Monday, March 12, 2007

The Lazarus Effect-- Part Two

Note these two chapters have been reformated into plain text. Let me know if they read alright. From these computers it looks o.k.



CHAPTER THREE: Lost and Found

That Boy Scouting memory must have been a premonition, thought Art. Never go swimming without a buddy...ha!...never go digging without one either! He'd lost track of time, mostly because he'd spent more than the first few minutes repeating the inscription over and over again.

" Twice dead under Pilatus

Twice born of Yeshua, in sure hope of resurrection"

Soon, however, fear replaced fascination. Perfect for storing bones inside stone boxes, the conditions in this tomb were anything but accommodating for living, breathing six-foot men. He tried to focus his thoughts, taking a mental inventory of his pack. Besides the waning flashlight, dwindling canteen, and digital camera, he had a handful of brushes, a small notebook and pencil and a bar of Halvah, a Middle-Eastern answer to a candy bar. What else?

He had tossed the collapsible spade aside before diving into the mound, so prying the stone loose was out of the question.

Think man, think! His cell phone! Normally he hated the things. He used his sparingly, sharing the number with only a select few and keeping the ringer turned to silent. Silently offering a prayer that he had enough battery power, he punched in the numbers to the caretaker's office. Gratefully he listened to one ring after another until he began to worry that Mustafa had, for some reason, left the property.

"Salam Alaykum", came the faint Arabic greeting in the familiar soft-spoken accent of Mustafa.

Mustafa! Mustafa! Dr. West here! I'm trapped in a tomb on the back side of the mound you showed me yesterday. Please, please, hurry!

"On the way," came the reply, as the man of few words hung up the phone and dashed out of his office.

'Oh the irony' thought West. I finally find something interesting and almost get buried with it. He tried to slow his heart rate as he made a futile attempt to staunch the torrents of sweat pouring down his neck and back. No more than five minutes passed before he heard the ping of a shovel tapping from above. Using his canteen, he tapped back. Within minutes, Mustafa had used the discarded pickax to pry the stone loose.

"Thank God! I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been there! Shokrun! I'm forever grateful, friend."

Handing the caretaker his digital camera, West clamored out into the blinding, stifling day. Looking at his watch, he discovered it was already after ten o(clock.

"Mustafa, someone intentionally moved that stone to seal me in there. Did you see anyone? I've got so much to share with you, but first I've got to get over to the IAA and I can't do that without cleaning up a bit first, so I've got to run by my flat! And we've got to cover that hole. Can you do that for me? I'll make a call to have the area secured. I promise to fill you in just as soon as I can. Again, I can't thank you enough for saving my life!"

When West finally ran out of breath, Mustafa, brown eyes smiling, acknowledged the task with a nod and slight bow.

Propelling the bright blue Mini Metro towards his apartment, Art's thoughts bounced like pinballs. "Who would seal me in a tomb, for Heaven's sake? Did someone follow me? A prankster? Why didn't I see them? Hear them?" Only briefly did his thoughts turn to Mustafa. A man of honor, the Palestinian Christian had shown him nothing but friendship over the past several months. And had he been culpable, he certainly wouldn't have answered the call for help.

Just after passing the Pool of Siloam and the old City of David ruins, Art turned onto a quiet side street, and whipped into the fourth driveway on the left. Barely taking time to remove the keys from the ignition, he headed straight for the bathroom. He didn't even bother with the hot tap "cold water rinses soap and grime just as well," he reasoned, and he desperately needed a respite from the heat.

Clean, cooled and quenched, West set the empty water bottle on the weathered table that served as his desk. He needed to start making phone calls, but in what order? IAA or press first? He should probably start with the IAA's director, Dr. Samuel Cohen, and see if he couldn't come right over with the pictures. For years Art had cheerfully turned over any findings or artifacts to the IAA, most of which found homes in various museums in and around Jerusalem. And this practice had not only fostered an easy and amicable relationship with the Antiquities Authority, it had also given rise to a most enjoyable friendship between Art and Sammy. Yes, he'd start with Sammy, and later, he'd give his friend Israel Steinmetz a ring at Ha'Aretz, one the two leading daily newspapers in Jerusalem.

Cohen answered his phone on the third ring with a hearty English "Hello."

"Shalom alechem" began Art, in Hebrew.

"Alechem Shalom," replied Cohen. "Art? Is that you?"

"It is indeed! You'll never believe what happened this morning! What I found. What I think I found. I've got pictures. Pictures you've got to see to believe...that is until you can get to the tomb. The tomb. You've got to have it secured, cordoned off, be sure no one gets in, be sure no one gets trapped like me . . ."

