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Part XIII: The Battle of Great Zimbabwe
Jan van der Hoek received a hurried call from the girl that she had been pulled over and that was the last they heard from her. He had his own GPS based tracking monitor for the chip. They had apparently stopped for a break in Musina.
Jan had taken over from the former leader of the original group that the old Prince had formed. He had never dealt with the son but with the war in Angola long over, Mugabe in what he still preferred to think of as Rhodesia and the ANC in power in his native South Africa, he was glad for the work.
In a way there were still many opportunities for a man in his profession. But personally escorting the kids of rich Afrikaaners to school wasn't his cup of tea. He missed the old work. Nothing expressed his personality better, the hunt, the projection of power, the unleashing of violence, and transformation into the embodiment of Death. He had been richly rewarded for a job that was rewarding in itself.
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Part XII: The Lembas
Joop took the call from Katya in his car.
"Yes. Are you ready to travel? He is in the air over West Africa, bearing south. In a few hours we'll know the destination. Call from the airport in 2 hours. Good."
Prince Fredrick might be able to assist him. One of the many scandals of the previous Prince was that after he had founded the World Animal Fund, British mercenaries where hired as part of a high profile campaign to combat poaching and the ivory trade in Southern Africa. It was quite embarassing when the press exposed that these paramilitaries ended up taking over the smuggling in animal products while pretending to be bringing the poachers to justice. They were offically disbanded, but many found employment with the local tin-pot dictators and would not be hard to engage if the price was right. He would take the Prince up on his offer immediately.
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Part XI: New World
Within minutes of setting off the smoke canister, the Harrier slid in over the tops of the trees and set down in the field. The Persian had set the lightweight ladder against the side and was already at the level of the pilot when the canopy opened. The pilot removed the respirator and barked in an authoritative female voice, "If you ding this plane, we're both dead!" She finally discouraged his ardent kisses with a whack in the temple with the spare helmet. She tossed a g-suit to the tall man. "Let's go, I have to get this thing back to Spangdahlem by 0200! From there you'll be a Czech doctor taking a military flight to speak a UN refugee conference!" Soon they were lifting off, while the Persian hopefully pantomimed holding a telephone to his ear.
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Part X: Counter Measures
Katia understood she only had 15 minutes before the maid went back to work and noticed her key card was missing. The inn had just recently converted to the new system, as well as installing security cameras. Taking the card, which was basically a skeleton key to all the rooms was easy compared to stealing the uniform. She was confident that even if the desk clerk noticed her on the small monitor, her disguise would allay any suspicion.***
The adrenaline high was exquisite and her hand trembled as she opened the electronic lock of Matt's room. As soon as she shut the door she was acutely aware that anyone could approach the room unseen and there was no other exit. She took the first of the two tracking chips out of her pocket. She wore two layers of thin surgical gloves. She swiftly grabbed the suitcase out of the closet and opened it on the unmade bed. She laid a tube of adhesive and a small retracting exacto knife next to it. After making a small slit in the lining she coated the chip and carefully placed it so that there was no noticable smear on the fabric. Using her clean ring fingers, she pressed it in place so the adhesive would seal the opening.
A series of faint creaks became footsteps approaching from the hall. She took a deep breath to control the shockwaves of panic that coursed through her with every heartbeat. She closed the suitcase and returned it to the closet and began to make the bed. There was a sharp click and a gasp that escaped before she could stifle it. Even as a trickle of sweat ran over her collarbone, she heard the door across the hall close.
For the second chip she was considering his hiking boots, when she saw the phone. He must have just taken it out of the box to charge the battery. He had already fitted it into the leather case and the directions for activation were lying out next to it on the desk. Attaching the chip to the phone itself was out of the question. She removed the leather case and examined the inside. There was a fabric tag with the product number sewed into the seam that was more than half as wide as the case. She made a slit behind it with her knife, and was able to insert the chip. She then glued the label over the opening. She examined her work with satisfaction. The thin chip was barely noticable.
She peeled off the first layer of gloves and put them in the pocket of the uniform. Two minutes to spare. She rumpled the bed again, and checked one more time to make sure everything was in place before she slipped out.
He agreed to accept the call at a mobile number that would be untraceable. After the call the number would be immediately reassigned.
He rode in his limo with pleasant strains of classical music playing, drinking a bottle of mineral water after a board meeting of the Periwinkle Oil Company. While he had of course inherited all the right connections from his father, Prince Fredrick took pride in the fact that he had used them to even better effect. I fact many of his fathers programs, like the World Animal Fund, had been his own suggestion. In his later years his father came to rely on him even more, and it was a shame that he died without seeing the full fruit of their labor.
Prince Fredrick was also free of the scandals that plagued his father, the SS membership that his soldiering for the Netherlands didn't completely negate in public opinion, the aerospace bribery case, the extramarital affairs, and numerous other discretions. If he hadn't learned moral rectitude from his father's example, he at least learned to be discrete about his vices.
Years of preparation had created the model of the kind of society that his father had first described to him many years ago. A true secular world where people made their own choices. The important thing is that they felt free. Therefore, nothing should be restricted, not drugs, nor prostitution, not marriage or even the right to die when you wanted. He himself instructed the doctors to terminally sedate the old Prince when the cancer overwhelmed him. The state then becomes not a tyrannical parent, but a kind benefactor. Through his father's connections to the Global Roundtable and the Munich Working Group on Sustainability, the reforms had been gradually introduced one by one. Holland was now demonstrably one of the happiest places on the planet. Now the focus was on exporting the model to Europe and the world. The work they had been doing behind the scenes with the European Union and the globalization of the world's economies was finally picking up steam.
