Friday, November 24, 2017

Casing the Colors © Week 37 (Final Chapter, Book I)

Casing the Colors © Week 37 • • • CHAPTER 55 • • The same afternoon, as her father and Maurice tried to strengthen Kate for the road ahead, one which they knew would require from her a public image strong and confident of the future in Russia and America, Jacques LeNoir arrived, unannounced, by helicopter. He warmly embraced Kate and when she told him of the letter from Alexei, he offered his assurances that all would be well. Then, he asked if he could freshen himself, descreetly motioning for Maurice to follow him. Alone with Maurice in a guest room, Jacques closed the door. "I have also received a letter from Alexei," he said quietly, handing it to Maurice. General Julien took the note carefully, as if its contents could be physically dangerous. "Dear Jacques," it read, "I have written to Katharine to prepare her for what must surely follow. The hard-liners have driven me out of Moscow. I am near Ekaterinburg, but I know it will not be for long. I believe this time they mean to kill me so they can make use of the Alliance with Washington to push General Bennett toward his natural position as leader of a military state. Please go to Rome and speak with the Holy Father. He will give you the few details of my life that you do not already have. Take care of Katharine and Alexander and ask General Julien to provide for them. When you return from Rome, you will be able to explain to him and Kate's father why it is so important that she and Alexander survive. Merci. Je te revois, ici ou ailleurs. Alexei." "What details?" Maurice demanded. "Hasn't Kate had enough of the damned Alliance and conspiracy? Can't Alexei leave her in peace to find a life for herself and Alexander?" Maurice railed inwardly at the world of politics that seemed to sweep Kate along in its flow without offering even so much as a glimpsed safe shore. "I will take her to Rome with me," Jacques LeNoir responded calmly. "She has a role more important than any of us and she needs to understand." "Tell me while we walk," Maurice said, leading Jacques toward the guest room door, "and don't bother with the historical perspective, I can work it out myself," he said, half cynically, half in fear of the revelation he was about to hear. • • Early the next morning, Kate Gordon Katerinov and Jacques LeNoir traveled by helicopter to Paris while Alexander stayed safely with Maurice and the governess he had hired. In Paris, the two exchanged the helicopter for a small jet and headed for Rome. The plane was met by a limousine that took them to Vatican City, where a Cardinal met them and showed them to a small room meant for private papal audiences. "What do you expect to learn?" Kate asked. "We will have to speak with the Pope first," he answered. "I really don't know what he will say." They sat in silence until, a quarter of an hour later, the same Cardinal reappeared and asked Jacques LeNoir to follow him. "We will only be gone a short time," he assured Kate. "I have asked someone to bring you tea." President LeNoir followed the Cardinal's swaying red cassock down a long wide marble-tiled hallway lined with gilt tables above which hung huge renaissance paintings of saints in their death agony. What a fitting backdrop, Jacques thought, knowing that the next few hours would not be pleasant. He had known the Pope well for many years, often meeting him clandestinely to discuss world events from the vantage of the protected Vatican world where only eternity fought with the human urge toward money and power. The Pope was waiting alone in a high-ceiling light-filled private sitting room. He stood when the former French president entered, reaching out to bless and embrace him in one flowing gesture. "Your Holiness, I am honored that you have found time to receive me," Jacques said, wondering what would be the importance of the information he would receive from his old friend. "Jacques, I am so pleased to see you looking fit. Retirement becomes you, I believe. I wish I could try it for myself." "I still find much of my time reserved for politics, but I can escape to other interests without feeling guilty," Jacques replied. Without further small talk, the Pope sat and motioned for Jacques to do the same. "What do you know of Alexei Katerinov?" Jacques LeNoir knew that it was time to reveal the truth hidden in his friendship with Alexei and thus to share its burden. "He told me years ago that his great-grandmother was the mistress of Tzar Nicholas and that before the Tzar and his family were murdered by the Bolsheviks, she managed to escape Ekaterinburg, where they were being held, disappearing into the Urals for safety. She had enough gold and jewelry to live comfortably and gave birth to Alexei's grandmother six months later. They never separated, even after the child was married to a minor landowner who had managed to keep his holdings together by working for the Revolution. Alexei told me there was irrefutable proof of his ancestry but he never explained what it was." Jacques sat back in his chair to wait. He was certain that whatever proof existed was