The sixth day, p.1
The Sixth Day, p.1Part #5 of A Brit in the FBI series by Catherine Coulter
Thank you to everyone in my Home World who protected me from holiday chaos in the final stretch of The Sixth Day—Karen, Yngrid, Lesley, Catherine. You are the stars in my firmament.
For my parents: The ultimate first readers.
De chiens, d’oyseaulx, d’armes, d’amous, Chascun le dit a la vollee, Pour une joye cent doulours.
In riding to the hounds, in falconry, In love or war, as anyone will tell you, For one brief joy a hundred woes.
Beautiful brilliant J.T.—may you continue to soar. Our fifth thriller, amazing.
I’m surrounded by incredible friends who are also authors and share in the triumph of every finished manuscript: Laura Benedict, Ariel Lawhon, Paige Crutcher, Jeff Abbott—thank you for the support, always.
Jen Bergstrom, Louise Burke, Lauren McKenna, and the whole Gallery team for the care and love of our words.
Amy Kerr, my right hand, right brain, and sister-in-arms.
Sherrie Saint, who always puts up with weird emails that start with “So if I wanted to kill someone . . .”
Helen Macdonald, whose brilliant H Is for Hawk brought the cabal alive.
Scott Miller, for all the reasons, and then some.
Mom and Daddy, for all the idea-bouncing and griping and celebrating.
Randy Ellison, the rock all my waves crash against, for never-ending support and plot whispering.
And to Catherine, for always allowing my imagination to soar.
Castle of Vlad Dracul III
Vlad Dracul III knew the battle was lost. The ramparts were burning, orange flames leaping into the night sky, licking at the windowsills, closer and closer. Choking smoke billowed in like black death. His soldiers’ screams were nearly drowned out by the cries from within the castle, where the walls to the kitchens had been breached.
Behind him, his twin half brothers huddled together on the cold stone floor, Alexandru watching and listening to the growing mayhem, his thin face white with fear, not for himself, Dracul saw, but for his brother, Andrei, a sickly lad, his brain weak as his body; one scratch, and he bled and bled. Dracul watched Alexandru clutch the dirty manuscript to his chest, his other arm around his brother, who was rocking back and forth, keening and wailing.
Dracul saw Alexandru draw Andrei close and speak in words Dracul actually understood, “Shh. All will be well. I will protect you. I will always protect you.”
But Andrei, who didn’t understand what was happening, rocked and cried, the horrific screams and the hellish flames too much for his mind to grasp.
Dracul’s other brothers, his legitimate brothers, were warriors and had proved their worth countless times. But these two, beget of a maid in a darkened corridor by his father’s indifferent seed, had never shown any worth until yesterday, when a sword had sliced a grave cut through Dracul’s hand. The burning pain was nothing, but knowing his hand might be cut from his body to save his life terrified him. Alexandru, the strong twin, the one who communicated for both of them, had smeared on a strange yellowish salve he and his brother had made. Almost immediately, the pain was gone, the deep cut closed, and Dracul could continue fighting. And this morning, the hand was unmarked, as if there’d never been a wound. Whatever they were—the devil’s evil spawn, or spawn from a magic realm he didn’t understand, their alembics and herbals all recorded in that tome that never left their sight—they had saved his hand, possibly his life. They weren’t warriors, but they had value and, he thought again, mayhap magic.
Dracul’s guards nearby heard the brothers mumbling their unholy garbled sounds and prayed to God to protect them from the devils. Like his soldiers, Dracul knew the villagers were afraid of these cursed twins, as they were called, who belonged to the visiting Romanian Orthodox monks. There were dark rumors surrounding the boys. It was whispered they drank blood, spoke in a language none could understand, drew strange pictures, and wrote strange words. Their evil had brought the enemy down on the villagers, which, Dracul knew, was nonsense.
He was the one with the power, he was the one people really feared, not these two scraps of humanity. Dracul reveled in the fact he was known to all as more monster than man. It was whispered he was merciless, without conscience, a creature who wallowed in death, butchering those who displeased him with joyous abandon. Impaling them. Ah, what a sight it was, the screams, the smells, the devastation of a human body, all done according to his whim. Even the twins couldn’t save a man he’d selected for death. He hadn’t killed his worthless half brothers. No, he’d sold them to the monks, but now the monks were back, bringing the boys with their strange book and ill tidings—his cousin Vladislav’s army was on their heels.
When the monks came for a visit a year earlier, they had tried to give the boys back, but Dracul refused, reasoning they would be better off cloistered and protected behind the abbey walls. For he’d known then how everyone despised them as much as feared them, so different, so strange. If he was called a monster, the twins were called ungodly—their garbled talk no one understood proving they were spawns of the devil. Their very existence was blasphemy.
Now six Romanian monks had returned only days before, bringing the boys back yet again. The twins were evil, Father Stephan said, unholy, mad, a portent of death. In his fear, Stephan had screamed at Dracul only an hour earlier, “Look behind us—the hills burn, people are spitted on bloody pikes! Those mad twins, they’ve brought this horror upon you, upon your people. Kill them!”
