I saul, p.16

I, Saul, page 16

 

I, Saul
 


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  “Sortez de la voiture, s’il vous plaît, Monsieur.” [“Step out of the car, please, sir.”]

  “Oui. Certainement.” [“Yes. Certainly.”]

  Roger quickly emerged as the woman approached, and they spoke in French. Looking none too pleased or sure she was doing the right thing, she marched back to her car.

  “What was all that?” Augie said as Roger climbed back in.

  “A colossal goof. When you woke me I was using my South African accent.”

  “You seemed to recover quickly.”

  “Yeah, but then I resorted to the first French thing that popped into my head.”

  “ Sacrebleu, so?”

  “Nobody in France says that anymore. Only foreigners who want to sound French. She asked why I had used such a clichéd idiom if I was really French. I told her it was an old family joke—that we all said that when rudely awakened. She’s running my name through the system.”

  When the carabiniere returned, she handed Roger his documents. “Sacrebleu indeed,” she said with a wry smile. “No relation to the Olympic pole-vaulter of the same name? From the seventies?”

  “No,” Roger said. “But I get that a lot. Just a coincidence.”

  “Carry on.”

  “We have to do better at blending in,” Augie said as he pulled away.

  “You think? I get accosted by one more carabiniere, I’m going to just let them cuff me.”

  Augie told him of his drive-by of Roger’s apartment.

  “That was risky. What’d you expect? I can never go back. My car and my place, both history.”

  “Don’t think like that. We’re smart guys. We’ll figure this out and get it fixed.”

  “Glad you think so.”

  6:50 P.M.

  Augie and Roger checked into the Terrazzo Hotel and as he stretched out on the bed, Roger scribbled a list of necessities. Augie headed out, finding clothes and toiletries easy, but the language barrier made finding Roger an electronic tablet tricky. He bought the best he could find, with every bell and whistle available.

  Roger roused when Augie returned after dark, thrilled with the tablet and quickly connecting it to his own private network. He began downloading all his personal stuff, telling Augie, “Sardinia or the Tombaroli would have to be pretty sophisticated to crack my encryption.”

  Roger gave Augie the locker key, directions to the train station, where to park, and the quickest route to the treasure. “And bring us back some food, man. There’s a meatball sandwich place in the terminal.”

  Augie had just reached the rental car when he got a call from Roger. “Better get back up here.”

  “What’s up?”

  “Just hurry.”

  Back in the suite Roger had the TV on and had triggered the English captions for Augie’s benefit. Every channel bristled with a nationwide manhunt.

  “Michaels, a South African émigré, is an international tour guide by trade, sought for the murder of popular Vatican guide Klaudios Giordano. The carabinieri say the murder weapon and a sketch of the victim’s carport were found in Michaels’s Rome apartment and his car had been abandoned in Naples. While a witness identified the only suspect in the murder case as tall and dark and thin, police say the evidence points to Michaels as the one behind the slaying. The actual shooter remains at large.”

  Roger looked more agitated than worried. “They didn’t find any weapon in my apartment. All I have is a nine-millimeter twin to the one I left for you in the locker. And it’s in my backpack.”

  Augie felt a pang when he saw on the screen the rawboned, pointy, smiling face of the late Klaudios Giordano. The man had always been a delight. What could have caused such a rash choice? Did he really think he could get away with a monumental theft like that?

  Then came the pictures of Roger. Fortunately, they were of the man the way Augie remembered him, buried under the bushy gray beard. Unfortunately, they’d already had an artist guess what Roger would look like with his beard dyed, with it short, and with it gone.

  “They underestimated my chin,” Roger said, showing Augie how wide his was compared to what was depicted on television. “I guess that’s good.”

  “There’s nothing good about this,” Augie said. “Sure there is! There’s a reward for my capture. I’m worth more alive than dead.”

  “Are you serious?” Augie said. “If you’re right about Sardinia, he’s just multiplied the number of people looking for you. Once he has you in custody he’ll get what he wants and find a way to eliminate you.”

