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Rated: 18+ · Draft · Sci-fi · #871520
A discovery in Judea serves as the impetus for mankind colonizing the Red Planet.
Prelude

"Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."
Napoleon Bonaparte


West Bank, East of Hebron - 1947

Roscoe Hillenkoetter hated sand. He hated the way it wound up in his mouth between his teeth. And he hated the Judean desert because even amidst such rugged, mountainous terrain all he saw was sand. It was an alien world painted with a palette of varying hues of brown and comprised of dry heat, violent winds, and sand whipped into storms that blocked the sun. It was as close to hell as he'd ever been in a very long military career.

His host, the sheik Mohammad edh-Dhib, a rotund man with a very neat, very thin beard, sat across a squat table from him. As Mohammad spoke, Roscoe found his thoughts drifting back across the Atlantic. It wasn't that the sheik was a boring man. Far from it. The trouble was that once you heard one Bedouin joke you'd heard them all. Tales of camels and concubines were fast wearing thin. On top of that, it didn't escape Roscoe's notice that the only thing separating him from the desert at this moment was the ornate rug they sat on and the lavish Bedouin tent that surrounded them.

Pillows were strewn about in the corners and around the table and tasseled ropes hung from the roof in a bizarre arrangement. A scattering of lamps of several odd orientations flickered their orange and blue and green light into an interesting play of color and shadow. On the table between them sat a long-spouted coffee pot next to a mortar, its inner bowl stained by the powder of crushed beans.

Their dialogue was interrupted by the entrance of a young Arab man. The subdued light of the moon behind him haloed his narrow physique. As he came into the lamplight, Roscoe noticed his dark, deep-set eyes. He carried himself in a way that screamed of mystery and deceit, though maintaining a glinting aura of servility.

"Is it done?" asked Mohammad.

The son bowed and said, "Yes, father."

"Kando gave you the gold, all of it?" pressed Mohammad. He gripped an amulet dangling from a gold chain around his neck as he spoke. The amulet was covered by a silk bag and tied at the top. The gesture was emphatic and didn't go unnoticed by Roscoe, who sensed the tension between the two.

"Yes, father," he answered, his eyes narrowing to slits. "The payment is strapped to the caravan just outside if you'd like to see for yourself." The son eyed his father in a manner that bled uneasiness. The room was thick with it.

"That won't be necessary," said Mohammad, returning his son's gaze. "You have done well. I will speak with you later."

The young man paused before lowering his head in a respectful bow and exiting the tent.

Curiosity gripped Roscoe as he wondered what was behind the exchange, what dark corners of their history had just bubbled to the surface in his presence. He recalled having those kinds of days with his own father; only his were in Massachusetts and his family was dirt poor. This kid was rich. Roscoe finally settled on the realization that even with the possession of wealth, fathers and sons would always have that unspoken thing between them, that edge of familial competitiveness. Which one would win the pissing contest before him, however, was still up for debate.

Feeling it better to break the silence, Roscoe said, "Seems like a good boy."

Mohammad turned to his guest. "Oh, he is. A proud young man with much to learn about the world." He sipped his cup of cardamom-spiced coffee and asked, "Do you have children?"

Roscoe shook his head, "Not yet, and thank God."

"But they are a gift of God," said Mohammad. He grabbed a small stone of goat cheese from his plate and sucked it. "You are married?"

"Happily, yes."

"To one woman?"

"One's all I can handle, I'm afraid."

"Pity. To the West, one wife is a prize, two are a shame. Not so in my culture, and my culture is much older than yours. Did you know that I have twenty-seven wives? All of them loved, all of the cared for. Yet you admit you lack the ability to control even one. Why do you suppose that is?"

"I suppose you're right about our cultural differences. Where I come from, control over a woman is impossible. The best we can hope for is to fool them well enough for them to stick around."

Mohammad smiled condescendingly, and said, "You leave too much power in the hands of women. That is your downfall." He sucked again on the cheese stone and bit off a chunk. Speaking while chewing, he said, "Shahin is the name of the antiquities dealer, one of my best clients. He is known as Kando. You should meet with him. He's quite the lover of Western culture, with a particular fondness for American women."

"What's not to love?" said Roscoe. It wasn't a question. Several weeks earlier, he had met with Kando personally to make the arrangements for purchasing the scrolls, a fact he kept from Mohammad. Some things are just best left unsaid, he thought.

"You realize that when word of this gets out, the eyes of all the world will be on Qumran," said Mohammad. "Knowledge of the artifacts will make the region strong again. And to face the West's interventions--your West--we need strength."

Roscoe thought about Mohammad's words and the passion behind them. He saw within him a man both in love with the very core of his people and afraid of their heading. Mohammad was right about the value of the find, but the American wanted to test the depth of his understanding. "Cairo Genizah failed to make you strong. Why will these be any different?"

Mohammad shot him a surprised glance, then lowered his eyes. "You speak of the Damascus Documents. Much has changed in the last fifty years, my friend. At Fustat," he said, raising a finger, "the West was our master and they took what was theirs. We no longer live in that world. The Arab Legion is finally a force to be reckoned with."

"I've heard much about your Legion, as have many Israeli leaders."

"Your nation's support of Israel does much damage to your reputation in the region. Israel has many enemies."

Roscoe decided to change conversational gears, and said, "Then I'm proud to see that two adult men can remain civil even when our nations cannot."

Mohammad raised his cup of coffee in a gesture of acquiescence.

"What if I were to tell you that it was no accident your boy stumbled onto that cave?" asked Roscoe.

The question surprised Mohammad. He knew the West's strength and desire to retain it. He also knew their proficiency at structuring world events to work in their favor. "I would ask how it is you know this."

Roscoe framed his answer carefully. "Because my people were behind it. In fact, Cairo was instrumental in locating the cave."

"Schechter?" asked Mohammad. "Solomon Schechter? It is the drink talking, my friend."

"I can prove it."

"I'm listening."

"There are more caves, many more. And they will be found."

Mohammad tried to recall his knowledge of Cairo, but very little came to him. "How many documents did Schechter find?"

"A few more than the press got hold of."

"So the Cambridge collection is incomplete?"

"Putting it mildly, yes."

"And you know of these additional documents personally? You've seen them?" asked Mohammad.

"Yes."

"Then if what you say is true, you could tell me of their contents."

"Let's just say that what Schechter stumbled onto in Cairo was closer to a map than a book."

"A map of what?" questioned Mohammad.

Roscoe downed a mouthful of coffee, and sat his bowl on the table. "That's damn good coffee. I'll have to take some home for my wife."

Mohammad nodded and smiled at the American's reluctance to say more. "I am guessing Kando is no stranger to you?"

"We met a little over a month ago. Nice chap."

"And my son? He is working for you as well?"

"Your son was chasing a goat. A goat that was trained to lead him right to the cave. He has no knowledge of us or our agenda, and we'd like to keep it that way."

The picture of what he was being told gradually came into focus. Mohammad leaned toward Roscoe, and said, "You plan to rewrite history."

"History has already been rewritten. What we've uncovered in the desert will put the events of history back in order."

"There will be war," said Mohammad.

"There is always war, my friend. War can be useful if the timing is right."

"Then why not let the world in on what you've found? Why not let the world examine the documents and determine its own path?"

"Because the world's not ready yet," said Roscoe in a slow, deliberate tone. The two of them shared a moment of silence, before he continued, "Now, I trust our arrangement for the balance of the scrolls remains satisfactory?"

"Quite. The House of Mohammad edh-Dhib will blossom because of it. A gift truly of Allah. Something puzzles me, however."

"Oh."

"Why the bother over leading my boy to the caves? Why not simply take them for yourselves?"

"Misdirection, my friend. We need the world to be looking at something it will take pride in. A great archaeological find was the model answer, where everyone wins. There's nothing to be gained by controversy over some American mystery dig. You've heard of 'smoke and mirrors'?"

"I don't believe so."

"It is what we excel at. You may be right about our leaving too much power in the hands of women. But if there is anything American culture fears more than powerful women, it is the weight of public opinion."

"And you need this 'public opinion' to work for you?"

"That's the kicker. You see, it doesn't matter if it works for you, it just can't work against you."

"You Americans," said Mohammad, grinning widely. "I have much respect for your skill of deception." Then, raising his cup, he said, "A toast. To smoke and mirrors."

Roscoe toasted, finished his coffee, and quickly gulped down the rest of his camel's milk.

Mohammad snapped his fingers, and in walked a beautiful woman. She was young and curvaceous, and moved with grace. She wore a striped robe, belted at the waist with a silk rope running from her shoulder across her chest and down to her hip. Large-hooped earrings of gold clung to her lobes and swayed widely with her movements. The top of her head was covered by a red silk wrap and her left breast was bare and hung in a youthful arc. Mohammad watched the American as she cleaned off the table before them.

"Stunning, isn't she?" he asked.

"Quite."

"One of my concubines. Nadia," said Mohammad. "I would lend her to you for the night."

Nadia caught the American's eye and smiled while she continued cleaning off the table.

"A bit bold for your culture," said the American with a grin.

"A bit. I am what you would call an Arab interested in expanding his personal horizons."

Roscoe took another look at Nadia. She was stunning even by Bedouin standards, but it wasn't what he was here for. "Thank you, but I really must getting along."

"Bedouin women can be quite engaging," pressed Mohammad, enjoying the American's discomfort.

"I'm sure you're right. Maybe next time."

Mohammad laughed heartily. "Christian morality. Very well. Go in peace my friend, and may Allah ensure a safe journey back to your wife."

Roscoe stood up, bowed toward both of them, and promptly excused himself.

Sheik Mohammad sipped his coffee and uttered an Arabic phrase under his breath, again gripping the dangling amulet. He patted the woman on her backside, and watched her disappear into the adjacent section of the tent. It was the area the women gathered to do their work of gossiping.

Suddenly, a burst of wind blew through the tent and the smell of coffee and sand gave way to the smell of dirt, moist from the products of bacterial life. It was rich and heavy. He felt a cool sensation slither across his skin that spread and wandered up his back and presented itself as the slender Eastern Four-lined rat snake. It coiled around his left arm and stared in the direction he was staring.

"You did well, my son," he said, a cold look of evil molding his features. "Smoke and mirrors, indeed."



Four days later, Roscoe stepped off the private plane onto an isolated stretch of runway at the Washington National Airport. A sticky blast of late-August heat was there to welcome him home. He took in a deep drag of the moist air and reveled in its smell, its feel. And there wasn't a single grain of sand in sight. He was glad to be back. Three limousines were idling in front of him, lined up one behind the other. The door of the middle limo swung open, seemingly by itself, and Roscoe entered its air-conditioned lair.

There to greet him was John Roy Steelman, the Assistant to the President. Steelman was the kind of guy that left a mark every time he shook someone's hand. Roscoe braced himself and absorbed the crunching of his metacarpals with a slight wince. Steelman offered him a drink, which was eagerly accepted. He then pressed a button on his armrest and said, "We're in." At that the three limousines took off into the night.

"Tell me," said John. "How was the West Bank?"

"Dry," said Roscoe, sipping his cognac. "And without such good drink."

"Did you do the goat cheese?"

"It was offered. I passed."

John chuckled. "How those damn sand niggers can stand that place is beyond me. Endless miles of sand and shit. I'd as soon be posted at the South Pole."

Roscoe nodded.

"The drop went as expected, then?" asked John.

"Yes. The sheik is ours, for now."

"Listen, I know things have progressed rather quickly these last few months. But there's still so much left to do, and we need men like you to see to it that they're done. How are you holding up?"

"Fine."

His brief answer concerned John. "Just fine?"

"I'm in it for the long haul, boss. It's what I signed up for."

"There's going to be a heavy price to pay, keeping this thing under wraps. It won't be easy. I'm talking considerable loss of life, you understand that?"

Roscoe turned to face his superior. "From what I've seen, the rewards will be well worth any sacrifice on our part."

"How well do you think you can juggle this and Korea?"

"I'll manage."

Good," said John, and he relaxed a bit. He pulled a folded piece of paper from his suit pocket and handed it to the American. "Read this."

Roscoe unfolded the paper and saw that it bore the official presidential seal, along with Harry Truman's signature. It read: "Top Secret Eyes Only. The White House - Washington. September 24, 1947. Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense. Dear Secretary Forrestal, As per our recent conversation on this matter, you are hereby authorized to proceed with all due speed and caution upon your undertaking. Hereafter this matter shall be referred to only as Operation Majestic Twelve."

John Steelman waited for him to respond.

"I see," said Roscoe, visibly putting the pieces of recent high-level meetings together. Before it had always been talk. Always talk. Nothing ever got done. Now that the tables were turned and he had in his hands an actual agenda, he suddenly felt the heft of his new role bearing down on his shoulders.

"Majestic Twelve is yours, Roscoe," said John. "As acting DCI this will be your responsibility, along with those commie Korean nutjobs."

"But mine was a recess appointment. What if I'm not confirmed?"

"It's been taken care of. The Senate will make it official before the end of the year. You'll be working with a man by the name of Vannevar Bush, an engineer with a PhD. And that part, trust me, you'll remember. He'll remind you several times a day of his intellectual superiority. He's also MIT, so he's a bit of a headcase."

"Smartass, you mean," said Roscoe. "I've dealt with his kind all my life. It won't be a problem."

"We have several false leaks in place that should go far in convincing the public of Majestic Twelve's primary goal. A panel has decided that UFOs seem to attract the most attention, so we'll go with that and see how it plays out. In addition to the President, you will answer to Dr. Bush and SecDef Forrestal. These three will make sure you have everything you need in order to get the job done." John handed him a briefcase. "This will get you started. Any questions or concerns will be addressed to Forrestal. You are never to contact the President or anyone in his cabinet. Are we clear?"

"Yes."

"The silk bag you'll find in the briefcase," said John, patting its cold metal shell. "Handle it with care."

"I will, sir."



That evening, Roscoe Hillenkoetter became aware of just how important the Dead Sea find was. He checked into an area motel, classy but not extravagant. He didn't want to call any undue attention to his movements. A woman was waiting for him in his room. Chelsea Bates, his covert personal assistant who he made sure to keep off the official logbooks.

She was sitting at a desk, typing. She smiled as he entered, but never broke her rhythm. "Whatcha got there?" she asked.

Roscoe carefully laid the briefcase on top of one of the beds and stood before the mirror. As he loosened his tie, he said, "They gave us the go ahead on Majestic Twelve."

"Finally. It took them long enough."

"It also seems that my Senate confirmation's a done deal," he said, sitting on the bed next to the case. He slipped out of his shoes and placed them neatly beneath the table.

"How do they know?" she asked, still typing.

"D.C. politics would be my guess. Quid pro quo. In any event, our work begins right here," he said, resting his hand on the briefcase.

"Aren't you going to open it?"

Roscoe looked at the case and positioned his fingers over the clasp. He held there for a moment, then gripped the handle instead. He lifted the case and sat it beside his shoes. "I need a shower. You gonna be up for awhile?"

She nodded and continued in her furious rhythm on the typewriter. "Sleep is overrated."

He arched his eyebrows at her comment and disappeared into the restroom. When he emerged in his pajamas, true to her word, Chelsea hadn't missed a beat. He plopped down on his bed, lit a cigarette, and thought about his wife at home. His military career had forced many a lonely night and now as DCI he expected that trend to continue. "You really ought to get some sleep. Tomorrow's going to be a big day for us."

"How's that?"

"Because tomorrow we get a crash course on exactly what's behind Majestic Twelve. And something tells me this briefcase is what it's all about." Those were the last words he remembered before passing into a deep sleep, long-awaited and much appreciated. Opposite his intense hatred for sand, Roscoe Hillenkoetter loved the devil out of soft beds.

He woke from a dream and checked his watch. 3:21am. He was so rested for so few hours in bed. Chelsea was fast asleep, snoring, and the room was dark. His dream was similar to many he'd recently had involving sheep, always moving as a flock in one direction toward the horizon. And then the dream ended. It was oddly disturbing wondering about the meaning behind them. Possibly some Freudian manifestation, he thought.

He rolled to the edge of the bed and sat upright and allowed his aged bones to pop a little to release the strain they bore. He remembered John Steelman's final words in the limo. "Handle the silk bag with care." He reached down and lifted the briefcase onto his lap and unlocked it with a key. As he depressed both clasps inward, the case responded with a click and a series of mechanical sounds akin to spinning gears and clutch adjustments. Not noises generally associated with briefcases.

A glimmer of green caught his eye. It bloomed around the edge of the gaskets into an eerie halo. He furled his brow as he opened it to find the light coming from the silk bag. It glowed translucently and like a lightening bug, pulsing from dim to bright, from deep green to lime to white then back again. He quickly closed it, not wanting to disturb Chelsea, and hurried with it into the bathroom.

With bated breath he opened the lid. Several folders were stacked beneath the glowing silk bag. He slowly rested his fingers on the bag's smooth exterior. It was warm to the touch and radiated the sensation of a mild electrical current. He picked it up and examined it. Purple silk, as pure as he had ever seen, tied at the top with a leather string. Its weight was hard to comprehend; feather light when holding it still, but heavy like dense lead when manipulated. Like the energy of a gyroscope. He squeezed it to get a feel for its shape. Oval and flat, about the size and thickness of a deck of cards.

He shelved his curiosity for the moment and laid the bag aside so that he could examine the numerous folders in the briefcase. In them, the glowing object was consistently referred to as the Amulet. He also thumbed through pages of detailed instructions on its use and the results of years of clinical testing, stretching back to the early 1920s. Eight people had died holding the Amulet, their names bundled in a report entitled "Collateral Casualties of Clinical Trials". The official cause of death in each case was listed as "Subject death due to inappropriate manipulation of Amulet."

