Tom Crow Book 29 The Secret of the Templars Chapter 4 – Blood on the Clyde
pulp adventure based on the supposed local exploartions of Nazi archaeologist Otto Rahn
Tom travelled up from Hull, the nightmarish howling of those mysterious black dogs still echoing around his mind. What was Eros playing at this time? What had been the meaning of that bloody sigil scrawled onto the turret wall? Tom’s mind raced and clattered almost as if in time with the train. By the time the carriages pulled into Greenock he was no nearer the truth.
Tom was met on the platform by one of the agencies local operatives, Marianne, a member of the Free French. She in turn had directed him to the parish priest in Saint John’s Port Glasgow. After a friendly dram, the priest told him where to meet his next contact, the Bogle Stone; a huge rock perched at the top of the town, believed by locals to be haunted by an evil spirit.
The rain lashed down on Port Glasgow, as Tom approached the stone. A shadow moved from behind the rock.
“Tom Crow?” asked the shadow.
“Sometimes.” answered Tom, “Depends who’s asking.”
A young man stepped from behind the stone, hand extended.
“Shaun O’Donnell, I was told to meet you here.”
Tom eyed him suspiciously.
“Et in arcadia ego..”
“The shepherd must stay with the flock.”
Tom smiled and shook Shaun’s hand.
“Sorry about that. I know codes are all very tedious and embarrassing. But loose lips and all that.”
“Nae problem.” said Shaun “Cannae be too careful. C’mon. This way.”
Shaun gestured to a battered looking jeep at the side of the road.
“Ahm afraid it’s a bumpy ride pal.”
“I wouldn’t have expected anything else” said Tom.
The jeep sputtered into life and the two headed off towards the gloomy moorland.
“Where are we headed?”
“There’s a ruined monastery up at Houston. Cistercian.”
“The religious wing of the Knights Templar?”
“Aye.” said Shaun “The whole area is surrounded wi’ Templar sites. A lot of the smaller villages back here were actually founded by the Templars.”
The lightning flashed again, briefly illuminating the treacherous road as it stretched far off into the dark of the trees.
“So why this particular site?” asked Tom.
“Jist a hunch really. See, wan o the monks kept a really detailed chronicle o’ the daily events of the monastery.”
“I bet that’s a real page-turner.”
“Yer naw kiddin’. In fact, the most interestin’ thing aboot it, isnae whit’s in it. It’s whit isnae.”
“I’m sorry you’re going to have to repeat that.”
“Most scholars who look at the Houston Chronicle agree that there’s aboot half a dozen pages missing.”
“Someone stole these pages?”
“Mebbe.” Said Shaun “But the other thing the scholars are fairly sure aboot, is that the pages were removed not long after it was bound.”
“So if somebody did steal the pages, they did it in the 13th Century.”
The van lurched as Shaun swerved to avoid a fox.
“What’s so important about these pages?” asked Tom “Isn’t it possible that it’s just six more pages of ploughing parables and fancy handwriting?”
“Oh aye.” Said Shaun “It’s possible. It’s jist no very likely. See the mistake that whoever removed the pages made wis not tae read the entire manuscript.”
“Let’s not be too hasty to judge them.” said Tom, “Have you ever read an entire medieval manuscript?”
“Oh it wid rip yer knittin’.”
“Anyhow, further on in the chronicle, the monk makes a few references to the pages that were later removed. They concerned the visit of an excommunicated Templar Knight and a great secret.”
“Dunno.” said Shaun “Big enough for the pages to get taken oot the book.”
“It’s intriguing I agree.” said Tom “But it’s not much for us to go on.”
“Ah but ah huvnae finished.” said Shaun “A professor up at Glasgow University told me aboot a few other Cistercian manuscripts wi’ similar gaps in them. It wis quite common practice apparently.”
“Naw. Pages were often removed for safety. See, the secret wisnae so much whit wis written on the page, as the pages themselves.”
“Coded messages.” said Tom.
“Exactly. Ye’ve come across this before?”
Tom nodded grimly.
“In the 30’s I pursued a Nazi treasure hunter named Otto Rahn through the south of France,” explained Tom “The whole area is a tangled web of Templar sites. And every secret, every clue was encoded into old tombs, paintings, sometimes the very landscape itself.”
“Aye. Sacred geometry. Did ye catch this Nazi?”
“No.” said Tom “I didn’t even manage to figure out what he was looking for. It was a disasterous mission, for a lot of reasons.”
Tom’s eyes darkened, remembering Sylvia’s pleading face as she slipped from his grip and down onto the rocks below. (SEE TOM CROW BOOK 14 – THE EYES OF ASMODEUS) One day, Rahn would pay for her loss.
The dim light of a nearby village glowed over the hilltops.
“So where do you think our missing pages are now?”
“Ahm pretty sure they never left the monastery. Here, look.”
Shaun pulled a pamphlet from his pocket and threw it to Tom.
“ ‘Statistical Account of the Villages of Houston and Killallan.’
“Skip tae the bit aboot the church. Ah’ve marked the page.”
“ ‘Upon the fourth wall of the aisle there is a large frame of timber, on which 2 pictures seemingly done with oil colours, but much worn out. On the right side, a man in complete armour, resembling that of a Knight Templar, with an inscription in Saxon characters over his head, some words of which are effaced – Hic jacet Dominus Joannes Houston de codem miles, qui obit anno dom MCCC.’”
“Templar’s were aye buried beneath the church slabs.” said Shaun. “The painting probably marks his tomb.”
“You think the pages were buried with the Knight?”
“To protect his secret. Aye.”
“Good work Shaun. By my reckoning, Pentecost and his men arrived in Scotland only a day or two ago. We just have to hope we’re one step ahead of him.”
