I, Saul, page 14
The entire rest of the way to Jerusalem we never again encountered a stretch as punishing. With our Sabbath break it took us about six days from Damascus. And it all faded into one unpleasant memory when I got my first glimpse of the City of David.
Father and I reined in our horses on a ridge as the sun was setting. I thrilled at the fading orange light as it bathed the crowded rooftops, a variety of shapes that represented palaces, temples, shops, houses, and apartments in the Holy City.
We found lodging at a small inn just inside the city walls. In the morning we would seek out the two schools between which we would choose. I would not have been surprised to be unable to sleep before such an auspicious day. But I had not taken into account how weary I would be from the travel of that last week.
I lay back and closed my eyes, and within seconds my dreams were filled with important meetings and introductions and decisions. The entire rest of my life, I knew, would be influenced by whom I met the next day, what I saw, what I experienced. Fortunately, everything connected with the trip had conspired to make me so tired that I slept soundly, knowing I was ready for whatever God had for me.
SATURDAY, MAY 10, 12:55 P.M.
When Augie found his voice, he rasped, “What are you saying, Rog? Original manuscripts?”
Roger nodded, eyes darting. He looked as if he hadn’t slept in days.
“Of which epistles?”
Roger waved him off, leaning close. “Listen, you’re the Greek expert. I know just enough to be dangerous. But from what Giordano showed me and from what I could decipher—.”
“Klaudios knew his Ancient Greek.”
“He sure did. And neither of us doubted that what he stole was a personal memoir. It begins, ‘I, Saul …,’ and from what I can make of it, it tells Paul’s story from his childhood. Augie, I believe it’s written in his own hand.”
Augie sat back, nervous about who might be watching. “You think Klaudios stashed it before he was—.”
“I know he did, Augie. I told him to. I know there are forgeries of lots of stuff claimed to be first-century documents and are eventually traced to centuries later, but who else but Paul himself would have written something like this and stored it there? It’s real, man, and that makes it, well, you know ….”
“If it’s authentic, Rog, it’s the single most priceless artifact ever uncovered. I mean, the Dead Sea Scrolls are dusty, crumbling fragments, and look what they’ve become.”
“You’ve got to see these. I don’t know what it was about the underground humidity, the tufa, or what, but the ink has hardly faded, and every word is readable. The work is pristine. Stunning. If the parchments can be dated by an expert, that’ll seal it for me.”
“That’s out of my field, but come on, Roger. No fading after almost two thousand years?”
“Some, sure, but it’s totally readable. We’ll have to find an expert we can trust. I can’t imagine Paul intended to store it for centuries, but he couldn’t have picked a more perfect spot.”
Augie shuddered at the possibilities. “Could it really be legit?”
“Would somebody kill a man over a fake?”
“Who killed Giordano?”
“I’m telling you, this guy from the Art Squad hired a goon from the Tombaroli. And I’ll be next.” “Please ….”
“It was professionally done, Augie. One twenty-two slug through the temple at point-blank range. The coroner says it was one of those cheap, lightweight, slow bullets propelled by just a primer, used for plinking at stuff like small rodents. He said the weapon would have to have been placed directly on the temple for the tiny slug to have kill power.”
“Where was this done?”
“Carport outside the Giordanos’ apartment. Witnesses said they saw a tall dark-haired man in a suit chatting with Klaudios through the driver’s-side window just after he had parked. Then they saw the man casually walk away, so they didn’t think to get a good look at his car or plate. Said Klaudios just sat in his car after that.”
Roger nodded. “Mrs. G. saw her husband’s car in the usual spot from her window, but when Klaudios never came up and didn’t answer his cell, she went down and found him. Can you imagine? Tiny hole in his temple, no exit wound. All the bleeding was internal.”
“Had to kill him instantly,” Augie said, “even a tiny bullet like that, through the brain.”
“Professional. Hired gun for sure.”
“But it doesn’t make sense the Art Squad would kill him. Just arrest him and get the manuscript back. Back up and tell me how you got involved.”
“Well, Klaudios had to know it wouldn’t take long for the Art Squad to discover nothing was still in the dungeon the next morning, and of course the construction guys would tell them he’d been down there. So he called me that night. He said, ‘You know who this is. My office. Now.’ I’d just returned from a tour and was in for the night, so I had no interest in getting dressed and heading out again. I called him back and he didn’t even greet me. Just said, ‘Now. This is nonnegotiable.’ He’s an old friend and had referred a lot of people to me for trips—.”
“—so I owed him. As soon as I get to that arched hallway that leads to his office, he grabs me and drags me in there. Shows me those first few pages. He’s got cotton gloves for both of us, and he handles those parchments like glass. I don’t know Ancient Greek, but it took him a couple of hours to work his way through just the first few sheets of parchment. It looked real to me, and if his translation is right, it sounded like it would corroborate everything Paul wrote in the New Testament. That tells me that when he gets to the part about his missionary journeys, all those age-old arguments about which letters he really wrote and whether his theology was changed later by scribes— all that—will be put to rest.”
