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Authors: Virgin (as Mary Elizabeth Murphy) (v2.1)

F Paul Wilson - Novel 03 (4 page)

BOOK: F Paul Wilson - Novel 03
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This was holy ground. Kesev had vowed to
protect it. He would gladly die—more than gladly—to preserve its secret.

           
 
But his relief was short lived. The secret of
the Resting Place lay within the coils of the stolen scroll. Its theft could have
disastrous consequences.

           
 
He drifted to the edge of the ledge and stared
down the sheer three-hundred-foot drop to the canyon's shadowed floor. In the
old days, at least for someone who didn't know the torturous little path to the
top, this sort of climb would daunt all but the most foolhardy adventurer.
Nowadays, with modern climbing techniques—or helicopters, for those with deeper
pockets—such a precipice offered but a momentary obstacle.

           
 
He turned and stared east, across the
lengthening shadows behind the foothills that sloped down to the mirror surface
of the Dead Sea. He hurled the urn fragments into the air and knew he'd never
hear the clatter of their impact with the rocks so far below. The Resting Place
was safe up here, hidden from the casual observer as well as the determined
searcher . . .

           
 
Unless . . .

           
 
Unless a searcher had something to guide him.

           
 
Where are you? he thought as he searched the
craggy Wilderness spread out below. Where have you thieving bastards hidden
yourselves? You can't stay hidden forever. I'd be searching for you now if I
weren't afraid to leave this place unattended. But I'll find you eventually.
Sooner or later you'll have to show yourselves. Eventually you have to slither
out from under your rock to sell what you've stolen from me. And then I'll have
you. Then you'll wish you'd never laid eyes on that scroll.

           
 
The scroll . . . how much did it tell? How
detailed were its descriptions of the area? If only he could remember. So long
since he'd last read it. Kesev squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his temples,
trying to massage the hidden information from the reluctant crevices of his
brain.

           
Was the scroll even legible any
longer?

           
 
That was his single best hope: that the scroll
had been in the urn the thieves had broken, that it had been damaged to the
point where its remnants were little more than an incoherent jumble of
disjointed sentences.

           
 
Kesev turned and was so startled by the sight
of her that he nearly tumbled backward off the ledge.

           
 
Robed and wimpled exactly as she had been in
life, she stood near the rubble that blocked the entrance to the Resting Place
and stared at him. Kesev waited for her to speak, as she had spoken to him many
times in the past, but she said nothing, merely stared at him a moment, then
faded from view.

           
 
So many years, so
many
years since she had shown herself here. Kesev had heard
reports from all over the world of her appearances, but so long since she had
graced this spot with her presence.

           
 
Why now, just after the scroll had been
pilfered? What did this mean?

           
 
Kesev stood on the precipice and trembled.
Something was happening. A wheel had been set in motion tonight. He could
almost feel it turning. Where was it taking him?

           
Where was it taking the world?

           
I
approached the Essenes at Qumran but they tried to stone me. I fled farther
south wandering the west shore of the sea of Lot. Perhaps Massada would have
me. Surely they would welcome one of my station. Or perhaps I would have to
push farther south to Zohar.

           
I
do not know where to go. And I am alone in Creation.

           
 
FROM THE GLASS SCROLL

           
 
ROCKEFELLER MUSEUM TRANSLATION

           
1995

Fall

 

         
2

 

Jerusalem

 

           
 
The poor man looked as if he were going to
cry.

           
 
"You . . . you're sure?"

           
 
Harold Gold watched Professor Pearlman nod
sagely as they sat in the professor's office in the manuscript department of
the Rockefeller Archeological Museum and gave Mr. Glass the bad news.

           
 
Richard Glass was American, balding, and very
fat—a good hundred pounds overweight. He described himself as a tourist—a
frequent visitor to Israel who owned a condo in Tel Aviv. Last month he'd
brought in a scroll he said he'd purchased at a street bazaar in the Arab
Quarter and asked if its antiquity could be verified.

           
 
"I'm afraid so, Mr. Glass." Pearlman
stroked his graying goatee. "A gloriously skillful fake, but a fake
nevertheless."

           
 
"But you said—"

           
 
"The parchment itself is first century—we
stand by that. No question about it. And the ink contains the dyes and minerals
in the exact proportions used by first century scribes."

           
 
The first thing the department had done was
date the parchment. Once that was ballparked in the two-thousand-year-old mark,
they'd translated it. That was when people had begun to get excited.
Very
excited.

           
 
"Then what—?"

           
 
'The writing itself, Mr. Glass. Our carbon
dating tests—and believe me, we've repeated the dating numerous times—all yield
the same result: The words were placed on the parchment within the past two or
three years."