known to the Pope and that he was about to be made privy to it. Without contradicting any of Jacques LeNoir's recitation, the Pope said, "I have a box that was delivered to Pope Benedict in 1921 by a Russian priest who escaped from Ekaterinburg during the First World War. He said it was given to him by the woman he knew to be the mother of the only living Romanov and that her instructions were for it to be guarded by each Pope and handed on to the next. She told him that the Holy Father would know when to make use of the information it contained." "Has the box been opened?" Jacques LeNoir asked impatiently. "Once by each successive Pope, but we will open it again today," the Pope responded. He went to a secretary desk and inserted a key that he had taken from his pocket. Jacques could see inside the desk a small gold box encrusted with jewels. The Pope returned to his chair with the box and took another key from his pocket. "Should we have a witness?" Jacques LeNoir asked. "You are my witness," the Pope replied, opening the box carefully. Inside was a note handwritten in Russian and a gold chain from which was suspended a crown set with a ruby. Jacques recognized the design immediately. They read the note, the Pope succeeding to translate it sufficiently to let Jacques LeNoir understand that it was in the hand of Tzar Nicholas and was meant to explain who his mistress was and that she was carrying his child. The note was dated 10 July 1918. "Just a week before they were murdered," Jacques LeNoir sighed. "How could he have got it past his guards?" "There are many questions to be answered," the Pope said. "Are you certain that this is the right time to raise them?" "Kate will want to know everything. She is an intelligent and stubborn young woman and we had better be prepared before we confront her with Alexei's history." "Perhaps there are things best left unsaid for the present. She is, as you say, young and she will have burden enough caring for her son alone, with the media intruding on her every move. What could she do today with the knowledge that Alexander is the heir to the throne of all the Russias? He is an infant who would be devoured by those wanting to use him for his right to power. They would both be manipulated for unsavory political purposes. Why should she have to withstand the intense interrogation and mockery, as well as the certain threats to her son's life if the truth is as we believe? Is it not enough for the present that she is the wife of the president of Russia, preserving his ideals by raising his son to fulfill them?" "What do you suggest?" Jacques LeNoir asked skeptically. He knew that everything the Pope had predicted was likely to be correct, but he did not want to leave Alexander's birthright or Kate's future to the vagaries of 21st century Vatican politics. "I suggest we meet at this time each year, to review the question. Name someone to replace you, as I will be replaced by the next Pope. Let us be wise rather than hasty to act. When Alexander is old enough to make use of his legacy, we can place it in his own hands." "Let me think about it this evening. Can we meet again tomorrow?" Jacques asked, wondering what the next few hours could possibly provide him of wisdom or conviction. "Of course. I will send for you at eight o'clock tomorrow morning." As Jacques LeNoir followed his escort back to the room where Kate was waiting, he could feel his heart pounding with the anticipation of engaging her without divulging the secret he now knew to be true, that President Alexei Katerinov, former Soviet deputy and freedom fighter, was the uncrowned Tzar of Russia. Kate realized immediately that Jacques was struggling in the aftermath of his meeting. Her mind raced to imagine what he could possibly have learned to agitate him so thoroughly. "Please, Jacques, sit down and rest." "Kate, there is something you must promise me," he said in a hoarse whisper, ignoring her suggestion and going instead to the desk where he found the stationery he needed. He scribbled a long note and folded it, sealing it in an envelope. On the envelope he wrote 'For General Julien'. He handed the envelope to Kate. "Give this to Maurice and follow his advice exactly." "Of course, Jacques, but why give me a note? Can't we talk to Maurice together?" Jacques LeNoir looked at her, her eyes full of confusion, her lovely face straining for composure, and he knew that his judgment was right. There was something terrible in the air taking away his breath and making him fear for her safety while she stayed in the Vatican. He wondered if it was a premonition or simply the information he had received filling him with imagined scenarios of intrigue and danger. "Take the envelope to Maurice, please, Katharine," he repeated. "I need to stay here until tomorrow but I want you to go now. I will arrange everything." He held her shoulders and kissed her cheeks. Then he helped her with her coat and led her into the hall to find the butler. When Kate was safely in a limousine on her way to Jacques LeNoir's private plane and the security of Maurice Julien's chateau, Jacques LeNoir returned to the