He listened to Joop's request with partial interest, until he mentioned the Jewish angle. What kind of Jews, religious Jews? If there was one thing his model of a perfect society did not harmonize with, it was religion. It was against all the things that make people happy in life and the sooner people got rid of these antiquated ideas the better. Perhaps this was a serious issue after all. What if there was some kind of religious revival going and causing problems for his different global initiatives? Best to play it safe. He assured Joop that he would get all the resources he needed.
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Part IX: Diaspora
She sat in front of the mirror, preparing to go out again. Katia was surprised at how calmly Joop relayed the news of Pieter's failure. He was happy to hear of her tentative contact. She managed to get introduced to the birthday boy, and distracted as he was they had a brief conversation.***
Her father is a pediatrician at Groningen Hospital. Her mother, a freelance graphic artist who had a early success in parlaying those talents into web design. Aside from her father's dietary obsessions, they never interfered with her life, growing up their casual parenting seemed to gradually become a withdrawal into their own interests. It seems she was expected to find her own pursuits. The problem was that life was so boring.
Everything her friends got so excited about, clubs, music, Dutch boys, all turned out to be hugely disappointing. She honestly couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about. Even sex drinking and drugs did little to make her existence more exciting. She had made an honest effort to enjoy all that life had to offer, and came up empty.
Then she met Joop at a party her mother dragged her to when she was doing a job for Europoort. At first he was only a little more intriguing than most, she gave him her number with a faint hope that something different would happen. It was most unexpected when it did. Joop made a proposal that she take a trip to England and deliver an package for him. The danger and excitement overwhelmed her jaded senses. Soon she began to crave every opportunity to wager her drab existence for the thrills that Joop's holidays provided.
This assignment was so promising because there was apparently no end in sight. Instead of another kidnapping, he tasked her with planting a GPS tracking device on one of the targets. But the stakes were higher now that one of them seemed to be involved with British Intelligence. Joop however had friends in high places as well. She knew it would be difficult to get close enough to plant the device. She had spied for Joop many times, but this was her first attempt at an undercover role. She had every reason to believe that it would be interesting.
The four of them walked from Tim's house along the posh section of Station Rd to the Old Town. Just where it turned into Aylesbury End they split up Tim ducked into the Charles Dickens. The Persian continued down Aylesbury, the tall man followed and alley through a parking lot that came out on London End and he doubled back then crossed the road. Matt made a similar maneouver in the opposite direction. They all finally converged on the Royal Saracen's Head. Then they cut through to a back door while Tim remained chatting with the landlord to see if anyone had followed them. The local pub owners all knew Tim and with the MI6 nearby, these antics were a frequent site and locals just would assume they were tradecraft trainees. From there they crossed to the White Hart, took a table in the corner with a good view of the door. After glancing at his mobile phone, Tim began the informal meeting.
"My contractors have been positioned for counter-surveillance. They tell me we weren't followed. Well done.
My good friend here has told me he plans to pursue the rest of the Hoshen stones. I will let him address this himself, but first a few logistical matters and an announcement of my own. I've arranged for each of you to have a satellite phone courtesy of one of my business partners. They are secured with my latest encryption technology, data enabled at close to broadband speed. Full keyboard, hi res color screen and a 3 gig camera with graphics upload. I recommend using the text messaging whenever possible, as it is the most secure. Which leads to the next matter. I've been contacted by some of my former colleagues, some of which are now customers. They've found out I'm harboring a notorious international antique book thief, and even worse, this criminal has made a Dutch crime kingpin unhappy. This is no doubt the source of the recent attack. Even more troubling, my sources say this person has powerful international connections, both official and illict. And frankly they are quite annoyed with me for getting involved and even more so for not explaining why. Therefore as a law abiding citizen of the Crown and responsible business man, my overt involvement in this affair must come to an end. Of course I will continue to help in what ever way I can behind the scenes."
He turned to the tall man who made eye contact with everyone assembled before speaking.
"Let me first say thank you for your invaluable assistance my friend. Without it we should certainly be dead or in jail. And Matt I am greatful for your help and that of your parents. We've roped you into something that has turned out more dangerous than planned. Would you still consider taking the safe route and opting out?"
Matt laughed and shook his head.
"Well I can't say I'm sorry. But it's important for you to know that you are free to opt out of this adventure whenever you wish. I can't even share with you why the stones are important, because I'm not sure myself. It's too early for any speculation, but I strongly suspect that these jewels not only have an enormous significance for the destiny of the Jewish people, but for the rest of humanity as well.
The situation is this. There are several possible leads for the rest of the stones, but as you could guess, they are likely to be scattered across the globe. Based on the She'erit Yisrael and some letters from Menasseh of Carjaval, it is clear that one trail leads to the new world. A group of Conversos who immigrated from Portugal to Brazil were in constant contact with ben Israel, they even offered him a job. When the Dutch briefly conquered Brazil, they began again to live openly as Jews, only to have to flee when the Portuguese gained ascendancy again. Having been turned away from Jamaica and Cuba, they sailed for New Amsterdam. The governor Peter Stuyvesant wanted to expel them, but his employer, The Dutch West India Company, had some Jewish stockholders in Holland who intervened on their behalf. When the city fell into British hands, Menasseh's mission to England ensured it would be more friendly to the Jews than it's namesake.
