see bear in fighting. We know bear's every movement, we know how bear thinks. That is most valuable weapon, worth more than a thousand of my rifles."

"You're right."

Bruce began to slowly creep through the snow. He was stopped as Kraven grabbed his ankle. "I will watch," he said with a nod. "If need be, I will but bear now... but then again, maybe not. When I was in Spetsnaz , we had saying when we did not live up to expectations: 'Иногда вы едите медведя, а иногда медведь ест вас.'"

"What does that mean?"

"'Sometimes, you eat bear and sometimes bear eat you.' In your case saying is quite literal, no?"

"Yes," Bruce said as he began to crawl towards the bear. "Quite."




Wayne Tower
Now


"Oh, Bruce, let me introduce you to one of our newest ADAs... Pretty young thing. Maybe even a potential candidate for the seat in the upcoming election."

"And me without my checkbook handy. Maybe they won't want to talk to me..."

Mrs. Van Patten, actually Judge Van Patten, laughed and took my hand. I followed behind her and let her lead me through the crowd gathered in my penthouse. The Thomas & Martha Wayne Charity Fundraiser, a black tie event that I was hoping to turn into a yearly gala. All proceeds were going to helping lower income Gotham residents find permanent work, affordable housing, and any medical treatment they would need. I may be doing... interesting work as Batman, but the work as Bruce Wayne is just as important, if not more important, to the future well-being of the city.

"Bruce Wayne," Mrs. Van Patten said as she stopped in front two people. A tall, handsome man in a tux and a shorter, blonde haired woman beside him dressed in a navy evening gown. "I want you to meet the District Attorney Office's newest star, Miss Janice Porter."

The blonde woman smiled and held her hand out for me. I shook it and grinned. "Well, the judge said you were a pretty one. I had no idea she had a habit of making understatements."

"Oh, Mister Wayne," Porter said with a laugh. "I'm flattered, by both your words and Judge Van Patten's. This is my fiancé, Henry."

I shook hands with the man accompany Porter and nodded. "So, the judge tells me you may have eyes for the DA seat?"

"That's putting the cart before the horse. I've only been in town for a few months. Lots of factors to consider, and the election is a long way away."

"Well, if you're ever interested in making a run I have lots and lots of disposable income, and like most people with too much money I like to meddle in politics. If I like what you have to offer we can work out a deal."

"I'm flattered, I really am. But for now--"

She continued to talk, but something across the room caught my eye. Someone with their back to me but with an unmistakable frame.

"--so just take a rain check."

"Will do," I said with a nod. "It was a pleasure meeting you both. If you'll excuse me."

I walked through the crowd and caught snippets of conversation as I navigated through the social scene.

"--missioner Pauling is just in it for the pension now, milk more time until he can retire--"

"--blepot is supposed to be coming back to town with some new business venture. His father, Chester, was always such a good businessman--"

"--And Mister Fields, let me introduce you to Miss Felicia Hardy--"

"Excuse me," I said as I approached the man. "I'm looking"

"You seek someone," the man said. He slowly turned around and revealed his face. Years had passed and there was more gray than I had remembered, but I would never forget the face and cold eyes of my one-time mentor. "And you have found them. Hello, richboy," Sergi Kravenoff said with a smirk.

"Kraven," I said without any warmth in my voice. "What are you doing here?"

"Not so happy to see me? We may have not parted on the best of circumstances but you were still my friend."

"You didn't answer my question," I said. "What are you doing here?"

"The hunt, my friend. Always the hunt. It calls me to Gotham."

"But there's nothing to hunt in the city," I said with a skeptical look.

"I am working for a client. They wish to bag big game. They call me in to hunt."

"What are you hunting?"

"I am--"

"Pardon me, Master Bruce," Alfred said as he approached us. "Councilman Dickerson is requesting your presence."

"Duty calls," I said with a glance towards my awaiting guests. "Enjoy the party... "

"I will try. If only you would serve vodka. Drink of real men, not champagne."

"I'll see what I can do."

I nodded and followed Alfred through the party. "Soon as you can, Alfred, I want you to pull the guest list for me. See who has plus one invitations and run those people through the computer downstairs, combing through their recent financial history. Look for large amounts of cash that have been withdrawn within the last thirty days. After that talk to security about the man I was talking to and see if he came here alone or with a guest."

"The large Russian?"

"Yes. He's here tonight on business, I know it. First rule of the hunt, Alfred: Know your prey. Watch it. Study it. Get inside its head. Know it like it were your own flesh and blood.'"

"Inspired poetry, sir. But who is he?"

"Sergi Kravenoff," I said, turning to look back at him. His eyes were watching me, unblinking and focused. "And he's one of the most dangerous men in the world."


Cameroon
Then


The jeep bounced up and down the poorly kept dirt road with a cloud of dust following in its wake through the countryside. The driver of the jeep chattered away in French while the young, dark-haired man in the passenger seat barely listened to him. Instead the passenger's eyes were focused on what lay ahead. The road began a slow and steady incline towards the peak of Mount Cameroon. The volcanic mountain was one of the premier spots for big game hunting in Central Africa. Everything from lions, elephants, chimps, and wild hogs mixed together in diverse bioshpere. The young man knew if he wanted to find a serious hunter, he would be here.

"Nous sommes arrivés, Monsieur Wayne," the driver said as the jeep skidded to a stop outside a grass hut.

"Oui, je vous remercie," the young man replied in flawless French. Two years "studying" in Paris had left him with a fluent understanding of the language. He handed the driver a handful of African Francs. The grabbed the canvas bag behind his seat and stepped out of the jeep. "Ce sera tout. Je peux le prendre à partir d'ici," he told the driver.

"Très bien. Ce vieil homme est fou. Vous avez besoin d'aide, tu m'appelles," the driver said with a nod.

"Oui. Je vais le faire, George."

The driver of the jeep reversed the vehicle and began back down the dirt road. The young man watched the jeep disappear down the road before turning to the hut. While he had his back turned a man had appeared out of nowhere with a rifle in his hands.

"Explain yourself," the man said in a slight Russian accent. He slid the rifle's bolt action and cycled a round into his the chamber. "Two seconds before I shoot you dead."

"My name," the young man said in English, his hands raised and his palms out "is Bruce Wayne. I came to speak to Sergi Kravinoff."

The older man looked at Wayne with narrowed eyes before he pulled his rifle back. "You want Kraven, richboy? You have found him. What do you want?"

"I seek knowledge," he said, and then softer said, "training."




