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The Necklace of God - Chapter One
The Necklace of God
Thirty years ago, I had an idea for a fantastic adventure story. Originally, it was to be a movie, and I wrote an outline for a friend of mine in Hollywood who was a major film producer. I remember sitting in his home one day and describing all of the varied scenes to him, hoping that he could see this sort of Indiana Jones adventure the way I did. Though we never acted on making this into a movie, I still remember the rapt attention his son paid as I sat and told the tale of Damian Miller and the magical necklace. The rough draft sat in my files for all these many years, and I finally decided it was time to let others enjoy this adventure. Here then is the complete short story...The Necklace of God.
Chapter One - Night of the Witness
The Night Of The Witness—Chapter One
Two dark figures strode silently, swiftly and purposefully across the docks. Except for the occasional lamp post lighting their way, the night nearly swallowed them completely. Even the darkness seemed to have a tenseness about it, yet nothing broke this eerie silence as the two sisters from the convent of Our Lady of Grace strode quietly toward an unseen, yet definite, destination. Their long, black habits stirring in the gentle breeze were a contrast to their faces, for, though usually calm, they showed both a fear of this night and a sense of urgency. Suddenly, the calm and tenseness came together, and the docks seemed to materialize a figure coming directly toward them.
At first, it could have been mistaken for a shift in the fog which endlessly visited this port, but as swiftly as the fog had shifted and rolled, what was only moments before a shadow had materialized into an imposing physical being and was now face to face with the two sisters. A Black man...probably a stevedore, one would think...and his face showed instantly that the three of them were connected by pre-planned destiny. Sister Angelique signed the cross, bowed her head and wished him God speed and Heaven’s divine protection.
“Do not tarry!” she said, handing him a small cloth bag that had been hidden within her sleeves. “You are not safe now, or forever, if they find you with this.”
Thus saying, as quickly as they had met, they parted, and the shadowy, tense night swallowed them up in quiet solitude.
Yet, only minutes later, the same isolated dock was alive with other creatures—black-robed, hurrying, unholy creatures...Jesuit priests! And as they converged on the spot that still vibrated with the urgency of the meeting held only moments before, there seemed to be a strangeness to them. Looking more like they were out to kill than to bless, a signal from the tall one in front led the group from the spot as quickly as they had arrived. They were after something, or someone; it was apparent.
The nuns had gone a separate way once they parted from the Black man, their dark robes and quiet ways were giving them the invisibility they sought. It was this protection that they hoped would stay them safely back to their beloved convent. But the Black man, whose skin should have been as much of an asset as the nuns’ robes, was in trouble. Running to complete the next leg of this human chain of many links, his heart was racing, but not from exertion. He knew. Every inch of his skin knew.
“Too loud!” he thought. “My feet are going to give me away!”
His very spirit sensed the presence of the priests who were pursuing him. Without really knowing who or how...like the breath of Satan blowing down the back of his neck...this unexplainable extra sense of urgency fueled his steps. His skin crawled. He could not explain it, but the evil feeling fueled his feet.
Dr. Miller and his wife would be waiting, as planned, at the foot of the ramp leading to the ship. Already loaded and set to sail, the ship had yet to leave port, delayed coincidentally by paperwork that would miraculously clear up after tonight’s rendezvous. The Black man saw the ship, ever closer now, and it looked ghostly and deserted. Loading had been finished the day before, and most of the ship’s crew were enjoying time off in town. But, as deserted as the ship appeared, he knew that someone would be waiting for him. Each section of the relay had all been so carefully arranged. Everything was going well, like clockwork, except for this nagging feeling of ominous expectation. Then, as if cued by his very thoughts, the street corner behind the running Black man became the noise of a hastening death march. Feet, many of them, were running to get him.
The Black man knew what it meant. He only looked back to judge the distance between himself and his pursuers, yet, the sight was still a shock, much like finally seeing the face of the monster in one’s nightmare. His eyes said it all as he raced for Dr. Miller and his wife, who were now anxiously awaiting the outcome of a race that held life and death for them all. Straining, breathing heavily, he made the gangplank. He and Dr. Miller were now eye to eye as only moments before he had been so with the nuns; however, the words and the looks they shared were understandably different. The Black man’s hand reached for its destination, placing within Dr. Miller’s own the object of all the attention, when, flying end over end like a bat out of the depths of Hell, a knife found its destination in the Black man’s back, dropping him with a gasp to his knees.
“God help you! The cross is in your hands,” and, so saying, he started to kiss the necklace Dr. Miller was now holding, but he was dead before he could enjoy this one last devotion. The grip broke, and his body fell over into the water.
