God’s end time saints will need to be warned. It has been fifteen months since the Rapture removed all Christians from the earth and something new, something big, is about to happen. Daniel Goldman senses this. And since he remains—as far as he knows—the only man on earth commissioned by God for these end times, the task falls to him.
Daniel’s intuition is confirmed when the Antichrist and the False Prophet begin to circulate among select Israeli leaders photos of an ancient ivory carving of a Jewish temple. Many believe the temple depicted by the carving represents an actual structure, the Jewish Second Temple as it appeared before its destruction in 70 AD. They also believe that with those circulated photos the Beasts are promising the Jews a Third Temple to be built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Although still new to his assignment, Daniel knows enough to recognize the problem with such a structure: a Third Temple in Jerusalem would ignite all-out war with Islam whose own holy structures already occupy that contested piece of real estate.
On a mild December day, pursuing his vaguely understood divine mission, Daniel arrives in Rome with the single imperative of returning to the Beasts’ Roman Lake League headquarters to investigate this temple carving. The first problem he faces: only two months ago they tried to kill him in this very place. He has since taken great pains to hide himself and the handful of people dependent upon him from these supernaturally empowered enemies. Nonetheless, with only a promise from his inner voice and a young prostitute he believes God sent to help him after he arrived in Rome, Daniel confidently attends a church service conducted by the False Prophet, Akiva Sharabani. The service will take place in the heart of the Beasts’ domain, the miniature Coliseum reproduced in the center of their headquarters building.
But when Daniel and his providentially-provided assistant enter the Coliseum to observe the service, they enter not only a physical structure but a satanically energized world over which the Beasts will exercise iron-fisted dominion. The False Prophet already revealed supernatural power when Daniel was here the first time, but Daniel soon discovers that power has now vastly expanded—and that the new Third Temple promised for Jerusalem is but the beginning of the Beasts’ plans to establish world-wide control. What the beasts have in mind is nothing less than returning planet earth to its roots, to the place where idolatry was born.
From Rome to Jerusalem, from an archaeological dig to the birth pangs of a new Tower of Babel, Daniel and his young helper pursue the mission—and are in turn pursued by God’s Enemies, visible and invisible.
After looking through the peephole, Daniel Goldman opened the door and stepped back to admit a very young woman dressed all in red. She was exceptionally pretty with her ivory skin and raven hair. Her dress was short but still socially acceptable and, along with the full length black leather coat draped over her left arm and the over-sized purse over her right shoulder, gave her the look of a stylish junior executive here to escort an out-of-town client back to headquarters. She entered no further than the threshold.
“Hello, Honey,” she said. “What’s the word?”
“Tempo felice,” he said.
“Very good,” she said, and stepped in as far as the entryway. “Now I hope your fire didn’t go out waiting for me to get here. Carlo said he hadn’t seen traffic this heavy since right after the Disappearance, when everyone thought they had to escape the hovering Mother Ship.” She laughed at that. Her teeth were very white. “Of course,” she said, “I doubt your fire’s out. Must be a pretty hot one if you need me first thing in the morning.”
“Were you in Rome that day?” Daniel asked. He motioned her on into the room. “The day of that ‘Mother Ship’?” She shuffled forward a few feet, enough for Daniel to close the door.
“I am in Rome or nearby every day, Sweetheart. I can’t afford to go very far.” She looked around at the five-star room. He could tell she wanted to appear blasé, sophisticated, but her eyes betrayed her at the sight of the luxury suite. They were the eyes of a delighted little girl seeing Christmas toys just for her.
“I just wondered about your accent,” Daniel said. “You don’t really have any.”
“I wasn’t born here. I was born in California. An American, like you. Moved here twelve years ago. When I was thirteen. You know, I don’t mind talking to you, Baby. Getting to know each other first might make it extra special. But first things first. Are we clear on the fee?”
“I am. You want two hundred New Lira an hour, right?”
“Right. And don’t look so strained, Sweetheart. I’m worth every Centesimo.”
“I wasn’t strained. I was calculating. I think I’ll offer you three times that rate. Will that work?”
The skin crinkled between her eyes at the bridge of her nose. She was obviously thinking hard. “I guess that depends on what you want, Baby. No amount of money is worth getting beat up over. I can do kinky, but…”
“It’s not like that…Catherine…right? It’s not like that. I don’t need your usual professional services. At least not for me.”
“O…K,” she said, dragging out the O. Her nose skin crinkled again. “I don’t do groups either.”
“Here, Catherine, please come on in and have a seat.” She still hesitated, only a few feet inside the door. “Look,” he said. “I knew your password, right? You trust Carlo, the cabbie who told me about you last night, right? So come on in. Have a seat. I just want to talk.”
She seemed to relax as she glided to the sofa and sat down, her coat over one arm and her purse over the other. Immediately she popped back up. “You should show me your money now. And should I take anything off while we talk? That might be fun.”
“You don’t need to take off your clothes, Catherine,” he said. He took out his wallet and pulled out two thousand New Lira in crisp bills he’d got right after landing. He laid them on the table next to the sofa. “But I do want to make you a business proposition.”
“OK.” Smiling, she dropped her coat on the sofa and sat back down next to it. She seemed apprehensive, but also intrigued, as she started shoving the bills into her purse. “You keep wanting to negotiate. You really must be a businessman. ”
“I am, among other things. What I want is to hire you for maybe a week. Maybe two. I’ll pay you three times your normal fee, and I’ll keep the clock running twenty-four seven. I promise not to hurt you or let anyone else hurt you. You’ll only…use your professional talent and make a lot of money in the process.”
“You said I’m not here for you? Then whoever you’re hiring me for must be a really good friend. And you must be really rich. Is Daniel your real name?”
“It is. Do we have a deal?”
“Sure, Honey. Why not. Tell me your friend’s name and I’ll have Carlo check him out. You won’t tell Carlo about the…bonus…right?”
“Your arrangement with Carlo is none of my business.”
“OK. So what’s your friend’s name?” She had her phone out, ready to call Carlo. She apparently changed her mind, put it back, and said, “I won’t call him immediately. I’ll wait until we could have, you know, had our time together. I’ll give him his share of the two hundred.” She fished a pen and scrap of paper from her purse. “I’ll just write the name down. Have Carlo check him out later.”
“The man’s name is Virgil Mazzone. He works for the Roman Lake League.”