  “Well, thanks for that encouragement,” Roger said. “I’m just wondering how anyone could think me smart enough to mastermind a murder and stupid enough to leave the evidence in my apartment.”

  26

  Hillel

  FIRST-CENTURY JERUSALEM

  I was giddy, certain I had found the perfect place to study under learned men who cared about every jot and tittle of the Scriptures.

  Father could not hide his displeasure. I followed him to the western side of the temple where the wall blocked the harsh morning sun.

  “Son, you know that I am loath to speak ill of a man, but I found Rabbi Enosh haughty and condescending, entirely without charity. He speaks of his opponents with disdain.”

  I had been so certain of my future, but to go against my father’s wishes was unthinkable.

  “Saul, how would you feel about Rabbi Enosh if he were against you? Let’s say you raised an objection to something he taught...”

  I had to smile. Our own Rabbi Daniel had become exasperated with me more than once, even when I was right and my arguments prevailed. “He would be a worthy opponent, a challenge.”

  Father shook his head. “I deduce he would be less than charitable. He would dismiss you like a pest.”

  “Is there no way that you would choose Shammai for me?”

  “I have not said that. It’s possible that Beit Hillel will prove so counter to our view of the Scriptures that it will not prove acceptable.”

  “What if you don’t find either place right for me?”

  Father stood and stretched. “We will always have the memory of this rich journey. And you will become heir to my business and the brightest Pharisaical scholar to ever make tents.”

  I must have looked stricken, for my father immediately clapped me on the shoulder. “I am teasing you, Saul! I know you are called to serve God. Before the end of this year, you will be in rabbinical school somewhere.”

  Crowds passed from the upper gate, including many men still wearing their phylacteries.

  “I believe Hillel is just down this way,” Father said, pointing.

  “You’re looking for Hillel?” The voice was loud, friendly.

  We turned to see a large man, easily a foot taller than my father and perhaps twice his girth, accompanied by a boy who seemed a bit younger than I and a girl about my age. The man introduced himself as Nasi and his children as Simeon and Naomi. I could not take my eyes off her, the very image I had conjured of a young Cleopatra when I read that the beautiful queen of Egypt was said to have once visited Tarsus long before I was born.

  Naomi was darker than her brother and her father, with skin so beautiful I wanted to touch her face. Her expressive eyes made her look at once both radiant and shy.

  “…my silent son’s name is Saul, and yes, we have an appointment at Beit Hillel.”

  “I am going that way,” Nasi said, excusing his children. As she turned to leave, Naomi looked me straight in the eyes and said softly, “It was nice to meet you, Saul.” I could have died.

  Simeon had already run off when we followed the man. “You are to become a student at Hillel?” he said. “Hillel or Shammai,” I said.

  “Indeed?” Nasi said with a smile. “The schools are wrestling over you? They are very different, are they not? From a distance one would think Shammai is a prison and Hillel a banquet hall. Which way are you leaning, young man?”

  “I am proud to be a Pharisee,” I said.


  “Ah, you would prefer the more strict. Admirable that you would not immediately choose the school that sounds easier.” Nasi swept his hand toward a three-story building hemmed in by shops and apartment buildings on a narrow street. “I’m grateful the decision is yours and not mine! May the Lord bless you.”

  The man bowed and set off down an alleyway next to the school. I started toward the entrance but noticed Father was not moving. “Do you know who that was?” he said.

  “He said his name was Nasi, why?”

  “Nasi is not a name, Saul. It’s a title. I’ve heard it only in reference to high officers of the Sanhedrin. And I’m not talking about local councils. Here in Jerusalem it is the Great Sanhedrin.”

  “We asked directions of a member of the Sanhedrin?” I said.

  Father chuckled. “Perhaps later we will go back by the temple and inquire. And we can thank him.”

  Inside a woman edged past, carrying a tray laden with freshly baked bread. “Looking for someone?”

