Chapter 31

Six Million Souls

“The Catacombs. How appropriate,” Diana said. She and Oliver were standing in a line of about fifty people, mostly tourists to judge by their large cameras and haggard, yet excited, expressions. The line curved around and through a small park, separated from the paved path by low green chain link fences, beneath the naked branches of several sprawling chestnut trees, before ending at a narrow door set in the face of a ramshackle copper-clad  structure sprouting like a wart on the side of a larger brownstone office building.

Oliver faced Diana and looked past her to inspect the crowd, both keeping an eye out for anyone else who might be following, and carefully keeping his back to Jeanne so that she would not recognize him if she looked back along the line. A short woman with black hair framing a wrinkled face caught Oliver’s eye. Something about her was familiar, her face catching Oliver as if he had seen her somewhere before. He glanced away, trying to not catch the woman’s attention, and when he looked back towards her again she had turned away.

Satisfied that they were not in any immediate danger, Oliver looked down at Diana and said, “You were about to tell me something about the Société de la tête de Mort when she,” he nodded his head in the direction of Jeanne, standing about fifteen people ahead of them in line, “left the hotel and we head to leave.”

“Yes. Well, as I mentioned, there have been any number of organizations that adopted the skull as a symbol throughout the ages, from college fraternities, to motorcycle gangs, to military units, but only one of those has a direct link to Tavernier. This particular organization, which is indeed known as Société de la tête de Mort, was founded in 1820 by a clan of gem merchants, led by none other than John Francillion.”

“I know that name,” Oliver said. He narrowed his eyes and tried to recall when Jeanne had told him of the history of her family gem. Everything she had told him was now suspect, but he doubted that she would have lied about the documented history of the Hope Diamond. After a moment it came back to him. “Francillion was the British diamond merchant who brought the French Blue to Britain, what was it, twenty years after it was stolen from the French treasury.”

“Close…” Diana stared, but Oliver interrupted her.

“No, I had that wrong. Francillion was the one who claimed that another merchant had the diamond in his possession at the time of his death.”

“Exactly.”

“So how are a group of diamond merchants in Britain connected to a French secret society?”

“They founded it.”

“But the name is French,” Oliver said. Then he paused, rolled his eyes, and smack his forehead with the hell of his hand. “Oh, please. Diana, please don’t tell me that the French name was nothing but an affectation by a couple of francophiles.”