“Wow,” she said, jotting the name onto the paper. “He high up?”
“Very high. About the third spot, I think.”
“O…K. You got yourself a deal, Daniel.” She put the scrap of paper back in her purse. “After Carlo says he’s alright, of course. What did this guy do for you to make you want to give him such a…great gift?” She ran her hands down her sides as she said that.
“Let’s just say he was part of my last major business deal. I made a lot of money on it.”
“OK. So maybe you are a real businessman. You set the scene for me, think of some way to get me my money when I’m finished, and we’re in business. After Carlo approves, I mean. So what do you want to do for the next…” she looked at her watch…”the next three hours and eight minutes, Sweetheart?” She smiled up at him. “I’m pretty good at math.”
“I can see that. Might even take longer than the three and a third hours at three times your normal rate—which is what I’ve already paid for. I want you to go to church with me, and if the traffic is as heavy as it was last night, that could take a while. But don’t worry. If we use up the time I’ve paid for, I have more New Lira. Anyway, we need to go. I’ve heard the crowd is expected to be heavy, so Virgil will be very active this morning. I’ll point him out to you.”
“You said church? You want to take me to church? Now that’s kinky. And I know kinky!”
”Well, it’s a kind of church. I expect we’ll see quite a sermon by the number two guy in the Roman Lake League, Akiva Sharabani. And Virgil, your assignment, will be there for sure. Providing security.”
Daniel became self-conscious about his outfit—Khaki’s, sweater and waist-length suede jacket—about the time he stepped into the hotel lobby with Catherine. His clothes didn’t really go with her high heels, striking red evening dress and leather coat. To his relief, no one seemed to notice.
He slipped the equivalent of fifty dollars in New Lira into the bellman’s hand as he helped Catherine ease into the limousine. That vehicle was the prize awarded for several minutes of heroic struggle, with Daniel finally breaking through the concierge’s limited English to hire the limo for the whole day.
“Why not just take a cab,” Catherine said, as the limo nosed its way into the heavy traffic. “You know, like regular people?”
“That would have taken longer and we have no time to spare. Besides, if I’d called for a cab, Carlo may have shown up. I didn’t want that to happen. It would have blown your…plan.”
“What were the odds of Carlo being the one to answer your call?”
“Just playing it safe.”
“I maybe should have held out for more money,” she said. “I get the impression money doesn’t matter much to you.”
“I am well funded.”
She nodded and they crept through traffic. The unusually heavy traffic reminded Daniel of the last time he was in Tel Aviv. Despite the fact the world’s population had been reduced by about 20% just fifteen months ago—counting all the children—the population of Tel Aviv, and now of Rome, appeared to have grown since the Disappearance. They had each become hubs of activity. The great irony was the vast distinction in the natures of those activities.
“I haven’t been to the Headquarters of the League before,” Catherine said. “But I have heard a lot about it. Especially about the league’s top man. You know they say he was attacked in a sword fight?”
Daniel nodded. “Heard that, too.”
“Some…now I don’t believe this…but some say he actually died in that attack and came back to life. Can you believe such hooey?”
Daniel said nothing.
“You want to tell me how you got involved with the number three guy of the Roman Lake League?”
“Wasn’t much involved with Virgil Mazzone actually. My dealings were with the two top guys. Vicente Romani and Akiva Sharabani.”
“Now I know I should have held out for more money.”
Daniel looked at her.
“Just kidding,” she said. “A deal is a deal.”
“You want more money?” he asked.
She pondered. “No. I have to have self respect. We already agreed on the amount. What do you think your friend Virgil likes in a woman?”
“You’ll have to ask him.”
Daniel studied her flawless young profile as she leaned forward to better observe the creeping traffic. He knew the whole world was about to grow darker. Abstractly he had known this for two months, but in the past few days he had come actually to sense the dark shadow gliding over the landscape. It had to do with the temple in Jerusalem, and it had something to do with Virgil Mazzone. About these he had no doubt—but about any of this Catherine had no clue. This young woman beside him was the very definition of intellectual innocence. Did ends, however worthy, justify such immoral means? Such manipulation? Could this really be God’s plan?
This is not the way, Daniel.
Daniel nodded to himself when he heard the quiet inner voice. Before he realized what he was doing, he said out loud, “I guess I had doubts all along. So what now?”
Catherine turned toward him. “What? You say something, Daniel?”
“Just thinking out loud, I guess.”
He wasn’t really surprised by what he’d just heard deep in his own consciousness. He’d already discovered his own tendency to run ahead of his instructions, not waiting on the inner voice, trying instead to do things the way he always did—decisively and on the fly much of the time.
“OK,” Catherine said, “you look like something just went wrong. You haven’t changed your mind about this gig, have you?”
“I can’t ask you to do this for me, Catherine. It isn’t right.”
“What isn’t right?”
He didn’t want to insult her…profession. “I’m not sure this is the best way,” he said.
“What? I’m not a good enough present for this Virgil Mazonne?”
“It’s not that. I’m afraid it might be dangerous for you. I can’t put you at risk just for my own purposes.”
“At risk? I thought you said you wouldn’t let anyone hurt me. What are you talking about?”
“It’s complicated, Catherine. Let’s just say they probably don’t have good memories of me, and their…irritation with me…might extend to you if you’re with me.”
“They? You mean the guys at the League? You sure you’re not just reneging on our deal?”
Daniel shook his head.
Tell her about herself.
He listened. Words rising unbidden in his consciousness. Thankfully something more than single words and disconnected phrases this time. After listening a few seconds he began paraphrasing what he heard deep in his own mind.
“It’s not that you are not good enough, Catherine. In fact, you’re a better present than he deserves. And you didn’t plan to be a…a working girl. Your dream is to be an actress. You did come here twelve years ago, but you were only seven at the time. Not thirteen. You’re only nineteen now. Your father brought you here after he left your mother. She was so drunk at the time you two left she didn’t even know either of you was gone for days. She sobered up, discovered what her husband had done, and decided it didn’t really matter. Your dad also wanted to be an actor.”
He stopped and looked at her. She was obviously shocked but she waited a moment before speaking. “I’m almost twenty, thank you. And maybe you’re right. Maybe you should just let me out here.”
“I will, but first you need to listen to me. Then, I’ll pay you a weeks’ wages and send you back to the hotel.”