Now
Old Gotham
8:04 PM


I was crouched in the shadows watching the lone gunman from a safe distance. Shortly before five this afternoon he walked into a daycare and proceeded to take the staff and a dozen toddlers hostage. The cops had been involved in a standoff for a little over three hours. Major Gordon stood outside supervising the scene, but word from Gotham Central was that new commissioner Peter Pauling was getting antsy. His orders were pretty straightforward: Give Gordon an hour to negotiate . If that didn't work SWAT would bang down the doors. The only way that ended was with dead bodies and bullets.

There's a better way. I managed to infiltrate the police perimeter with ease and slip into the daycare unnoticed. I'd been stalking the hostage taker ever since. The fourteen hostages, twelve of them scared and frightened children, were huddled together in an adjacent room.

"Attention!" Gordon's voice boomed through a megaphone outside. While his voice carried his tone was hesitant. "This is Major James Gordon with the GCPD... You have forty-five minutes to come out with your hands up or we will... we will breech the doors."

The gunman began to pace and fidget nervously across the floor. I stayed still and watched as he wildly swung the pistol in his hands. A child in the following room started to cry. The gunman ran his hands through his head and started to exhale in short, fast breaths. He growled and started towards the room where the crying child was.

"Can you shut that goddamn kid u--," he stopped short as my forearm came out the shadows and struck him in the diaphragm. The gunman gagged and grasped for breath. I slapped the gun from his hand and drove him to the ground with a forceful thump, my left knee pressed into his throat.

"Run!" I shouted to the workers in the room next door. "Take the children and get out of here, but be careful!"

As the hostages and children began to leave the daycare I had the gunman pinned to the floor. He tried to claw at my leg and find some sort of purchase, but he was too weak. "Please --gaak -- lemme go. Just following orders."

I relented my grip and leered at the hostage taker. "What?"

"Russian guy," he said weakly. "Told me he'd kill my family if I didn't come in here and take people hostage."

I slammed my fist hard into the floor just inches from his head. "Why?!"

"I... I don't know!"

Heavy footsteps were coming in the next room. I let go of the kidnapper and disappeared just as a cop came into the room, her gun out. "I found him," she cried out. "He's in here!"

While the members of the GCPD began to fill in the room, I was already out the daycare and on the roof of the building across the street. Someone threatened that man to take hostages. Why?





As Batman headed into the night, a pair of eyes watched him from a hidden vantage point. The man he had forced into service was adequate at doing his job. It had given him a chance to stake out the Batman and watch him in action. He was good. Patient, methodical, and ruthless when he needed to be. He needed more chances to watch his quarry, but for now Kraven the Hunter was convinced that the Batman would be a most worthy prey.


@DocTachyon

Blüdhaven
3:15 PM


Carmine Falcone scowled as he stepped out the back of his limo and headed inside the lobby of the Blüdhaven Four Seasons. As bad as Gotham was, Blüdhaven was a real shit-hole. It'd always been in Gotham's shadow, and it was easy to guess why. The town wasn't even a third the size of Gotham, but the city's crime was almost on par with Gotham's. He had a few business associates here, but nothing too serious. You could make money but it was just chump-change to a guy with rackets like his. Plus this place was like the goddamn wild west with all the hits and drive-by shootings that went on. It wasn't civilized here. The criminals who ran this place were savages. Fuck Russo, he thought. Sending him out all the way out here for this meeting.

Falcone headed through the opulent lobby with two of his bodyguards flanking him. They headed to the conference room where Falcone and his men were the last to arrive. The ugly son of a bitch with the square head was already waiting. Hammerhead sat at the table with three of his men behind him. They looked impassively at Falcone and his guys, sizing the three mobsters up.

"Here he is," a voice from the head of the table said with a touch of humor in his voice. Billy "The Beaut" Russo, acting boss of the Gnucci Family, walked towards Falcone and warmly embraced him. Falcone managed a strained style as he patted the younger man on the back.
"You look good, Carmine. Come, have a seat."

Billy was all of thirty-one when he took the reigns of the Gnucci Family from their matriarch. Ma Gnucci got sent up for life at the women's state pen. Since that time Billy had turned the sinking mob family around. He'd gotten a good deal when the families split up Maroni's territory. With confidence, ambition, youth, and now prime territory, Billy Russo was a comer. And he was starting to become a threat to Falcone.

After swapping pleasantries with Falcone, Hammerhead finally asked the question. "Out with it, kid," he grunted. "The hell are we doing here?"

"Exactly," Falcone said as he lit up a cigar. "What's so goddamn important we had to come to the state's sewage pipe to discuss it?"

"Batman," Russo said with a glint in his eyes. "It's time to get rid of him."

"Great plan," Hammerhead said sarcastically. "Why the hell haven't we thought of that before?! We kill Batman, and that's the end of it. Wow, you're a fucking genius."

"Funny," Russo said. "But here's the thing: you've sent killers after him and they've all failed. I finally got the right guy for the job."

Falcone exhaled a swirling plum of smoke from his mouth and looked at Russo, his eyelids have closed. "Hammerhead said the same thing six months ago. That weird fuck with the target on his head."

"That was the problem," Russo said. "You sent killers. The man I have for is so much more."

"That explains it," Hammerhead said with a sigh. "I figure that's why you called us here. Afraid the big, bad bat is listening."

"You can never be too careful," Russo said with a nod.

"How much," Falcone asked, stubbing his cigar in the ashtray beside him.

"Pretty cheap. Only a half mil from all of us."

"A half mil?" Hammerhead asked with a raised eyebrow. "Just a mil and a half for this job? It cost us five mil for Bullseye. Why's this guy cheap?"

"He gets off on it," Russo said. "Thrill of the chase and all that. He's here. Let me bring him out."

Both Hammerhead and Falcone stared at the man as he came in. His outlandish outfit threw both mobsters for a loop.

"This guy?" Falcone asked with a laugh. "He looks like a goddamn acrobat, not a killer."

"Killer is not what you need," the man said with a slight Russian accent. "Killer is what you used before. Killer will not work. You have animal problem in your city, you do not call killer..."



"You call hunter."
So my question here is: Why did everyone (that isn't new/making someone new) decide to take a go at these characters again? Why bring them back?


Bro i am just literally trying to vibe


Round 3

“This kid hits like a fucking frieght train.”

Ted Grant spat a wad of blood-tinged spit into the bucket at his feet. Ted let out a hiss as his cutman, Bobby Fallon, placed a cold enswell against his left jaw. The swelling there was so bad Ted was sure they could see it from the cheap seats. The thick black eyebrows of Ray Kelly knitted themselves together as he leaned into Ted’s ear.

“He keeps dropping his left when he’s going in for a hit,” he whispered in a rasp that came with sixty years of cigarette smoking. Ted smelled the aroma of Scotch on Ray’s breath as he spoke. It was always a bad sign if Ray was dipping into his hip flask this early into a fight.