           
 
Mr. Glass's eyes bulged.
"Two three
—/ My God, what an idiot I am!"

           
 
"Not at all, not at all," Professor
Pearlman said. "It had us fooled too. It's a
very
skillful job. And I assure you, Mr. Glass, you cannot be more
disappointed than we by these findings."

           
 
Amen to that, Harold thought. He'd been in a
state of euphoria for the past month, thanking God for his luck. Imagine, being
here on sabbatical from N.Y.U. when the manuscript department receives an item
that could make the Dead Sea scrolls look like lists of old matzoh recipes.
When he'd read the translation he'd suspected it might be too explosive to be
true, but he'd gone on hoping . . . hoping . . .

           
 
Until the dating on the ink had come in.

           
 
Harold leaned forward. "That's why we're
very interested in where you got it. Whoever forged this scroll really knows
his stuff."

           
 
He watched Glass drum his fingers on his
thigh, carefully weighing the decision. No one in the department believed for a
moment that Richard Glass had picked up something like this at a street stall.
Harold knew the type: a wealthy collector, buying objects here and sneaking
them back to the states to a mini-museum in his home. He also knew if Glass
named his true source he might precipitate an investigation of other purchases
he'd made on the antiquities black market, and his shipments home would be
subject to close scrutiny from here on in. No serious collector could risk
that.

           
 
"We're not interested in legalities here,
Mr. Glass," Professor Pearlman assured him. "We'd simply like to
interview your source, learn
his
sources."

           
 
Harold grinned. "I think most of us would
like to shake his hand."

           
 
No lie there. Undoubtedly the forger possessed
some sort of native genius. The scroll Glass had presented was written on
two-thousand-year-old parchment in ink identical to the type used in those
days. The forger had used an Aramaic form of Hebrew enriched with Greek and
Latin influences—much like the
Mishna,
the
earlier part of the Talmud—and had created a narrative that alternated between
first and third person, supposedly written by a desert outcast, a hermit but
obviously a well-educated one, living in the hills somewhere west of the Dead
Sea. But the events he described . . . if they'd been true and verifiable, what
a storm they would have caused.

           
 
Perhaps that was the forger's whole purpose:
controversy. The money from the sale to someone like Glass was a lagniappe. The
real motive was the turmoil that would have arisen had they not been able to
disprove the scroll's authenticity. The forger could have sat back and watched
and smiled and said,
I caused all this.

           
 
After a seemingly interminable wait, Glass
shook his head.

           
 
"I don't know the forger. I can't even
find the stall where I bought it—and believe me, I've searched high and low for
it. So I can't help you find the creator of this piece of junk."

           
 
"It's not junk," Pearlman said. He
slid the wooden box containing the scroll across the desktop toward Glass.
"In its own way, it's a work of art."

           
 
Glass made a face and lumbered to his feet.

           
 
"Then hang it on
your
wall. I want nothing further to do with it. It only reminds me
of all the money I wasted." He took the box and looked around.
"Where's your trash."

           
 
"You can't be serious!" Harold said.

           
 
Glass turned to him. "You want it?"

           
 
"Well, I—"

           
 
He shoved the box into Harold's hands.
"Here. It's yours."

           
 
With that he turned and waddled from the
office.

           
 
Professor Pearlman looked at Harold over the
tops of his glasses. "Well, Harold. Looks like you're the proud owner of a
genuine fake first century scroll. It'll make a nice curiosity back at
N.Y.U."

           
 
Harold gazed down at the box in his hands.
"Or a unique gift for an old friend."

           
 
"A colleague?"

           
 
"Believe it or not, a Catholic priest.
He's something of an authority on the early Christians. He's read just about
everything ever written on the
Jerusalem
Church
."

           
 
Pearlman's brown eyes sparkled. "I'll bet
he's never read anything like that."

           
 
"That's for sure." Harold almost
laughed aloud in anticipation of Father Dan Fitzpatrick's reaction to this
little gift. "I know he'll get a real kick out of this."

           
I
despaired.

           
The
Lord oppressed me, my
fellow men
oppressed me, the very air oppressed me. Perhaps the only fitting place for me
was in
Sodom
or
Gomorrah
,
cities of the dead, hidden beneath the lifeless waves. I threw myself into the
salty water but
1 could not drown.

           
Even
the sea will not have me!

           
 
FROM THE GLASS SCROLL

           
 
ROCKEFELLER MUSEUM TRANSLATION

           
1996

 
Spring

 

         
3

 

           
Manhattan

           
 
Father Daniel Fitzpatrick stopped in front of
the Bank of New York Building, turned to the ragged army that had followed him
up from the
Lower
East Side
, and
raised his hands.