“O…K. Talk fast.”
“What do you think happened fifteen months ago when everyone just Disappeared?”
“Little green guys came. Or maybe they were pale gray. Who knows? Do you?”
“I do. Christ came for them. Those taken belonged to Him. And nothing on this earth will ever be the same.”
She smiled and shook her head. “You’re not the first one to tell me that. I didn’t pay much attention to them, so why should I listen to you—except you’re paying me very well? At least you say you will.”
“Because I’m…called by God to a special assignment.”
“That sounds like a much better gig than mine.”
“And I’ve had experiences with these guys at the Roman Lake League—experiences which have no natural explanations.”
“I can relate to that. Some of my dates had no natural explanations either.”
“Last time I was there, I saw things…things you really can’t believe until you see them for yourself. The top two guys have…let’s say they have special abilities. Especially the number two guy. They certainly aren’t regular people. And you know I’m not just like everyone else either. How do you think I knew everything I just told you about yourself?”
“Well, there is that.” She studied his eyes. “So, how did you know about me?”
“God told me. I’m one of the 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel. We are described in the book of Revelation in the Bible.”
“The twelve who of what?”
“The twelve tribes of Israel. I’m one of the 144,000 special servants of God from the twelve tribes of Israel. It’s all in the Bible. The world has entered the end times, Catherine. The whole world. I’m the first of God’s special servants for these times. There will be a total of 144,000 of us altogether. I wish they were already…called and active. I think maybe I’m still the only one, and I think I could use some help.”
“OK.” She continued to study him carefully. He couldn’t really read her reaction, whether she believed him or thought he was insane. “So Daniel,” she said, “just what is it God has you doing, if I might ask?”
“Well, it’s kind of hard to describe. In general I’m to reveal the truth about these times we live in. Tell people about the coming Kingdom of Heaven and warn them about what Romani and Sharabani are up to in the meantime. Of course, before I can do that, I need to know what they are up to. That was what I thought you were sent to help me do.”
Catherine smiled and cocked her head. “You mean you aren’t supposed to fight against them? You know, combat these two Beasts of the Revelation?”
Daniel looked at her. Her tone stopped just short of open mocking. He’d heard something very close to mockery in several of her comments. But he was also impressed. She showed more knowledge of Biblical matters than he’d possessed only two months ago. Maybe she was…a kind of believer?
“No,” he said. “I’m not supposed to try to stop them. That’s not possible. I’m only to help certain people escape them.”
He couldn’t tell if she was genuinely intrigued or merely amused. Maybe a bit of both. He could see her chewing on something in her mind. In a perfect female version of Forest Gump, she said, “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” With no discernible pause, she changed to an Italian accent and said, “Don’t you find it revealing that the stereotype about women’s work was already in full swing two thousand years ago? You know, two women grinding?” Returning to her normal accent, which was no accent at all, she said, “Anyway, Daniel, maybe you should just let me out here. We’ll pretend it has already been three and a third hours at three times my normal rate—so I can keep what you’ve already given me. I could call Carlo for a ride. No problem.”
“His name isn’t Carlo,” Daniel said. “It’s Salvatore. He thinks Carlo sounds tougher. And you were ranked best in your class when you graduated from that acting school. At age eighteen—only a year and three months ago.”
She smiled and shook her head. “O…K,” she said. “I see you do know things. But God’s special servant? Please!”
“I’ve only been doing this for a couple of months,” he said. “And I’m getting better at it, I think. I always know when God speaks to me inside. I always listen and do my best. But my problem is I try to help Him sometimes when I think He’s been silent too long. Like when I thought I should hire you to…get close to Virgil…so I could have someone on the inside. Sounded like a good idea when I woke up this morning and remembered Carlo attempting to market your services on the way to the hotel last night. God told me a moment ago it wasn’t a good idea.”
“I see,” she said. “God told you a moment ago. That explains it. He told you like with a whisper or what?”
“Kind of like that, except it’s inside.”
“You’re a piece of work, Daniel.” She glanced at the limo driver on the other side of the glass. Then turned to stare at Daniel.
“You want out now?” he asked.
She hesitated. Any evidence of incipient mocking had disappeared. She looked…like she suddenly understood something. Maybe.
“So, where are you going with this, Daniel?” she said. “First you want me; then you don’t. Are you pulling a Tom Sawyer thing here? You know, trying to make me want to paint your fence by pretending you might not let me?”
“No, Catherine. I’m not pulling a Tom Sawyer. I’m being honest.”
Her nose skin crinkled. “That Bible stuff I spouted before? Those were lines from a play I was in this past fall. It was a parody of people like you, I think. You know, left behind new believers? I didn’t get paid for my role, but it got me some good reviews.” She was quiet for a moment. “Anyway, what was it you wanted me to do for you…on the inside?”
“I need to know what the League is up to. I heard they recently began talking to some leaders of the New Israelites about helping them re-build the temple in Jerusalem. These leaders were shown photos of an ancient artifact and told it would be the model for the new structure. I’d like to know what Vicente Romani is thinking. How he thinks Israel could re-build the temple on the Temple Mount—beside the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque—without sparking war with the Muslims. I’d like to know where he got the photo of the artifact. And where the artifact came from. And why he thinks it’s important. That’s why I’m here.”
“Artifact? Like some archeological thing?”
“Exactly. See, you’re smart. You should go on to become an actress. Give up this line of work.”
“You still trying to save me?”
“Yes. That’s my new main job. That’s how I help people escape. I tell them Christ will soon return. You should make yourself ready. That’s my message to you, Catherine.”
“Ready? I am ready. This is my best working dress.” She laughed at her little joke.
“This is no laughing matter, Catherine. The Mutual Defense Treaty with Israel was accepted by the Israeli citizens two months ago. It has begun to be implemented. So it’s official. We are in the end times. Seven years left.”
“You know, Daniel, you jump around a lot. You don’t really make much sense. You just confuse me. By the way, who are these New Israelites? Sounds like a Jewish rock band.”
“They’re no rock band, but they are all Jews. They’re actually a nationalistic organization. They’re still mostly in Israel, but Jews from all over the world are beginning to join them.”
“O…K.” The skin around her nose crinkled. “I guess I still don’t get it.”
“They’re all Zionists of one sort or another. Want to see Israel experience prominence, peace and righteousness, which is what God promised us in the Old Testament.”
