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Authors: Alex Lukeman

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The Solomon Scroll

BOOK: The Solomon Scroll
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The Solomon Scroll

 

by

 

Alex Lukeman

 

Copyright 2015 by Alex Lukeman

http://www.alexlukeman.com

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means except by prior and express permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Organizations, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or used entirely as an element of fiction. Any resemblance of characters in this book to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

 

The train was almost ready to leave.

Professor Angelo Caprini settled down on the seat of his first-class compartment and wrinkled his nose at a faint hint of perfume left behind by the previous occupant. He glanced at the bag resting next to him. The contents were going to make him famous.

Caprini was a short man, squat. He had a prosperous gut that spilled out over his belt. His eyes bulged behind thick glasses, an effect made worse by a receding chin. Behind his back his colleagues called him The Frog
.
It was an apt description, right down to the hint of webbing between his toes, although no one but Caprini knew about that.

He'd spent the last three days at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, the holy grail for researchers seeking the most advanced x-ray technology in the world. The bag contained an ancient scroll from the Roman town of Herculaneum, destroyed along with Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. The scroll was unreadable, encased in a hardened shell of black volcanic ash. Caprini had made the pilgrimage to Grenoble hoping that advances in crystal x-ray phase tomography could reveal the charcoal-based ink on the burned papyrus concealed beneath the crust of lava. His faith had been rewarded.

The scroll came from the library of the Villa Literati in Herculaneum, the only collection of written works surviving from the ancient world. There were hundreds of scrolls but no one knew what secrets they concealed. A lost work by Plato, perhaps. A first-hand account of the Punic wars. A play by Aristotle. A contemporary account of the crucifixion of Christ. Anything was possible.

Caprini could barely contain his excitement when the x-rays revealed the first page, white lines of Aramaic lettering against a black background. Parts of the second page could be seen under the first, faint ghosts written down two thousand years before. While the technician operated the equipment, Caprini couldn't keep himself from talking about what he was seeing.

The tech had a profitable agreement to pass on information when something of unusual interest turned up at the research facility. Listening to Caprini babble on, the technician knew the scroll was something that qualified. A few days after leaving a message money would appear in his Swiss bank account. The more important the message, the more money appeared. It was a very satisfactory arrangement. The technician had made the call after he got off work.

Impatient, Caprini tapped his foot on the floor of the train compartment. He was looking forward to getting back to Naples and his wife's cooking, proper food, not like here in France. The food in France was too rich, it always gave him indigestion. He'd be in Rome tomorrow morning and by afternoon, back in Naples at his office at the National Museum where he could organize his notes and plan his announcement.

If I wasn't afraid of flying I'd be there by now,
he thought. He glanced again at the overnight bag. The scroll was inside, safely tucked away in a hard case with a bed of foam.

A man in a conductor's uniform knocked on the compartment door. He held a brown, paper wrapped package in his hand.

"Yes?"

"
Professore
Caprini?"

"Yes, what is it?"

"There is a package for you, sir."

That's odd,
Caprini thought. He opened the door, reaching for the package. The conductor took a silenced pistol from under his uniform coat and fired twice. Caprini looked down at his chest in shock. The assassin caught him before he fell, then propped the body up in the corner of the seat. Small spots of blood showed on the front of the professor's blue Armani suit.

The assassin pulled the curtains of the private compartment closed. He placed the package on an overhead shelf, picked up Caprini's overnight bag and looked inside. He opened the case containing the scroll. Satisfied, he closed the bag, backed out of the compartment and shut the door behind him. If anyone looked in, they'd think the professor was asleep.

The train was about to leave. Caprini's killer stepped back onto the platform and walked away into the milling crowd.

Some time later the train was crossing a deep gorge in the Italian Alps when the package detonated and ripped apart Professor Caprini's coach. The blast sent the speeding train off the rails, to its doom.

The screams of the passengers echoed from the indifferent walls of the gorge.

The train fell for a long time until it smashed onto the rocks far below.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

 

It was another scorching summer on the East Coast. Waves of heat shimmered off the surface of the highway. Nick Carter thought about the cabin he'd once had in California. It had been cool there in the Sierra foothills, dry, a far cry from the steaming humidity of Virginia.

The cabin was gone, burned to the ground. Nick hadn't decided if he wanted to rebuild it but if he did, it wouldn't be any time soon. There were other things on his mind. Like the wedding to Selena Connor they never seemed to schedule. Like the loft they'd just bought overlooking the Potomac. Like whatever the reason was that Director Harker had called him in. There'd been a time when he'd looked forward to a new assignment. Now he was beginning to dread what another mission might bring.

Maybe it's time to get out
, he thought. Then,
Who are you kidding? What else are you going to do?

He pulled into the parking lot in front of Project headquarters, shut down the engine, got out and walked across the hot pavement to the entrance. Nick entered his personal code and placed his right eye in front of the scanner. He waited for the electronic gods that controlled the steel door to recognize him and grant entrance. The door clicked open. Cool air greeted him inside. He breathed a sigh of relief.

The Project was the brainchild of President Rice, small, independent of the rest of America's intelligence network. It was funded by a black budget and controlled by the White House. An angry senator had once described it as the president's personal hit team. Sometimes Nick thought that wasn't far from the truth.

The headquarters building was located in Virginia, within commuting distance of the Capitol. It had the look of an upscale country ranch home surrounded by lawns, trees and flowerbeds.

