I saul, p.24

I, Saul, page 24

 

I, Saul
 


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  I confess I became curious and privately wanted a peek at this man, who was at least a remarkable performer. But I had made a point of being one of the very few religious leaders in Jerusalem who had not joined the flocks who heard him. Now my pride kept me from going. I told anyone who would listen that he would eventually be exposed. He would somehow offend the very ones so enamored with him now. Something would portend this charlatan’s end.

  It came as no surprise to me when even those closest to him betrayed him and abandoned him and he indeed ran afoul of Rome. He was hauled before the high priest and the Sanhedrin. He had chosen the wrong audience for his claim to be king of the Jews.

  Though I might have enjoyed witnessing it, I pointedly refused to attend that debacle, smugly reminding everyone that I had been right all along.

  He was put to death on a cross like a common criminal. To my mind, the man had served but one purpose—to elevate my position as the most astute Pharisee in Jerusalem.

  The death of the Nazarene meant the end of a nuisance.

  39

  Raising the Stakes

  PRESENT-DAY ROME

  MQNDAY, MAY 12, 12:15 A.M.

  Augie and Sofia kissed goodnight at the suite door. She buried her head in his chest. “Hasn’t been a good day for me.”

  “I just hope your dad’s smart enough to back away from this, for your sake.”

  She shook her head. “Too lucrative. If he really cared about me, he wouldn’t be in this deep already. Honestly, offering you a finder’s fee ….”

  “I think I convinced him I’ll play ball, if that makes you feel any better.”

  “It doesn’t. And neither does your plan for tomorrow. Roger’s right. Dimos had to tell that number-two guy all about us or he wouldn’t have agreed to pay us off. And that alone is worrisome, don’t you think? Once he has what he wants, we’re as expendable as your Vatican friend was.”

  “That’s why we’ve got to play this to the end, Sof. Give them nothing until we’re paid, then the money becomes evidence against them.”

  “But somebody in authority has to know that in advance. If we get caught, it’ll be too late to claim we were just setting them up.”

  “Then I’ve got to get to Colonel Emmanuel, the top guy,” Augie said.

  “Without Sardinia finding out? How?”

  “I wish I knew, Sofia. You’ve got to wonder how much Emmanuel knows. Probably only what Sardinia wants him to believe.”

  “If they have been tracking us by our passports, Sardinia probably already told his boss you’re a friend of the guy who had Klaudios killed. How do you prove whose side we’re on before this blows up?”

  “First we’ve got to get that original page secured. Roger says the banks open at 8:35. We start there. Then go straight to the Art Squad to establish where we stand.”

  “How sure are you that this Emmanuel is clean, Augie?”

  “Don’t think I haven’t wondered. But Dimos says his contact there plays the colonel like a fiddle. If he was just trying to impress me, why wouldn’t he claim he had the whole squad in his pocket?”

  “I just hope my mother will visit me in prison,” Sofia said.

  “You joke, but you’re not invested in this. You can back away whenever you want, and nobody will hold it against you.”

  “No thank you. Right is right. If you and Roger and I are going down, it’ll be together.”

  Sofia left with another kiss, but not five minutes later called Augie’s phone. “I’m an idiot,” she said. “I left a bag in the closet at the other hotel.”

  “Let’s go get it.”

  “It’ll wait. Good thing I didn’t check out. Can we leave a little early tomorrow so I can pick it up before we go to the bank?”

  “Your hotel lies between the bank and the Art Squad. Bank first, then hotel, then squad headquarters, okay? And bring the photocopies. Might as well put them in the bank too.”

  They agreed to meet in the lobby at eight.

  Augie lay on his back in the darkness, hands behind his head. Across the way he heard Roger call out from his bed, “Still awake, Augie?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Think Fokinos has already reported in?”

  “‘Course. Those guys can’t see past the dollar signs. They’re probably not sleeping either.”

  “Fokinos is convinced we’re sitting on the rest of the manuscript. I’m dying to know where Giordano stashed it, but I’m glad we haven’t even opened that envelope. As long as they think we know, they need us. I just hope whatever’s going to happen happens soon. I’ll go nuts waiting in Sofia’s room all day.”

  “When I get to read the whole memoir, it will all be worth it. Listen, Rog, what’s it going to mean to you if the rest of the memoir is as clear as that first page? What if it proves that Paul is the author of all those letters in the New Testament?”

  “You’re wondering if I heard you last night.”

  “Sorry?”

  “Every word.”

  “You were pretending to be asleep?”

  “I guess. I’m not ready to talk about it yet.”

  “Can’t ask for more than that.”

  Augie had finally drifted off—he didn’t know for how long—when his cell phone buzzed. He squinted at the screen. Oh no!

  “Mom! What time is it there?”

  “A little after five-thirty. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

  “Dad okay?”

  “As a matter of fact, he is.”

  That was a relief. Augie hoped to get one more chance to talk to his father, but it hadn’t seemed likely. “That’s good. Hope to be home soon. But I need to get some rest before tom—.”

  “Someone wants to talk to you, August. Hold on.”

  “Mom, I—.”

