A Last Request - Prologue; the Search for the Shroud of Turin

A Last Request – Prologue
By Katherine Burlake

1945: Gracanica, a Serbian village

A Last Request - PrologueThe train was late.

Benton Prowers hoped that wasn’t an omen. He and his partner, Brother Veilkov, needed every minute to locate the Shroud of Turin and get it off the train without being detected. It must stop, he told himself, because it needs water and coal to travel through the rugged Serbian mountains to the Albanian port.

The two men turned their heads, hearing a crunch on the snow. Someone walked toward them on the path. The two men relaxed, seeing the monk’s cousin, the yardman who serviced the trains. All three heard a rumble and felt a vibration through the frozen ground. The train slowly emerged from the darkness, billowing steam, and carrying a fortune in art and jewelry.

The Nazi guards watched from the stone bridge above the tracks as Veilkov’s cousin slowly walked onto the tracks to begin refueling, trying to delay the departure without the guards getting impatient. As the engine hissed steam, Benton and Brother Veilkov slipped out from behind the stack of coal and headed for the last rail car to find a small box with the letter M on it. For that information, they owed thanks to the local partisan, who loaded the train’s cargo of artwork. Otherwise, they’d never find it in the short time the train was stopped.

There were no guards on the train, which did not surprise Benton. Its appearance – looking like the local mail run – served as the train’s security.

Opening the door to the rail car, they found themselves looking at rows of crates stacked neatly on top of each other. It’s impossible, thought Benton, as he and Brother Veilkov hurried through the car, looking for the letter M imprinted on a crate. To their surprise, it was in front of them. Veilkov’s knife levered off the top. Inside was a small plastic packet.

Then they heard the hiss of steam and felt the train jerk forward. Veilkov stuffed the packet in his knapsack, and the two men headed for the back of the car. As the train cleared the water tank, they jumped off.

The guards on the bridge above the tracks saw them and shouted, “Halt!”

Using the local dialect, Veilkov shouted back, “We pick up the mail.”

The halt order was repeated. Lying on the gravel next to the tracks, they weren’t sure the guards could see them in the semi-darkness. Benton weighed their options to take out the guards.

The train was under the bridge when they heard a pop, the noise barely audible above the engine. The two men, experts in building bombs, knew the sound and dived behind a coal stack. A moment later, the train was under the bridge and exploded in the air. Pieces of debris flew in every direction. The guards on the bridge had no place to hide.

When the clatter of debris stopped, Benton and Veilkov hurried up the trail in the snow, the only two men in the world who knew the first icon, known as the Shroud of Turin, had not been destroyed.

1946: Gracanica Monastery

In the monastery’s private alcove, monks prayed day and night to the icon Christ in Glory. Veilkov prayed beside them, the Shroud of Turin concealed under his robe, remembering the train crash as if it was yesterday. He could still smell the fire and through the dust, see fragments of paintings and jewelry. Patiently, he waited, knowing his timing must be perfect.

One evening he was finally alone. Climbing up the four steps to the icons on the wall, he quickly hooked the packet containing the Shroud on the wire behind the icon Christ in Glory.

Kneeling to pray, in the icon he could see – with an insight few can claim – his own death.


If you have not already read book one of the Amy Prowers series, The Bystander, a preview of the Prologue, Chapter 1: The Key, and Chapter 2: The Gracanica Monastery is contained in the back of the book. It can be purchased on Amazon.

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