Monday, December 27, 2010

Chapter 1



Senor Vincente Robele's home was more of a castle than a mansion. The sheer size of the place coupled with the fortress architecture made an imposing presence to the few who had ever seen it. Tucked away out of sight, its winding driveway, once through the great iron gates, made a mile long turn along the foot of a small hill. The second gate, even more formidable in appearance than the first stood guard over a bridge. The stream at the bottom of the steep gulch served as a moat.

Robeles himself had lived a long seventy-one years. Now unquestionably the wealthiest man in all of Brazil, the scope of his personal fortune was obscured by his interest in holding companies and invisible international corporations. A widower for several decades, his interests had turned to collectibles.

He did not enjoy or appreciate works of art, and he spurned having too many such possessions. His appetites ran strictly to the very rarest, the most famous and the most expensive. He considered works of art priced at less than one hundred million to be only a cluttering presence in his small gallery. His interest in antiquities ran along the same line. The targets of his impulses at acquisition seemed more defined by his wish to keep objects out of the reach of other, lesser bidders than to follow any consistent interest.

The old man was not without ideals and spiritual concepts although there were very many veterans of both his rage and power littered through his past. In his younger years he had been little more than a violent young mobster preying on the citizens and businesses of Sao Paulo. In mid-life, the authorities began to apply more pressure than he could pay off. He took his substantial earnings into the legitimate business world at a time when money was scarce, becoming a land owner and industrialist. The unlikely combination of mobster and businessman had practically thrown riches his way, delivering him to his present state of wealth. His financial statement would be the envy of a third of the nations of the planet.

Now Senor Robeles felt the inevitable remorse of all successful men without progeny. Always a devout Catholic he maintained a personal priest as a permanent guest in his castle, although he suspected that Father Riaz had instructions by innuendo to divert his fortune into a gift to the Church upon his death. The old man sat quietly in his wheel chair on sunny afternoons enjoying his garden while he pondered this dilemma. He wondered if he had some remnant of the resolve of his youth. The success of the plan he was considering would depend on his expertise as a gangster more than his acumen as a businessman.

Chapter 2


Israeli officials remain silent about any leads in the murders of four archaeologists at a tiny camp near the Israeli border Sunday. All were from the Berlin Polytechnic Institute Archaeology Department. Two ancient scrolls purported to date from the time of Christ are reported missing, one allegedly wrapped in linen cloth used in His burial. A spokesman commenting for the Israeli Army investigation of the incident reported only that the attack was made with automatic rifles sometime late Friday. All members of the project party were killed instantly. The camp and equipment were not damaged or stolen. Palestinian terrorists have been ruled out as suspects

Leading international historians and archaeologists met in Berlin today for a memorial service.

Chapter 3


The driveway from the sentry at the castle's main gate took five minutes. The main house itself was four stories of forbidding stone, lit only by a few lights on the first floor. A pair of dimly lit lamp posts straddled the great steps to the massive doors.

As Benson reached the top step, the door swung open. An ancient man servant dressed in a tuxedo greeted him wordlessly, waiting to accept his coat. As the servant reached to take the two parcels, Benson swiftly rolled them under his other arm, out of the man's reach. The servant led him through the entry way, past a wide spiral stair case climbing up through three floors in a cavernous room tiered with balconies.

It was clearly the servant's intention to seat him in a rather large and luxurious sitting room visible through the doors ahead, but at the last moment a weak but commanding voice descended from the balcony above. He could see Senor Robeles, himself, in a wheelchair a floor above him.

"Welcome Mr. Benson. Please join me up here, if you will. The elevator is just to your right." The old man's voice was somehow amplified by the four story ceiling in the room.

As the elevator car door opened one floor above, the old man in his wheelchair proffered a hand to shake. "I see that you have brought the parcels. That's good. That's very good. I'm prepared to pay you very well if they are, in fact, what you have said they are." Senor Robeles spun forward in his wheel chair and started down the hallway. "Bring them. Bring them and follow me to my study where I can examine them."

Benson had to hasten his stride to stay close behind the motorized chair. He glanced again at the cavernous room. The ceiling, still looming three floors above, made the balcony seem like an aerie halfway up a canyon. The fact that no lights lit any of the upper floors exaggerated the effect. Only the gigantic chandelier hanging twenty feet down the center of the space gave the dim light which seemed to add more to the gloom than abate it.

Senor Robeles wheeled easily into a brightly lit doorway. As Benson entered behind him he was confronted by a well lit room filled with scientific equipment of all kinds. In the center of the room was a helium filled examination cabinet with working gloves along one side.

Robeles took one of the Plexiglas tubes and inserted into one side of the cabinet. Sitting intently he reached from the wheelchair to place his hands in the gloves. The hissing sound of the pressure equalizing as he removed the end of tube was reassuring. The precious contents were intact. At least as intact as anything two thousand years old could reasonably be.

The old man gingerly withdrew the cloth covered scroll, placing the ancient linen to one side. His hands quivered slightly as he carefully unrolled the scroll itself. It was papyrus with linen thread woven into it. "So far it seems quite authentic. But these tired old eyes cannot detect what the gas spectrometer can see."

The laser for the device was built into the cabinet itself. Three tiny red dots winked on the items within and the computer screens to Senor Robeles' right instantly displayed a single line with peaks spaced a few places across the screen. "Yes! Yes indeed. Mr. Benson these are exactly the items I seek. You won't object if I check the other canister, will you?"

The contents of the second tube proved to be as authentic as those of the first. Benson was becoming agitated, anxious to complete the transaction and depart this gloomy place. He watched at the old man staring at the computer screens, reviewing the results of each sample over and over.

Finally, Robeles turned to face him once again. The old man's face was on fire. "Now we have only the matter of six million dollars cash US between us. Let's take care of that, and you can be on your way. We'll need to go downstairs to my safe. Will you follow me?"

Benson had to suspect that there were more people around here than the old butler. Not even this madman would hold six million without some kind of security. He went on guard, somehow reassured that he still had his pistol.

The elevator door opened and the two exited to the same large room. Robeles led in the wheelchair through an arched way deeper into the house, then to another room which was apparently some kind of office. It was dark and Benson hesitated at the doorway. Strong arms pulled a tough canvas bag over his head. It was soaked in ether. The last voice he heard was Robeles giving a curt order to two other men. "You two will take the helicopter and drop it in the jungle. This is important. Don't make any mistakes. I'm going to bed. You can report to me in the morning. Just remember, the word of God commands us not to abide murderers, and Mr. Benson here is not only a murderer but a heretic and a sacrilege."

Senor Robeles had to stop in to look at his scrolls again on his way to a sound night's sleep.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Chapter 4


Dr. Horst Tillotson strolled back to his office after the morning lecture, happily the only one of the day. Stopping at the faculty secretary's desk, he absently rifled through the day's mail, his eyes stopping on a large envelope with foreign postage. Selecting a couple of other envelopes that seemed to be important, he replaced the bulk of it back into his mail slot.

Tillotson ran the gauntlet of his secretary's icy stare. Nancy never felt it was really her job to sort through his volumes of mail.

Once safe in his office he opened the foreign letter. It contained a round trip first class ticket to Rio de Janeiro, an irrevocable letter of bank credit for $5,000, two readouts from a gas spectrometer and a phone number in Brazil. "Pretty presumptuous to think that five grand will whisk me off to Brazil like a game show. On the other hand, I can make time for a phone call." he mused while looking at the envelope's contents strewn across his littered desk.

Picking up the phone, he placed the call. A man answered in Portuguese, but another who spoke English with a British accent quickly replaced him. The voice said only, "We are so pleased that you have called. Please hold the line for Senor, excuse me, please hold the line for Mr. Robeles."

Another man began to speak, "Professor Tillotson, I have two Essene scrolls which might greatly interest you. The gas readings were made from them. I would very much like for you to come here, take a look at the scrolls and then discuss an opportunity I believe they represent. I promise we will have you back in Los Angeles in a day or two."