“This kid’s a fucking puncher,” Ray shouted as the ref called out for five seconds before the fourth round started. “You’re a goddamn boxer, Ted. There’s a difference. Go out there and box.”

Ted stood up from the stool and took a deep breath before Bobby popped the mouthpiece back between Ted’s teeth. His corner stepped back to walk towards the center ring where his opponent awaited. The crowd hooted and hollered as the two fighters began again. Ted could make out the kid through the haze of cigar smoke that hung through the air. Ten years younger, an inch taller, and with ten more pounds of muscle: Battlin’ Jack Murdock stood as a mocking testament of the passage of time. No matter how good Ted had been, there would always be someone better to take his place.

Like a spent gladiator,
Crawling in the Colosseum dust,
Who can count on his remaining limbs,
All the people he can trust.
Like the one who stands behind him,
Cheering him on.
Ecstatic when he stands defiant,
Wild with abandon when he's gone.


Round 6

Ted stepped backwards as the lumbering frame of Murdock pressed him. Twenty years dancing around the ring led to an acute sense of where he was and how close he was to the ropes. He couldn’t let Murdock get him pinned against the ropes. If he did that, the kid would go to town on his ribs and face. He was already dealing with enough as it was. Ted could feel the swelling on his jaw had worsened in the three rounds since Bobby had treated it, and a spot just above his eyebrow Murdock was tagging every chance he got. No way he could make it the whole twelve without the fucker busting opening and bleeding.

He felt the ropes tickle his back as Murdock went low with a punch to the gut that Ted warded off with his right, tagging Murdock with a quick left jab to the chin. The blow knocked the younger fighter off balance for a moment and Ted felt a surge of excitement. He saw an opening to bring in his right cross, the same right cross that had once taken out three of Slam Bradley’s teeth in one blow. He reached back and prepared to deliver what he hoped was the death blow. He saw Murdock’s eyes brighten as the kid realized what he was trying to accomplish. Ted’s cross ended up being deflected by a quick block from the kid. Ted cursed himself as the bell rang and the round ended.

“Too slow,” he said as he sat back down on the stool in his corner. Bobby started to work on his bruises and developing cuts as Slam spat out his mouthpiece. “I’m too fucking slow and too fucking old.”

Just stay alive.
Keep your eyes on the palum, and stay alive.


Round 10

The ref looked down at Ted. He was saying something, but Ted couldn’t make out what. It wasn’t until he saw the fingers that he knew he was counting. He was counting to ten and Ted was flat on his ass.

“SIX!” The ref shouted over the sounds of the crowd. He held up a full five fingers plus one.

“Sev--”

The ref stopped as Ted got to his feet. He pulled Ted in close and looked into his eyes to make sure Ted was all there.

“That’s your one, Grant,” he shouted. “Next time you drop, I’m calling it.”

Ted shook his head in reply and smacked his gloves together. Jack Murdock watched with a hint of a smile on his face. This late in the fight a knockdown was pretty much curtains of Ted. The fight so far had been pretty evenly contested that if it went the distance, his knockdown would be the clincher for the judges.

“Have a nice nap, pops,” Murdock said with a smirk. “Ready to go again?”

“Ready to go again is what I told your mother last night,” Ted said with a bloody grin. “Just before I fucked her in the ass.”

The smile on Murdock’s face vanished. Ted smiled and winked.

“Come on, junior, let’s finish this up before you gotta take Lulu to the box social or some shit.”


Stay in the game.
Just try to play through the pain.
Like a fighter who's been told it's finally time for him to quit.
Show up in shining colors,
And then stand and there and get hit.


Round 12

Jack Murdock was in the punishing mood. Ted’s crack in the tenth was like putting chum in the water for a shark. Ted danced around and tried to cover himself as the kid assaulted his sides with blow after blow. Ted could feel the cut above his eyebrow was starting to trickle blood along with sweat down his face. This was the end for him. He was sucking air and on his last leg, a bruised and bloody mess, but this kid was like a goddamn machine. He had no intention of slowing down or stopping his barrage.

Murdock was going to win the fight by decision, that much was for sure, but he wanted to make a statement. He wanted to knock Ted out. As Ted did his best to fight off Murdock’s punches he had a thought. It wouldn’t do to just win by unanimous decision or even TKO. The papers and the columnist were declaring Battlin’ Jack Murdock the next big thing, the future heavyweight champion of the world. At thirty-two, Ted was yesterday’s news. He’d been champ, but that was now five years ago. He was the past and Murdock was the future.

And Jack Murdock knew how important it was to score a knockout on an ex-champ. Ted had revved him up for sure, but he would go for the knockout blow if he could. And Ted could use that to his advantage. Ted shuffled back towards the corner, letting Murdock push him towards it. Nine rounds ago Ray had issued a piece of advice about the kid dropping his left when he went in for a big hit. Ted had been watching and waiting. Ted was almost to the corner when he saw Murdock drop his left as his big right hand started to wind up for that big haymaker. He was faster than Ted in almost every way, in his punches, blocks, and footspeed. But twelve rounds of relentless fighting slowed anyone down.

Ted saw his window and pushed for every last ounce of his energy as he swung wide with a right hook that connected with Murdock’s temple. The punche stopped the kid’s attack at once and dazed him. Ted connected with a powerful uppercut that knocked the kid flat on his ass. The crowd got to their feet and roared as the ref stood over Murdock and started to count. Ted raised his gloves and looked at the crowd, his face covered in blood and sweat. Murdock sat up, but the punchdrunk face that looked at the ref was enough. The ref stood up and waved his hands.

“It’s over!”

Ted felt Bobby and Ray come up from behind and hug him. Ted broke away from them and walked towards the corner of the ring. He climbed to the top of the corner and held his hands up for all to see this old, past his prime fighter basking in victory one last time. To the young upstart the lesson was clear: You do not fuck with Ted Grant and get away with it.

Stay alive.
Maybe spit some blood at the camera.
Just stay alive.
Stay forever alive.
Rome

Two Months Ago

Koning walked through the park with both hands wedged firmly in his pockets. A pleasant spring breeze through Koning’s hair and he took a momentary break from his vigilance to enjoy the scene. There were picnicking families eating lunch on the grass, people walking dogs, and what looked to be a pack of young toughs smoking cigarettes beside a bench. Somewhere a radio played an uptempo music number with Spanish singing. The Appian Way ran through the heart of the park. No cars could safely pass down the cracked and worn cobbles, but plenty of pedestrians and bicycles navigated down it at the moment. The same road Roman soldiers had marched down over two thousand years ago was still being used. It was a testament to the ancient world’s engineering prowess, and a reminder that Rome’s history stretched back several millennia.