           
"All right, everybody," he
called to the group. "Let's stop here for a sec and organize
ourselves."

           
Most of them stopped on command, but
some of the less alert—and there were more than a few of those—kept right on
walking and had to be pulled back by their neighbors.

           
 
Father Dan stepped up on the marble base of a
sculpture that looked like a pair of six-foot charcoal bagels locked in a
passionate embrace and inspected the ranks of his troops.

           
 
Even if we turn back now, he thought, even if
we don't do another thing tonight, we'll have made a point.

           
 
Already they'd garnered more than their share
of attention. During the course of their long trek uptown from
Tompkins
Square
Park
they'd earned themselves a police escort, a
slew of reporters and photographers, and even an
Eyewitness News
van complete with minicam and blow-dried news
personality.

           
 
Why not? This was news, a mild spring evening,
and a fabulous photo op to boot. A small army of chanting, sign-carrying
homeless marching up
Park
Avenue
, around and
through the Met Life and
Helmsley
Buildings
, to the Waldorf—the contrast of their
unkempt hair, shambling gaits, and dirty clothes against the backdrop of luxury
hotels and pristine office buildings was irresistible.

           
 
As Dan raised his hands again and waited for
his followers' attention, he noticed all the camera lenses coming to bear on
him like the merciless eyes of a pack of hungry wolves. He was well aware of
the media's love of radical priests, so he'd made sure he was in uniform
tonight: cassock, Roman collar, oversize crucifix slung around his neck. The
works. He was well aware too of how his own appearance—clean-cut sandy hair,
slim, athletic build, younger looking than his thirty-two years—jibed with that
of his followers, and he played that up to maximum effect. He looked decent,
intelligent, dedicated—all true, he hoped— and most of all,
accessible.
The reporters would be
fighting to interview him during and after the demonstration.

           
 
And as far as Dan was concerned, that was what
this little jaunt to the Waldorf was all about: communication. He hated the
spotlight. He much preferred to keep a low profile and let others have center
stage. But no one else was interested in this little drama, so Dan had found
himself pushed into a leading role. Media-grabbing was not his thing, but
somebody had to get across the message that these people needed help, that they
couldn't be swept under the rug by the presidential wannabe appearing at the
Waldorf tonight.

           
 
That wannabe was Senator Arthur Crenshaw from
California
, and this high-profile fund raiser was a
golden opportunity to confront the senator on his radical proposal to solve the
homeless problem. Normally Dan wouldn't have given a second thought to a crazy
plan like Crenshaw's, but the way it had taken hold with the public was
frightening.

           
 
Camps.

           
 
Of course Crenshaw didn't call them camps. The
word might elicit visions of concentration camps. He called them
"domiciles." Why have a hundred programs scattered all over the
country? Senator Crenshaw said. All that duplication of effort and expense
could be eliminated by gathering up the homeless and putting them in special
facilities to be built on government lands. Once there, families would be fed
and sheltered together, with the children attending schools set up just for
them; all adults would receive free training for gainful employment; and those
who were sick or addicted or mentally ill would receive the care they needed to
make them productive citizens again.

           
 
The public—especially the urban-dwelling
public— seemed to be going for the Domicile Plan in a big way, and as a result
the concept was gaining support from both parties. Dan could understand the
attraction of getting the homeless out of sight while balming one's conscience
with the knowledge they were being cared for as they were retooled for
productivity, but he found the whole idea unsettling. The domiciles
did
sound like concentration camps, or
detention camps, or at the very least, gilt-edged prisons, and he found that
frightening. So would many of the homeless folks he knew—and Dan knew plenty.

           
 
But how many homeless did Senator Arthur
Crenshaw know?

           
These were people. It was easy to
forget that. Yes, they were on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic
ladder—hell, most of them had fallen
off
the
ladder—and they sure as hell didn't look like much. They tended to be
dirty and smell bad and dress in clothing that wasn't fit for the rag pile.
They offered nothing that society wanted, and some of them undoubtedly had AIDS
and wouldn't be around much longer anyway. But each had a name and a
personality, and they'd hoped and dreamed about the future before they'd
forgotten how. Truth was, they could all vanish into smoke and the world would
not be appreciably poorer, and only a few would mark their passing, and even
fewer would mourn them.

           
 
But they were
people,
dammit!

           
 
People.

           
 
Not a cause.

           
 
People.

           
 
Dan hated that the homeless had become such a
trendy cause, with big-name comedians and such doing benefits for them. But
after the stars took their bows, after they were limoed back to their Bel Aire
estates, Dan stayed downtown and rubbed elbows with those homeless. Every day.

