Friday, March 16, 2007

The Lazarus Effect-- Part Four


Some three hours after Sammy began preparations for the trip to Bethany, the team finally pulled out of IAA headquarters. To avoid any implications of impropriety, Art, against every impulse, knew he had to wait and go with the gang. At least with both Sammy and Grace qualified to authenticate the find, he would be several steps ahead of the game when it came to the funding application. Rush hour, well underway, only served to prolong his agony, and the serpentine streets of the Temple Mount added an extra layer of frustration. On the bright side, the interminable ride gave him the chance to catch up with Grace. While he drove, she entertained him with a year’s worth of stories and anecdotes ranging from student pranks to senior moments. They’d more than made up for the missed breakfast date. By the time the official caravan reached the church, it was almost 5—a full seven hours since he’d emerged from the tomb. With a small shudder, he climbed out the car and looked to the site.

Motioning towards the church, Art indirectly encouraged Grace to go straight to the tomb without him. Knowing evening prayers had begun, he slipped as quietly as he could into chapel. Not a Catholic, he did not bend to cross himself, but he did pause to once again admire the stunning 12-foot high stained glass depiction of the chapel’s namesakes. From the open doors behind him, the setting sun illuminated Mary and Martha, who returned the favor with a cascade of multicolored light upon the high altar. Through a heavy cloud of incense, the priest read the Scriptures in Arabic to the twenty or so parishioners scattered among the front rows. Spotting Mustafa, Art slid onto the olivewood pew beside him.

“Thank you again, friend, for saving my life this morning.”

Mustafa turned and grinned. “My honor, Professor. The rest of your day, it was less eventful?”

“Thankfully yes. I’ve only just returned. The IAA is with me—they’re securing the site now. You haven’t noticed anyone lurking about since I’ve been gone, have you?”

“A young couple visited the church just after lunch. But since then, I’ve been inside, preparing for Mass. Unless someone made a fuss, I don’t know that I would have heard anything, and the stained glass makes it nearly impossible to see anything outside these walls.”

Wryly, Art agreed. “Could I impose on you just one more time? I need to get up to the tomb. Could we finish this conversation after Mass?”

Mustafa nodded his assent with a smile.

“Thank you, again,” Art whispered as he slipped out of the chapel.

The IAA excavation team had wasted no time getting started. In the few minutes Art had spent in the church, they widened the entrance to the tomb—enough to allow for two of them to drop easily into the space. They were just resurfacing when Art joined them. Offering the ossuary to Sammy, they dropped back in to continue their search.

“Be sure to take a ton of pictures of the inscription over the niche!” Art called out after them.

“What inscription?” called back the lead excavator, Ani. “There’s no inscription down here.”

“The one directly above the niche. It’s pretty hard to miss!” Art‘s stomach began to churn nervously.

“No Sir, Professor West.” Ani climbed out to make room. “Nothing here. Come down and see for yourself.” Fighting back another wave of panic, he prayed the tomb hadn’t already been raided. Rationalizing that any self-respecting looter would not have left the ossuary behind, he sighed, pushed back his sleeves and crawled back into the hollow. Shining his light directly on the spot above the niche, his heart sank in disbelief.

“Impossible!” he yelled with near panic in his voice. “Dear God! Someone’s already been here – no way -- this is just not happening!” He stopped, denial overwhelming him. Speechless and confused he never heard Grace slip in behind him.

With lips pursed and brow wrinkled, Grace tried to soften the blow. “It’s still one heck of a find you know – the ossuary, I mean. And you do have pictures -- we know you aren’t crazy . . .”

Too distraught to answer, Art rolled his eyes, then scrambled out of the tomb, brushed past an astonished IAA team, and made a beeline for the church.

Skulking in the shadows of the olive trees, a figure added one more note to the day’s report.

- ---------------

The inventory of the shop had tired Hannah as well so she had no objections when her father suggested they close up a little early. Knowing how much he treasured his time with Professor West she skipped the cool shower she usually took after work and instead headed right for the kitchen to inspect what she had just put on the fire.