Dozens of papers described an assortment of conjurations, from ghuls to incubi, all of them either of the species Jinn or a. One in particular caught his attention, "The Conjuring and Control of Leviathan". It dealt with the user's ability to call upon a dragon that would remain invisible until specific chants made it appear. The beast would subsequently do the bidding of the user. Instructions on proper amulet handling, user posture and attitude, and a series of valid commands were included. Apparent eyewitness testimony placed the beast's size in the range of fourteen to twenty-four feet tall and upwards of twelve tons in weight. It also cited the Biblical reference at Job 41.

Of all the god-awful messes Roscoe'd ever gotten himself mixed up in, he mused. What the hell kind of fairytale had he walked into?

He supported himself against the counter, ancient hands on timeless granite, and stared into the mirror. The man looking back was old and tired and bore little resemblance to the brazen youth he once was. Doubts flowed like a river through his mind as to whether he could complete such a unique project. Would he have the strength? he wondered. Would he have the tenacity?

The man staring back at him offered no comfort, but did manage to smile a little.




Chapter One

"The first lesson of history is the good of evil."
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1860

Discovery - December 1958

The land was parched and barren. Dry. Less than four inches of rain fell annually on the rugged mountain range that peeled off the northwest coast of the Dead Sea in Israel. Regional natives saw rain as a blessing seldom bestowed upon them, but were nonetheless grateful when it came. They were a hearty people, an amalgamate of cultures that gave equal credence to their heritage and their god.

Halfway up one of the peaks, an ibex jumped from a jutting precipice to a flat stone that was ragged and worn, and was decorated only by a patch of brush. The ibex hopped down to the powder-dry dirt of a narrow path and studied the terrain before him. He shook his head and scanned the rock ahead for life, for tufts of grass protruding from fissures. For water. He dashed toward a wall of stone, leaping to gain a foothold above a rusted metal door that was bolted to the rock. Then slowly, methodically, he continued upward until he crested the peak and descended out of sight.

The door stood there, defiant and unwilling to buckle under the strain of the elements. Its metal was scratched and dented, bearing the scars inflicted by time. And time it had seen. It paid silent homage to the classified nature of what lay behind it; the secrets it guarded, the mysteries it concealed. The door served as an entrance that led to a long hallway with a single twist at the end of its run. A bulky set of elevator doors blocked the path from there. Fewer than two dozen people on Earth were aware of it, a mere handful of which realized the power it not only held but threatened to wield. To those key individuals, the small scientific outpost was known as Caleb. It was buried deep within the Judean Wilderness region of the newly-founded Israeli State, at the bottom of a four hundred meter shaft, twelve miles off the northwest shore of the Salt Sea. It was funded and operated by the governments of Israel and the United States.

"Absolutely amazing," said the doctor. He spoke to the military general behind him as he peered through a microscope at an aged potsherd on the slide. It was a fragment with edges once jagged but now smoothed by time, embedded with parts of three rows of cuneiform. A plain patch, sewn into the arm of his jacket, bore the name "Dr. Yigal Yadin", and below it in smaller font, "Jewish Archaeological Society."

"I still find it hard to believe we ever came across them in such a preserved state. Of course, we're used to finding documents using goatskins, papyrus, copper plate as mediums. But clay is such a better warrior against time and the elements." The tone of his voice was naturally quiet but confident.

The shaft that connected the outpost to the surface was consumed by a service elevator that was fast enough to make a round trip in less than a minute. The square room at the bottom had long, straight walls that measured fifty feet in length. It was brightly illuminated by fluorescent tubing, with a ten-foot acoustical tile ceiling and a door at either end. A stainless-steel counter top wrapped its perimeter and supported all manner of electronic equipment scattered about in a relatively organized pattern. Deep cabinets with glass doors descended against the walls above the counter, containing rows of samples in jars, small hand tools, and libraries of thick manuals. The air was cool and clean and very still.

The fragment had Hebrew lettering on it that Yigal had already placed as a portion of the newly-discovered second Book of Noah. It was a book that dealt with his pre-Flood dealings with his neighbors and family. The fragment fit in with the middle passages of the book, the sections on the religion of Noah and his relationship with God. The three sentences it cut across diagonally read in full: "The anger of God flared against the Watchers for their deceptions toward Man and his future. They were cursed for revealing the secret arts and of the knowledge of the stars in heaven, and for their immorally taking what did not belong to them, the wives of Man. Erebus will be their destination and he will determine their stay in Hades and their fate for eternity."

It was a passage that Yigal read and studied often for its revelations of the afterlife. As a Jew he was aware that he worshiped a God that both loved Man and 'felt regret over Man's creation'. It was a God of dueling personalities, who at once would fight for His people and curse them for being human and failing to live up to their dedication to Him. It was a God who promised the Jews theirs was the nation that would be used to bring Man back into harmony with the Creator, that their nation was one particularly blessed and destined for great things. It would produce a Messiah who would change everything, who would reconcile Man's inherited sinful nature and would lead him back into God's good graces.

And the majority of the promises had gone unfulfilled.

Many of the original scrolls had been gathered by Yigal's father, Eleazar Sukenik. He was a man possessed by the mission to attain and protect valuable pieces of his nation's heritage. Throughout the period of the War of Independence, Sukenik went to great lengths securing deals that would land him additional fragments and scrolls from Cave 1. He quickly became a legend to his people.

US Army General Theodore Hubble was the man behind Yigal, his jacket bearing every medal he had earned in a distinguished career. Behind him were two soldiers clutching automatic rifles, stationed at either side of the door. They wore black suits and helmets with dropped face guards. Their glare was straight ahead without flinching, reminiscent of the Sentrymen placed outside structures of British importance.

Theodore scratched his cheek and watched the doctor work. He admired him for his accomplishments, for what he had been through as a Jew born into an Arab world. His file was thick with accolades from a youth spent in the Haganah, rising to become its Operations Officer, his key role in the '48 Arab-Israeli War, and later his brief tenure as the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Force. Never one to shy away from serving his brothers, and always the first into the fray, Yigal Yadin was a man of action. Theodore respected that.

"I hate to interrupt, doctor, but I need to know about the dating," Theodore stated, humbly. "Has it been verified?"

"Several times over, General. I assure you. The dates are correct. You're in the presence of the most important documents ever discovered in man's history. Five thousand, three hundred years old. Do you realize these predate the Flood by centuries?" Yigal said, his bald scalp glaring with a sheen from the room's lighting as he continued peering into the eyepiece.

He studied the magnified symbols and imagined the scribe creating them with the slanted edge of his stylus; skillfully and with steady hands performing a series of imprints which left wedge-shaped markings on the soft clay surface. Yigal could see the man's focus, his attention to detail as he squinted and leaned close enough to the clay to smell it. Moist, pliable, earthy. The man positioned his stylus upright and pressed gently, pulled back, twisted an accurate ninety degrees clockwise, pressed again, this time with a bit more pressure. After completing several symbols, the man leaned back and stretched, stood up, walked around his table a time or two, then sat back down to proceed. For hours he kept this pace. Days even.

The sound of the General's voice jolted Yigal back to reality.

"The cave these were found in," said the General. "It was a new cave? An undocumented one?" His inflection changed from one of humility to one very formal. His face was deeply engraved with broad, sweeping lines and wrinkles chiseled in place. The way he spoke and carried himself projected the image of authority, an image he enjoyed.

"Yes, Cave 12," said Yigal, pulling away from the microscope. "Though it was still in the Wadi Qumran region. Why do you ask?"

Barely three years removed from finishing his thesis on translating the Dead Sea Scrolls, one that earned him his doctorate from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Yigal was suddenly becoming agitated by the General's inquisition. His time was far too valuable for such wasteful questioning. He steadied his posture and faced the large man before him.

"I'll need to see the entire team responsible for its discovery," ordered Theodore.

"You're acting very strange, General. Is there something you're not telling me?" Concern was beginning to color Yigal's expression. "You asked to be notified when we found something and we did that."

Yigal studied the General's eyes, always the eyes. In his experience with people he had learned that the eyes were an entry to the soul. A person's eyes speak volumes about the inner workings of their mind. And Theodore's were beginning to tell a tale. Yigal also knew well from the years spent serving his country that military agendas and those of the scientific community often clashed. And Americans were the worst. Militarily dominant, diplomatically proficient, they projected their strength better than any nation on Earth and were generally willing to go as far as the situation required in order to achieve their goals.

Theodore noticed Yigal's look of concern, and said, "It shouldn't surprise you that my superiors are interested in what you're doing here. Why else would they compensate you so generously?"

"Actually I am surprised. I have to admit the added security, even secrecy, surrounding this project has me a bit puzzled. But after my examination, I will present the board with a full report. This is something we have already discussed with both your government and mine. The protocols have always been honored on my part."

"I'm afraid we're going to need more than a report, doctor. Things have changed. Protocols have changed."

Suddenly Yigal sensed real danger in the General's manner. The smug, authoritative sneer plastered across his face was no longer simply condescending. It was alarming.

"What things have changed?"

"Everything."

"I don't understand," said Yigal, recognizing his breathing had quickened. He wasn't a fearful man by nature, but was cautious to the extreme. His intimate acquaintance with how harsh and short-sighted bureaucracies could sometimes be frightened him, and always kept him at arm's length from those that could harm his work.

"There's no time to explain," said the General. "We need you to gather your things. You'll be coming with us."

Yigal's eyes opened widely. "I couldn't possibly..." He backed against the cold edge of the counter behind him. "My work."

"Don't make this more difficult than it has to be. National security has become an issue and my orders are firm."

"Your orders from whom?"

"Doctor!" Theodore shouted in anger.

"Who's in danger?" Yigal demanded, memories of recent thefts of vital pieces of history gathered from Hazor flooding his mind. He thought about what was at stake, the gravity of a loss of Cave 12's find, and cringed at the possibility. "General! What the hell is going on?"

"I'll explain on the way. And I will need the names and locations of every man, woman, and child who has knowledge of this cave before we leave."

Yigal now knew the situation was far beyond his controlling it, but not beyond him affecting it. He took a quick step toward the General, an action the two soldiers interpreted as aggression. They raised their weapons and leveled them at Yigal's head and torso, ordering him to stand still.

General Hubble shot Yigal an angry glare and shook his head. "There is more at stake than you know, doctor. This is a fight you can't win."

Yigal glanced at the soldiers, then back at the General. "Guns aren't new to me. This you should understand." He hesitated, scanning the room, taking a mental inventory of his work. Then he leveled his eyes at the General. "You won't harm a solitary hair on their heads. Promise me you won't harm them and I'll cooperate."

"You have my word and the word of the United States government."

Yigal trusted the US government even less than he trusted his own, but knew his options were lean. He looked around at the lab with concern. "It will take a bit of time to get all of this properly packed away for travel. The age of the remnants demand our fullest consideration. It could take days, weeks even."

"We have a team ready to assist you," said General Hubble, checking his watch. "You have one hour."




Chapter Two

"The God of Heaven has foretold a destruction of mankind by water. This destruction is the first destruction, and will be followed by a second of fire and blood. The desolation of the second will be complete."
2 Noah 4:12

It was a clear starry night when the Cessna 172 landed with a thud on a dirt runway, waking Yigal Yadin. He sat up in his seat and looked over at the pilot beside him who was focused on the dark strip ahead of the plane. Twisting around slowly, Yigal saw General Theodore Hubble sitting with a grin. The buzz of the 145hp Continental engine ramped down as the pilot slowed the plane and steered it toward the end of the runway.

"Welcome to Agatti Island, doctor," said Theodore, studying the Israeli's reaction. "Your new home."

Yigal peered out the window. His eyelids were heavy with sleep and he had to vigorously work to keep them open. He could see the moon's reflection off the surface of the water around them, that they were on some slender peninsula. He looked ahead and saw a dense forest, an arched space of total blackness. He asked Theodore Hubble, "Agatti?"

"A small island a couple hundred miles off the west coast of India. It's ours," said Hubble.

Yigal noticed a distinct heaviness in his movements, like waking after a night of heavy drinking. He said to the General, "You drugged me."

"We had to. I'm sorry for that."

"Where are the fragments?" Yigal asked.

"Waiting for you in the lab, of course."

"And the team?"

"Their work is done for now. They will have no further involvement in this study. The people we've assembled will provide any assistance you require. All of them came highly recommended and all have a full understanding of the delicate nature of the project."

Yigal swiveled in his seat, and said, "I must have proof that my people are still alive. I won't budge until I get it."

Theodore read Yigal's eyes and saw in them a staunch determination. A wave of pride fell over him, a pride for Yigal's inner strength and character. He nodded and said, "You may speak with one of them. But only one, and only to provide assurance of their status."

"Her name is Fatima. She is... was my assistant. I will speak with her."

Theodore pulled a small electronic device from his jacket and punched in a series of numbers. Yigal had never seen anything like it. Nor had anyone else in the world. Holding it to his ear, he spoke into it, "Hubble. 8525. Raven." The woman on the other end told him to hold. He glanced at his watch, and a few moments later extended the device to Yigal, saying, "It's a phone."

"Hello," said Yigal. "Fatima?"

"Dr. Yadin," said Fatima. "I'm so happy you are safe. What is going on?"

"I'm not sure, but please listen to me. Do what they say, Fatima. Don't fight them. They are serious men and I fear... Just go along with what they say. Do you understand?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Have they harmed you?"

"No, I'm fine. Just apprehensive."

"And the rest?"

"I don't know. They have split us into separate rooms."

"They will ask you questions, Fatima. Answer them truthfully," he said.

She paused, then said, "I understand."

Theodore tapped his watch and glared at Yigal.

"I must go. I will contact you when I can. Just, please, cooperate with them. It is the will of God, I'm sure of it," said Yigal, noticing the line had been disconnected. "Fatima? Fatima, are you there?"

"I think you got what you needed. Your team is safe and for now that's what's important. But I need your head in this game, not the one back in Israel. I need you to focus on the work. Time is of the essence, doctor," said Theodore.

"My treatment, my team's treatment, is criminal," said Yigal. "We are hostages. And for no better reason than our discovery of Cave 12."

"Cave 12 was a crucial find, and you're to be congratulated for your efforts," the General quickly interjected. "But you and I both know there's much more to this than Cave 12. And to a great many others, what you've uncovered in that damn desert is the very future of our race. As for you and your colleagues, all of you are detainees, doctor. Guests we've asked to stay for awhile. Nothing more. There is nothing sinister in our agenda. Quite the opposite. It should be sufficient for you to know that both our governments at the highest levels are fully behind this project. And both of them demand results."

"I will expect to speak with Fatima once per week. No less," Yigal insisted.

"That was not part of our agreement," objected the General, careful not to sound too assertive. His understanding of Yigal Yadin forced him to cope and bargain rather than simply demand and walk away as he was accustomed to.

"Neither was keeping me hostage on a deserted island. Or to imprison innocent people and hold them for questioning. If I find they've been ill-treated," Yigal said, checking his passionate tone and stopping short of issuing an empty threat that could only make things worse, and without an upside. He didn't trust the General, but knew his mentality would have to adapt if he was going to survive. "Not a hair on their heads. You swore to it," ordered Yigal.

"We're agreed that the innocent need not be harmed. But your demands must stop!" The General said, the two of them staring coldly at each other; neither wanting to yield, but both realizing compromise was the only solution to the deadlock. "I'll grant a call a week, but to Fatima only, and the calls will be closely monitored. We need to be clear on this. You will not divulge even the slightest hint of your work. You will not divulge this location. You will not attempt to summon a rescue. You will not speak in code. If questioned by any of your peers, here or elsewhere, you will feign ignorance as to this contact with Fatima. Are we agreed?"

Yigal nodded and turned back around in his seat facing the windshield, just as the Cessna rolled off the end of the runway and into the forest. The pilot carefully guided it between the trees on either side, the trunks and branches a few feet beyond the wingtips. Ahead Yigal saw a small thatch hut with several people milling about in front of it beneath a lamppost.

The General and Yigal gripped the straps attached to the plane's roof to steady them as they proceeded. When the pilot stopped the plane, Yigal saw the group of men and women assemble before him, drawing closer to the plane. They were all middle-aged and had the look of scientists. They stood very still and shielded their eyes from the plane's lights. Yigal swallowed hard and chewed on the inside of his cheek, growing weary of apprehension but at the same time intrigued as to the meaning of what was behind it all.

One thing he knew for sure; the General's draconian methods were getting old, and fast. He had put up precisely zero resistance and still he was being treated as a prisoner without trial. He decided to remain passive in his efforts to find out who was behind his capture, at least as long as the calls to his assistant were honored.

The General watched Yigal as the pilot cut the engine, wondering about his thoughts, hoping he would be compliant but not sure that would. Hoping for a miracle and praying that he would get one.




Chapter Three

Fatima Moischel remembered very little of what happened that day. She recalled being the only one in the lab, doing light cataloging of some of the lower quality fragments. The lab was dark, with only her desk lamp illuminating her work. She had eaten a large breakfast, something unusual for her but satisfying. She had talked with Dr. Yadin before lunch and had firmed up plans to revisit the dig that evening. But everything after that was a blur, a hazed recollection of random mental snapshots.

Then the world went black. As she came to, she found herself in a small room and was being told by three large uniformed soldiers to state her name and date of birth. But aging blackness overtook her. A flash of a female physician hovering over her, pointing a light in her eyes, followed. Then blackness.