The Persian and I will go there first because I believe it is one of the more likely places one of the stones ended up. But I will need you Matt to follow a different route. There is another Dutch colony where Menasseh was in touch with Jews that holds a strong possibility that for the destination of one of the stones. The clue was a mention of a people called the Lembas that claim to be a lost Tribe of Israel. They are obviously native Africans and no one took them seriously until recently a Jewish South Africa scientist proved that they carry a distinctive marker gene that belongs only to the priests of Israel, the cohanim. The daughter of that scientist is a good friend. She has volunteered to assist you. She is in Israel now, but has agreed to return to her homeland for the duration of this part of the quest. Not only will you find she has no fear of danger and mayhem, but she seems to thrive on it. You should plan on taking the first flight available to Johannesburg. She will keep her identity a secret, but you will know her by an old nickname I gave her, Shaka Cohen."
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Part VIII: ha-Choshen
The first order of business to calm Dave's fiancee down, who was now quite distraught. First she was assured that althought it was understandable that she thought Dave's temper might get him killed someday, he had quite possibly saved two lives with his timely intervention. As far as her concern that she would lose her job, Matt was quite confident that she would find tending bar at the bookstore's corporate functions much more pleasant and lucrative. Finally Dave himself promised that he felt fine and the cosh only grazed him. Truthfully he had a dreadful headache, but the Persian had been thumped far worse from behind as he passed the utility room. The tall man on the other hand was stopped at gunpoint, gagged and had his hands bound behind his back with zip restraints.
Tim explained that the attackers were a neo-Nazi gang from the continent, and that their discretion was needed not to compromise a British intelligence operation. The tall man thanked them both warmly and wished them the best of luck. They would later receive an exquisite antique menorah for a wedding present with no card attached.
"They were very professional, not to pull the gun when attacked. And they have been following us the whole time" Tim said, after his limo had dropped the couple off at home.
Matt was still trying to process the events of the evening. Tim had insisted that they stay at his home. It was out-fitted with a state of the art security system and the contractors he hired to protect him out of the county had sent two former SAS men to watch around the clock. Now that Matt felt the threat subside, shock set in. He had already had a vivid flashback of the fight that caused him to break out in a sweat. The other unsettling thing was the disembodied sensation he had as he parried and struck the driver. He had received a year's worth of Krav Magen lessons from Uncle Allen for his bar mitzvah. He went faithfully but never thought it would ever work in a real life situation.
It this way something based on what seemed to be equal parts adrenaline and luck had earned him entrance into a circle of men who like himself seemed outwardly civilized yet in extreme conditions were capable of absorbing and giving out rough treatment. Part of him was still sickened by the memory of the sound his elbow made when it impacted the driver's skull. The net effect of all of this was to make him feel very alien to himself.
"Some birthday, eh Matt?"
Tim clapped him on the shoulder. "If you don't get some sleep you'll be rubbish tomorrow. And we need your support at the museum."
Matt nodded and slumped of to crash for 14 hours in one of the guest rooms.
* * *
"Perhaps I could be of more assistance if I better understood exactly what you you gentlemen are looking for among Senhor Carvajal's collection." purred the exquisitely (if primly) dressed curator of the British Museum of Jewish History, Ms RC Nieujoux.
"Ah, well you see, that's the rub." countered Tim, "We know that something valuable, most likely information was passed from Menasseh ben Israel to Carvajal, but we are not quite sure what.." They had been assured by Ms Nieujoux that the conversation would be confidential, and it was in her best interests to stay on the good side of patrons like Matt's parents. Still, they told her as little as possible.
"Well as you can see, the catalog of Senhor Carvajal's items is quite extensive" As she passed the document to him, Matt realized with a start he had be wondering what Ms Nieujoux would look like without the glasses and her hair let down from the austere bun. To make matters worse she seemed to acknowledge his attention with a faint smile and puckish arch of an eyebrow.
The size of the catalog was daunting even after dividing the labor by language. And the division wasn't equitable, Tim's load was lighter because he spoke only English and a little Latin. He also had the part of the list that included personal artifacts like artwork and mementos When they finally took a break at tea-time they were red eyed and discouraged.
"Will you be back tomorrow then?" said Ms. Nieujoux as she gave Matt a surreptitious wink.
"I'm afraid so." replied Tim, "Oh, and by the way, I couldn't help noticing that some of the personal effects were missing from the catalog.
"Ah, yes I forgot to mention some are on display in the museum. There was a wonderful painting from the El Greco school by a fellow Converso that is on loan. And on your way out don't forget to see the exquisite ha-Hoshen..."
Within seconds they were staring at a perfect replica of the breastplate.
"How do we know which one it is? Or could they all be real?" Matt whispered.
"At least one of them isn't." observed the Persian.
"It's the beryl that says 'Dan'" said the tall man.
They stared at him until he felt compelled to explain.
"The only two that are in the correct position with the name of the correct tribe are the emerald that we already have, and the beryl. If you like you can prove it with a sample of the vanish that covers the dye used to highlight the incribed letters. It's was made exclusively by boiling the shells of an Egyptian beetle. I had it tested and they should match. But I'm 99% sure it's the beryl."
"Right" said Tim. "Oh Ms Nieujoux, may we have a word with you?"
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Part VII: Towers of London
"Is that him?" ***
Joop looked at the fuzzy video capture next to the artist's rendition on the Interpol All Points Bulletin.
"Yah, he shaved the beard the second time I followed them, but it's him"
"Thank you Joop. See my secretary on the way out and she will take care of the bonus we agreed upon."
Soon the police would be squeezing him for leads. They would never admit it, but part of his cozy relationship with Dutch law enforcement was based on keeping troublemakers in check, whether they were foreign cartels or odd cases like this. And of course this character was much more of a threat than he first suspected. Jewels, antique books and who knows what else.
