The story begins here...

Prologue

Khaled Assah literally stumbled onto the hidden cave. In fact, he came within a whisker of falling into it.

An honors student at the University of Jordan, he had been chosen to work on an archaeological dig at the ancient settlement of Bethany in the Hashemite Kingdom. On this late October day, a broad strain of curiosity had prompted him to stroll across the qattar at sunset, a time when the chalky, whitish hills flanking the Jordan River north of the Dead Sea took on an eerie luminescence. Khaled had been attempting to half-walk, half-slide down a steep hillside when he reached out to steady himself on a scrubby green bush and plunged his leg into a crevice.

After elbowing the bush aside, he found the narrow entrance to a cave tucked into the rock formation. The archaeology team had identified two caves in the area as sites occupied by Christian monks over the centuries. They had found another cave that contained writing instruments and other signs of possible use by Jewish scribes in New Testament times.

A slim youth, Khaled could easily slip through the opening in the sandy stone. But first he took the jacket he had brought along to wear after dark and draped it across the scrubby bush. He removed a  flashlight from his pocket, switched it on and pointed the narrow white beam into a small rectangular room, not unlike a Nabatean tomb he had visited at Petra. The rough-textured walls appeared bare. As he stepped inside, sweeping the circle of light around the cavern, he spotted an opening about two feet square in a far corner. He thought it might be the entrance to a passage that penetrated deeper into the marl formation, but when he moved closer he found it extended only about six feet.

As he stooped to peer into the opening, the flashlight beam bracketed a dark shape in the back corner. He scrambled on his stomach into the crypt, then slowed his pace as the dust set off a coughing spree. The object was a reddish-brown clay jar, a smaller match for the pots that held the priceless horde of documents known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating from the first century A.D.

Stretching out, he grasped the jar, which stood nearly a foot tall, its distinctive lid wedged tightly into place. He backed out of the chamber on knees and elbows, clutching flashlight and jar.

He struggled outside with his find and plopped down in the darkness. Could it be, he wondered, that a nineteen-year-old novice from the West Bank had discovered an ancient relic missed by all the Ph.D.ís and professional archaeologists who had combed the area over the past several years? It had happened before. Dead Sea Scroll researchers working near Cave 4 at Qumran were completely unaware of the treasure-packed siteís existence until Bedouins discovered it in 1952. A sly grin enlivened Khaledís face.

He knew he should take his find to the head of the team that had developed the Bethany site. But the excitement of discovery overpowered Khaledís better judgment. He took out his pocketknife and pried off the lid. Shining the light inside, he saw a coil of something like paper or fabric. He inserted two fingers and slipped out the jarís contents. From the feel of it, he was sure the material was parchment, or "leathers," as some called the materialĖanimal skin, probably sheep or goat, used for writing documents in ancient times.

Propping the flashlight against the bush, he peeled back a covering layer that protected a rolled-up scroll. Then he pulled the parchment open enough to see some of the lettering. Khaled had studied Hebrew and English, as well as Arabic, and immediately recognized what he had found. The writing was classical Hebrew, in a style similar to what he had seen at Jerusalemís Shrine of the Book, a repository for some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

As Khaled stared at the faded writing, he anguished over what to do. Now he was certain he had made a real discovery. But was it something of substance, a document that would throw new light on a period of antiquity, or was it just a piece of historical trivia? In the end he made a practical decision. He had gone this far; he might as well finish the job. He returned the clay pot to the cave and slipped the scroll inside his jacket.

 

וזנזנ

 

Khaledís room in the buff-colored communal structure was quite small. He hardly had space for more than a bed, a table with a lone chair, and a few shelves piled with stacks of books and clothes. The ceiling fixture provided plenty of light, however, and the table was large enough to hold the document. He locked the door, pulled off his dusty clothes and tossed them in a corner. He had met one of his fellow students on the way in, drawing a smirk and a query. "Who have you been wrestling out on the qattar?" The observation struck him as far too close for comfort, and he had hurried to his room.

He unfolded the parchment. Though somewhat brittle, it was in fairly good shape. The jar had been tightly closed and secreted deep inside the dry cave.

Hebrew was a difficult language at best, without vowels, and, in early times, without punctuation. The document was not lengthy, but he pored over it for hours, checking and re-checking his reference books. What he wound up with was the fascinating account of a first century Jew, a follower of the Jewish mystics known as kabbalists. The writer was among a group of Jews who conspired to retrieve a cache of golden lampstands from Solomonís temple found concealed near Babylon. The group returned to Jerusalem but encountered Roman troops and promptly hid their spoils. Soon caught by the soldiers, the Jews were sentenced to die. Only the writer of the scroll had managed to escape.

