Exclusive Excerpt: The Harrowing of Hell: The Jack Elliot Series Book 2 by Dean Kutzler

Blurb:

Would you destroy humanity’s only hope in order to kill its biggest injustice?

Deep in the heart of the Congo, a dangerous secret has been hidden from humanity for its protection. A secret linked to something so unjust that it has haunted the human race from the start of religion, and still exists today. If discovered, the veil of hope humanity holds so dear will be torn down and thrown away.

Life will literally become worthless.

There is also a dangerous artifact hidden along with the secret, one that claims to hold the power of resurrection. If this power falls into the wrong hands, there will be no stopping whoever wields the ancient item.

Jack and Calvin fly into the dangerous jungles of Africa to find the dangerous artifact and soon discover their biggest adversary, the clandestine organization called the Bene Elohim, is also searching for the relic.

As they seek out an old man living somewhere along the Congo River that supposedly has knowledge that will help them find the artifact, a mysterious teenage boy abducts Jack. With a machete in each hand and only a direction to follow, Calvin runs off into the jungle in hot pursuit, both arms swinging!

Will Calvin save Jack? Do they find the artifact and face destroying the only hope mankind has left?

The Harrowing of Hell, the second adventure in The Jack Elliot Thriller Series, is sure to deliver fast paced, thrilling action and adventure that isn’t laced with guns, bombs and nuclear genocide—but loaded with mind bombs that’ll have you thinking twice! It’s brilliantly plotted, full of twists and its feet are fully submerged in suspense.

M’banza – Kongo

2:00 am

The sound of gravel skittered about the ground, and he quickly fled the nakedness of the moonlight, slipping into the shadows of the night. With a trained eye, he watched from behind the safety of the church rubble as two men plodded carelessly across the ruins like amateurs. Not many people visited the cathedral ruins of M’banza-Kongo in Angola during the day—if at all, much less at 2 o’clock in the morning. He was certain they hadn’t seen him, his skills always on point. Amateurs or not, they were here for something more than site-seeing. Their timely arrival, may just work to his advantage. For now, he’d keep watch.

“Babe,” Calvin whispered, looking around. “You sure–ah, the Intel said here…at these ruins in Angola?”

All that remained of the sixteenth-century cathedral, the first Catholic Church in Africa built back in 1549, was the four-wall, stone and mortar foundation, sans a roof. Small as a one-room schoolhouse, the foundation was spotted with moss and completely intact, except for the door. Only a perfect archway remained where the door once stood. Alongside the doorway on the left was a square, moss-covered stone structure about a foot in height from the ground and covered with dead, dried up flowers from some long-ago ceremonial ritual or holiday.

Jack sighed, heavily, letting go of his goatee. It was almost a foot in length, now, and braided because it was easier to handle. “Um, do you really think I’d charter us a private plane—fly around the world for over twenty hours, just so we could sneak around this creepy place and come up empty-handed…if I wasn’t sure what the Intel said?” He snapped, louder than he intended.

Calvin just gave him a look.

“Sorry, Cal,” he said, frowning slightly. “I guess the jet lag is workin’ my nerves–and this place…”

“I know what you mean,” Calvin said, nodding. “There’s just something about I can’t put my finger on it, but it feels…”

“Wrong?”

“Yes–it feels wrong here like we don’t belong and I can’t shake the feeling we’re being watched,” he said, stepping over the crumbling curb and onto the walkway leading up to the church.

“That’s just your paranoia. Who the hell would come out here in the middle of the night–”

Calvin gave him another look.

Jack rolled his eyes and said, “Well–you know what I mean, let’s just make it quick.”

“I’m not complaining, Babe,” he said, grabbing his arm and guiding him over the curb. “Actually, this is pretty exciting. It sure beats giving English lectures to entitled, snot-nosed freshmen at McGill.” Calvin used to be a college professor when they’d lived in Montréal.

“Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying this but it’s going to take a little getting used to for me. I used to be a writer, you know–writing about the people finding the artifacts and such. Not doing the actual finding.”

