Ominous forces are gathering to destroy the Gospel of Jesus scrolls, a recently revealed divine revelation that could bring new faith and hope to a world that is slowly sliding into darkness. A handful of brave souls are fighting to preserve that precious document, but they are being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the forces arraigned against them.
As this valiant group resists the forces coming against them, the apocalypse draws closer as war breaks out in the Middle East and fire rains down on Israel. Terrorists have also started a campaign of death and destruction in America. Millions are at risk.
A great satanic evil has also arisen in the city of Gulfview that seeks Arrowsmith’s death and the destruction of the New Christian Movement. Arrowsmith is now the face of the New Christian Movement which has grown out of the Gospel of Jesus. The Darkness must destroy the New Christian Movement or lose its dominance of the world.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
John Arrowsmith tossed and turned in his sleep. A heavy weight seemed to press down on his chest. He began to sweat as his body seemed to tense in his sleep.
He stood before towering bronze double gates that were shut tight. The gates were so massive he could not see the walls that must hold the gates. On the gates themselves were hundreds of massive iron rings.
He glanced around him. Hundreds of men and women stood beside him, pulling on the iron rings and straining with all their strength to open the huge gates. John found his own hands on a large iron ring along with the others, pulling to open the massive gates.
He looked behind him and saw people in their thousands stretching out of sight, marching over a large sandy plain toward him, all shouting with joy and praising God. Their shouting sounded like some massive roaring sound coming from a river tumbling over a water fall.
Behind them, in the distance, coming slowly into view was a massive red bird of some kind that was too far away to identify.
John turned back to the iron ring his hand was wrapped around and continued to pull with all of his might. The gates were stubborn and would not open. But with every minute that passed, new hands reached for more iron rings and pulled with John and the others. All of those men and women behind him were coming to help open the gates.
John knew that all the people around him were Christians, and they were here for only one purpose–to open the gates.
John heard a distant trumpet sound behind him. He turned again to stare at the many Christians behind him, only now there was a black swarm of creatures in the distance coming rapidly down the hillside and into the valley behind the Christians. The creatures were black from head to toe carrying something in their hands that reflected the sun brightly.
As that red creature in the sky drew closer, John could now make it out, and that creature was no bird. John could not believe his eyes. A massive red dragon hovered over the valley, breathing fire and creating panic and death all around it. And the black swarm of creatures that came behind the dragon were black clad soldiers carrying large swords that glinted in the noon day sun.
With renewed urgency, John and the others pulled even harder on the iron rings. Slowly, by inches, the gates began to move. A crack appeared between the gates and a fierce bright light shot out, lighting up everything around John. He could hear angelic voices singing beyond the gates.
But he also heard a loud roaring coming from the rear as of thunder coming from the red dragon as it grew closer with its dark army. John knew in his heart that if he could not open the gates in time, the dragon and his legions would destroy everyone.
But where the brilliant light from between the gates struck, the black clad soldiers screamed and fell. Even the red dragon avoided the bright laser of light from the gates. The light was the answer.
John strained with all his strength. They had to get the gates open, or they were all doomed. Then he woke up.
John Arrowsmith lay in a pool of sweat. His breathing was heavy. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat there for a moment, trying to make sense of the dream, or was it a dream? This had more of the feel of a revelation, as if God was trying to tell him something, but what?
John shook his head and rose to his feet. His pajamas were soaked. He needed a shower.
He saw an April sun rising through the window of his bedroom. It was dawn. Perhaps a sail over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico would calm his spirit and give him time to make sense out of the dream.
One thing he knew for certain. Something terrible and evil was coming his way.
Sebastian Black stood on the wooden dock watching the sailboats in the bay of the city of Gulfview. He stood straight and tall with his shoulder length black hair blowing gently in the cool breeze coming off the bay. His six foot, two inch frame easily stood out over the few people around him. His small black mustache looked almost out of place on his long, narrow face. A face marred only by a thin jagged scar that ran the length of the right side of his face, near his ear.
All in all, he was a handsome man though a chill might run through someone that looked at that face too closely. There was a sense of danger about the man, something that said watch your step.
His dark eyes followed one particular small sailboat. The occupant seemed to be enjoying himself immensely, completely unaware of Black standing on the dock.
Black unconsciously rubbed the long jagged scar near his right ear. The scar was a souvenir from a past accident that had claimed his wife and left him with a badly injured leg until Arrowsmith had healed that leg. The healed leg was a reminder that there was a God, not that he wanted to admit that to himself.
Black still carried his brass handle cane out of habit, but no longer needed it. He waited patiently for Arrowsmith to come in from sailing, looking out of place on the old wooden dock in his thousand dollar gray striped suit and silk white shirt.
As he waited, Black wondered what had happened to him. When Arrowsmith healed him, changes began to occur in him, subtle things that were hard to pinpoint but real nevertheless. The cold detachment that had always been his trademark began to melt away.