           
And sometimes at the end of a
particularly discouraging day of elbow-rubbing with the folks who wandered in
and out of the kitchen he ran in the basement of St. Joseph's church, even Dan
found a certain guilty attraction in Crenshaw's Domicile Plan. Sometimes he
wondered if maybe Crenshaw could indeed do more for them than he ever could.
But at least with Dan they had a choice, and that was important.

           
 
And that was why they had come here tonight.

           
 
They stood quietly now, waiting for their
last-minute instructions. They numbered about thirty, mostly males. Dan had
hoped for more. Forty or fifty had promised to make the march but he was well
satisfied with a two-thirds showing. You quickly learned to lower your
expectations when working with these people. It came with the territory. After
all, if they had enough control over their lives to act responsibly, if they
knew how to follow through with a plan—even as simple a plan as gathering in
Tompkins Square
at
six o'clock
—they probably wouldn't be homeless. About
half of the ones who were here carried signs, most of which Dan had
hand-printed himself during the week. Among them:

           
SAY
No!

           
TO CONCENTRATION CAMPS

           
FOR THE HOMELESS!

           
and:

           
WHAT ABOUT
US?

           
WHERE DO
WE
FIT IN?

           
and Dan's favorite:

           
ARE WE OUR BROTHER'S

           
KEEPERS?

           
VIRGIN

           
OR DO WE TELL

           
BIG BROTHER TO KEEP HIM?

           
 
"All right!" he said, shouting so he
could be heard in the back. "Let us say this once more in case some of you
have forgotten: We're not here to cause trouble. We're here to draw attention
to a problem that cannot be solved by putting you folks in camps. We're here
for informational purposes. To communicate, not to confront. Stay in line,
don't block traffic, don't enter the hotel, don't fight, don't panhandle Got
that?"

           
 
Most of them nodded. He had been pounding this
into them all week. Those who could get the message had already got it. This
last harangue was for the benefit of the press microphones and the police
within earshot, to get it on the record that this was intended as a strictly
peaceful demonstration.

           
 
"Where's Sister Carrie?" one of them
asked.

           
 
That had to be One-Thumb George, but Dan
couldn't place him in the crowd. George had asked the question at least a dozen
times since they'd left Tompkins.

           
 
"Sister Carrie is in her room at the
convent, praying for us. Her order doesn't allow her to march in
demonstrations."

           
 
"I wish she was here," the voice
said, and now Dan was sure it was One-Thumb George.

           
 
Dan too wished Carrie were here. She'd done as
much as he to organize this march, maybe more. He missed her.

           
 
"And I'm sure she wishes she could be
here with us!" Dan shouted. "So let's make her proud! Waldorf,
ho!"

           
 
Pointing his arm uptown like an officer
leading a charge, he jumped off the sculpture base and marched his troops the
remaining blocks to the Waldorf. He was just starting to position the group
when Senator Crenshaw's limousine pulled up before the entrance. Dan had a
brief glimpse of the senator's head—the famous tanned face, dazzling smile, and
longish, salt-and-pepper hair—towering over his entourage as he zipped across
the sidewalk, and then he was through the front doors and gone.

           
 
Damn! He'd shown up early.

           
 
He heard groans from the demonstrators but he
shushed them.

           
 
"It's okay. We'll be all set up for him
when he comes out. And we're not leaving until he does."

           
 
They spent the interval marching in an oval
within the area reserved for their demonstration, demarcated by light blue
horses stenciled in white with POLICE LINE - DO NOT CROSS. Dan led them in
chants updated from the sixties, like: "Hey, hey, Arthur C, why you wanna
imprison me?" and "Hell, no! We won't go!" And of course there
were the endless repetitions of "We Shall Overcome."

           
 
The choices were calculated. Dan wanted to
bring to mind the civil rights marches and antiwar protests of the sixties to
anyone who saw this particular demonstration on TV. Many of the movers and
shakers in the country today—the President included—had participated in those
demonstrations in their youth; many of them still carried a residue of
nostalgia for those days. He hoped enough of them would realize that but for
luck and the grace of God they might be marching on this line tonight.

           
 
As he marched and led the chants and singing,
Dan felt
alive.
More truly alive than
he had felt in years. His priestly routines had become just that—routine.
Hearing confession, saying Mass, giving sermons—it seemed little more than
preaching to the converted. The souls who truly needed saving didn't go to
Mass, didn't take the sacraments. His priestly duties around the altar at
St. Joseph
's had become . . . empty. But when he left
the main floor and went downstairs to the soup kitchen in the basement—the
place he'd dubbed Loaves and Fishes—
then
he
felt he was truly doing God's work.

           
 
God's
work . . .
Dan had to smile at the phrase. Wasn't God's work for God to do?
Why was it left to mere mortals like him and Carrie to do God's work?

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