Authors: Bowen Greenwood
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
Copyright 2015 by Bowen Greenwood
Cover art by KPGS Design
Edited by Sherrie Dolby-Arnoldy
All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
Jerusalem. The power of human longing for truth flowed through her veins. Millennia of mystery slept beneath her streets. The Romans, the Muslims, the Crusaders and more left their mark here. Three of the world’s major religions lived and breathed in the ancient holy city, and Siobhan McLane felt their power tempting her like a siren.
She crawled on all fours in a cave, patiently prying secrets loose from the dust of centuries. She dropped the point of an old, hand-held pick into the dirt about a foot in front of her, and then dragged it back towards her. She set the pick down, traded it for a trowel, and sifted the loosened soil. Most of it she allowed to fall into a black, cracked plastic bucket. But every now and then, something went into a second, lighter-colored bucket. Something that was not dirt.
A “find” was the term archaeologists used to describe the artifacts of human civilization they plucked out of the earth. Most finds were pottery shards or old bones of food animals, but some were more significant. Some finds could change history.
The chamber in which Siobhan dug was really more like a wide point in a tunnel. Either end was open, leading to other areas of the dig. To one side lurked a dangerous steep drop off where archaeologists had penetrated much deeper. The ruins were of an ancient mosque. The deep hole descended all the way down to what had probably been the basement. Siobhan, on the other hand, was digging in what had probably been either the roof or perhaps an exterior ledge or balcony.
She avoided the hole. Being too near that steep 30-foot drop made her feet itch inside her boots. To her, the rope fence at hip height didn’t seem like much protection. Instead, she dug on the opposite side of the chamber.
Siobhan’s shoulder-length red hair emerged as a pony tail from the vent hole of an adjustable ball cap. Her white t-shirt advertised the archaeological dig program in which she participated. Her baggy tan cargo pants bulged at every pocket with flashlights, multi-tools, water bottles, and the myriad of useful detritus a person might need while crawling underground in a desert country.
Her pick dropped lightly into the dirt one more time. As she dragged it back to dig a slight cut into the dirt, she hit something that wouldn’t move.
She didn’t immediately take it seriously. If she let her imagination run wild every time she hit something the pick didn’t break, she’d have been an emotional wreck far earlier in the day. However, she did feel a slight quickening of her pulse. As she used the pick to dig another cut, it was more challenging to be gentle and patient.
She paused and set the pick down to collect herself and wipe the sweat off her brow. In her right back pocket she carried a kind of talisman, and she patted that pocket. When she returned to digging, her strokes with the pick fell just as lightly as they ever had, if not more.
Soon, it became apparent she discovered something more than a mere find. She was no longer excavating pottery shards and goat bones. As she unearthed more and more, it became obvious this was a wall — a part of the ruined building.
Now, Siobhan let herself grow excited. She, a mere civilian volunteer, had helped uncover the boundaries of a mosque from the Byzantine era — from the very days when Muhammad had been creating Islam.
Over the course of centuries, myriad cultures had conquered and controlled Jerusalem. One might find a Crusader church built amid houses from the Roman Empire, or a synagogue could have a mosque built on its collapsed foundation.
Between her time in academia and the guided tour she’d taken earlier this week, Siobhan had learned a great deal about Jerusalem and its history. As she dug, the wealth of tales floated in the back of her mind. She kept pushing and brushing the dirt, wanting to see more. When the real, professional archaeologists came back, they would be excited as well.
Siobhan wasn’t a regular worker here. She arrived in the country as a tourist from America then joined a program that gave tourists an opportunity to participate in real archeology. She remembered her supervisor, Zach Reiter, as a consummate professional who beamed with delight when he discovered he was getting help; he assigned her to this area and had then left her alone, going on about his main work.
He might take it away from her when he learned what she’d come across. The academics might prefer to have charge of something like this rather than let an untrained amateur work on it.
She sighed. Untrained amateur. The words burned.
Then something new emerged from the dirt to distract her from the thought. Her eyes locked on it at once, certain of its significance.
The wall she’d been excavating had a carved inscription on it.
Obviously, not English. From a semester of half-remembered college Hebrew, she could tell it wasn’t that, either, and it didn’t look like Arabic.
As she brushed dirt away from the latest exposed portion of stone, she could see more and more of the chiseled lines and spaces that were obviously a language. Now, going slow became even harder. She had to focus on every move of her muscles to keep herself from swinging the pick like a madwoman, but she was determined to prove she could do this job.
She could have made an excellent archaeologist.
With gritted teeth, she once again dropped her pick into the dirt as lightly as a parent checking a child’s loose tooth.
At any moment, Reiter could come back to check on her. He might make her stop digging. He might replace her with someone who actually had an advanced degree. Desperately, every muscle in her body ached to hurry. She wanted so badly to know what this was. She wanted to be the one who made the discovery.
Sweat poured off her head and fell into the dirt with huge, heavy drops. Willpower kept her from swinging the pick too hard, but when it came to sorting any minor finds that was too much to ask. She no longer placed her pottery shards and animal bones into the finds bucket. She wasn’t even doing much of a job gathering her dirt into a bucket to be carried out. Siobhan just wanted to see the whole inscription.
