A bit of a different snippet…

This one is… for an anthology next year.

Comments/recommendations appreciated as always.

The Grandmaster’s Crypt

Aiden de Monte twisted and turned in the bed, in the grips of either a nightmare or really strange dream. He finally bolted up in bed, gasping. “Damn…”

Sophie, his long-suffering wife, reached over and turned on the light. “Aiden, are you…alright? What was it this time?” After thirty-five years, she knew he occasionally had nightmares resulting from the many cases he’d worked as a detective in the homicide and domestic violence units of the Pulizija ta’ Malta, or as he said, ‘The cop shop.’

Aiden shook his head. “I don’t know…it’s…strange and so real. I could smell the odor of leather and oiled metal, and I could hear the slither of chain mail. It…was a knight. All in black. He was calling me to arms and…” Shaking his head, he went on. “He called me Pietro. Said the crypt had been…miksura, violated, but it was old language. And I was to call out the knights.”

Sophie snorted. “Call out the knights?”

Aiden got up. “Yes, call out the knights. But we don’t have…maybe one or two still here. And I don’t think they do investigations.” He stretched and groaned. “Well, I’m awake, so I think I’ll make some tea.”

She grumped, “You go right ahead. I’m going back to sleep. I don’t have to be up at.” she glanced at the clock on the nightstand. “Four in the morning.”

Chuckling, he walked out of the bedroom as she clicked the light off. He made his way through the dark old house to the kitchen, flipped on the light, and found the kettle. Filling it, he set it on the stove as Gato, the house cat, came in and meowed at him. “No, you don’t get breakfast yet, Gato. You have to wait.” The cat glared at him and jumped up to sit in his usual chair at the table, staring at him over the top of the table as he went about making his tea.

He settled in his chair and sipped the tea meditatively. “Call out the knights! What should I have them do?” he asked himself rhetorically.

Gato suddenly yowled and hissed as he bolted from the chair. Just as Aiden felt the temperature drop and the smell of leather and oiled metal returned. It seemed the room had suddenly gotten darker, and he shivered inadvertently. “If I were to call the knights,” he said softly, “I think I’d have them searching the island, starting with the port for what is missing. I would guess it would be the altar pieces, possibly things from the crypt, and…maybe paintings. But I wouldn’t just search the port, I’d start there, and move up the island. Airport, the towns, and all the coves around the island.” He nodded to himself. “Yes, that would be it. Go forth and search!”

Gato’s chair seemed to rock, the smell went away, and the lights seemed to come back up as he said that. Huh, I must still be dreaming. Well, I’m not going to go back to bed and bother Sophie, that’s something I’ll pay for later, and I have work on my desk I can be doing. Glancing up at the clock, he thought, Sophie doesn’t have to be at work at Mater Dei until seven thirty. Rank hath its privileges, and since she made chief surgical nurse, her hours have more or less stabilized. How did we ever manage to have Mirko when she was at St. Luke’s, and I was a lowly constable? He finished his tea, rinsed the cup, and headed to Mirko’s old room, now his office and closet. Taking out a clean suit, he stripped out of his pajamas, quickly shaved, and took a shower in the second bathroom, dressed quietly, and returned to the kitchen. He looked at himself in the mirror by the door and sighed at the rumpled, portly, balding man looking back at him. I still don’t know what Sophie saw in me, but whatever it was, I’m glad she saw it. He made one more attempt to straighten his tie, petted Gato, who had returned from his sulk and was sitting on the end of the counter, demanding his due as the lord and master of the house.

Down the stairs and out the front door, he squinted and saw that he actually had enough room to get his car out. After a quick check of it, he got in and drove up Santa Monika, then down the hill to the Police Depot. The nice thing about being an inspector was that he could park inside the gate, and he waved to the on-duty officer as he rolled through the gate. Finding what would be a shady parking place, he went in the back door and headed to the break room for his morning tea.

It surprised him to see the deputy commissioner in the break room. “In early, Commissioner,” he said by way of greeting.

The commissioner glanced up from his tea. “Aiden, I don’t know why you’re here, but I’ve got a job for you.”

He groaned silently. “Can I leave, go back home, and have you pretend you didn’t see me?” Aiden asked jokingly.

The commissioner grimaced. “I wish. I know you’re head of CID, but this one is…going to be an issue.”

Aiden got his tea and sat down across from the commissioner. “What’s up, Raffaele? And why CID?”

“Saint John’s Cathedral was robbed this morning. Sometime between three and four. And the Grandmaster’s Crypt was desecrated. We’re still working to get a list of everything that was taken.” Shaking his head sadly, he continued, “The guard, one Clement Sceberras is down in interrogation right now. He’s…having some issues.”

He almost dropped his teacup when he heard that. “Issues? I guess I better go talk to him. Who’s on duty?”

“Curmi and Bonello were the responders. Sergeant Ullo took the original call. He and Bonello are still there with the priest, taking inventory. Curmi is interrogating the guard, or trying to.”

“What’s the issue, Raffaele? Why the…secrecy?”