A child’s loud and playful scream brought Koning back to reality. He pulled a hand out of his pocket and squared his glasses. It was almost time for his contact to show. He’d left his vestments back at the Vatican in an effort to blend in. A priest in a dowdy black frock walking through the park would get noticed. On top of that, emissaries of the Holy See were scrutinized once they stepped on Italian soil. Koning spent nearly two hours executing his tradecraft. He’d double back on his route and walk the wrong way on one-way streets, looking over his shoulder for familiar faces going the same way as he was. Normally archbishops in the Catholic Church weren’t experts in espionage tradecraft, but Koning was far from a normal archbishop.

He found Dončić sitting on a park bench eating a gelato. Koning sat beside the thin, mustached Slovenian man. Neither acknowledged the other’s existence as they continued to stare forward.

“You have some gelato in your mustache,” said Koning.

Dončić wiped his face with the back of his hand and grunted thanks before taking another bite.

“There is a packet under the bench,” said Dončić. “It includes some banking information my bosses in Belgrade need help with.”

Koning reached down and pulled a closed manila envelope from under the bench. He tucked it into his jacket for later reading.

“What is it related to?” asked Koning.

“A criminal group active in Yugoslavia. They are ostensibly a Muslim revolutionary organization, but they are little more than gangsters. They run guns, sell drugs, and pimp out women to fund their terrorism, but they have other donors who live abroad that do the heavy lifting. State Security found the information in your packet during a raid on one of their homes. Our theory is if we can identify and cut off their funding, then their revolutionary zeal will fade. ”

“‘One cannot serve both God and money. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other’,” said Koning. “What do I seek to gain if I undertake this task for your country?”

Dončić shrugged. “The gratitude of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In addition, you make me look good in the eyes of my bosses. I look good to them then I get promoted. That gives you a good Catholic friend deep inside the UDBA. A friend who will owe you a favor.”

“I’ll see what I can find,” said Koning. He stood and stretched. “Watch the wall outside the Yugoslav Embassy for the tic tac toe game. I’ll be in touch when I have something.”

Koning walked away from the bench without a look back at Dončić.




Boston

Now

Koning looked up from his papers as the train PA announced they’d arrived as his stop. He placed the papers in a briefcase on the seat beside him before standing. He stepped out onto the T platform and started the climb up the station steps. Speers managed to come through with the information Koning needed and it, along with a few items provided by other sources at his disposal, was in his briefcase.

He came out of the station and into the heart of South Boston. Southie, as it was called among Boston locals, was a neighborhood with a reputation. Heavily working class and heavily Irish Catholic, it wasn’t a place a lot of Bostonians liked to find themselves in this late at night. Koning wasn’t too worried. He could handle himself in almost all physical situations he may find himself in. On top of that he was decked out in his cassock. Only the most hardened criminals in Southie dared to accost a priest.

Clapboard row houses with multiple families living within them were on both sides of the street. Hungry faces peered out the windows as Koning passed by. He expected more kids and youngsters on the street, but a strict curfew administered by Boston police was in effect. Despite the huge Irish Catholic population in Boston they were still second class citizens. The nicer parts of the city were proddy only, so the Catholics had to stay in neighborhoods like Southie and Dorchester. Too many poor people living on top of each other led to crime and squalor. The old Boston Brahmins still had their hooks in city hall and their machine ran the BPD. On their orders the mostly Protestant cops treated the Catholic neighborhoods like occupied territory. Years of abuse built up resentment and rage at the cops and the establishment they worked for. Koning could feel that unrest even simmering under the surface even in the warm summer night. It was only a matter of time.

His glasses reflected the bright neon glow off the bar’s side wall as he approached the entrance. A green neon sign declared the place JOE’S. A four leaf clover above the E blinked on and off in an infrequent pattern.

Koning entered the bar. It looked like a typical dive bar: A few sadsacks were bellied up to the bar with a glass of beer and an empty shot glass. People sat at a couple of tables scattered around the floor smoking just as much as they drank. The walls were covered in graffiti along with vintage posters of old time boxers and black and white photos of people Koning assumed were somehow connected to the bar’s history. A jukebox in the corner warbled some Irish jig:

“Then we turned and shook as we had a look in the room where the dead men lay. So big Jim Dwyer made his last trip to the shores where his father's laid.”

He received a few curious looks as he approached the bar, but nothing too severe. There was a good chance he wasn’t the first man of the cloth to walk through these doors. The bartender sized him up with a slightly raised eyebrow. The middle aged man was beefy with a ruddy face and a flattened nose. The nose along with the cauliflower ear on the right side made Koning guess the man had been a boxer in his younger days.

“Sunday’s priests get penny shots,” he said with a grin. “Every other night it’s full price, father.”

“I would like to see the proprietor of this fine establishment,” said Koning.

The bartender wrinkled his brow and scratched the side of his head. “Do what now?”

“The owner,” Koning said with a sigh. “The Joe in Joe’s.”

“Ain’t no Joe,” said the bartender. “Never was. It’s just a name someone liked so they named the bar Joe’s.”

“Curious,” Koning said, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I was under the impression this bar was owned by one Joseph Sullivan, at least it’s a de facto ownership. The actual deed of ownership and liquor board license is in the name of Colleen McDonough, Joseph’s aunt. Yet Boston Police Department intelligence indicates Mrs. McDonough is just a front because Joseph, a convicted felon, would be unable to get a liquor license on his own.”

“Get the fuck outta here,” the bartender said sharply. He started to reach for something behind the bar, a baseball bat Koning assumed. “Get out now, padre, before something bad happens to you.”

“Let your boss decide my fate,” said Koning. “I will have some tonic water while you tell him I’m here.”

The bartender eyed Koning sharply as the archbishop simply stood there. Finally, he moved slowly and deliberately towards one of the taps behind the bar. He poured a glass full of tonic water before spitting in it and putting it on the bar in front of Koning.

“Drink up.”

Koning watched him lumber away towards a door off to the side of the bar. All of the regulars at Joe’s were now all watching the priest as he put his briefcase on the bar and calmly waited.

“Word of advice, your holiness,” said one of the drinkers at the bar. Koning turned to look at him. His face was permanently flushed red from a lifetime of alcohol consumption and his eyes had a glazed over look that Koning was sure was permanently there all the time. “People who piss off Joe go in that backroom and they don’t come out upright. Run away while you can, Father. Not even that collar is gonna save you from Mink.”

The drunk hushed up and scurried back to his spot at the bar when he saw the side door open again. The bartender came out with a companion at this side. A short man with a sharp pointed nose and dark beady eyes stared intently at Koning. His red hair was slicked back by pomade and he wore a sports jacket even in the warm bar. Koning was able to make out the shape of a shoulder holstered gun beneath the jacket.

