The stranger could be insane. Or he just might be our salvation.Archaeologist Annja Creed is more than curious when a decrepit, ancient-looking man visits her, claiming the end of the world is near. The stranger spins wild tales and speaks as if he actually knew King Arthur. But, strangest of all, he insists that Annja is the only one who can stop the horrible event that is about to happen. When Annja's mentor and friend Roux goes missing, she quickly realizes there may be something to the stranger's stories. Making her way through the dark and violent underbelly of Istanbul, Annja must find her missing friend and the Holy Grail before the relic gets into the wrong hands. She may not fully believe the fate of the world is on the line, but she doesn't really want to die finding out
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July 07, 2008
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Excerpt from Gabriel's Horn by Alex Archer
Prague, Czech Republic
"He's going to catch fire when the motorcycle hits the back of the overturned car?" Annja Creed asked in disbelief.
"Yeah. But the real trick is when he catches fire." Barney Yellowtail calmly surveyed the wrecked cars in the middle of the narrow street between a line of four-story buildings that had seen far better days.
"When?" Annja asked, still trying to grasp the whole idea.
"When is important," Barney continued. He was in his late forties, twenty years older than Annja, and had been a stuntman for almost thirty years. "If Roy catches on fire too late, we've hosed the gag."
Gags, Annja had learned, were what stunt people called the death-defying feats they did almost on a daily basis.
"And if you hose the gag," Annja said, "you have to do it over and risk Roy's life again."
Barney grinned. He claimed to be full-blood Choctaw Indian from Oklahoma and looked it. His face was dark and seamed, creased by a couple of scars under his left eye and under his right jawline. He wore rimless glasses that darkened in the bright sunlight, and a straw cowboy hat. His jeans and chambray work shirt were carefully pressed. His boots were hand-tooled brown-and-white leather that Annja thought were to die for.
Annja was five feet ten inches tall with chestnut hair and amber-green eyes. She had an athlete's build with smooth, rounded muscle. She wore khaki pants, hiking boots, a lightweight white cotton tank under a robin's-egg-blue blouse, wraparound blue sunglasses and an Australian Colly hat that she'd developed a fondness for to block the sun.
"That's not the worst part," Barney assured her.
"That's not the worst part?" Annja echoed.
"Naw," Barney replied, smiling wide enough to show a row of perfect teeth. "The worst part is that the director will be mad."
Barney looked at her as if sensing that she wasn't completely convinced. "Mad directors mean slow checks. They also mean slow work. If you can't hit your marks on a gag, especially on a film that Spielberg's underwriting, your phone isn't going to ring very often."
Annja wondered if you had to be certifiable to be a stuntman.
"C'mon, Annja," Barney said. "I've read about you in the magazines, seen you on Letterman and kept up with what you're doing on Chasing History's Monsters. You know life isn't worth living without a little risk."
Annja knew her life hadn't exactly been risk free. Actually, especially lately, it seemed to go the other way. As a working archaeologist, she'd traveled to a number of dangerous places, and those places were starting to multiply dramatically as she became more recognized.
She thought about her job at Chasing History's Monsters. Most days she wasn't sure if it was a blessing or a curse. The syndicated show had high enough ratings that the producers could send Annja a number of places that she couldn't have afforded on her own.
The drawback was that the stories she was asked to cover--historical madmen, psychopaths, serial killers and even legendary monsters--were usually less than stellar. Fans of the show couldn't get enough of her, but some of the people in her field of archaeology had grown somewhat leery.
None of that, though, had come without risk.
"Okay," Annja admitted. "I'll give you that. But I've never set myself on fire."
"Roy's not going to set himself on fire," Barney said. "I'm going to do that for him."
"It's just that timing is critical." Barney stepped to one side as his cell phone rang. "Excuse me."
Annja nodded and surveyed the street. The film crew had barricaded three city blocks in Prague's Old Town. A few streets over, the Vltava River coursed slowly by and carried the river traffic to various destinations.
Prague was a new experience for Annja, and she was thoroughly enjoying it. Getting the job on the movie had been as unexpected as it was welcome. She'd done a bit of work with props before, but never on a motion picture of this magnitude. Kill Me Deadly was a new spy romp that was part James Bond and part Jason Bourne. The hero even carried the same J.B. initials--Jet Bard.
Annja hadn't quite understood the plot because a lot of the details were still under wraps. She was of the impression some of them were still being worked out, which was causing extra stress on the set.
Three cars occupied the middle of the street. Two of them were overturned. All of them were black from where they'd been burned. The stuntman was supposed to hit the upright car, catch on fire and turn into a human comet streaking across the sky.
When Annja had heard about the stunt and had received an invitation from Barney to attend, she'd thought about gracefully declining. Then she'd found she couldn't stay away.
Now her stomach knotted in anticipation. She'd gotten to know the young daredevil who was about to become a human fireball.
He was a nice guy and she didn't like the idea that something bad might happen to him.