"It would be very difficult for me to leave on such short notice. I have a lecture schedule."

"One of the scrolls is stained with blood of the Savior Himself, Dr. Tillotson. I will send a car to meet your plane tomorrow at 6:30 in the evening. You won't regret indulging me. I'll see you when you arrive." The man on the phone abruptly hung up.

Horst Tillotson turned to stare out of his office toward Nancy. The secretary knew the look on his face. Tillotson waited for the audible sigh, then he spoke almost as a little boy hopefully announcing some plan to his mother. "Will you please cancel everything until Tuesday? I'm going to Brazil."

Nancy was on the phone, but she smiled at him and nodded. Who was she to say 'no' to a Nobel Laureate?

A day later the archaeologist was heading to the outskirts of Rio in an aging Mercedes limousine. The traffic was fierce, but the driver was clearly a man unafraid to take risks. They had traveled far out into the countryside before they arrived as a security gate. Tillotson was puzzled to see nothing of a house anywhere ahead.

Finally, after passing yet another gate they came upon a monstrous house made of native stone. A servant and an old man in a wheel chair were waiting at the front entry to greet him.

"Dr. Tillotson? I'm very glad that you have come. I trust that you have had pleasant trip. I'll take the liberty of sending your luggage to your room.

"I am Senor Ernesto Robeles. I am honored to have you in my home. I know you are anxious to see the scrolls, but perhaps you would enjoy a brandy and coffee first. We will dine at eight tonight." The old man drove his motorized wheel chair into a luxurious sitting room. "Here, please sit down and make yourself comfortable." He motioned to a chair facing himself. A servant appeared immediately with hot towels. Another waited with hot coffee and a decanter of what turned out to be exquisite brandy.

"I have to admit that I was completely surprised by what I found in my examination of the scrolls. I actually purchased them for very little from an estate. The seller was unaware of their remarkable nature. I believe his father had been an amateur archaeologist, perhaps only as an avocation. Whatever their recent history, I have them now. It has been one of those tremendously exciting turns of fate, and I find myself caught up in the possibility of pursuing the whole affair to its conclusion." The old man's eyes were on fire as he continued. "When you have had time to look at them yourself, I hope you will be interested in discussing a project I have in mind."

"I would like to see them now, if possible, Senor." Dr. Tillotson rose. "Perhaps I might spend a few minutes with them before dinner."

"Of course. My laboratory is on the second floor. We'll have to take the elevator. This way. It's right over here." Robeles motioned to the man to follow the wheelchair. "Please consider my facilities to be your own during your visit."

Considering the medieval style of the rest of the mansion, the laboratory was brightly lit and filled with state of the art equipment. Tillotson found the scrolls held flat against individual vacuum plates in a chamber of helium. A second chamber held an ancient remnant of linen with several stains of what appeared to be blood. His eyes widened as they followed the faded writing. He stepped over to the second chamber, then back to the first. Finally, he turned to Senor Robeles who was smiling broadly from his wheel chair. "The first writer, Cannanuk saw it. He was there when the other one entered the tomb, but the second writer, the anonymous one... The anonymous one helped remove the body. Cannanuk was afraid, but the other one... the other one placed Jesus in His final tomb, far from His tormentors' and he says where that tomb is. Senor, can this...?"

"Yes, Dr. Tillotson, I think this second scroll tells of the final burial of the Christ. I know what feeling has a hold of you right now. I experienced the same thing when it first began to dawn on me about what these two scrolls were describing. The analysis you have done in ten minutes took me a few days, but I promise you, the feeling was the same. These two scrolls may rewrite history." Robeles backed up to the second chamber. Pointing to the linen, he said, "That blood stain may have been made during the Crucifixion itself."

"I know you will want to test everything again, Doctor, but I can tell you that if it is a forgery, it was definitely forged in the first century. The only possible means to finally establish its authenticity is to match the DNA from that blood sample to the DNA in the lock of the Holy Mother's hair in the Vatican's Holy Reliquary. I know that the lock was DNA tested, but an individual such as myself can have no possible access to the results. I am hoping that you, as a Noble Prize winner can accomplish that."

"You're thinking of trying to find the tomb!" Tillotson was beside himself.

"Yes, Doctor, I am thinking of trying to find the tomb. As you can see, I am a virtual prisoner of this chair. But you, you can do it and I can sponsor you. Every preparation must be made in secret. Your inquiry into the Holy Mother's DNA must be camouflaged completely. Even if the tomb is found, even if the body is found, nothing must be public until the find can be certified. By that I mean certified at the very highest levels. No one must be able to call the findings into question. There will be enough excitement without a debate on archaeology done by every shop keeper and village wag."

"Do you think you could mount an expedition with some other objective as a disguise? Whatever that might amount to, nothing shoddy can be done with this tomb, that is, nothing but the finest equipment, the best people. How could we forgive ourselves if we were to cut corners on this?" The old man was insistent. And he knew how to tempt an archaeologist.

"Go to the Sinai and muddle around until everyone loses interest. I think you should spend several months before you approach the tomb site. It is quite secure if it hasn't been found out through all these years. Meanwhile I will prepare an extensive and extremely messy anonymous gift to the National Museum in Rio. I am prepared to give them enough artifacts that there will be no chance of them translating the scrolls before you secure the tomb site.

"When you are quite prepared there in the desert, you will call my subsidiary in Paris to order a replacement compressor. Once you have done that you must proceed to unearth the tomb proper. I am assuming that you will not want to open it.

"With your copies of the scrolls in hand and the tomb before you, just where the ancient writers said it would be, you will make a very tentative, shaky announcement and call in Eagletaire. You will be challenged at this point from some quarter and it will be time to make the contents of scrolls public. By then you can attribute them to the National Museum in Rio. The story will be complete." Robeles was on fire as he put the final touches on his plan.

"Are you absolutely certain that you want the United Nations to come in on this?" Tillotson asked.

"Not sure at all, Doctor. That organization tends to be quite unpredictable. They also have a bad habit of taking their time when important things must be done. But I don't see the possibility of a university or even a single government having the resources to guarantee that the project can go forward. There must be no cover up or trickery, and there must certainly not be any strong arm government trying to harness the power of this thing for their own interests. There must not be a Saudi Mecca or a war to set one up or a war to tear one down. I don't want a war fought on top of this tomb."

Tillotson agreed with Senor Robeles last comment. He also acknowledged the real possibility of it. "At least the UN will be able to take the heat from the certification process. If you're the biggest fish in the pond the opinions of others don't count for too much."

Senor Robeles was mysteriously absent from the house while Dr. Tillotson painstakingly transcribed the Aramaic of the scrolls.

When Dr. Horst Tillotson left for Los Angeles a week later he had not seen his benefactor again. He wondered if he had made a deal with the devil. Devil or not, the expedition was underway.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Chapter 5


"How was Rio?" Nancy asked nonchalantly as she continued on her computer terminal. "It's good to have you back. I assume you know what I want you to do first." She pointed without looking at his mail slot, now stuffed to explosive pressure.

It was hard to deal with this side of life when monumental affairs were at hand in the same room. He took the easy way out, gathering the whole bulk of it into his free hand and disappearing into his office.

Penetrating the Vatican Reliquary was tricky but not impossible. A nominal Catholic, he had received a letter from the Pope when he won the Nobel Prize. That should grease a wheel or two. He also knew exactly which Prince of the Church could be most easily coerced into cooperating. As a Vatican relic, the lock of Mary's hair was held in complete secrecy. Along with perhaps a dozen other things preserved by the Church through the centuries, such a relic could serve no essential purpose to the masses beyond the creation of another shrine. The Catholic Church was quite certain what it wanted Catholics to worship. It had learned in the Middle Ages that certain religions work best when they stay on track.