“Look at this place,” Calvin said. “It’s amazing how it’s lasted all these centuries.”

“The locals called the church,” peeking at the iPad Mini in his bag, Jack pronounced, “nzo a ukisi or, get this—charm in the form of a building. They also referred to it as nkulumbimbi or built by angels overnight.

“Charm, huh? Angels? Right up our alley.”

Jack and Calvin have been together for almost six years, living in Montreal, until Jack’s uncle and father were murdered at the hands of his mother. Jack’s uncle left him a fortune, along with his brownstone in New York City. Since discovering the temple and dangerous book hidden below the brownstone last year, Jack and Calvin left Montréal and moved into the brownstone to keep the secret safe. Thanks to the financial freedom the inheritance brought, they decided to start a quest, to seek out other potentially harmful artifacts. Gaining Intel on the mysterious items had proven to be their biggest challenge. They were on their first mission, going off a tip Moe, Jack’s friend and computer genius, hacked from the United States government database.

“Are you sure no one’s been out here looking for it already?” Calvin asked as they walked down the grassy path leading up to the church.

“Moe said the Intel is fresh. Plus, it’s low priority because the government doesn’t actually believe in magical artifacts.”

“Tell that to Fox and Scully. If the government didn’t believe, why keep the Intel?”

“You’ve got a point. Which is why we’re here,” Jack said with a smile.

Suddenly, a cool wind blew down through the missing roof of the cathedral and out the archway leading inside. The sharp, pungent smell of ozone bit their nostrils as it wafted over their faces. Jack and Calvin exchanged a glance.

“The pilot said we were lucky,” Jack said, swallowing hard, “because we flew in at the tail-end of Angola’s rainy season.”

“It’s not rain I’m worried about,” Calvin said, peeking into the church.

“It’s just the wind, come on. Let’s look inside,” Jack said, visually taking in the church. “Looks so small—to have been a cathedral.”

“Don’t forget…this structure’s almost five hundred years old. I’m sure it was pretty advanced for Angola at the time.”

Jack and Calvin stepped into the foundation, and the moss-dotted stonewalls of the cathedral instantly muffled the subtle night sounds of M’banza-Kongo. The inside of the cathedral was unremarkable with nothing left inside but some sort of tall, white wooden structure positioned in the center of the back wall. It resembled three planks of stadium seating, raised up on a small platform of stone and mortar.

It was recently built, likely to accommodate candles and flowers for when special Kongo traditions or occasions arose. The interior walls were merely a mirror of the outside stone and mortar structure, no interior facade. The floor was just heavily packed dirt from centuries of worshipping-feet.

Jack pulled an iPad Mini from his bag and opened up the Intel email he downloaded from Moe on the plan. He quickly scanned the data once again, rereading the highlighted lines and notes he’d made to the documentation on the plane when he’d briefed himself.

“According to the government files, there should be a clue, here—in this church, to where the necklace was hidden.”

“A clue?” Calvin asked. “Not the necklace or what the clue is?”

“No,” shaking his head, he said. “It just says a clue was left here. The rest is background info. Didn’t you read the Intel I forwarded you?”

Calvin looked the other way, whistling to himself. He’d slept for most of the flight to Angola. He could sleep anywhere, anytime–any circumstance.

Jack rolled his eyes and went back to the iPad Mini. “Legend has it that Nzinga Mbemba, better known as King Afonso I, after his baptism and conversion to Christianity when the Portuguese arrived around 1491, had his mother buried alive,” he swallowed hard and continued, “because she refused to remove the necklace. King Afonso said that worshiping false idols angered the one true God and would bring damnation to the Kongo.”

“Whoa… I thought my relationship with my mother was strained.”

“Yeah,” Jack said, stroking his goatee, feeling the tension in the braid. “Nobody beats mine.”

Calvin nodded, looking away. “Wait a minute, hold up…are you saying the necklace is buried in a grave somewhere, here?” He shuddered. “Because we didn’t bring shovels and I’m not ready to meet Zom-bo Mom-Bo of the Kon-go.”