“What have you found?”
The halfway-shouted question jerked her attention up to see middle-aged, curly-haired Reiter. She nearly panicked at his presence, afraid he was going to make her stop and assign someone more experienced to this find. She calmed down when he simply fell to his knees beside her and joined her in the digging. kneeling beside her, pushing away dirt with his bare hands.
Siobhan felt a small bit of satisfaction to see he wasn’t taking any more care than she was about pottery shards.
“Miss… McLane, wasn’t it?” the breathless man asked. “This is incredible! You should have called me sooner. This is historic.”
Hearing her discovery validated by a professional split her face into a smile. Siobhan pulled her smartphone out of her pocket and snapped a picture of the writing. The flash temporarily blinded her.
Reiter shouted some words in Hebrew over his shoulder. Siobhan understood a few of them, but it was easy enough to guess the meaning by tone. Almost at once, two other staff members from the dig entered the low room, ducking their heads to avoid the very low entrance carved out of stone. One didn’t need instructions. Seeing the inscription, he, too, went to his knees beside the wall and began pushing away dirt.
But the second…
Reiter called to him.
“Umar, it’s not Aramaic or Hebrew. Do you recognize this language? Can you read it?”
Siobhan looked over her shoulder at the man. She wanted to know what it said as badly as anyone else, so she eagerly directed her eyes at the named archaeologist. Instead of hearing him read the words that were carved on the wall, she heard words that didn’t seem to make sense. But what she heard wasn’t as surprising as what she saw.
The dark-haired man held a gun in his right hand.
“I was afraid of this,” he said. “I was right to be here myself.”
His square jaw tightened as he looked at the words on the uncovered ruins. He wore a short sleeved shirt, and Siobhan saw the muscles in his arms tense as he held the weapon.
She found herself breathless, feeling panic rise in her mind.
“He… he’s… he’s got…”
The archaeologist still hadn’t looked back from his digging.
“What do you mean, Umar? What does it say? Can you read it?”
Umar pulled the trigger and shot Reiter in the head.
The sound of the gunshot boomed painfully loud in the cavern. Siobhan’s ears rang so loudly she couldn’t hear anything else.
Screaming, she scrambled away from Umar. The squared-off black pistol smoked in his hand. He turned it on the other staffer and pulled the trigger. Like Reiter, he screamed and fell face down in the dirt. Blood flowed from his body, blackening the dirt around the wall they had been excavating.
Balancing her fear of Umar with her fear of the steep drop to her right, Siobhan reached the rear exit of the chamber where the ceiling dropped dramatically lower. The pistol barked a third time. Stone chipped off in front of her face, and she screamed again. In a kind of reverse crab walk, she made her way down the tunnel until she reached an area where the ceiling climbed at least a little higher. She rose to her feet, but there wasn’t room to stand; still, doubled over made for more mobility than crab-walking.
With tears streaming down her face, she hurried toward one of the two exits from the underground city they were excavating. The main exit would come up not far from an apartment complex in the thriving world of modern Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the mad archaeologist with the pistol was in that direction. Siobhan fled the opposite way, towards the back entrance they had shown her when she signed up for the dig.
Stooped over, she raced through a half-excavated room lined with plastic buckets and unused picks and trowels. The only light came from a work lamp hung by its cord from a wood stick driven into the ground. Behind her, she heard angry shouting and footsteps. The madman followed her.
In ancient times, a king named Hezekiah had dug a tunnel to bring Jerusalem’s water source inside the city walls. It still ran with water, varying in depth from a few inches up to about a meter. Tourists loved it.
Into that tunnel, Siobhan leapt from the rear entrance to her dig site. She splashed into water up to her waist. So much for her waterproof boots.
Far worse, though, was the complete lack of any light. Blackness darker than night enveloped her. Hyperventilation came on in earnest. She couldn’t see anything. She couldn’t even see the door from which she had just exited the dig. She found no means of telling which way was out.
From behind came a shout… a language she didn’t understand. The voice almost sounded like it was giving instructions to others, but that couldn’t be. She and Umar were the last ones down here from the dig workers. There was no one else. Yet, the sound of that voice called her back to reality. She put out her hands and found the cold wet stones that made the wall of Hezekiah’s tunnel. With no idea which way she was going, Siobhan splashed forward through the water.
At first, progress came slowly as she felt her way forward, but then a splash behind her told her her pursuer was hard on her trail. She slogged faster through the water and breathed a sigh of relief as the depth began to recede. Soon, it reached only knee deep, then calf deep. Her flight grew in speed, and Siobhan began to hope she would escape the murderous rampage.
Her head smacked the ceiling so hard she saw stars.
She cried out in pain, hands going to the place on her forehead where the ball cap had barely kept her from bleeding. Tears streamed down her cheeks from the pain, and the artificial fireworks behind her eyes were the brightest lights she’d seen since she entered the tunnel.
Too late, she remembered Hezekiah’s tunnel had a ceiling of variable height.