  “Augustine?” “Dad?”

  “I just wanted to hear your voice.”

  “You did?”

  “It’s been a long time, son. Longer than I knew.”

  “You sound pretty good, all things considered.”

  “Surprised you can even hear me. Your mother has to hold the phone for me.”

  “Dad, I’m so glad you’re back with us—” “Probably not for long, I know that.”

  “Well, I didn’t know if I’d even get a chance to say good-bye, Dad. I’ll try to get back soon so we can talk.”

  “I’d like that.”

  “You would?”

  “Stop acting so surprised, Augustine. I’m not dead yet.”

  “I’m just happy. There are things I want to tell you, need to tell you.” “Nothing needs to be said, son. I’m glad I got to talk with you one more time anyway.”

  One more time? When did we ever talk before? Augie wanted to get home in time to say his good-byes without bitterness. A lifetime of pain would not be erased by one last conversation, but to have one relatively normal conversation with a father he had hardly ever known would be a bonus. “I’ll look forward to telling you about my trip,” Augie said.

  “Um-hm,” his father said, clearly ready to nod off again. “Rome, your mother said. The one place I didn’t mind visiting. That’s where Michaels lives, you know. You remember, the guide who—.”

  “I’m with Roger, Dad.”

  “I’m ‘bout to fall sleep again here, son, but greet him for me, would you?”

  Augie heard a rustle and his mother came on. “Be safe and hurry home, August.”

  “How about that?” he said.

  “I know. I feel like it’s a gift from God, just for us.”

  8:40 A.M.

  Augie felt conspicuous striding through the cavernous bank lobby, certain the nine millimeter was obvious under his jacket.

  More than one customer looked up as he and Sofia passed, but Augie quickly realized that each was a man with his eyes on Sofia.

  He and Sofia sat across the desk from a middle-aged woman as she explained to them the options for a safe-deposit box. Augie found his knee bouncing and reminded himself that no one knew what was i
n the bag on his lap.

  “Dimensione?” she said at last.

  “Oh,” he said. “Big enough for this?”

  The woman produced a tiny tape and came around the desk to measure the bag. “ Quarantatre da trentotto centimetri,” she said.

  Augie looked to Sofia. “Seventeen by fifteen inches,” she said.

  The woman checked a laminated card. “ Centocinquanta euro all’anno”

  “One hundred fifty euros a year,” Sofia told him.

  “That’s like two hundred bucks,” Augie said. “How much for a few days?”

  Sofia translated, and the woman shook her head. “Un anno è il minimo.”

  “One year is the minimum, Augie.” “Highway robbery.”

  Sofia leaned close. “Hon, we’re out of options. Think of it in light of the value.”

  They completed the paperwork and the woman led them back to the vault, explaining that the bank would not open Augie’s box unless he failed to renew the payment after a year. He felt better when they were back in the cab, the key in his pocket.

  9:45 A.M.

  When the taxi pulled in to Sofia’s original hotel, she grabbed Augie’s arm. The parking lot was full of blue and white polizia cars, along with a boxy white ambulanza with orange stripes.

  “Avoid the front!” Augie said. “Pull in down there.”

  Sofia translated and the driver used a far entrance.

  The back of the seat pressed against Augie’s weapon as he slid out, slinging his empty leather bag over his shoulder. He and Sofia shaded their eyes against the piercing sun, watching the activity from one end of the parking lot. “I don’t want to go in there,” she said. “What if they’re looking for me?”

  “Why would they be? Someone’s had a heart attack or something, that’s all.”

  “Then why so many carabinieri? Somebody’s exposed us, Augie. Better warn Roger.”

  “Not till we know what’s going on. They can’t have shut down the whole hotel. See if you can get to your room.”

  “Come with me.”

  Augie started to follow but stopped when his phone rang. Sofia didn’t look back.

  He didn’t recognize the number. “This is Knox,” he said.

  “Augie, it’s Roger. Don’t go to Sofia’s hotel.”

  “Just got here.”

  “Get out of there. It’s all over the news. Fokinos was found dead in his room, twenty-two to the temple. They’re looking for his traveling companion, the woman he checked in with. Sofia’s picture is on TV. They’ll trace her passport number and come straight here. I’m getting out. I’ll meet you at—.”

  “Got to call you back, Rog.”

  “I don’t have a ph—!”

  Augie pocketed his phone and rushed inside, sprinting down a long corridor, ignoring the ringing in his pocket and afraid to call out Sofia’s name.

  He reached a perpendicular hallway, skidded to a stop and peeked left, then right, having no idea where her room was. At the next intersection he did the same. Far down the hall on the right Sofia had stopped in a corridor full of carabinieri. The cops had surrounded her and one was handcuffing her.

  Augie reached for the Smith & Wesson and froze.What was he going to do, draw down on the polizia and rescue his fiancée? All things considered, she was safer with them for the moment. Augie didn’t know whether he could forgive himself if he left Sofia behind, but if he admitted who he was he’d have little chance of talking his way out.

