Sunday, 10:00 p.m.
It had been a long day for Julian De Clercq. The twenty-five minute drive from the European Quarter in downtown Brussels to his newly renovated, rustic farmhouse just outside the city limits of Meise usually gave him plenty of time to relax and unwind. Listening to smooth jazz and enjoying the driving experience of his Peugeot RCZ coupé was a luxury he certainly would not have enjoyed had he chosen the station wagon his wife voted for. She thought a sports car wasn’t practical, and that was exactly why he wanted it. He was tired of always being practical.
But today the drive home was different. Tense and filled with angst, De Clercq did not navigate the winding country roads home at his usual leisurely pace. Instead he pushed the corners as though he were racing a Formula 1 car toward a checkered-flag finish line. Struggling to forget the day, De Clercq wished he could call his wife, who was away at her parents’ house in Ostend. But he knew it was too late to call, even if his wife were awake. De Clercq didn’t want to disturb her parents, who usually went to bed by nine. He would call tomorrow.
Despite his best efforts to take a mental break from his work, De Clercq’s thoughts drifted back to the trouble brewing in the European Union—trouble that positioned him in the center of the conflict. After nine hours of heated debate among certain members of the European Parliament, the European Council, and De Clercq himself, the day ended with his being even further isolated in his position than before.
At the center of the dispute was the creation of a new European Union, to be called the Global Federation of Nations, or GFN. This new confederacy would include all current member nations of the European Union while seeking to add nations from the Union for the Mediterranean. It would also pursue Eastern European nations and Asian nations to join the alliance over the next five years.
Next, the GFN would be endowed with self-governing authority and the power to create a centralized military. Supporters of this shift in global partnerships were calling it the first step on the road to a worldwide unification plan that would usher in a New Age of Enlightenment—a new age that, at its core, would challenge the boundaries of traditional institutions, customs, and morals that in the past had only encouraged hostility over differences rather than embracing diversity. This New Age of Enlightenment would seek to bring about societal reform through culture, government, and politics by promoting tolerance and harmony among all people. It would promote a peace and interconnectedness the world has never experienced on a global scale.
De Clercq felt that the disadvantages far outweighed any advantages that would come from a proposed Global Federation of Nations, and before leaving for the night, the fifty-four-year-old incumbent president of the European Union stood front and center before the Council. Tightly gripping the podium, he carefully recapped his stance:
“The European Union is a political and, more importantly, economic union of twenty-eight sovereign states. Its main powers are connected with such interests as the free movement of goods, services, and capital. We are here to ensure trade and commercial policy, monetary policy, consumer protection, protection of the environment, and certain aspects of social policy.
“The EU is allowed to take some supportive actions in the areas of education, tourism, and culture. And within the framework of the common security policy, we can engage in common peacekeeping and antiterrorist diplomacy in times of crisis. But what is being proposed here in this forum goes far beyond our purpose and is a very dangerous slippery slope.”
For several months now, De Clercq had been sensing a strong undercurrent within the European Union that was slowly strong-arming support for this merger. De Clercq was not against improving joint relations between nations inside and outside the European Union, but he saw the many dangers that would result in moving toward one global governing body.
De Clercq finished his speech with an allusion from modern history: “The threat of one government rule, or worse, one ruler rising to sole autonomous power, would be catastrophic. Have we learned nothing from our collective history? Have we so soon forgotten the words of Lord Acton, that ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely?’ ”
He had his suspicions as to who was behind this maniacal crusade, and he was beginning to hear rumors of bullying and blackmail going on behind the scenes to advance this global agenda. De Clercq was not about to stand idly by and allow this evil to go unopposed. He believed the familiar adage that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
And he wasn’t about to do nothing.
As De Clercq pulled into his gravel driveway, he noticed the exterior motion sensors didn’t activate the floodlights over his garage as his car crept forward. Reaching for the garage door opener clipped to the visor, he pressed the button. Nothing.
Not again! Are you kidding me? This is the second time in two months. . . . I guess this is the price I must pay for moving to the countryside.
With a sigh of acceptance, De Clercq turned off the engine and reached over to the passenger seat for his overstuffed briefcase and the suit jacket lying in a crumpled heap beside it. All the while he was anticipating the complex aromas of sandalwood, fresh plum, and berries from his newest wine purchase: a bottle of 2006 Chateau Margaux from France. He could almost feel the velvety finish and underlining of fruit on his tongue.
De Clercq was eager to pour a glass and relax, wishing his wife were there to join him. But it would only be a few more days until she returned. He always missed her whenever she was away, but he did enjoy the fact that while he was a bachelor, he could eat his favorite meal every night: steamed mussels and fries.
The LED interior light pierced the darkness as De Clercq opened his door, allowing him a little visibility as he slid out of the driver’s seat and placed his feet on the loose gravel below. With the crunching of rock and sand beneath his feet, De Clercq drew in his breath and caught a whiff of the blooming autumn mums that grew in the meadow a few yards away. He took a moment to enjoy the floral scents suspended in the air as a gentle breeze blew. His senses welcomed what the autumn night was offering, reminding him of why he chose to move away from the congestion of the city.
Turning away from the woods that lined the driveway, De Clercq closed the door. He had just pressed the alarm button on his key ring when he suddenly heard a distant phud-phud. Immediately he felt his body being pushed against the car. Suddenly he found himself on the ground as a searing-hot pain radiated throughout his torso. He realized there was nothing he could do. He couldn’t call out. He couldn’t manage the strength to get back into his car. And he was finding it hard to breathe as the pain only seemed to intensify.
Julian De Clercq had one thought: I’m going to die. Then a wave of regret came rushing in as he wished he had called his wife, Ella. He somehow found the ability to reach for his jacket, hoping to find his pen still clipped to the inside pocket. Thank God! There it is! Pulling out the pen, he drew three lines on the palm of his hand.
A twig snapped behind him as he heard one final phud resounding from the silencer connected to the end of the killer’s silver-barreled revolver.
President Julian De Clercq was dead.
Sunday, 10:20 p.m.
In the Terrace Lounge of the Grand Hotel de la Minerve overlooking the Pantheon in Rome, an attendant walked over to a distinguished, slightly graying man in a black Armani suit. He was finishing up a late-night snack of prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe and Gouda, accompanied by a snifter of vintage cognac.
“Excuse me, seniore. A message for you,” the attendant said, handing him a small envelope.
Unfolding the crisp paper inside, he silently read It is finished.
A diabolical grin slowly crept across his face as he took another sip of cognac, recognizing the irony that this was, in fact, only the beginning.