I saul, p.20

I, Saul, page 20

 

I, Saul
 


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  The three men laughed, but I felt very much my age.

  Four days later Father and I arrived at the great port at Caesarea. Anchored there was a magnificent ship, its hull sealed with tar so that it looked like a great black beast. I guessed it was at least a hundred feet long. The crewman assigned to guide us aboard was barefoot and unkempt. I found him hard to understand.

  “How many will be on this boat?” I said.

  “Not boat, ship! About three hundred.”

  “How heavy is this boat—ship?”

  “Afraid she’ll sink?”

  “Just curious.”

  “Something like four hundred thousand pounds fully loaded. All powered by that huge foresail up top. Once it’s open to the wind, that will be all we need to sail us to Tarsus.”

  Other passengers and cargo were being loaded, and the ship was already rocking. I rather enjoyed the motion. On the main deck I was fascinated by all the activity, and the ship itself. What fun this was going to be!

  When I asked a man tending the ropes one question too many, he said, “You want to learn to tie this knot?” It proved nowhere near as easy as he made it look. My hands were too small and smooth to manipulate the thick cords.

  When I finally produced a sloppy knot, he asked if I wanted to meet the captain. Did I ever! I followed him to a cramped space with a small bunk, a few instruments, and a map.

  When the captain welcomed me aboard, I blurted, “How big a storm can this ship survive?”

  That launched him into a litany of his most harrowing voyages, from squalls to waterspouts to hurricanes. He recalled “waves higher than three stories, which almost capsized us.”

  “Ever been shipwrecked?” I said.

  “Only once, long before I was a captain, and on a much smaller vessel. Ran into a storm that broke us up off the coast of Egypt. Crew of a dozen, and only ten of us reached the shore. But don’t you worry, lad. It would take a bigger storm than I’ve ever seen to threaten this craft.”

  We finally cast off late that afternoon, and I became enraptured by the whole idea of sailing. This was the life! I loved the sights, the smells, the sounds, all of it.

  As the craft leaned into the waves, I could hardly wait for us to reach Tarsus and then make the return trip in time for school. I couldn’t imagine much sailing as a rabbi, but neither had I expected to become so enamored of sailing from city to city. Now I couldn’t get enough of it.

  33

  Hacked

  PRESENT-DAY ROME

  SUNDAY, MAY 11, 6:00 P.M.

  “What is it, babe?” Augie said, no longer able to pretend he and Sofia were strangers in adjoining booths.

  She stood, thrust the phone into his hands, and started for the entrance. “See you back at the hotel.”

  Roger whispered, “Sofia! Go out the back.”

  She spun on her heel.

  “What’s wrong?” Augie said.

  “Si vuole andare, signorina?” the cameriera said.

  “No, I don’t want it to go.”

  Sofia was out the back door before Augie could get to his feet. He caught up with her in the alley and took her into his arms. She was trembling. “Who was it, Sof ? Your dad?”

  “It was my mother’s number! Why would—how, how could she—?”

  “I don’t know, but we’ve got to get Roger out of here.”

  Sofia yanked the phone out of her purse and threw it against a brick wall so hard it shattered. Hands in front of her as if to steady herself, she said, “I’m all right. Just tell me what to do.”

  “Grab a cab and have it wait at the end of the alley. Tell the driver we’ll pay double to avoid the checkpoint.”

  By the time Augie got back inside, Roger had settled up with the cameriera and was on his way out. When they saw Sofia standing by the cab, Augie grabbed Roger’s arm to keep him from running to it. “We’re just tourists. No need to rush.”

  The cabbie was a young woman eager to try out her limited English. “You are desperadoes, no?” she said, laughing. “Stay away from checkpoint because you robbed the bank.”

  She shot down side streets until she was able to get across the river and find a clear route south. When the cab pulled up to the Terrazzo, the three agreed to go to the suite separately. Roger would go first while Sofia lingered in the lobby, heading up when she saw Augie return from retrieving the parchment from the car.