She reviewed in her mind what she had just done and how long things had been cooking to be sure her timing was right. After lighting the flame on a small grill, she had removed the lamb from the icebox. The marinade of olive oil, garlic, oregano, and her mother’s secret touch, a pinch of hawyij—a spicy mixture of pepper, caraway, cumin, saffron and tumeric—made her mouth water. Deftly, she had cubed the meat. Then, alternating it with slices of bell peppers and tomatoes from Sheema’s garden, she skewered it. As the kabobs sizzled, she had given some leftover hummus an extra squeeze of lemon and a dusting of cayenne. Her father enjoyed his food with a kick. She replaced the kabobs on the grill with a few pitas, and called to Kahlil that dinner was almost ready. While the meat and vegetables cooled, she filled a bowl with pickled cauliflower, and a small plate with baklava.

“Ah. Hannah. If only my nose could dance! The smells of your dinner demand a celebration!”

She smiled back at him as she set the last of the serving plates on the table. Somehow, each night, he always had a new compliment for her cooking, just as he had for her mother. “Let’s celebrate by eating before it gets too cold.” She suggested warmly.

Between bites, they mulled over the day’s events as they usually did at dinner.

“I wonder who that awful little man was?” Hannah mused. “Perhaps we should have asked Dr. Arnold—just in case that stone was important.”

“Don’t worry about it, my dear. Should the need arise, I’m sure we can contact Dr. Arnold and ask him then. And by the way, don’t think I didn’t notice when you nodded at the final price for his coins. Some days I wonder if I shouldn’t—“

Hannah cut him off before he could wonder about retirement again. They both knew that he’d wither without his clients, the tourists, and the daily handling of treasures. “I’ve picked up a thing or two from watching you, Father. But you know I could never run the shop without you.”

“Hannah, my little one, you grow more like your mother every day. You, like her, know you can do anything you can put your mind to. You and I both know that you could run the shop with your eyes closed.”

“Yes Father. But neither you nor I need worry about that just yet. Would you like me to wrap up some baklava for Professor West?” She usually managed to change the subject before he could start talking earnestly about her taking over the shop. While the idea intrigued her, she couldn’t imagine running it alone – after his death. And that was an idea she tried to keep at bay.

“No, thank you child. We’ve much too much to discuss—no time even for sweets. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have some now. I’m sure he doesn’t know that rumors of the James ossuary are circulating again. The claims that it appeared in one of Mahmoud’s shops just up the street from us are completely false. I know the disinformation regarding the authenticity of the inscription has given Art much heartache. I wouldn’t want him discouraged any further.” Popping the last bit of the syrupy pastry into his mouth, he stood. “With your permission my dear, I take my leave. Thank you for yet another wonderful meal.”

Getting up also, she gently suggested that he take his cloak. Despite the intense heat of the sun, the Judean hills cooled quickly at night, and she knew that he would be late—many a night the friends had talked almost until dawn. Coat in hand, he came back into the kitchen to embrace her.

“I will see you soon. Ensh-allah. As Allah wills.”

“Good night Father. Take good care.”

He slipped into the cool night towards the Shrine of the Book. So eager was he to meet up with Art, he never noticed the man behind him, matching his gait step for step.

CHAPTER NINE : Harbingers of the Dawn

In a sprawling house near Ecole Biblique, a French monastic compound, the Society of the Millennial Dawn (SMD) gathered for their weekly Thursday night meeting. The group usually spent their time looking for correlations between Bible prophecy and modern events. Their roots dated back to the early nineteen hundreds when Charles Scofield popularized a shift away from historic Christianity towards his own, very literal, interpretation of the Bible. Dividing the Old and New Testaments into “dispensations,” he believed that the Scriptures contained different messages for Jew, Gentile and Christian. He believed also in a fundamental dichotomy between Israel and the Church, and in a secret rapture that would precede the Second Coming and save the faithful from the horror of the millennial endtimes. Though the literalism touted by Scofield pervaded American Evangelical Christianity, modern interpreters of premillennial signs continued to inaccurately predict the Second Coming. As a result, Dispensationalist Christian groups began to splinter, until many lost all touch with their origins, and many found themselves with little more than cult status.