The next thing she remembered was waking up on a couch in some sort of lobby with dozens of people milling about. A brief conversation ensued between her and an army officer which was followed by a man handing her a phone. It was Dr. Yadin on the other end. After the call, a woman brought her some food and told her to eat and that someone would be in to see her shortly to explain everything, that everything was okay and that all of this was merely protocol.

Blackness.

The sleep in her eyes was thick and heavy as she emerged into consciousness, heavy enough to prompt her to ground her knuckles into them. She opened them, squinting. Grogginess didn’t begin to describe the way she felt. Her limbs felt dense like lead. At first everything was cloaked in a blurry haze. The lights were extraordinarily bright and caused the pounding in her head to grow stronger and more rapid. She covered her ears with her hands to relieve the pressure and noticed movement in the distance. Dropping her hands so that she could listen in, she made out the masses of several people. Men and women, professionals as far as she could tell by the tenor of their conversations. She strained to sit up straight.

Blackness.

The next time Fatima woke, she was strapped to a wooden chair in the middle of a room, which was lit only by sunlight slanting in through slits at the tops of the walls. All the surfaces were aged concrete and bore brownish streaks that stretched to the floor. The air was cold and damp and had the fungal odor of a basement. Her bare feet ached from the chill of the floor. She tried to move the chair, but it didn’t budge as each leg was bolted to the concrete. A strip of duct tape wrapped her face, covering her mouth. In front of her was a metal stool.

The deafening silence was crushed as the door swung open and in walked a thin balding man in his middle thirties. He wore black-rimmed glasses and dressed and carried himself like an accountant, though stouter in frame. He shut the door and approached her, holding a small briefcase that he placed beside him as he took a seat on the stool in front of her. He looked into her eyes and sighed. Then he reached forward and ripped the tape from her face.

She grimaced in pain, but never looked away from him. Her eyes were full of fear and anger, the kind an animal has looking out at the trappers from inside the cage. Hopeless eyes. Agitated.

“Fatima,” said the man. He spoke to her in Ivy League-proper English, as if he were the teacher and she were his student. It was a patronizing tone. “My name is Grady. Do you know where you are?”

She shook her head.

“Good,” he said, studying her. Then he broke the silence and made a ticking sound with his tongue and watched her reaction. He did it again and noticed her agitated demeanor. He asked in a whisper, “Do you know why you’re here?”

Fatima nodded.

Grady looked surprised, and said, “You do? Why, then?”

She stared him square in the eyes and said, “Because you’re an asshole.”

Again, he grinned and watched her. “Is that so?” he finally asked. Then, pursing his lips in a condescending expression of geekish superiority, he said, “You’re a smart girl. I am an asshole. The question you should be asking yourself is, why would I want to say something that would add tension and bad blood to a situation that already has plenty of both?”

“Where are the children?” she demanded.

Before she could brace for it, Grady landed a quick backhand across her left jaw. The smack echoed off the room’s surfaces several times before fading. “There,” he said. “Now I feel better.” He raised a finger and pointed it at her, tapping the end of her nose several times, adding, “Fatima. We’re getting off on the wrong foot here. I don’t think you appreciate the dynamics of our relationship, so I’ll explain them to you. I am the one who asks the questions. You are the one who willingly answers them.”

Her face was red and beginning to swell, when she watched him stand up and walk around behind her. She could hear every footfall as they clicked against the concrete, even the air flowing in the room from his movement. Her heart was beating rapidly now and she closed her eyes, expecting another assault.

“You know, Fatima. I’m one of the very few people in the world who actually enjoys what I do. That makes me special, don’t you think?” he asked.

“I don’t know what you people want. But I hope to God you never get it,” she said.

“Fatima, Fatima. Be civil. Remember the relationship thing. Let’s not damage it before it has a chance to grow. Because I can be the best friend in the whole wide world,” he said. “Or I can be the worst nightmare you’ve ever had.” He placed his hand on her shoulder, and said, “I choose friends. You?”

Her skin crawled as he touched her. But she nodded, hoping to survive long enough to learn more about his agenda.

“Good,” he said, placing his other hand on her other shoulder. He sighed, and said, “Why don’t we start with Masada.”

She didn’t answer.

“Fatima. Focus. We know you’ve been there, and we know you found something. What did you find?” He closed his eyes and tried to imagine her answer, to visualize it the way only he could. A moment passed and his mental picture was still dark. Was it willpower? he wondered.

Questions over how he could possibly know about Masada flooded her mind. But she needed to say something, anything to lead him. She said, innocently, “Bones.”

“Yes, but not just bones. Whole skeletons, piles of them. I know about the remains; twenty adults, four children, and a fetus. That knowledge is useless and will be made public. What I am interested in are the six large men that vanished into thin air, as it was. I find that...” He looked up and away, and searched for the right words. “Hard to believe, Fatima. Care to fill me in?”

“Six large men, yes. But they didn’t vanish. We returned them to the cave.” She was sure now that they had been watched, that their supposedly-covert work done at Masada had come to the attention of some rival team.

“See,” he said, loudly. “And I tried to be a friend.” He removed his hands from her shoulders and walked around before her. He knelt down and said, “Friends don’t lie to friends.” He thought about what he said for a moment, then added, "Well, that's not true, is it? Friends lie all the time. But you and I, we don't have a history that allows us to overlook such dishonesty."

Tears filled Fatima’s eyes and spilled into streams that trickled down her cheeks. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

He reached forward and placed his hand on her swollen cheek and said, “The truth, Fatima. Always the truth. The Bible’s right, you know. It will set you free.” Grady tried again to read her thoughts, to catch a glimpse of what she was feeling. Nothing.

“Please,” she begged, seeing evil in his eyes. “Don’t.”

Grady pulled a switchblade from his jacket pocket and twisted it slowly in his hand, examining it before her. “A gift. From my dear wife. Now, since I count you as a friend, I’ll be the bigger man and give you the choice. Which finger can you live without?”

Fatima shook her head, her eyes giving away the horror she felt. “Please, I beg you.”

“The middle finger? Less tempting to misuse it that way. And let’s face it, after what you’ve been through, who would blame you for using it inappropriately?”

She shook her head desperately. “Please.”

“The pinkie, then? Why the hell do we even have a pinkie? An odd name, for one. Probably the most useless appendage on the body. Dead weight, really,” he said. Then he pressed the button on the side of the knife and the blade shot outward with an audible SCHLIK! He held it so that the blade was facing downward and rested the tip the blade atop the first knuckle of her pinkie. “You can make it stop, Fatima. I personally feel that people need all ten fingers in life. I mean, we’re born with ten, most of us die with ten. Seems natural enough.”

“There were six men in that cave,” said Fatima, the words racing from her mouth before she had time to properly frame them. Her voice gave away the strain she was feeling. The terror. “We haven’t released a report because our visit there was off the record. We weren’t supposed to be there. We spent less than a week with the remains before returning them to the cave which is where we left them. You must believe me.”

“Ah, but the plot thickens. The six men you returned to the cave were the wrong six, weren’t they? What was it about those six skeletons that made you cover your tracks?”

Fatima thought about what she said next. “Only that they were larger than the rest. We needed more time to study them, and the doctor feared our work would be exposed.”

“Exposed? Fatima... But isn’t that what the good doctor enjoys most, exposure? Exposure means grants and acclaim. Papers and lectures. Champagne eventually.” Grady allowed an uncomfortable moment of silence to linger, before removing the knife from its perch atop her hand. He was fast becoming irritated that his ‘gift’ was becoming dull, at least in her case. Why couldn’t he grasp what she was thinking? Maybe it was that certain personalities were better suited to resist his intrusions. He just wasn’t sure.

He reached down and grabbed his briefcase, and sat it on his lap. He patted it, and said, “I’m about to show you something that will change the way you look at life.” He opened it and retrieved something he tucked into his palm, and returned the case to the floor. He stared at his hostage as she trembled before him. This was the part he loved the most about his job, the part when they reach the edge of breaking. Then, holding out his opened palm, he asked, “Do you know what this is?”

She took a single glance at the golden object in his hand, laid atop a bag of purple silk. She looked up at him. “Who are you?”

“Someone in need of advice,” he said. “But that doesn’t answer my question.”

“The inscription is of the fifth pentacle of Mars,” she said, her eyes trained on his. “It is evil.”

“Why is it evil?”

She didn’t answer him.

He gave her a wink and slid the amulet into the bag and hung it around his neck. He followed by uttering a chant in a single tone of voice, a ritualistic tone in a different language, one that she didn’t understand. Suddenly, the air in the room, once still and stale, began to move. It was a gentle movement that swirled around them in wisps. A mild breeze that was getting stronger which each swirl. The air smelled of leaves and fresh-cut grass, and like the moldy undergrowth of a forest. It was cool. But soon the coolness turned to bitter cold and its movement accelerated, wrapping them in a blanket of frigid energy.

Fatima kept her eyes on Grady. His were still closed and he had stopped chanting. He was pressing the amulet to his chest. Then he opened his eyes into slits and met her gaze. His expression was cold and empty, the blacks of his pupils dilating until they had swallowed the white entirely.

The air suddenly stopped.

She was breathing rapidly and shivering. She looked down at the floor, away from Grady, hoping somehow that lack of eye contact would lessen his power over her. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing, but it was true. It was also terrifying to know that, beyond his capacity for torture, this man also possessed an amulet that granted him extraordinary powers. But it was the source of his power that frightened her most.

The smell of the air changed now. Its tinge melded from the freshness of nature into one of decay and death, like flesh rotting off the corpse of some dead animal.

A moment later Fatima felt a hand on her shoulder, but a quick look revealed nothing. Still, it was there, heavy and large with enormous power behind it. It didn’t squeeze, and Fatima was sure if it had done so her shoulder would have been crushed. She looked back up at Grady and his expression told her everything she needed to know.

“Where were we?” he asked. His voice had returned to normal and his gaze was less sadistic. “Oh, yes. I was inquiring as to the nature of the men you found.”

Fatima gulped, and said, “Nothing was conclusive. We didn’t have time.”

“Fatima!” he said in jolting tone. Anger welled within him. Not only had his ‘gift’ disappointed him, the wind trick with the amulet was also failing.

The weight of the hand on her shoulder was immense, and yet she could tell it wasn’t pressing down on her. It was merely resting, its fingers occasionally fidgeting against her skin. “Dr. Yadin felt they were large men, very large. But nothing more. Perhaps bodyguards of a different race of people.”

“Yes, yes,” Grady mockingly whined. “A race of people that stood nine feet tall, with femurs the size the baseball bats and skulls the size of goddamn pumpkins... Dr. Yadin is a grown man, Fatima. A man whom I doubt very much is having someone breathing threats of removing fingers from his hands. Let’s worry about Fatima for now, shall we? And let the good doctor deal with his own problems. Let’s try it again. The six that you returned to the cave were the wrong six. True or false?”

He returned the knife so that its tip penetrated her skin. Blood seeped out of the wound and trickled down the side of her finger. She winced at the pain and said, “True.”

“You know how I know this, Fatima?” his voice was again a whisper.

She shook her head.

“Because I’ve seen them,” he said.

Fatima stared at him, but didn’t speak. She didn’t know what to say or even how to say it.

“I need to know what you found out about those six men,” pressed Grady. “And I need to know the name of every last soul you spoke with about them.”

She couldn’t stop the tears from flowing out of her eyes; a river of tears and sobs and jolted gasps for air. It maddened her that she was appearing weak in front of such a monster, that her outward countenance was cracking and revealing her frail nature. She inwardly cursed herself and prayed for strength. Whatever was happening, it was God’s will that it was. She was sure of it.

Grady was experiencing his own internal conflicts. It infuriated him to know that some people were impossible to read. What made it worse was his failure to understand why. “Have you ever watched a movie where the good guy is getting tortured and he takes it? He just takes the pain and he shrugs it off. He never cracks, right? He never talks. Did you know that in real life, everyone talks? Everyone cracks. If I wanted to, I could get you to curse your grandmother’s grave inside of a minute. To curse God inside of two. Don’t make me crack you. Because I will skin you alive, Fatima. And you have such beautiful skin. So whether we do this easy and you get to walk out of here with ten fingers and your skin still attached to your body, or we do it hard and you don’t, know this: I always get what I’m after.” He leaned close to her, and whispered, “Always, Fatima.”

She felt the hot air of his breath blow across her face and at that moment she knew he had won. She could see the devil in his eyes and she knew she couldn’t hold out in the face of such pain. She also knew she would give it all up in exchange for her life, even for a less painful death. And the realization destroyed her from within. It dissolved her will to fight, her will to protect others. The thought of who or what was behind him. The amulet and the crushing weight of the hand on her shoulder. It was so much stronger than she was. “Dr. Yadin made me swear an oath of silence,” she said, between sobs, furious at her lack of integrity.

“I know. And I release you from that oath.”

“The bones were identical in shape to ours, but their composition was much different,” she said without looking at him. She stared at the floor, dejected, and continued, “Density, ash content, extractable proteins, collagen diffusion. Everything.”

“Go on.”

Still looking downward, she continued in short bursts, “We also found a staff. With a cross on the top. It had splayed ends.”

“Where is this staff, Fatima?”

“The doctor hid it. In the mountains. I don’t know where.”

“I believe you. I do. You’re doing so well,” he said, wiping the tears from her cheeks. He was relieved with her confession, but she was being hesitant. She still holding back. “What else did you find in that cave?”

She looked up at him, and said in a quivering voice, “There were scrolls. And a book. The scrolls dated four thousand years, the book half that. It mirrored the scrolls to the letter, only more legible. The language was Ethiopian. There were prophesies and histories. Legends about giants and dragons. I don’t know what else. He never told me, I swear it. I only saw them in passing. He was very secretive.”

“And you thought the good doctor and yourself had stumbled onto those very giants in Masada,” stated Grady, connecting the dots between her actions and her narrative. “The copper scroll, what were its contents?”

A flash of realization instantly struck her as the body of his questions and the power behind the amulet coalesced into a single drive, and she suddenly knew what he was after. Or thought she knew. This was no mere archaeological theft by a rival team. And this man was no government interrogator. His possession of the amulet was proof of that.

Fatima took a deep breath and looked him in the eye, and said, “The contents of the Copper Scroll are a myth. They aren’t factual.”

“You think I’m after the gold,” said Grady. “Truth be told, a hundred-seventy-four tons of gold is a lot. More than a lot, it’s the treasure at the end of the rainbow those pesky Irish can never seem to find. No, Fatima. The gold is merely the icing on the cake and someone else’s problem. My interest is in the cake.”

She met his gaze and wondered what else he was after. But she didn’t speak.

“Think, Fatima,” he said, still frustrated at himself at not knowing what she was thinking.

“The gold is all I remember. A fantasy treasure map,” she insisted.

But Grady knew better. He knew the tells of a subject lying to him and they were all there with Fatima; how her eyes focused, her facial expressions, her tone of voice, her pattern of breathing. Even her tears had stopped. Of course, his methods were instinctual, not learned. But it wasn’t mind reading with her. It was intuition that told him she was being dishonest.

“Fatima,” he said, placing his hand over her left ear in a gesture of empathy. “You’ve made my heart glad here today. You’ve proven to be a true friend and a patriot.” He depressed the knife’s button causing the blade to withdraw, and stood up, patting her head. “I’ll see that you get a bed and some food.”

He picked up his briefcase and walked toward the door, when Fatima’s question--”Where are the children?”--caused him to stop. “What have you done with them?”

Grady turned and glared at her, and said, “About your weekly calls to Dr. Yadin. Our little piece of heaven here you and I have enjoyed today need not be discussed. And should you feel the urge to say something courageous and self-gratifying... Think about what you just asked me, and then imagine me in a room with them.”

The moment he left, the weight of the hand faded and was soon gone. Fatima broke down crying and prayed aloud. She wanted to curse God for allowing this to happen, but knew it was pointless. If He was allowing it He had a reason. And her death and suffering, even that of the children, must be a part of that reason. It was the most powerless moment of her life.




Chapter Four

The personal talents of Grady Penn Radcliffe were quickly noticed when he began training as an interrogator for the CIA. He was smart and witty and thought more of himself than was required, but those traits didn't make him stand out among the sea of his peers. What made him different was his ability to jump inside the minds of his subjects, to somehow read their thoughts and anticipate their motivations.

It was an ability Grady had had from the very beginning. Some people were born with the genetic recipe for super-stardom in sports, in medicine, in politics, in the arts. Grady was gifted with the power to read minds, or so others thought.

For Grady to succeed at being the best the Company had hoped for, called on him to display traits he already had, traits that others would have to work long and hard to emulate at best. He had merely to uncloset the man he was instead of projecting an image society was comfortable with. Yes, for Grady to win at the Company's game, he had only to be himself.

He viewed his profession as a calling.

The moment that catapulted his career was long gone, but the memory of it lived on. And the Company never forgot what he was capable of after that fateful night.

It took place in a hotel the Company had purchased, tucked deep into the southern Louisiana marshes. The nearest town was over a mile away and a single dirt road was the only way in or out. The broken sign still stood, angled and rusted. The Cajun Pines Motel.

Grady was given the task of interrogating a corporate crook, Ferko Imre. He was charged with the theft of highly-sensitive documents related to an imminent merger. The problem was that one of the corporations involved was serving as a shell for the Company, a legitimate front used to launder funds to be used in black ops. And Ferko was about to fuck it up.