  Once they were all in the suite, Sofia said, “I’ve got to go get my stuff. I’m not staying in the same hotel as Dimos. I can’t believe he’s risking his career like this. When I tell my father ….”

  “You think your mother’s in on it?” Augie said. “She never struck me—.”

  “No! It makes no sense. She has everything she’s ever needed and doesn’t want half what she’s got. Dimos had to have turned on the charm and talked her into it, but for what purpose? Let me use your phone, Augie.”

  He tossed it to her and she began talking animatedly to her father in Greek. Augie made out her first line: “We found out how Dimos knew our private conversations.”

  Finally she plopped onto the couch. “He’s going to find out what’s going on. Sounded shocked.”

  “You sure you want to switch hotels?” Augie said.

  “I’m done with Dimos, that’s all I know. You want me to stay somewhere else?”

  “No, I’m just wondering if it’s easier for us to stay under the radar separately?”

  “If they’re onto us,” Roger said, “they’re onto us. But she’s gonna need a car.”

  “I’ll rent my own.”

  “No,” Augie said, “I’ll run you back to your hotel. In the meantime, Rog, don’t answer the door.”

  7:30 P.M.

  In the car Sofia said, “You must be dying to start reading the rest of the manuscript. Translate it for Roger. Maybe that’ll start a conversation.”

  Augie told her of his effort the night before. “And he was sleeping the whole time.”

  When they got to her hotel she said, “I’ll be quick. Just got to pack and check out.”

  “Wait, don’t check out. If anyone’s tracking you, let ‘em think you’re still here.”

  Augie’s phone rang, making Sofia stop halfway out of the car. “Is it my father?”

  “No, it’s my mother.”

  “Say hi for me,” she said, and hurried inside.

  “I’ve been worried sick, August,” his mother said. “How’s Roger?”

  “In a little trouble, but he’s safe for now.”

  “Thank God! I’ve been praying. You all right?”

  Augie said he hoped to wrap things up quickly and be home soon.

  “Good,” she said, “because I have news. Your father is conscious.”

  “No! Seriously?”

  “I’m not sure he recognizes me, but his pulse and respiration are strong. His pupils react to light and he can follow the doctor’s finger. They keep telling me his prognosis hasn’t changed, but this has to be better than a coma, right?”

  “Seems like it, Mom, but don’t get your hopes up.”

  “Of course my hopes are up, August. I’m wringing every drop of hope out of this I can. I’m praying that by the time you get back, he’ll seem like himself again.”

  A beep told Augie he had another call: Malfees Trikoupis. “Mom, I’m so sorry, but I’ve got to take this. Thanks for the good news, and I’ll be praying.”

  “Well, all right, good-bye.”

  “Mr.Trikoupis!”

  “Yes, Augie. Is Sofia there?”

  “She’ll be back in a few minutes.”

  “That’s good actually. Listen, I got to the bottom of the phone business with her mother. I’ll tell Sofia later. But you understand my priority, don’t you?”

  “Your daughter, of course.”

  “I know you’re watching out for her. I’m talking about the manuscript. I don’t need to tell you the value—.”

  “I’m well aware,” Augie said. “But, if you don’t mind
my asking, how would you characterize your interest in it?”

  “What—are you joking?”

  “We may not be on the same page.”

  Mr. Trikoupis paused. Then, “Well, you, I—I thought you agreed, that, ah, that I don’t need to tell you the magnitude ….”

  “But, sir, its value is to the Italian state.”

  “You didn’t make me aware of it because I am one of the top purveyors of antiquities in the world?”

  “I didn’t make you aware of it, sir. Sofia confided in you, and I hope no one outside you and Dimos is aware of it. Even he should not have been told.”

  “Oh, rest assured we understand the need for confidentiality. We don’t want anyone else competing for this.”

  “I’m not following.”