  “Gamaliel,” Father said.

  “Upstairs to your left, but I’m not sure he’s here yet. He’s also president of the Sanhedrin, as you may know. He has been at the temple all morning.”

  Father whispered, “He will know the man who showed us such kindness.”

  We mounted a curved, stone stairway that deposited us into a narrow corridor. A man carrying sheaves of parchments hurried past. “Gamaliel?” Father said, and the man pointed to a door down the hall.

  We knocked, heard a “Come in!” and pushed open the door, only to see Nasi rise and come around his desk to welcome us. “No trouble finding the place?” he said, roaring with laughter. “Yes, I am Nasi Gamaliel. As soon as you mentioned Hillel, I knew who you were. I was hurrying here for my meeting with you. Sit, sit, please.”

  “Are you the high priest?” I managed, thoroughly intimidated.

  “No, that role is officially held by Eleazar ben Annas, but his father, Annas, is really the high priest. I preside over the council.” (Father told me later that Annas had been ousted by the Romans for acting too independently, even executing illegal capital sentences.)

  The massive Nasi Gamaliel found a sheet of parchment and dipped a quill into an inkpot. “So, Saul,” he said, pen poised over the paper, “it’s between the zealots and the apostates, is it? I am not blind to our perceived differences. I do not care to dwell on those unless you have specific questions. For now I want to get acquainted with you. Your decision will come in its own time and will, I hope, be based on your own values. So I’ll leave that to you. Tell me about yourself. Your first memory, your home, your family, that sister of yours, your synagogue, your studies, interests, what you’re passionate about.”

  I started with my earliest recollection, my sister holding me back when a cart rolled past our house. “Tiny and young as I was, I understood that she was protecting me, and I felt loved.”

  Gamaliel’s pen remained still. “That is a beautiful story,” he said.

  I told him everything I could remember about my life, my studies, my faith, right up to this adventure, traveling by land all the way from Tarsus. The big man was scribbling, nodding, looking up, smiling.

  When I finally paused, he dipped his quill again and said, “Tell me about you and God. Do you feel as if you know Him, or just about Him?”

  This friendly man with the open face seemed to be looking right through me. My voice became thick and raspy, as if I had been caught. “I have told my father and my rabbi that I wish I could walk and talk with God the way Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did.”

  Gamaliel nodded. “What a wonderful desire.”

  Father cleared his throat. “Both Rabbi Daniel and I have cautioned Saul not to expect so much. The men he cites are patriarchs, heroes of the faith. We are called to remain faithful to God’s Word, to obey His Law and His commandments.”

  Gamaliel looked kindly at my father and spoke softly. “You are wise to protect your son from disappointment. And you are right that the mighty men of Scripture are chronicled for a reason. But has God changed? Does it not remain a noble pursuit to want to truly know Him?”

  Father looked puzzled. “I believe God is unknowable. We are called to know about Him and to obey.”

  “I tend to agree, Y’honatan. But I choose not to forfeit the hope that we may know Him as did the patriarchs.” He turned to me. “And this is where you find yourself, am I right?”

  I nodded, hoping Father was not disappointed in me.

  Gamaliel set down his pen and leaned forward, speaking earnestly. “Saul, I cannot promise that if you come to Hillel, you will one day walk and talk with God as our ancestors did. But I can tell you that we will never discourage that pursuit, and I for one would not limit God to where He would never be available to you in that way.

  “And, Y’honatan, I do not pretend to be ignorant of the differences between the two schools. Where the Shammaites believe that if one breaks one of the laws he is guilty of breaking the whole, we would say that God will take into consideration the preponderance of good over evil in one’s life. We summarize the intent of the Law this way: what is hateful to yourself, do not to another.”

  Gamaliel led us out of his office and down the stairs. He whispered to the woman we had seen with the tray of bread, and we waited while she left for a few moments and then reappeared with three cloth bags, handing one to each of us.