Several career interrogators had spent weeks on Ferko, using every trick in the book. At least all the tricks they were capable of pulling off. Nothing worked. Then one day, in a meeting the director held with several case agents, Grady's superior mentioning his name along with his talents. The director signed off on it and demanded regular updates, though he doubted the young agent would get very far.

He was wrong about that.

That evening a heavy rain fell and pelted the tin roof relentlessly. Grady was alone with Ferko. Ferko was strapped to a table, lying supine with his eyes covered by a bandanna.

Grady circled the table for what seemed to Ferko like an eternity. He knew that if the director had resorted to sending a rookie, he had nothing to worry about. He felt certain that he could withstand any amount of trickery and smiling within himself, charting his defiance as a victory.

Ferko had outlived all of his peers. He had outwitted and outmaneuvered them in every game. The documents he lifted from the vaults of Corvaire Inc. had made him a rich man. All he need do was wait and he would be able to enjoy a luxurious retirement.

The problem was that this damn rookie interrogator refused to speak. He just walked in circles. Endless circles. Hours of his footsteps clicking and clacking, but no words. It was probably some new technique the Agency was testing, and they had recruited the new guy to go through the motions. What a waste of time, Ferko sneered. These bastards could rot in hell. He would tell them nothing.

Then he stopped and the room fell silent. Ferko wished for a moment that he could see his young tormentor, but quickly played it off as something he could live without. Who cared what the little shit looked like? He was just another loser American hopelessly chasing that fabled American dream.


"I just realized," he said. "I haven't introduced myself. I'm Grady." He waited for a response, then said, "This is where you say 'Hello, my name is Ferko'."

Ferko didn't speak.

"Or didn't I pronounce that right? Is it Ferko or Fuckup?"

Ferko grinned slightly then caught himself and returned to his stone expression.

"You like funny? I have a story that some people might find funny. It's about a prick of a man who took something that didn't belong to him. He took it and he gave it to someone who didn't deserve it. Stop me if you've heard it before. This prick was famous in his own lifetime. He was rich. But one day he checked into a hotel and that was the last time anyone ever saw him."

For the first time in weeks, Ferko's pulse began to race. There was something in the man's voice that worried him. He didn't sound like the others and seemed to play the game with different rules. Or worse, no rules at all.

"In case you're caught up in the suspense of it--you're that prick, Ferko. You're the one who checked into that hotel. And you're the one who told me everything before you died."

"If I am to die, why should I tell you shit?" demanded Ferko. Fear was in his voice.

"Because you won't just die in this hotel. You'll suffer." Grady had barely finished speaking when he pulled out a switchblade and pressed the cold steel against Ferko's left ear. In a fluid motion, he pinched the top of the ear between his thumb and forefinger and swiped the blade downward. Blood spurted from the wound and Ferko screamed agonous obscenities.

Grady pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it against the severed flesh, slowing the flow of blood. He leaned over the writhing man, and said, "Now that was unpleasant. Perhaps you should tell me what I need to know and we can dispense with formalities."

"You fucking asshole!" yelled Ferko. "You can't do this!"

Grady sighed dramatically. "I give up. Why can't I do this?"

The tone of Grady's voice told Ferko everything he needed to know. He now realized he wasn't getting out of this alive, and also that this agent would do anything to get what he needed. "This is torture. It is against US policy."

"Yes, but there's a loophole. What you've done has caused the director to lose sleep. And when that happens, I'm the one that gets tortured. First it's two am flights across the country, then it's handholding superiors who should really be better at their job than I am, then it's spending the weekend in a hotel room with you. Talk about torture."

"You're crazy," said Ferko, his voice trembling from the onset of shock. "You're out of your fucking head!"

Grady shook his head. "There you go again. Tell you what, I'll be the gentleman here and give you the choice. Which eye could you live without?"

"What?"

"Oh, for God's sake!" said Grady, ripping the bandanna from Ferko's head. For a moment Ferko saw a monster before him. He was clutching a knife and had no expression at all. He looked at him and screamed as the blade penetrated his left eyeball.

Grady spooned it out of the socket and severed it from the optical nerve. He then waited for Ferko to stop screaming. There wasn't much blood this time; there never is with the eyes.

A minute passed and Ferko trained his remaining eye onto his captor. His breathing was labored and his chest heaved in bursts as he cringed at what might follow.

"The left side's looking a little rough, Ferky. I've got to be honest about that. What was that? You were about to tell me the name of your contact at Corvaire? Now that would be most helpful."

"Lance. Lance Anderson."

Grady patted his right cheek. "Don't you feel better about yourself? Of course, I'm going to need the name of your guy in Holland as well."

Ferko gathered himself and forced a steadier pace to his breathing. "You promise to make it quick?"

"Quick is my middle name."

Ferko gulped, and said, "Stan Ospak."

"Is that Stan with an 's'?"

"Go to hell."

"You first," said Grady. "One last thing. The money, was it worth it? I mean, after our night together would you do it again?"

"You are a devil."

"Afraid not. I believe in him, though," said Grady, and with a single slice of his carotid artery, his victim bled out before him.

Grady knew what he was doing would be repaid tenfold by the gods of karmic justice. But it was worth it. All of it, as much as it changed him internally, was a price he was willing to pay. Fame didn't come cheap, but it did come.

The dark horse of the Company had arrived.


A month went by before Grady was called into the director's office. He was a little worried at first. He wasn't sure his methods at the Cajun Pines Motel would be approved; in fact he was certain they wouldn't be. Strict policy had always forbade torture and he had crossed that line in spades.

Before the director spoke, Grady was confident the meeting would go badly, that the director would give him a long speech about ethics and human decency. It wouldn't matter that the leads of Stan Ospak and Lance Anderson had paid off and saved the Company from a major public scandal. Or that he had accomplished something his reputable peers had been unable to accomplish. He didn't know the director well, but knew his type; bloated bureaucratic blowhards intent on doing everything by the books, many times at the expense of progress. This was the vibe he was getting from the man in the suit before him.

He was wrong about that, as he was wrong about many things in his life. Somehow the director's mind was a difficult thing to tap. It was one of the glitches in his skillset that made him human. The meeting, much to his surprise, resulted in his promotion to chief interrogator of the CIA, answerable only to his case worker and to the director himself. The bump in pay was welcome, but it wasn't what Grady sought. Notoriety among his peers was what he wanted most, and this new title was the first step toward achieving that goal.

A major caveat that haunted Grady from the beginning, was that while he was undoubtedly different, the desire to fit in was always there. It was a thorn in his side, a grass spur in his shoe that never seemed to wiggle free. He didn't possess superhuman strength or agility, or even intelligence. He was normal in almost every respect.

The only difference was his sixth sense; as inherent as the sense of smell and taste, though accompanied by very disparate sensations. And while he enjoyed the advantages his special ability brought with it, he also yearned to be more like those around him. He wanted to experience, just once, the comfort of their ignorant freedom, to lack the ability of climbing into the minds and massaging the souls of others for intelligence.

His birthright had been transferred along with a crippling weight. The yin and the yang that created the balance of his life. That, he was sure, would never change.




Chapter Five

Yigal Yadin spent the first few days setting up the tests for his team to run, getting into a routine that allowed him to process the data from one set of tests while other tests were being run. The data he was receiving was astonishing. And it was no wonder. He had the most gifted and talented team at his disposal, from every conceivably-connected discipline; some were translators of ancient writings, some were schooled in petrography, involving the examining of molecular and chemical composition of clays utilizing Inductively Coupled Plasma Atomic Emission Spectroscopy and Mass Spectroscopy, others excelled in the non-destructive art of neutron activation analysis, still others were expert at dating and localizing the actual scribe based on his style of writing. Dozens of the world's greatest minds were in one place working toward one objective.

He was informed that his budget was off the books and without any tangible limits, something of oddity in a field renowned for constraints on both. Anything he ordered he received, and in record time. In some cases, special chemicals or sensitive pieces of equipment were delivered within hours of his order. His superiors were interested only in results. And results, they reminded him daily, they would get.

As the week ground to a close, Yigal made a call to General Hubble's office. He didn't know where the General was staying, but he was sure it was nearby, probably on the island. He reminded him of his phone call to Fatima and the General set it up for the following evening.

When the time came, he was handed a phone by a man in a suit wearing dark glasses and a stone cold expression.

"Fatima?" spoke Yigal into the phone.

"Hello, doctor," she said, her voice tired but lacking any signs of terror.

"How are they treating you?"

"We're all okay. We just want to go home."

"They tell me that when I complete my work, all of us will be able to do just that, Fatima."

"How is the study going?" she asked.

Yigal picked up on her lack of concern and noticed a hint of depression in her tone. "It is progressing nicely. Are you sure you're alright?"

"Yes. Just tired."

"We're going to make it through this, Fatima. I promise you."

"I believe you," she said. "I need to go, doctor. We'll speak again?"

"Yes. This time next week."

"I look forward to it. Bye now."

Yigal handed the phone back to the man standing in front of him. Her voice and composure bothered him. And her general lack of curiosity seemed quite out of character. She sounded broken, as if her soul had been taken from her and she was now a lifeless entity without aspirations, without hope. All of it, he was sure, was his fault.




Chapter Six

Fatima stepped into the shower room and searched for the cameras she knew were there. In the ceiling, in the walls, tiny ones tucked between the tiles in the grout lines. They were watching her, she was sure of it. The guard closed the door behind her and she walked over to the stainless steel bench running the full length of one of the walls. Slowly she removed her clothes and placed them folded on the bench. The room was a dozen feet squared with a shower head on one end and a large mirror covering the entire opposing wall.

She hated this part of the day, when she would be naked and exposed and defenseless in the company of those she despised. She dreaded the thought of Grady one day walking in and doing more than asking questions and spewing threats of violence. And though he had never given her the impression he was a rapist, she knew he was demented and capable of anything. She remembered the weight of that hand on her shoulder and wondered if it was real. She knew it was. She said a silent prayer and took a deep breath. It was all she could do.

She walked over to the shower head and turned it on, standing to the side until it was warm enough. She closed her eyes as the water poured across her body, the steam rising in clouds around her, and she remembered how much she used to enjoy the sensation. That memory had become a dream to her, a reality she knew she once enjoyed but now was sure it was nothing more than a fantasy.

The one place in the room she didn't imagine being watched from was the mirror, the other side of which stood Grady with a cup of coffee in his hand. He watched her and sipped, studying the way she moved and held herself. To be naked as a hostage, with the constant fear of rape and brutality lingering around the next corner, was enough to break the will of most female hostages. Most of them in a matter of days would be begging on hands and knees to be freed. But Fatima wasn't entirely broken, and Grady found that odd considering her composition.

Fatima was a nice looking Jewish woman, the kind of attractiveness he normally found appealing in the opposite sex. But he had always been able to separate work from play. And the naked woman before him was all work. Her body in his eyes wasn't an object of lust. It was the clay that he would mold and impress and force his will upon to achieve the objective.

The door swung open behind him and a woman walked in. She was short and blonde and not nearly as attractive as Fatima. Her name was Kim.

"Enjoying yourself?" she asked, walking up beside him, clutching a clipboard. She made a check mark next to one of the boxes.

"They said you'd be coming by," he said, never breaking away from Fatima.

"They shouldn't have," she said, making another mark on the form. "You're being reviewed."

"For what?"

"Technique."

"I see. And by technique you mean my capacity for torture."

"I mean your ability to administer coerced interrogation when required. The US government doesn't sanction torture. You know that."

"And if I chose to remove her toenails with a pair of pliers to get the first name of her last lover, what then? Would you consider that torture?"

"If we needed his name and you didn't kill her in the process... I'd call it a successful interrogation."

"A funny thing about torture. I've found that the threat of it is usually more efficient than actually doing it."

"But you have done it."

"True. Then again it might've been needless had I been more proficient in my methods. From my own experience, it seems that once the body endures a certain amount of pain, the brain somehow finds a way to dull it and the information you get is usually shit from that point on. It's a form of fighting back when there's no other way fight."

"The intel is the key," she said in a grumpy huff. "That's our focus, anyhow. Personally, I don't care what it takes to get it as long as we do."

"Then why the review?"

"Because it's me that doesn't give a damn about your methods. Others do. Now can we please get on with this? Why are we watching the prisoner take a shower, or would you like some popcorn before you answer?"

"Does nudity bother you?"

"Not if they're men. But nude women, yes. Especially when I don't know what purpose it serves."

"Body language."

"Hmm," Kim hummed, not at all convinced.

"You can learn alot about a person by watching them when they think they're alone."

"And what do you hope to learn? Her cup size, the way she shaves her legs?"

Grady smiled. "Hardly. She's not my type."

"You're a guy and she's naked. Trust me, she's your type. By the way, why does she have razor?"

"Hygiene."

"And if she decides to take her own life, what then?"

"She won't," said Grady, outwardly irritated. "Tell me, did the Agency hire you for an annoyance, or are you just doing it for fun?"

"The reason I've been hired is above-your-pay-grade information, I'm afraid. But the fact that I'm here with you in a dark room watching a woman taking a shower gives me reason for concern. So I ask you again, why?"

"I told you. People are quite different privately than they come off publicly. In front of others, they appear brave and bold, confrontational and complicated. Alone, they wither into the shell of a person that is at their core, away from all the expectations, all the obligatory manners civilization forces on them. They pick their nose and sometimes eat the results. They scratch the crack of their ass with their bare hand. There's constant flatulence. Masturbation is rampant. Fetishes come to the fore. You name it, people do it."

"Rampant masturbation?" she questioned.

"The religious ones are the worst. I once was on an assignment in the northeast, watching a priest. You wouldn't believe what I witnessed that man doing to the staff."

"Tell me."

"Classified, I'm afraid. Let's just say that alter boys weren't his only vice."

"The nuns?"

Grady nodded. "And dozens of his flock, too. Anyone with an orifice and a pulse, it seemed. Bastard of a man."

"Did you get enough to convict him?"

"He never made it to his trial. In fact, the authorities are still looking for him. Eight years now. Anyway, my point was that after all the fluff is stripped away, you're left with the real person. Who they really are. And mostly it isn't a pretty sight."

"Okay. Then what's she like, at her core?"

"She's broken, but not shattered. Terrified, yes. But with a shred of hope. And hope is a dangerous thing in my profession. It's an x-factor that's nearly impossible to account for. Destroy hope and you destroy the will to fight."

Kim raised her eyebrows and set the clipboard down on the table beside her and watched Fatima finish her shower. The two of them watched, both looking at this woman from very different angles. Kim thought about her own family and how she missed them. She also thought about her husband and how he would handle himself in the presence of a naked woman as nicely-dimensioned as was Fatima. She felt her stomach growl and dreamed a little about supper. And how she desperately wanted a full day of pampering at the Paradise Spa three blocks from her home in Chicago. Fatima was the thorn in her flesh, that annoying little aggravation that never seemed to go away. Her life meant nothing to Kim. Less than nothing.

Grady had other thoughts. He knew well Kim's reputation and knew she would demand results quickly. That was her way. She would force him to hurt Fatima, to maim her if need be to get the intel. He didn't want it, but also didn't want it in Kim's report that he was going soft on interrogation subjects. He understood that his reputation within the Agency had been constructed on the happenings of a single case of devilish brutality. He owed everything to Ferko Imre.

The experience changed Grady internally and without reflection. It was instant. On the outside he became the vicious interrogator without qualms who could get anything from anyone. Inside, however, he was a man terrified of his fate, of the destiny God had laid out for him in the midst of all the blood and gore. Karma, he was sure, would eventually do him in, the balancing of the universe.

Karma was his biggest fear.




Chapter Seven

It was March of the following year. 1959. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sat at his desk in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. The Resolute Desk, built from timbers taken from the British vessel HMS Resolute and commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1880 as a gift to President Hayes, projected its antiquity with quiet confidence. The flags behind the President, the heavy drapes framing large windows overlooking the Rose Garden, the circular nature of the space; all gave weight to the room and empowered the man behind the desk. Standing before him was General Hubble, his hat tucked to his side in military fashion. He was holding a manila folder with bright red lettering on its cover that read: CLASSIFIED TOP SECRET.

Eisenhower nodded toward the folder, and said, "Is that all of it?"

"Yes, sir," said General Hubble. He placed it on the desk and slid it forward. "Part one of two. The doctor should be finished with the rest sometime next month."

"Thank you, General. That'll be all." Eisenhower waited for him to leave and for the door to close behind him before opening the folder. He took a deep breath and flipped to the title page that read: DEAD SEA SCROLLS. CAVE 12 SUMMARY REPORT. 212 PAGES. LEVEL 5 CLEARANCE REQUIRED.

Skimming the table of contents quickly piqued his interest. But fear of jumping too far ahead of his own knowledge of the documents made him turn to the introduction. And it was a heady one at that, filled with references to biblical scriptures and prophesies, which were in turn linked to passages found on a scattering of ancient cuneiform tablets and scrolls. He learned that the bulk of the fragments found in Cave 12 were the contents of three previously-unknown books in particular; the second Book of Enoch, the second book of Noah, and the Book of the Second Age (a text that took over where the Book of Adam and Eve left off). Conversations between Enoch and Noah, between Noah and Adam, between Enoch and Adam would be spelled out in detail. Further detail regarding Eve's prophesy of the two coming days of judgment was also alluded to.

After completing the introduction, the President jumped to the eighth section of thirty-nine, the one serving as a condensed version of the 2 Enoch. Yadin held that the entire book was a diary of the last ten years of his life on Earth, before he was 'taken' by God. It was a busy decade for the prophet, one that consisted of dealings with the Giants and their Watcher fathers, the way they interacted with Man, the form of religion that existed in those days, how God dealt with those that failed to heed His voice, the songs of the Angels of Eden, and so forth.