“This is Mink,” said the bartender. “He’s gonna take you back to meet Joe.”

The old drunk to Koning’s left looked and tried to flash a look with his eyes. Koning saw it, but the two other men remained oblivious. Koning nodded and grabbed the briefcase off the bar before he started to walk towards Mink. He gently patted the elderly drinker on the shoulder as he passed by. He wanted to reassure the man that whatever awaited him in the backroom, he could handle it.

Koning started down a short hallway with Mink behind him. The little man stayed closely behind Koning as they approached an open doorway.

“What’s with the get up?” Mink asked. “You work with Father Jamison and those other faggots at Gate of Heaven?”

“No,” Koning said shortly. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle as his anger rose. “I know Father Jamison, but I am not here on simple parish business.”

They passed through the doorway and into an office. The heavyset man with dark hair and sunken eyes staring at him from across the desk had to be Joe Sullivan. Predictably, Koning felt Mink move swiftly behind him. Something hard and cold was placed on the back of Koning’s neck.

“What kind of fucking priest walks into my bar and asks to see me?” Sullivan asked in a thick Boston accent. “Not only that, the son of a bitch seems to intimately know details of my business.”

“One who seeks to find allies in unlikely places,” Koning said in a measured voice. “I was told you were a good Catholic once, Joe.”

“I was an altar boy for six years,” said Sullivan, just a hint of a smile on his face. “They kicked me out when I went to juvie.” The smile faded and he frowned. “But that was a long time ago. And I’ve already punched my ticket to Hell in the eyes of the church. So what’s one more murder, even if it’s of a priest?”

When Koning moved, he moved swiftly, driving the briefcase in his hand into Mink’s midsection. The sudden jolt made him step backwards and gasp. He pulled the gun away from Koning’s neck as he reeled. Koning spun and smacked Mink across the face with the briefcase. His free hand snatched the gun from Mink’s grasp as he fell to the floor. Koning delivered a hard kick to Mink’s face before spinning around again to train the barrel of the pistol on Sullivan. The fat man raised his hands in defense.

“He broke my fucking nose,” Mink cried from the floor.

“Your man said some very rude things about my fellow priests,” Koning said to Sullivan. He laid the briefcase on the desk in front of Sullivan. He stepped back and lowered the gun just enough to put Sullivan at some sort of ease.

“Now may we discuss business?”

“What the fuck do you want?!” Sullivan yelled. “Do you know who the fuck I am? You just waltz in here and attack my sister’s boy and train a gun on me like I’m some common hood.”

“You are,” Koning said impassively. “You are very much a small-time criminal living in a second class neighborhood. South Boston and all the Catholics in this city are just white negros in the eyes of the people in power. The Boston PD knows that you run a gambling and loansharking racket out of this bar, but yet they do nothing to stop it. It’s because you’re not worth the effort, Joseph. You do your part in keeping your own people down. You're an outlaw, but you still serve the state's purpose to a fault.”

Koning saw Sullivan flushing. He couldn’t tell if it was out of anger or embarrassment.

“What the fuck do you want?” Sullivan asked again.

“A partnership,” said Koning.

He heard Mink starting to get up from behind him, but a heel kick to the man’s chest kept him on the floor.

“In the briefcase in front of you are the details on a man named Oguz Özil. He lives in Brockton and is a very prosperous import-export merchant. He is also a financier of international crime and terrorism. Open the briefcase.”

Sullivan complied. He frowned when he looked inside. Koning knew he might. In addition to the information on Özil were manila packets numbered 1 through 22, along with stacks of hundred dollar bills. Over twenty-five thousand US dollars. A small fortune to someone like Sullivan.

“What’s all this?”

“Özil is a problem that needs to disappear,” said Koning. “Do not tell me the details, it is better if I do not know. The cash is your fee in advance for a job done well and discreetly, Joseph. There is more money where that comes from. The packets? That’s for after you take care of our Turkish friend. It’s thorough intelligence on all twenty-two ward members on Boston’s city councils, their dirty secrets and their innermost desires.”

Sullivan furrowed his brow.

“But why?”

“It’s an election year, Joseph,” said Koning. “And with the money and information at your disposal, you can become something more than a common criminal: You can become a kingmaker. I’ll be in touch.”

Koning pocketed the gun and stepped over the prone Mink. He walked through the bar, ignoring the shock on the bartender’s face. Koning winked at the old drunk as he walked out into the warm summer night.
Japan

Kamikatsu
1922


“Who is the boy?” Father Gallo asked the nun.

Sister Shaw looked up from her paperwork and frowned in the priest’s direction. Gallo stood at the window and looked out at the schoolyard as he worried the silver crucifix around his neck.

“What boy,” she sighed before looking back down at her papers.

Father Gallo had taken charge of the orphanage just a few days ago, but in that short time Sister Shaw found herself doing most of the administrative work. Gallo was some sort of favorite with someone back in Rome, and he certainly seemed to care for the boys, but the man didn’t seem practical at all. That didn't bode well for his future, thought Sister Shaw.

“The little one who sits off by himself and reads,” Gallo said. “I’ve noticed him for a few days. Doesn't play with the others."

“That would be Harry Mitchell,” Shaw said without looking up. “He’s a bookworm and very reserved. He's not a fan of mingling with the other boys.”

“You call him, Mitchell...what’s his Japanese name?”

“He doesn’t have one,” snapped Shaw. “He’s not like the other boys, Father. They all have papers on them and we know their heathen names.”

Shaw saw Gallo wince at her use of the word heathen. She got a small thrill out of it. Good. The man seemed to be too lenient to these boys and their people. This orphanage was all about saving souls and converting the godless. There was no place for softness when it came to helping others avoiding Hell.

“Young Mitchell was left on the orphanage doorstep when he was a newborn," she said. "There was some of their gobbledygook written on a paper and pinned to his swaddling blankets, but nobody kept it. We baptized him and christened him Harold Mitchell. That was eight years ago. He’s been with us ever since.”

Gallo nodded and continued to stare out the window. Sister Shaw simply shook her head and went back to her papers. Let the young priest stare and be lost in thought. She had real work to do.




Rome

Vatican City
Now

Harry peered over his reading glasses at his wristwatch. It was a quarter past eleven in the morning and he could hear chanting echoing through the opulent library halls. The 11 AM mass would be in full swing by now. He’d attended the 7 AM mass like always, but it had been a subdued affair. WNews about Cardinal Moch’s fall was already well circulated through the Vatican by that point. The word floating around also confirmed the worst: the old man was dead. His Holiness had already ordered three days of mourning, a funeral mass set to commence after that. Clergy from across Europe would gather in Rome to see the old Cardinal off.