After speaking to six secretaries and assistants, Cardinal Varretti finally came to the phone. "You know I would try to do anything that you ask, Horst, but that is another department. I can make discrete inquiries, but the final decision to release information such as that would have to come through channels. It would have to be reviewed. The whole process would have to be detailed and submitted for final approval. And we are talking about approval from the very highest levels of the Vatican, the very highest levels. What you really need to do is to submit a petition to the Holy See, very quietly, of course, then possibly...," he paused for a moment,  "... but even then such a request would be viewed as quite provocative, quite provocative. There would be all kinds of questions, inquiries into the use of the information, the character of those who sought it, not to say that your own character would be found wanting, but even the character of your colleagues would come under scrutiny. Under scrutiny at the highest levels, the highest levels."

Horst Tillotson was smiling ear to ear. The old snake was laying his own Papal alibi in front of someone. Varretti not only had staying power in the power structure, he had influence. Influence hell. Varretti had a stable of well groomed favors owed to him and another, even larger stable, filled with black horses, each one able to ruin a career if it were to be trotted out into the light of day. He had dirt on half of the College of Cardinals, and he was regarded with the utmost respect, in his words, the utmost respect. Tillotson had gotten drunk with him on more than one occasion.

"Well, thank you very much for the information, Cardinal Varretti. I'm sorry that you won't be able to help me. Perhaps it is better if I approach the request on a more formal basis. It is very nice to talk to you again. No matter how this may turn out you know you are always welcome here in Los Angeles." Dr. Tillotson replaced the receiver and turned to gaze out his office window.

The archaeologist had only one thought, "Bingo!"

The digital PCR document downloaded on e-mail the next afternoon. Tillotson had what he needed. He had the DNA trace of the Mother of Jesus. "Thank you, Cardinal Varretti!"

Tillotson dumped the file to floppy and copied it. Throwing one of the diskettes into his desk drawer, he mused "I can't ask that favor again..." Lifting the other, he compared it to the diskette holding the PCR from Robele's shroud. He was out of his depth. It was time to call Audi Fahrger.

Fahrger was an anomaly at the university. Assistant Dean of genetic medicine, he held a research chair and actually taught graduate and undergraduate classes. In person. His office was five hundred yards across campus in the medical school administration building.

"Audi, its Horst Tillotson. I've got mother and son on two PCR files on disk. Can you verify maternity, maybe speculate on paternity?"

"I know you just came back from Rio. I suppose this will be the lost prince and his alleged mother, The Amazon Crocodile Priestess." Audi Fahrger had done work for the archaeologist before.

"Not exactly, but who cares about faces if I make it worth your while with an inappropriately expensive bribe?" Horst shot back. "Audi, this one is really important to me."

"The bribe wouldn't have been necessary if you hadn't mentioned it. Now I feel like I'd be cheating myself if I didn't demand better than what you offer. I suppose you had in mind that I would drop everything and take care of you right away." Fahrger's good natured bantering disguised one of the sharpest minds in the business.

"I'll be over in half an hour. You should be done loafing by then." Tillotson fumbled around the back one drawer of his file cabinet, finally withdrawing a reasonably good bottle of single malt scotch whiskey. It was opened, but remained full enough to pay the favor.

Fahger's office was a disaster. He had gathered every organ model supplied as pharmaceutical advertising in preparation for sending them to local high schools. The pile of pancreases, livers, kidneys and bowels was larger than his desk. There was no telling how long they had been there

"Come in! Come in, Horst." The little man walked around the pile of plastic organs to offer his hand. "I don't get many mud-on-your-boots barbarians in here bearing gifts. By the way, where is it."

Tillotson dutifully produced the diskettes. Fahrger laughed. "I am Androcles and these little data files are stuck in the foot of the lion of archaeology? No, my good man, not work, bribe. Where is my bribe?" He aped Peter Lorre with fair success.

"Of course," laughed Tillotson, producing the bottle, "I forget myself that I come scraping for favors. Let me pour you a drink."

"In fact, good doctor, you'll pour one for both of us." Fahrger produced two fairly clean Coke glasses from his desk. "As your physician, I can tell that you need to relax, have a drink and tell me all about this. You're beside yourself."

"If you are my physician, and I have always held that to be true, I may tell you just a little since I trust you to hold our conversation in confidence." Tillotson would have handed Fahrger his soul for safekeeping.

"In confidence it shall be, by my oath, Horst. What are you going to tell me?" Fahrger finished his whiskey and placed the disks in his lab coat pocket.

"I'll tell you what I am going to tell you after you analyze the PCR's. You'll want me to tell you more, but I swear that I just can't, not until I know more about what lies ahead."

"Well, there is no good reason to build suspense beyond what there is already. Even you, my shovel wielding supplicant, will be impressed by the ease and speed of this little electronic beauty." Fahrger powered up a desk sized unit in his private laboratory adjacent to his office. Loading the files from the two disks took only a moment. The machine seemed to ponder for a few seconds, and then produced a three page report. Tillotson could see the characteristic smudges on the first page. The others were covered with figures.

Serious now, Audi turned to Tillotson. "There is a very strong case for maternity. More than good enough to hold up in a court of law. We know everything about the father, that being that he was a genetically healthy homo sapien. So now tell me what you're going to tell me. Who are these people?"

Tillotson blurted it out. "The mother's PCR is from the Vatican. It is DNA taken from a reliquary sample of the hair of the Mother of Jesus Christ. Audi, I'm holding you to your word."

"Horst, not to worry. I don't want any part of this. I think, as your physician, I should tell you to reconsider this. You are playing with forces beyond comprehension. Put this back where you found it. Forget about it! You're not the one worried about keeping a secret, I am. Don't you ever let my name pass your lips!"

The men parted friends, but this was the last time Audi Fahrger ever saw Horst Tillotson.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Chapter 6

Nobel Laureate Horst Tillotson announced to colleagues today that he is planning an expedition to the Holy Land. A well known professor and archaeologist, Tillotson indicated that the expedition would investigate several sites previously excavated. "Of course we will be looking at everything -- we always do. But the main objective of this expedition will be to test new equipment. A number of recent breakthroughs have produced exciting new technology for this field and we want to try it out." said Tillotson in his university office after the announcement. He added that most of the funding for the trip was from various equipment manufacturers.

Dr. Horst Tillotson, Nobel Prize winner and famed archaeologist announced today that his expedition has discovered a undisturbed tomb in the Sinai desert. The group hopes to begin excavation as soon as permission can be obtained from the Israeli government. Tillotson, speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv yesterday said "This find is exciting for a number of reasons. Our expedition's sponsors have agreed to extend our expedition for a month or two to allow a complete investigation." Neither Tillotson or other spokesmen for the expedition would elaborate on the find. Tombs are fairly common in the region, some dating to the time of Christ. Tillotson remains at the site with a reduced crew after many of the original expedition members returned to their duties for the fall semester at the University.

Nobel winner Horst Tillotson announced that excavation on the desert site will continue into the fall. Dr. Tillotson declined to give details of findings at the site, but noted unusual evidence of additional ruins in the area. Observers visiting the site indicate that no artifacts or major structures have been unearthed. Tillotson has opened the site to Israeli government officials and others only one day per month.

In a surprise move, Nobel Prize winner Horst Tillotson asked the Israeli government to approve armed "escorts" for the mystery excavation in the Sinai desert. The unexpected development occurred after almost three months of work at the dig. Observers are puzzled by the request because nothing has turned up in the excavation. Security services will be provided by the French firm Eagelataire. Eagelataire's security forces became famous for the successful defense of Latvian Prime Minister Koerescu against rebel army forces through a nineteen day battle during that country's civil war. A representative force of Israeli military personnel will be attached to the expedition as observers.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chapter 7


Horst Tillotson stood in the quiet camp. Because there was no firewood for miles, only high pressure propane lamps blazed away from poles set in the sand. Trailers, he thought, here we are living in air conditioned trailers in the middle of the desert. This was hardly even archaeology. Without any good natured hardships, it was somehow sterile and intellectual.