room to wait for a bedroom to be prepared for him for the night. While he was waiting for the butler to return, he walked to the French doors to watch the sky darken into evening. His heart was still pounding and he felt slightly dizzy so he opened the doors to take some air, hoping it would calm him. He walked out onto the terrace, wondering what he would say to the Pope the next morning. His note to Maurice Julien was brief but Jacques knew that he could rely on Maurice to act quickly to secure the rings in Kate's possession and to tell her all that he had learned from Jacques' note. Of one thing he was absolutely certain. Kate was perfectly capable of making her own decisions without the interference of the Pope, or himself for that matter. She was young, as the Holy Father had said, but her years in the public eye, her strength of character, her almost hypnotic hold over the men she encountered, these would enable her to survive and to prepare her son for his heritage. He had told Maurice to give her as much freedom of action as the overriding need to protect her would allow. He looked out over the lawns with their perfectly manicured flower gardens and then up at the deep blue Roman sky. It seemed to turn slowly over his head, moving as if he were in the Sistine Chapel pivoting to see the entire masterpiece simultaneously. Suddenly his heart pounded violently and he reached for the table on the terrace to steady himself. The blue sky turned dark and he tried to call out for help. "Kate, Kate," he whispered, "be safe, be strong." The butler found his body lying beside the table, one of his hands gripping its ornate iron pedestal. • • The Pope took the unprecedented step of withholding the news of the death of Jacques LeNoir until he could personally phone Katharine Gordon to ascertain what she knew. When he reached her at General Julien's chateau, she told him she had only just arrived. The Pope excused his phone call by saying he was sorry to have missed her because he wanted to send a blessing for her son and husband through her. She thanked him, thinking it peculiar that he should telephone and not Jacques LeNoir. She asked if Jacques wanted to speak with her. Her response told the Holy Father that she knew nothing of what he had revealed to Jacques. He responded that Jacques was not with him and then he gave her his blessing before ending the conversation. Putting down the phone, Kate turned immediately to Maurice and her father to hand them the sealed envelope. "I wanted to open it, but I decided to follow Jacques' instructions and give it to you, Maurice," she said. The three sat at the table in the garden room and read the extraordinary note. In it, Jacques LeNoir explained exactly who Alexei was and asked Maurice Julien and Jim Gordon to place the rings and his note in a Swiss bank for safekeeping. He suggested that if something should happen to him, Maurice should wait until some weeks had passed and then contact the Vatican for a personal meeting with the Pope, naming himself as Jacques LeNoir's successor. His final instruction was to arrange for constant protection for Kate and Alexander. "Under no circumstances allow her to move about unguarded and do not trust anyone with the information I have given you. It is," his note concluded, "our last work to protect the best chance the next century will have to bring to a close the circles of war and distrust between east and west. Katharine and Alexander are the future of the world. Do not betray it." Kate tried to speak but her father's hand reached out to stop her. He looked at Maurice Julien, whose face was a mask of brooding contemplation. "I thought all our battles were over" Jim Gordon said, "but I believe we have been called to one last muster. Will you respond with me, General?" General Julien stood up and held out his hand. Kate spoke. "When Jacques arrives, we'll be able to talk to him and make our plans." It was early the following morning when the news of the untimely death of the former President of France was released by the Vatican press office. Hearing it, the awful possibilities reverberated unspoken between Kate and her protectors. They would face the future without the political power of either Alexei or Jacques to help them. Only Alexander, sleeping in his crib, was unaware of their shared isolation and danger. It was Jim Gordon who took control. "We will get things in order this morning before the media finds us here. Kate, give me the rings and get yourself and Alexander ready to travel. I'll phone Scott Bennett to send a helicopter to take us to Paris and on to Geneva and to arrange an escort to meet us in Geneva. Maurice, get on the phone to Rabat to make arrangements for our visit to Mr. Thompson." Maurice smiled, looking at Jim Gordon. "We haven't cased the colors just yet, have we, General?" Jim regarded Maurice. "Affirmative." The future of Katharine Gordon Katerinov and her son, Alexander, well-placed in the hands of two tough old soldiers by Jacques LeNoir, was taking shape, but it is a tale to be told another time. -----30------

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