WEARING A BROWN TWEED SUIT and his customary dark tortoiseshell
sunglasses, Dr. Alberto Mazzini pushed through the crowd of loud
and agitated reporters blocking the steps of the Musée
d'Histoire in Boréée.
"Can you tell us about the artifact? Is it real? Is that why you're
here?" a woman pressed, shoving a microphone marked CNN in his
face. "Have tests been performed on the DNA?"
Dr. Mazzini was already annoyed. How had the press jackals been
alerted? Nothing had even been confirmed about the find. He waved
off the reporters and camera operators. "This way, Docteur," one of
the museum aides instructed. "Please, come inside."
A tiny dark-haired woman in a black pantsuit was waiting for
Mazzini inside. She looked to be in her mid-forties and appeared to
almost curtsy in the presence of this prestigious guest.
"Thank you for coming. I am Renée Lacaze, the director of the
museum. I tried to control the press, but . . ." she shrugged.
"They smell a big story. It is as if we've found an atom
"If the artifact you've found turns out to be authentic," Mazzini
replied flatly, "you will have found something far greater than a
As the national director of the Vatican Museum, Alberto Mazzini had
lent the weight of his authority to every important find of
religious significance that had been unearthed over the past thirty
years. The etched tablets presumed to be from the disciple John dug
up in western Syria. The first Vericotte Bible. Both now rested
among the Vatican treasures. He had also been involved in the
investigation of every hoax, hundreds of them.
Renée Lacaze led Mazzini along the narrow fifteenth-century
hall inlaid with heraldic tile.
"You say the relic was unearthed in a grave?" Mazzini asked.
"A shopping mall . . ." Lacaze smiled. "Even in downtown
Borée, the construction goes night and day. The bulldozers dug
up what must have once been a crypt. We would have completely
missed it had not a couple of the sarcophagi split open."
Ms. Lacaze escorted her important guest into a small elevator and
then up to the third floor. "The grave belonged to some
long-forgotten duke who died in 1098. We did acid and
photo-luminescence tests immediately. Its age looks right. At first
we wondered, why would a precious relic from a thousand years
earlier, and half the world away, be buried in an
"And what did you find?" Mazzini asked.
"It seems our duke actually went to fight in the Crusades. We know
he sought after relics from the time of Christ." They finally
arrived at her office. "I advise you to take a breath. You are
about to behold something truly extraordinary."
The artifact lay on a plain white sheet on an examiner's table, as
humble as such a precious thing could be. Mazzini finally removed
his sunglasses. He didn't have to hold his breath. It was
completely taken away. My God, this is an atom bomb!
"Look closely. There is an inscription on it."
The Vatican director bent over it. Yes, it could be. It had
all the right markings. There was an inscription. In Latin. He
squinted close to read. "Acre, Galilee . . ." He examined
the artifact from end to end. The age fit. The markings. It also
corresponded to descriptions in the Bible. Yet how did it come to
be buried here? "All this, it does not really prove
"That's true, of course." Renée Lacaze shrugged. "But Docteur
. . . I am from here. My father is from the valley, my father's
father, and his. There have been stories here for hundreds of
years, long before this grave tumbled open. Stories every
schoolchild in Borée was raised on. That this holy relic was
here, in Borée, nine hundred years ago."
Mazzini had seen a hundred purported relics like this, but the
tremendous power of this one gripped and unnerved him. A reverent
force gave him the urge to kneel on the stone floor.
Finally, that's what he did — as if he were in the presence
of Jesus Christ.
"I waited until your arrival to place a call to Cardinal Perrault
in Paris," said Lacaze.
"Forget Perrault." Mazzini looked up, moistening his dry lips. "We
are going to call the Pope."
Alberto Mazzini couldn't take his eyes off the incredible artifact
on the plain white sheet. This was more than just the crowning
moment of his career. It was a miracle.
"There's just one more thing," said Ms. Lacaze.
"What?" Mazzini mumbled. "What one more thing?"
"The local lore, it always said a precious relic was here. Just
never that it belonged to a duke. But to a man of far more humble
"What sort of lowborn man would come into such a prize? A priest?
Perhaps a thief?"
"No." Renée Lacaze's brown eyes widened. "Actually, a
Excerpted from THE JESTER © Copyright 2003 by James
Patterson and Andrew Gross. Reprinted with permission by Warner
Books. All rights reserved.