Looks were deceiving.

The house was built over a Cold War missile site. The missiles with their promise of the end of the world were long gone. The old magazines below the green lawns now housed an armory and shooting range, an operations center, comfortable emergency quarters and a room filled with Cray computers and advanced communications equipment. There was even a swimming pool, courtesy of the previous owners, millionaire survivalists who'd feared a coming apocalypse. The lawns triggered alarms if anything threatening walked over them. Cameras watched everything.

There was a wide, paved parking lot in front of the house. A low building that looked like a warehouse squatted across the way. A hardened concrete helicopter pad anchored the end of the parking lot. From the lot, the drive disappeared over a rise until it reached a chain-link fence surrounding the property and a manned guardhouse at the entrance.

Nick made his way to Harker's office. The rest of the team was already there.

Elizabeth Harker tapped her fingers on the hard surface of her desk as he came in. She gave him one of her warning looks.

Harker was a small woman but she gave off enough energy for someone a lot bigger. Her hair was jet black, streaked with white. She had startling green eyes that stood out against milk white skin. One of her looks of displeasure felt like it could cut to the bone. She wore a tailored black pants suit with a white blouse. A diamond pin in the shape of a swan graced her jacket.

"We're not interrupting your day, are we? Because if we are we could just do this tomorrow."

"Sorry, Director. Traffic."

Selena sat on a couch in front of Harker's desk, next to Ronnie Peete. She'd left the loft before him. Nick sat down next to her.

"Hey," she said.

"Hey."

"Yah t'a hey, Nick," Ronnie said.

Ronnie was Navajo, raised on the big reservation. He looked as though he could have stepped out of a Frederick Remington painting, although Remington probably wouldn't have painted his subject in a bright Hawaiian shirt. He and Nick went back a long way, to Iraq and Afghanistan and the jungles of Colombia. Both had been Marine Recon before they'd come to the Project.

Selena had never been in the military. She'd had found herself recruited into the Project almost by accident. What she lacked in military experience she made up for with plenty of skills that filled out the team. An expert in ancient languages, she was athletic, smart and independent. She was also rich, a legacy from her uncle. His death had brought her to Nick, Elizabeth and the others.

She was two inches shorter than Nick's muscular six feet and sixty pounds shy of his two hundred. Her eyes were an unusual color, mostly violet, sometimes blue. There was a dark mole above her lip. Her hair was feathered back on the sides, longer in back, a natural reddish blonde. One of her cheekbones was a little higher than the other, giving her face an attractive, asymmetric appeal. Selena moved with unconscious ease that hinted at her athletic ability. Like Nick, there was a hint of something feral about her, something held in check. She looked as if she could explode into motion in an instant.

Elizabeth said, "I have a candidate to replace Lamont," Elizabeth said.

"Big shoes," Ronnie said. "Feels weird not to have him sitting here."

"No one fills Lamont's shoes. If this man works out he'll bring his own."

Lamont Cameron had been badly wounded on the last mission, enough to convince him it was time to quit. It was the first time a core member of the team had decided to hang it up, a reminder that they were all getting older. It was becoming harder to stay in shape for what they had to do. Harder to survive people trying to kill them, which happened with unpleasant frequency.

"What's his name, this candidate?" Nick asked.

"Diego Ramirez." Elizabeth pushed a folder across her desk. "Here's his jacket."

"What's the short version?"

"Rangers, Special Ops. Two tours in Afghanistan, one in Iraq. Purple Heart, Bronze Star with V."

"What outfit?"

"75th Ranger Regiment."

"Those guys are good," Ronnie said.

"When does he get here?" Nick asked.

"This afternoon at 1300. I want you to begin with him right away. Get him oriented. Test him out. I want a full evaluation in three days. If you want him, we'll make it official. He's not happy about coming here. I know he has the skills but I don't know if he's got the attitude we need to be a good fit."

"Sounds like a challenge," Ronnie said. "How old is this guy?"

"Twenty-seven."

"A kid," Ronnie said.

"Rank?"

"Staff Sergeant."

"That says a lot at his age," Nick said. "Is there anything else, Director? If not, we'll go get things ready for him."

"No, that's it for now."

Outside the house, the three of them looked at each other.

"A new guy," Selena said.

"Army," Ronnie said.

"This is going to be interesting," Nick said.

 

 

CHAPTER 3

 

 

"Here he comes," Ronnie said.

Ronnie, Selena and Nick stood outside Project headquarters waiting for their new recruit. A shiny red Dodge Challenger R/T came toward them down the drive. Dust rose behind it.

"Moving right along. You can tell something about people from the kind of car they drive," Nick said.

"What does his car tell you?" Selena asked.

"He thinks he's a hotshot. That car has almost 500 horses."

"My old Mercedes had more than that," Selena said, "before the Chinese trashed it. Does that make me a hotshot?"

"No, just hot."

Selena punched him in the arm.

"Smartass."

"Hey, that was a compliment."

The car parked facing the house. The man who got out was about the same height as Ronnie, with the kind of wide shoulders and muscled arms that showed he spent a lot of time working out. He had black hair cropped short to his skull. A few acne scars marked his face. His ears were small and close to his head. His nose looked like it might have been broken sometime in the past. Ramirez wore aviator style sunglasses that concealed his eyes.

BOOK: The Solomon Scroll
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