  “Augie, surely you know I will take care of you. Your finder’s fee alone—.”

  “Sir, you’ve somehow jumped to a conclusion.”

  “Augie, listen to me. It’s no coincidence that you made sure I was brought into this. Who else would understand the potential of such an antiquity?”

  “A find of this magnitude could never be marketed.”

  “Don’t be naïve,” Mr. Trikoupis said.

  “It would never be allowed outside Italy. If you somehow acquired it, you would never be able to tell anyone you had it.”

  Mr. Trikoupis’s voice suddenly dropped. “Naturally I’m not going to display it in my front window! Don’t worry. No one will know except those who trade in such things, and they will have as much reason as I to keep it quiet.”

  “I could never be part of something like that.”

  “Don’t insult me by implying that I would expose you. I am just as dependent on your confidence as you are on mine.”

  “Mr. T., I need to be clear. If I am fortunate enough to find this manuscript, it will not be coming to you.”

  Trikoupis suddenly sounded avuncular. “All right, let’s stop and back up. First, I know you have the manuscript or at least know where it is.”

  “Sir—.”

  “Second, you know few people alive have the ability to maximize the return on a treasure like this. Priceless is just a word. The parchments have a price all right. If you guessed within several hundred million euros, you could multiply that exponentially because of my involvement. Your one percent of the total proceeds will set up you and my daughter for generations.”

  “There will be no—.”

  “I would not dream of shortchanging you. The value of your silence alone is worth that.”

  Clearly, Sofia’s father was not the man Augie had been led to believe he was—let alone who his own daughter believed him to be. He was so desperate to get his hands on the Pauline memoir that he couldn’t imagine Sofia’s fiancé would deny him. In that instant, Augie decided to change his approach. He would play along.

  “Honestly, Mr. Trikoupis, I am at a loss for words.”

  “No need to thank me. You will have earned it. To tell you the truth, it takes a score like this to get my juices flowing, and believe me, I have been involved in some incredible projects. That said, I do expect you to do your part.”

  “I’m sure you do.”

  “For starters I need your full cooperation with Dimos. Frankly, he fears you’re not seeing the big picture.”

  “If I may be frank, sir, you seem to have a better handle on the scope of this than he does.”

  “Let’s not hold that against him. He’s always been a salaried man. Though I pay him multiple times what he made working for the government, it’s nothing compared to what he’ll see from this deal.”

  “I understand.”

  “So you’ll follow his lead and assume he speaks for me?”

  “You can be sure I’ll follow him.”

  “I knew I could count on you.”

  “Oh, here’s Sofia.”

  “Thank you, August. I’ll tell Dimos that you and I have had this chat and that we understand each other.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  Augie put the phone on speaker and handed it to Sofia after she tossed her bags in the backseat.

  “Sweetheart, your mother feels terrible that she went behind your back, but she did it with the best of intentions. She was worried about you, that’s all. I think it’s taken longer for her than for me to accept that you’re a grown woman and don’t need us checking up on you everywhere you go.”

  “How is hacking into my ph—.”

  “She merely asked Dimos if there was any way she could keep an eye on you, and he suggested that connecting your phones would allow her to know where you were and that you were safe.”

  Augie could tell Sofia was about to erupt. “Roll with it,” he mouthed. “We’ll talk.”

  “She realizes,” Sofia said, clearly fighting anger, “that this gave Dimos access to my private conversations?”

  “She does now and admits she just wasn’t thinking. In any case, she has turned it off, so you need not fear further invasion of your privacy.”

  Sofia rolled her eyes, but Augie faked a smile. “Well,” she said, “that’s a relief.”

  “May I tell her you understand and that she need not feel awkward the next time she sees you?”

  Sofia hesitated and Augie knew it was a tough pill to swallow.

  “Of course.”

  “That’s my girl. Probably best if you didn’t bring it up with her at all. She knows she crossed the line. No sense beating her up, is there?”

  “No, I guess not.”