Augie studied this hollow, desperate shell of the man he knew. “And you’ll have to reexamine everything you’ve thought about the Bible.”
“If I can stay alive long enough. This is my fault, Augie. You know me. I’m not about money, the big score. Poor old Giordano had stars in his eyes. I told him he had to go straight to the Art Squad and tell them what he had before they came looking for him—like your father did here once years ago when one of his tour group members found a coin and wanted to keep it.”
“Sounds like Dad,” Augie said. “A legalist through and through.”
“I told Klaudios there might be a reward in it for him. He laughed. Said, ‘Roger! I stole these out of a historical site! My reward will be the rest of my life in prison.’ I told him, ‘Just tell ‘em you were curious and as soon as you saw what it was, you knew it shouldn’t sit in Mamertime a minute longer. You’ll be a hero.’ He didn’t want to be a hero. He wanted to be rich. Said he was going to hide the parchments, deny he ever saw them in the prison, and then make a killing on them when the dust settled. He said, ‘You and I are the only ones who know what this is.’
“I asked him why he didn’t leave something there so the Art Squad would think that was all. You know he actually considered going back and planting something else? Wanted me to go with him. I told him he was crazy.”
“Rog, I need to know what happened. How did he get himself
Roger looked up quickly and blanched. Augie turned carefully to follow his gaze and saw carabinieri huddling near the tracks, then fanning out.
Each carried a sheet of paper they seemed to compare to every middle-aged man who passed.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Roger said.
Augie put a hand on Roger’s arm. “Don’t draw attention. We’re just nobodies, travelers. We’re not in a hurry. We’re not worried about anything.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“If you’ve ever playacted, Roger, now’s the time.”
Augie rose and Roger followed. Most of the carabin
“No idea, but we’d better hurry.”
“Slow down, Rog. Look at this shop. Aren’t those toys interesting?” “Augie, what the—?”
“We’re blending in, man. Breathe. If a cop checks you out, just smile. Where’s your car?”
“The big lot, out back.”
“Linger a little longer, then just stroll that way. I’ll stay with you.”
Roger seemed to struggle to remain nonchalant, and less than a half minute later he began moseying toward the escalator that would take them to street level and the parking lot. Augie saw him hesitate at the sight of an officer at the base of the moving stairway. Roger whispered, “If necessary, call me François.”
What? When he put a hand on Roger’s back to urge him to keep moving, he felt knotted muscles.
Augie stepped in front of Roger, then smiled and nodded at the officer while approaching the escalator. The cop stopped him, thrust in his face a photo of the Roger Michaels he had known for years, and said, “Avete visto quest’uomo?”
Augie spread his hands, palms up. “No Italian. English.”
“Have you seen this man?” the officer said, carefully enunciating with a thick accent.
“Il mio amico Americano sa molto poco Italiano,” Roger said, stunning Augie by speaking Italian with a thick French accent. Roger was multilingual, but what was this?
“You speak English?” the cop asked Roger.
“Oui. Un peu.”
“A little, huh,” the cop said. “As your American friend speaks very little Italian, and I speak very little French, we will speak English then. Okay?” He pointed to the photo. “We’re looking for this man.”
“Why?” Roger said, accent still thick. “What’s he done?”
“He’s just wanted for questioning” He turned to Augie. “Passport, please.”
How do I keep him from asking for Roger’s ID?
“Me?” Augie said, laughing as he dug through his bag for it. “Do I look like that?”
The cop chuckled and shook his head. To Augie’s surprise, Roger pulled out his own wallet. The officer leafed through Augie’s passport. “World traveler,” he said. Augie nodded. “And you’ve just arrived. Business or pleasure?”
“Visiting my friend, François.”
“Welcome to Napoli, eh, Naples, Dr. Knox. And you, sir?”
Roger removed from his wallet a worn driver’s license bearing his current likeness.
“Ah, you live in Roma, Mr. Tracanelli?”
Roger’s moving from French to Italian to English clearly amused the carabiniere. “Thank you, gentlemen. If you should see this man, would you kindly inform one of us?”
“Is he dangerous?” Roger said.
“I do not believe so. We are simply looking for him on behalf of another agency.”
At the top of the escalator Augie said, “I thought that was the end of you, Roger. How’d you do that? License and all?”
“Have you ever known me to be unprepared?”
“No, but I’ve never known you to fear for your life either.”
“They go hand in hand. And don’t think it was easy to find a forger. Never used one before and don’t ever want to again. Scared to death the whole time.”
“The whole time what?”
“When he was shaving me, photographing me, working his magic. I mean, these guys stay under the radar because their clients are hiding too.” “You didn’t use your own address, did you?”
“You kidding?” Roger pulled his license out and showed it to Augie.
“I know that street. Businesses district, isn’t it?”