There was no time for sorrowing over a dead man now, no time for dignities, of starring into the water where he fell, or of even trying to retrieve his body for a Christian burial. A devoted bead in this rosary of God was gone. Quickly, upon spying a container of gas that had sat at the top of the plank for a compressor the crew had been working on, Dr. Miller hurled the gas onto the plank, then took the two large kerosene lamps at the top of the gangplank and hurled them onto the flimsy wooden structure that separated his wife and himself from the Jesuits. The glass broke, the kerosene ran, the gas exploded, and the fire seemed to know why it was set, as it swiftly engulfed the entire gangplank. Their angry faces made all the more menacing in the light of the blaze, the priests glared, frustrated, looking this way and that for another way up.
Dr. Miller and his wife had wasted no time leaving the spot. They had scarcely gotten below deck, when feet could be heard boarding the ship. Returning to their room, they grabbed their five-year-old son and ran with all haste for the hold of the ship. Once in the hold, Dr. Miller placed the necklace around his young son’s neck, and he and his wife kissed their son before placing him inside a crate with a slit which would enable him to see without being seen.
“Under no circumstances take this off. Give it to no one. And don’t make any noise,” Dr. Miller admonished with urgency. “We’ll be back for you. Until we come back, you are not to leave this spot!” So saying, Dr. Miller lowered the lid and hid his son from the night.
Dr. Miller and his wife now turned to hide themselves, knowing they had a better chance of survival without the necklace in their possession, and hiding themselves apart from their son insured his safety also, since no one knew that he was on board.
The door opened suddenly, so suddenly, in fact, that, for a moment, everyone froze, including the Jesuits. Dr. Miller knew the band of Jesuits he was dealing with. No ordinary priests, they were a cultish band of cutthroats under the leadership of one Antellio Vanucci. Father Vanucci had one ambition, and one ambition only, to rule the Church, and from there, the world. From anyone else’s viewpoint, absurd and insane, but not from Vanucci’s. He believed in himself, and so did his band of misfits. Vanucci was good, though. Or, maybe, thorough was a better word. No one ever lived to tell about this side of his personality. No one, until tonight, had ever threatened to expose his nefarious dealings. He was a highly-placed, and well-thought-of, Catholic, such were his acting skills. His future was certain and assured, and nothing, not even this minor detail, was going to be allowed to expose his true identity and aims.
The moment of stillness was just that, only a moment, before Vanucci’s men had Dr. Miller and his wife in their grips. And as their son, Damian, watched from his hiding place, frozen so much with fear that he was unable to move or scream, though everything within him ached to do so, Vanucci entered the room like a triumphant Caesar.
“Antellio Vanucci!” exclaimed Dr. Miller. “I knew it had to be you. No one else could so corrupt the goodness of the Church.”
If there was one thing Vanucci despised, it was anyone impugning the image he held forth as his own. Vanucci thrived on the adoration of the religious pilgrims to the Vatican, and that is how he saw himself, worthy of their praise, his humility as fake as his pained smile. With that stinging barb hitting its mark, Vanucci
slapped Dr. Miller across the face. Vanucci smiled sadistically.
“Too bad you won’t be around to see the changes when I’m Pope,” he said. “Now, thanks to your little fire drawing unnecessary attention, I have no time and even less patience. I want the necklace! Now!”
Dr. Miller made no move to comply, or even so much as to resemble and answer. Vanucci went on a tirade.
“The most valuable relic next to the Shroud, and you think you can hide it? Search them!” he screamed. “Search them both!”
The searching was to no avail. It definitely was not on them. Frustrated, Vanucci slapped Dr. Miller across the face again and screamed, “Where is it?! Where is the necklace, you bastard?!” Knocking him to the floor, Vanucci barked his continuous demand, “What have you done with it?!”
Blood was coming from Dr. Miller’s lip as he stoically returned a calm, resigned look and said, contemptuously, “Forget the holy necklace, Vanucci. It doesn’t belong in the hands of demons like yourself.”
Dr. Miller had regained his feet by the time he finished his remark, looking now more like a crucified Christ who would not answer his accusers. Yet the tables turned, if only for a moment, when Vanucci went to strike Dr. Miller across the face for his latest sting, Miller moved his head, and as Vanucci missed the blow, spat directly in Vanucci’s face. This was more than Vanucci could stand. Regaining his composure, he straightened up and, with an almost audible hissing sound, said, “Time is up! Take them up top.” That was the last Damian ever saw of his parents.
Whether he fainted, or, so frozen with fear at all that he had seen that he fell to sleep from the exhaustion of the ordeal, he didn’t know, but little Damian was now in a sleep that was deeper than any he had ever experienced Time stood still, and a small boy was slowly leaving his home behind.