"Art. Art. Slow down. As usual you speak too quickly for these ears. You've found something. You've got pictures and you want to show them to me. Certainly. How's noon? I'm tied up in a meeting until then. Now what's this about being trapped in a tomb?"

"I'll get to that when I see you. In the meantime, you've got to get someone over to the Church of Mary and Martha in Bethany to secure the site! There's a caretaker there, Mustafa, but he's got other duties. Oh, and could you contact Grace Levine's office and see if she can join us? I want a second opinion on this Aramaic inscription..." West trailed off to catch his breath again.

"An Aramaic inscription. Secure a tomb at the Church of Mary and Martha in Bethany." Art could hear the furious scratch of Sammy's pen against paper. "And a call to Grace Levine. Done. Anything else? A plate of fresh hummus and some peeled grapes perhaps?" Sammy joked with his friend.

At the mention of hummus, Art suddenly remembered he hadn't eaten since five this morning. "Yeah, that would be great! I'll see you at noon."

As he made himself a quick sandwich he thought about the look he'd soon see on Grace's face when she read the inscription. Picturing her round face framed by a riotous mass of still-black curls, brown-green eyes dancing behind funky red spectacles, his stomach lurched. While he'd been looking at his watch graveside, he should have been sipping lattes with this lively department chair from Jerusalem's Hebrew University. He knew she would forgive him when she saw the pictures, but she should have been the first call, he thought ruefully. "I'll apologize in person," he thought. Grabbing his camera and a small notepad, he started towards the door to the garage when his home phone rang.

"Greetings, my friend." The deep voice of his old friend Kahlil el Said boomed from the receiver. "I have news of the James ossuary. Let us meet at our usual spot behind the Shrine of the Book this evening. Say nine? We will talk. You are free?"

Art smiled just hearing the voice of the Muslim antiquities dealer. They had met during that first dig back in the Eighties and had shared a lifetime since. Art had become a frequent guest of Kahlil and his wife, Sheema, and been present at the marriage of their only child, Hannah. When Sheema's cancer had gained the upper hand, he'd taken the first available flight. Like Jews, Muslims bury their dead within twenty-four hours, and Art had promised her he would look after Kahlil in the early days following her burial. It was then that they inaugurated their tradition of meeting in the quietude of the park to discuss everything and nothing, away from the bustle of Kahlil's shop and of Art's various projects.

"For you? Of course I'm free. Nine o'clock it is. I look forward to seeing you old friend."

"Bless you, my friend. Until tonight then. Salam."

Art knew Kahlil would be thrilled to hear of his find -- and horrified to learn of his early interment. He might have to skip that part. Though ten years had passed since Sheema's death, Kahlil avoided almost all conversation of her, of sickness and of death in general. Best not to mention his near miss, at least not tonight. Camera and notepad in tow, he stuffed himself into the Mini and headed for IAA office.

CHAPTER FOUR: Grace under Pressure

Even though it was only mid-morning, most shoppers on Ben Yehuda Street were looking for shade. Grace Levine had found hers under the awning of her favorite coffee shop, Solomon’s Porch, where she sat sipping, not coffee, but a more refreshing blend of orange and papaya juices. As she worked her way through the morning papers, Ha’Aretz and The Jerusalem Post, she gave a short prayer of thanks that neither led with a headline of overnight terrorist activity. Mercifully, for the past several weeks, all had been quiet on the Middle-Eastern front.

The same could not be said for the usually quiet stretch of stores, cafes and restaurants along Ben Yehuda. Her thoughts of Art West and his uncharacteristic lateness were interrupted by the growing throng of onlookers looking for the source of commotion at the end of the block.

“Non-kosher, close it down! Non-kosher, close it down!” A shouting individual had swelled to a small chanting group of men.

Grace rolled her eyes as she slipped her feet back into the sandals she’d kicked off beneath the table. The McDonald’s protestors were at it again. Surely this band of Orthodox had better things to do with their time than spend it scaring off American tourists. The last time she looked, the Orthodox didn’t control the whole city—just thought that they should.

Raised to know her mind before she spoke it, Grace had grown up in Brookline, Massachusetts, to observant Jewish parents with a keen sense of intellect and social conscience. She almost never passed up a chance to debate, especially when she felt strongly about the topic.

Dropping her cavernous tote behind the outdoor coffee counter, she smiled wryly at her friend Sarah Goldberg, proprietor of Solomon’s Porch. “Keep an eye on my table for me, yeah? I’ll be back in just a sec.” Sarah urged, “Go get ‘em tiger!”

