Authors: Jeffrey Small
Tags: #Suspense, #Fiction, #General, #Thrillers
The Jericho Deception
spins out a brilliant premise into a ripping good novel, brimming with excitement, imagination, vivid settings, and personable characters”
—Douglas Preston, #1 Bestselling Author of
The Monster of Florence
“This one pushes the envelope to the edge and beyond, captivating with plausibility and imagination. A gritty thriller.”
Bestselling Author of
The King’s Deception
“Chock full of fascinating insider detail,
The Jericho Deception
by Jeffrey Small is a thrilling roller-coaster ride into the beauty and darkness of the human mind. With muscular prose and a high quotient of believability, you’ll be riveted watching scientists, politicians, and spies vie for control of the Logos machine. Send out for food. You won’t want to stop reading.”
bestselling author of
The Book of Spies
“A blisteringly original, wondrously structured descent into a literal and figurative hell. Jeffrey Small’s stellar tale of murder, treachery and international daring-do breathes new life into the moribund religious thriller genre as it blends science seamlessly with superstition. A high-tech
Da Vinci Code
on steroids, only better written.”
—Jon Land, bestselling author of
Also by Jeffrey Small:
The Breath of God, a Novel of Suspense
WEST HILLS PRESS
ATLANTA • SAN FRANCISCO
PUBLISHED BY WEST HILLS PRESS
A division of Hundreds of Heads Books, LLC
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced—mechanically, electronically, or by any other means, including photocopying—without written permission of the publisher. Trademarks: West Hills Press, and related trade dress are trademarks or registered trademarks of Hundreds of Heads Books, LLC, and may not be used without written permission. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
Image © Igor
Author Photograph is by Kelsey Edwards
All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Jeffrey Small, Atlanta, Georgia
All Rights Reserved
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For Alison and Ella,
You Inspire Me.
“I am a Hindu, I am a Moslem, I am a Jew, I am a Christian, I am a Buddhist!”
“I am a deeply religious non-believer.”
he rider had no way of knowing that a simple fall from his horse would change the course of history.
For now, all he could focus on was the mission ahead. He adjusted the leather bag hanging from his shoulder. The mass of the parchment letters inside was insignificant, but the importance of the contents weighed heavily on him. The letters, signed by the High Priest himself, contained the names of those he would arrest and bring back in a fortnight. The rider knew the fate that awaited these unsuspecting men and women; he had made similar treks before. The lucky ones would die quickly, their flesh torn from their limbs by the ravenous animals kept for this purpose. The others would languish in a dark, dank cellar awaiting more gruesome tortures.
The rider shifted on the horse. He was sweating underneath his cloak, especially where the bag bumped against his body in time with the horse’s stride.
The sun had nearly reached its zenith, and the flat beige desert provided only an occasional thorny bush or limestone rock outcropping for shade. He squinted against the glare, wiped the sweat from his forehead, and massaged his temples.
At least summer is months away.
He kicked his horse with the heel of his sandal. The animal the council had provided him ambled forward as if it knew of the terrible task ahead. Heat radiated from its damp brown coat, and the bony creature looked like it hadn’t eaten well in months—in contrast to the powerful steeds of the three Roman
legionnaires in front of him. The legionnaires, two in their mid-twenties and the third barely a teen, joked with each other, passing a wine sack between them.
, he thought, but necessary to carry out his mission. He glanced at the long swords sheathed to their saddles. Men like these had to be watched carefully. For them, killing was a sport. At least he was a Roman citizen, and he had rights.
But out in the desert no one would know if I simply disappeared
. He shook his head to clear it. They would arrive in Damascus soon.
His first stop would be to eat. After two days of only bread and wine, his mouth watered in anticipation of the juicy leg of lamb he would buy. Then his mission would begin. The closer they got to their destination, the more jovial the legionnaires became. The rider, however, didn’t relish the job he was sent to do. He was in the right, of course. The High Priest had made it very clear that this cult must be stamped out.
They don’t have to die,
It’s their choice
. They were stubborn. Not one had renounced his or her ways.
A sudden glint of sunlight off the armor chest plate attached to the rear of the saddle in front of him flashed into his eyes. A shot of pain pierced through to the base of his skull. He snapped his eyes closed and massaged his neck.