He was the Order’s troubleshooter, the man who cleaned up the messes, who carried out the important missions, who never let himself become personally involved. Last year, he had been sent by the Order to steal the Gospel of Jesus so the Order could destroy that manuscript, but he had failed and now the world marveled at the words contained in the Gospel of Jesus.
But that man who had sought the destruction of the Gospel of Jesus was dying, and a new man was emerging. The man he had been when his wife had been alive. When he cared about someone and could laugh and be happy. That man was returning from where he had been hidden away for so long under a weight of rage and guilt.
Black had blamed God for his wife’s death, and he had also blamed himself for surviving the accident. He could never understand why he had been spared and a lovely Christian woman had been taken. It made no sense to him so he directed his anger and rage at God. He had done terrible things in the name of that rage. Things he wasn’t proud of and wanted to forget.
But then John healed his leg and everything changed. Not obvious at first, but now all too apparent.
Maybe that was one reason he was here, Black thought, redemption–a simple word that carried so much meaning. That spiritual power that had healed his leg had reached deep inside of him and began to heal his spirit and soul. That terrible feeling of guilt and anger was slowly disappearing, vanishing little by little each day.
That change had caught Black by surprise because it had been so subtle, so gradual. Slowly, through the following days and weeks after his healing, he began to see himself in a new light. He began to measure himself against what he had been and what he was becoming.
It was then Black had looked around at his station in life, at what he was doing in the Order, with a clearer vision than he had ever had before and came to a quick conclusion: this was wrong, the Order was wrong, and he no longer wanted any part of such an organization.
But one didn’t just up and leave the Order, not and live. He had to develop an exit strategy so he had taken some time off. He told the Order that he was going on a vacation. He needed to figure some things out.
Then he had heard about someone being targeted by the Order for an assassination in Gulfview, someone involved with the Gospel of Jesus. Arrowsmith had come immediately to his mind. He had probed further, but could learn nothing more.
So he had come to Gulfview to warn Arrowsmith and help protect him from what might be coming his way.
John Arrowsmith saw Sebastian Black standing on the dock as his small sail boat headed in from a morning of sailing. The tall, imposing man with long dark hair and a small black mustache had not changed in the year since he had seen him. He stood tall and patient on the dock, slightly leaning on his cane with a grim smile on his lips, waiting for John to arrive.
John had no idea why Black was here.They were enemies in every sense of the word. Nothing had changed. One of his subordinates had shot Rebecca when she was attempting to deliver the Gospel of Jesus.
John had tried to forgive Black for that shooting, but now that Black was here, old resentments and anger were rising to the surface. Apparently, his attempt at forgiveness had not worked as well as he had hoped.
He had never expected to see Black again, yet here he was, standing on the wooden dock as John maneuvered into his boot slip and jumped off the sailboat. He tied up the boat and walked over to Sebastian.
Arrowsmith was shorter than Black, standing only six feet. His sandy colored hair was in sharp contrast to Black’s coal black hair. His blue eyes studied Black for a moment before he spoke.
“What brings you here?” John asked sharply, a frown on his lips.
“The settling of an old debt.” Sebastian touched his right leg, the one that John had healed last year.
“You owe me nothing,” John insisted.
“I think otherwise. In any event, I am here to balance accounts.” Sebastian paused a moment, then said, “You are in grave danger, John. The Order believes you are a threat to them.”
John stepped back, shock on his face, “The Order? The people you work for? ”
“The people I used to work for. I have quit. They just don’t know it yet.”
“Obviously, you think they will do something drastic if you are here,” John said, looking worried.
“Indeed I do. I believe an assassin is coming to kill you.”
“Are you sure?”
“No, and that is the dilemma. All I have are rumors and innuendos, nothing concrete, but something is happening. Your name has been mentioned more than once.”
“What can I do?” John asked, frowning, trying to digest this sudden, upsetting news.
“Run,” Black said.
John slowly shook his head. “I was never much good at running. It’s the cop in me. I may be retired, but I am still too stubborn to retreat. How long before we know for sure if the Order is out to kill me?”
“When you are dead,” Black replied with a small grin. “Or if a month passes and nothing happens, then we will know I was wrong.”
“A month can be a long time.”
“I will be around to keep an eye on you,” Black said, patting John on the back gently.
“Why? And don’t tell me it’s because I healed your leg.”
“Let’s just say that I have gained a new perspective on life. When you healed my leg, I began to see my life with new eyes.”
“I didn’t heal you, God did,” John said.
“You know I don’t believe in miracles, John. Still, something miraculous did happen. I would like to figure out what. Maybe hanging around you will give me a clue.”
“It isn’t hard, Sebastian. It is all about Jesus.”
“Yeah, you would say that. In any case, I have warned you, and I will try to keep an eye on you. Be careful.” Black walked away with a wave of the cane he always carried.
John stood alone on the dock. His mind was swirling with questions and fears, wondering how this could happen to him. Then there was Black. Why was he really here?