Of course it wasn’t true. The monks had led Vladislav’s troops to him, not that it mattered now. Perhaps he should have killed the boys and been done with it. But he couldn’t. No matter their blood was tainted with commonness, probably with madness, they were still of his blood. Instead, Dracul had run Stephan through and left his twitching body on the flagstones, the other monks cowering back against the wall.
The flames drew closer, and he turned to his half brothers, wretched, dirty, their clothes rags, rail thin—obviously the monks had starved them. He saw hate in their eyes, for the monks and for him, and fear, gut-wrenching fear. And oddly, he saw a reflection of himself. Not as he was at this moment, his black clothing drenched in soot and gore, the blade of his sword red with blood, but himself in an ancient past. And he knew that the warrior blood coursing through his ancestors down through the years, he shared with them.
Now he knew he couldn’t help them, not anymore. He couldn’t help any of them. The castle was falling, and Vladislav’s army was ready to take the battlements. Everyone left inside his ramparts, choking on the bitter black smoke, would die if he didn’t allow himself to be taken.
Dracul strode to the window and stared down at the chaos, the slaughter of his brave warriors. Only he could stop it. He, Vlad Dracul, the Walachian prince, had to become a hostage again, and these two miserable scraps who were his half brothers would be killed or tortured, or both, by their enemies, by the villagers, by his own soldiers.
Behind him, he could hear the smaller twin still howling like a wolf to the sky, and the other, Alexandru, muttering his nonsense words meant to calm and soothe. Dracul turned away from them, readying himself for what was to come—a hostage, death, who knew?
Taking their master’s turned back as a signal the boys were no longer under his protection, the guards moved on them, a fitting sacrifice to stop the evil at their gates. Alexandru backed away, standing in front of Andrei, holding the book close, but a guard ripped it away. Alexandru sprang at him, fighting tooth and claw to retrieve it. In the fight, the small bindings broke, and
Dracul whirled about, snapped his fingers at his men, shouted for them to stop. They didn’t want to, but they didn’t want to die with a pike thrust through their bellies, either. Dracul looked at the boys frantically trying to gather the torn-out pages. He held out his hand, and a guard gave him the book. Before, whenever he’d been forced to confront their existence, he’d seen them only as objects of scorn, to be hidden away. But looking at them now, looking at the filthy book that held what surely had to be magic, he simply did not know. He flexed his healed hand, felt fear skitter deep inside, and he hated that, as well.
It was Alexandru who handed him the loose pages. Dracul shoved them back inside the book. He looked beyond to Andrei, pathetic, small, wizened like an old man, who bled at a simple scratch.
He looked down into Alexandru’s eyes as he gave him the book. “Take it and go.” He lightly laid his once-wounded hand on the boy’s thin shoulder. “The book—guard it well. It is beyond what a man can understand.”
Alexandru had expected to die, not this. He drew Andrei up to stand beside him, and he whispered to the brutal man who was his half brother, “But where will we go, my lord?”
Dracul pulled three gold pieces from his tunic. “It does not matter where you go, anywhere but here. Take these and leave now, before you face the flames, or the enemy. Take the back tunnel, go to the village.”
“They will kill us in the village. Fear of you is the only way for us to live. The monks were afraid of you, so they didn’t kill us, though they wanted to. If you aren’t here—”
Dracul saw something in the boy’s dark eyes that gave him a start, like a curtain that covered something not of this world, and the curtain could lift at any moment. What would he see? What would happen? The curtain didn’t hide the sort of violence he knew. It wasn’t anything he understood. Yet again, he felt a stab of fear.
“Why would you not come with us? You can be saved. If we can escape, so can you.”
“I will not abandon my troops.” Dracul heard the shouts, the screams, too close, too close. “Go now, this is your final chance.” He rose to his full height. “I am giving you your lives.” He looked a moment at their book, covered in writing he couldn’t read and strange green drawings, some looking vaguely human, but most strange shapes alien to him. “You have your book. Protect it. I command you to survive.”
Dracul turned and snapped his fingers again at the guards, who followed him from the room, one staring over his shoulder at the two ragged boys now running down the stone stairs, to the tunnel in the dungeons. Did he hear them speaking in the language only they understood? Surely they would be caught, killed.
Alexandru and Andrei snuck away from the castle under cover of darkness and flame, screams fading in the distance.
* * *
No one ever saw them again. They lived on for a while in stories and legends that spoke of the mad twin brothers who drank the blood of innocents. Eventually the brothers disappeared into the fabric of time, but the idea of them lived on. When the precious book was finally shown to the modern world, it was still missing the ripped-out pages. And no one knew the pages, like the book, had fluttered through history.
Their half brother Vlad Dracul, the Impaler, emerged from the shadows of history to be immortalized on the page and the screen. He became Dracula, the archangel of evil. They said he made others like him. That he and his kind walked the earth, draining the lifeblood in their pursuit of immortality.
But as all things are lost, they are also found. And with them come the plagues of hell.
Be motivated like the falcon, hunt gloriously.