“Mostly. Lots of second-floor apartments. If they pinpointed this address it would be above a pharmacy. A one-story pharmacy. But who’s going to go to the trouble of checking it out?”
“Roger, now that the carabinieri are on this, how long before the press gets hold of it?”
“Don’t think I haven’t dreaded that. This find may be the best kept secret in the world, but the other agency that officer mentioned is the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale, the TPC.”
“Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage. It’s the Art Squad under the National Military Police.”
“Why would anyone there have Klaudios killed?”
“Same reason Klaudios risked his whole career. Guy has to be a rogue agent. I’ve never heard of a scandal there, but the prospect of the big score does things to people. That’s on me too, Augie. Rumor had it that the original worker who found the parchments told the Art Squad guys the next day that it looked like ancient writing. I told Klaudios again that he should just tell ‘em he recognized it was valuable and was holding it for them. He said no, he was off to hide everything and would be back in a day or two.”
When they reached the exit leading to the parking lot, Augie stopped. “So where did he hide the parchments?”
“The Art Squad guy, would you believe the second-in-command, named Aldo Sardinia, told him they knew from airport records that he had flown to Greece and that he would do himself a favor if he just told them everything. Said he shouldn’t need to remind an expert like Klaudios that taking an artifact out of Italy was a major crime.”
“I think the crafty old gimp sent Sardinia on, what do you Americans call it …?”
“A wild-goose chase?”
“He had them looking all over Greece. Next thing I know, I get a call from the Art Squad.” “Klaudios gave you up?”
“He swore he didn’t. Sardinia must have gotten numbers from Giordano’s phone and hacked into any he might have called around the time of the disappearance.”
“So when was this?”
“Three days after he met with Klaudios. But the thing was, the guy calling claimed to be Colonel Georgio Emmanuel, head of the Art Squad. Now I know they believe the find is real. He tells me their investigation of the disappearance of a valuable antiquity had led to me and that I could help myself by coming clean. He says his right-hand man, Sardinia, will be coming to see me and that not only would he appreciate it but that I would be wise and protect myself if I would be as forthright and forthcoming with him as I can be. I assured him I would. He warned me to tell no one we were meeting and added, ‘We’ll know if you do.’”
“What did you make of that?”
“That I was being watched and that my phone had been compromised. But when Sardinia showed up, I recognized his voice as the man I had talked to on the phone who had said he was head of the Squad, so something didn’t smell right. But he made it clear the Squad knew Giordano had confided in me and said he hoped he didn’t have to bring me in. I said I hoped not either. He said if Klaudios had stashed the documents with me, or if I knew where they were, I’d tell him what I knew or wind up in a cell next to Klaudios’s.
“Fact is, I believed him. Somehow I mustered the courage to tell him I’d be honest with him if he’d be honest with me. He looked surprised when I told him I knew he was the one who had called me saying he was Georgio Emmanuel. He dismissed that as standard operating procedure, something they often do to gauge how cooperative a person is going to be. He even said that sometimes Emmanuel himself does call, but that he was busy. He told me I was pretty astute to figure out it was him but that it didn’t change anything and I needed to tell him what I knew. You know me, Augie. I don’t lie. I figure the truth can never hurt you.”
“That’s biblical,” Augie said. “Jesus said—.”
“‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.’ Forgive me if I’m finding that hard to believe right now.” “He was talking about Himself,” Augie said.
“Whatever. I told the truth, and I’m about as far from free as
“That Klaudios left me with the first original page, photocopies of the rest, and a sealed envelope I wasn’t supposed to open unless something happened to him.”
“So something happened to him. What was in the envelope?”
Roger looked around and whispered, “I don’t know yet. Before I could call the Art Squad to see if lying to someone on the phone was really one of their tactics, I saw on the news that Klaudios had been murdered. I stashed everything he gave me and haven’t been able to get back to it since. It’s obvious Sardinia is convinced he can get the original manuscript through me, and that’s why he didn’t need Klaudios anymore.”
“You think he wants this for himself, not for the Art Squad.”
“I do. I believe he’s in cahoots with the Tombaroli, had one of their guys shoot Giordano, and they’re going to make millions with this thing on the black market. Sardinia will implicate the Tombaroli or somebody else for Klaudios’s murder, and nobody else at the Art Squad will be the wiser that he’s in on it.”
“Don’t lie to me, Roger. We’ve got too much history and I’ve put my life on hold for you. Do you know where the parchments are?”
“Where’d you put what Klaudios gave you?”
“In a locker at Stazione Termini along with the gun I promised you.”
Augie closed his eyes. “Tell me you’re kidding.”
Roger fished in his pocket and produced a key. “I’m not.”
“You left a page from a priceless artifact at the Rome train station.”
“I don’t have a safe-deposit box, Augie.”
“You don’t think it might have been worth the investment? We’ve got to get it out of there, and fast.”
As they pushed through the doors to the parking lot, Roger froze and gripped Augie’s elbow. “Follow me,” he whispered. “The carabinieri are digging through my car.”
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