Studying the document, Khaled felt his excitement build as the scrollís message became clear. He was well versed in the Old Testament as well as the Koran. According to the Book of Jeremiah, the gold and silver fixtures from Solomonís temple were carted off to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar ravaged Jerusalem in 587 BC. Those lampstands were the seven-branched candelabrum now known as the menorahĖthe sacred symbol of the current Jewish state. If such artifacts could be found today, Khaled reasoned, they would be worth a fortune to the State of Israel, or to some wealthy Jew who would surely ransom them for the Israelis.

Khaled returned to the passage where the writer had dealt with the hiding of the lampstands. Then he noticed the cryptic statement: "the location will be found within." His reference books told him the kabbalists had worked on some sort of secret writing.

Before drifting off to sleep in the early morning hours, he knew precisely what his next move would be.

 

וזנזנ

 

The following day, Khaled Assah nervously lied to the project director that his mother was seriously ill and he needed to make a quick trip home to Ramallah, in the West Bank territory near Jerusalem. He promised to return two days later. Packing a small bag with only enough clothes for a weekend, he boarded a bus headed for the Jordan Riverís Allenby Bridge border crossing. He did his best to ignore the pounding in his chest and even coaxed a bit of sympathy with his cover story of a sick mother. But he encountered no trouble moving through the crowded Israeli border control facility just beyond the bridge. Wandering past the row of low date palms outside, he spotted his cousin Abdullah Kafi waiting in a dusty green Ford. Khaled noticed a young female security guard watching as he climbed into the car, but it appeared no more than idle curiosity.

After they cleared the last checkpoint, Khaled gave a boyish whoop and carefully stripped off his heavy brown cotton shirt. He draped it across the back seat, then retrieved a plain white T-shirt from his bag and pulled it on.

"Now explain to me what you have done," Abdullah said with a smile. He was the same age as his cousin but stocky and self-assured. He hadnít hesitated to follow through after receiving the phone call from Khaled. "I find it hard to believe youíve done anything illegal."

"Iíve sewn inside my shirt an old parchment scroll that could make us rich."

His cousin gave him a skeptical frown. "Oh? And what if they had done a pat-down search at the border?"

For a moment, Khaledís face paled. But his smile quickly returned. "Praise Allah, they did not. And now you have to help me find someone who can solve a riddle. If my hunch is right, weíre about to embark on a fabulous treasure hunt."

 

וזנזנ

 

Sergeant Levi Katz, a husky, dark-haired veteran of the Israeli Defense Force now working for the border police, was returning to his post when he noticed the young Palestinian removing his shirt in the Ford headed up the highway toward Jericho. It seemed an odd thing to do so soon after the youth had apparently crossed over from Jordan. He got only a slight glimpse of the license plate, but it was enough to identify the car as belonging to a Palestinian from the Ramallah area.

Katz was quick to report what he saw on arrival at the heavily-armed check point, where vehicles were searched inside and out, including underneath with large mirrors mounted on poles.

"Young guy in a brown shirt, heavyset driver dressed in khaki?" asked a tall, dark-haired border guard, originally from Chicago.

"Right. Thatís the one."

"They checked out okay. We didnít examine his shirt, though. You think he was hiding something?"

"I donít know," said Katz. "I just thought it was strange. I think Iíll call the immigration people."

After listening to Katzí explanation, an employee at the passport control office told him to hold while she checked into it. She came back a few minutes later. "Irina remembers him. She saw him get into the car that was waiting. She thought he walked sort of funny . . . stiff-like. As if he had a board up his back."

"Do you have a name for him?"

"Khaled Assah," the passport lady said and spelled it out. "Palestinian. Attends the University of Jordan, but his home is Ramallah."

Katz thanked her and turned to a comrade holding a clipboard. "What was the license number on that green Ford?"

After scribbling it on a sheet of paper, he lifted the phone again and checked his watch. They were probably close to Jericho by now. That meant Palestinian control. He dialed an unlisted number in Jerusalem, identified himself and described what had happened.

"Thanks for the tip, Katz," came the reply. "But with no more to go on than that, Iím afraid thereís not much we can do at the moment. We canít go raising hell around that area without an okay from the Prime Ministerís office, and theyíve put out the word not to rock the boat right now."

Katz frowned. "Okay."