He needed to put together a team quickly. They had to be able to operate independently in the UK without being conspicuous. Pieter spoke English passably well and had contacts in the East End for the muscle and hardware he would need. But without knowing what kind of support these two had there, he needed better intelligence. Katia was good at that in her own way, but he hated dealing with her. She was hard to control and tempermental. There was something about her that was just...not right. But if planned properly this could be settled in a matter of days.
They decided to risk the flight to Heathrow.
They hurried out of the airport and survived the ordeal of carrying luggage through the Monday morning commute on the trains to London and the Tube to Piccadilly Circus.
The tall man had contacted Tim Cornwall, who he had worked for years before. Tim was the founder and CEO of an internet security start up. He had located the headquarters in a quaint village north of London called Beaconsfield where he lived. The town was also the location of a military language school, and a training center for the British intelligence service MI6, which was Tim's previous employer. He had been an instructor for new recruits in cryptography for twenty years before retiring and striking off on his own venture with the blessing of Her Majesty's Secret Service.
As a man of some means and influence, Tim would have liked to send a car for them, but their schedule didn't allow him time to make the arrangements. He had been briefed by the tall man, who until recently had run his US sales operation. They used a secure internet connection based on the companies technology. He was concerned that they may have already be in danger, Interpol was looking for a suspect in the theft of an old text in Hebrew.
Tim arranged to meet them at the Starbucks off of Piccadilly Circus, since it was the ultimate tourist magnet and they could blend right in. He arrived early and made sure he had a view of the entrance. He had had traing in basic tradecraft, but he was an instructor, not a field agent. And although he still had some conveniently placed friends, he was getting involved in something potentially risky with limited resources to fall back on.
After the two arrived, Tim got right down to business. A young aquaintance who he would refer to as "Mustang" had contacts at the British Museum of Jewish History. There was a fair amount of Carvajal's letters and writing that had been donated, as well as some other effects. "Mustang's" family had been generous benefactors to the museum, so a reasonable amount of cooperation was expected. They would meet at nearby Waterstone's that evening. He handed them a card with the aliases that would be on the guest list for a function on the top floor. He told them to leave together and he would stay to see if anyone was following them out. No one went out after them, but a woman waiting in line took out her cell phone and made a call.
Matt was of course looking forward to his birthday party, but this matter that Tim had gotten him involved with was all he could think about. His parents had given a vague blessing to what Tim had proposed, but Matt didn't really think they understood the import of this situation. And Matt wasn't inclined to enlighten them.
Matt of course got on well with his parents, but the independence of having your own flat was offset by working in the family business. Even when you insist on starting from the ground floor. Everyone he worked with knew who he was, and considering he was the owner's son he was remarkably well liked, so much so that inviting the whole company to the party didn't present any problems. Tim decided it would be good cover for the meeting, they could duck into one of the small conference rooms for fifteen minutes and make the arrangements. The details that Tim had already shared were mind-boggling, but he was really a sucker for the whole coak and dagger aspect. It reminded him of his Uncle Allen's stories.
Matt made a point of doing as much mixing as possible early before Tim and his friends arrived so his absence wouldn't be missed later. He restricted himself to just a couple of pints. When they arrived, Tim was his affable self, the tall man was friendly and poised, if a bit quiet. He was clearly someone accustomed to playing his social role while having weightier things on his mind. Only the one Tim referred to as the Persian seemed somewhat tense and overly alert. He had picked a small office past the kitchen and freight elevator. Tim had suggested they slip out individually about 5 minutes apart. He knew the layout, he had run seminars and meetings there before, so he would go first.
It had only been about 3 minutes since he saw the tall man leave, as if heading towards the loo. He found the wait excruciating and decided to start heading toward the back of the building where they were all waiting. As he got past the lavatories he was startled to see Tim heading toward him.
"Where are they?"
"The Persian left about 10 minutes ago, and then the other one!"
Tim swore, then looked around and seemed to be straining to hear as well. There was some clatter of cleaning coming from the kitchen and the moaning of the freight elevator.
"Is this utility room supposed to be open?"
"No, it should have been locked"
A faint cry rose up the elevator shaft and they ran for the stairwell.
Dave was talking to his fiancee out back while she took a cigarette break. She was working extra hours at the pub to help pay for the wedding, and they didn't get as much time together as they would like. He had noticed some blokes coming out of the dock across the alley, two were holding up another between them who seemed to be pissed out of his head. They briefly glanced his way and after a quick discussion eased the drunk into the front seat carefully.
"Dave Ray, did you hear a thing I said about the centerpieces?"
"Uh, sure love, it's just something doesn't look right over there."
"They're having a party upstairs for Matt, his the one who comes round with the bookstore crowd, d'yer remember I told you I knew him from BZA camp?"
"Uh, yeah, nice chap..." Dave murmured absently.
After a few more minutes discussion of flowers and bride's maid's dresses, the door swung open again.
"Dave! Don't get involved!"
The second man was conscious but struggling and was shoved roughly in the back of the van. One of the pair gotin back with him and closed the doors. The other walked calmly up to Dave displaying open palms and a sheepish grin.
"Sorry to disturb you folks," he had a faint accent, "Our friends behaved badly at the party and we want to get them out before they really get into trouble..."
"Is that so?" Dave sneered, "Is that why you taped his mouth?" He tried to shove past him, but the man neatly sidestepped and swung a cosh at the back of Dave's head. He wasn't able to duck fast enough and it glanced off the top of his skull, setting off a Guy Fawkes celebration inside his head. He felt intolerably heavy and his knees buckled.
