Thriller Thursdays—THE BONAPARTE SECRET + Giveaway (part 2)

We’re back this Thursday and continuing our preview of Gregg Loomis’s The Bonaparte Secret. Today’s giveaway is book 2 in the Lang Reilly series, The Julian Secret. To be entered to win, join the discussion below. Today we’re discussing heroes vs. villains in fiction. What do you think—is a hero only as interesting and compelling as the villain he faces?

The Bonaparte Secret

Chapter One, continued

Venice

18:20, February, the present year

Lang Reilly was not fond ofVenice. The city was like a movie star long past her prime. Faded stucco peeled from stone walls like a woman unable to replace her makeup. The

acqua alta, high water from theAdriatic, relentlessly flooded most of the city in its per sis tent effort to reclaim what had been taken from the sea.

It was a city of tourists, twenty-one million in 2007, as opposed to only sixty thousand residents remaining of the one hundred twenty thousand of twenty years ago. Many of the historic palazzos were now hotels, an increase in visitor accommodations of 600 percent in the last ten years. Claustrophobic byways, more alleys than streets, were far too tight for conventional vehicular traffic even if the city allowed it. They were so narrow they remained in shadow even during the day, perfect places for muggers or worse. Indeed, the city boasted a Street of the Assassins, reflecting a cottage industry of the city’s past. Many of the street signs, where there were any, were in the Venetian dialect, rendering a map useless. The numerous canals caused perpetual dampness and musty smells, adding to the reasons he and Gurt had chosen a hotel on the powdery sands of the Lido, a strip of beach front a five-minute boat ride across the lagoon that it separated from the Gulf of Venice.

The hotel’s boat, resembling a perfectly restored Chris- Craft from the 1950s, complete with teak decking, wallowed in its own wake as the driver reversed, then cut the twin engines a few feet from what would have been steps up to the Molo San Marco had they not been under water. As it was, the craft’s passengers had to balance their way on a makeshift gangplank.

From dockside, Lang could see the winter rain was adding to the flooding of the Piazza San Marco, already several inches under water from the seasonal high tides. A clumsily raised platform, specially erected for Carnevale to host musicians, acrobats and other entertainers, was draped with a sagging banner proclaiming Coca-Cola the “cocktail uffi ciale di Carnevale.” The banner across the Campanile also demonstrated commercialism was a prime theme of the festivities by advertising a popular Scotch whiskey. A network of raised boards gave access to the glass shops and restaurants lining the square. The emptiness of the tables and chairs outside the latter added a deserted moroseness where laughter and music belonged.

The somberness seemed to have spread even to the square’s famous pigeons, whom tourists delighted in feeding. Instead of gathering around and on anyone crossing the square, their mournful cooing from under the eaves of buildings only added to the gloomy scene.

The weather had done little to dampen the early- evening enthusiasm of the revelers ofVenice’s famous twelve-day Carnevale, however. Elaborate costumes were everywhere, most rented with deposits in excess of ten thousand euro in case of a drunken dip in a canal or other disaster. Partygoers flocked through and across the square. All seemed oblivious to the drizzle that, under the streetlights, wrapped the city in a glowing gauze of moisture. The impression was of an anthill just kicked over, its inhabitants scurrying in all directions to balls where the admission price could exceed eight hundred euro. Lang wondered if the celebrants were aware that the hook- nosed masks so popular here mimicked the masks worn centuries ago by those charged with burying those dead of the plague.

“You do not seem happy.” Gurt, in the costume of a seventeenth- century lady, was walking beside him as they dodged a puddle and turned right.

They were following what resembled a fretwork of loggias and arcades below a pink Veronese marble building of vaguely Gothic style.

“I’m smiling aren’t I?”

“Your smile is painted on your face along with the red rubber nose.”

“The clown outfit was your idea.”

Before the conversation could continue, they arrived at the back of a line of elegantly costumed men and women closely huddled under an awning, which ended at a pair of massive wooden doors, the Porta della Carta, the original main entrance to the Palazzo Ducale, the Doge’s Palace.

“You did remember the tickets?” Gurt asked.

Lang fumbled in a pocket of his piebald outfit. “If the rain hasn’t melted them.”

“I would hate to have come this distance and not get in.”

“For what the foundation contributes to Save Venice every year, we could buy the place.”

Only a slight exaggeration. The international charity, Save Venice, Inc., contributed millions each year to preserve and protect the city and its art and architectural treasures from being reclaimed by theAdriatic. The Italian government had spent even more on plans for a tidal gate, which had become a political football that no one thought would ever see more than lip ser vice, inflated contracts and political patronage. In return for its efforts, the charity was permitted to hold an annual masquerade ball in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, the huge third- floor council room from which the in de pen dent city- state had managed an empire that embraced northeasternItaly, the Ionian Islands and a good part of theAdriatic’s east coast.