"If heís a runner," said the voice, "heíll be heading back soon. Put him on your watch list. If he shows, call us and weíll have a chat with him."

 

וזנזנ

 

Three days later Khaled Assah arrived at the Allenby Bridge checkpoint in a taxi. When he stepped out of the vehicle, Sergeant Katz instructed him to get his bag and come inside the small building. It contrasted sharply with the structures across the border decorated with likenesses of the King of Jordan. The taxi was sent on its way.

"Whatís the problem?" Khaled asked.

After patting him down, Katz nodded toward a chair. "Have a seat. Somebody wants to talk to you."

Khaledís knees felt a bit wobbly as he lowered himself onto the plastic chair. What did they know? he wondered. There had been no hint of trouble during his brief visit home. He was a day late getting back to the Bethany project. Had the university people somehow found out about the scroll? Were they looking for him? That seemed unlikely.

As he watched the uniformed guard speak into the phone, he began to sweat.

 

וזנזנ

 

They came for him in a dust-colored van with darkened windows. Two hard-eyed men with solemn faces got out. Neither was large, but both were muscular. They were dressed casually, with open-collared shirts. One with black hair and skin almost as dark as his own ordered him into the van. He was instructed to empty his pockets, then handcuffed and seated beside a third man who looked even tougher than the other two.

As the van sped off down the road, the interrogation began.

"What did you do with the dope?" the third man asked. He had a bald head, large arms and a scar on his cheek that appeared to be from a knife wound.

Khaledís mouth dropped open. "Dope?"

"It was hidden in your shirt when you came across three days ago," the other man said. "Who did you sell it to?" He had a guttural voice and an accent. Maybe German.

"I . . . I didnít have any dope."

Scarface leaned forward until their noses were almost touching. "Donít give me that shit, boy! Do you know who youíre dealing with?"

Khaled shuddered. They were undoubtedly from Shin Bet, the Israeli security service.

"Honest, sir," he said. "I didnít bring in any narcotics."

"Then what the hell was it? Youíd better talk, boy, or we just might have to beat you to a pulp."

Khaled began to babble, his story spilling from his lips. "It was a scroll . . . a parchment. I found it in a cave near Tell Mar Elias. It was written in Hebrew. I brought it over here to get somebody to help meĖ"

"You expect us to believeĖ"

"Itís true . . . itís true. May Allah strike me dead!"

As the Shin Bet agents probed, he told it all. After explaining his role as an archaeology student, something they could confirm with the papers he carried, Khaled described the slide that had caused him to stumble onto the scroll. And he related the story told in the document, winding up with word that his cousin, Abdullah Kafi, was helping him look for someone with knowledge of the kabbalist secrets.

"The scroll did not say where the menorahs were hidden?" asked Scarface.

"No. There was only a statement: ĎThe location will be found within.í"

"Within what?"

"The document, I suppose. All we knew about the kabbalists was that they had developed some codes for secret writing."

"Where is the document now?" the black-haired agent asked.

"Abdullah was taking it to Jerusalem to meet someone who could steer us in the right direction."

"Who was he taking it to?" Scarface had turned surly again.

Khaled shook his head. "I donít know. He left Ramallah before I did. He said he was meeting somebody from the Guardians of Palestine. Somebody who would know somebody..."

Khaled knew it was not what they wanted to hear.

Scarface turned to his partner. "Guardians of Palestine. That bunch of young punks Nathaniel reported on."

The other agent nodded. "An offshoot of Hamas, as I recall. Ties to Hezbollah in Lebanon. It might help to check out this Kafi boy."

As Khaled slumped in the seat, Scarface pulled out a cellular phone and punched in a number.

"Run this through the computer," he instructed the voice at Shin Bet headquarters. "Subject named Abdullah Kafi, nineteen years old, Palestinian from Ramallah. See if we have anything on him."

He stared at Khaled as he listened to the wearying silence.

After an interminable wait, the voice on the security service phone came back apologetically. "Sorry it took so long, but something just came in. I had to check it out. Seems youíre a little late on this one."

"Oh?"

"Young Kafiís body was found about half an hour ago near the Damascus Gate. Apparently heíd been rammed by a car. Not a pretty sight, they say."

 

Book One

The Hostage Takers

 

 Chapter 1

 

The Mediterranean shimmered in the morning sun as I swung the camcorder in a slow pan of the Jaffa waterfront. Gulls circled above the worldís oldest working port. A steady breeze bore the smell of salt and dry seaweed.