“Most all of them realize our Jewish Messiah is about to come and bring that about by ruling over a restored Israel from the throne of David, and eventually over the whole world.”
“Most of them?”
“That’s the real difference among them. Some know the Messiah’s name is Jesus, and that when He comes, He will be returning to earth; but many—probably still most—think He’ll soon reveal Himself for the first time.”
“They need to have a big meeting, get their act together, sounds to me.”
Now that was open mockery. “Some within the group even believe He’s already here and His name is Vicente Romani. So, you see you’re not the only one who is confused. But it will get a lot worse soon. Everywhere. That’s why I said you need to be ready.”
Catherine looked out the window as they continued creeping toward the Coliseum. Daniel could now glimpse the Vatican complex a few blocks ahead, but given the slow crawl of traffic, it would still be a while.
Catherine turned back to face him. “A moment ago, you said ‘us’ and ‘our Jewish Messiah.’ Are you Jewish?”
She thought that over for a few seconds. “So,” she said, “our deal is over?”
“It is. I can’t be part of paying you to do something…something beneath you. You can do better.”
She reflected a minute. “You mean to tell me you just thought of hiring a working girl on the spur of the moment? Carlo mentioned me last night and you just jumped on it first thing this morning?”
“Then how did you plan to learn about this artifact before? I mean, before Carlo gave you that idea?”
“I didn’t have a plan. I was waiting for one from God.”
“And you thought Carlo spoke for God?”
“Something like that.”
“You know, Daniel, that’s the dumbest thing you’ve said yet.”
“When I landed and exchanged some dollars for New Lira and found a cab and still hadn’t heard from Him, I thought maybe I was supposed to be on the lookout for…”
“I mean, Carlo? God wouldn’t speak through him. Anybody but him.”
“OK. I see I was wrong. You want me to take you back now? I’ll pay you triple your lost time.”
She reflected while they came to a full stop in the traffic. He knew she was pondering something by her crinkled nose. “You put a lot of stock in that inner voice,” she said.
“Yes. That voice is how I knew your life story. It’s why I knew about Vicente Romani and Akiva Sharabani the last time I was at their headquarters building. God also opens my eyes sometimes, so I can see…inside things, I guess you could say. See additional dimensions of His creation which we can’t normally see and walk around in. Last time I was there, they tried to kill me. God wouldn’t let them.”
He stopped, afraid he was only terrifying her with all these disconnected revelations. She just looked at him, waiting. He turned away so he could think of how to explain everything better.
Open up to her.
Daniel smiled and listened carefully to the quiet voice rising from deep inside. He looked over at the young prostitute beside him.
“What,” she said?
“God told me before I landed in Rome no one at League Headquarters would recognize me. Somehow I would remain hidden. And He said He would send me a helper. But He didn’t tell me any more than that. So I thought maybe you would be my way to get the information I need. Just now He told me to go ahead and take you there—although He will not approve of my original plan. So, I expect a different plan will come to me. And soon.”
“The last time you were there…how long ago was that?”
“A little over two months.”
“And they won’t recognize you after only two months?”
“That’s what He told me. It will turn out to be true.”
“How could that be? No one could forget that face in just two months.”
From her admiring glance he recognized the compliment. “Thank you,” he said, “but somehow they will not know who I am.”
“Wow, Daniel. That is trust. You would enter that building knowing the last time you were there they tried to kill you?”
She was quiet, nose skin crinkling. They began to creep forward again.
“So,” she said, “you say you’re expecting a different plan?”
“Yes. And I expect it any minute.”
She shook her head as if in disbelief. “OK,” she said. Then, in a perfect up-scale British accent she said, “You think it may be possible, Signore Romani, for me to study the photos of the artifact some people say you have? I am an archaeology student from Great Britain, and I thought I could get some extra credit if I could take a peek at them and write a report. Maybe you could even give me a summary of its provenance. I’m sure that would boost my first semester grades.”
Daniel stared at her. “You really should pursue your dream of being an actress, Catherine. That was brilliant.”
She smiled at the compliment. In a perfect California surfer voice, she said, “Dude, if you have enough trust in an inner voice to go someplace where they tried to kill you the last time you were there, then I want to help you. Dude.”
Daniel laughed. “You see? God does work with me. He brought you to me.”
She smiled. “I still need to get paid.”
“No problem. I hire contract employees from time to time. I’m CEO of a private equity fund called World Opportunity. How would…Research Consultant sound…for a job title?”
Russian Minister of Defense Iosif Vasnev felt ludicrous standing crisp and fresh, the emblem of his Department proudly displayed on his immaculate uniform, while his Commander in Chief sat sweaty and topless on the seat of his bench press machine. At least this time Iosif saw no photographers in the room. His president, Dementyev Grigoryev, was known on occasion to hold briefings just like this during which he arranged to have photos taken. The president believed it endeared him greatly to the Russian citizens to see him topless and slick with sweat.
The president carefully studied the phone Iosif had just handed him. “Do I press this symbol for the video?” the president asked.
“Yes, Mr. President. Right there.” He pointed to the appropriate icon.
The president pressed it and a video began to play on the screen.
“Is there sound to go with the pictures?”
“There is, Mr. President, but it is not very clear. Unintelligible, actually. So I turned down the volume.”
“OK. When does the…Oh, I see.” The president’s face froze while he watched the video zoom in on the face of a dying man.
“See the blood gushing from the neck?” Iosif asked.
“I would have to be blind not to.”
“Obviously a fatal wound,” Iosif said. “Notice the time stamp on the video. And pay close attention to the dying man’s face.”
The president continued to watch. “So you are convinced this is the original to the viral U-Tube video?”
“No doubt about it, Mr. President. Same exact angles and sequence. Ok, about here the break will occur.”
In moments the screen in the president’s hand froze. But within a second it started up again.
“This is now twelve minutes later, Mr. President. See the time stamp down there?”
“I do. I had never noticed time-stamps in the U-tube version.”
“They were not there. Cropped out, I guess.”
“Well,” the president said, “I didn’t believe it on the Internet and I don’t believe it now. That con-man Romani could easily fake this.”
“True, Mr. President, but he could not have faked it in real time on this particular phone.”
“And you found this phone with our esteemed Turkish leader?”
