Prologue to The Custer Legacy
Prologue: Man Of Mystery
St. Peter’s Square
June 25, 1999
He limped cautiously along the rough, uneven cobblestone street. He did not seem to be an old man, yet he moved with the halting, arthritic gait so common to the elderly. As he neared the end of the street, he paused in the shadows of an ancient building and looked about furtively. He was glad to stop, even for a moment. The pain emanating from the wound he had suffered two days earlier was becoming unbearable.
Thank God, he thought, once I cross the square, I’ll be safe.
He was a man of medium height and indeterminate years. Over the past few weeks, the travel and the pain, but most of all the stress from constant danger, had stripped away much of his excess flesh, giving him a gaunt, almost cadaverous appearance. A broad-brimmed hat, together with the equally dark cloak that hung so loosely about him, might have attracted attention anywhere else in the world, but now served only to mark him as one who belonged in this place. His anguished eyes, looking out of a face ashen with fatigue, peered nervously at each stranger approaching along the narrow thoroughfare.
How curious, he mused, that his journey should end on this day of all days. How strange that June 25 had been important in so many other years, since the very beginning of the mystery on June 25, 1520. Long ago, when he accepted the assignment and began fitting the pieces of scant haphazard information together, it had seemed like an impossible challenge. As he unearthed scores of additional facts, he discovered that not a single one of his predecessors had ever returned, or even been heard from again. Had it not been for God’s guidance, he would surely have met a similar fate and the secret might have remained hidden forever, just as the Old Ones intended. He wondered if any of the others had survived long enough to learn the ancient secret. It will bring great good to the world, he thought, just as in the wrong hands; it has wrought such terrible suffering.
When he found the second treasure, he believed it was a great stroke of good fortune, but the discovery had brought a new force of vicious enemies into the chase. Several times in the past few weeks, both his enemies, as eager to foil each other as they were to stop him, had nearly succeeded in their attempts to learn the secrets that only he possessed, or failing that, to simply kill him. Each time he had managed to escape and elude pursuit.
To reassure himself, he reached into his heavy canvas pack and touched an object that held the key to a centuries-old enigma. As he withdrew his hand, a cold chill of foreboding made him shiver. How foolish, he thought; premonitions of impending doom should be reserved for superstitious old women.
By sheer force of will, he pushed himself erect, shouldered his bag, and leaving the security of the shadows, resumed his painful trudging walk, still glancing fretfully about him as he crossed the crowded, sunlit square. After what seemed to him a very long way, he reached the opposite side and paused beside a gate, a gate that meant the end of his long but successful journey.
He reached forward to ring the bell, but as he did, he saw an ominous shadow and suddenly felt a sharp pain rip into his back. Filled with utter disappointment and frustration, he pitched forward as the remaining strength drained from his tortured body, his arms too weak to cushion his fall. In an instant, his pack was roughly ripped from his shoulder. Over the thunderous roaring in his ears, he heard a new sound, the rush of approaching footsteps. With his last ounce of strength, he turned his head and looked up into the concerned face of a Swiss Guard. With his last conscious breath, Antonio Garza whispered, “Tell the Cardinal I found it.”