He tried to drive away thoughts about the dead Cardinal and instead focus on the work before him. Laid out on the table was a collection of books and papers on one Josep Manyanet i Vives. Vives was a Spanish priest who died in 1901. He spent his life devoted to the cause of helping his parish despite being in ill health. It was reported the man suffered from open sores for over a decade. After over twenty years of campaigning from the diocese in Barcelona, the Church was moving forward with beatification of Father Vives and this was the first step.

That’s where Harry came in.

His official title in Vatican City was canon lawyer. It was true that he was an expert on ecclesiastical law. But his specialty had a very specific title. Harry was the Devil’s Advocate. It was his job to thoroughly investigate any proposed saint to see if they were less than worthy. If they met Hary's approval their case for sainthood would progress to the next step. In addition he also investigated any reported miracle for evidence of fraud, or to see if there was a simple scientific answer. Overall he was the Vatican’s resident skeptic in all matters. It seemed to fit him well in the five years he’d been here. He’d always been the odd man out from the time he was a child. The lone skeptic among the flocks of the devoted. He wore that badge with pride.

“Father Mitchell?”

Harry looked up from his papers and found a junior priest standing in front of him. Harry felt a little nervous when he saw the tall, imposing figure standing beside the priest in a dark suit. Colonel Stoller stared down at Harry with a look of boredom. Harry knew those seemingly bored eyes didn’t miss much. While he didn’t wear the gaudy show uniforms of his men, Stoller was a Swiss Guard through and through. While they carried halberds, Stoller carried a pistol tucked in a shoulder holster.

“His Holiness requests your presence,” said Stoller.

Harry was on his feet before Stoller could finish. He followed in the wake of the taller man across the library’s marble floors. The librarian who had accompanied Stoller would take care of the books and papers Harry left on the table. They walked across the beautiful Sistine Hall with the detachment of people who saw the breathtaking works of art Vatican City had to offer every day. Harry felt a mix of emotions as he followed Stoller. He always enjoyed seeing His Holiness, but it was highly unusual for Stoller to become involved. He coordinated security for the Pope and The Holy See abroad. He served, as they all did, at His Holiness’ pleasure, but he was not a simple errand boy.

Stoller led Harry to the papal apartments. The layout of the residence was spartan and in keeping with its current occupants’ more modest approach to the papacy. Pope Leo VIX, once upon a time Father Martino Gallo to Harry, flashed a wide grin as Harry and Stoller entered the sitting room.

“My son,” Leo said as Harry got on his knees and kissed the ring on the Pope’s right hand.

For Harry, the term son was not some generic greeting. Over thirty years ago Father Gallo came to a lonely little boy in a Japanese orphanage and took him under his wing. He taught Harry about God, faith, the Church, and all that it meant to serve the Lord. Father Gallo help put him through seminary school and legal training even as his own star rose within the Church. And then. five years ago, when Cardinal Gallo emerged from the Papal conclave as Leo XIV, he brought Harry to Rome.

“Your Holiness,” said Harry.

“None of that, Harry,” said Leo. “Not here in my home. “Call me Leo, call me Father, call me Marty, but no need for formality with me. And off your knees and have a seat.”

Harry got up and sat down in a chair facing Leo. Stoller stood at the threshold of the sitting room at parade rest.

“You can have a seat as well, Colonel,” said the Pope.

“I could,” replied the Swiss colonel. “But I won’t.”

“Suit yourself.”

Leo turned his attention back to Harry. Several months had passed since the two men last saw each other. That wasn’t out of the ordinary even in tiny Vatican City. So much of Leo’s time was scheduled out and planned to the exact minute. There was no doubt he had to make some sort of sacrifice on his itinerary for this meeting with Harry.

“How have you been, Harry?” Leo asked with a warm smile.

“I’ve been well, Father,” said Harry. Even in the less formal setting Harry would not call His Holiness Marty. “My work keeps me preoccupied most of the days.”

“Oh, I know.” A sardonic look flashed across the Pope’s face “I read your report on the American woman who claimed she found the image of Jesus Christ.”

“Yes, she was very committed,” said Harry. “Or at least she needs to be.”

The two men shared a laugh while Stoller looked on stoically.

“My good colonel could you please put on some music for Father Mitchell and I?”

Harry started to say something, but stopped when he saw Leo raise a hand preemptively. The colonel walked over to a record player in the sitting room. Opera music began to play from the speakers. Stoller adjusted the knob so the sounds of Cavalleria rusticana filtered through the apartment at full blast.

“The walls have ears around here,” Leo said soft enough so that only Harry could hear him. “I have learned that well in the past five years. We must talk quickly and cover much.”

The Pope reached into his robes and produced a folded piece of paper. He passed it to Harry and let him look it over. It was a Papal brief declaring that he, Father Harold Mitchell Esquire, had been bestowed the temporary powers of His Holiness when it came to access to Vatican City. Nothing or anyone would be off-limits to him as he acted as the agent of His Holiness. So ordained by His Holiness Leo XIV, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the servants of God.

“What is this, Father?” Harry asked.

“Cardinal Moch’s death,” said the Pope. “I do not think it was just a simple accident. I fear the worst... I think he took his own life.”

The two men exchanged looks. Leo didn’t have to explain any further the ramifications of Moch committing suicide. It was an abomination in the eyes of the Church. No suicide could ever have a Christian burial and no soul who took their own life could ever enter Heaven. For a Cardinal to do such a thing would be an enormous scandal.

“I want you to use that brief to find out everything you can about Cardinal Moch in the days leading up to his death. Found out his frame of mind, who he last spoke to, what he was doing the night of his fall.”

“Your Holiness,” Harry said, ignoring Leo’s chastising look as he pressed on. “You have the Gendarmes for this. They are the closest the Holy See has to a police force.”

“Manned by men with questionable allegiances,” said Leo. “Lombardi was appointed by the last pontiff. I question how much of our daily goings on gets reported to the Italian government. Lombardi and the Gendarmes are off the table for this one.”

The Papal brief in Harry’s hands suddenly felt heavier. It carried with it so much power, but also so much responsibility. The power of the Pope himself was vested in this document, Harry now an extension of that power. Harry’s sight drifted towards Stoller’s imposing presence.

“Stoller and the Swiss Guard are at your disposal,” said the Pope.

A slight nod from the colonel served as confirmation of Leo’s words.

“However only the colonel knows the full story.”

“I will assist you in whatever you require, Father Mitchell,” said Stoller.

“See what you can find, my son,” said Leo. “Speak to no one on any of this, not even Colonel Stoller once you two go your separate ways. Only report directly to me what you find. Things are at play here, Harry. Cardinal Moch’s death could set off a disastrous chain of events. But I know you are capable of finding the truth. There is no one here in the Vatican I trust more than you, no one I know is more capable or smarter than you.”