Damian awoke with a slight stir. To him, it seemed like only moments had passed, yet something about the ship now felt different. Damian sensed a gentle pitching of the ship..
“Are we moving?” he wondered.
Instantly, Damian remembered his parents, and all the fear returned. He wondered where all the players in this unholy play had gone. To Damian, it had only been moments, and for all he knew, his mother and father were right outside the door with these horrible men. When would this all end, he fretted? When would his mother and father come back and tell him that everything was alright? Damian waited, listening for sounds that would tell him what to do. Should he go look for them? Seconds seemed like minutes, and minutes seemed like hours. Had they forgotten him? Where were they? Were they alright? A multitude of thoughts swirled in his tiny head. Had those men finally gone? Damian was overwhelmed with indecision, but the longer he sat in the crate thinking, the more he began to be aware of how hungry he had gotten. He wanted out of the crate, and he finally decided that they would just have to understand...he was going to go find them.
Like a mouse, he waited and listened. Nothing but a strange humming sound that seemed to be coming from off in the distance. The noise was pulsing, with a regularity that reminded Damian of his mother’s washing machine. In due time, Damian would find that that particular sound was the ship’s engines, and that they had been going strong for three long days while he rested unmoving in a near coma. Induced by shock, he had lain like a young Rip Van Winkle, asleep and unknowing, until his mother’s voice called him in from play...and he awoke from his dream.
Slowly lifting the lid of the crate, Damian headed quickly for the stairway from which he could see several rays of light penetrating the room. The room was full of other crates like the one he had been placed in, and Damian was awed by how big and dark the room actually was. He stood in the light drifting down from the doorway and took one last look around. It hadn’t seemed this large when his parents had hurriedly brought him here, but the place gave him an eerily lonely feeling, and it didn’t take him long to continue on up the stairs.
Damian was an intelligent boy, and his parents had instilled in him a sense of caution that showed now that he was about to open the door. He hesitated. Listening for sounds of Vanucci and his men who might be still beating his parents, Damian’s heart raced. What if he opened the door, and they were right there? Was that footsteps he heard? He strained all the harder to hear. Leaning against the door, Damian placed his ear as close to the metal as he could, when it suddenly seemed that lightning flashed. Unexpectedly, the door swung open, and Damian found himself rolling out head over heels onto the deck. The light was so bright that it hurt. The experience of going from a dark environment where he had been for three days into the bright afternoon sun of the Atlantic left him blinking through eyes that watered.
“Ahoy!” What ‘ave we ‘ere?” a completely surprised voice seemed to thunder.
Damian still could not make out the details of a great shadow that now loomed over him, but it did not seem to be the same voice as Vanucci’s. He felt srong hands lifting him as the voice spoke again.
“What a wee lad, and what would ye be doin’ droppin’ in on us from out o’ the blue sky? Never the matter. We’ll know soon enough, aye? Yer lookin’ a bit parched, lad, so let’s us sit ye over ‘ere. This shade a be a bit more t’yer likin’, I think.”
As the sailor placed Damian against the shady side of the wall, Damian’s eyes began to adjust, and he was able to make out the sailor’s features. Blond and powerfully built, the sailor’s blue eyes showed a sympathy and an understanding at once that, for this moment, made Damian forget there ever was a person like Vanucci. His smile belonged with the blue sky and sun overhead. If ever a smile could be refreshing, his was. So why couldn’t Damian tell him what he was trying to say? He felt the words, “Where am I?”, in his mind, felt the words forming and his lips moving, but no sound was coming out. There was definitely a frightened and puzzled look on Damian’s face as he tried repeatedly to talk, and there was a growing look of bewilderment on the sailor’s face, too.
“What be the matter, lad, cat got yer tongue?” the sailor asked. “Or, maybe ye be thirsty? Yer throat is perhaps a bit parched. Ye ‘ave a drink o’ water, and ye’ll have yer pipes back. Rest easy, and I’ll fetch ye some.”
Damian could not say it, but he did not want to be left, and, clutching at the sailor’s pants, he was dragged to his feet by the sudden standing up of the sailor.
“What’s this, lad?” he said surprised. “Wantin’ to go with me, aye?” Damian nodded in agreement. “Fine then, lad. The two of us it t’is.”
Damian got his water, which did not bring his voice back, much to the consternation of everyone. In the days ahead, Damian would learn that the sailor who had found him was named Kim and was from England, that the ship was a cargo ship bound for a port in Italy. And Damian would be dubbed “The Mystery Boy” by everyone until he later got the nickname, Little Kim, because everywhere you saw Kim, you saw Damian. Since the shock of his ordeal had removed his ability to speak, and at the tender age of five years old, he did not know how to write his name, little Damian became “Little Kim.”
Go to Chapter Two - A Lost Boy In Italy