"Come on, Greg," Jill called. "Keep playing with that little black box and youíll miss the bus."

I smiled at her. "Just so I donít miss the bus for dinner. Besides, youíre the one who made sure I brought plenty of tapes."

I popped a stick of Mr. Wrigleyís famous Spearmint into my mouth. Iíd quit smoking a few months earlier and was suffering the inevitable withdrawals.

"Maybe so. But I didnít intend for you to use the tapes as if they were going out of style."

I let it go. For a man who had survived sixty-five years on his wits, that was a concession.

"Are you going to put together a film for the next class party?" Folds of dark hair above an arched brow belied her sixty-plus years.

"Iíll limit it to epic proportions," I said.

All kidding aside, I had counted on this trip to separate me by time and distance from the agonizing predicament making my life unbearable back home. My situation seemed as insolvable as the standoff between the Palestinians and Israelis. Here it was played out with rocks, bullets and bombs. In my case, I felt the entire Metro Nashville Police Department was lined up like some Civil War regiment, glaring down their barrels at me. For the moment, though, my problems seemed remote.

Grasping Jillís hand, I strolled beside her out to where our group stood on a large open plaza. Clustered around us were entertainment places, restaurants, an art gallery and one of Israelís countless churches named for Simon Peter, the Galilean fisherman Jesus chose to lead the early Christians. We were mostly seniors, on a tour organized by our Sunday School class from Gethsemane United Methodist Church in Nashville. I would give long odds that we had not missed a single St. Peterís since our arrival on a hot November morning two weeks ago. Some had questioned our sanity in traveling to this battleground of the Jews and Palestinians. But we had landed during a lull in the unpleasantness.

By now the weather had cooled, making my yellow cardigan feel good when we started out from Netanya after breakfast. But the sun was nudging the mercury toward a high in the seventies. I was pulling off the sweater when I heard a cheery voice from nearby.

"Hey, Greg!"

Sam Gannon strolled over, pointing across the plaza. "You wonít believe what I saw in that gallery over there."

"What?"

Gannon stands half a head taller than my five-foot ten, and heís depressingly slim while I bulge in all the wrong places.

"I just peeked in the doorway," he said, "and saw this painting of an old C-47 in the desert. Boy, I havenít been in one of those jewels in many a year."

A retired multi-engine Air Force driver, Sam had been the point man in organizing this trip to Israel and Jordan.

I glanced at my wife. "Iím glad it was just a painting. If it was real, sheíd probably want to buy it."

Jill smiled. "A C-47 would look nice in the backyard."

I should point out that I am also a retired Air Force officer, but not a flier. I spent my time in the OSIĖOffice of Special Investigations. I pursued such evils as overpriced wrenches and stolen toilet paper, plus chasing down drug-pushing airmen, communist spies and terrorist groups that posed a threat to Air Force personnel and installations. Jill was the pilot in the family. She had held a commercial license for many years, once running her own charter service.

Just then two scruffy looking boys came racing across the plaza on bicycles, jabbering away in Arabic and paying no attention to where they were going. One of them cut just in front of the tour group and the other skidded to a halt, nearly colliding with Jill.

"Idiot!" I shouted.

I stepped around Jill in a move toward the boy.

She grabbed my arm as he stood there, glaring. "Cool it, Greg."

"Damned juvenile," I muttered. As I spoke, the boy peddled away at full speed.

During my OSI days I was noted for a volatile temper. Retirement and Jillís patience had mellowed my disposition. But my troubles with the Nashville cops, plus the burden of no smokes, had begun to trigger old habits. As a voice called out at the front of the group, I caught Jill casting me an unhappy glance.

"Okay, people," our tour guide said. "You have about twenty minutes to look around, shop, whatever. Then we have to be back on the bus. Weíll drive through some of Tel Aviv, then head toward Jerusalem."

Jacob Cohen gestured to the southeast with the long olive wood walking stick he referred to as his "staff." Ever quick with the pun, he had introduced the stick at the start of the trip with, "Thy rod, my staffĖa little Twenty-third Psalm humor." Originally from New York, Cohen had lived in Israel the past twenty years. He looked a typical bearded synagogue worshiper. Unlike most Israelis, however, he was a Messianic Jew, a member of a congregation that believed in Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. He was also a walking encyclopedia of the Bible.

I remembered something I needed to take care of and moved over to where Cohen stood with two of the younger women. They were gazing at the towering spire atop the Franciscan Monastery of Saint Peter.