“It was in Derin Sadik’s pocket,” Iosif said. “Now, watch the man’s face. The next zoom is coming.”
The video zoomed in on a man dressed as a gladiator exiting the tent and stepping out onto the fake dirt. It was obviously the same man who had been shown bleeding to death and then being dragged dead into the tent twelve minutes earlier. Except now he was alive and well. And smiling beatifically.
“Who’s this guy here that supposedly killed him?”
“No one knows, Mr. President. His face blurs out in the video.”
“Nothing else blurs out.”
“Well this man’s face did. But that’s a side show. You should focus on the time stamp.”
“I see it but I still don’t believe it,” the president said. “Romani was not brought back from the dead. That simply does not happen.”
“Nor should you believe it, Mr. President. I certainly do not. But from this video you can see why so many others around the world do. Especially the leaders of the self-appointed Islamic Caliphate of the World who were present that night. And we now know why Derin Sadik extols the virtues of Vicente Romani so passionately; he was there that night at the League’s big ceremony, with his phone, worshipping Romani along with these other idiots. This also explains why he was speaking on this very phone with Vicente Romani’s head of security forty minutes ago.”
“Where is Mr. Sadik now?”
“We have him…available. He screamed diplomatic immunity when my guys grabbed him on his way to his embassy parking space, but we explained to him diplomatic immunity is not a Russian concept.”
The president chuckled. “Well, Iosif, if I didn’t want that Aquarium Find so badly, diplomatic immunity might have been a Russian concept in this instance. But I do want it.”
“Yes, Mr. President.”
The video ended. President Grigoryev handed the phone back to Iosif. “So,” he said, “what do you suggest now?”
“I believe an unfortunate incident will occur to our esteemed guest in the very near future. It will emphasize why we repeatedly warned Sadik against running around without bodyguards—something we know he did because he didn’t trust his bodyguards to keep secret from his Prime Minister what he was really doing here in Russia. It will be most deplorable that it will have happened while he was on Russian soil.”
“Yes, Iosif. Deplorable is the word I would have used as well. But, such things do happen. That’s why we warned him not to move about on his own.” He looked up at Iosif for confirmation. Iosif nodded.
“Well,” the president continued, “I don’t recall any pompous position papers against state funerals issued by Sadik’s hero, this great man Vicente Romani—our resurrected would-be world leader! So I assume they are still allowed in Romani’s new world order.”
“I believe that is a safe assumption, Mr. President.”
“Good. Then under these circumstances, I think I should attend the funeral soon to be held for Mr. Derin Sadik. Accompanied by you, of course, and by all appropriate pomp and circumstance.”
“That is a good idea, Mr. President.”
“How much of Sadik’s conversation with this Virgil Mazzone do we have?”
“We have it all. Our eavesdropping capabilities in the Turkish embassy are as good as they are in any other. We leave little to chance.”
“So, how much of our, shall we say, commercial endeavors, was Sadik able to convey to him?”
“Nothing more than the IDF learned from the satellite surveillance photos. The same two sightings the IDF Chief of General Staff called you about—and which you so deftly deflected over to me.”
The president smiled at his own prior cleverness in avoiding the general but had no comment.
“But,” Iosif continued, “I wonder why Sadik spoke with Virgil Mazzone about it rather than with Vicente Romani directly. Might that suggest there is less than total trust between them?”
The president smiled up at him. “Perhaps, Iosif. And perhaps we should make contact with this top League security man. Maybe there is less than total harmony inside the Roman Lake League itself.”
“Perhaps, Mr. President.”
“Well, we’ll have to investigate these possibilities later. For now, we need to ponder the repercussions of these satellite photos. And of course this information will be leaked all over the world in a matter of hours. So, let’s summarize. First, these missile systems can hit targets up to two hundred eighty kilometers away—and deliver a wide variety of warheads.” The president began to use his fingers to tick items off. He put the first finger up. “However,” he added, “that’s public knowledge and represents nothing new.” He put his first uplifted finger back down. “But,” he said, putting the first finger back up, “they now know the locations of these particular Iskander-E’s. And, that means they know which countries currently house them.” The second finger lifted. The president continued to hold his fingers up while he looked at Iosif. Finally he said, “Would you say that is the extent of any political damage from the photos?”
“Possibly, Mr. President. At this point there is no indication they know about the other missiles. Only the two in Syria and Jordon. They spotted those from a low orbit satellite which passes over the region every ninety minutes. Of course they have other satellites at higher orbits which could easily see the systems in Lebanon, Gaza, and Egypt, but those do not pass overhead as frequently. They may or may not have seen those yet. When they spoke to me earlier they only tried to trick me into revealing what we knew about the ones in Syria and Jordon.”
The president still held up his two fingers. “I would suggest it matters little whether the other systems remain hidden or not. What they do know is already a problem.” The president was silent for a moment and finally raised a third finger. “And I find the timing so tremendously inconvenient! Why didn’t I-Jime just carry out their plan more than a year ago, when they first purchased the missile systems from us?”
“I don’t know for sure, Mr. President, but I know a year ago they had not been incensed by these Jewish temple rumors.”
“Yes, Iosif. I’ve heard those rumors, too. But foolish religious superstitions are of no consequence to Russia. The only thing that matters to Russia is this: they have put us in a bad light.” He added the fourth finger. “So,” the president concluded, wiggling his four uplifted fingers as if to emphasize the magnitude of the problem. “What happens next?”
Iosif thought about that for a moment. “I would say, now that at least two systems are no longer hidden, our customer will be making an important decision. They will either use all five systems, or they will surrender all five. And I’m sure they know this decision must be reached quickly, before Israel responds preemptively. And of course, since the Mutual Defense Treaty has been signed, I’m sure they know that means before the Roman Lake League responds preemptively in Israel’s behalf.”
“You are undoubtedly correct. I-Jime has quite a decision to make. So which do we prefer, Iosif? That they attack now, or that they surrender the systems?”
Again Iosif reflected before responding. “Well, if we can continue to manufacture plausible deniability about our missile sales for just a while longer, Mr. President, I suggest we actually have no preference. After all, we will not need to be coy long before this all plays out. And, perhaps even more importantly, I-Jime has already fully paid us for all five launching systems.”
At that the president nodded and collapsed all four of his fingers back into his fist.