His mind wandered to other digs, especially some from the earliest part of his career. The digging would cease an hour before sunset to make time for cutting firewood. The bugs could get so bad that not even the jokes about them were funny. But those were exciting days. Those were expeditions to places with names no one knew where archaeology could be just as pure as the unspoiled people who lived there. There could never be anything as exciting as having a man with a spear and a bone in his nose watch in amazement while you used a paint brush to reveal a pottery shard. The feeling had come strongly, lately, that everything had already been excavated, that there was nothing left in the great warehouse of mysteries and treasures beneath the surface of the world.

The desert night was still and cool. One hundred million stars poked through the clear blackness of the sky, timeless reminders that all of archaeology was a mere dance, lasting a second in the time of things. He once more had the thoughts of digging out the truth on another planet. He could almost not allow himself the indulgence to consider what was over the ridge to the west of the camp. Tomorrow morning he would move the dig to the tomb site. He had already walked it a couple of times, not too many, although the crew with him was so lacking in fire that he doubted any had suspected anything.

He had picked them himself, total yes-men from the department. All of them were far more interested in securing their slow advancements by pleasing him than exerting any troubling initiative in the management of the dig. The rest were bright eyed undergraduates with enough money to pay their own way. Half of them were having sex in the tents and trailers right now instead of resting to do tomorrow's work. The kids were like puppies, constantly under his feet, hanging on every word. In between breaths, they would formulate some specious question as an act of worship, as if osmosis through proximity would get them a Nobel prize someday. He needed a toothless crew to pull off the deception that he and the old man had engineered.

He strolled easily away from the lit area of the main camp toward the ridge. Withdrawing the GPS locator from his bag, he checked the longitude and latitude again for the twentieth time. Now reaching to the very bottom of the same bag, he withdrew a handful of useless debris he had brought from the University, bits of history too small to be cataloged, too uninteresting to be missed. After a glance over his shoulder he threw them as far as he could. Even this bunch of losers he had with him should be able to find one or two of them. It would be enough to start the mayhem of a sifting operation, and from there he would easily be able to stir them into a dig. Having a Nobel prize didn't really give you any special intuition It was more the case that everyone who won one already had special intuition, a special knack for sniffing out the unknown whether in a test tube or an Aztec ruin.

Now he was standing over the tomb site itself. Twenty feet below him through the historic sands of this land was probably the body of the Savior. The contents of this tomb were more powerful than all the H-Bombs in the world. The first casualty would be the Bible. After that would be a long list of churches, unable to adapt to new things. He was not the apostate for revealing the truth. He could only be apostate for failing to reveal it. Faith would triumph for those who could believe. Chaos would fall to those who believed that tradition, rather than truth, was more important.

Still, standing here alone in the middle of the night under the spectacular desert sky, he could not avoid the thoughts about the Creator and His Son, sent to the world. So what if part of the story got a little mixed up. A lot of people who couldn't write were basically forced to remember what had happened, along with what they had heard happened, and even what they had heard that others had seen or heard. This was the body of Christ, alright. Given time the experts would agree to that and the world would support it.

The old man wanted to rekindle the fires of the Christian faith. He thought that something new, something very real needed to be added to what had become little more than an ingrown extrication of legalistic interpretations of the relics of antiquity. Robeles wanted something for today. Something that would fill the churches with people and fill the minds of people with new religious wonder.

So here I am standing on it. I swore in my youth that I would never falsify a find. This is as close as I have ever come to doing that, but driven by necessity, how could I have refused? In any case, the find is real and the evidence that led me here is real. No review board is going to nit pick my approach to this. Especially not after another Nobel Prize.

He could feel
the tomb. Everything about it was electric. This would be the absolute pinnacle of his life.

After two days at the new site, all had agreed that walking five hundred yards back to the old camp was too exerting. A small army of trucks and laborers had moved all of it to a new site on the ridge above the tomb. Sixty tired dig crew members were now sifting through the sand with shaking tables and shovels. A steady wind had come up, enough of one to catch the surface sand. Tillotson thought to himself, "At least the wind will make it unpleasant for them. Some of the young ones may actually have something similar to a real expedition experience. A hundred and eighty full days of work expended here in three days of digging, and they have found four of the fifty or so tracing relics I threw around. It's a good thing we don't have any real archaeology to do."

On the fourth day Dr. Tillotson was actually having coffee in the shade of the camp when he heard the unmistakable 'clunk' of a shovel hitting cut stone. This sound was the ultimate joy to the seasoned archaeologist aside from the fact that it would be the 'clunk' heard round the world. Not a single person, even those in the close vicinity of the occurrence, had noticed anything. He rushed over to the hole to find two young students tapping their shovels hard against what they perceived as only an obstacle to the continued sifting.

Coffee cup still in hand, Tillotson called to them loudly. "Stop! Can't you hear that stone ring hollow? Get some people over here and dig it out!" He knew that the sound of that shovel hitting the stone was the bell tolling the dawn of a new age. He was grateful that most of the crew had returned to the university for the fall semester. The "slugs" had left. The "puppies" now comprised the work crew that would unearth the tomb. It was amazing to watch them work with no more enthusiasm than they had shown yesterday. Every one of them would probably write a book about this expedition.

It was time to call in reinforcements to stand guard over the damned thing. Within a day or two this empty desert would be filled with helicopters and jeeps carrying an army of reporters. He had agreed completely with Robeles' idea that a single statement should be made, no details or what if's, no rambling thoughts about what this find might mean to the religions of humanity.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chapter 8


Nobel Laureate Dr. Horst Tillotson, speaking today from the mysterious excavation deep in the Sinai desert, made a cautious announcement that his expedition may have found the final tomb of Jesus Christ. Emphasizing that the discovery was extremely tentative, he called for a public international effort to be undertaken at once to verify or negate his preliminary findings. Tillotson suggested that the site be placed under UN control and protection until exhaustive testing can take place.

He described the tomb as that of a poor man, quite small and undecorated. The outer seal is a massive stone estimated at between one and two tons. The inner seal is a smaller stone set tightly in a rock hewn doorway. The inner door seal is typical of the period, having been packed with eucalyptus and pyracanthus. The inner tomb is airtight and the body within is in a state of mummification. The body is well preserved. The tomb will not be opened, pending UN action.

A sharply divided Security Council voted 5 to 3 in favor of "protective and preserving action" to protect the so-called Tillotson Dig in the Sinai Desert. The Council made it clear that the action did not signify support for Dr. Tillotson's preliminary claims that the tomb might contain the remains of Jesus Christ. The Nobel winning archaeologist has been careful throughout the crisis to maintain his own uncertainty about the find.

Tillotson has requested the formation of the United Nations Commission to study the tomb due to its provocative nature. The full UN Assembly will take up the matter in emergency session this week. Experts on UN policy suggest that the Special Commission, once formed, will select leading archaeological experts from around the world to work jointly in resolving the identity of the body within the tomb.

Indian troops from the crack Kundi Kush Regiment arrived in the Sinai today to take up positions around the mysterious tomb that experts think may contain the remains of Jesus Christ. UN Secretary General Mohhad al Bakhir expressed his appreciation to the Indian Government for its prompt response to his request for the troops. One hundred of the Indian soldiers wearing the blue helmets of UN Peace keepers officially relieved both the private guards and the few Israeli troops which had been posted at the tomb. Six high ranking Israeli officers, filling the role of host country military observers joined the Indian force.

The choice of the devoutly Hindu Kundi Kush Regiment resulted from the UN Security Council decision that its military presence at the site should not be Christian, Moslem or Jewish for obvious reasons.

Defending his decision to send Hindu troops to the Jesus grave site, UN Secretary General Al Bakhir described the force as a "Peacekeeping Force" of the finest caliber, and one that can be quickly reinforced, if necessary." Responding to questions about the size of the force, the Secretary General said through an interpreter, "They are Peace keepers. News of the excavation has already had a great impact on three major religions of the world. The Kundi Kush Regiment will make certain that the site remains undisturbed while the Special Commission can do its work. As to the size of the detachment, many soldiers make things peaceful. Not enough soldiers are an invitation to trouble. There will be no trouble in this isolated place in the desert."