Jack read from the iPad Mini. “It says here that King Afonso dug up her grave and retrieved the necklace because he said…great care should be taken in hiding something so powerful and evil.” He skimmed through the file. “Right––here it is…the rumor is that King Afonso left a clue in the church because of a vision he had in a dream. In the vision, he saw himself winning a battle against his half-brother, Mpanzu a Kitima, even though Kitima’s army far outnumbered Afonso’s.

It’s alleged that he used the necklace to win the battle.”

“What a loving family member…he buries dear ole Moms alive for not taking her idol off, then digs her up to win a battle against his brother, half—no less. And the kids at McGill think they have a rough life.”

Color washed over Jack’s face in the darkness of the Kongo night as he flipped through more pages on the device. “…He wielded the necklace like a torch and a bright light erupted high, in the sky. And from this light appeared Saint James and five heavenly-armed horsemen, looming over Kitima’s army. Kitima and his men were so frightened by the divine omen that they instantly fled the battlefield… Saint James…Saint James? Hold on, I remember reading something else about him.” Jack scrolled further down. “Okay, here it is…The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints teaches its disciples that Saint James was resurrected, along with two other apostles, Peter, and John. Together with Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith, they restored priesthood authority with apostolic succession unto the earth.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“I haven’t a clue,” Jack said, pulling at the braided goatee.

“Wait… Did you say they were resurrected? I thought Jesus was the only one that was resurrected?”

Jack rolled his eyes, again. “You know how much I know about religion, but—”

“Ah, yeah. As much as my students know how to speak Swahili,” Calvin said, cutting him off.

“Very funny, but I can tell you with some certainty that Jesus wasn’t the only person resurrected.”

“Really?” Calvin said, genuinely surprised.

“Whaaa? You mean to tell me you never heard of all the miracles Jesus performed?”

“Sure, something about loaves and fishes being multiplied—oh—and something about water into wine? I’ve heard about him.”

Jack shook his head. “How has a highly regarded, tenured English Professor at a prominent university like McGill never heard about Jesus traveling the land, healing and raising people from the dead?”

“Judge not, lest thee be judged! Or something to that effect,” Calvin said with a shrug.

“Resurrection… Do you think this artifact could have something to do with resurrection? I guess in the wrong hands something like that could be considered dangerous.”

“I’d say the coincidence is too sharp to overlook.”

Suddenly, a loud cracking sound pierced the quiet night melody of M’banza-Kongo. Both men whipped their heads in the direction of the doorway, then back to each other. Jack quickly stuffed the iPad Mini back into his bag and nodded slightly to the right. Then they both quietly tiptoed towards the opposite walls; Calvin on the right, Jack on the left.

Slowly and as quietly as possible, they each crept towards the archway entrance, keeping pace with each other, until they were standing on each side of the doorway. Calvin held up a hand, motioning Jack to stay put as he inched his head around, far enough to sneak a peek. Nothing.

Jack went to step outside the church, and Calvin laid a hand on his chest, shaking his head. Even though they knew trouble was a good possibility on this mission, neither of them had the good sense to bring any weapons. Regardless, Calvin wasn’t about to let Jack get hurt.

He dug into his pocket and retrieved a small flashlight, but didn’t turn it on so as not to illuminate their whereabouts any further. “Stay here while I have a look around,” he whispered. “It’s probably nothing but a gecko or whatever else creeps around the Kongo.”

Jack watched Calvin disappear into the night, around the corner of the church before he had a chance to protest. A few agonizing minutes passed by before he thought about going out to find him but quickly dashed that thought because he knew it wasn’t a good idea. Calvin would be furious, and he didn’t want to risk running into him without him knowing who it was.

He couldn’t tolerate the worried-waiting and he couldn’t go look for Calvin. He glanced at his watch. Five, minutes. Five, long, agonizing minutes Calvin has been gone. Cocking his ear towards the doorway he closed his eyes, held his breath and listened, nothing but the quiet sounds of the Kongo.