“You…just need to go sit in. Afterward, come back and talk to me.”

He nodded. “Okay, on the way.” He refilled his tea and headed for the interrogation area. Seeing the light on over interrogation one, he slid into a chair behind the one-way mirror and turned the speaker up slightly as he observed Joseph Curmi and the man, Sceberras, who appeared disheveled, mid-sixties, with a full head of black hair.

“So, tell me again about this apparition you thought you saw.” Curmi said as he leaned back in his chair.

Sceberras leaned forward, made the sign of the cross and said, “I swear on a stack of bibles, the Black Knight came through the front door right in front of me, and motioned for me to go into the church. I…” He slumped back. “I swear I saw him, plain as I see you sitting there. I could smell his armor. That metallic smell! I unlocked the door and he…it…floated down the main aisle and disappeared through the floor into the crypt. I saw the altar had been…disturbed an…he came back up through the floor, then pointed down!” He picked up the glass of water setting next to him and barely held on to it with both hands as he took a drink, slopping some water on the table.

“I went down in the crypt, and the lights were on.” He looked up pleadingly, “There is no switch for the lights down there! They’re up on the main panel!” He shook his head. “And there were things missing from some of the grandmaster’s crypts. I…my radio didn’t work down there, so I ran back upstairs and called it in, then went into the choir room and used the phone to call you. When I went back into the crypt, it looked like it was lit by torches the lights were flickering…and there were a bunch of…knights in armor, and I swear I saw a Roman centurion and…I think a Phoenician sailor with his head under his arm.”

Curmi interrupted, “How do you know it was a Phoenician?”

Sceberras made a vague gesture toward the Knight’s Museum. “It looked like the Phoenician up in the museum. I work up there sometimes during the weekends when it’s closed.”

(C) JL Curtis 2021


A bit of a different snippet… — 30 Comments

  1. Jim, your writing keeps getting better and better. It captured my interest in a few paragraphs. Looking forward to more!

  2. That’s an interesting start, all right! Good mix of fantasy and police procedural to bring us in. I read Grandmaster and immediately thought Malta.

    Should be “grandmasters’ crypts”, if someone was pillaging several, during Sceberras’ interrogation. The Order would have left treasures with with several of them. The luckless watchman has about the right reaction too. That combination of details reinforces the opening.

  3. It’s been an enjoyable experience watching your writing skills evolve… When you first started, even though the stories themselves were excellent, I thought the writing style itself was a little ‘stilted”. It has become much smoother and flowing as your skills have progressed… All part of the learning curve that new authors go through I suppose… Keep it up !!

  4. Jim:
    This is a winner. Like an earlier commenter I immediately thought of Malta. Can’t wait to see the anthology.

  5. I’m a bit slower than others, may have to do with low coffee level. When I saw “Grandmaster” my first thought was the Templars. Then I got to “Pulizija ta’ Malta” and the light dawned. As others have said, finish this and take my money.

  6. I ran out of Grey Man and other novels, but your piece in “Surly Bonds” will be up shortly.

    I’m getting hooked. Glad they’re on Kindle; I’ve run out of space for more dead-tree books…

  7. All- Thanks! Yes, I’m doing my best to get better, and y’all have helped me improve with your comments and recommendations! Joe- The usual suspects will be there… LOL

  8. It’s not enough. You know, we all know that your writing is solid, but bringing the plot to life for we readers takes more than the snippet. IMHO. Greed on my part – sure, guilty as charged.

  9. Wow. You got so much right. The smell of oiled leather, soaked with sweat and blood over the years, the weirder stench of oiled armor, the sounds of wearing such.

    Hooked. You hooked me.

    The Knights of Malta were an interesting group before they went non-militant. Though one wonders if, indeed, there isn’t some secret part of them today that still is quietly in arms.

    More please, many much more.

  10. Please to advise when the book is done and where do I pay for it! It’s a magnificent start! Me WANT.

  11. Same thought as many above, I’ll buy it when it comes out! I usually buy your stuff rather than read on kindle unlimited so you get some benefit to keep writing!

  12. What they all said.
    A few things made my gray hair itch.
    ‘starting with the port for ‘ —
    ‘the port, for’
    ‘something I’ll pay for later’–
    ‘ I’d pay for’
    ‘park inside the gate,’ —
    ‘inside the fence, ‘
    ‘He refilled his tea’ —


  13. Excellent – I already want to read the entire novelette. A bir outside my normal fare but has all the interesting elements.

  14. “..bolted from the chair, just as Aiden…”
    “ ‘..lit by torches-the lights were flickering…’ ”
    This is great! I like it!
    And I concur with LL. It’s not enough. A little is quite nice, but MORE is even better. Say, the length of a novel more. (ahem!)

    And thank you!

  15. As soon as I saw the opening sentences I thought of “What do you know, sir, about the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, later known as the Knights of Rhodes and other things?”

    Might there a bird involved?

  16. I’m kicking around an idea for the anthology, if/when Mr. Dog opens the call for stories. Archaeology, plus would be occultists, don’t mix well. Really don’t mix well . . .

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