The Special Commission to investigate the Tillotson discovery was named today with little dissension by the full Assembly. Eighteen UN ambassadors were selected for the Commission from a wide range of political and geographical representatives. The Special Commission will immediately begin the selection of experts to present opinion and evidence to either verify Tillotson's claim or reject it. Even before the selections have been made, Nobel winner Tillotson has pledged to abide by the final decision.

The UN Special Commission today announced the final selection of organizations which will participate in the authentication of the Jesus tomb. Chosen were: Berlin Polytechnic Institute, Special Department of Relics, International Institute of Testing and Standards, Stockholm, Sweden, Royal British Archaeological Society, Cairo Museum, Curate of History and Culture, The Chandrakar Institute of History and Archaeology, New Delhi, Wermer Memorial Institute of Archaeology, Jerusalem University, Historical Forensics Laboratory, Mexico City Museum of Man, and the People's Republic of China's Academy of Antiquities, Beijing.

A spokesman for the Special Commission said "These are the best of the best. It is the sincere hope of the Special Commission that the findings of this group will either verify or lay to rest what is presently a theory about the identity of the body in this tomb. The organizations selected have been instructed to make no statements whatsoever until all analysis is complete. The Special Commission will then announce its final decision."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chapter 9


The Special Commission selected to certify or reject the validity of the alleged Tomb of Jesus is prepared to announce their finding this week. Sources within the United Nations have expressed surprise that no news concerning the announcement has leaked to the press. Lax security surrounding the results of UN studies of all types has been a hallmark of the international organization since its formation after WWII.

The only statement made by the spokesman of the Special Commission to date is that the body has reached unanimous agreement and that the announcement itself will be as brief as possible in the hope that all interested parties will be able to interpret it in ways best suited to their needs, both religious and social.

In a carefully worded announcement made today the UN Special Commission on the Matter of the Tomb of Jesus announced unanimous agreement that the Tomb held the Body of Jesus Christ. The exact announcement:

"The Tomb found in the Sinai Desert holds the Body of Jesus Christ. Every evidence associated with both the Tomb, the Body itself and other artifacts contemporary to His death supports this identity. Members of the Special Commission wish to thank the General Assembly for the great honor of having been selected for this exciting project. The Special Commission considers its mission complete, and herewith disbands."

The full notes of the Special Commission's inquiry are available in hard back form, nine volumes, from the United Nations' Information Office, New York City, New York.

Nobel Prize Laureate Horst Tillotson gratefully acknowledged the work of the U.N. Special Commission. Commenting on the release of the Special Commission's finding, the archaeologist praised both the thoroughness and high quality of the group's study of the Tomb. "Of course I am pleased that the Tomb has been verified. I was very confident from the time of its first discovery that it would prove to be authentic. I am also extremely happy that the field of archaeology has had yet another opportunity to show its value to a world accustomed to the vagaries of legend and supposition. I hope very much that everyone will benefit from this find."

Tillotson went on to say that he was discouraged by what he called the "rantings" of certain religious spokesmen claiming that the Tomb was heretical in the face of Biblical accounts. "These preachers must find their way to keep what is important, accept what is real and remember their calling. It is my sincere hope that the Tomb will become a bulwark of their faith, not a threat."

"I and my associates have been repeatedly and unfairly defamed by a small group of Evangelical pastors who have no ambition other than to turn this into a cottage industry for themselves and their television shows. This is the tomb and the body of Jesus Christ. I am an honest, hard working archaeologist. Everything in the Sinai is now a fact not a debate."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chapter 10


Reeling from the news of this morning's massacre at the Tomb Site, Israeli Prime Minister Sterett vowed that she will utilize all resources in the Israeli military and all civilian security organizations under her authority to apprehend or neutralize the terrorist perpetrators. For security reasons Mrs. Sterett declined to make known any details of the plans.

In a remarkable show of unity, both Syria and Lebanon have offered all possible aid the in the capture of the terrorist parties responsible for the killing of the UN force at the Tomb Site. The Lebanese Naval Cruiser Arafat has taken up station near the Tomb Site.

UN antiquities experts reached the scene midday today. They report that the bodies of the Kundi Kush Regiment show no marks of violence, prompting speculation that some type of poison gas was the lethal agent. The UN group's leader was reportedly sobbing as he reported "The tomb is destroyed. The body, the tomb, everything has been completely burned, probably with napalm. The civilized world must find those who have done this horrible, horrible thing."

UN Secretary General al Bakhir attended a tribute and memorial service for the Peacekeepers killed at the Tomb Site. The Secretary urged restraint to all member nations, saying "This is not a time to point fingers. There are a great number of individuals who might wish this for a great number of reasons. No state can be responsible for this atrocity and still avoid incriminating itself. It is the ambition and dream of the United Nations to make this world a civilized place. This is a good opportunity to demonstrate our progress."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chapter 11


Martha Stratton fumbled with two bags of groceries, nodding to the bus driver as she stepped out into the darkness. The rain had let up, but promised to resume its day long depressing drizzle at any moment. She felt the bottoms of the paper bags apprehensively as she started down the dark street.

The sidewalks were broken up here by the tree roots, each crack collecting just enough water to overtop the soles of her shoes. "Oh well," she thought, "I'll be home soon enough."

She knew what awaited her. She had exactly eighty five cents left of the money she had taken for shopping. Martha had calculated to the penny what the food would cost, leaving just enough to buy Buck a half pint of cheap bourbon. She had wanted to get two dozen eggs instead of one, but saved the money for bus fare.

It was only a block and and a half to the park entrance. She could see the lone naked light bulb dangling in front of the sign at the gate of the trailer park. Purdy Places Mobile Home Estates had been built by old Frank Purdy years ago. His widow Annie was still theoretically managing the place, but her daughter and her drunken boyfriend were the real power around the park. It seemed like the more he drank, the more trash there was everywhere.

Martha made her way along the muddy street to number 17. Walking into the trailer space past Buck's twelve year old pick up, she paused to scrape her shoes on the steps of the tiny stoop. It made sense to try to leave as much mud as possible outside.

She carefully tapped on the door, being unable to manage the handle with the bags in her hands. She tapped once more softly. It was starting to rain again. Finally, she set one bag down on the step and opened the door for herself. Instantly upon hitting the wet wood, the bottom of the grocery sack split open, releasing the results of her careful shopping in a cascade of articles rolling down the slanting steps.

Stepping inside, she placed the remaining sack on the crowded kitchen counter, and turned to retrieve the rest from the front steps. "Close the damned door! It's a gettin' cold in here!" came Buck Stratton's voice over the too loud noise of the football game peeking out of the tiny black and white television in front of him.

Martha stepped back onto the rainy stoop to collect her runaway food in the dishpan then made her way as quietly as possible back to the tiny kitchen. "Ain't we gonna eat no dinner tonight? Its already seven o'clock." came the voice from the main room of the trailer. "Did yew spend all of them donations? Twenty-five dollars shore oughta be enough to buy more n' them two skimpy little bags of food, seems to me."

Martha had already started to heat the skillet. "No, honey, there's a little bit left. I bought a pork chop for your dinner. You know how important it is to keep your strength up." she said as she quickly put away the groceries.

Retrieving the half-pint, she slipped into the living room behind his chair. Kissing him on the top of his balding head, she slipped the bottle into his hand.

"Woman! Don't yew ever do that. If there's gonna be kissin around here, the man's a gonna start it up. I don't need no Jezebel being no sireene, distractin' me from my holy work. Now, quit that nonsense and git my dinner ready. After this game's over yew gotta find some stuff in the Good Book for my sermon tomorrow."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chapter 12


"Good evening to you all, my beloved. This right here's Pastor Buck Stratton of the Stratton Radio Ministry coming to you live from our broadcast studios in San Diego, California. I am back on the air tonight thanks to the Holy Spirit movin' you, my listeners, to support this ministry. Last week we weren't able to come up with the air time money, and this station felt moved to play music durin' our regular broadcast time.