The crazy person pursuing her fell silent after she cried out. She heard the sounds of a man walking through water, but his shouts had ceased. With a hunted animal’s instinct for danger, she knew that couldn’t be good. Still smarting from the blow, she made her way forward again.
What happened back at the dig? Why had that man suddenly gone berserk and started killing people? Except for the obvious terrorism incidents, Israel generally didn’t have workplace mass shootings like they did in the U.S. so why had the staffer at the dig suddenly pulled a gun and started murdering people?
She hadn’t gotten to know Umar at all. She’d only volunteered at the dig for one day. He hadn’t showed any signs of being dangerous when she shook his hand. He seemed annoyed at having to put up with the amateur interloper but not annoyed enough to murder his supervisor.
Behind her, an angry cry told her the psychopath discovered the same low ceiling she had. How had he caught up so quickly? With renewed energy, she splashed through the water blindly. Now, she held one hand on the side wall and one forward of her at head height, hoping to catch any more sudden reductions in ceiling height.
The tunnel took a sharp, 90-degree turn. Siobhan avoided smacking her nose into the wet wall only because of her outstretched hand. Her breath came in ragged gasps from the exertion, and her lungs felt like they were on fire. She’d lost track of how long she’d been running. Her thoroughly-flooded boots squelched with every step, and her thigh muscles burned from moving fast for so long while crouching low to avoid occasional low points in the tunnel.
Ahead of her, she thought she caught a glimpse of light. Her heart cried out for it. Subconsciously, she tapped her back pocket. Where a moment ago she thought her muscles had nothing left to give, now she picked up the pace. Light might mean the end of the tunnel. It might mean people. It might mean police and safety.
She navigated a few more bends in the tunnel but then it was clear: there really was light. Crying with relief, Siobhan ran for the exit. With the newfound illumination, she could see the ceiling was nowhere near her head anymore, and she had less fear of moving fast.
She still wore her skirt suit from work: gray with a subdued floral pattern and thin lapels. Her dark hair was still up in a bun; there had been no time to even undo the band.
She sat on her sofa holding the small, glossy, rectangular piece of paper in her hand. Her eyes stared straight at it, but her mind was no longer seeing it. Her mouth hung slightly open, and the pink of her tongue poked into view briefly when her lips dried out and she unconsciously licked them.
Over. From her early days as a specialist in disarming Hamas bombs through her rise to power, her entire career had just gone up in smoke.
Everything she worked for was over.
Maya Godwin headed up the Division for Countering Terror at the Israel Security Agency. Known more popularly as the Shin Bet or Shabak, her organization existed to prevent terrorism inside the borders of the state of Israel. Their better-known colleagues at The Mossad took the fight to their enemies outside their own country. However, within the Jewish state, Shin Bet was the front line against terror.
They were a proud team of dark knights, fighting in secret so their friends and neighbors could live free. It wasn’t an easy job, and it wasn’t a clean one, but it was necessary if Israel was not to be wiped off the map.
Godwin wasn’t always popular with her coworkers, but it was a cost she had been willing to pay to advance. She grew from a simple demolitions expert in the field to a bureau chief and beyond that to her current position. Heading up a division was a significant responsibility. Hers was actually one of the names bandied about in the Political-Security Cabinet for the next Director. It seemed too much to hope for. However, if she actually got that job, she could create lasting change.
Unfortunately, politics ruled the selection process. The right party had to be in power. She had to look good to the right people. Because that she valued that so highly, Maya developed the habit of fiercely defending her reputation. She fired agents who made her look bad in front of members of the Knesset. She could still remember the look on one man’s face as she ended his career in order to maintain her reputation with the politicians.
The words echoed painfully in her ears:
maintain her reputation with the politicians
All over now.
When she returned to her building from work earlier today, she discovered an envelope sitting on her kitchen table: cream vellum with black ink alone on a sea of polished teak. How someone left it there was beyond her. She had security systems in place. She had to. She was a Division Director in a major intelligence agency; keeping secure was part of her job.
Someone came in to leave her the envelope. How they accomplished that was going to be a concern, eventually.
More important was what was in the envelope.
It was the reason she sat on her couch semi-catatonic, holding the square of glossy paper and staring at it.
It was a photograph.
Her face. It was her much younger face, remembered from her college days. Behind her, there was a bunch of partying twenty-somethings. In front of her…
In front of her face in the picture were a mirror, a razor blade, and a line of white powder.
She remembered the party. Vaguely.
It was one time; she was a stupid child trying to impress the wrong man.
But would the members of the Knesset appreciate that? Doubtful. She was looking at the end of her intelligence career.
No one would break into her apartment and leave an incriminating photograph without an accompanying list of blackmail demands. She hadn’t seen them yet; the envelope held nothing but the picture, but she knew they were out there, just waiting for the worst possible moment.
She was one of the highest ranked managers in Israeli intelligence, with a shot at being the highest, and now someone criminal had blackmail material on her. It was a serious danger to her country and her people, but Godwin’s thoughts were all on her career.
It was over.