The SMD fell somewhere in the middle of the pack. Jamison Parkes Law had started SMD in his own home. Far from the typical evangelical fundamentalist, Law had spent the better part of his post-graduate days as a political activist. With a law degree from Harvard, he’d carefully honed his debating skills and powers of persuasion. He’d also learned that religion more than politics made for strange bedfellows—and set to cultivating a wide array of relationships. His classmates would literally be running the world one day and who knew when the Harvard connection might come in handy.

Armed with his bible college undergraduate degree and a South Texas belief in justice, J.P. easily amalgamated his patriotism with his belief that Israel was in fact the chosen nation of God. Like many of his fellow dispensationalists, Law believed that biblical Israel had been re-established at the end of WWII, and that the Jews had an absolute right to their own country. As a literalist, he had no doubt that Armageddon would occur within the region and that the United States held an obligation to support the Israeli government and its lands.

These views dovetailed nicely with some of those of Rabbi Menachem and the unlikely pair formed an alliance of sorts, vowing to stand vigilant against anyone who failed to embrace biblical Israel—whether Moslem, Jew or Christian. They’d fallen into the habit of comparing notes at least once weekly, more if something was afoot. This afternoon the two had spent forty minutes on the phone discussing the flurry of activity at a church in Bethany. The rabbi reported that he’d heard a newly discovered tomb had already been raided. Thought he knew both Art West and Patrick Stone by reputation only, JP agreed that neither could be trusted and promised to handle the situation.

Now, sitting in the well-appointed living room of the house SMD maintained, Law surveyed the thirty members -- some sprawled on couches, others cross-legged on the floor -- and smiled to himself with pride. Just before the millennium, every last one of his disciples had demonstrated the depth of their faith by moving, lock, stock and barrel to Jerusalem in anticipation of the Rapture. In the time since, the faithful had grown by a handful, and the entire group now waited for JP’s benediction.

“It has happened again,” he began. “Rabbi Menachem has informed me that someone has raided a tomb up at the Church of Mary and Martha in Bethany. Both Arthur West and Patrick Stone have been seen snooping around up there, and we all know that neither one of them demonstrates any kind of loyalty to our biblical positions on Israel and her treasures. Needless to say, they must be stopped. You know the rabbi and his minyan have no muscle—so it falls to us. I need two volunteers.”

Of the half dozen hands that shot up, two stood out. They belonged to a pair of twin brothers whose parents, too old to make the journey themselves, had used their savings to send them to Jerusalem. Having never left their small Texas community, they had a hard time acclimating to Israeli life. They ate only in Western restaurants, watched only American television and kept to themselves. However, their faith in JP and in the Society of the Millennial Dawn was as solid as their rodeo-conditioned bodies. They would enthusiastically do whatever JP asked.

“I want Stone and West trailed -- twenty-four seven -- until I say otherwise.” JP handed each of them the addresses of the professors. “I’ll expect no less than four reports a day—if those two so much as wink at a girl in a market I want to know everything about her. Got it?”

“Yes sir!” The boys stood a little straighter with the weight of their assignment as they grabbed their backpacks filled with granola, halva, bottled water, maps, a camera and a cell phone.

“Now, call me when you find ‘em and for Heaven’s sake, don’t let ‘em see you, and don’t lose ‘em. Am I clear?” Eager nods gave the answer.

“Then go with God my sons.”

CHAPTER TEN: Darkness Falls.

The predictable evening chill enveloped the hillside that led to the Shrine of the Book. Running a bit late, Art fastened the Velcro around the zipper of his Patagonia jacket and leaned into the slight breeze, thinking that in Jerusalem one was always going up or down a hill. The shrine came into view, with its cleverly designed roof that mimicked the curved yet pointed top of the clay casings in which the Dead Sea Scrolls had been found. He couldn’t wait to tell Kahlil about the day’s discovery. As he silently debated mentioning the attempt on his life he heard a sharp pop. He instinctively flinched and his mind envisioned a gun, but he just as quickly dismissed his overactive imagination and rationalized away the noise as a car backfiring.

