Here it is! A first draft of Chapter 41, the climax. Hopefully, it'll get your pulse rate up a bit. Comments are welcome.
Four silver Mercedes-Maybach limousines are parked in front of the only Russian Orthodox church in Echmiadzin. Next to each stands a driver who also serves as a bodyguard. All are dressed identically in gray and black. Shoulder holsters are visible on each. They scan the street behind reflective aviator sunglasses for threats.
Svetlana Krazavitskaya and Ludmilla Chebushova approach the limos while Brinker and Druzhnikov, who approached the church from the street to its rear, silently enter a narrow wooden side door 15 meters from the four men and two women.
“Are these cars yours?” Svetlana asks coyly.
The bodyguards remain silent.
Ludmilla tries a more direct approach.
“What do we have to do to get a ride?”
Svetlana, not to be outdone, ups the ante.
“What she means is, ‘What do we have to do to get in the back seat?’”
The driver/bodyguard standing in front of the limousine nearest the two women responds.
“Go away. We don’t have time for you.”
Svetlana, smiling, walks right up to him. With her thigh touching his, she teases, “You should make time. Unless you’d rather spend it with your three boyfriends.”
The bodyguard grabs her by the arm, pulls his pistol out of his shoulder holster, and places the barrel of it against her temple.
“Leave now or die.”
He releases her with a shove. The two women, certain that Brinker and Druzhnikov have had adequate time to enter the church during the diversion, walk briskly away circling back towards the rear of the church.
Brinker and Druzhnikov, weapons drawn, move unnoticed behind separate supporting pillars lining both sides of the long nave of the church. A choir in the balcony begins to sing, acapella, the Russian National Anthem. Kotuzov, dressed in a traditional blue Russian silk tunic with red trim, black pants, and highly polished black leather boots, walks slowly up the center of the nave towards the sanctuary. The choir’s volume seems to increase with each step Kotuzov takes on the church’s ancient stone floor.
At the front of the nave, standing and looking straight ahead, are Stolypin, Krupksy, Bogdanov, Anatoly Raznochenko, and about a dozen others, all men, all dressed in black and gray. In addition, the conspiracy’s four military leaders, resplendent in their finest dress uniforms, and soon to be traitors to the country they swore to defends, stand directly behind Stolypin and Krupsky.
Four different cameras record the ceremony for posterity. In the balcony high above Brinker and Druzhnikov, a technician sits at a control panel connected to a computer monitor split into four screens, one for each of the cameras. Brinker spots the camera nearest them. He scans the nave and sanctuary, picks up two of the three remaining cameras, and points them out to Druzhnikov.
A priest and a deacon stand in the sanctuary in front of the iconostasis at the top of a flight of three wide stone steps. On a small wooden stand next to the priest are exact replicas of the crown and orb of the Russian Tsar. In a stand next to the crown is another flawless replica, this one of the Tsar’s golden scepter. On the altar, placed in front of the iconostasis for the ceremony, sit the holy lance and its tip. The sanctuary fills with incense as the deacon makes the sign of the cross with a thurible.
Kotuzov reaches the top of the steps and kneels before the priest. The priest speaks directly to Kotuzov, but his voice is inaudible, washed out by the din of the choir still singing the anthem.
“Looks like an abridged version,” Druzhnikov whispers to Brinker.
Brinker gives Druzhnikov an inquiring look.
“They’re leaving out about 90 percent of the ceremony. They must be in a real hurry,” Druzhnikov explains.
The priest makes the sign of the cross over Kotuzov, picks up the crown, and hands it to the Tsar-to-be who places it on his own head while the priest recites the coronation prayer. The priest then hands the orb and scepter to Kotuzov and utters another prayer at last declaring Alexei Kotuzov to be Tsar Alexander the Fourth, “God-crowned, God-given, God-adorned, most pious Autocrat, and great Sovereign, Emperor of All the Russias!”
The priest steps to the side as Kotuzov stands up and makes his way to the altar. The anthem continues, its volume increasing with every stanza. Kotuzov puts the scepter and orb on the altar, takes the holy lance in one hand, and the spear tip in the other. He turns around to face the small congregation. Slowly, as the anthem finally reaches a crescendo, he brings the tip of the spear to the holy lance and touches them together. The moment these men have all anticipated, some for most of their lives, is upon them. Brinker stares, nearly paralyzed; Druzhnikov feels his pulse race and his knees go weak; Stolypin’s chest expands and his face flushes. The priest, the deacon, the generals and admiral, the coconspirators, the video technician, even those in the choir, are perfectly silent, perfectly still, awestruck, each anticipating being witness to something pure, something holy, something from beyond the human realm, a moment that could change the course of human history for a thousand years.