Tom and Shaun crept quietly through the doors, but the creaking of the hinges echoed eerily around the empty black of the old church.
“It should be up this end.” whispered Shaun.
Tom shone his torch towards the furthest away wall of the building.
“There’s the fourth aisle.” Said Tom “But where’s the painting?”
Shaun scrambled past the heavy oaken pews.
“It’s naw here!”
“Is there any indication of where it was hanging, we could just start digging.”
“I think we’d be wasting our time.” said Shaun “Look.”
He picked up a broken picture frame. Torn shreds of canvas still hung to the edges where it had been ripped.
“Looks like I got it wrong. The pages weren’t buried with the Knight, they were hidden in the painting.”
“There’s one more lead we could try.”
“Anything.” said Tom
“Saint Peters Well is just beyond the churchyard here. It’s another Templar site, some folk reckon there’s a tunnel underneath it.”
The two stepped out into the night and into a hail of gunfire.
“Down!” yelled Tom diving behind a nearby tombstone.
“Did you get a look at them?”
“Five guys ah think. By the trees on the left.” said Shaun “And they’re naw too shy either. They’re aw dressed in Nazi uniforms.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
More shots rang out, chipping the gravestones.
“Ye know, ah mebbe didnae huv time to count them all. But there was definetly more of them than there is of us. So we should probly start shootin’ eh?”
“Good point well made Shaun.” said Tom suddenly leaping out from behind the stone and firing wildly into the night. Shaun rolled across the grass to another gravestone.
There was silence. After a time, Shaun peered sheepishly out from behind the monument.
“Huv they gone?”
“I think so. But I don’t know why.”
“Mebbe they’re in a hurry.”
“Well then Shaun. We better hurry too.”
Tom and Shaun marched through the muddy field behind the church walls, glancing furtively around all the while. Something about their encounter in the graveyard was still bothering Tom.
“I recognised some of those men. They work for Eros Pentecost.”
“They wur Nazi’s. They only work for wan man. Hitler.”
“That’s what I don’t understand Shaun, Eros is a lot of things, but he’s certainly not a Nazi.”
“Well mebbe he’s jist tryin’ it oot tae see how he likes it.” said Shaun “Disnae matter. Whoever they wur workin’ for, they wanted us deid.”
“Here.This looks like the entrance to the tunnel. They’ve awready been diggin’ here.”
“Those men must have been guards.”
“Aye.” said Shaun “So we’ve probably no much time tae get in and back oot.”
“And that’s assuming there’s not more of them down there.”
Both men nodded grimly before carefully making their way down into the tunnel. After a short scrabble through the mud on their hands and knees, the tunnel opened out into a narrow stone chamber. By flickering torchlight they could see that it stretched some way into the distance.
“It wis true then. A corridor beneath the well.”
“Apparently so. What more do you know about St Peter’s Well?”
“Usual stuff, healin’ properties associated with various local missionaries. Just south of another Templar site – The Barochan Cross. The tunnel might lead to the hill it stands on.”
“Seems likely.” said Tom.
Suddenly, the two men stopped. There had been the unmistakeable sound of laughter.
“There’s someone behind us.” hissed Shaun. “You go on, I’ll wait here for oor wee friends.”
“Got enough ammo?”
”Aye plenty. And when that runs oot, ah’ll jist start punching.”
“Good man Shaun. Be careful.”
Tom ran deeper down into the dark.
He didn’t like this. Those men were definetly some of Pentecost’s gang. But they had been in Nazi uniform. If Eros was now working with the third reich things were much more serious than he had imagined.
Abruptly, the tunnel stopped. Tom glanced around. There were two hollows in the muddy wall in front of him. He reached his arm into the first; nothing. In the second however, there was a bundle of rags. Eagerly, Tom hauled them out and hastily unwrapped them. Inside, there was a burned rose stem.
“Eros’s usual calling card.”
Before he had time to curse Pentecost, gunfire echoed down the tunnel, followed by a tortured scream. Tom drew his weapon and charged back up through the passageway. Eros’s men were already making good their escape. And on the ground, lay Shaun’s body, beside him, the bloody sword which had been used to sever his head.
“Those damn nazi swine!”
Tom picked up the sword and ran, revenge in mind. He scrambled out of the tunnel in time to see two motorbikes disappear into the night. Tom raced through the churchyard back towards Shaun’s jeep, but as he drew nearer, he saw there was little point; it was a smouldering wreck.
There was a crackle of static as Tom’s walkie talkie burst into life.
“Tom! Tom come in!”
“I’m here. What’s going on?”
“We’ve just received word that the Priest you contacted in Port Glasgow has been found murdered. Poor man’s had his head cut off. And we’re unable to make contact with Marianne. Eros is onto us.”
“I can confirm that sir. He’s raided both the Templar sites before we even had a chance to arrive. And he’s just killed my other contact.”
“They’ve torched my transport, so I’m stuck here until I can commandeer something else.”
“What’s wrong?” asked Tom.
“We’ve just picked up a communication from a u-boat entering the Clyde. We could use your torpedo skills.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to get by without me sir. I’m going to start heading cross country but it could be awhile before I find a way back to Greenock.”
“No. Stay where you are Tom, we may need you to pursue. From what we’ve managed to decode so far seems there’s a team on this U-Boat who are going to rendezvous with the squad you’ve been after.”
“So Pentecost has joined the third reich.” Tom muttered to himself.
“We’re trying to intercept them before they make it to shore. Hopefully they won’t make it past the boom at the lighthouse.”
“And if they do?”
“There’s warships on hand. After rendezvous, they’re planning to move onto Inchinnan. They’ve got some language specialist with them to decode the manuscript pages.”
“A friend of your man Pentecost. His name’s Otto Rahn.”
9 June 2011
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