The Stratton Radio Ministry ain't affiliated with no big church. We have to make our own way. And that means we depend of the love offerin's from our listeners. So, if you are blessed by the healin' message of salvation that you hear on this broadcast, we'd like to hear from you. We'd also like for you to send along whatever burden the Spirit places on your hearts to help pay the Ministry's bills. Martha and I pray for everyone of you every night, and now we're askin' you include us in your prayers.

Tonight I wanna' talk to you all about science. That's right, science. See, science has a place in the world. Why, we wouldn't have no clothes washers or aspirins if it wasn't for science. Everone of us can think of somethin' science's done for us. That there is the correct place for science. Helpin' out folks so's they can live better.

But right now, beloved, there's some real bad science goin' on in the world. I figger you all heard of what this guy Tillotson is doin' in the Holy Land. It's all over the news these days. This man claims he found the Tomb of the Our Lord Jesus, and he's sayin' that there body in it is the body of Our Savior! Now ain't that just about a pile o' cow cookies? This brain boy's problem is that he ain't read the book! What in Hell -- and I mean Hell -- is he trying to do, anyways?

Now this egg head has lined up about a hundred other idgets with the help of his friends down to the United Nations -- and we already talked about that bunch -- and they figger the can prove that this here is Jesus' body. Why oh why don't all them experts jes look in the Bible? The Bible says you ain't gonna find no body on account o' Jesus ain't here no more. He went to heaven! He went to heaven right in front o' all kinds of people! What's their problem?

Well, I'll tell you what's their problem! The whole bunch of 'em's too smart for their britches! That's their problem! Old Satan is just happier than a vixen fox eatin' chicken eggs over this here! In fact this here's a chance for the DEVIL -- and I do mean the DEVIL -- to take a pot shot at decent religion! To take a pot shot at Bible Readin' and Church Goin' and other stuff that'll get a man into heaven!

I ain't gonna let some mama's boy with a shovel shake down this Ministry! Nosirree! If you call up here 'n ask what happened to Our Lord, you gonna get the story jes like it is in the Bible, not like it's gettin' rewrit by the likes of the United Nations! See, everybody who knows very much already figgers the United Nation is a piece of Satan's handiwork. Them's the ones killin' babies. Them's the ones takin' your tax money and helpin' them pagan Hindus. Now they gonna rewrite your Bible! Them folks is heathens! Sowers of confusion! Ain't gonna be God fearin' Christians rewrite it, neither. It'll be ever' kind of foreigner doin' it, that's who!

See when some kind of nonsense like this comes up ole Satan's just dancin' and prancin' like a lonely farm boy at a square dance! Satan knows when there's a chance for him to do his dirt. We all know that he's jest awaitin' for an open window, and this here's an open window. This here's ole Satan's chance to come into God fearin' folks and shake their faith!

We've had Jesus Christ the Resurrected Son of God all these years and, beloved, I just want you to think of all the good He done us! What's the idea of screwing up a great deal now? I know you're like me. I don't want no part of this screwy U.N. Bible writin' business! Nosirree! This here's only the first thing they goin' want to change! Only Satan knows what them busy little perfesors'll try to prove next!

So now more than ever I pray that you all will stay right here with the Bible and good ole Pastor Buck. This right here is where you can get the truth! The truth about the Holy Bible! The truth about the U.N.! And the ugly truth about them busybodies with them fancy diplomas tryin' to wreck religion as we know it!

Beloved, if this broadcast has been a blessing to you, please include us in your prayers. Also remember that the Buck Stratton Ministry is completely supported by your love offerings, so won't you please let us hear from you? Our address is P.O. Box 17, Purdy Places Mobile Home Estates, San Diego, California, 92118. Martha 'n me hope to hear from you real soon!

The Radio Ministry will be back on the air next Wednesday at this same hour, so please plan to join us then. Until then, may God bless you and keep you all! This here is Ole Pastor Buck signin' off!"

Chapter 13


Los Angeles, California 
Nobel Prize winning archaeologist Horst Tillotson was killed instantly early this morning near the Lebanese border. Isreali authorities believe that brake failure caused him to lose control of his Land Rover on a steep mountain road as he was returning from the site. Friends of the scientist indicated that he had been despondent since the destruction of the tomb.

Funeral arrangements are planned in Los Angeles later this week. Mr. Tillotson was a long time resident of that city.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chapter 14


The State of Amapas stands by the Atlantic in the northeastern most corner of the country. Geographers attribute one or two humans per square mile in the dense rain forest, but a visit would suggest that figure to be overly generous. The southern border of the state follows the Amazon, touching the equator in its great Atlantic delta.

Due east thirty-five miles from the coast lays the lonely island of Paraneho. Scarcely eight miles long, it is kept company by two groups of rocks visible to the North even during the highest tides. Otherwise, from Paraneho one will view only open sea whether on the beach or at the island's highest point.

Two poor families live on the leaward side of the island. There is a corn field and vegetable garden. Happily the sea is filled with fish thanks largely to the outflow of nutrients from the river. Life on the island is in both isolation and poverty. The means to reach the mainland no longer exist. The primitive work of self-sufficiency in all things fills the days of its inhabitants. Everyone on the island settled into the strenuous yet comfortable life of equatorial peasants years ago.

Maria stood by the door to the hut. Next to her stood Juan's younger sister Victoria, sobbing. It was the sort of sobbing that a seven year old girl might do, serious to her at the moment but little more than a bump on the road to adulthood.

"You two come over here, right now!" With her hands on her hips, Maria was cast in the mold of angry mothers through out all epochs and eras of time. She mustered the most stern look that her loving and nurturing manner could impose.

The two young boys seen to be roughly in their young teens sheepishly approached. They were naked except for coarse canvas shorts, but each had covered his face in a horrible mask constructed of parrot feathers attached with bark sap. The feathers continued across each healthy young chest, arm and leg making each one seem to be a kind of jungle demon. The plan had worked only too well when they had lunged, screaming, from the dense vegetation announcing their intention to eat Victoria alive.

Victoria, unaware of their evil plan, had been caught off guard. She had dropped a bag of beans she had just spent the hot morning picking. The fruits of her labor were now mixed into the dust of the clearing between the two houses. Fearing for her life, the little girl now sought the judicial relief that only a righteous mother could grant.

"You two! Apologize to Victoria! And kiss her so she knows that you love her even when you have been so cruel, frightening her that way!" Maria had the finesse of seasoned practice in such affairs. The mother of every twelve year old unavoidably becomes at once the sage Diogenes and the loving Solomon, able to both discern truth and mete out justice on a moment's notice. "Now you'll both go to the ocean and wash away that mess of feathers. When you're clean and presentable little boys again, you'll gather every bean you made her spill. Now go on! Scrub that bark sap out of your shorts, too!" Maria brushed her hands as if she were done with it, yet spoke once more. "Pick up those beans and the dirt or the chickens will get them. Put it all in this pot, dirt and beans together. We'll sort them when you come back."

Jesus and Juan turned silently to sprint across the small clearing in the jungle, entering the path to the beach. A haphazard trail of bright feathers marked their passing. The clearing and the houses, if one could call them that, were perched on a high plateau less than a mile from the windward side of the island. Here it could catch the fresh breeze of the ocean, yet remain somewhat sheltered by the jagged ridge which topped the cliffs facing the wind. It was a rule of the settlement that no one enter the ocean on the windward side. The coast was sharp rocks, the waves could turn monstrous without warning.

The ridge itself was little more than a sharp wall, tall enough above the plateau to shelter the settlement from storms and provide welcome shade to the vegetables planted on the far side of the corn. Even the jungle relented a little up high on the plateau. Equatorial hardwoods furnished good fuel for the cooking fire as much as an aerial stop over for a hundred kinds of sea birds. At ground level, though, Prospero and Jose had to work almost everyday to cut back the growth. Otherwise the precious corn field would be lost in a month.