“Wait,” said Harry. “What do you know about Cardinal Moch, father?”

Leo stood and put a gentle hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“You two have to go now. I’ve already spent enough time here talking with you. If I keep my entourage waiting any longer they will grow suspicious. Let me know what you find as soon as there is something to find. Go now, Harry. And go with God.”

Harry was on his feet and following Stoller out the door of the apartments. His head seemed to spin as he tried to take in the gravity of the situation he now found himself in. His Holiness -- Marty -- needed his help. Even if he wasn’t the Pope, Harry would do anything for the old man he thought of as his father. He just hoped he was capable of For five years he’d done his job as Devil’s Advocate and kept his head down. He wasn’t like Ricci. He didn’t wade into the intrigue and relish the gossip. But now here he was, neck deep in it against his will.

“His Holiness is right about one thing,” Stoller said as they descended the stairs towards the plaza. “You must go with God if you wish to succeed.”

Harry reached into his shirt and pulled out his crucifix. It was old and tarnished by years of worrying from Harry and its previous owner, Father Gallo. Harry began to worry it again and say a soft prayer for guidance on what to do.




Washington D.C.

St. Patrick’s Church

“Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.”

Carl Speers waited to hear the reassuring voice of Father Miller on the other side of the screen. Instead he heard only silence. Speers leaned forward in the confessional booth and waited.

“Father?”

“How long since your last confession?”

The voice that finally spoke did not have Father Miller’s quaint midwestern accent. Instead the voice was deeper and with a tinge of a German accent.

“I...a few weeks ago,” said Speers.

“And this was the confession where you told Father Miller you confessed a child with your secretary.”

“How the hell are you?” Speers shouted.

The screen slid open and Speers saw a man that was definitely not Father Miller. The man who stared back had thick gray hair and good looks that seemed more like they belonged on a movie star instead of a priest. His only blemish was his glasses. Thick lenses and thick black frames rested on the bridge of his nose. They threw off his natural handsomeness and made his eyes seem insectoid. Those large eyes seemed to look into Speers soul.

“Hello, Mr. Speers,” said the man. “May I call you Carl? Carl, my name is Archbishop Eugene Koning. You could say I’m Father Miller’s supervisor. I’m sure you know what it’s like having a boss, Carl. I’m sure your work at the Treasury Department brings you into contact with Secretary Hall often.”

The outrage Speers had come with just a few seconds earlier evaporated. This man, this Koning, knew so much about him. He knew his name, where he worked, and worst of all, he knew about Archie. Spears looked at Koning's face and tried to muster his best snarl. Instead he sagged and sighed. He knew a threat when he heard one.

“What do you want,” Speers murmured.

“I need your expertise in American finance,” said Koning. He pulled a folded piece of paper from his jacket and passed it through the booth’s opening to Speers. The man took the sheet in his pudgy hands and unfolded it.

“What is all this?” Speers asked after looking at it. “I see routing numbers and amounts to bank accounts, but the number sequence is off on the origin account...are these Swiss accounts?”

“They are,” said Koning. “And as you can see the amounts are rather large. Can you request information on the people who own these accounts?”

“Eventually,” Speers said after a long silence. If this was the cost of Koning's silence, then it was an easy price to pay. “It would take some time to identify which banks these accounts were set up with. If I formally request the information that may raise some red flags, so backchanneling it will take even longer.”

“I leave Washington in three days. I want that information with me then.”

“What?” Speers looked flustered. “That’s impossible, I can’t. You’re asking too much I--”

Koning raised the volume of his voice but kept the tone neutral. “You should have thought about that before that late night at the office with Sarah, before little Archibald came along.”

“I was confessing my sins,” hissed Speers. “I wanted forgiveness. I didn’t know it would be used as blackmail. What kind of fucking priest are you?”

Koning squared his glasses and looked at Speers. The intensity of his gaze took the fat man back. He swallowed hard and began to stammer.

“I-I-I’m sorry I cursed like that. It was inappropriate in the house of the Lord.”

Koning ignored his apology. “I expect you to deliver the information I seek to Father Miller in a sealed envelope addressed to no one. Remember how much I know about you, Carl. Your address in Georgetown happens to be one of those things. I think our business is done here for now. You know what to do.”

Koning slid the confessional screen shut. He was already a few steps down the aisle by the time Speers came out the booth. But Koning stopped and turned to look back at Speers.

“You ask what kind of priest I am, my son, to violate the seal of confession. It is not something I do lightly, please know that. There are bigger matters at sake. And I am not a mere vicar, just as you are no mere parishioners. We’re warriors, Carl. The Crusades ended almost nine hundred years ago, but holy war still rages. The battlefields and weapons have shifted, though. Our enemies no longer use horses and swords. They use ideas and politics and money. And they are winning. The enemies are at the gate, my son. Men like me, we keep the infidels at bay.”

Speers stared at the archbishop in stunned silence as the man turned away and started down the aisle towards the exit.
Vatican City


The sound of heavy footfalls woke Harry up from a restless sleep. He blinked and threw off the sheets as he heard murmurs somewhere in the dark. The sheets of his bed were soaked with sweat. It was always like that when he dreamed of his past. Obscure shapes would float by in the void, people just out of focus and always just out of reach, and they would speak a language he himself never spoke.

"息子を起こして"

"行く時間です"

“Father Mitchell,” a voice called in Italian through the darkness. Harry heard shouts from outside his window and sat up.

“I’m here,” Harry replied back in perfect Italian.

Although the language of his homeland was lost to him, he could speak Italian, English, German, and of course Latin perfectly.

“What’s all the commotion?”

“There’s been some kind of accident,” the voice said. As the fog of sleep lifted from his mind he now realized it was Father Ricci, a fellow canon lawyer like Harry, speaking to him. Of course it was Ricci, Harry thought, he slept in the room next door.

“I think it’s Cardinal Moch,” Ricci said quickly. “It looks like... he fell from the Governor’s Palace.”

At that Harry was up on his feet and out the door of his room clad only in his pajamas. Ricci took a step back from the door frame as Harry came through the darkness. Even in the dim lighting Harry could make out that the taller, older priest was clad only in a long plaid sleep shirt that came down to his knees. The two men padded across the hard, stone floors towards the window at the end of the hall.

Murmurs from down the passage followed the two men as they passed by open bedroom doors. As senior priests at the Vatican, Harry and Ricci served in the capacity as chaperons and advisors for the young men here at the Ethiopian College. Harry heard the young seminary students conversing in their native language among themselves, but he ignored it.

“I heard a scream,” said Ricci. “I was in bed reading and when I came to the window here.”