The door slammed open again, and two more figures appeared. The driver started to step out of the van but Dave's assailant barked an order and made a break for the passenger door. When he opened it a foot shot out and caught him in the chest. The Persian stumbled out, leaning against the van for support. Tim had the back of the van open and was soon rolling on the pavements with the thug who had been in back. Matt reached the Persian when he felt a rough hand grab the back of his collar. His torso then did a strange thing, executing a kind of twist that brought arm down on that of the driver's. As it pulled the driver's weight forward Matt continued a turn that brought his elbow into the man's temple. He collapsed and Matt grabbed the Persian. Dave's fiancee meanwhile had brought a dustbin lid down on the head of Tim's opponent, after twice battering Tim. After another garbled cry, the three thugs retreated into the van and it tore off after careening off a number of objects. Tim ralled his group and got them back into the building.
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Part VI: English Resettlement
"What do we do now?", the Persian inquired.
"I believe Menasseh ben Israel left us two trails to follow to recover the eleven remaining stones." declared the tall man.
They had shelter and anonymity in the crowded smoky working class bar.
"We know Menasseh had a special interest in England. He sent his associate and fellow Converso Antonio Carvajal ahead before the Jews were officially allowed in England, under the auspices of being converts to Catholicism, but it was well known they were still practicing the old faith. Carjaval won favor with Cromwell with profits from shipping and intelligence reports on Spain, Portugal and Holland. Carvajal made straight the way for Menassehs successful mission to convince Cromwell to allow the Jews back into England."
"Why England? Weren't they doing well enough in Holland?"
"An excellent question, my Persian paladin. We know that he thought England had a special destiny. He considered it "Angle-terre" or the end of the Earth, and it fit in with his belief that the Jews must settle everywhere to initiate the Messianic age. History proved him right as far as their dominant influence in the New World. It is almost like he had a kind of second sight."
"Like a prophet?"
"That might not be as farfetched as it first may appear. And we can't overlook his other obsession which I believe is somehow closely related. He also believed the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel must return before the appearance of the Messiah. I've done a bit more reading and discovered that he didn't spin his theory about the Native Americans being part of the Lost Tribes out of thin air. He had heard an amazing report from the New World from another Portuguese traveler who some historians think may have been a Converso under deep cover. Antonio Montizo had been exploring the Andes and claimed to find a tribe there who he was convinced were lost Israelites. He even reported them as reciting the She'ma. Which is an odd thing for a Catholic Portuguese to know, mind you...
Not only was ben Israel electrified by this report, but many Christians also caught the millennial fervor. Especially the Puritans in England. This is where Menasseh's two interests converge."
"So where do we go first?"
"Menasseh's agent's in the New World most likely went first to Brazil and then to Suriname. But don't know for sure yet who he would have trusted with the stone or stones. In England however, all signs point to Carvajal. So we go to England. We'll leave tomorrow morning."
As they left, a figure who had appeared to be passed out at his table, rose quickly and followed.
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Part V: Patroon
Joop Zalm hung up and looked out the window at the harbor. The sign on his richly appointed office identified him as a shipping agent. However he was also well known to local authorities for being the local kingpin of illicit trade.
Of course the police were in an awkward position regarding his business. Contrary to popular belief, drugs were still illegal in the Netherlands. The use of small quantities was decriminalized, but possession of all but the smallest amounts was still technically illegal. Although hash and mushroom shops were tolerated on the consumer end, there was still the problem of supply. Dutch law enforcement congratulated themselves on an enforcement policy that was was much different that the "John Wayne" approach of the US war on drugs. By not focusing resources on users and small time suppliers, they argued, they could be more effective in battling organized crime. Police were still averse to looking the other way when big drug cartels were involved. This is where Mynheer Zalm had positioned himself as an "independent local supplier". He actually did have an extensive network of marijuana and even psilocybin mushroom growers in Holland. But this was only part of his portfolio that included ecstasy, cocaine and heroin, as well as the smuggling of illegal immigrants and "sex workers" from Eastern Europe.
The subject of precious gems evoked some strong memories. His grandmother had worked as a diamond polisher before the War. He mother was born out of wedlock during the Occupation and there were rumors that the father wasn't Dutch. Although ostracized, she moved in with a kind British sergeant major who continued to support her and his mother after he returned to England. His mother Katia had been part of the Amsterdam hippie scene. His father was a Surinamese in the merchant marine. He lost touch with his father during Katia's career as a performer in The Walletjes. When he started in the business he re-established contact with his father and the connection to South America has proved to be very profitable.
He had at one point tried a new line of business. Imports of diamonds from certain African countries had been put on a restricted list because they were being used to finance some unsavory dictators. Where others saw vice, Mynheer Zalm saw opportunity. The war had destroyed the diamond trade in Amsterdam, but some of the Amsterdam Jews who has survived had set up shop in Antwerp, including the family that had formerly employed this grandmother. He had tried to establish a business relationship, but he was disappointed to find that contrary to what he had always heard, the scruples of the current head of the business outweighed their financial acumen. Irritation turned to fury when he discovered that this Jew had warned the rest of the tight knit community and he was effectively blackballed.
He wondered if these same Jews were trying to set up their own channel in his territory. If so they would be very sorry. Part of his success was also due to the fact he had been so effective at neutralizing the competition without creating messy situations that make the police so upset. Interlopers simply disappear, the only trace being some small token sent to the right people to warn of any future transgressions.
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Part IV: Unwanted Presence
"...Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions, the work of a skilled craftsman. Make it like the ephod: of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen..."
Piers Goos was roused from his hungover nap on the train by a voice reading aloud in a foreign language. It was probably English, but Piers didn't pay much attention in English class back in school. Or any class for that matter.
"...It is to be square-a span long and a span wide-and folded double..."
He sent a bleary glance across the aisle. One of the men could have been a Dutchman. He was holding a book with what looked like Jewish writing. Now the other one, he could be a Jew.