“Well,” Catherine said, “Vice President, Clandestine Operations, would sound better than Research Consultant, don’t you think?”
“Vice President? You don’t have the experience to be a vice president. Besides, you’re only nineteen.”
“Almost twenty. And I’m precocious.”
“No; you’re a shark.” He smiled.
“True. So, deal?”
“You have to earn a vice president slot in a company the size of World Opportunity. It takes real past accomplishment to be hired at that level. Besides, the title Vice President only goes with being full time. You know—a permanent employee.”
“True again. So, deal?”
“Let’s see how this all comes out first, OK?”
“Good. Then I think we have a deal!”
Catherine appeared quite pleased with herself, but Daniel began to see holes in their immediate plan. His doubt must have shown on his face.
“What?” she said.
“Romani is smart. Do we know enough about archaeology to pull this off?”
“What’s to know? You dig around in the dirt. Sift the dirt through a little screen gizmo. Study what’s left. Piece of cake.”
“Might be more to it than that, Catherine.”
She sighed and pulled out her phone. Daniel could tell she was doing a search. A few minutes later she said, “OK. You don’t go digging unless something is about to destroy the integrity of the site. Like they’re getting ready to build a road or something. When you find such a site, you make a plan. Whoop-t-do! It takes a degree for this? Then…OK, this makes sense…you map out a grid so anything you find can be permanently related to the site when it was still undisturbed.” She looked from her screen to Daniel. “I kind of like that one. Like a crime scene.” She returned her attention to her phone. “Then you…do your little screen gizmo business…little shovels, brooms, dental picks. That’s the part I already knew about. Then…well, you have to identify what you find.” She looked over at Daniel. “I don’t think I’d be expected to go past this point. I’m only a first year student.”
“I’m impressed,” Daniel said.
“VP level impressed?”
“I said I’d think about that one.”
She smiled and returned to her phone. “Let’s see where I go to school,” she said. In less than a minute she said, “OK. I am a first year student at Castle College just outside London. Fourth oldest university in England. Formally established on Christmas Eve in 1826. I chose them because they are highly rated as a research university, archaeology is one of their mainstays—and because they were the first university in England to admit students without regard to race, class, religion or gender.” She looked over at him. “I already knew archaeology was dominated by men. So that gender thing was important to me. You might not have noticed, but I am female.”
She did another search. This one took longer. She kept nodding and pressing keys. Eventually, she used her phone to press in enough numbers to suggest she was making an international call. While it was apparently still ringing, she said, “My job include expense reimbursements?”
She said into the phone in her British accent, “May I please speak to Professor Nathan Webster?” She listened. “I’m one of his students.” Listened. “No; no message. I’ll try later.” She disconnected. “Blargh,” she said to the air.
“He’s out of the country.”
“OK. But what does blargh mean?”
“It means I just emitted a quantum of disappointment. You know, like particle physics. Hey! Wait a minute. Anti-blargh. If I can’t reach him, neither can they. This is actually good. OK, Daniel. Here’s the scene. I’m currently wanting to be assigned to grunt work at Tel Ophel in Jerusalem’s Old City. That’s a good one because a new phase opened a couple of years ago and has begun yielding exciting results. When I cross-referenced various digs Castle College is associated with, Tel Ophel is at the top of the list. Then I looked up names of Castle professors, picked Webster because he is assistant department head. High enough to be important but not likely to be well known outside the university inner circle.”
Daniel nodded and studied her for a while. “You reinforce a budding theory of mine.”
“What you just did? It was brilliant. I’ve been refining a theory that everything that happens to me since…since I got this mission…is totally natural and totally supernatural all at the same time. You just made that theory more plausible. What are the odds I run into you here in Rome on my way to the Coliseum?”
She just looked at him. Finally, she said, “What’s your last name?”
“OK. Mr. Goldman. I don’t know whether to be flattered or hit the exit. What are you talking about the Coliseum for? You said we were going to the headquarters of the Roman Lake League, not to those old ruins.”
“We are. They have a small version of the Coliseum built on the main floor. That’s where they tried to kill me. In a sword fight.”
She just shook her head. “OK. Do you think we can pull this off or not?”
He thought about it a minute. “Yeah; I do.”
“Good. Me, too. Just as long as that voice of yours was right, I mean. As long as they don’t recognize you. If they do, they might take up where they left off two months ago and try to kill you again. Where would that leave me?”
“They would. But they won’t. My new inner voice is trustworthy.”
Chagai Silvers laid his head back on the car seat. Dear Adonai!
He realized how easily he could protect his mother, but what about all the others?
He immediately spun up his last hours’ worth of rationalizations: he should not possess the information; it was an accident he did; it was only a snippet of conversation overheard during his volunteer time with the Knesset member; his obligation was to his nation first and foremost; the threat was not verified anyway; violating national secrets to pass on something which could not be known would have been not only foolish but treasonous. There!
But it didn’t do any good. He began hearing again the same old accusations, followed once more by the same tired merry-go-round of excuses.
He didn’t realize he’d actually arrived at the quiet Jerusalem neighborhood until his driver opened his door for him and stood back, waiting. Chagai forced his mind to quit spinning and smiled up at Ari, his driver for the past eight years.
Eight years! Standing there in his stiff and decorous uniform and cap, Ari hung another very real, very familiar face on Chagai’s otherwise abstract moral dilemma.
He decided he had no choice but to put his brain on pause, at least until he finished what he’d come here to do.
He hefted himself from the passenger seat, stood facing Ari, and said in Hebrew, “Ari, would you please turn the car around and face it back toward the street here at the side of the clinic? You won’t need to park in the rear this time. I won’t be that long.”
“Very good, Mr. Silvers. Are you taking her for a drive this morning?”
“Yes. I hope this change of routine does not disturb her too much.”
“I am sure it will be fine, Sir.”
Chagai patted Ari’s shoulder and started along the flagstone walkway toward the front door. Nothing about this property said “institutional.” The clinic fit in perfectly in this residential neighborhood. There were only pleasing arches and stone walkways and windows through which hanging potted plants could be seen.
He stepped inside. It was just as pleasingly residential here. Soft lighting. Plush seats and sofas. Even the check-in desk to his left, with the non-uniformed middle aged lady sitting behind it, could pass for the reading niche of a private parlor.
“Good morning, Helen,” he said. “How is she today?”
“I have heard nothing disturbing, Mr. Silvers.”