When he opened his eyes a dark figure was standing just outside the doorway and he opened his mouth to yell when a hand reached out and clamped his mouth shut.

“Sssshh…it’s just me,” whispered Calvin, stepping back inside. When he felt the tension release from Jack’s body, he removed his hand.

Jack backed up and took a deep breath. Slowly exhaling, he said, “I nearly shit my pants! A little warning next time, aye?”

“Sorry, I saw your eyes closed and didn’t want to startle you. What the hell were you doing, anyway? Taking a nap?”

“No…I was worried about you. I was trying to listen for sounds.”

“I don’t know if you know this, but it works better if you use your ears,” Calvin said with a straight face.

“I know that—haven’t you ever heard that if shut off one of your senses that the others get sharper?”

Calvin’s face remained blank and unblinking.

“Like when a person goes blind and—awww, forget it!” Jack said, poking him in the gut. “Sometimes I wonder about you. If it weren’t for that handsome smile, and those dreamy eyes that day in the basilica… Well?”

“Well—well what? Wells are usually full of water.”

“I’m being serious,” Jack said. “Well…what did you find outside?”

“Oh! Nothing.”

Jack shook his head.

“I did see where some rocks may have fallen off part of the ruins, but it’s hard to say. I circled around the church twice, and I didn’t see anyone or…”

“Or what?”

“Or anything. Maybe it was just the wind. Let’s just see if we can find the clue and get the Hades outta here.”

“Agreed,” Jack said, fishing the iPad Mini back out from his bag. “Okay, let’s think about this. I guess we should’ve done that beforehand.” He gave him a knowing look.

“Spilled milk and all,” Calvin said with a smile.

“Right. Okay, think. We’re looking for a clue in a church—“

“Ah, technically a cathedral.”

Jack looked up from the iPad Mini. “I thought you didn’t read the Intel?”

“Whaaa…I never said I didn’t read it—just not all of it. Almost fifty years after it was built,” Calvin said, looking around, “it was elevated from a church––to the status of cathedral.”

Jack rolled his eyes, again. “You slept for most of the flight. I don’t recall you reading anything. I don’t recall you doing anything but sleeping, oh, and going to the bathroom on the plane.”

“I like to read on the john.”

“Wow. Alright, enough playing around.”

“Who’s playing,” he asked, surprised.

“Let’s think. What do we know so far?”

“King Afonso buried his mother alive with the artifact. Later, he dug ‘er up and used the artifact against his brother in war. He held the artifact in the air and the resurrected Saint James and friends appear in the sky and chase off the King’s brother, winning him the war. Seeing something like that would be very impactful—something you’d never forget. Let’s start with the friends. Does it mention who the five horsemen were?”

Calvin—always a bit of a prankster, but he was always on his game when it counted.

“No, but I’ll bet the farm that it was the two apostles, Peter and John and probably,” Jack scrolled down on the iPad Mini, “Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith.”

“I know my tenure is for English, but two and two only add up to four, Babe.”

Jack grabbed his goatee. “I’m just trying to think it through—looking for a connection.”

“Do we know who Cowdery and Smith were in history?” Calvin asked, nodding at the iPad Mini.

“Well, there’s no internet connection and unfortunately, the Iridium 9575

Extreme Satellite Phones I ordered for us didn’t come in before we left…we are so unprepared. But if I know Moe, he’s pretty thorough.” Jack found the information.

“Sure enough,” he said, nodding. “Moe, you are the best! There is a downloaded link attached to each name.”

Jack scanned the information while Calvin took another peek out the doorway, making sure no one was listening in. When he came back, Jack was finished reviewing the files on both men.

“Oliver Cowdery was associated with Joseph Smith and the development of the Latter Day Saint Movement in the 1800s. Joseph Smith––get this––was known for finding and translating the golden plates.”

“Golden plates? Like dinnerware at Macy’s, plates?”