  We followed Gamaliel into the street and about half a mile from the city where we came to a grove of trees on a quiet hillside. There we sat, opened our bags, and found bread and fruit and cheese. Gamaliel blessed the meal, and as we ate he said, “Rabban Hillel, who founded our school, was my grandfather. My charge is to maintain what he began, a reverence for the Word of God, passing along the oral traditions, and calling young men into rabbinical ministry who are deeply committed to God and His Law. I seek peace with all men, even those with whom I may disagree.”

  When we had eaten he smiled and rose, gathering up our scraps and slowing heading back down the hill toward the city. When we reached the Hillel school again, Gamaliel led us to a bench outside, where he squeezed his big body between us.

  “I do not wish to compete with Shammai for your son, Y’honatan, but let me simply leave it at this: Should Saul decide to enroll here, I will personally be his teacher. If my opinions trouble you in anyway, perhaps you would be more comfortable elsewhere. Whatever you decide, you may rest assured I remain at your service. Even if you choose to study at Shammai, you know where I am and should feel free to call upon me at any time if I can be of service to you. Questions?”

  “One more,” Father said, “if I may. Would you summarize the difference between the two schools then that Shammai emphasizes the letter of the Law—in the Pharisaical tradition—while Hillel is more concerned with the spirit of the Law?”

  The rabbi cocked his head. “Insightful,” he said. “I would add this: I would not want to speak for our friends at Shammai, but I can say that the spirit of the Law always keeps the person in mind. The Person of God and the Jewish person.”

  “Interesting,” Father said. “One doesn’t often hear God referred to as a Person.”

  “And isn’t that tragic? The God of the Scriptures, the One your son and I have confessed to wanting to walk and talk with personally, is clearly a Person! Oh, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in Him is neither change nor even shadow of turning. He is above all, Creator of all, and He sits high above the heavens. There is no God like Him. But He walked and talked with Adam in the garden.He spoke to Moses and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. That is the Person I want to know as revealed in His Law.”

  Gamaliel turned to me. “Questions?”

  I shook my head. “Not about Hillel. I am curious, though. Why is it your daughter does not look like you and your son?”

  “Saul!” Father shouted.

  “No,” Gamaliel said, laughing. “It’s all right. The simple truth is that I married a beautiful woman who was somehow ab
le to overcome my plainness to give me a handsome son and a beautiful daughter. Naomi, thankfully, has her mother’s coloring and appearance.”

  The big round man slapped his thighs and rose, putting a hand on my shoulder. “You, sir, would be welcome to begin your studies here—if Hillel is your choice—two months hence, if you would just let me know within the week.”

  “Oh,” Father said, “I expect we’ll be able to announce our decision by tomorrow.”

  “I’ll look forward to hearing from you then, either way.”

  “Either way?” I said. Was he just being polite? Wouldn’t he, like Rabbi Enosh at the Shammai school, rather not see us if we decided against him?

  “Of course,” Nasi said. “I expect your decision will be made with much thought, and whether you choose to come here or not, it has been my pleasure to meet you both, and I wish you all God’s blessings.”

  27

  The Page

  PRESENT-DAY ROME

  SATURDAY, MAY 10, 9:40 P.M.

  So it was official. Augie was harboring a fugitive. He drove through the ancient streets shaking his head at what he’d gotten himself into.

  Suddenly overcome by jet lag, Augie felt a deep love for Roger. Augie had always admired the man and looked forward to their trips together.

  However, what he was feeling now was a deep concern for his friend’s eternal soul. He honored Roger’s right to believe—or not believe— whatever he chose. But what kind of a friend would he be if he didn’t press the issue—given that he truly believed that if Roger was killed he might be forever separated from God?

  Sofia would understand. He phoned her but first told her of the manhunt.

  “It’s all over the news here too,” she said. “My father is making me bring Dimos.”

  “You said he would tell no one!”

  “Fokinos is an expert. We need all the help we can get, don’t we?”

 
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