“That’s good to hear.”
He held up the little sack he carried. “I brought her favorite Tuesday treat, but I think I will alter our routine just a bit. I think I’ll take her for her drive this morning instead of day after tomorrow. You think that change will disturb her too much?”
“Oh, no. I think she will be fine—if you let her think about it a moment. Of course, you may want to consult her nurse.”
“Oh, I think it won’t be necessary to disturb Mrs. Martin. If Mother seems alarmed by the change, I’ll deal with it then.”
“Very good, Mr. Silvers. Enjoy your day. And I have to say, you are a good son. You never miss coming to visit her. Your mother could have done much worse for a son.”
“Thank you, Helen.”
As he moved away from the front door, toward the stairway in the far corner, he realized Helen represented another real and familiar face. He had after all known her for several months. What might his late friend, Rabbi Kagan Magid, have said about his moral dilemma? He thought—or at least hoped—he would have said something like, ‘when two good things conflict, chose the higher of the two and do not flinch.’
At least, something like that.
At the head of the stairs on the second floor he turned to the left and walked down the hall toward room 12. As he went he thought of something that would not work for his purposes: the idea of a “vague threat.” The government may have chosen that as cover for their minimal responses, but it would not be sufficient for his needs. Chagai wanted to be nowhere near Jerusalem until…until it was over or he knew for sure it would not happen. A vague threat wouldn’t be a credible explanation for his being gone perhaps for days. Besides, it was a lie about there being only a vague threat. To the two missiles spotted earlier, three more had been added after a higher altitude satellite snapped a clear shot of them. So, there were actually five. The threat was hardly vague any longer!
At the open door to room 12 he stopped and watched his mother reading a magazine. She had not yet noticed him. He remembered so clearly when she was young and vibrant. And always lucid.
His mother finally noticed him and her face lit up. “Oh, Cogi. I was afraid you had forgotten me.”
She spoke Hebrew. He responded in kind.
“I never forget you, Mother. Today is Tuesday, one of our days. And I have your favorite sufganiyot.” He held up the sack and entered the room.
His mother remained seated at her little desk by the window. She looked earnestly at him as he pulled up a visitor’s chair and sat beside her. “Have you heard?” she said.
He instantly thought of the conversation he’d overheard this morning. Obviously she could not mean that.
“Heard what, Mother?”
“Anwar Sadat has been assassinated.”
“Oh,” he said, and nodded. From frequent practice, he was able to mask any indication he knew she was four decades in the past.
“Yes, Mother. I have heard.”
“It is such a terrible thing for our nation. You know, after we defeated him in war, he still befriended us. I always believed he was sincere. Those who thought he only pretended to want peace were greatly misled.”
“I believe you are correct, Mother.”
He forced himself to act normally, to pretend time were no issue at all. And truthfully, nothing he’d overheard this morning of the Knesset member’s conversations with his brother, IDF Chief of General Staff Heim Schultz, suggested imminence. And he certainly didn’t want to give anything away by appearing frantic to leave.
“Would you like a sufganiyah now?”
“Well it is Tuesday, is it not, Cogi?” She smiled.
He smoothed out the little table cloth on her desk and laid out both her Jewish doughnuts.
“How have you been feeling?”
“Oh, like a young girl! I believe I could run around the yard three times—if they would only let me go outside.”
“You can go outside, Mother. In fact, when you’re finished with your little snack, we can go out together.”
“That would be nice. But we don’t have much time. It will be dark soon.”
It obviously was unintended, but the image of darkness descending on his ancient city struck him as ironic.
“Oh, we have time, Mother.”
“Well,” she said, “I will eat quickly, Cogi. So we can have time before dark.”
He nodded and refrained from pointing out it was only nine-forty-five AM. It was not imminent sunset which threatened to bring the darkness. He tried to remember if Sadat had been assassinated as night-fall approached. He couldn’t recall.
“Does your new medicine still taste good to you, Mother?”
“Yes. It tastes like syrup. You know, like for Knafeh.” She took a bite of her sufganiyah.
“I’m glad,” he said. “Do you think it makes you feel better?”
Around her food she said, “I told you. I feel like a young girl.”
She swallowed and looked earnestly at him. “Did I ever tell you I met President Sadat once? He was giving a speech.”
“Yes, Mother. You did.”
“And now he is dead. What a horrible world, Cogi.” She took another bite.
“It can be, Mother.”
Horrible, like maybe multiple one-kilometer circles of obliteration—or perhaps a firestorm ignited by a cluster burst taking out everything? Either way, if it happened Jerusalem would never be the same.
His mother held her sufganiyah suspended a few centimeters from her mouth.
“So, Yoram,” she said, “has the Committee decided how to respond to Andreas Papandreou?”
She took the bite and chewed vigorously, waiting for his response.
He started to look at his watch but checked himself. He still had time to manage these time-travels.
He recalled family stories well enough to recognize her reference to the 1980’s Greek Socialist Prime Minister, who had just months after the assassination of Sadat openly compared Israel to the Nazis. His late father, with whom she now had him confused, had headed a Zionist group called the Committee, and they had held emergency meetings, trying to decide the appropriate public response to Papandreou’s comments. And at least she had moved a few months closer to real time.
“I believe we are very close to knowing what our response should be, Mother.”
“I am glad to hear that,” she said. “Remember. Never again!”
Chagai nodded. He could actually follow her rusty logic train. Chagai now headed the company his father had founded, and Chagai had been instrumental in forming the New Israelites. The New Israelites owed its existence to some extent to his father Yoram’s work with the precursor group. All the connections were there, albeit misaligned, in her time-traveling brain.
Suspending her final bite of the first sufganiyah, she said, “Are our latest films doing well?”
Now it was harder to tell when she was. Since he still operated the theater chain his father had started and, with his partners in America, still owned the film production companies, she could be either addressing him or his father with equal accuracy.
“Yes, Mother.” He emphasized the second word. “They are actually doing well again.”
She obviously had two widely separated times run together in her mind. She had mingled the chaos after Sadat with the aftermath of the Disappearance. Both catastrophes had sent their film business into temporary turmoil.
“And the theaters are also doing well,” he said.
He used his napkin to dab her chin. “Sufganiyah good, Mother?”
“Umm; very good,” she said.