"Jake, you were going to give me the name of your Messianic Jewish friend in Nashville," I said. "Youíd better do it now before I forget."

He rummaged around in his shirt pocket. "Sorry about that kid on the bike. Some of them donít have much respect for their elders." He pulled out a scrap of paper. "Okay, itís David Wolfson. Hereís his name and phone number."

"You said he was a computer nut? I might get him to give me some advice on an upgrade."

"Heís good with advice. Another ex-New Yorker. Funny thing, his father was an Orthodox rabbi. They had a pretty heavy falling out when Jake turned Messianic. He inherited some of his dadís biblical curiosity, though. Heís into all this Bible codes stuff."

I gave him a puzzled look. "Bible codes? Never heard of it."

"It has to do with the letters in the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Supposedly concerns hidden messages God placed in the text. Itís too far-fetched for me. I guess it came natural to David, though. He was a computer hacker in college. Then he went legit and signed with the National Security Agency."

Jill grabbed my arm. "You look calmer, thank goodness. Letís head on toward the bus. Look at Wilma over there at that van. Iíll bet sheís buying more knickknacks."

A dusty gray minivan had parked not far behind our red and white Middle East Tours bus. Its tailgate was swung up, displaying an array of olive wood figures and other trinkets. Dealers like this made us run a gauntlet to reach the bus. At our hotel in East Jerusalem, a Palestinian had greeted the ladies out front each morning, peddling souvenirs from the trunk of his car.

As we paused beside Sam Gannonís wife, Wilma, another tour bus edged past. It fouled the air with its diesel exhaust. I fanned the stench away with my Titans cap. Just then a husky man with black hair and a black beard approached me. He wore a dark suit, no tie. He had a round face and white teeth.

"Perhaps your last chance to buy souvenirs," he said. "I show something just for you."

As he leaned into the van, I wondered how he knew we were on the final leg of our tour. Our bus driver or another passenger had probably mentioned it. Also I had a vague impression I had seen this face before. He appeared to be Arabic, but Jews and Arabs had descended from the same Semitic line. I had been trained to remember facial features, and memories of September 11 had kept me alert during our two weeks in the Holy Land. I watched as the souvenir seller held out a miniature Dead Sea Scroll jar, opened the lid and lifted up a paper scroll.

"Just like parchment . . . real Hebrew writing," he said. "The one you get is all packed secure. Because I need to make haste home, everything is now bargain price."

I shook my head. "No thanks."

"Normally is twenty-five dollars. For you, only ten. Yes?"

"Itís bigger than those we saw before," said Wilma Gannon. She studied the reddish clay jar. "And they cost that much or more." Tall and lean like her husband, she had a grandmotherly swirl of white hair.

"What would I do with a Dead Sea Scroll jar?" I asked. It looked like a flower vase to me.

Jill grinned.

"You drive some hard bargain," said the man, frowning. "Five dollars."

"Heís not going to let you get away without buying it," Jill said. I had given her a hard time a couple of days before about buying so many souvenirs. A lot of them had to be stuffed into my bag.

The man reached back into the van and pulled out a box a little larger than the clay jar. It was sealed tightly with clear plastic tape. "This one ready to pack in your bag. No way it can break. Only five dollars. Okay?"

I had to admire his persistence. And it did sound like a good deal.

The man held out the package. "Americans are good people," he said. "I like you. Four dollarsĖmy last offer."

Jill whispered in my ear. "For Godís sake, buy it."

I shrugged and pulled a money clip stuffed with dollar bills out of my pocket, peeled off four and handed them over. "Youíre quite a salesman," I said.

I donít know why, but I had an odd feeling that I might have bought more than I had bargained for.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Back on the bus, Jill leaned across to listen to a pixie-eyed woman who always had a joke to tell. I debated what to do with my new souvenir. I finally stuck the box in the webbed pocket of the seat in front of me, next to my water bottle. We had drunk the water in the hotels with no problem, but on the road I figured discretion was the watchword. I wasnít interested in a visit from Montezumaís circumcised cousin, Mordecai.

When Sam Gannon wandered up the aisle a few minutes later, he stopped to lean against my seat. "Wilma told me about the way you took that Dead Sea Scroll guy to the cleaners. I didnít know you were such a haggler."

"Iím not," I said. "And I donít know that I got the best of him. When you think about it, some Palestinian potter probably got no more than a buck for that jar. The piece of paper with some Hebrew scratching couldnít have cost more than fifty cents, and the box maybe another buck. The guy still made a decent profit."