Watching his step a bit more closely after the noise, he turned the corner toward the Shrine itself. Entering the park, he quickly came upon their favorite bench, which, surprisingly, was empty. Running late, though par for the course for Art, was unheard of for Kahlil. As he began to wonder about the whereabouts of his friend, he noticed the form on the ground, on the far side of the bench. His gait turned to a trot.

Art thought he was hallucinating when he realized it was a body. Flicking on his flashlight, he gasped. There, in the bright glow of the recharged beam, glistened a crimson profusion of blood, pouring from Kahlil’s head and chest. His friend appeared to still draw breath. “Kahlil! Kahlil! Speak to me! Who did this? Say something! Can you hear me? Hang in there! I’m getting help!”

After fumbling for his cell phone, he dialed 919 with shaking fingers and told the Israeli emergency dispatcher to send an ambulance immediately to the park adjacent to the Shrine of the Book. “A man’s been shot! He’s alive, but barely. Please. Please hurry.”

Ending the call, he turned back to Kahlil. Art had never seen someone fatally wounded—and he’d certainly never seen that much blood spilled He leaned in close to the body and made sure Kahlil was still breathing. “Hang on Kahlil. Help’s on the way.” As he debated trying to stop the bleeding from either the chest or the head, Art’s flashlight picked up a glint from under Kahlil’s left side. Instinctively, he reached for it in an effort to make Kahlil more comfortable.

Immediately he regretted the move. Staring up at him from between his sweaty fingers was a gun—most likely the gun that someone had used to assault Kahlil. Great! Could this day possibly get much worse? Hoping he hadn’t smudged any fingerprints left by the true assailant, he set the gun down on the bench that he and Kahlil should have been sitting on together. Instead he now sat there alone, and began to pray over his Moslem friend, “Dear Lord, you are the Great Physician. Please don’t let Kahlil die!”

Art was still praying when he first heard the ambulance arrive. He met the medics at the sidewalk and directed them up the hill to the bench. Within seconds, they tore his shirt open and worked to staunch the chest wound. They wrapped his head, stopping the bleeding there as well. With the patient stabilized and secured to the stretcher, they proceeded to the ambulance.

“Where are you taking him?” demanded Art.

“Just to the ambulance for now—we’ll get a check on his vitals while we wait for police clearance to head to the hospital. We’ll be going to Sinai.”

Of course! He’d forgotten that in Israel, the police had to control every bit of the scene and hoped the extra waiting time wouldn’t put Kahlil at further risk. Perhaps God had been listening, for no sooner than he’d asked the question, a cruiser hopped the curb and parked haphazardly behind the ambulance. Before the officers could speak, Art jumped in. “Please. Please, officers, release the ambulance so they can get my friend to the hospital before it’s too late!”

The officer, not used to being told what to do, started to put the American in his place, until he looked at the patient. “Mr. el Said? That’s Kahlil el Said, the antiquities dealer? Everyone knows what an honest man he is—who’d want to hurt him? Go. Take him. Quickly!” Turning to Art he added that he personally would notify the dealer’s daughter, Hannah.

Hannah! Art felt sick to his stomach. He really needed to get to the hospital to be there when she arrived. Or should he offer to go get her? No, the police could probably get her there faster. And they’d probably wanted him to answer a few questions. He moved over to the bench and sat down, head between his knees. Now that Kahlil was on his way to the hospital, Art finally had time to realize just how awful he felt. He took several gulps of air, pulled up his head, and after running a hand through his hair, he stood up, offering his hand to the closest officer. “My name is Dr. Art West. I was meeting my friend Kahlil el Said here, and found him like this. What else can I tell you?”

Office Reiss gave him a curt nod. “Why at night? You don’t see your friend at his shop? Or at his home?”