“No—like actual gold plates that were etched with words like pages of a book––a book, Cal!” Jack said, barely able to contain his excitement. “It says Joseph Smith claims that in a vision, an angel named Moroni led him to the place where the plates were buried underground, in a stone box, not far from his home.”

“You’re talkin’ about the book hidden in the temple, under the brownstone—like this is another copy or something. Does it say what the book is about?” Calvin asked.

Jack read a little more to himself out loud, then said, “I knew I’d heard this story before. It’s the Book of Mormon.”

“Um, I guess you’re not referring to the show on Broadway.”

“Joseph Smith supposedly found these golden plates, like pages of a book, this angel—Moroni—led him to and gave him something to translate the plates with because it was written in what he called reformed Egyptian. The plates were the source for the Book of Mormon. It’s like their bible and it even says witnesses attest to seeing the golden plates bound together with wire in the form of a book. The original first hundred and sixteen pages were lost before being translated, but—”

He looked down and read, “The pivotal event of the Book of Mormon is an appearance of Jesus Christ in the Americas shortly after his resurrection.”

“Okay, I follow the whole resurrection angle…but getting back to King Afonso, because he’s the one that left the clue. He saw that vision back in the fifteenth century, hundreds of years before the lifetime of both Cowdery and Smith. A vision, from the future?

“Why not? Isn’t that what prophets do? Predict the future from visions? History is loaded with them. And remember, it wasn’t a vision in his head. He supposedly used this artifact to produce that image,” Jack said.

“Assuming you’re correct and King Afonso summoned Saint James and the other apostles, Peter and John, along with Cowdery and Smith…Who was the fifth horseman?”

“Good question, but there aren’t any more hidden links from Moe.”

“And I wonder what’s up with the lost hundred and sixteen golden pages? What could be the significance of  that?”

“I don’t know,” he said, pulling his goatee. “You got a good point. Maybe it was to add credibility. Like how we’re wondering about it now and what the significance would be other than to make it seem like the truth.”

“Or, maybe it is the truth. Well, I think we’ve talked enough about it. Let’s see if we can find any clue that’s relevant to what we discussed,” Calvin said, pulling the small flashlight back out from his pocket and switching it on.

The incandescent light of the small flashlight filled the small cathedral and illuminated the moss-spotted stonewalls. Shadows danced about the uneven stones, bringing eerie life to the room.

“I think I liked it better with the lights off,” Jack said, producing an identical light from his bag. “Well, one good thing—we don’t have much ground to cover.”

Calvin and Jack scaled the inside of the cathedral-like two squirrels looking for nuts; testing stones for the slightest give and searching for patterns in everything.

They moved the white, wooden structure and more of the same: nothing.

“Time to move the search outside,” Calvin said.

“Do you think it’ll be okay with these lights?”

“Unfortunately, I don’t see any other way around it. When they were passing out superhero powers I should’ve grabbed see-in-the-dark instead.”

Jack waited for an elaboration, his eyes narrowing. When none came he said, “Okay, I’ll bite. What superpower did you take?”

“Studliness..” He said, grinning from cheek to cheek.

Jack poked him in the gut. “Come on, let’s make this quick.”

The two of them searched the ruins around the church, covering their flashlights with their hands in order to minimize being seen from afar. They repeated the process of pushing on stones and searching for clues or patterns on the outside of the structure, just like on the inside. When they were finished scouring every possible place for a clue to be hidden they met back at the entrance to the cathedral.

“I’ve searched everywhere,” Jack said, pulling on his goatee. “What are we missing? Maybe someone took the clue?”

“King Afonso was smart enough to be the King for over forty years, I don’t think he’d leave a clue that could be removed so easily. Let’s put on our thinking caps,”

Calvin said, pretending to tie cap-strings below his chin. “So far, what’s the common denominator?”

“Resurrection…has to be. He buried his mother alive and dug her up to get the artifact back. That’s sorta a resurrection. Then we have all the resurrected saints and the two men known for the golden plates—which were buried and dug up. Are we gonna have to find shovels here,” he said, looking around. “Because I didn’t research Home Depots in Angola.”