As the bus began to push through the crowded streets of Tel Aviv, the sights quickly put salesman and souvenir out of mind. We passed Ben-Gurion Airport with jets roaring overhead, then traveled through the stark, desolate Judean hills. Nothing grew there and certainly nothing could live there. It made you wonder why this was called the Promised Land.

We took a rest stop at an isolated service station with a small market. Our Palestinian driver refueled the bus and the rest of us picked over an assortment of drinks and snacks. I had some reservations about hanging around in isolated areas of Israel, but the tour company was owned by Arabs, and we had been told the Palestinians knew this and would give us no trouble. There had been car bombings during the past week, but so far no threats had come our way.

When we turned north again around Jerusalem, Jake Cohen jabbed his stick at a steady stream of sights, including the Arab town of Bethany just east of the Holy City. As we whizzed past, he pointed out the supposed site of Lazarusí tomb and the inevitable church connected with it. One thing that strikes you on a visit to the Holy Land, whenever you come across a spot believed to have been related to Jesusí life or ministry, somebody has built a church on it.

"Thereís another Bethany in Jordan," Jake said, "not far from where youíll cross over. Itís the place where John the Baptist did his baptizing, according to John one, verse twenty-eight. It was also around there that Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Also, Bethany has a tel called Mar Elias, or Elijahís Hill, where the prophet is said to have ascended to heaven in a whirlwind, riding a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire."

"Thatís from Second Kings, chapter two," said deep-voiced Arnold Demontbreun. He was our class biblical authority, but I sometimes wonder about him. Arnold can quote the Bible verse by verse but canít remember his wifeís birthday.

"Are we going to stop there?" This from a small, white-haired woman on the front row named Martha something or other. She was from what we uncharitably called the Old Ladies Class.

"Sorry," Sam Gannon said. "By the time we get through Israeli customs and immigration, cross the river and get checked out by the Jordanians, weíll do well to reach Amman by dark."

I popped another piece of gum and wondered if this might not turn out to be a three-stick bus ride.

We were soon passing through a barren, rocky section of Judean desert. There were several Bedouin camps nestled among the sand-colored hills. The small settlements back away from the highway were marked by long, rectangular tents. Some had wheeled water tanks, and in most the crafty Arabs had traded their "ships of the desert" for pickup trucks.

At the Jordan River border post we were herded off the bus. We were warned to bring everything with us, since we would be boarding a Jordanian coach as soon as we cleared immigration. I decided to give Jill the scroll box to put in her carryon since mine was bulging with camera equipment. Thanks to Jake Cohen we moved quickly through passport checks and visa slip returns. The Israelis were preoccupied with a large group of departing Palestinians, giving us Americans only a cursory look. I noticed the Arabs got a thorough checkout. One of the customs officers, a friend of Jakeís, told him they got frequent alerts about attempts to smuggle guns and bomb-making materials into the country. But a warning bulletin had them on the lookout for a Palestinian attempting to smuggle something out. He didnít say what.

Back in the parking lot, we were instructed to identify each of our bags from the Israeli bus before they could be loaded onto the Jordanian coach. Such security precautions brought no objections as we recalled the explosions and bloody confrontations seen on the nightly news. And the sight of Israeli soldiers everywhere armed with rifles during our trip had served as a grim reminder of the uncertain conditions.

After a lengthy round of hugs and kisses and handshakes and good-byes, we left Jake and the Land of Israel, finally rolling across the Allenby Bridge, named for the British general of World War I fame. On the other side it was called the King Hussein Bridge. As with the scrawny Jordan River, the bridge looked more like something from the Tennessee backwoods than an international border crossing.

In Jordan we sat on the bus while our guide collected passports and hustled them into the immigration office. He returned in the company of a stoop-shouldered man with shifty eyes and an unsmiling face. I had encountered enough of the type to know if heíd had on a badge it would have read BUREAUCRAT.

"Where is Mr. McKenzie?" the man called out.

Jill and I were seated near the front. I held up my hand. He strode over, stared at me, then focused on my open passport.

"You are Gregory McKenzie?"

"Thatís right," I said, wondering what I had done to merit such distinction.

He suddenly gave me an improbable smile. "Welcome to Jordan, Mr. McKenzie," he said. "Enjoy your visit."

Our guide was a young Jordanian with a confident air. In textbook English he assured us this was only a routine spot check.

I was not so certain.

 

 

Secret of the Scroll excerpt Copyright © 2002, Chester D. Campbell

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced, in any manner whatsoever, without the written permission of the Author.

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