Not again. Not now, please
, he prayed.
The headaches had pestered him for the past year at the most inconvenient times. Usually he retired to his room, lying in the darkness for hours until they passed. For the past two months, this thorn in his flesh had occurred more frequently, especially since the council had charged him with ridding the land of the cult.
When he opened his eyes, he saw that the steeds ahead of him had distanced themselves. He kicked his horse, bringing him to a trot. When he caught up, the youngest of the three Romans turned and stared.
“You don’t look well,” Marcus said in an educated Greek. He held up the depleted wine sack. “A drink, maybe?”
The rider shook his head, which was a mistake because the pain spread from the base of his skull to his temples. He brought the sleeve of his tunic to his face and wiped his eyes. He sensed this one would be worse than the others.
When he dropped his arm, he noticed that Marcus was still staring at him, a curious expression on his stubble-covered face. That’s when he noticed the taste.
—as if he’d placed a coin on his tongue to clean it, which was an unusual thought, he realized, because he’d never done such a thing. But he could think of no other description for the metallic flavor.
He almost said something to Marcus when he noticed the light again. As the legionnaire’s horse walked along the compacted sand, the sun reflecting off the armor danced in his vision. But this time it didn’t exacerbate his headache. To his surprise, the pain, which moments earlier had thundered through his skull, dissipated. He watched with interest as the light radiated outward from the armor, eclipsing the legionnaire and the desert around him. A moment later he could see nothing but the light.
He wasn’t sure what caused him to fall from his horse. The light seemed to lift him from his saddle and deposit him on the coarse earth. He felt no pain.
“Paulos!” Marcus called to him. The words came from a great distance. “Paulos, are you hurt?”
The rider knew he should respond, but another voice eclipsed the legionnaire’s. This voice, however, didn’t come from the other Romans. It spoke to him from a different place. He had never heard this voice before, but at the same time it was familiar, as if it had been with him all along.
He listened. Then he understood.
His mission, his life, his very identity—none of it mattered anymore. The wonder of the revelation spread through his body like a drink of hot cider on a winter day. The answer had been within him from the beginning. He had just never listened. He had misunderstood the cult—they had been right all along.
o you smell something, Doctor? Like honey?”
Dr. Ethan Lightman placed a hand on his patient’s shoulder. Bedside manner wasn’t one of his strengths, but he made an effort. “Liz, just relax. You’re in the early phase of the seizure.”
He suspected that she was experiencing the first stages of an SPS, a simple partial seizure, which could affect a patient’s senses—smell, touch, sight, hearing, taste—but not their consciousness.
, he thought.
“I’m scared.” Her eyes were wide and her pupils dilated. “I haven’t been off my Phenytoin for over two years.” She tugged at the handmade quilt that covered her on the narrow hospital bed. The IV line attached to her arm swung above her body. “And I told you what happened then.”
He nodded. He knew his patient well: Elizabeth Clarkson, a thirty-six-year-old woman whose curly black hair and freckled face gave away her Irish descent. She looked like a younger version of Ethan’s mother, who had passed on her dark hair and fair complexion to him. During their initial interview, he’d learned that Liz had been on epileptic management drugs since she was seventeen. The unpredictability of her seizures made holding down a job difficult. She now worked at a flower shop part-time. But her misfortune, he hoped, might solve the mystery that had consumed the past five years of his life. Her seizures were special.
“That’s why we have you in the hospital.” He gestured to the nurse with the silver hair tied in a bun on top of her head who was arranging instruments on
the stainless steel table on the opposite side of the bed. “Judith has some nice drugs for you if the experience becomes too intense.”
“That’s right, Sweetie”—Judith touched her arm—“I’ll take good care of you.”
The fifteen-by-twenty-foot space was larger than the standard private hospital room because it was set up for longitudinal studies. Liz had lived there for two weeks, undergoing LTVM—long-term video monitoring, a protocol used on patients with difficult cases of epilepsy. She was continuously monitored by video and by EEG, electroencephalography. Although the room had the sterile smell of antiseptic, and the clean but scuffed white linoleum tiles left no doubt as to the hospital setting, they’d let her hang a swath of multicolored silk in an Indian design over one wall, which, along with the pictures of her three cats on the bedside table, helped to soften the room.