Grace had quickly scaled the ancient academic walls of both Brandeis and Yale, finishing her doctorate in only four years. The predominately male environments had emboldened her, cementing her commitment to academic excellence. Her dissertation on the Herodian period in Judea and its multi-lingual culture, published not as an obscure academic guide, but as a trade title, had even enjoyed mention in more than a few popular magazine columns. By the time she celebrated her thirty-fifth birthday, she’d bought a flat in Jerusalem and established herself as one of the preeminent authorities on Aramaic translations. But now, as she confidently approached the growing fracas, it was her bulldog tenacity, not her academic prowess, that fueled her stride.

Pushing herself into the midst of the melee, she at first drew curious stares from the jumble of tourists, vendors and street musicians who had gathered. By the time she reached the center of the commotion, she found herself the target of a dozen or so pairs of eyes, undisguised with disdain and outrage. Undaunted, but without actually making physical contact, she brought herself nose to nose with the self-appointed Master of Ceremonies, Rabbi Menachem ben Schlomo.

“How dare you use your position to incite riot! Surely you realize your actions affect the entire commerce of this block, Jewish and Gentile alike? Is there not enough sirrus in the world without you adding to it?”

Stunned by her audacity, the rabbi’s minyan, dressed in the traditional black suits and hats of the ultra-orthodox, held their collective breath. Unused to impudence, especially from a woman, the rabbi, tight lipped and seething, addressed the crowd.

“Who is this woman?”

Refusing to be belittled or ignored, she answered for herself. “I am Dr.Grace Levine, tenured professor and Chairwoman of the Department of Biblical Languages at Hebrew University, and I respectfully ask that you and your students return to your yeshiva and find a way, other than this disgraceful demonstration, to honor the Blessed One.”

Not normally a stickler for so-called political correctness, she’d purposely emphasized her position as chairwoman for added sting.

Hoping to sting back, the Rabbi, again not addressing her directly, quoted Proverbs to his disciples, “To what shall I compare a nagging woman, it is like a continual dripping of water.”

Glaring, she threw back her shoulders and made a great show of planting her feet. “I can assure you, Rabbi, that this nagging woman will not leave this spot until you and your students take your business elsewhere.”

Sensing a change in the temperament of the crowd, the Rabbi gave an almost imperceptible nod to his followers, and, grimacing, he led them away. Near the back of the line of disciples, a young lanky student paused before her.

“You, a Jewish woman, should be ashamed of yourself. You should know your place better. No one speaks to Rabbi Menachem like that—especially in the presence of Goyim!”

Apparently satisfied with his rebuke, he hurried to catch up with his brethren. A few tourists smiled gratefully at Grace before heading into McDonalds to satisfy their American appetites. Returning to the cafĂ©, she smiled in response to Sarah’s raised eyebrow.

“Mission accomplished. Thanks for watching my stuff.”

Retrieving her tote, she returned to her table. As she reached into her bag for a tube of chapstick, she noticed the light on her cell phone blinking. Assuming it was Art with an explanation, she was surprised to hear Sammy Cohen’s tenor on her voicemail.

“Grace, we need your expertise over at the IAA. Can you join us at noon? Give a call and I’ll fill you in.”

Intrigued, but still worried about her American friend, she dialed Sammy’s office to confirm.


Bob MacDonald said...

Ben - the story is delightful - and here I thought you were a serious fellow!

Peter Kirk said...

Thanks for fixing the font problem, which was found not just on Macs, but on this PC with Windows XP and Firefox. But chapters 3 and 4 are in fact not plain text matching your template, they are Times New Roman. Also, oddly enough, you have straight quotes in chapter 3 but smart or curly ones in chapter 4. No big deal, but something which at some time typesetters will have to sort out.

This looks like being a great novel!

Robert said...

Good story man... really looking forward to the next chapters.. how lengthy is it by the way?? do reply.. n ya check into My Blog on Friendship and Friendship cards. lol. take care. ciao. post the next part soon..

Ben Witherington said...

Ah, but I know Palestinian Christians who have a Moslem father and have such a name, and use such greetings, but you are right-- if both parents were Christian they wouldn't have such a name. I currently have a student who is an Iraqi Christians, whose father is Moslem-- his name is Omar.


Coolhand said...

Great beginning to an interesting story, Dr. Witherington. I hope that it gets published soon or that you post more chapters soon.

Matt said...

Ben, when you have Dr. Levine rebuke the protesters, saying, "Is there not enough sirrus in the world...", is "sirrus" here the same as "tsuris"?

Enjoying the novel so far. I wondered about online serialization as mentioned by a poster on chapter 1 with reference to Stephen King's The Plant, though it's probably worth pointing out that The Plant failed as an undertaking and was never actually completed.