Although not a fan ofVenice, Lang realized its historical value. As CEO of the Janet and Jeff Holt Foundation, he honored his sister’s memory with generosity to her favorite city. She and her adopted son, Lang’s best ten- year- old pal, had died several years ago in a fire caused by one of the world’s wealthiest and least known organizations. It was Lang’s threat of exposure that had forced the very same group to fund the foundation that bore his sister’s name.

He frowned, wishing it were Janet, rather than he, who had been coerced into standing in the cold dampness, waiting to arrive at a ball he didn’t really want to attend. The fact he had only himself to blame did little to improve his mood. Like an idiot, he had mentioned the invitation to Gurt, who had made it quite clear she was going with or without him.

Inside, a canopy protected partygoers as they crossed a small piazza and climbed the Giants’ Staircase, carved from marble in the fifteenth century and crowned with statues of Mars and Neptune, symbolic of the city’s power on land and sea. At the top, an usher clad in seventeenth- century knee britches, complete with shoes with shiny silver buckles, directed them toward the sound of music. To Lang, it sounded like a replay of, perhaps, “String of Pearls” or “Pennsylvania6 5000.” It was certain the band was unaccustomed to the swing music of the thirties and forties.

Gurt took his arm. “It is Glenn Miller, no?”

“About the right band for this group,” Lang muttered, an allusion to the fact the foundation’s membership was largely elderly. Young people had better things to spend money on.

“You grousing again, Reilly?”

Lang turned to see a white- haired, elfi n man attired in hip- high leather boots, balloon sleeves and a cap with a feather. A sword hung at his side. Gorin, Gowen, something like that. The man spoke with the genteel twang of the American Northeast. He came from a family of such wealth that no one was quite sure where it all had come from to begin with. He had dabbled in politics, actually getting appointed to some cabinet post Lang had forgotten along with whoever had appointed him. Lang had served on the board of several charitable organizations with him.

What the hell is his name?

More interesting was the woman whose hand he held. She was young enough to be, but certainly was not, the man’s granddaughter. Lang suspected the diamond necklace draped across inviting décolletage was not costume jewelry, either.

Gowen/Gorin turned to Gurt and actually gave a bow. “Since this lout isn’t going to do it, let me introduce myself. I am Andrew Gower.” He indicated his companion. “And this lovely lady is Angelia Sprayberry. You must be the current Mrs. Lang Reilly.”

Gurt rolled eyes at Lang before returning the bow with a curtsy. “Gurt Fuchs, the last Mrs. Lang Reilly. It does me glad to meet you.”

Gower gave her a knowing look. “The modern woman: keeps her own persona as well as her name. Good for you.”

He turned back to Lang. “Don’t you find it exciting to be in the very city where Marco Polo began his extraordinary journey?”

Lang glanced out the window, noting the drizzle had turned to full- fl edged rain. “I can understand why he left.”

Unfazed, Gower continued. “And in the very building where the great lover Casanova was imprisoned?”

“Lucky him; he escaped.”

Gower had to reach up to give Lang’s back a pat as he brayed a laugh. “Always the comedian! Now where are you two staying? Angelia and I are at theGrittiPalaceon theGrand Canal.”

“We’re at the Motel Six on the beach.”

A flicker of a smile came and went, a man unsure whether or not he was the butt of the joke. He forced a chuckle, dropping Angelia’s hand long enough to rub his own hands together. Lang remembered he did that a lot, one hand rubbing the other as though washing them.

“Well, perhaps we can do lunch at Harry’s.”

Harry’s American Bar, located nearby, past the southwestern corner of the Piazza San Marco. The owners were named Giuseppe or Antonio or anything but Harry, the only Americans to be seen there being those willing to pay an exorbitant price for a very good lunch of typical Venetian fare. And the place was a restaurant, not a bar, though it boasted two elegant wooden bars behind which were possibly the only bartenders inItalywho knew that a proper martini contained more gin than vermouth. Make that dry vermouth.

“C’mon, Drew. I want to dance,” Angelia whined.

Gower smiled apologetically, showing teeth several generations younger than Lang guessed he was. “Duty calls.” He took a step toward the music and stopped. “By the way, you know Metaccelli died?”

The longtime Venetian contact for Save Venice, Inc.

“So I heard.”

“It’s not well- known, but he was very friendly with the current pope. Old pals.”

Reilly waited expectantly. When nothing further was forthcoming, he asked, “And?”