One passage described a Watcher teaching his ten Giant sons the secret arts. They uttered a series of phrases in an unknown tongue while pointing at a herd of horses. A bright light followed the incantation, which preceded the horses growing a single horn emerging from their heads. They then commanded the group to mate. Another passage showed a Watcher forcefully taking a wife from her husband, a scene that left her husband brutally dismembered and her children suddenly consumed by a tongue of fire from Heaven. The Watcher quickly had relations with the woman and sped up her term of pregnancy so that she gave birth to twin Giants within the week. The birth left the woman dead.

The report portrayed a world of magic and spellcasting, a world that paid little notice to the laws of current physics and where the realms of Man and Angel became intertwined to the point that one could not be contemplated in the absence of the other. The Watchers numbered two hundred and were deemed as the gods of the Giants. Man was quickly outnumbered and defenseless, causing many to give their allegiance to the Watchers, thereby becoming 'wicked'. Then 'the man of righteousness' came and taught the prophets 'the secret arts'. These arts gave specific men the ability to conjure the first creation, the Jinn, to do their bidding; to fight against the Giants when the need arose or to do any other thing they desired. King Solomon was the last to possess such knowledge, using it in the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The section on the Book of the Second Age gave insight into the world of the Jinn and their relationship with Man and God. They were created first as a special creation of God, one that He found the warmest of all His previous creations. Michael, God's firstborn Son in Heaven, desired a creation to call his own. This was granted him, and Man was the result. Once God saw the joy and fondness that existed between Michael and Man, he demoted the Jinn to a subservient position, one that was both more powerful yet inferior to Man. They lost Earth as their home, along with the precious ability to form a physical body in the presence of Man. They were banished to the land of Blood, where rivers of fire flowed from the great mountain. And to add insult to injury in there eyes, they were placed below Man in rank, and were forced to do their bidding when conjured.

The concluding section told Eisenhower that the documents were aged at least fifty-three hundred years. It also spoke of the rebirth of Earth's sibling, a planet where blood flowed as water and that nations would sprout from the blood of its rivers. The final analysis described an age when Man and Jinn would reside together only to wage war against the other during the End of Days, when the Jinn would rise up to claim the sibling for their own.

Eisenhower pressed the intercom button, and ordered Hubble back into his office.

"Yes, Mr. President," said General Hubble, as he approached him.

"Dr. Yadin. Is his work at Hazor still being publicized?"

"Yes, sir. The international community still hangs on his every word. They look forward to every lecture, every paper. The consensus is that Hazor is his thrust, along with a growing interest in Masada."

"That's good to hear. On another subject, how do you feel about the moon? How the hell would you get there?"

"The moon? Not a clue, sir."

"It's that goddamned Sputnik! That little bastard's cost me more sleep than a whore on shore leave."

"We did get the Explorer up there, sir."

"Yeah, but it was too damn little and too damn late. The press chewed my ass over that one, still are. We can't afford to be sucking hind tit in space or anywhere else in this world, especially when it's a Russian tit. The country's a couple states bigger now, we got a space race going--whatever the hell that means--then there's the Suez and Lebanon. What the hell's next?"

"Don't forget Brown v. Board, sir."

The President took a moment to agree with Hubble, then said, "I guess you're right. There has been some good done on my watch. Ah..." He sighed and continued, "It's probably bullshit anyway. One more thing. Is Cave 12 still black? I don't want specifics. Just... I need to know." He had spent whole nights praying for guidance over what to do with the witnesses of Cave 12, how to treat and interrogate them, how and where they would end up. It never led to a positive finality, never one he was comfortable with. The needs of the many, he reminded himself. The needs of the many.

"Cave 12 is still black, sir. All entities have been contained and are being dealt with."

"Thank you, General. That'll be all."

After Hubble left the room, Eisenhower ground his knuckles into his eyes and shook his head as if to clear the clutter. Thoughts of his religious upbringing flooded his mind. All those powerfully emotional Christian teachings he had put so much faith in came back to him like ghosts haunting the living. It all seemed so real and simple as a child. And even the critical thinking of scholars did more to validate his faith than tear it apart. He was so sure of who he was in those days. Now this.

He picked up the phone and spoke into it, "Hellen, would you get Persons in my office?"

"Yes, sir."

A minute had passed when Assistant to the President Wilton Persons walked into the Oval Office. "You called, sir?"

"I need to call a Special Assembly of the Five," Eisenhower said, shooting Persons an expression of unmistakable meaning. "How quickly do you think it could be arranged?"

Persons pulled a notepad from his interior jacket pocket, and thumbed through it. "First of next week, sir. Which location would you prefer?"

"Better make it Paris. De Gaulle can be a real prick when he feels like his hand is being forced. The last thing I need is his grief."

"I'll make the arrangements. Oh, and, with regard to the charter of the Navy Ship Hospital, I just received word that they'll need another twenty-five thousand for advanced planning."

"Did they receive the initial forty?"

"Yes, sir, they did. But they're screaming that the September deadline is a bit tight. And tight means money."

"Talk to Treasury. See what we can do," said Eisenhower, scratching his bald head.

"Right away, sir."

"Thank you, Wilton."

The President leaned back into the firm leather of his chair and stared straight ahead. His posture slowly gave under the weight of what was happening. All of it he expected someday, but this day? Things would never be the same and he knew it, and the thought of what came next horrified him.





Chapter Eight

Grady gritted his teeth and cringed outside Fatima's cell. It was eight in the morning. He stood there in the hallway, staring at the door, attempting to properly choreograph what he needed to accomplish. The look on his face was a depressed look. He hung his head and checked his watch, before barging into her cell. Startled, she jumped up and backed against the wall, still on the bed. He knelt at her bedside and shot her a look that was pitiful and helpless. He started to speak but refrained. Placing his hands on her legs, he broke down crying.

Fatima bore the expression of utter confusion. It was a side of her she had never seen.

"I can't do it, Fatima," he said, his face against the bedspread. "I won't. You don't deserve it."

She didn't know what he was talking about, but assumed it was bad. All she could think about was the amulet and that day in the cell being interrogated. She remembered the hand on her shoulder, and wondered what Grady might have unleashed. Fear gripped her completely and she pressed harder against the wall.

Then Grady lifted his head and looked at her, and said, "Tell me one last thing, and I'll help you get out of here. You shouldn't have to die. You're an innocent woman. Please, tell me about Hazor. This will give me enough to fill my report. It'll give my superiors enough that they won't come looking for you. I need to know about the cuneiform tablets. Where are they?"

"I don't know. Dr. Yadin hid them with the staff. He never told me," she said, in a pleading voice.

"Is it possible the copper scroll has been tucked away with these other items?" he asked, his face expressing deep empathy. "Please, Fatima!"

"I don't know!" she said, so afraid of what was coming, why he was here acting this way. She had decided inwardly not to tell of the copper scroll, but even that decision was waning. The constant memory of that hand and its power haunted her.

Again he hung his head and sighed. "Godammit, Fatima. If I don't get the scrolls... I will be forced to do horrible things. Please!"

Fatima looked down at the man before her and hated him. She hated his very existence for being the man he was. And she hated herself for what she was about to say. She swallowed hard, and said in a broken voice, "The copper scroll..."

Grady lifted up his head, and said, "Yes."

"Its contents were... godless. They were evil."

"What did it say?"

"All I know is that they were dark arts. Spells of some kind. I refused to work on them for fear of retribution, for what God would think of me for reading them."

"But the doctor had no such fear?"

Fatima shook her head. "No."

Grady smiled at her and had the look of relief. He stood up and held out his hand in a gesture that couldn't be mistaken for a request. Every fiber of her being cried out to refuse, but the fear of the unknown and out of desperation to avoid any kind of torture, she took his hand and allowed him to pull her into a stand before him. It was the closest she had ever been to him without the restraint of handcuffs or duct tape wrapping her hands and feet, and it petrified her.

Grady said, "When you leave this room, you'll enter a hallway. Go for the door at the end. It will be unlocked... I'm sorry about all of this." He turned around and left the room.

Fatima stood there unable to move, and not sure that she should. Her distrust of Grady ran deep after being imprisoned for so long. And amidst the cloud of thoughts blurring her tired mind, she forgot to ask him about the rest of the team. The last few months had been taxing, and she was spent on every level.

But what if he was telling the truth? What if he had been stricken momentarily with a shred of decency, of conscience? Of fear, even, of the thing he had unleashed? The bait of promised freedom was alluring, but cautiously so. Where was she? How far was the nearest town or at least pocket of human civilization? Moments turned into minutes as she debated her next move.

She inched forward, still mulling over what would happen if his promises were deceptions. What if he was leading her into a trap? She placed one foot before the other until she reached the opened door. Then she decided that even if it was a trap, her situation would be no worse off than it had been for the last few months. She stuck her head through the doorway and checked both directions. It was empty and silent.

She saw the door at the end, maybe twenty feet away. A door she had often seen and pondered the difficulty of opening. She wondered what was on the other side of it. Were they in a city, in an industrial zone tucked behind large buildings? Or were they in the country far from prying eyes?

Her fear instantly melted away and she took a deep breath. Letting it out, she said a quick prayer, and bolted for the door. Reaching it, she pressed against the arm mechanism that cut across its midsection and it gave and opened, spitting her on the other side for the first time in months.

The light of the day told her it was early morning. The sunlight was cutting through the forest of trees around her. Everything was so bright at first she had to squint, allowing her eyes to adjust after so much time inside. She could see nothing but trees and sand and rocks. Not wanting to wait around, she ran into the thick of the flora before her, the brush of which was thick and harsh, inflicting little slices on her skin as she surged ahead.

Then, as quickly as the forest had enveloped her, it freed her. Endless ocean lay before her as she stood on the sand of an empty beach. It was beautiful and was a sight she never thought she'd see again. She thought about following the beach, but quickly decided it might be the quickest way to be recaptured. So she bolted back the way she came, in the opposite direction, hoping to find a small village or a road that led to the prison.

Chills shot up her spine as she caught sight of the concrete block prison that had been her home for so long. Her breath was short and her head was light. But she wasn't about to stop and ask for directions. She slowed to a jog, as a sharp pain knifed through her lungs. Her legs were jellied and she was gasping for air. But onward she went, supporting herself against the trunks of the trees, using them to propel her forward.

She had covered maybe two hundred yards when she emerged from the trees onto another beach, much the same as the first. An endless ocean lay just beyond the white strip of sand. She stood there, stunned and breathless, her hands on her hips. She glanced to either side and noticed the sharp inward turn of the beach, and remembered the same from the other side.

Then it hit her. She was on an island. A small one.

There was no way out. She smiled and stopped trying to catch her breath and waited. A wave of calm blanketed her and for the first time in months, she felt completely relaxed. The tension in her muscles melted away. She drew her head backward until her neck cracked, soothing the throb in her spine. Finally, she was at one with God and his master plan, and she gave herself to him completely knowing she had lived a good life. A righteous life.

The first bullet slammed into her back and tore through her left lung before exiting her chest in a spray of blood. That bullet was followed by two more, both of them in and out. Fatima dropped to her knees, light-headed and dizzy with shock. She pressed her opened palms against her chest and felt the warm blood flowing liberally through her fingers. She coughed a spray of blood, and gagged on its thickness, a stream of it bubbling from the corner of her mouth. The taste of iron was overwhelming. Then there was no taste at all. She looked down and saw her hands were deep red and dripping. The horizon began to tilt and the world around her started spinning. A second later, she fell forward, face-first in the sand.

Grady walked up behind her, clutching an AK-47. He looked down at her bloodied, lifeless body and shook his head. Then he pulled a radio from his belt and spoke into it, "It's done. The cuneiform and copper scroll are with the staff, and I've a pretty fair idea of where they might be."

Kim came running up behind him, panting. She saw Fatima and glared at Grady. "What the hell have you done? We weren't through with her yet!"

"We are now," he said, gazing out at the ocean.

"Did you get the scroll?" Kim asked. Then, just as she was ready to throw out another argument debating any value Fatima might still have had, she stopped. It dawned on her, and she huffed. "You let her escape. You sonofabitch, you set this up!"

Grady didn't respond. He just stared at the gorgeous seascape and listened as the waves crashed down against the shore. He wore a proud grin on his face. Karma may one day catch up with him, he figured. But today he did the right thing and got to chalk one up on the good side, on the benevolent side. And Karma never forgets benevolence.

"You're finished, you hear me? You're done with the Agency! My report's going directly to the top, I'll see to it!"

"You do that," he said and waited for her to leave. Her exit was followed closely by the faint sound of a helicopter approaching. He lit up a cigarette and enjoyed it, and thought about the next phase of his mission. About the people that still had to die. Death was one thing, he told himself. Death was a part of everyone's life, their eventuality. But torture... That one never sat well with him. He just hoped God would overlook the times he'd already been forced to resort to it.




Chapter Nine

"You're sure these are right?" Yigal asked, leaning over a shoulder of one of the translators. The room was brightly illuminated by florescent lights.

The translator nodded, and said, "It's a very different form of Ethiopic. Purer, we think. But, yes, it's correct."

"Can I?" asked Yigal, gesturing for the notepad.

"Sure," said the translator, handing it to him.

Yigal pulled the densely-written notes close to his eyes. Line by line he scanned with eagerness, his mouth watering as the translation to on meaning. He received the words like a person receives a gift at their birthday. Only these were a gift from God, he thought. "How much longer until you finish?"

"A week, maybe sooner."

Yigal returned the notes to the translator's desk, and said, patting him on the back, "Then by all means continue." He left the lab and made his way to his office. Closing the door behind him, he quickly sat down at his desk and took a pen in hand. He grabbed the folder on top of the stack of folders and opened it, removing the report within.

The first line of the title page read: QUMRAN SITE - DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXTENSION

The second line read: CAVE 12 - AREA 5 - GRID 18

The third line read: SITE CODE QDS-339

He peeled the page back and began poring over its contents, taking notes on his observations of the translation, scribbling various charts on separate pieces of paper then comparing them to his conclusions. He threw out the ones that didn't flow logically, and slowly, methodically the text came together. It was evolving from a collection of disparate verses and fragments of verses to a body of work that could be studied and learned from.

The one Yigal was looking at revealed a scene involving a visit between Enoch and the first couple. It was translated: "It was the evening of the eighth moon when the Son of God visited me. Eve entered along with him. Adam was saddened and weighed down by the passage of time, but still had a strength about him that commanded respect. Eve retained her beauty, that of the work of God's own hand, a masterpiece of which there was no equal in all the world, and that time had only managed to make richer. The First Parents. Adam voiced concern about the Giants and their affect on the world and questioned me as to my assignment from God. After I revealed the things of God to him, and the secret arts I had learned, he broke down and cried. He begged God for mercy and forgiveness. He then cursed Shiahaza, in a fit of screaming anger, for his trickery and the Watchers for spreading evil to his family. We ate together and they left. I knew it would be the last evening I would spend with the Son of God and his beloved Eve. For God will soon remove me from this violent world, to be replaced by the Elect One."

Yigal pressed on, reading and analyzing, comparing and contrasting, documenting hypothesis after hypothesis. After finishing his work on the file, he returned its contents, along with his notes, to the folder. The clock on the wall told him it was late. Ten after two. But he wasn't tired. The journey on which he had found himself carried with it an energy that drove him, that forced him onward.

He leaned back in his chair and his thoughts drifted to the other thing that propelled him forward and gave him reason to finish his work. The objects he had tucked away in the desert meant everything. The staff, the cuneiform tablet, the copper scroll, the codex. They were essential to understanding the very beginnings of humankind and the history that followed, even man's destiny. The rest of Cave 12 would be an astounding find when released to the world. But they would be nothing more than priceless antiques.

The hidden items were the key Yigal would one day use to unlock the secrets of the universe, he imagined. At least the portion of universe man was blessed to inhabit.

A knock on his door startled him. It was General Hubble.

"Working late, doctor?" he asked.

"Always," said Yigal, staring at him in the doorway. "Is there something I can do for you?"

"There is. But it's something you need to see for yourself."

Hubble led Yigal down the hallway and into an elevator. He pulled a key from his pocket and inserted it into the slit in the control box. The white lights in the elevator turned red and it began descending rapidly. The two men didn't look at each other and didn't speak. They just clung to the handrail wrapping the walls and waited. When the doors split open, Hubble led him through a dark empty room to a vault. Hubble spun the right-left-right combination on the code wheel, and clacking noise sounded out. He forced the latch downward, and the thick door swung open.

They entered a large rectangular room, dark except for the downward pointing spotlights aimed at six tables arranged in three rows of twos. Atop the tables were the skeletons of enormous men.

"Familiar?" asked Hubble.

Yigal knew who the men were. Even more, he realized the General knew he did. He just couldn't imagine how Hubble had attained them. "How did you get these?"

"As I told you before, men in high places have an intense interest in your work," said Hubble, turning toward the skeleton in front of them. "Not quite the six you returned to the cave. What do you figure they were?"

Yigal answered slowly, "My best guess is the biblical Nephilim. But I could be wrong about that."

"How did they end up in that cave in Masada?"

"I was working on this before we found Cave 12, but as you know Cave 12 has claimed the balance of my time. Probably, these were recovered after the Flood and preserved as relics of a past time, relics that were almost worshiped. It could've been a storehouse for a museum of sorts, I suppose."

"And the etchings?" asked Hubble.

