In this fast-paced thriller, young lovers and broken vows stand between a Pope's terrible secret and the destruction of the Catholic Church. The most terrible secret of WWII has been found in the Vatican Archives and whoever has possession of The Luxembourg Amendment could wield incredible and devastating power.
February 14, 1940
Francois deGroot knew he would probably die within the next few minutes.
In the small, cramped, brick-lined room, he nervously
paced the cement floor: three long steps--turn... three more --turn.
How ironic that it should come to this, he thought. The son of a French mother and a Dutch father, he could have chosen to join the French resistance or the Dutch underground. In either case he proba- bly would have greatly increased the possibility of an untimely death. Instead, he had chosen to become an errand boy for the Nazis, and guarantee that death.
He shook his head in perplexed wonder at the situation in which he found himself. What had he done wrong? He had only followed orders. He had merely acted as a courier and an occasional infor- mant. He just did what he was told, what his masters demanded-- and paid for.
Now, why this damp cell and the two armed Oberschutzes outside in the hall? Why was he waiting for Standarten fuehrer Helgenberg, a man he had never met?
The fearful part was that, unlike the regular army Oberschutzes standing guard, Francois knew by his rank that Helgenberg was SS. To make matters worse, Francois was familiar with the man's fear-some reputation. This appearance before an officer of the SS could only be a harbinger of disaster. He should have joined his parents; at least he would have died with honor, not like this, an animal in an abattoir, between brick walls on a cold cement floor with its sloping drain, waiting to suck up and cool the first rivulet of his hot blood.
The thick wooden door slammed open. One of the jack-booted guards rushed across the small space to pin Francois against the far wall. The guard's breath was fetid with garlic sausage and sour beer.
The dark, leather-coated figure of Standartenfuehrer Helgenberg filled the doorway with a massive presence. Behind him, and slightly off to the side, a thin, finely dressed businessman stood quietly watch- ing the drama with calm indifference.
Helgenberg glowered at the spare room and then at the guard. "Was ist dos!" "What the hell is going on here? DeGroot, aren't they treating you properly?" The SS officer turned to the guard who was still pressing the prisoner into the bricks. "Ach, Mein Gott im Himmel! Let the poor man go. Get Mein Herr deGroot and myself a cup of cof- fee, Oberschutze Faber.
The lance corporal released his hostage, snapped to attention, and began to move rapidly out of the room. His superior spoke toward his back. "And Faber, none of that ersatz Scheisse. Real Kaffee for my good friend deGroot!"
Francois watched the guard disappear, leaving the other Ober- schutze, Helgenberg, and the taciturn, little man.
"Herr deGroot, please forgive the inconvenience, I did give orders to treat you with proper courtesy. I am very sorry if my instructions may have been acted upon with... shall we say, over-enthusiasm."
The officer's smile was reassuring and infectious. After hours of anxiety, Francois found himself beginning to relax, slightly.
"While we wait for our Kaffee, perhaps we can conclude a simple matter, and allow us all to get back to the more important business of the Reich. I'm sure that would be to your liking, eh?"
Francois nodded, not yet trusting his voice. The Standartenfuehrer looked around the room for a moment, a look of mild disgust curled around the corners of his strong mouth. "This is quite barbaric. Two civilized men cannot converse like this." He turned to the remaining guard. "Oberschutze, bring a couple of chairs." When the lance corpo- ral failed to move fast enough, the Standarten- fuehrer barked, "jetzt!" "Now!"
Francois felt like smirking. It was only proper that the guard be treated like a lackey. After all, Francois himself dealt regularly with the fearsome Gestapo; and the leather-coated colonel before him, a member of Hitler's very own elite Storm Troopers, was only a small step removed from the power of the Reichstag itself!
The guard brought in two stools, which he placed near the back of the cell. Francois sat against the wall, and the SS colonel adjusted his seat to the center of the cement floor, his broad back to the silent civilian as if the observer weren't there.
Without turning, Helgenberg addressed the guard again, "Oberschutze, please step across the hall and wait while my friend
and I speak of certain matters important to the Reich." He smiled at Francois with the reassurance of a favorite uncle ready to tell a family secret.
Francois deGroot thought that he would be quite surprised if he could still talk. After his original protestations, when Gestapo officers snatched him from the caf?, he had not spoken another word. His tongue had been stuck to the roof of his mouth for too long with con- tinued dread that he would begin to babble and lose whatever dignity he still retained. Regardless of his returning confidence, Francois felt uncomfortable in front of the imposing colonel. Besides, this unique inter-service cooperation between the Gestapo, the SS, and the Regu- lar Army was quite puzzling.
"A couple of simple questions, Mein Herr, and you shall be on your way." Helgenberg waved his hand, dismissing the whole matter as if it were a fait accompli.
"Yes, Herr Standartenfuehrer," Francois said with as much respect as he could muster.
"Of course, direct answers and truthful ones will hasten this process."
"Yes, of course." Francois could feel his self-assurance returning. He even began to anticipate the hot cup of coffee before his return to the cold Bavarian winter outside.