Shrouded In Silence - By Robert L. Wise

San Giovanni in Laterano Church does exit in Rome's Piazza de San Govanni in Laterano with a baptistery adjacent to the basilica. One can find the Scala Santa, the holy staircase, in the church. In addition, Santa Maria della Concezione sits sedately at Via Vittorio Veneto 27. However, liberties have been taken with the structure of both churches to facilitate the story. Special thanks to Stephano Pace, Rome's finest guide, for leading me through the backside of the amazing sights in Rome.

The theme of this story reflects months of work in deciphering the original Koine Greek collection of New Testament Gospels and Epistles in addressing the problem posed by the missing correct ending to Mark. Multitudes of books and articles were consulted in researching this project. However, the names, characters, and incidents are purely the product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons—living or dead—businesses, or companies is entirely coincidental. Shrouded in Silence is a work of fiction composed for the reader's enjoyment.

Heartfelt thanks to Barbara Scott and Ramona Richards as well as the publishing team of Abingdon Press for their gracious help in editing the final manuscript. As always, my friend and agent, Greg Johnson, remains the essence of professionalism and the motivation to go the second mile. Thanks Greg.


A.D. 68

Fog hung in the air, making the blackness of night difficult to penetrate. Still, the irregular outline of the Seven Hills of Rome stood silhouetted against the opaque sky and remained barely visible. The cold dampness made Plautius Laterani shiver, but he worried more about fulfilling his assignment. Plautius trotted briskly down the stone stairs from the legislative assembly and walked toward the soldiers standing at attention by their horses. It would not be a good night for any of them. His friend Scipio Livius's hand rested nervously on his sword as he swiftly walked beside Plautius.

"You've heard the bizarre accounts murmured among senators gathering on the Palatine and Esquiline hills?" Scipio Livius asked. "Along Via Sacra, soldiers tell stories, claiming that the Christianios have a remarkable ability to pray for the sick and break the spells demons cast on people. These strange stories of eating flesh and drinking blood circulate among the Praetorians. You know about these tales?"

Plautius nodded. "I don't spread rumors. The legislators handle that nonsense. I leave it to them."

But Plautius knew all about the Christianios who kept their meetings secret while openly sharing their conviction that the Christ had been resurrected from the dead. Plebs chattered that this strange sect believed there was only one god, but of course, such ideas were preposterous. The assembly had just told him the Christianios were compiling a scroll with the full story of this Christ and his teachings and had given Plautius the task of finding the document—not an easy job.

Scipio Livius gripped his sword. "Makes me nervous to hear a new cult has sprung up in Rome. We grow these fanatics like weeds."

Taking all the chitchat with a grain of salt, Plautius still listened with interest. The Laterani family had lost two sons during military incursions in Gaul, and Plautius's mother continued to grieve profoundly over the loss of her children. The reports that Christianios did not fear death and believed they would live beyond this world intrigued him.

"We must ride fast to capitalize on the element of surprise," Plautius told his friend. "No one must lag behind."

"I'll keep the men moving," Scipio said.

The two soldiers marched directly to their horses and mounted. Without uttering a word, Plautius kicked his horse and headed for the gate. The Praetorian guard followed.

"Hurry!" Plautius called to the soldiers riding behind him. "We must attack before anyone discovers we are coming."

The Praetorians raced beyond the Republican Forum, across the Lapis Niger—the black marble pavement—while the moonlight glistened on their metal breastplates and plume-spiked helmets. A surge of cold night air filled his nose with the scent of Rome, and he shivered again.

"Faster!" Plautius shouted. "Stay up with me!"

The twenty-five men riding behind him crowded together and maintained close formation. Their destination lay at the edge of the city where the Circus of Caligula and Nero, the latest national racetrack, stood on the Ager Vaticanus. Spies said the arena had become one of the places where believers hid. It was rumored that one of their leaders called Petros, the Rock, might be there. His assistant John Mark was reported to be in the area writing a mysterious book.

Two days earlier, the emperor had dispatched the army to halt the burning