Yigal sighed, and said, "They are very similar to what is found in the Key of Solomon, though without further inspection I can't be sure."

"But if you had to guess..." pressed Hubble.

"I would say yes. The concentric circles, the pattern of pentagrams, the divine name and its placement. It's all reminiscent of that book, at least what we have of it."

"This book is why you're here, doctor," said Hubble. "We've gone to great lengths to ensure we get it. The parts discovered in Russia are merely the tip of the iceberg. The parts that are missing... these are most important."

"The book is not divine," said Yigal. "It's authorship is suspect. It's dating unsure."

"It isn't divine to a Jew of the twentieth century. But to Solomon it was everything," said Hubble. Then, grabbing Yigal's upper arm, he continued, "And to us it's even more."

Yigal locked eyes with the General and saw in them no deception. He saw a man who would be true to his character and would do anything to attain what he needed to accomplish his mission. And for the first time, Yigal's fear took hold of him.

"Are you familiar with the Clavicula Salomonis Regis?" asked Hubble.

"The Lesser Key of Solomon, yes. A book on demonology. I can assure you that Solomon had no part in its inception. The rumors are rubish."

Hubble smiled. "I think where your people go wrong is in assuming Solomon's gift of divine wisdom and riches came from the sky, merely dropped in his lap. Solomon was blessed, there's no doubt about that. But how he was blessed, now that's the really interesting part. You assume that the spirits mentioned in the text are demons from heaven, rebel angels. That is incorrect. The spirits are a race of people called the Jinn and, believe me, they are very real. Not demons the way most people imagine them, but a race of creatures brought into existence by God himself prior to us. These are the spirits Solomon conjured and kept holed up in that bronze vessel in the temple. Seventy-two of them... Look what else we found," said Hubble, taking him to another of the skeletons. He lifted the skull and rotated it so that its back was facing them.

Yigal's face tightened. Hubble noticed.

"I see you recognize the symbol," said Hubble.

"Impossible."

"A talisman from The Black Pullet. We confirmed it."

They looked intently at the square amulet, a pattern with various etchings within two smaller circles and a flower in the middle.

Yigal protested, "But that book was written in the eighteenth century. These bones are..."

"Thousands of years old? I know. But here it is, staring back at us, a goddamn testament of time... The French didn't dream this up in some mythical, fictional book of magic. It was handed to them by someone who knew, which also confirms what is written in The Grand Grimoire."

"And you're saying the evil spirits the books speak of aren't demons at all? They're Jinn?" asked Yigal.

"Now you're catching on," said Hubble. "The knowledge of summoning these bastards has been with us all along. We just haven't had all of the instructions. Maybe this will lead us to the rest."

Yigal suddenly realized what the General was looking for. "You think this symbol is the Seal of Solomon, that allegedly gave him power to control the spirits."

"We hoped that was the case," he said. "Unfortunately, it didn't pan out."

"You aren't US military, are you?"

Hubble shook his head.

"Who then?"

"Much more important than who we are is what we know and how we use it," said Hubble, allowing Yigal to digest his statement. "How familiar are you with Egyptian mythology?"

Yigal shrugged his shoulders. "I have a vague understanding."

"The Egyptians worshiped a god and goddess named Thoth and Ma'at. Through Solomon's writings we have learned that Thoth was one of the Watchers, one of the fallen angels from heaven. Ma'at was the human wife he took for himself. Her beauty and charisma was said to be so great that she actually changed the heart of Thoth and persuaded him to become a balancing force in their violent world. Thoth soon became known as the Pendulum because he would swing to one side or the other when he saw that side needed support. His goal was to maintain a balance of powers so that no one Watcher would become too powerful. He kept them from uniting and destroying the world. And for such work he was forgiven by God and allowed to return to heaven, this time as an archangel. He was given the name Uriel."

Yigal looked at Hubble with eyes full of disbelief and uncertainty. "This cannot be true."

"Afraid it is. All of it."

"Then I must admit that my being here suddenly seems... pointless. You obviously know much more than I do. You provided the translators, the lab, the security."

"Your presence here is quite meaningful, rest assured. Our people can translate, true. But can they shed light on what they've translated? Can they compare the texts and comprehend the message? They do not have your credentials and they are not qualified to make assumptions about they translate. They merely put the texts into a language that can later be poured over and studied and catalogued."

Hubble gripped Yigal's upper arm, and said, "That's where you come in."




Chapter Ten

Screams of children and adult pleadings rang out from behind the thick steel door. They were the kind of screams that brought people to their knees in grief and sorrow. Helpless and horrified shrieks from innocent children. The hiss of gas being released into their cell followed. Coughing and gagging replaced the cries. Soon there was silence.

Grady woke the next morning in a hotel he couldn't remember, beside a sleeping woman named Alice. He was sweating profusely and his heart was racing. It was a nightmare he had been having for weeks now. The woman's real name--if he was to believe her--was Traci. It was one of the confessions she made to him on the night of their honeymoon three summers back.

The sunight was beginning to filter in through the thin fabric of the curtains, and it illuminated her shapeliness and her long flowing red hair and he remembered why he married her. He rolled off the end of the bed and walked through the curtains out onto balcony. The view of the Jerusalem just waking from its slumber was before him. A system of clouds in the distance was churning and billowing into what would soon be a severe thunderstorm, which did little to improve his mood.

"Up already?" her voice came from behind. She wrapped her arms around his chest and pressed her body against his. "You. Deep in thought. And before the sun's even fully up... Not the Grady I know. Got a lot on your plate?"

He leaned back into her, and said, "And then some."

"Another nightmare?"

"More of the same."

"Whatever you've done was what you had to do," she warmly assured him. "Don't forget that."

"It's what we tell ourselves, anyway," he replied. The memory of Ferko Imre writhing in pain flashed through his mind. Blood pouring from his ear, the empty socket that once housed his left eyeball staring back at him. He quickly cleared his thoughts, and asked, "How about you?"

"Ah, my jobs are always the easy ones, you know that. The bulk of my work's destined for the Studies. And then my mom can really be proud of her little girl and what she's become. Yours, on the other hand..." Alice spoke of the Studies in Intelligence, the brainchild of Kent Sherman. It was a collection of critical articles and mission reports that had been declassified and opened to public scrutiny. It was wholly reviled by every operative as a betrayal of trust, of their country selling them out to appease an unappeasable public.

Grady nodded. "I'm sure your mom's plenty proud."

"Yeah. Every mom's dream. My baby girl on her knees for her country. Norman Rockwell sweet," she teasingly said.

"Anything for the good of the country."

"When will you be back in town?" she asked.

"Depends on the meet."

"Well, you're not supposed to know this, but I'll be in San Francisco by this time next week. Midnight Climax, they're calling it. So if you just happen to be in town, look me up. I'll make sure I'm easy to find."

"I will."

She allowed her fingers to graze the edge of the amulet dangling from his neck chain. "New jewelry?"

"It's part of the mission."

"Oh. I like it," she said, then paused. "You wore it all night. Is that part of the mission, too?"

He wanted to tell her everything about what he had experienced, but knew it was impossible. The things he had seen and taken part in were unearthly and he wanted to keep her as far removed from it as he could. He just nodded in answer to her question, hoping it would be enough.

She picked up on his hesitancy and dropped it. "You take care. I'll be waiting." With that, she left him on the balcony.

Grady leaned against the rail and began to rehearse the day's agenda in his mind. One name stood out in bold face type, front row and center, and above all else that clouded his thoughts.

Nicu Haas.




Chapter Eleven

Philadelphia. Holmesburg Prison. Leroy Williams scratched his head, staring down at the needle and rubber band neatly arranged on the table before him. His instructions were to strip naked and to don a bright white gown. He did just that and felt queer staring at himself in the dressing room mirror. But, hell, it was money in the bank. Forty bucks was forty bucks. He had moved out the dressing room into a hallway and finally through the door marked '1' at the end. Everything about the room was white; the walls, the tile floors, the table, the syringe. He hadn't been in the presence of this much white since the last time he visited that dance hall in uptown Philly. A mirror that Leroy figured to be at least eight feet wide was glued to the wall directly in front of him.

He was sceptical of the scientist's claim of what was in the syringe. But in the end he didn't much care. In the pen, money was hard to come by. Most chumps slaved away for fifty cents a day. He was about to make forty dollars in less than an hour. And with the ten-year stint he was barely a year into, that money would get him all the cigarettes and nudie pictures he could handle.

"You have to inject yourself, Mr. Williams," a voice came from the white horn in the upper corner of the room. It blended it so well, Leroy had missed it.

He took a deep breath and readied his vein with the rubber band. Drugs had never been his thing, not even when most of friends had drifted down that path. He was a criminal, a thief, but never an addict. Never a user. Oh well, he thought. You ain't gettin' any younger or richer by just sittin' here.

He placed the needle's tip against the bulge in his arm and inserted it through the skin and into the vein. He pressed the plunger slowly until the fluid was emptied into his bloodstream. All he had to do was wait. He leaned back in his chair and thought about what he would do with his new-found wealth. Maybe the guards would let him have some quality time with his girl during a conjugal visit. Or maybe he would buy some protection against the growing gang of cracker fags on the block.

A minute passed. Nothing.

It was the moment he cleared his throat that the walls began to breathe. Suddenly his heart was racing and he couldn't stop gasping. There was no air. They had cut off the air, he thought. As hard and assertive as his breathing was, he couldn't seem to get enough into his lungs. Sweat began to pour from his face. He was weak.

He tried to get up but couldn't find the strength. Or maybe it was coordination he'd lost. He wasn't sure.

Desperate and frightened, he screamed, "Let me out! I gotta get out! Let me of here, goddammit!"

But they didn't listen. The walls were caving in around him. The room had shrunk to half its original size in heaving groans. He could hear the walls cracking and coming apart. The plaster was raining down on him now. It hurt. It hurt like hell. Then it was the mirror. It fractured at first, in jagged lines that spidered outward from the center, before shattering into a million pieces. This was accompanied by a sharp burst of high-pitched sound.

Then the room which was once so white went black. Leroy's face smashed into the tabletop as he went into cardiac arrest.

"What was the time?" asked Morgan Hall, standing behind the mirror looking in at Leroy on the other side.

The tech glanced at his watch. "Three minutes, twenty-two seconds."

"Shit! That was the new cocktail?"

"Yes, sir."

They watched as a team of physicians scurried about the black man in the white room. It took them some time, but they ultimately revived him. And a week later he had signed up for the next series of tests, the latest batch of drugs that badly needed guinea pigs.

Some days it was sticking his arm into a barrel containing a mystery solution, holding it under for thirty and forty minutes at a time for a straight month. Other days he endured theimplantation of cadaver parts into various areas of his body to see if they would grow. One day they offered him twenty dollars to rub some sort of acid onto his scrotum until the first layer of skin had melted away. He couldn't get out of his cell for eight days after that one.

Leroy was one of dozens of inmates at Holmesburg who agreed to undergo all manner of experimentation in exchange for money and shortened sentences. Most died within a year. Some, like Leroy, survived to tell the tale. His ten years were shortened to three, when he was released and promptly ran over by a bus two weeks later.

The tests were intended to study the fluctuations in personality following exposure to various stimuli. The project's backers wanted to gain hard data on the effects of mental probing at numerous levels. And data they received. Of the four hundred twenty-eight test subjects, none lived past their fifty-first birthday. Leroy was thirty-six they day the city bus plowed over him at the intersection of Berkley and Broadway. The driver never saw the inside of a courtroom, and soon the departments involved in the investigation had lost all records that verified his employment. Even his existence.



Three thousand miles away, on the west coast, another experiment was underway in San Francisco. The brothel had been wired with every form of surveillance tool the Company could dream up. Cameras and microphones in every room, hallway, stall, nook, and closet. The mirrors were all two-way Mirropane. Feeds from the electronics were channeled into a central control room where the data was viewed and recorded and archived for later analysis. Three technicians was all it took to run the show.

Traci was one of the CIA's highest-quality 'skin agents'. She had done it all, from blowing CEOs in penthouse suites to handjobbing street pimps in backalleys for intel. No objective was too creepy or dangerous for Traci. And the DCI loved her for it.

This night she was riding a fat upper-management prick, Lloyd Franks, who was being setup to serve as a CIA asset after being blackmailed with the full-color reel of his escapades. He was filmed doing blow and having sex with a woman he thought to be an attractive prostitute. Later, as he would recall, she was a little too attractive which should have raised rad flags. Instead, her wares raised something else, much to his chagrin.

After Lloyd finished, he gripped her backside and squeezed. "You sure are a looker."

Traci smiled. "Well, thank you Lloyd. I try." She lifted herself off his crotch and walked over to the dresser. She stared into the mirror. "You love your wife, Lloyd?"

"Sometimes."

"You think things'd probably go easier in your life if our little romp stayed our little secret?"

He screwed up his face at hearing her question. "What, you need more money to keep your pretty little ass quiet?"

Traci continued to gaze at herself in the mirror. She leaned forward and teased her hair back into proper order, and said, "If only life were that easy. No, honey. Can't buy yourself out of this one. You've been a naughty boy."

"I don't know what you're getting at, but I'm not sure I like it."

"Oh, you won't," she said. Then, turning to him, she instructed, "Turn on the boob tube. See for yourself."

Lloyd got up off the bed and marched to the television set. Flipping it on, his heart sank into his balls. He was watching a replay of their twenty minutes of sin together. He turned it off and spun around to find Traci aiming a pistol in his direction. "What is this?"

"It's payday, honey. Now you go on and get dressed. When you're presentable, exit through that door. There'll be two men waiting for you. They'll tell you what's next."

She held the gun on him until he disappeared through the door. She let out a sigh of relief and said, "Did we get it?"

A voice came from above. "We got it all. Great work."




Chapter Twelve

April. 1959. A week had passed when Grady found himself sitting in an uncomfortable chair on the patio of a Jerusalem cafe. Waiting. Mid-morning. The last two cups of Middle Eastern coffee had him plenty wired and his patience was running thin. In times like these, he often tried to think back to the days when the game was new and his will was strong. But much had changed over the years, and he had gradually forgotten why he ever signed up for the job. He tried to remember, it just wasn't there.

Then it came to him, initially hazy then clearer. It was adventure and the romanticism of it all. Traveling the world, meeting interesting people doing interesting work. Then there were the ladies. Until, of course, he met Traci. It changed him, altered his view of the world and the future. Now he only engaged in bedroom escapades when it was absolutely vital to mission success, and even then imagining his lover as his wife. But most of all, it was being part of something bigger than himself, something meaningful. Something that would dull the pain of losing his parents at such an early age.

"Mr. Hen?" asked the waiter as he approached, snapping him out of his daze.

"Yes," Grady answered. Today his name was Jeremy Hen.

"There's an Alfred Fox on the phone for you," said the waiter, and led him inside to a private booth.

Grady had a slight grin, when he spoke into the receiver, "Fox and the Hen, I get it."

"Clever, huh? How's the meet?"

"A non-event so far. Short, Arabic, balding with glasses, right?"

"That's right."

"Then the blend is working. That description fits about ninety percent of these bastards."

"That's the idea."

"About the girl," said Grady, deciding to bring up the subject himself before inevitably being ambushed by his boss. "She had nothing else to offer."

"That wasn't the caser's story."

"Yeah. Well, the caser should never have been there. She was going to compromise everything. She's a twisted bitch, you know that."

"Yes, I know. It's where her value lies with the Agency. Yours lies in different areas, but it doesn't lie is in questioning your caseworker."

Grady hesitated before answering. Then he realized what he was being told. "She's on this one, too."

"The Director thought it best. Consistency and flow are important to him. As they should be to you."

"She's going to fuck it up," Grady said in an even tone, as if uttering prophesy. "She's got it in for me."

"Then I suggest you make nice. And call me after the meet," the man said and hung up the phone.

Grady hung the receiver on its cradle and looked at the ceiling and cursed inwardly, before returning to his table. A table that had a man sitting in the chair opposite his. Short and Arabic. Male-pattern baldness with glasses.

"You're late," said Grady, taking his seat.

The man stared back at him, and said in an unapologetic tone, "Traffic."

"Nicu Haas. What've you got?"

"I've always been curious. Why did the rooster cross the road?"

The riddle didn't help Grady's mood, but he knew that without answering correctly, the man would be gone in two seconds flat. "To fuck the owl on the other side. Would that help to move things along?"

"Very helpful, yes," he said, and sipped his coffee. "But their union results in the hatching of a baby boy. What will people say about the boy when he grows up?"

"Hey, look! There goes a cock that can stay up all night! Are we done?"

"You're an odd man, Jeremy. Protocol is our job, you know. It isn't the mark. It's protocol."

He tapped his wrist, though he was wearing no watch. "Haas, please."

"The doctor has had no contact with Yadin or anyone else connected with Cave 12. The University is clean." He spoke of the Hebrew University-Hadassah, and particularly the Department of Anatomy of which Dr. Nicu Haas headed. "All communications are being monitored; postal correspondence, board meetings, lectures, oversight committees. It's all in the loop."

"You just make sure that when Yadin makes contact, I'm the first man who knows! You got that?"

The man nodded. "I take my work as seriously as you do."

"Good," said Grady, standing up. He tossed a few dollars on the table and said, "I'll be watching you." He had no intention of watching the short man with glasses, but knew it sounded official and hoped it would make him uncomfortable.

Grady walked away and left Jerusalem for the next stop on his world tour, wishing badly it were San Francisco and a night of passion with his wife. It wasn't.




Chapter Thirteen

The following Tuesday in Paris. The room was large with a high, vaulted ceiling and large doors on opposite walls. The floor was black marble. An oval table of polished white stone was positioned in the center with five chairs surrounding it. Five world leaders sat quietly in their seats.

Charles Andre Joseph Marie de Gaulle was the first to break the silence. "So," he said, staring at Eisenhower. "What is it that was so terribly urgent? As you are aware, I now have a nation to control. So my time is limited." His raven-black hair retained its immutable sheen and was plastered tightly to his head, parted to the side and combed over. His hairline had not receded one bit, though the sizable bags beneath his eyes gave notice of his seventy years of age and experience. Pale skin, pointy ears, and a thin mustache whose edges never made it to the corners of his mouth, were the features most memorable; though his mustache was not nearly as stunted as Hitler's had been.

"And the American people are proud of the role they played in ensuring you would have a nation to run," said Eisenhower, glaring back at him.

"You boast of this to curry favor, no?" asked de Gaulle, dropping his chin and awaiting a reply.

"Not at all. Just a reminder that we're in this thing together. For the long-haul."

"You speak to me of reminders? I am no child. I fought in two world wars, General!"

"And had your ass handed to you both times!" Eisenhower cringed as the words left him.

"I suppose you fought the Revolutionary War on your own as well!" de Gaulle's voice cracked in exclamation.

"Listen, this is not what we're here for," said Eisenhower. "The past is the past and I'm more than okay with leaving it there. I apologize for my insensitivity."

The Frenchman forced a grin, and said, "Very well. I see that we memorialize history differently. So be it. I accept your apology. Still, I have one question. Why isn't Khrushchev part of these proceedings?"

Eisenhower answered in a muffled tone, "The Russians aren't involved."

"Is there a reason?"

"They're not to be trusted," said Eisenhower. "It's as simple as that."

"And yet the two of you are scheduled to meet this very year. Curious that."

"Why don't we keep national interests separate from this discussion. This meeting is hardly the forum in which to debate foreign policy," said Eisenhower.

"Agreed," said de Gaulle. "Let us get on with it."

Eisenhower made a quick study of the other three faces in the group; those of Winston Churchill of England, Francisco Franco of Spain, and Giovanni Gronchi of Italy. All of them wore expressions of disinterest and boredom of the exchange. Churchill seemed more involved with gnawing on the lengthy Romeo y Julieta cigar jutting from his mouth and fiddling with his favorite silver ashtray, while Franco and Gronchi occupied themselves with the contents of the folders before them.

"Has everyone here sworn to their oaths of inclusion and separation?" asked Eisenhower, speaking of the sacred oath each of them as members of the Skotare were required to take prior to any meeting of The Five.

They all answered in the affirmative.

Eisenhower sighed, before saying, "The key has been found, gentlemen. And let me tell you that it's so much more than we had ever anticipated."

"The key?" ask de Gaulle. "The key to what?"

Eisenhower glanced over at Churchill, who rolled his eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and sucked intensely on the cigar, its tip glowing red and shedding ash.

A perturbed de Gaulle noticed the attitude in the room was not edging in his favor, and said, "I realize I am new to this Skotare, or whatever the hell it is. But if I am going to be effective in my role, someone had better fill me in."

"The folders in front of you will explain where we are," said Eisenhower, somewhat dodging the Frenchman's order. "In it you will find instructions on what to do next. The additions to the existing text are in red. These were found in another cave near the Dead Sea." The group followed along and examined their folders, marked in bold red lettering that read 'Pandora'. "As you will see, the new information has been quite helpful in fleshing out our understanding of the Prophesy."

"If it is not too much to ask, what is this Prophesy?" asked de Gaulle, shooting an irritated glance at Churchill.

"The Prophesy," answered Eisenhower, "has been in play for over five thousand years, beginning with the Minoans. The gist of it is that we're not alone. I'll briefly go over the basics for those of us not up to speed. First, there was God. He's at the top. He made angels who in turn made physical creation. Somewhere along the way, there was a major shift in loyalties. This shift created two opposing organizations of spirit creatures, those on God's side and those who weren't. Basically 'angels' and 'demons'. The demons followed the lead of a rebel angel named Shemyazaz. He along with his top two generals, Arakiel and Azazel, revealed to man an ancient race of beings and called them the Jinn. They were created before man but were made inferior in status to man. These Jinn, like us, have a separate spirit and body. The difference being that they have the ability to take on the form of either one. You remember the stories you were told in Sunday School about the violent world of Enoch and Noah? About the giants that lived among them? Remember unicorns, Pegasus, cyclops, chimera, Medusa? Now imagine them as real. These were some of the genetic experiments of the Jinn."

"You speak in jest," said de Gaulle.

"See anyone smiling?"

"Angels and demons? Giants before the Flood?" he audibly questioned, glancing around the table at the others. "I took the damn oath from my predecessor just to get him off my back, but I never for one moment thought all of this was real. He did make mention that the Skotare have been around since the beginning. I just hadn't a clue he meant the VERY beginning."

"Well, he was right," said Churchill, exhaling a thick plume of dark smoke. "And we need you on board, minus the horseshit attitude."

"You want horseshit, Prime Minister? Let's talk Oran," said de Gaulle, staring coldly at Churchill. "One thousand Frenchmen dead at your order, and you wish my people to simply forget it ever happened? We will never forget."

"French hands were as dirty as ours at Oran, General," said Churchill, returning his glare. "You had ample..."

"Gentlemen, please," interrupted Eisenhower. "It's absolutely crucial that we're of one mind before proceeding. It only gets tougher from here. You'll hear names like 'the Great Pyramid of Blood', 'the Blood Watcher', goddamn 'City of Blood', terms that we're just beginning to grasp the meaning of. We're flirting with the fringes of known science, known history for that matter, and the last thing we need is for one of us to have doubts." Then, eyeing de Gaulle, he said, "Or any of us harboring resentment for past strategic decisions."

"Proof, Dwight," fired de Gaulle. "What proof do you have that this is not some elaborate hoax handed down over the centuries? The world was flat to that society, no? They thought the Earth was the center of the universe, held up by turtles or elephants or some nonsense. Their minds were shit."

"Shitty thinking is something man has never been able to cure himself of," added Gronchi. "But their minds were no worse off than ours are. To be sure, the Middle Ages were not kind to our accumulation of knowledge as a species. But prior to that, we as a race thought very clearly. Hell, Aristotle knew the Earth was round five hundred years before Christ was born. The pre-Flood society knew it well. These scrolls prove it."

"Legend has it," Franco chimed in, curiously, "that this knowledge was lost when the Library of Alexandria was burned to the ground. It was founded not long after Aristotle's lifetime and was rumored to have housed many of his own works, along with several key documents relating to the days prior to the Flood. Are we to assume these are the original writings relating to those lost in Alexandria?"

"Quite possibly," said Eisenhower.

"Pure conjecture," said de Gaulle, shocked at the group's gullibility. "No one knows what the hell was in that building, or what was on those scrolls."

"Perhaps now we do," said Eisenhower. "These new scrolls prove that the myths of our past have substantive basis, even if some of the specific details have been embellished. In fact, I'll go you one further and say that proof is even in the Bible, if you have the key. The problem all this time has been that vital parts of Holy Scripture were missing, some were even added to further cloud the issue, to keep the Prophesy hidden. Until now."

"And these scrolls are in your possession?" pressed de Gaulle.

"In OUR possession, yes. They do not belong to the United States government. In fact, with few exceptions, my government is completely unaware of their existence. No, they belong to us as a group. To the Skotare."

"And you're here to edify us of their value," said de Gaulle.

"After today, this group will have one goal, and one goal only. We must convince our people that war, global war at least, is something to be avoided at all costs. With the help of the UN, I think we can accomplish this." Eisenhower looked at de Gaulle. "You mentioned my visit with Khrushchev. It has much to do with this very objective. This Cold War our two nations are fighting must remain exactly that. Cold. If this can be done, the five of us here tonight will have the honor of playing a key role in adjusting the very course of man so that the Prophesy can be realized. That is our mission."

"These scrolls," said de Gaulle. "Do they have a name?"

Eisenhower gave another once-over of the group, and said, "We're calling the collection 'The Martian Codex'."




Chapter Fourteen

"The knowledge that makes us cherish innocence makes innocence unattainable."
Irving Howe

The mass of a spiritual presence stood nearby, out of sight and quiet. The jinn in his form was making love to a gorgeous woman next to the stream that descended in winding turns down Mount Ararat. The two were locked in the lovers' embrace, sharing gestures of lust. Heaving and begging and moaning to the point that these sounds were the only ones interrupting the trickling of the stream.

The spirit enjoyed his voyeuristic role, but this day was immeasurably special. This day the jinn would lend her his seed and soon a child would be born to him. A male hopefully, though the spirit had no control over the resulting sex.

Grady woke, startled at his vision. It was a vision he'd had before. Always the spirit nearby and always him having relations with a beautiful woman. Many details about the vision had changed over the years; the position they assumed during their union, the smell of her body, the shape of the clouds overhead. One thing didn't change. The stream and its flow were always there and always the same. One day he hoped to understand it, if it had meaning at all.

It was May of 1959 when Grady descended the stairway from the plane and approached a stretched limo, its windows as black as the body. He entered and sat down next to Kim. She wore a black dress and a white blouse and was wearing makeup for the first time he could remember. She looked nice, which was something he wasn't used to.

"Sorry to see me?" she asked.

"Not at all," said Grady, holding out his hand. "I think we got off on the wrong foot earlier. I'll make it up to you."

Kim shook his hand, and said, "You've spoken to Riley."

Grady nodded, and unbuttoned his suit jacket. "You know I have."

"And you've met with Traci."

"A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell."

"You don't have to. I had you followed," said Kim, wearing a smirk that reeked of her superior mindset.

"Well, then," he said, playfully. "Have I broken any rules?"

"Probably," said Kim. "But, hell. A guy wants to poke around with his wife, who am I to get in the way of that? Keep your focus and you and I'll get on like a house on fire."

"Got it."

"Now," she said, handing him a folder. "Brass tacks. We need this guy to disappear. Kinda like your Jewish friend, only faster."

Grady lifted the paper-clipped photograph and scanned the dossier beneath it. David Petrie. Born 1879, London. Wife, kids, grand-kids. All the standard background fluff. Then something unusual caught his eye. 3rd Director General of MI5 from 1941-46. He spent thirty-six years in the Indian Police force, then moved on to SIS field agent before heading up MI5.

Grady looked at Kim, and said, "What the hell did he do, piss in the Queen's soup? This guy's got to be a goddamn legend to these people."

"Was a legend," Kim corrected him, stressing the 'was' in her statement. "Just remember, the mark will be protected. Proceed accordingly."

"Yes, ma'am."

"I trust your budding conscience won't get the better of you this time."

Grady looked her in the eye, and said, "Tell me what you would have me do to regain your trust."

"For starters, you've never had my trust. So it'd be impossible to 'regain' it."

"Fair enough. How can I attain your trust?"

"You're sure you're up to this?" she asked. "Okay. How about you kill an innocent man?"

Grady was instantly sorry he ever made the offer. But there it was. On the table and staring back at him. And from a woman that didn't appear to know what a moral compass was, let alone have one. He glared at her, but resisted the temptation to feed her the back of his hand. After a few seconds of mentally playing out how it would work, he said in a firm tone, "Done."

"You would do that?" she asked, surprised at his apparent lack of reluctance.

"I killed the girl, didn't I?"

"She wasn't so innocent. No, I'm talking about a man I pick out on the street. A random man, someone merely passing by on the sidewalk, guilty of nothing more than choosing the wrong day for a stroll. Could you do it?" she asked and waited, studying his expression, his eyes.

"You lead the way," said Grady, without balking. It was a debate he wouldn't win, and he knew it.

"Driver," said Kim. "The Duke's Hotel, please." She pressed a button and a jet black tinted glass shot upward, cutting them off from the front seat. She turned to Grady, "The mark will be a man sitting on the balcony of a perimeter building. A quaint little place called 22 Jermyn Street Hotel. Single head shot should do the trick."

Grady feigned a smile and cracked his neck, recalling the Karma score sheet in his head. He was down in the count and what he was about to do wouldn't help matters. 65-28 was the number. He offered a quick prayer to God, and looked out the window. His hopes were to reach the halfway point by year's end, though he knew it would be a tough order to fill with Kim on his case, testing him.

On the trip to the hotel, Grady's mind was full of thoughts of his wife and their screwy marriage. He missed her. The more they were together, the more he longed for her when she was away. He wondered what was keeping him in the employ of the Agency. He wondered why he accepted missions most men wouldn't, why he jumped at the chance to take on assignments that made others cringe and turn away and beg for desk jobs. And then to carry out those missions with such sadistic greediness. What had he become?

When they arrived, Kim handed him a suitcase and they entered the hotel and quickly checked into a room facing 22 Jermyn Street Hotel. Grady tossed the case onto the bed and opened it to find a kM107a long-range sniper rifle in three pieces. It was a prototype version of the rifle not yet released. 50. caliber, 29 inches long, and capable of striking personnel targets at over two thousand yards.

Grady spread the legs of its built-in bipod and carried it to the balcony. He set it up and slapped the magazine into the belly slot. Then he attached the muzzle brake to the tip of the barrel. He laid down and held the weapon in his hands, the cold of the metal bringing a hard reality to what he was about to do. He rested his jaw against the body of the rifle and peered into the scope.

He scanned the balcony of the distant hotel until he spotted an aged man, probably late seventies and alone.

"Got one," he said.

She stood behind him and raised a pair of binoculars to her eyes. "Where?"

"Ninth floor, fifth room from the left."

Kim followed his spot directions until she found the target. She grinned. "Nice try, but no good. Too old. Bastard probably won't make it through lunch as it is. You'd just be putting him out of his misery... How about second floor, far right corner."

Grady moved over and saw a young couple lounging with their little girl playing with a doll between them. The woman was gorgeous and wore a revealing blue bikini that covered little more than what the law required. The man was several years her senior with a thick beard and pudgy belly.

"There's a kid," said Grady, knowing how it would sound in Kim's ears.

"Yep, and the kid looks unhappy. I'll bet they abuse her," said Kim.

Her voice made him cringe. "The man, then."

"Grady," said Kim. "A man like that. Easy to kill. Not particularly attractive, incredibly lucky to have such a trophy at his side, envied by every man he knows. Probably rich, too. No, I think the woman would be a much better target."

He hesitated for a moment, but knew it was senseless. He took a deep breath and let it out, moving the crosshairs to the point between the woman's eyes. He took a quick glance at the child and saw she was a safe distance from the target, then returned to the woman. He flipped the safety to Off and placed his finger on the trigger.

"Do it," said Kim, still viewing the scene with her binoculars.

Grady instantly put a wall between his conscience and his will to win. It was a trick of his; to be able to block out what really mattered in order to get the job done. He squeezed the trigger and the mechanism made a loud clicking noise. He turned the rifle on its side and checked the bolt carrier.

Kim leaned down and put her hand on his shoulder, and said, "Jamming rounds." She spoke of the rounds specifically designed to jam an enemy's rifle, used mainly in counter-insurgency missions. "I had to be sure."

At once he was relieved, though his adrenaline was still a bit pumped from the shot. He stood up and faced her. "You didn't think I'd do it."

"On the contrary, I knew you would. Why else would I have needed to bring a jamming clip? You really think I'd order you to kill a mother right in front of her little baby? I'm not a monster."

Grady looked at her, and noticed something in her eye he hadn't seen before. It was the glint of human decency, of moral fiber. "I know you're not."

Kim gripped his upper arms and met his gaze. "There is one more test." She bit her bottom lip.

He realized then the glint he had seen in her eyes wasn't that of decency; it was one of lust, drunk with the obsession to control. Kim had never struck him as the type for one-night stands, but then again, this wasn't a request on her part. "I can handle whatever you throw at me."

"Good, because I was planning to throw myself at you. Lie down," she said, motioning for the bed. He followed her orders and began unbuttoning his shirt. She walked to the foot of the bed in front of him and removed her jacket. Then, while unbuttoning her blouse, she asked, "You're married, you know."

"We both are."

"Yes, but you actually love your wife. And that makes it different," she said, dropping the blouse to the floor. She unzipped her skirt and allowed it to slide down to her ankles. "What if this is crossing some line that can't be uncrossed? Will you resent me?"

"I resent you now."

"Perfect," she said, reaching forward, grabbing the cuffs of his pants. She pulled them from his body and crawled into a straddle on top of him. She was covered only by her bra and panties; him by his underwear. She ground herself against his growing bulge, and widened her eyes, saying, "I found something."

He reached up and squeezed her breasts. He eyed her and said, "Me, too."

"You're a much better team player than I've given you credit for," she said, reaching around and unclipping her bra. "I'll have to revise my report."

Grady tossed it aside and began caressing her nicely-shaped breasts. Then he lunged forward into a sitting position and brought his lips to her nipple and sucked it hard. She sighed and threw her head back and allowed him room to play.

"Bite them," she said in a hushed moan of pleasure.

He started nibbling on the stiff, protruding flesh, enjoying the feel of it in his mouth.

"I said 'bite them', goddammit!"

This time Grady didn't toy around, but clamped his front teeth down on her lift nipple. She screamed. He moved to the other and bit down with equal tenacity. Again she screamed.

"Yes! Oh, God, yes!" she exclaimed. Then, she put her hand between her legs and pulled her panties to the side, while reaching around behind her to free him from his cotton cage. She guided him into her and the became one.

Grady closed his eyes and felt a surge of lust come over him. He laid back as she lowered herself onto him. She raised up and then crashed back down again, the whole time locking eyes with her subordinate. She was so warm and alluring, he almost forgot he despised her. And, though not as attractive as some of the women he had been with, her earlier statement came ringing back in vivid color. Naked and horny, she was his type. At least for the moment.

He held her ass and assisted in her motions. Then it happened. She collapsed on top of him and kissed his mouth, her hot sultry breath captivating him. Or even more accurately, intoxicated him. He returned the kiss and suddenly their session became charged with passion. He turned her over so that he was on top, delivering in violent thrusts what she wanted most. Deeper and deeper he plowed into her, her legs spread wide to give him freedom to ravage.

In a matter of minutes, he was finished. It was a pace that couldn't last, one that didn't lend itself to extending what little time his natural fuse allowed.

An hour passed when they tried a second run at it. This one began with his face buried between her thighs; thighs that seemed thinner and more toned than before. She had emerged from the shower looking almost like a different woman, sexier and even more voluptuous than he remembered. The third time came after the two of them fell asleep. He woke to the incredible pleasure of her coaxing him to full bore with her own skillful use of the tongue. Again, she looked more attractive than before. Which was strange, since in his experience, women tended to lose their luster after the second session inside a couple of hours. Not only had she grown more attractive physically, she also seemed to learn more about pleasing a man with each go.

Each time was an adventure, each one as unexpected as the last, and just as erotically-charged. Through all of them, Grady refused to think about Traci. He viewed what was happening as a vital part of his job assignment and was happy there was no loss of life. This he would count as a good action. His Karma, though not at all balanced, was heading in the right direction. He prayed it would stay that way.

He woke the next morning to the sight of Kim sitting in a chair next to the bed. She was naked and staring at him with the warm glow of a woman in love. He rubbed his eyes with his fists and took a second look. She was gorgeous and thin and... relaxed.

"You... are absolutely stunning," he said, not believing what he was seeing. Her breasts were perfect. Her waist was trim. Her hair was... wavy and stylish. "Did you do something with you hair?"

"You like it?" she asked.

"I do."

"I'm glad," she said and continued staring at him.

Grady noticed a strange silence between them, the gorilla in the room that nobody felt comfortable talking about. He finally said, "About last night. You were..."

"Incredible," she finished his statement. "I know." She stood up and her nudity dumbed him to awed silence. She had shaved herself to the buttery smoothness of a goddess. He locked onto her crotch and couldn't pull away. "You've seen it before."

"Yes, but not at such an angle," he said.

"And I thought we covered every angle," she said, kneeling at his side. She crossed her arms and leaned on the bed. "About the target. It needs to be done by the end of the week. We'll meet in Paris for a debriefing after you're done." She spoke in a different tone of voice, still hers but much softer and palatable.

"I still can't get over how great you look," he said.

"I'm afraid you're going to have to. What we did last night was part of your test. I had to know if you could play along, if you could be loyal. Now I know you can," she said.

She left with a kiss to his forehead and a grabbed a silver briefcase near the door.




Chapter Fifteen

Rome. The gruff taxi driver pulled up in front of La Coupole, and eyed Traci in his rear view mirror. He watched her paint her lips, holding a compact close to her face.

"Thirty lira, please," he said.

Traci shot an irritated glance in his direction, finished touching up, and reach into her purse for the money. She pulled out fifty, folded the bills, and shoved them through the slit.

When he saw how much she had given him, he only huffed, and said, "Americans."

She exited the car and walked up the wide stone stair steps up to the front entrance, where she was met by two men who opened the thick doors and bowed in her direction. Salvatore Gambino was waiting for her near the hostess at the podium.

"My darling," said Salvatore, walking up to her. He put his lips near her ear, and said, "You look an angel this evening."

"Well, thank you," she said. "It is true what they say about Italian manners."

They were led to their table, and offered a wine, which they accepted and allowed the waiter to pour their first glass.

"So," he said, leaning toward her across the small table. A lamp and condiments were positioned between them. "Carini tells me you're here on a visa, doing research at La Sapienza. How are the facilities working out for you?"

"Fine, fine. And what a great place!" she said, sipping her wine. "So old and full of history."

"Old by American standards. Those buildings are three times the age of your entire country. But here in Rome, it is a relative newcomer."

"Gosh, I never thought of it that way," said Traci, thinking of how to extend the small talk. "Well, tell me about yourself."

"Not much to tell, really. I'm a fifty-year-old widower who spends most of his time poring over site plans and tweaking cataloging systems. Not particularly interesting conversation."

"On the contrary," she said, leaning toward him on her elbows. "I find Archaeological Analysts quite intriguing. Especially the single ones."

He smiled and took down a gulp of wine. "Carini warned me that you could be charming."

"That darned Carini," she said, biting her bottom lip.




Chapter Sixteen

Costa Rica. The earth under Grady's feet was moist and covered with sprawling ferns and vines and thorny plants that seemed to sprout in clusters. A canopy of overhanging trees blanketed him from view and shaded his surroundings. All the smells of a rain forest were present; the thick scent of disturbed bacteria, of spongy tree bark, of mildew and fungus and animal odor.

He peered through the eyepiece of the telescope aimed at a cottage two hundred yards in the distance. Its porch overlooked a wide swath of dense forest, with the ocean just beyond. Grady could see Petrie lounging in one of the wooden chairs, enjoying a thick cigar held between his lips and a drink in his hand.

Grady scanned the rest of the house, searching for the security personnel he had been warned about. But none could be found. By the time he returned his sights to Petrie, a woman was leaning in front of him, planting a kiss on his aged lips, her backside toward Grady. She was young, mid-twenties, with a pleasing figure and wearing a white bikini bottom. Latin descent, probably Mexican. Nothing covered her breasts, each of which were perfectly proportioned. Her skin, while dark, wasn't too dark. It was exceptional along with the rest of her. Long brown hair flowed over her shoulders and down to the small of her back. She sat in the chair next to him, which was separated only by a small stone-topped table.

It wasn't a shocking revelation that Petrie was trifling on his wife back in the states, but an unexpected one. Nothing in his report hinted at this part of his character, no history of affairs or even of women prior to his wife, whom he had met in college and wed soon thereafter. Still, Grady could see that the evening's nightcap would consist of more than a smoke and a gin fizz.

Grady pulled a shotgun microphone from his satchel and set it up on a tripod, aimed at the couple. After fitting an earpiece, he could make out their conversation intermingled with a bit a static.

"What a beautiful sunset, Daniel," she said in what Grady decided was a Dutch accent. "Thank you for inviting me."

"It is my pleasure. A joy to share it with such a stunning creature as yourself."

"You see me as an animal?" she asked. Her tone was coy.

"Merely hopeful, my darling. And old man's dream."

She laughed, and nodded toward his cigar. "Give me that."

"They're bad for you," he said, handing it to her.

"So is adultery," she returned, bringing the cigar to her lips and inhaling a mouthful of its product. She blew it out and closed her eyes. "Nice."

"You're enjoying a Montecristo."

"Is it considered good?"

"The best, if I'm the judge. Millennium Reserve Robusto. Six inches of heaven."

Again she laughed, then nodded and took another toke. "You British know your vices well."

He took the cigar from her, and brought it to his mouth and held it with his teeth. He said, "As long as we held the world's reins, it was incumbent upon us to know the markets. Tobacco was an important part of the economy in those days."

"You had a good run."

"Yes, we did. Damn the Germans for bringing it to an end. But, yes we did."

Grady checked his watch. 7:22pm. The chit-chat was boring him, but he continued to listen in. At the very least, the half-naked woman made for great eye candy while waiting for their next move.

"Thirty years in India," she said. "Must've been meaningful work."

"Thirty-six, and it was a powder-keg, that place. Who can blame them? My people have never taken foreign dominion well, either. Why would we think they would be any different?"

"But you gave their country the foundation to be successful," she argued. "You gave them a chance to be a future power. I respect that."

"I suppose we did some good. Still, that wasn't our motive. Our motive was profit, pure and simple. And profit always trumps human dignity, or at least it does so in the eyes of the monarchy."

"Every world power has done terrible things in the name of profit and progress. Don't beat yourself up over it. Besides," she said, standing up before him with her drink in her hand. "I find powerful men to be very desirable." She downed the entire glass of gin and sat it on the table. Then, she crawled into a straddle on his lap, and looked into eyes. "And I see you as a very, very powerful man."

She removed the cigar from his lips' grasp, sucked it quickly and blew a plume of smoke in his face. She rested its mass on the table and sat the drink next to it. She kissed him, biting down on his lips, and sucking them before letting them snap back into place. Then she straightened her back and pushed her chest forward near him, accentuating her youthful figure. She next placed her hands on the back of his head and pulled him into her embrace, his mouth finding her nipples and enjoying the feel of her flesh across his tongue.

Grady found himself aroused by her seduction and watched closely.

The woman held the old man by his jaws, and said, "You don't mind wearing protection, do you?"

Petrie's blood pressure was so high all he could manage was a shake of the head.

The woman leaned over to retrieve something from under his chair, and began passionately kissing him as she came up. Then in a single calculated, and highly professional motion, she pressed the silenced barrel of a pistol to Petrie's temple and squeezed the trigger. The bullet exited the other side of his head in a burst of blood, a rogue spray of it painting her upper body and neck. She held him and allowed his lifeless body to rest in the chair. She kissed two of her fingers and planted them on his lips.

Grady couldn't believe what he was seeing. The gorgeous mistress had just assassinated his mark in a way that told Grady she was much more than a gold-digging adulteress. He watched her stand up and look down at the corpse. "You will be remembered well, my dear Daniel." Then she threw the pistol into the forest with all her might and scanned the landscape. Afterward she went inside, and out of Grady's line of sight.

He decided to approach the scene and learn more about the woman and her business there. By the time he reached the cottage, he could hear the shower going in the rear of the structure. He climbed the stairs up to the balcony and saw Petrie's body, his blood still dripping from the wound into a thick puddle beneath him, his arms dangling lifelessly past the sides of the chair. Smoke was still emanating from the tip of the cigar.

Grady unholstered his pistol and entered the cottage. It was very small and consisted of only a kitchen area, a bed in the corner, a couch before a television set, and a closed door behind which was a running shower, steam seeping through the slit at the top. He reclined on the bed and waited for her to show herself.

After a few minutes, the water stopped and he tightened his grip on the pistol. The woman soon emerged from the bathroom, fully nude and carrying a towel. At first she didn't see him and bent over and began drying her hair. He watched and admired the view and waited. When she came out of her lean she spotted him. Her eyes showed surprise for a split second before returning to normal.

"It isn't polite to walk in unannounced," she said, dropping the towel to her feet in a move Grady knew was meant to distract him. And she was right; her nudity was indeed her greatest weapon. Her accent had changed now to one closer to her Latin roots.

"Neither is blowing an old man's head off under the auspices of seduction," said Grady, standing up beside the bed.

She smiled. "Should I put something on, or would you like to frisk me for contraband?"

"I want to know what the hell you're doing here."

"That should be obvious," she said. Then taking note of his displeasure, she added, "It depends on who's asking."

"The man with the gun."

"And you would shoot a naked woman? I think not."

"If life bores you, try me," he said. "And that's a good trick with the accent. Polished."

"You like that?" she asked, grinning, knowing his surveillance was more than visual. "You've been doing more than watching me, naughty boy... You're a professional, aren't you?"

"At least one thing we have in common."

She nodded. "And you are... married."

"At least one thing we don't have in common."

"You're CIA."

"Enough about me," he said. "Your turn."

She clasped her hand behind her, and tilted her head. "MI5."

"Bullshit."

"Believe what you want."

He could tell she was being truthful, but he didn't want to accept it. "Why would MI5 have one of their own directors eliminated?"

"My job is not to ask questions," she said. "It is to do what I'm told. Surely in America you have similar training."

Grady took a deep breath and gestured with his pistol for her sit down on the bed. "Take a seat." He moved away from the bed to the far wall and kept his eyes trained on her. "Put your hands where I can see them."

"Surely," she said, pulling a thin dagger from between her clenched buttocks and, in a single motion, slung it to the floor where its tip sunk deeply into the wood. She looked at Grady and smiled as she crawled onto the bed and laid down on her side facing him, one leg bent at the knee which gave him a great view of her hairless treasure.

"Wise choice," he said. "And nice entry prep."

"Never walk into a room without knowing how to get out, my mom always said."

"Wise woman. But that knife was your way out. You missed."

"Intentionally," she said, and squeezed one of her breasts. "A working girl must leave other options on the table. Especially when there's a strapping man in the room holding a gun."

"Why do you think you were sent here, to kill Petrie I mean?"

"I suppose he saw something he shouldn't have. That's the usual reason."

"A lifetime of service wasn't reason enough for your people to trust him?"

"As I said, I don't ask why. I just do what I'm told."

"From what I've seen you're quite good at doing just that."

"Thank you," she said, eyeing him lustfully. "What now? I'm still technically on the clock, so if you want to have a little fun..." She drew out her last words, while burrowing a finger between her labian folds, glistening with its juices. "We have time."

Grady watched her skillfully tease herself in a masterful move to get him to drop his guard. Then it dawned on him. She was holding back, hesitating, stalling. "You know something you're not telling me."

"I know many things I'm not telling you. But wouldn't it be more fun to play?"

"Playtime's over," he said. A renewed enthusiasm to get the bottom of it all had overtaken him. "You have five seconds to make the right choice. Five, four..."

"If I tell you what I know, I'm dead."

"You're dead if you don't. What do you have to lose? Three, two..."

"Alright," she said. "But I must have your word as an American that you will help me get out of here."

"I'll consider it."

"Fair enough. Our governments are not so disparate as you would think. They have much in common... Much to hide."

"Boring."

"There are men in high places around the world who needed Petrie to go away. He knew too much and his reaction to what he knew began to frighten them."

"High places?"

"The highest. Your government and mine. These men belong to some organization, some order. And when they meet, people die."

"People like Petrie."

"And others. Don't think they would hesitate to kill us both for what we know."

"A secret society," he said. "Hollywood fluff."

"You're wrong. This is no mere secret society where the members meet and hold hands and jerk each other off. It isn't Skulls and Bones or Templar mythology. Its roots stretch back far into man's history, more than five thousand years."

"Five thousand years."

"And they act as one."

"Then why is the world constantly at war?" asked Grady, wondering if what she was saying was true. "Why did we witness two global wars in the space of thirty years?"

"I'm afraid what I've told you is the extent of my knowledge. But these men are determined to protect the secrecy of what they do. It has something to do with Cairo and the Damascus Documents."

Grady thought about the documents for a moment, and said, "But your country is in possession of the Damascus Documents. They're public property, as far as I can recall. Cambridge, I believe."

"They've culled out what the public is allowed to see. There are other documents, entire books written long ago that they haven't allow the public to become aware of, and these are what have given the organization their power. It is a power that can be used to manipulate entire nations."

"How do you know all of this?"

"There was a man, an archaeologist in Israel. I was sent to kill him. But before I did, he told me what he knew in hopes that I would let him live. I shouldn't have listened, but my curiosity got the better of me. He told me about a collection of books written by Solomon. Mostly history, but several were much more. Their contents recorded his power, the source of his incredible wisdom and ability to lead. I know this is all a lot of information, but you must believe me. I'm telling the truth, and neither of us are safe knowing it."

Grady thought for a moment about what she was telling him, about what knowledge Petrie may have been privy to. "If all this is true, why didn't you probe Petrie before killing him?"

"It wasn't part of my mission."

"That's not what I asked."

"I didn't have to," she snapped. "I knew as much as he did about the books. Probably more."

In an instant, Grady knew why he had been sent to find Petrie. It wasn't simply a hit on him. It was a hit on the woman before him. He stared at her, attempting to put together what she had told him. He didn't speak, and the silence unnerved her.

"I have a name," she said.

Grady nodded an encouragement to continue.

"Roland de Vaux."

"Go on."

"He knows much more than he has released at Qumran. He keeps his notes in a safe in Jerusalem. I can get them."

"You've seen them?"

"No," she said. "But I know they exist."

Grady mulled over her offer, sure by now of his unofficial mission to take her life along with Petrie's. He asked, "Why haven't they killed you for what you know?"

"Because they don't know what I know."

"If that's true," said Grady, slowly. "Then by telling me, you just killed yourself."

"I killed us both," she said, grinning.

The truth of her cold statement hit Grady like a maul. He raised the pistol to a level even with her face, and held it there. Steady. Silent. Her grin melted into a muffled expression of shock.

"Please!" she said, stretching her arms toward the ceiling. She suddenly seemed more interested in being helpful. "I have the combination to de Vaux's safe. I will take you there."

"I can find my own way."

"My way is faster. And cleaner." Her tone was desperate.

"You don't deserve to live."

"I know," she said, softly.

Grady looked into her eyes and saw fear. Raw, unvarnished fear for the first time. He saw a woman who had constructed a very professional shell around a very human center. He could see her soul, that she was a conflicted individual as he was, that her bravery was equal to her femininity. Without flinching, he squeezed off a single round that struck the wall behind her. Their eyes never broke free.

He rested the smoking pistol on his thigh. "You got a name?"

"Maggie."

"Strange name for a Mexican."

"It would be. I'm Cuban."

"Strange name for a Cuban, too... Well, Maggie. Don't make me regret it."

"I won't," she said, wanting to get up off the bed but afraid to move.

Grady nodded. "Roland de Vaux it is."






to be continued...
© Copyright 2004 A.K. Thorn (kanerowel at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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