  As he hurried back outside, Augie reminded himself that Sardinia still needed what only he had. Trouble was, Sardinia finally had access to the one bargaining chip that could make Augie give up the key to the safe-deposit box.

  40

  The Breaking Point

  FIRST-CENTURY ROME

  “I am so weary of darkness,” Paul told Luke. “Your visits are of great encouragement, but nothing is so disheartening as being unable to see.”

  Luke had been in the dungeon only a few minutes when a loud scrape signaled the wood cover being dragged away from the hole. Primus leapt into the cell, and another guard handed him down a torch. “I am officially here to make sure your doctor is following protocol, Paul. But we all must whisper so I can show you what I found earlier today while you were asleep.”

  “I knew someone was here,” Paul said, “but I could not muster the strength to even sit up. What were you working on?”

  “Come and see.”

  Luke and Paul followed him until Paul reached the end of his chain. “For many months I have had my eye on that block of tufa,” Primus

  said. “See how the mortar has crumbled? Watch this.” He knelt and worked the limestone this way and that until he was able to slide it away from the foundation. “It just needed coaxing. But now you have your own small storage area. In the morning, before anyone from the first watch has any reason to be down here, stow your extra coverings here and slide the stone all the way back in.”

  “I cannot imagine I have the strength,” Paul said, slowly bending to get his fingers on the edge of the block. It slid out so quickly Luke had to catch him before he fell on his seat. “How did you do that, Primus?”

  “A little ingenuity,” the guard said. He lifted the end of the stone and pulled a thin, round dowel from beneath it. “I set several of these under the loose block. Just make sure these stay in place, and the heavy stone will move easily. When pressed flush with the wall it appears tight, yet there is room behind it.”

  “Splendid,” Paul said.

  “I just don’t want any of the three of us to get in trouble again,” the guard said.

  That night as Luke picked up his reading, he couldn’t help contrasting the frail old man in the dungeon with the fierce conscience of the Sanhedrin from thirty-five years before.

  When I first heard the claims that the miracle worker from Galilee had risen from the dead, I was neither exercised nor enraged. I just roared with laughter. “His poor deluded minions just can’t let this one go!” I cried, holding my belly as I swayed back and forth on my stool. “Some claim to have seen him, to have talked with him, to have eaten with him! I did not know ghosts had appetites! Well, where is he now?Why does he not visit us? Why only those who knew him? They have no credibility. Say, sorcerer, show yourself to a skeptic. Convince someone.”

  For days I took great delight in making sport of the followers of Jesus, who seemed determined to keep his movement alive. I told Gamaliel, “You more than I have seen others who thrilled a sizable band of the gullible, only to have their causes dry up and blow away when they passed from the earth.”

  “It’s true,” Nasi said. “These things have a way of taking care of themselves.”

  Not many weeks hence, however, even I had to acknowledge that the band of disciples Jesus gathered had only grown since his crucifixion. That made no sense. Now there were rumors that these men were performing the same kinds of miracles Jesus had. As their numbers increased, so, it seemed, did their boldness. Not only did they go about brazenly preaching Jesus’ gospel, but they also brought this heresy to the Temple Mount.

  Soon I no longer found them amusing. They had grown to much more than a nuisance. They ignored our laws, flouted them, even disobeyed the direct orders of Caiaphas to stop preaching in the name of Jesus.

  Some from our ranks—even priests—defected and became believers. On one day alone, thousands of Jerusalem citizens joined their numbers. Their leaders, the most visible an uneducated fisherman from Galilee named Peter, escaped from prison!

  Was I jealous of their popularity and influence? Truly, I was not. Was I worried about the influence they were having on my fellow Jews? Of course I was. But primarily I was livid over their refusal to obey the Sanhedrin. When their numbers began multiplying virtually every day, something had to be done. This movement had taken on a life of its own. Jesus had become more than a martyr. They did not apologize for claiming that he was the son of God, the Messiah, that he had risen from the dead, then appeared to dozens
of them, and was transported into heaven before their very eyes.

  This I could not abide. I scoured the law books and pleaded with Nathanael and other leaders of the Sanhedrin to allow me to enforce justice if they wouldn’t. I would snuff out this blasphemous cult that had taken to sharing everything communally, meeting in private homes, and proclaiming a resurrected son of God.

  I dragged them before the council and told Annas and Caiaphas that these men had flagrantly disobeyed their direct orders. Caiaphas leapt to his feet and said, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine and intend to bring this man’s blood on us!”

  Peter said, “We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. God has exalted Him to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

  That was all I needed to hear. These men were as worthy of death as their blasphemous leader had been. “You should kill them where they stand!” I said.

  As soon as I saw Gamaliel get up, I knew he would thwart my plan with some weak, conciliatory appeal for reason. After he commanded that Peter and the other apostles be temporarily excused, he said, “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. Keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it.”

  As usual, the other members of the Sanhedrin solemnly nodded. At least they called the apostles back in and beat them for disobeying. They were commanded again not to speak in the name of Jesus, but then they were set free.

  This was a grave error. For days, in the temple and in houses all over Jerusalem, they continued to ignore the council’s orders and preached Jesus as the Christ.

 
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