Piers didn't know much about Jews except that they drove the Dutch out of the diamond business in Amsterdam until the Nazis shipped them out to the concentration camps. It was also fun at Feyenoord matchs to call the other team Jews and sing songs about gassing them. He knew that made some people upset, but what can they say when everyone in the stands is doing it?
"...Then mount four rows of precious stones on it. In the first row there shall be a ruby, a topaz and a beryl..."
What's this now? Just as he was about to settle back in and try to doze off again despite the tall guy's droning, the Jew-looking one snuck a quick peek into a box he had been hiding in his coat. The light caught it just right. It was a big emerald. These guys were up to something.
...in the second an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond, in the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst...
That's when Piers came up with the idea of alerting the Boss. Not his official employer which was the Port of Rotterdam, but his more generous, if more demanding patron who had a monopoly of all the smuggling operations out of the port.
...in the fourth row a chrysolite, an onyx and a jasper. Mount them in gold filigree settings. There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.
When the two made their way off the train at their station, rather than continuing on to his night shift on the docks, Piers got off as well. He fell into step behind them just out of earshot and dialed a preset number on his Nokia.
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Part III: The Excavation
On the way over to the construction site, the tall man was using the Persian as a sounding board. He had decided at this point to tell his servant what he had learned so far and explain why he thought a further clue to the nature of the "inheritance" if not the thing in itself might be buried under the site of the synagogue on Boompjes.
He hoped understanding the life and ministry of Menasseh ben Israel would provide a clue to the mystery. Menasseh had had many interesting views for his time. He believed that for the Messiah to come, the Jews had to dwell in every country in the world. Historians credit this view for his "Apology for the Jews" where he tries to convince Cromwell to allow the Jews back into England. He based his thesis on the practical successes of the Jews in the countries in which they lived while arguing it was proof of Genesis 12:3, which states whoever blesses Israel will be blessed and who ever curses them will be cursed. Cromwell was swayed and the Jews were allowed back in. Menassah seemed to have a presentiment that the British would play a critical role in the future history of the Diaspora. He also believed that the Native Americans were a lost tribe of Israel and also advocated the emigration of the Jews to the New World.
It was a turbulent time for the Jews. Spinoza was spreading his heretical views in Amsterdam and was eventually excommunicated from the community. Shabbetai Zevi was making Messianic claims in the Ottoman Empire and many believed him. While Jews were settling peacefully in in Holland, the auto de fe was still claiming Conversos in Spain, Portugul and even in the new world. When the Dutch briefly wrested Brazil from Portugal, the Conversos returned to professing Judaism, and then had to flee when the Portugese re-conquered it.
Still there were encouraging signs that the climate in Protestant Europe was becoming slightly more accepting of the Jews. The emphasis on studying scripture as opposed to simply accepting dogma seemed to bring about a stronger sense of identification of some Gentiles with the Jews and Menasseh seemed poised to build closer ties. He was friends with Rembrandt, and had supporters like Sir Henry Finch in England who called for the restoration of the Jews to their homeland and believed they would create a mighty empire. Meanwhile Jews were introducing coffee to England,and sugar cane cultivation to the Caribbean. Conversos from Holland joined those fleeing the Portugese in Brazil to join a small community in New Amsterdam which the the British renamed (apparently coincidentally) for a community that had been well known for its significant Jewish community: York. Rhode Island had also become a haven in the new world.
As the Diaspora fanned out across Europe and the New World, it seemed almost to follow some esoteric timetable that Menasseh hinted at. Was this a Divine Plan that would usher in a Messianic Age that would reconcile Jews and gentiles? Or was it a ruse that hid some other activity or agenda?
The new construction was, like the cheaper edifice that preceded it, flush with the street. The synagogue had been set farther back with a courtyard in the front. So the part of the foundation that was under the Bimah was actually in what now was considered the parking lot in back. This allowed the Persian to place a storage shed over the excavation site that would allow them to work unobserved.
The difficult part was that they had to rely on their own muscle. Neither were strangers to manual work, but care had to be taken to pile the dirt carefully not to have it collapse back into the hole. When the excavation reached chest height the shovels rang on something hard and flat. After another hour of searching a lever like mechanism was discoved which seemed to have been at one time attached to a wooden extention that could be activated from the Bimah. The Persian began chipping and fiddling with a rusted complex of gears and ratchets without warning the tall man. After a loud metal shriek the tall man barely had time to jump clear.
A long metal case leaned upright against the wall of the enclosure. There was a corroded clasp without a lock, and inside were, as expecteded, the Torah scrolls. The tall man handed it to the Persian for closer inspection, and peered into the Jeremiah hole again. Reaching down he produced a small box, also unlocked. This was more heavily corroded, and required ten minutes of prying with a screwdriver before it popped free.
Inside was a large rectangular emerald about the size of a cufflink. Incised on the top facet were three Hebrew letters, resh, bet, and nun.
"Reuben", the tall man whispered.
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Part II: Remnant of Israel
The tall man found an empty carrel in a corner. He set down the tome he had taken out of the antique books section. His credentials had held up, and he was able to obtain the rare book for which he had come to Rotterdam. Scholars are familiar with Menachem Man Amelander's She'erit Yisrael in Yiddish. It is a sweeping history of the Diaspora from the destruction of the second Temple to the date it was published in 1743. What is not widely known is that text was the expurgated version of an earlier work in Hebrew. The key he sought was what was excised from the earlier text, which he now held in his hand.