They stopped and looked down at the scene below. A series of well groomed gardens lay between the Ethiopian College and the Governor’s Palace. Running around the back of the palace was a paved road mainly used for foot and bicycle traffic, though the occasional automobile made its way down the path. Harry saw a gathering of men around a prone figure on its back. It was dark and at a distance, but he was able to easily make out the bright red shoes on the prone figure. The same shoes Harry had seen on Cardinal Moch’s feet almost every day for the last five years. His one vice, the old Pole always said sheepishly, was his love of fancy footwear.

“I see a few Swiss Guard and gendarmes,” Harry said softly to Ricci. “They seem to have it under control.”

“The old fool,” Ricci said with a laughter that carried very little warmth. ”It’s almost three in the morning. Do you think he was up on some balcony drinking? I’ve heard rumors about him, you know and--”

“Umberto,” Harry said sharply in English. He glanced behind his shoulder where the young Ethiopian seminary students watched on. “Not in front of the boys.”

Ricci stuck his bottom lip out slightly in a pouty gesture that Harry found to be very unbecoming. It made him appear like an immature schoolboy who’d just been scolded, instead of the fifty year old priest he really was.

“But you’re right about one thing,” Harry said, softening his voice. He looked over his shoulder at the students. “It’s almost three in the morning. We should all head back to bed. It seems we’ll get our answers to what happened in the morning. Back to bed.”

He shooed the young men off. They slowly complied. Harry knew they would probably spend the rest of the night talking it out among themselves about the all the excitement. He expected that out of the young men. He glanced back at Ricci and saw he was unmoved from his spot. He continued to stare in rapt attention as Harry shuffled back to bed. Let him stare, thought Harry. They may have the full story of what happened by morning, but it would be undoubtedly peppered by rumor and innuendo from the likes of Ricci and his clique of gossips.

Harry climbed back into bed and pulled the covers over him. Despite the excitement he found himself rapidly falling back to sleep. The last thought he had before sleep overtook him was: Why was Cardinal Moch fully dressed at 3 AM?




Tangiers


“Well, well, well. Look at this sorry excuse of a priest.”

The heavyset bartender was not wrong in his assessment of Dr. Father Daniel Maguire. He wore a pair of dirty khaki riding pants with the cuffs tucked into his scuffed boots. His black dress shirt had long ago lost its sheen and was now dull. He’d once had a clerical collar for the shirt, but he’d lost track of it a long time ago. Over the shirt was a long leather jacket with a turned down collar, an aviator jacket that had once been popular during the Great War.

“A sorry excuse for a priest in this sorry excuse for a bar,” Maguire said in a Irish brogue. He ran his hands through his curly red hair before winking at the big man behind the bar. “Faisel in the back room?”

The bartender begrudgingly nodded. Maguire walked through the empty bar. La Esquinita, literally Spanish for “The Corner” wasn’t the most popular place in Tangiers. It catered to a lower class of clientele. Even though it was eleven in the morning you could usually find a few alcoholics propping themselves up against the bar. At night it was the kind of place you went for a drink and minded your business. Or else.

Maguire went through the door and found his contact in the bar’s office. Muhammed Faisel Al-Rabi didn’t even look up from the ledger on his desk. He continued to stare at the numbers on the page from behind his rimless glasses.

“You owe me money, priest.”

“That I do,” Maguire said with a smirk. He reached into his jacket and produced a wad of Spanish banknotes.

The site of money persuaded Faisel to sit upright. He was a very neatly dressed and groomed man. His hair was combed and gelled in the right places so that it never moved and his pencil thin mustache had not one hair out of place. To meet him in the street you would assume he was a banker and not Tangiers number one smuggler and black marketeer.

“We are no longer owned by the Spanish,” he said curtly.

“It spends just as good as any kind of money,” said Maguire.

He placed the notes on the desk. After a brief hesitation, Faisel took the money and counted it.

“This is more than you owe.”

“It wasn’t a mistake,” said Maguire.

“Good because I was not giving it back.”

“Think of it as a down payment for future services to be rendered,” Magiure said with a crooked grin. “I hear some rumors on the streets and in the circles we travel in.”

“Yes,” Faisel said with just the hint of a smile. “We have heard rumors that you actually bathe, but as of yet we have not had any confirmation of that fact.”

Maguire waved off the joke in annoyance.

“I mean actual information that my bosses in Rome would love to have.”

Maguire put his hands on the desk and leaned forward.

“I hear that somewhere in this country someone’s found actual proof that Count Julian was real, that they found a grave with artifacts.”

There was a twinkle in Maguire’s eye as he spoke.

“One of the greatest traitors in Christendom--”

“--And one of the greatest heroes for the Maghreb people--”

“And we may have actual proof that he existed!”

If Faisel was moved by this information, then he had one hell of a poker face. He squared his glasses and raised an eyebrow at Maguire’s excited expression.

“Do you have actual concrete information this time, Maguire?”

“That I do, lad,” said the priest. “I just need some manpower and resources, something an enterprising fella like you I'm sure has ins spades.”

“If there are artifacts,” Faisel said slowly. He put his hands together and held them close to his mouth. “They will be very valuable.”

“You know who I work for,” said Maguire. “You check our ledger and you’ll see we got that infinity symbol when it comes to money.”

“This,” Faisel tapped his left breast pocket, the place he’d put the money Maguire had forked over. “Is a start, but I’ll need more, and I’ll need more details than you having a vague idea where this burial site is.”

“I can get you the money,” Maguire said as he stepped back from the desk. He pulled up a chair and sat across from Faisel. “As for details, let’s talk shall we?”
Nation: Vatican City

Map:



aka that purple bit.

History:

Only 121 acres in size, Vatican City is the smallest sovereign nation in the world. Despite that it is one of the oldest and most powerful institutions in the world. The Papal States ended with the unification of Italy in 1871. After a period of nearly fifty years of uncertainty on the Church's place in the country, the Holy See was declared independent in 1929. Though the years of the Papal States and fiery Catholic conquest is now a distant memory, the Catholic Church has still held on to power firmly in its own ways. With hundreds of millions of good Catholics stretched across the globe, a fortune so vast that is thought to be truly incalculable, and access to even the most darkest secrets mankind has to offer, the Church is seen as a valuable ally to have, and a fierce enemy to cross.

Characters:

Leo XIV - Pope, formally Cardinal Martino Gallo.
Cardinal Vicenzo Donini - Vatican City power broker, Cardinal Secretary of State, president of the Vatican City Commission
Archbishop Eugene König - German Archbishop and head of L'Entità
Father Harold Mitchell - Born Hideo Matsumoto, Japanese priest, lawyer, and Devil's Advocate
Oberst David Stoller - Head of the Swiss Guard, Vatican City's defacto military.
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