Suddenly she stopped chewing and studied his face. She quickly finished and swallowed her last bite.
“Oh,” she said. “I see. You are not Yoram. You are our son Cogi. I knew that.”
“I know you did, Mother. I believe the new medicine is really helping you.”
“Yes,” she said.
He could see she was troubled, trying to formulate a thought. Her voice was almost a whisper when she spoke next.
“If I get to where I can’t remember you, Cogi—I mean, at all—please do not let me make a fool of myself in front of anyone outside the family. I never wanted to make a fool of myself in public.” Tears ran down her cheeks.
He touched her cheek. “I won’t, Mother.”
He knew that might be a difficult promise to keep. There were only the two of them. The whole rest of the world was outside the family.
“Just eat your last sufganiyah. It will get better. I was fortunate to get you into this new clinical trial, and I’m sure the new medicine will help you. Just give it time.”
She ate for a while and looked intently at him again. “And I know Mr. Sadat was killed a long time ago. Now I know. I was confused only for a little while.”
“That is good, Mother. It really is. You were not confused for long at all. The medicine is helping.”
She finished her second treat and fumbled with the napkin.
“I think I had his assassination mixed up with the Disappearance. The Disappearance is what just happened last night, not Mr. Sadat’s assassination. I know that now.”
“I’m glad, Mother.”
Now she was only fifteen months in the past. Those brain-connections might be loosening up.
“Would you like to take our drive now?
“Drive? I thought today was Tuesday.”
“We walk in the rear garden on Tuesdays when the weather permits.”
“Would you mind if we went for our drive instead? We can walk later on this week. Would that be fun?”
She pondered it for a moment. “Yes, it would. But I really do think I could run. Especially today. I feel like a young girl.”
He took the napkin from her and helped her wipe her hands and face. She didn’t really need his help to wipe her face, and she didn’t need his help to stand up. She didn’t even need his help walking over to the entryway. But he performed all these gestures anyway.
She abruptly stopped just short of the coat closet.
“Oh,” she said, “I almost forgot. Elisheva has a new tragedy.”
This time he did look at his watch—despite its complete lack of bearing on the situation.
“What happened to your best friend?”
“Her granddaughter Sarah has been taken from her.”
“What does that mean, Mother?”
“A young man forced her to join a cult.”
“Mother, are you sure this happened, or did you maybe see this on TV? Or maybe you read about it.”
“No, Chagai, this is real.”
“OK, Mother. Are you ready for our drive?”
“You don’t believe me, do you?”
“That’s Ok, Cogi. I know I sometimes get confused. Wait! Elisheva didn’t just tell me this. She sent me a note. I think I can find it.”
She crossed the room to the nightstand beside her bed. Watching her move and bend he could almost convince himself she was still young. She rummaged in the drawer for several seconds but apparently couldn’t find what she was looking for. The frustration on her face was obvious when she straightened and turned to him.
“Can’t find it,” she said.
Chagai was sorry he had questioned her about it.
“Oh, don’t think anything about it, Mother. Anyone could misplace a piece of paper.”
She came back to him and he helped her with her jacket. As she slid her arms into the sleeves he glanced around the room, wondering if he needed to grab anything else—since they might never be back here. But he decided he really couldn’t risk revealing himself by carrying out valuables. He had just moments ago finally put his moral dilemma to rest: it would be family and near-family only.
His mother reached her hand into her pocket for her gloves and her face lighted up.
“Here!” she said.
She pulled out a folded sheet of pink stationery. That had to be from his mother’s good friend Elisheva. Only women of her and his mother’s age still used stationery.
His mother unfolded the sheet and held it out to him. From the expression on her face you might guess she had just won a fortune at Yaniv.
He read the note. He recognized Elisheva’s hand writing. When he had finished the four paragraphs he looked at his mother, sharing her sense of triumph.
“You remembered it very accurately, Mother. But I don’t know you could say her granddaughter Sarah was forced into anything. The young man she ran off with was obviously a cult member. This cult, the Shepherds, apparently has recently been doing this all over Israel, if Elisheva is accurate.”
“I know that, Cogi. But if it is a cult, is it any different from using force? They brain wash their people. They don’t let them think for themselves.”
She really was remembering everything in good detail.
“It says here the young man is very handsome and persuasive,” he said. “Have you spoken to Elisheva since? Has there been any word?”
The vacant stare in his mother’s eyes told him she couldn’t remember whether she had or not.
“Don’t worry about it, Mother. I’ll give your friend a call later and I’ll update you on the situation. OK?”
He helped her through the door and down the corridor—which meant he needlessly steadied her. Her body was not where her problem lay.
He continued his superfluous steadying down the stairs and across the room to Helen’s desk. Helen looked up.
“So, your son taking you for a drive, Mrs. Silvers?”
His mother smiled at her.
“Yes. And we both know it is not Thursday.”
“I know you do,” Helen said. “But the day of the week does not matter. It is a beautiful day for a drive. I want you to have fun and take your time. We’ll be here waiting for you when you get back.”
Chagai felt a fresh pang of conscience as he said goodbye to Helen and shepherded his mother toward the waiting limo. But it couldn’t be helped. He was not supposed to know what ringed his nation, not supposed to know that five nuclear-capable missiles just happened to have Jerusalem within their range. His mere knowledge of this represented a crime against the nation and the government he loved—much more it would be criminal to reveal it to others.
Ari had the limo ready and the passenger door open by the time they reached it. That was when Chagai finally decided how to go about this.
As Ari needlessly assisted his mother to bend and get into the limo, Chagai rounded the car and got in the other side. He pulled his own door closed.
When his driver was behind the wheel, Chagai said, “Ari, why don’t we make it a longer trip today? I think I might like to visit some of our theaters in Tel Aviv. Maybe even all of them and perhaps some in other towns as well. And I’d like you to accompany us. Mother hasn’t been there in some time, and there are some fine restaurants in Tel Aviv. Perhaps we can all spend the night there—if we decide not to drive after dark, I mean. I’ll get each of us top-notch rooms at the best hotel we can find.”
“That sounds enjoyable, Sir. I’ll let my wife know I may have to stay over for a night or two.”
Dear Adonai. Ari’s wife!
This latest pang of conscience grew even more intense as Ari pulled out onto quiet Ruth Street, unsuspecting Ruth Street, where everyone went about their business as if they had all the time in the world.