Several hours after scanning the text he had found several encouraging references. Oddly they were in a crude cipher that was so simple to decode, he wondered if the purpose was to highlight the references, rather than conceal them. This also cause him concern that his treasure might already have been found, due to the provenance of the book. It had disappeared since the destruction of the small Rotterdam synagogue by the Nazis. A month earlier it had been discovered in a collection of books donated to the library by the estate of a bibliophile who was rumored to have collaborated with the Germans. One of his contacts had notified him of the find. The collection had included some older works with which that the curators were preoccupied so the time to act was now.
In the coded passages, different veiled references seemed to point to the same subject, but the tall man had no idea what it could be. Two in particular seemed significant: "the inheritance of ha-cohen ha-gadol" or the high priest, and "the burden of Aaron". The text never used the same reference or code word twice, although they all were related to some aspect of the Old Testament priesthood or Temple worship.
He had fifteen minutes of the three hours he was allowed remaining. He produced a small electronic device from the inside of his jacket and within seconds he had found 3 small RFID tags hidden in the binding of the book. Once they were removed he took a another book out of his back pack. Satisfied it was an acceptable copy of the real text, including the bar code, he inserted the tags into the copy and put the original in his back pack. Once he no longer needed it, he planned to send it to Israel, where he felt it belonged. Provided the person who would check the book back in didn't read Hebrew, he was home free.
As he strolled through the security gates without incident, he was considering his next move. What ever it was he was searching for the trail had ended in Spain. A passage he just read in She'erit confirmed his suspicion that it turned up in Holland. An interesting character by the name of Menasseh ben Israel fled Spain and several references tied him to the "inheritance" including one in Rotterdam where he passes it to a Portuguese rabbi by the name of de Pinto, who founded the now destroyed synagogue on the Maas. There was a typically oblique reference to the Binah and Ark. Due to the hostility of their ungentle gentile neighbors, many Diaspora synagogues were equipped with what for some reason was called a "Jeremiah hole". If the synagogue was attacked and burned, as happened many times in Jewish history, The Torah scrolls could be safely hidden in a fireproof chamber below the foundation. Because Rotterdam had had a Sephardic congregation it was most likely hidden below the Binah or lectern. That night they would visit the Persian's construction site to see if he was correct.
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Part I: Return to the Netherlands
The tramp freighter paused within sight of the Erasmus Bridge while it awaited permission to dock at at Rijnhaven. His servant had boarded with the pilot from Maasvlakte, thanks to a generous bribe. The Persian had suggested returning with the pilot's launch and making their way into the city from the container terminal, but his employer preferred to disembark closer to the city.
What the tall figure in the down vest and watchcap wouldn't admit to the Persian was that he couldn't resist seeing the city from the dawn mist of the harbor. The bridge appeared first like a spider's web. The outlines of the city emerging from the fog were hauntingly familiar
"This probably isn't how you pictured your triumphant return." The tall man smiled indulgently. The Persian was younger than him, and his father had been in the family's service before him. They were directly descended from the Sassanid warrior caste that composed the first armored cavalry in history. He was still at heart a Zartoshi knight.
"It's time we had a talk about that." The tall man said. "The rumor of my return has been useful in securing the assistance we need, and you remember my instructions not to be explict about that being our goal. We actually have a more important task, but discussing it now wouldn't be prudent."
The tall man regretted keeping the true purpose of his journey from his servant, but the Persian didn't require an explanation, and it would jeopardize both there lives and the mission itself if he knew.
"Do you have the ID?" The Persian passed him the identification card with his picture that would allow him access to the Erasmus University library as a professor from Maastricht. He had already memorized the legend that would hold up under casual scrutiny.
"How is your new job?", the tall man asked to pass the time as the ship headed for the dock.
"I don't mind the work. The Arabs hate me when they find out where I'm from and the Dutch are all football hooligans who chant "Gas the Jews" at Feyenoord games. Miserable bastards all!"
"Have you been able to convince your union contacts to assign you to the construction site we have in mind?"
"I'm working on it. It's not a big site, so the jobs are limited."
"Pity we didn't train you as a plumber when we had a chance" It was a private joke.
The mate that had hired the tall man as a ship hand and was also paid generously not to ask a lot of question had appeared on the deck. "It's best if we get you two off the ship right away."
(To be continued)
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The Return of the Man in Black: Part IV
A small tropical island in the South China Sea. Early evening.
The Inquisitor Essington Streck strides up the road to the villa.
He had landed his ship in a clearing in the jungle nearby.
His robes rustled as he strode the dusty road, his senses were ready for action.
The villa seemed devoid of life, no activity could be seen, nor people.
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On the Island
A cream-colored Rolls Royce pulls into the driveway of the cream-colored island mansion, and parks. Out steps a man in a finely tailored cream-colored suit. He looks up toward the balcony for a few moments, then out to the sea, his mind wandering…
“Hello Sir, a pleasant trip you had then, I hope?�? said the servant, removing the luggage from the trunk.
“Pleasant…? Well, business is business my friend, pleasant or not. Thank you, Geoffrey. Please leave them in my suite, I’ll unpack them myself.�?
“As you like, Sir. Shall I call for refreshments?�? Geoffrey asked, passing the keys to the house boy, who started the engine and moved the car into the garage.
The “man in cream�? had turned his gaze from the sea, and now stared intently toward the lush jungle, surrounding the estate.
“No, not just yet, thank you, Geoffrey.�? He said. She’s in there again, yes?�?
“Yes, Sir, almost 3 hours now…�?
“Thank you Geoffrey�? the man said, as he began towards the brush. He entered a narrow path, stepping over roots, bending under branches, his “cream colored�? suit becoming soiled as he went. It was dark at first. Streams of light between the tree branches shone through well enough to follow the path, once his eyes had adjusted.