  As they headed back toward the Terrazzo, Sofia said, “Pull over.”

  Augie pulled onto a side street and parked at the curb.

  “What the devil is going on?” she said.

  “You wouldn’t believe it.”

  “I just might after enduring that performance. I have never known my father to lie to anyone, let alone me. I’d bet my life if I called my mother right now, she wouldn’t have a clue about the phone. It’s not something she’d ever ask for or agree to. That’s why my dad doesn’t want me to bring it up.”

  “I heard your dad lie once, Sof.”

  She recoiled. “You did?”

  “I passed it off as a white lie, but—.”

  “Augie, a lie is a lie. You let it slide?”

  “It wasn’t my place to lecture him. Ironically, he lied indirectly to Dimos.”

  “All right, I’m confused.”

  Augie reminded her of the time her dad tried to hire him. “Fokinos called while I was in your father’s office, and he told his secretary to say he wasn’t there. I know people do that all the time ….”

  “I don’t.”

  “Well, I don’t either, but it’s fairly common.”

  She shrugged. “It still makes him a liar. And he just now lied to me. The same man who taught me from childhood how a person’s word and reputation are what life is all about. I bought it. I see it in you, and it’s one of the reasons I love you.”

  “You trust me to tell you the truth?”

  “I do, Augie. If you ever gave me reason to doubt you, I’d be out of your life before you could blink.”

  “I would never want that, love.”

  “Me either. Augie, you’ve told me you love me, that I’m your whole life. I’ve given you my heart. I’m planning to leave my family, my job, my home, my country for you. I’ll follow you to the end of the earth. My future is built on trusting you.”

  She leaned into him and he held her.

  “It’s a good thing,” he said. “Because before we get back to the hotel I have to tell you what I’ve finally realized. I said you’re not going to believe it because I hardly do. You’re not going to want to believe it, I know that. But you know I wouldn’t tell you something like this unless it was true.”

  34

  Until Dawn

  FIRST-CENTURY ROME

  Luke became so immersed in Paul’s memoir that he read through the night. Knowing he would be spent by morning and worth little to his patients, he kept tellin
g himself he would put aside the parchments at the end of the next interesting story, only to forge ahead to discover more.

  The physician pored over Paul’s account of his family’s voyage to Caesarea and then the land journey to Jerusalem, his father setting up his business and almost immediately becoming a supplier both to the Jews and the Romans—particularly the military. Paul also told of his mother becoming acquainted with the new area, setting up housekeeping, getting involved in the synagogue, and of Shoshanna maturing into womanhood.

  Young Saul had immediately established himself—according to what Gamaliel told Y’honatan and Rivka in front of their son—as the most motivated student the rabban had encountered in all his years of training rabbis. Paul recounted his own eagerness to learn, to engage, to discuss, to debate. He told of his humiliation when Gamaliel privately cautioned him to “remain charitable when others disagree,” and to “offer them the courtesy of time to also make their points.”

  Gamaliel’s prediction that the young scholar might not find himself ahead of his peers at such a prestigious academy soon proved incorrect. During his first year, Saul progressed to where he held his own against older students. Soon he grew confident enough to challenge even Gamaliel, especially when the headmaster emphasized the heart of the law rather than the purity of it.

  Gamaliel cautioned him, “The Word of God is a lamp, a light, a direction, a path. But we must remember that the rabbi ministers to finite beings—frail, imperfect men and women.”

  “I would argue,” Saul said, “that our duty is to remain true to the purity of the Scripture, to learn its every nuance, so that we may hold our congregants to its standard.”

  Gamaliel, according to Paul’s account, told Saul how much he appreciated his zeal and pleaded with him to season his orthodoxy with compassion. That, Paul admitted, made the young Saul entrench himself “only more deeply into what I considered pure Pharisaic doctrine. I was blind to how I was perceived by others. All that mattered was that God was perfect and that rabbis were called to point their people to His model.”

 
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