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The Hassassin smiled as he pulled his van into the mammoth stone structure overlooking the Tiber River. He carried his prize up and up . . . spiraling higher in the stone tunnel, grateful his load was slender.

He arrived at the door.

The Church of Illumination, he gloated. The ancient Illuminati meeting room. Who would have imagined it to be here?

Inside, he lay her on a plush divan. Then he expertly bound her arms behind her back and tied her feet. He knew that what he longed for would have to wait until his final task was finished. Water.

Still, he thought, he had a moment for indulgence. Kneeling beside her, he ran his hand along her thigh. It was smooth. Higher. His dark fingers snaked beneath the cuff of her shorts. Higher.

He stopped. Patience, he told himself, feeling aroused. There is work to be done.

He walked for a moment out onto the chamber’s high stone balcony. The evening breeze slowly cooled his ardor. Far below the Tiber raged. He raised his eyes to the dome of St. Peter’s, three quarters of a mile away, naked under the glare of hundreds of press lights.

“Your final hour,” he said aloud, picturing the thousands of Muslims slaughtered during the Crusades. “At midnight you will meet your God.”

Behind him, the woman stirred. The Hassassin turned. He considered letting her wake up. Seeing terror in a woman’s eyes was his ultimate aphrodisiac.

He opted for prudence. It would be better if she remained unconscious while he was gone. Although she was tied and would never escape, the Hassassin did not want to return and find her exhausted from struggling. I want your strength preserved . . . for me.

Lifting her head slightly, he placed his palm beneath her neck and found the hollow directly beneath her skull. The crown/meridian pressure point was one he had used countless times. With crushing force, he drove his thumb into the soft cartilage and felt it depress. The woman slumped instantly. Twenty minutes, he thought. She would be a tantalizing end to a perfect day. After she had served him and died doing it, he would stand on the balcony and watch the midnight Vatican fireworks.

Leaving his prize unconscious on the couch, the Hassassin went downstairs into a torchlit dungeon. The final task. He walked to the table and revered the sacred, metal forms that had been left there for him.

Water. It was his last.

Removing a torch from the wall as he had done three times already, he began heating the end. When the end of the object was white hot, he carried it to the cell.

Inside, a single man stood in silence. Old and alone.

“Cardinal Baggia,” the killer hissed. “Have you prayed yet?”

The Italian’s eyes were fearless. “Only for your soul.”