The way to the beach wound along the protected side of the island almost five miles before reaching the pounding of the surf on white sand. When the boys had gained the first corner in the trail they had passed beyond the realm of Maria's imposed penance. Bare feet seemed to barely touch the leafy jungle floor as the two sprinted along through the dense foliage. Once out of sight of the clearing they magically regained their identities as howling monsters, man-eating jungle demons. The dogs followed the teenagers, one in front of the headlong melee, one behind and one at flank, making a chorus of excited barking, a cacophonous background to the howls of the "demons."

Once at the beach, the shorts were off to soak under a stone in a tidal pool. The naked boys, still adorned in feathers, stood on the rocks, now high priests of a native tribe, commanding the ocean to do what it always did with strange chants in an unknown language. With its inevitable performance of his commands, each laughed in satisfaction at his authority and power.

Of the two, Juan, elder by two years, was tall for his age with an out of control mop of jet black hair. Even in his early teens, his broad shoulders and precocious muscles announced the arrival of an impending manhood, handsome and strong. Jesus, in contrast, had jet black curly hair atop a thicker, yet equally well formed body. His face was not that of an equatorial Indian. His eyes were not dark brown as with Juan, and He had the vestigial beginning of chest hair in a trail leading down from his belly button. No one had happened upon these observations nor pursued them to any apparent discrepancy. It was very difficult to see anything besides two very brown, very healthy, very active and very happy, inseparable teenagers. The two of them owned every inch of jungle on the island of Paraneho.

Finally, the two of them followed the dogs' lead, plunging into the cool blue water to perform a ritual sacred to teenagers since the beginning of time, namely "wrestling and dunking." This would have to pass for bathing. Such was life on Paraneho for Jesus and Juan.

Only when most of the bark sap was off and the dogs were resting in the sand, it occurred to them that they might return. Hoisting the wet shorts on sticks as flags, they marched, cleanly naked and presentable, back up the trail, now European explorers hoping to find the inhabitants of this mysterious island.

Clad in dry clothes when they reached the clearing and Maria's continuing civilizing influence, they joined the dogs at the pond for a drink before they returned dutifully to present themselves to Jesus' mother. She and Victoria were watering the orchids hung along the eve in woven nets of macrame. Maria sent the girl home to help her own mother.

It was beginning to rain as Juan and Jesus sat down in front of Jesus' home. Like all rain on Paraneho, it was only wet, not ever cooler than the hot equatorial air. Generally, no one who lived on the island noticed whether it rained or not. Life went on. Some days it rained. Some days it didn't.

Maria emerged from the house. "Now bring the beans and the dirt and we'll separate them. Be sure you get all the beans -- we won't waste God's bounty. He has given us plenty here and we would be ungrateful to waste it, so be careful. Juan, because you helped make this mess, you can help Jesus sort it out."

She placed a tattered cutting board before them. It had a broad depression hewn from the middle of it. She used it to make tortillas from the milled corn. The boys began, sorting a portion of the mixture at a time.

"While we sort the beans, mother, will you tell us about the mainland? Why have we always lived on this island?" Jesus asked as He concentrated on the task with His friend.

She was careful with her words, but also determined to fully explain Jesus' question. "You and Juan have always lived here, but Prospero and Juanita came here with Your father and me. We all used to live on the mainland, in the State of Amapa right over there where the sun sets. We were there for many years, but things there were difficult for native people like us. Amapa is a frontier state that is covered in jungle with very few people."

"Jose and Prospero had a small fishing boat together. They went fishing everyday. They are both good men, and they worked very hard to make a way for us to live. A French company in Guyana always bought the fish. They froze them and carried them to a cannery up north along the coast. For a long time, these men paid a fair price for the fish, but just about when Juanita became pregnant with Juan, they decided to pay a lower price. And even that price became lower and lower."

"Pretty soon Jose and Prospero could no longer pay to keep up the boat, much less buy food for all of us. They finally complained about the price. Then some men from the French company came to the house where we lived. They beat Prospero -- Jose was not there."

"They came back later and said that we were trespassing, even though Jose and Prospero had built the house themselves many years before. We had lived there since we were married. They said we couldn't live there any more."

"Your fathers decided that we must move somewhere safer, especially since Juanita was pregnant. They decided to move to this island, and keep on fishing from here. For a long time they did that. They actually caught more fish here than they had along the shore of Amapa. They cleared the jungle for our field. They worked very hard, usually at night after they fished in the daylight. They built our homes and brought what belongings we had over here."

"Sometimes we thought about returning, but the kind of thing that had happened to us became common in the fishing settlements. Had we gone back we would have arrived without any money or a house, or even food. We decided to stay here. We had what we needed, and it was a safe, comfortable place to live."

"Then years ago, one spring during the storms, the sea came up and caught the boat. A great wave came up and hurled it into the rocks. I'm sure you two have seen what's left of it on the beach. Jose and Prospero built a raft, but we could never get to the mainland in it. So after that, we really had no choice about leaving, but we do very well right here on our island. This is our home now." Maria looked at the beans. "These beans must be planted, not eaten. They have tasted the sweet earth. They don't want to go into the cooking pot now. Tomorrow we will plant them with fish heads. They will grow up and make your food, then you foolish boys will remember your silly game with the feathers."

Juan spoke, almost breaking the trance he had been in during Maria's tale. "I don't ever want to leave the island!"

"I don't either!" added Jesus. "I want to stay here with our families!"

Maria placed the beans in a square of cloth, gathering the corners to make a bag of sorts. "Oh, someday You will. When that time comes You will want to go off into the world and make Your own way. You'll see. Everything will be fine. Each of us has the opportunity for a full happy life, it's just that we must always work with what God gives us, not think only of what we want."

"Look, Juan! Here comes your father! And see what a great fine fish he has for our dinner!"

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chapter 15


Liban Bersannos was in charge of Senor Robele's entire legal division. He was as old as Robeles himself, but the two of them went back well into the Senor's checkered past. The old man had instructed him to bring the brightest young lawyer in the corporation with him to the castle that rainy night. Victor Santos was nervous, but having already acquitted himself well in trial, he gave an air of confidence. The older attorney was pleased with his choice.

The two of them walked into a huge gloomy room that could be none other than the suite for the master of the place. At the far end a massive four posted bed seemed to anchor everything else in the Senor's room. The drapes were lowered on three sides, and an electric heater purred softly on the floor.

The colors of the room seemed to be dulled by layers of dust though it was, of course, immaculate. Everything in the great hall seemed ancient and near death. Even the ancient parrot which could no longer either speak nor squawk seemed to doze in a timeless slumber on its perch.

Robele's priest, Father Riaz, clutched his hands in a practiced display of earthly concern. He sat on the edge of a great chair near the man in the bed. A nurse and a doctor made what provisions were possible for the old man's comfort before leaving the room.

Robeles motioned them forward. Bersanno placed a dry kiss on the old man's nearly lifeless hand. "I have brought Victor Santos, Senor. I trust him."

"Good. Good." Robeles muttered. His voice was remarkably strong, and although he lay pale and weak, near death, his eyes were afire. "Listen to me this last time, Father, Liban, and, and ..."

"Victor, Senor Robeles. Victor Santos" The old lawyer turned sharply to look at the young man as he spoke. It was as if some sacrilege had occurred.

"Yes, Victor, of course. Now all of you listen to me. I will make my confession to Father Riaz and give you my final instructions all at once. I may not have time even for that, much less one thing at a time. I must tell you a story, a story I prayed I would see finished save the Grace of God Almighty. This is not to be. The finishing of my life's greatest task will fall to you, my trusted counsel. The redemption of my immortal soul will depend on the efforts of our good Father Riaz, and perhaps the gratitude of a forgiving God."

"Twenty two years ago I provided Tillotson with the scrolls that led him to the tomb. After he found it, I caused him to be murdered. I retrieved a sample of tissue from that sacred body, then I caused the destruction of the body and the tomb. I ordered the deaths of the Hindu Kush soldiers by nerve gas."