Shortly he came to the spot. As usual. Target practice.
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The Return of the Man in Black: Part III
Earth, the present day.
A small bar somewhere in Hong Kong. The evening’s patrons are being treated to some good, old fashioned jazz. The band leader addresses the crowd.
"Thank you, thank you! You're a wonderful audience. Now, I don't usually do this...but we have a friend here tonight. Maybe with the proper encouragement we can get him up here for a song. Mr. Sons, would you come up here and grace us with your crooning?"
All eyes turn to the bar where a tall man in a black suit is enjoying a drink.
He's startled at the applause from the crowd. He feigns embarrassment.
"Now, Tommy, you know I can't sing." he says waving it off.
"Oh nonsense, sir!" replies the band leader. "Come on up here!"
The crowd cheers and begins pounding the tables rhythmically.
"Man in black, man in black!" they cheer.
The man shoots an accusatory look at the bartender. "This is your doing isn't it, Jimmy?"
Jimmy the bartender is all innocence. "Who me?" he grins.
"Sigh. All right, all right." He places his sword on the bar.
"You stay right there," he says to it. "And don't get into any trouble."
You could swear the sword began whistling a tuneless tune.
"Hmph. Smartass." he mutters.
He walks up the stage, grasping the old fashioned mike.
A brief consultation with the band, they all nod and smile. They know this song well.
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The Return of the Man in Black: Part II
Planet LG-54309, Cygnus system, the distant past.
The rebels are holed up in a commandeered Imperial fortress.
"They won’t dare a frontal assault, Morak." whispered a rebel to his leader.
"Our power field is at full, brother." replied Morak.
"They won’t bombard this base, but they are planning something."
They scan the darkened skies above. They know the Imperial forces are up there. Their ships circle slowly in the clouds, like sharks around a kill.
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The Return of the Man in Black Part I
The planet Altairius Prime, headquarters of the Grand Inquisition. A male choir can be heard chanting, it echoes throughout the towered fortress-monastery complex. A brown-robed functionary brother makes his way down the vaulted stone corridors to the offices of the Grand Inquisitor. He waited outside the immense wooden doors where two large power armored troopers stood like statues.
One of them turned and stated "His Holiness will grant you audience now, brother." As the functionary passed the guard hissed sotto voce "Keep it brief! He is in a foul mood today!"
"When is he not?" thought the brother, but quickly shooed the thought from his mind as unworthy. The inner chamber was dimly lit by glowglobes, a cloying incense assaulted his nostrils.
The brother entered and knelt on one knee, head bowed. He trembled. "I am standing less than a meter from the most dangerous man in the Empire." he thought.
"Arise, brother. And report." intoned the Grand Inquisitor.
"Your holiness...I bring distressing news. The Temporal Authority has failed to apprehend the being Thousand Sons."
The Grand Inquisitor frowned. In a dead voice he asked simply "Why?"
The brother cleared his throat. "The officer assigned, Darloch Khentari, has apparently gone native. No further sign of him has been found."
"And the Authority? Have they been made...aware of Our displeasure?"
The brother shuddered at the memory. "Yes, milord. They have repented their error."
"Hmmm. And where is this Khentari now?"
"On Earth, milord. Where Thousand Sons is currently."
"Pfah! Earth." spat the Grand Inquisitor. "The very name is like an epithet upon my tongue! Would that we could perform an Exterminatus upon that globe and cleanse it! Fie upon the Treaty!" he said slamming his fist on his desk.
The brother said nothing, but swallowed hard. "There is more, milord. There is word of a demon loose on the planet. It plays at being human, but is truly an undead creature. It appears as male or female at will. Somehow it is tied into this as well."
The Grand Inquisitor's eyes narrowed. "This cannot be borne." He folded his hands together. "Send Inquisitor Essington Streck to deal with this situation."
The brother blanched briefly at the name. "Streck...milord?"
"Yes. Streck. He is our finest Inquistor. He will not be swayed by that planets filthy ways."
The brother bowed deeply and made to leave.
"Oh, and brother?" asked the Grand Inquisitor.
The brother froze mid step.
"I am always in a foul mood." said the Grand Inquisitor. "Pray you do not make it fouler upon your return."
The brother sputtered and scurried away.
The cherry blossoms were in full bloom on Altarius Prime this time of year.
Streck had waited patiently for this day, wanting to savor springtime in its fullest.
Streck was a man of middle years, neither young nor old. Powerfully built and barrel chested. He sat outside at an easel ruminating about the landscape, stroking his close cropped grey beard. His large hand delicately lifted his paint brush with obvious dexterity. He winced slighty, disappointed, as he saw the brown-robed functionary walking towards him.
"I am summoned again, brother?" he rumbled. It was more of a statement than a question.
"Yes, Brother Inquisitor. Your orders are in this dossier."
The functionary handed Streck a black leather packet bearing the silver seal of the Inquisition. Streck looked at it and nodded. "Thank you brother. Begone now." he said, waving the brother away.
Cherry blossoms fluttered down like confetti in the air. Streck closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "So." he exhaled. He looked wistfully at his empty canvas. "Another day, old friend."
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Fred the Undead
WORLD EXCLUSIVE - MUST CREDIT THE TATTLER
by Redit N. Weap
Legends of "Fred the Undead"
are whispered rather than told. Tales of a man in black, international intrigue crossing centuries, cosmic disturbance, impossible escapes, love, betrayal and death swirl unabated by time.
And I was soon to meet this enigma. It had taken months of furtive meetings in dark alleys, remote caves and smoke-filled bars across Asia before I was certain that he actually existed, and lead after lead tracked and discarded, but at last, I was to come face to face with Fred.
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