“Maybe not,” Calvin said, stroking his chin through the thick beard. He moved passed Jack and knelt before the square, moss-covered structure littered with dead flowers that sat on the ground outside the entrance.

“Praying for a clue?” Jack teased.

Calvin leaned further down until he was eye-level with the structure like he was examining it with a fine-toothed comb. “Hand me your uncle’s—ah, sorry, I mean your father’s old pocketknife, would ya?”

Jack fished the knife from his pocket, snapped it open and handed it over to Calvin. He took the pocketknife and started horizontally cutting into the moss about a couple inches down from the top. Shuffling his way around the square structure on his knees, he kept cutting into the thick moss until he was back to the point at which he’d started. Wiping the dirt off in a particularly thick piece of moss, he handed the knife back to Jack and stood up.

“Gardening?”

Calvin gave Jack that brilliant smile and said, “More like weeding. Whatever this little square piece of cement was meant for, I’m betting it was important to the church because it was placed right outside the door. As you can see, the locals today still find it important,” he said, brushing the dead flowers off the structure with the back of his arm. With the fingers of both hands, Calvin grasped the corner edge of the structure and heaved.

At first, the structure didn’t budge, but when Jack realized what Calvin was doing he jumped in and grabbed a corner. “On the count of three…one…two…three!”

With the added strength the mossy lid began to rise from the structure. Clingy roots stuck to the underside as Jack and Calvin lifted the lid off like a manhole cover and gently laid it aside.

Calvin retrieved his flashlight and aimed it down into the structure. Cobwebs and ancient dust littered the hole but they could clearly see that beneath the concrete structure a stone well of sorts that led down into the ground. The flashlight wasn’t strong enough to penetrate all the way to the bottom.

“Hey look, over there,” Jack said, guiding Calvin’s hand. Light instantly cascaded down the rocky wall of the structure and illuminated two columns of staggered holes running down into the darkness. “You think those were meant to be a ladder?”

Calvin reached inside the nearest hole, testing its depth. “Well, there’s only one way to find out.” Calvin lifted his leg, planted it into the nearest hole and tested its strength with a few firm stomps.

“Wait,” Jack said, grabbing Calvin’s shoulder. “Do you think it’s safe?”

“No. Did you bring a rope in that fashionable bag of yours?”

“No.”

Calvin continued climbing down into the hole, and Jack said, “Wait!”

“Did you find rope?”

“No, but maybe it’s too dangerous. We don’t know how far down it goes—”

“And we won’t––unless we climb down and find out,” he said, placing his other foot in another hole. “It feels pretty strong. I think it’ll be fine. Are you staying up here?”

Jack could’ve kicked himself for not being more prepared. There should’ve been a list of basics they brought with them like rope, sat-phones, water, etc. He didn’t want Calvin going down into that hole alone, but he also didn’t want both of them to be stuck down there with no one to get help. They were in a foreign country, on their own except for the commissioned pilot, waiting back on the plane and no one in the states knew they were here, except for Moe. And that wasn’t saying much.

Jack shook his head and said, “No, I’m coming with you.”

“Okay, be careful. Whoever built this was smart enough to leave a stone missing from behind the front ones,” he said, reaching into one of the holes.

“Makes it perfect to hold on to. If you feel yourself slipping, just do this.” Calvin let go of the stone-rungs and pushed his back completely against the wall with his hands splayed against the sides, like a chimney sweeper shimmying his way down a chimney.

“When did you take up rock climbing?” Jack asked.

“Too much reality TV, I guess,” he said, putting the flashlight in his mouth and continuing the climb down into the structure.

“Well, let’s hope it paid off.”

Jack carefully climbed into the square hole and disappeared from sight. A few moments later, a dark figure emerged from among the shadows of the ruins and silently rushed to the opening in the earth. Once the glow of Jack and Calvin’s flashlights slowly receded into the darkness of the structure, the figure climbed into the hole and disappeared as well.

Find out more about author, Dean Kutzler:

https://www.deankutzler.com

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