"I had our GenenTeknic bioengineering labs clone the sample right in Sao Paulo. They didn't know what they were working with or what it would mean to the world. At the same time I purchased an island from the Brazilian Government, a tiny place off the coast of Amapa and transformed it into a fish bowl of peasant living, a place where the Child might have an opportunity to grow to manhood without the distractions of the world at large."

"I had a control center built within the rocks at the north end of the island, Paraneho, and I staffed it with security people, rotating to the mainland now and again. They had no idea what they were guarding, only that they were to prevent any landing there, prevent any contact with the world. Concealed closed circuit cameras monitor all areas of the island."

"The island appears on no map I have ever seen. The local fishermen know about it, but have long since forgotten. It is too far from the coast to be a hazard to navigation -- no shipping lanes pass by it -- and too small to represent any value in respect to land. I have never visited the place, but I have been able to observe developments there by means of videotapes they have sent to me."

"I selected a married couple from the mainland, Jose and Maria, ironically enough to play the role of father and mother. Maria was impregnated with the cloned embryo and gave birth to a robust, healthy full term boy. That child has now grown to be a healthy young man of about eighteen years. He lives on that island in a manner which is entirely consistent with a young peasant man of the region."

"That child is Jesus Christ."

The Father's face, already ghostly pale, dropped to the stark white of sheer terror. He began to speak, but Bersannos glared at him. There was not time enough for histrionics.

The man in the bed continued. "That couple took my surname for the duration of their contracts with me. Counsel, they are to be paid fifteen million dollars each no matter what happens, do you understand?"

"Also on the island were another couple, Prospero and Juanita Gemarra. They had two children before Prospero died. Juanita is mother to her daughter, Victoria, age sixteen, and her son, Juan, age twenty or twenty-one. Juan was born literally as the Gemarra'sGemarra family the same as Jesus' parents. Further, you will pay Juanita Gemarra additionally the share Prospero would have received had he lived."

"It is my dream that Jesus will go forth and preach His new Gospel to the world when He reaches the age of thirty. On His thirtieth birthday a sealed canister will open in the security bunker. In it will be all useful information about His identity and His beginnings. The security force, whomever they may be by that time, will be responsible for presenting this information to Him and assisting Him in every way that He may begin His ministry."

"Should the island face an imminent threat beyond the scope of the security force, there are instructions to open the canister and proceed with these instructions immediately, placing the safety of Jesus in the highest priority."

The pale old man seemed to hesitate a moment. After resting, he raised his arm, alarmingly thin, to point weakly at the chest near his head board. "In the top drawer is a radio transponder which will allow you to approach the island without eliciting an armed response. Take it, Counselor. Guard it closely. It is the only one of its type."

Looking back at the assembly of men around his bed, he continued. "I bequeath one billion dollars to my Church with the proviso that it remain in this country. I bequeath one billion dollars to be distributed to all my direct employees, prorated against their salaries at the time of my death. All the remainder of my estate, which will be many billions of dollars, is to be placed in an irrevocable trust fund in favor of Jesus Robeles."

Once again the old man paused. Reaching for the sleeve of young Victor Santos he pulled ever so faintly until the attorney was almost face to face with him. "That trust fund will most likely be your life's work. Do you have any thought that you wish not to do this thing for me?" He coughed with the unmistakable rattle of one near death.

Victor Santos had been trying to regain his composure since these revelations had begun. He peered into the eyes of Senor Robeles and answered truthfully, "I will carry out your wish My Senor. If it takes my lifetime, I will see it done!"

Liban Bersannos leaned in close to the ear of the younger man, whispering something, then quickly withdrew. Victor Santos turned to the head of the legal division as if seeking an unspoken confirmation.

Then he knelt by the side of the bed and kissed the ring on the old man's hand. Robeles motioned his old counsel to assist. Bersannos pulled the four carat diamond off the old man and placed it on Santos' third finger. Robeles smiled as he seemed to drift back into an uneasy slumber.

Senor Vincente Robeles said no more in his lifetime. He received absolution for his sins and Extreme Unction. He passed before the first light of dawn and was buried quietly in the plot behind the castle with his wife.

Counselor Liban Bersannos died that fall on another rainy night. Father Riaz never quite recovered from Robeles' tale. He was sent by the Archdiocese into residency at the Monastery of St. Engulpius in the mountains west of Sao Paulo.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chapter 16


The keel and most of the ribs were assembled. The remaining ribs lay in the clearing in various states of completion. The two worked silently, boring holes and doweling the next rib into place. At nineteen years, Jesus still had a good natured deference to Juan's two year's seniority. Juan was a sort to whom this respect meant nothing. The two had been shoulder to shoulder since birth.

Jesus was short and dark. His long curly black hair fell in rivulets over his broad shoulders. Both he and Juan worked hard on the island, even more since Juan's father, Prospero, had passed away. Healthy innocents, they were just as at home casting the nets or in the fields. Neither one thought anything of running the five miles back to the settlement after a long night of fishing, eating a simple breakfast of tortillas and beans, then helping with the plowing all day.

Life on the island was hard, but it was healthy. Everyone worked while there was light and slept when it was dark. Juan and Jesus were evidence enough of the virtue of simple living. They were both good natured, handsome and strong.

"Jesus, have you learned enough to build a boat by yourself? When we're through with this one, we should make another so we can spread the net across." Juan spoke over his shoulder as he strained to align the rib.

Jesus laughed. "Let's make this one first. I never thought such a small boat could take so much work. I respect your father so much for having been a carpenter. He made all this look easy."

"Yes. Doing this work makes me miss him. Even salvaging parts from the old boat makes me think of him. I can see him fishing with Jose -- I can even see them all coming here."

"Juan, living in a place like this makes Me think that your father is still around. It is almost as if I expect to see him coming down the path to help with this carpentry."

"It will be good to replace the old raft. That thing could break up in a big wave. With Your father fishing from it, it could be a great loss. Anyway, even though father is gone, You can still learn all the secrets he taught me." Juan's strong arms relaxed with the dowel in place. "Now tap that in with the mallet while I hold it in line. Try to not split it." Looking up he added, "I wish I had paid better attention when he was showing me how to do things."

Jesus tapped in the dowel, speaking without looking at the older boy. "Of everything I have learned to do in my life, working with wood this way seems to interest me the most. It almost seems as if I have done something like this before. Of course, I haven't."

"Maybe you're just a natural carpenter. Did you ever think of that? There's nothing wrong with being a carpenter." Juan speculated. "Perhaps we could earn wages on the mainland doing carpentry work. It's just a thought."

Juan went on. "My father only had these four tools, but he told me there are others. The carpenters on the mainland use more than four tools. If you were going to be a carpenter, you might want to learn about the other tools. Maybe we can take this boat to the the mainland someday and learn more from the carpenters there, even though we wouldn't have money to buy tools, we could at least watch them while they did their work." Juan spoke with a far away look when he talked about the mainland.

"My father said that the boat would never be big enough to go to the mainland. He said it was thirty or forty miles away and that we could be lost at sea." Jesus answered. Looking into the troubled eyes of his friend, "I know what you're interested in and its not tools. My dad told me not to worry about girls. He told me he had a plan for that when it was time."

Juan looked miserable. "It'll have to be a better plan than anything I can think of. You and I wouldn't have much chance with girls even if we could get to the mainland. We're so poor that the postal boat doesn't even come any more. It hasn't come for three years since it brought that letter to Juanita."

Jesus smiled mischievously. "I'm going to go swimming in the surf. Since you stink so bad, you ought to go too! We can leave the tools here and gather them up on our way back. After we're sure this boat works well, we'll build a really big one. We'll see the mainland someday, even Amapa, if we can find it!"

The older boy began to laugh, tripping Jesus with a quickly placed foot. Then he slapped the younger boy over the head with a good natured pat. The trip to the beach was a running wrestling match through the jungle.

When they finished their project, Jose said the boat was very well made, but just for fishing close to the island. It was not at all suited for a trip to the mainland.