“The patriarch ofVenicewill say a requiem mass for his friend in Saint Mark’s tomorrow.”

“The church invited us specifically,” Angelia chimed in.

“And Drew isn’t even a Catholic.”

“During Carnevale?”

Gower shrugged. “Metacelli loved Carnevale. Besides, it’s the one time of year when many of his friends from Save Venice can attend, since they’re here anyway.”

“Drew . . .” Angelia’s lips, Botox pouty, were frowning.

Gurt was still holding Lang’s arm. She tugged him toward the music. “Let us go while they are still playing something we can dance to, before they start that . . . What is it, hip- hop?”

Lang seriously doubted the band was going to play anything to this audience that Sinatra hadn’t sung, but it was a good excuse to terminate the conversation. “See you later!”

After three hours, even Gurt’s enthusiasm had waned. She let herself be led to the eastern edge of the room, where a number of white tablecloths floated like ships adrift on the dark wood of the floor. On the nearby wall, Tintoretto’s hugeParadisedepicted a congregation of saints.

She fanned herself with her hand. “It is hot!”

Lang ran a hand across his forehead, surprised when it came away dry instead of wet with sweat. “Let’s take a walk outside.”

She looked apprehensively at those still dancing.

“Don’t worry,” Lang assured her. “We can come back.”

She picked up her purse, a bag the size of a small suitcase, slung it over her shoulder by its strap and followed him from the room.

Outside, the rain had stopped and a chilly breeze flitted from building to building. Careful not to step off the planks that served as the only dry paths across the Piazza San

Marco, they turned right to walk north, stopping in front of a basilica bathed in light.

Its multiple domes and arches were far more Byzantine than Gothic. Not surprising, sinceVenicehad always looked east to Constantinople rather than west toRomefor its alliances, customs and, in some respects, religion. The cardinal ofVenice, for example, was referred to as the patriarch, a title usually reserved for the Eastern, or Orthodox, church.

“Look.” Gurt pointed.

At first, Lang thought she was calling his attention to the mosaic over the door. “It shows Saint Mark’s body being smuggled out ofAlexandria, past Muslim guards. Two Venetians hid the relic under slices of pork.”

Gurt shook her head. “No, the door. It stands open.”

Lang had thought it was merely shadows playing tricks, but closer inspection showed the door was cracked open.

“Had no idea they left the place open at night,” Lang said.

“Let’s take a look.”

The inside was lit by low- wattage bulbs. Even so, it was obvious that the ceiling and walls were covered in gold mosaics, more like the churches Lang had seen inIstanbulthan those inEurope.

He was about to comment when he heard a low whine.

“What . . . ?” Gurt whispered.

“Maybe they’re getting ready for the requiem mass tomorrow,” Lang suggested softly.

“With an electric drill?”

It was only then Lang recognized what he was hearing. He and Gurt instinctively moved closer to the wall, where the shadows were deepest. Moving from column to gilded column, they made their way toward the altar, which sat in the center of a dim spotlight, its two hundred fifty golden panels shining in spite of the low light.

At first mere shadows, forms moved back and forth under the alabaster altar canopy like ghosts. As Gurt and Lang got closer, the shapes took on distinct human shape. Both peered around a column.

“Why are they drilling?” Gurt asked just loudly enough to hear over the whine.

Lang shook his head, having no idea. “I don’t know, but the fact they they’re working at this hour tells me it’s probably not kosher.”

“And that they are not Italians.”

“And maybe we’re intruding on something we weren’t intended to see. Let’s go.”

Lang was walking backward, keeping an eye on what was going on as he moved toward the exit while feeling his way. Gurt was a few feet closer to the altar.

With the next step, something hard and cold was pressing against the back of his head, something very much like the muzzle of a gun. Freezing, he slowly raised his arms. He almost stumbled as he was roughly shoved forward. By the time he regained his balance, he was pushed again. Whoever was behind him wanted him to head toward where the drilling was going on.

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2 Responses to Thriller Thursdays—THE BONAPARTE SECRET + Giveaway (part 2)

  1. Tracey D says:

    Wow, what a great excerpt. I must add this to my must have list.

    booklover0226 at gmail dot com

    • Allison Carroll, Editorial and Web Coordinator says:

      Hi Tracey D,
      Congratulations—you’ve won the giveaway of The Julian Secret. As the only commenter on for this particular giveaway, you pretty much had it in the bag:)

      I apologize for the late communique, but we discovered a glitch in the system and some prizes slipped through the cracks. But better late than never!

      To claim your prize, just e-mail contests@dorchesterpub.com with your shipping address.
      Happy Reading,
      Allison Carroll
      Editorial and Web Coordinator
      Dorchester Publishing

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