The Nubian Desert
Seven Months Ago
The desert tent was sumptuous and meant to impress, but it was not wasteful. Spiked into the shifting sands, its billowing fabric roof dipped and swayed in the desert breeze. Inside the tent, a long table was centered on a wooden platform covered with a red-and-orange oriental rug. Five falcons with leather cords on their legs and suits of black armor across their bodies perched on the backs of chairs, silent and watchful.
The air was scented with cardamom and grapes from the festive lunch the four men and two women had just enjoyed, mixing agreeably with the seared desert air around them; the quiet strains of Pink Floyd played in the background. Champagne cooled in silver buckets, awaiting the revelations to come.
They spoke among themselves, occasionally laughing as they finished the sweet cream custard mixed with dates and almonds in small golden bowls. They laid their linen napkins beside their plates and drank the last superb bottle of 2010 Chateau L’Evangile French Bordeaux.
Conversation turned to the falcons and how very well-behaved the five were, all their attention on their master, who sat at the head of the table.
Their master, the host of the party, was Roman Ardelean, an Englishman of Romanian descent, in his prime, tall, broad-shouldered, a beak of a nose, dark hair, and eyes like smudges of coal. He pushed back his chair. “It is time, ladies, gentlemen. Come with me, and you will see the capabilities of our new army.”
Each of the six knew this was to be a demonstration and a celebration of what they were financing—a drone army—yet none knew exactly what to expect. It would be a lovely surprise for all of them, Roman knew. The investors—the Money, as he thought of them—followed him out into the desert, blinking in the blazing sun and immediately sweating. Behind the tent, twenty yards away, was a line of folding chairs. On each chair was a set of ear guards and large eye shields.
Roman watched the Money take their seats, then turned his back and slipped a tiny stamp on his tongue, felt it melt, tasted the fleeting metallic hit. The microdose of LSD, a special version made for him by his twin, Radu, would help keep him calm and focused. It would also make the colors of the coming display more dramatic and the acrid desert air soften against his face, but no one needed to know that. He slipped the small box where he kept his tabs back into the pocket of his cargo pants and looked again at the Money. All were dressed as befitted a desert spa jaunt—crisp new earth tones and neck scarves, all provided by Roman’s company, Radulov Industries. The Money blended into the desert, looked like they were meant to be there, which Roman found amusing. But camouflage was important right now, for all of them.
Once they were settled, Roman stood in front of them, hands behind his back. He was a clever man, a charming man, a leader who knew exactly what he was doing. He cleared his throat, met each set of eyes, and began to speak. His clear, commanding voice was exactly what the Money needed to hear, just as his tall, fit body was what they needed to see.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I applaud all of you. You are patriots and visionaries. You all know what will become of us if the spread of radical Islam isn’t halted. You have envisioned this future, so you were ready to place your resources in my hands to build a drone army. I gladly took on this challenge.
“What you’re about to witness is the result of my efforts. The drones are the latest in personal defense stealth technology. They are my design, technologically so advanced not even our military has this capability yet. Despite these advancements, they are easily manned by even the most inexperienced operator. You don’t need pilots with thousands of sorties behind them to navigate these babies.
“They also have internal gyroscopes allowing them to maintain a constant horizon, which means they cannot be accidentally crashed. You can hand the controls to ten-year-olds, and they’ll be able to fly them with ease. Of course, most of the ten-year-olds we know are so advanced with their computer games that this might seem boring to them.” Pause, laughter all around.
“But not the children where we’re sending these beauties. No, they have nothing to help defend them
“It is our goal to stop the incessant march of radical Islam across Africa, across these small disadvantaged countries with no hope of fighting it. We are going to arm the people so they can defend themselves. What Britain and the United States refuse to do, we will do for them. Covertly, quietly, and most importantly, cost-effectively. I will have no overruns on project costs, no excuses, no delays. When you decided to go with Radulov, I guaranteed the massive drone army would be built. And this is my promise, my investment in this amazing venture.
“This is what all of you wanted, what all of you agreed to, and why you hired me to make it a reality.
“And yes, everything you’re about to see here is beyond classified. I am going to pass out nondisclosure agreements for you to sign. This will assure me that even if you want to talk about these weapons, you cannot without disclosing your involvement in their development. None of your own investors would regard this with a favorable eye, to say the least, nor would the government. Call it an insurance policy.”
Whispers and outright hostility swept through the group.
Roman’s partner, Corinthian Jones, Lord Barstow, late of Her Majesty’s Security Services and now a consultant for the Crown, was shaking his head. “Roman, do you think it is necessary? As you said, I brought these six patriots to you to build this drone army in the first place. Of course they will keep silent about their involvement.”
Be quiet, you old fool, I know what I’m doing. “My lord, I’m sure you’ll understand when I say this is for my protection, as well as all of yours. We all know what happened when the Americans tried to arm the Contras. It turned into the scandal of the century, and a patriot had to fall on his sword. I have no desire to be that man. As such, I’d hardly fail to protect my interests on such a large investment, and neither would you. And as you know, this is a very large investment, for all of us.
The Sixth Day by Catherine Coulter / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes