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F Paul Wilson - Novel 03

BOOK: F Paul Wilson - Novel 03
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VIRGIN

 

MARY
ELIZABETH MURPHY

 

 

           
BERKLEY
BOOKS,
NEW YORK

 

           
If you purchased this book without a
cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported
as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neither the author
nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

 

           
VIRGIN

           
A Berkley Book / published by
arrangement with the author

           
PRINTING HISTORY

           
Berkley
edition / January 1996

           
All rights reserved.

           
Copyright © 1996 by Mary Elizabeth
Murphy.

           
This book may not be reproduced in
whole or in part,

           
by mimeograph or any other means,
without permission.

           
For information address: The Berkley
Publishing Group,

           
200 Madison Avenue
,
New York
,
New York
10016
.

           
ISBN: 0-425-15124-7

           
BERKLEY®

           
Berkley Books are published by The
Berkley Publishing Group,
200 Madison Avenue
,
New York
,
New York
10016
.

           
BERKLEY
and the "B" design are trademarks
belonging to Berkley Publishing Corporation.

           
PRINTED IN THE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

           
10 987654321

           
Is the human race approaching the final
days? Is the world beyond healing?

           
Will we be given one last chance to
save ourselves?

           
VIRGIN

           
Author Mary Elizabeth Murphy has
created a thought-provoking thriller with a unique and startling premise. As
the millennium's end draws near, the newspapers report countless stories of
spiritual sightings. Murphy takes this phenomenon one step further—by imagining
an event of apocalyptic proportions. A priest and a nun discover the remains of
the Virgin Mary. And into our modern world of pain and suffering comes the
light of hope. The wonder of healing. The return of miracles. And something
more . . .

           
A
dark omen that could mean a new beginning

or the final battle.

           
"A gripping page-turner . . I
couldn't put it down."

           
—F. PAUL WILSON

 

 

           
To
my husband, without whom this book would not have been possible

Part I

 

Scrolls
 

           
After
they banished me from
Jerusalem
,
I wandered south
,
leaving my position
and my inheritance behind. What need
had I of money? I wished to be dead.

           
 
I tore my blue robe with the three-striped
sleeve and cast it from me. I traded it to a beggar for the filthy,
louse-infested rags on his
back. But
the lice have not bitten me. They deserted the rags as soon as I donned them.

           
 
Even the vermin will have nothing to do
with me!

           
 

           
 
FROM THE GLASS SCROLL

           
 
ROCKEFELLER MUSEUM TRANSLATION

           
1991

Winter

 

         
1

 

           
Israel

The Judean Wilderness
 

 

           
 
"Don't spare that switch, Achmed,"
Nabil called back from the lead position where he played the flashlight along
the slope ahead of them. "Getting there second is as good as not getting
there at all."

           
 
Achmed swatted the donkey's flanks with
greater vigor as he and his brother pulled and drove the reluctant beast up the
incline into the craggy foothills of the Judean Wilderness. Behind him the
parched land sloped away to the
Dead Sea
;
ahead lay the mountains, forbidding during the day, terrifying at night.
Countless stars twinkled madly in the ebon dome of the sky, and the near-full
moon on high etched the sere landscape with bleached light and Stygian shadow.
The beam from Nabil's flashlight was barely distinguishable in the moonglow.

           
 
An empty sky now, but not long ago a dark
object had screamed through the night, trailing fire and smoke. Achmed and
Nabil had leapt from their camel-hair blankets and stumbled out of their tent
into the cool night air in time to see the bright flare of its explosive
collision with the nearby hills.

           
 
Achmed remembered his initial awe and terror.
"It is the hand of Allah!"

           
 
He also remembered Nabil's none-too-gentle
shove against his shoulder.

           
 
"Goat! It's a missile. You heard the talk
around the fire last night. The hero Saddam is sending missiles against the
Jews. Thousands of missiles. And he's killing them by the
millions.
Already he has sent the Americans howling with their
tails between their legs. Soon there will be no more
Israel
and our herds will graze among our enemies'
bones in the ruins of Tel Aviv. Let's go!"

           
 
"Go where?" Achmed cried as his
older brother began pushing through the huddled goats toward their tethered
ass.

           
 
"Into the hills!"

           
 
"Why?" He wasn't challenging his
older brother—a good Bedouin boy did not question the eldest son of his
father—he simply wanted to know.

           
 
Nabil turned and pointed toward the jagged
sawblade of rock that cut the western sky. His face was shadowed but Achmed
knew from the impatience in his voice that his brother was wearing his habitual
you're-so-stupid scowl.

           
 
"That was a missile that just passed, a
giant bullet. And what are bullets made of?" Achmed opened his mouth to
answer but Nabil wasn't waiting. "Metal! And what do we do with any scrap
metal we find?"

           
 
"We sell it," Achmed said quickly,
and suddenly he saw the reason for Nabil's haste. "There will be
lots
of metal!" he said.

           
 
Nabil nodded.
"Tons
of it. So move those feet, camel face!"

           
 
Once again he realized why their father placed
so much trust in Nabil, and why he was glad Nabil had been born first. Achmed
doubted he could handle the responsibility of being the eldest son—the only
thing he did better than Nabil was play the
rababah,
hardly a useful skill. He hoped he was as muscular as Nabil when he reached
seventeen in three years, and prayed he'd be able to sport such a respectable
start at a beard. At times he despaired of outgrowing this reedy, ungainly
body.

           
 
And tonight was but further proof of his
unsuitability for leadership. Never would he have thought of making profit for
the family from the remnants of a spent and exploded missile. But he could lend
his back to gathering the scrap so that his
abu
could be proud of both of his sons.

           
And now, as they clambered up a
slope that seemed ever steeper, a thought struck him. The goats! Father had
entrusted them with one of the family herds, to take it north in search of
better grazing. That herd now stood untended and unguarded on the plain below,
ready to be driven off unchallenged by any passer-by with a larcenous heart.

           
 
Achmed turned and gazed back down the slope.
The
Dead Sea
gleamed in the moonlight like a strip of
hammered silver, shadowed on the far side by the mountains of
Jordan
and outlined on the near by the black,
shore-hugging ribbon of Highway 90. No lights moved on the highway. Their herd
was safely huddled in a dry basin kilometers from the road. He realized his
fears were groundless. Who would be wandering about the Judean Wilderness in
the dead of night? The only thing moving here was
Hamsin,
the desert wind.

           
 
As he returned to the climb, a question popped
into his mind.

           
 
"Nabil," he called. "Why has
this missile landed here instead of in Tel Aviv?"

           
 
"Probably one of the Israelis hit it with
a lucky shot and knocked it off course."

           
 
Of course, Achmed thought. Why didn't I think
of that? Nabil always had an answer.

           
 
Achmed followed his brother up the steepening
incline of the dry wadi, so steep at times that he had to heave his shoulder
against the donkey's hindquarters to assist the beast up the slope. Eventually
they came to a ribbed outcrop of stone that towered over them. In the daytime
this rock would have looked sandy red and yellow. Now in the moonlight it
glowed goatsmilk white, streaked with the stark shadows of its crevices.

           
 
"What do we do now?" Achmed said.

           
 
Nabil looked around, then up, then ranged left
and right along the face of the rock as if he expected to find a path into the
cliffside.

           
 
"I don't know. There must be a way around
this. The missile crashed atop it. We must find a way up."

           
 
"Maybe it crashed on the other
side," Achmed said. "I couldn't tell from where we stood. Could
you?"

           
 
Achmed saw his brother shake his shadowed
head. "I'm sure it crashed atop this cliff.
Almost
sure. Maybe if we travel around it we'll find a way
up."

           
 
To the left looked no more promising than the
right, but something in Achmed drew him leftward.

           
 
"That way," he said, surprised by
the certainty in his voice as he pointed south.

           
 
Nabil stared at him a moment, then shrugged
and turned south.

           
 
"As good a way to start as any."

           
 
The going got rougher. No path here, no sign
that man or beast had ever traveled this route. Their sandals and the donkey's
hooves slipped on the loose shale that littered their way. The jagged edges
angled up, cutting Achmed's feet and ankles.

           
 
After struggling along for a few hundred feet,
Nabil turned and stopped the donkey.

           
 
"This isn't going anywhere," he
said. "We'll turn back and try the other way."

           
 
"We've come so far already," Achmed
said. "Just a little farther. Let's see what's around that bend before we
turn back."

           
 
"All right," Nabil said. "To
the bend and no more."

           
 
They struggled farther along the narrow path,
and as they were slithering past a jagged rib in the cliff wall, Nabil called
back from the lead.

           
 
"You were right! It ends here. We can get
past it here!"

           
 
As Achmed followed the donkey around the rib,
he saw that the far side was just as steep as the near, with no gully or ravine
to allow them passage to the top. And worse, the landing edge of the outcrop
was topped by an overhang of stone that would have daunted them even had there
been a way to climb the face.

           
 
Achmed saw that they had entered the mouth of
a deep canyon. Beyond the outcrop a broad dry wadi swept down from the upper
reaches of the range; half a dozen feet above that, a small, raised field. And
beyond the field stood another sheer-faced cliff even more forbidding than the
one they had just skirted.

           
 
Nabil stood in the moonlight, head back, hands
on hips, staring at the cliff face. "There's no way up," he said.

           
 
Achmed's voice choked on his disappointment.
He could only nod. He'd been so sure . . .

           
 
Something stung his nostrils. He blinked his
suddenly watery eyes. He couldn't see it but he could smell it. Smoke . . .
riding the breeze that wafted down the wadi. "Nabil . . . ?"

           
 
But his brother had smelled it too.
"Achmed! Follow! Quickly!"

           
 
They drove the donkey up the gentler slope of
the dry riverbed. As they neared the small field the smoke became thicker.
Another hundred feet and Achmed spotted the flames.

           
"It's here!" Nabil cried.
"It crashed here!" They dragged and pushed the donkey up the far bank
of the wadi and stopped at the top to stare at the tiny field that ran across
the base of the canyon mouth. Stunted fig trees reached their twisted branches
heavenward at regular intervals across its narrow span. A few of them were
burning. Dozens of tiny grass fires crawled along the field's smooth surface.

           
 
"Let's get to work!" Nabil said.

           
 
As his older brother tethered the donkey to
the nearest tree, Achmed spotted a dark lump in the sand to his right. He knelt
and touched it, gingerly. Hard, with sharp, twisted edges. And warm. Still
warm.

           
 
"I've found a piece!" he cried
aloud. The
first
piece! he boasted
silently.

           
 
"Drop it here," Nabil said, pointing
to a spot near the donkey's feet. "We'll collect as much as we can and
pile it here. When we've got as much as we can carry, we'll load up and head
back to the herd. And hurry, Achmed. As sure as you breathe, we're going to
have company soon."
Company?
Did
he mean other Bedouin, or Israelis? Not that it mattered. Either way, they
stood to lose whatever metal they gathered.

 
 
 
Over Beit Shemesh
 

 

           
 
Chaim Kesev set his jaw to keep his teeth from
chattering. He wasn't cold—far from it in this bulky flack jacket. No, the
incessant vibrations from the engine coursing throughout the helicopter's
fuselage were penetrating the padding of his seat, jittering up his spine,
piercing his skull, and running to his teeth. He was sure a couple of them
would rattle loose if he had to take much more of this.

           
 
Man was not meant to fly.

           
 
Kesev hated flying, and he hated flying in
helicopters most of all. But after he'd watched the computer plot the course of
the errant SCUD on the map, and seen the area encircled for maximum probability
of impact—120 kilometers southeast of Tel Aviv—he knew he couldn't wait in the
city for the report from the crash site. Everyone else in the tracking center
had been relieved that the SCUD had landed in an unpopulated area of the
Southern District wilderness. Not Kesev. Not when it was that particular area.

           
 
As soon as the all-clear had sounded, he'd
pushed his way aboard the reconnaissance helicopter. His presence had raised
eyebrows among the crew. Who was this pushy little man, this swarthy, slight,
five-eight, middle-aged, bearded wonder to elbow his way onto their craft? But
when he'd flashed them his Shin Bet identification they'd sealed their lips.
None of them had the nerve to challenge the wishes of a Domestic Intelligence
operative when the country was under attack.

BOOK: F Paul Wilson - Novel 03
11.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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