“Kahlil and I are old friends. We like the privacy the park gives us to speak freely. It’s just been our tradition.”

Officer Leibowitz joined them. “Well, either you two weren’t alone, or you’ve got some more explaining to do, Dr. West. What else can you tell us?”

“Did you get hold of Hannah? Is she okay? Does she need a ride to the hospital?” Art ignored the officer’s question.

“I spoke with her myself and sent an officer to accompany her to the hospital. She asked about you and I told her that you were the one who reported his injuries — I didn’t give her details over the phone — the doctors can do that. Now. Back to my question. What else can you tell me and Officer Reiss here?”

“I was running a few minutes late — I usually am — and when I first got up the hill, I was surprised that Kahlil wasn’t here yet. Then I noticed the body on the ground, saw the blood and called 919. I must have just missed the gunman because I remember hearing a noise before I rounded that corner...” Art turned and pointed to the garden entrance. “I was just in front of the Museum when I heard a pop, but I told myself it was a car backfiring.”

“You sure you only heard one “pop” as you call it?” Leibowitz pressed, while Reiss scribbled furiously.

“I only heard one. Yes. And like I said, I found him here, called 919, and then tried to make him comfortable until the ambulance arrived. That’s when I pulled this out from under him.” He gestured towards the gun sitting on the bench. Both officers instinctively reached for their own, but visibly relaxed when Art dropped his hand back to his side. Reiss produced a plastic bag, into which he dropped the gun.

“I know. I know.” Art continued, “I shouldn’t have touched it. I just wanted to make him comfortable. As soon as I realized that I could have contaminated any prints, I put it down. Maybe the shooter’s prints are still on it? Maybe it can help find his attacker?” Art could feel the emotion catching up with him, hear it in his own voice. “Kahlil is perhaps my closest friend here in Jerusalem. Whatever I can do...”

The officers knew they’d gotten as much information as they would for the moment, and they needed to do a cursory sweep of the scene before the forensic team arrived. Before leaving Art to collect himself, Officer Reiss asked if Art would come down to the police station with them to give his fingerprints, for elimination purposes.

“Of course, but will it take long? I’d like to get to the hospital to check on Kahlil and wait with Hannah.”

“We understand. The tests won’t take long. Why don’t you sit here for a minute, and we’ll come get you when we’re ready to leave.”

Appreciating the courtesy, Art thanked the officer, and sat back down on the bench, head in his hands, to wait. Nausea rose up in the pit of his stomach and he began to shiver.


Curious Presbyterian said...


Once again, Ben, it's mother lode, not "motherload."

Ben Witherington said...

Indeed it is if that's what you mean, but this is a play on words..... so thanks anyway....

Kevin W. Woodruff said...


Scofield's first name was Cyrus not Charles

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks Kevin... right you are...


Joel said...


I don't know what kind of feedback you are wanting. I am not a published fiction author, so I don't speak with authority, but I do read it from time to time, so I suppose I am part of your target audience.

The book starts well, but I find myself losing interest. I think the character of Sadiq is too stereo-typical. The exchange in Kahlil's shop gives away too much too early. The laws regarding antiquities are well known, and for such an exchange to happen in a store front seems unrealistic. I would assume he would want to talk in a back room, or somewhere where they could not be overheard. Likewise, I cannot see him actually showing the item to anyone until he knew it was "safe" to do so.

Minor details, perhaps, but they add up in keeping your reader engaged. If the reader begins to feel the whole thing is simply fantasy, and there aren't hobbits about, then you have an issue with a book of this type.

Just my $.02


Robert D. Lukenbill, III said...

I have read the Da Vinci Code book and comparing what I have read to your book already....your book is head and tails above that other crazy non-sense (although I thought the Da Vinci Code had a great story if they had perverted my Lord's name). I am reading every chapter looking forward to the next. This story is shaping out to be fantastic! Thanks for sharing it with me.

Robert D. Lukenbill, III said...

I meant to say in my last post that the Da Vinci Code would have been a great story if they had not perverted the name of my Lord....sorry about the confusion.