A flash of lightning bursts from the spear, runs along the seam between the two parts of the tip, and fuses tip and spear into one! Kotuzov, amazed and unharmed, holds the holy lance, in a form now indistinguishable from the original 2,000-year-old spear of death, above his head. All eyes, wide with fright, are on the new Tsar and the instrument of power and destruction in his grasp and under his control.
Krazavitskaya suddenly runs into the church. She stops at the back of the nave, where Kotuzov began his slow, singular procession to the sanctuary, and shouts.
Stolypin, enraged by the disruption, turns to Krupsky.
“Seize her!” he orders.
Before Krupsky can move, another flash of lightning emits from the lance. This bolt blows a massive hole in the single dome of the simple church. The members of the choir scream and flee the balcony. The blood flows out of Kotuzov’s face as a spot of dark crimson spreads on his blue tunic on the right side of his abdomen. The spot rapidly grows. Kotuzov clutches his side in agony. He struggles to hold onto the lance with his other hand as more flashes of lightning burst from the reconstructed tip rapidly destroying the round piers supporting the church’s roof. Stolypin, in a rage, sprints to the sanctuary to wrest control of the lance from Kotuzov.
“You weak son of a whore!”
They struggle as the lance, seeming to have taken on a life of its own, continues to produce destructive flashes of lightning.
“It’s now or never,” Druzhnikov says to Brinker.
“Let’s do it!”
They spring from behind the pillar.
“Everyone out. You’re all under arrest!” Druzhnikov shouts to be heard above the cracks of lightning and steady disintegration of the church.
“Yeah, that should do it,” Brinker cracks.
Instead of surrendering, Krupsky and Bogdanov turn and fire at Druzhnikov. Chebushova enters from the rear of the church and fires in the direction of the congregation. Krupsky and Bogdanov take cover behind the pillars after firing off several rounds. The rest of the congregation scrambles for cover or for the safety of an exit.
Stolypin, enraged and oblivious to the gun battle now raging just steps away, yanks the lance out of the hands of the dying Kotuzov, and holds it above his head. Kotuzov, blood pouring out of the wound in his side, falls to the ground dead.
“The power of the holy lance is mine! Its destiny is my destiny!” Stolypin wildly proclaims.
Brinker fires a round in Stolypin’s direction. The bullet glances off the tip of the lance.
“Fool! Your bullets are useless against me. The universe is in my hands!”
The ground beneath Stolypin begins to tremble violently. A bullet hits Druzhnikov in the leg. As he goes down, Chebushova kills Krupsky with a head shot, and Brinker puts a round into Bogdanov’s right shouler.
The entire church is shaking. Lightning continues to shoot out from the lance systematically shredding the ancient structure. Stolypin, barely able to maintain his footing as the earth sways beneath him, struggles to control the lance.
“Get out of here!” Brinker shouts to the others.
Krazavitskaya runs to Druzhnikov. She and Chebushova help him escape from the rapidly crumbling building. Brinker reloads and covers their escape, keeping Bogdanov pinned down with five quick rounds, not one of which finds its target. A large, ancient wooden beam falls from the disintegrating roof and crushes Bogdanov before he can get off another shot.
Stolypin suddenly feels a stabbing pain in his side. He doubles over and grabs at the wound. Within seconds, his hand is covered in blood. Stolypin falls to his knees. As the church collapses around him, as the earth roars beneath him, and as his life’s blood flows out of him, Stolypin, seized by a madness beyond description, a madness of his own making and from which there is no return, continues to hold the lance above his head.
The earth in the middle of the nave begins to open. Brinker struggles through the falling debris to get to Stolypin. He reaches Stolypin as the fissure in the earth races towards the sanctuary. Brinker grabs the lance, but Stolypin will not let it go.
“Let it go. It’s your only chance!” he shouts
Stolypin gathers his strength. Enraged, he tears the lance away from Brinker, stands, looks up to the vast, growing hole in the church’s ceiling, and holds the lance high over his head.
“Fuck this. I’m outta here!” Brinker declares. He runs from the sanctuary, sprinting for the side door he entered not more than 15 minutes ago as the church finally begins to cave in, buckling inward towards the fissure running the length the nave.
Lightning strikes Stolypin and he bursts instantly into flames. An atavistic scream, powerful enough to be heard above the utter destruction of everything around him, is his last, desperate act. The earth swallows and buries Stolypin and the holy lance deep within its bowels.
Brinker, barely a step ahead of the ravenous earth, runs to where Krazavitskaya and Chebushova tend to Druzhnikov, miraculously out of harm’s way no more than 20 meters from the side of the cathedral. The earth gives one final lurch. The front wall of the church collapses forward crushing four bodyguards, three generals, one admiral, and four limousines with uncanny accuracy. The other three walls disappear into the chasm that moments earlier claimed Fyodor Stolypin and the holy lance.
Silence suddenly permeates the air. The violent unravelling of a doomed and all-too-human attempt to foolishly tread where no man should dare is complete.