Was what Black said even true? How could he trust Black? For all he knew, Black was sent to kill him, but that didn’t make sense. Why warn him if that were true? Could he actually believe that Black had changed? Had he really left the Order? He had no answers to those questions.
Finally, he shook his head and started walking. There was nothing he could do anyway, but pray and trust in the Lord.
CIA agent Mack Mackay stood on the airport asphalt at six in the morning and listened to the whine of a jet engine powering up, waiting to board a private jet bound for Tel Aviv. He had been rousted out of bed a few hours ago and told to be here. He had no idea why.
A gentle wind blew his curly brown hair into his steel gray eyes. He brushed the offending strands back out of his eyes. Mackay was of medium height and well conditioned with years of experience as a CIA field agent.
A few minutes later, a long black limousine pulled up beside him, and Alfred, one of the CIA director’s many assistants, jumped out with an envelop in hand, shoving it toward Mackay as he approached.
Mackay took the bulky envelop and opened it. There was money and instructions inside. He didn’t bother pulling the instructions out; he could read them later on the plane.
“So what’s up?” Mackay asked, putting the envelope away in his jacket pocket.
“We picked up some intelligence last night,” Alfred said, dropping his voice as he looked around to see if anyone was close. “Iran is going after the Gospel of Jesus scrolls.”
The Gospel of Jesus scrolls were purported to be written by Jesus himself and now circulated world wide in paperback format. The ultimate source and authority for the Gospel of Jesus were the ten ancient scrolls housed in a warehouse owned by Isaac Stein located near Jerusalem.
“What? Are you kidding? That’s nuts,” Mackay said, amazed at this revelation.
“Who said the Iranian regime was sane? The ayatollahs don’t think like we do. Apparently, infidels possessing the Gospel of Jesus is simply too much for them plus it would be a great propaganda coup for them.”
“You think that is the real reason?” Mackay asked, still astounded that Iran would risk war with Israel over some ancient scrolls. The Stein compound where the Gospel of Jesus was located was too close to Israel for the Israelis to ignore an Iranian attack. There would be trouble.
“Why me?” Mackay asked.
“Logical choice since you know Simon Stein. You are going to need leverage to make Isaac Stein move those scrolls. I understand he has become quite attached to them.”
“You haven’t answered the real question. Why does the CIA care about the Gospel of Jesus scrolls located in a stuffy warehouse miles from anywhere.”
“Let’s say we would like to poke Iran in the eye a little and prevent them from destroying the scrolls,” Alfred said with a small smile.
“For them to attack and fail would be a huge loss of face,” Mackay admitted.
“Exactly. We need to keep Iran on a tight leash. Too many Moslem countries are beginning to lean in her direction. A loss of face might slow that lean.”
“How is the attack coming?” Mackay asked.
“We think planes, maybe fighters. Don’t know for sure. Our agent’s informant couldn’t verify the type of attack, only that one was to be launched in four days from now, on Friday morning.”
“Doesn’t give me much time. What am I suppose to do?”
“Talk Isaac Stein into moving his scrolls to a London museum. We have already made arrangements. It is the same museum he chose for the Bartholomew scrolls.”
“That will take some convincing,” Mackay said.
“Not if he wants those scrolls to survive,” Alfred said.
“By the time I arrive in Tel Aviv, I will have a little over three days left. That’s not much time.”
“Couldn’t be helped. A C-130 cargo plane will arrive on Wednesday afternoon to pick you and the scrolls up. You need to be out of there by Thursday. That gives you an extra day for a safety margin.”
“And if the attack arrives first?”
Alfred shrugged and said, “Nothing we can do about the time table. It is what it is. However, I do have some good news. We have arranged for an AWACS to be in the area, code name Overlord.” Alfred handed Mackay a satellite phone. “You can reach them on this. It is all set up. Just press the button and talk. With luck, the AWACS might be able to give you an early warning, time to get out if things get close.”
“I don’t like this. It’s too hurried, too unorganized,” Mackay complained.
“If you don’t like that, you will hate this. We aren’t telling the Israelis anything about this.”
“They are going to suspect something when things start exploding,” Mackay said, concerned about the lack of Israeli support.
“Yes, but they might not do anything if the Iranians are gone before they can react. If they knew the Iranians were coming in, they would scramble to meet them. Planes would explode, and pilots would die. A big Mideast Crisis could result. We must avoid that at all costs.”
“They have to know the C-130 is coming in to pick up something from the Stein warehouse. How did you explain that?”
“We told the truth. Isaac Stein is moving some cargo out, and we are assisting. We filed the flight plan a few hours ago,” Alfred said.
“And they didn’t ask any questions?” Mackay said, incredulous that the Israelis would just let a C-130 fly through their airspace without a thorough investigation.
“We have an understanding with the Israelis. They owe us big time. I won’t go into any details.” Alfred looked Mackay hard in the eyes. “This is going to be dicey at best. The director wishes you good luck. He knows it is a tough assignment.”
Mackay just stood there, shaking his head, not knowing what to say.
“Looks like your plane is ready,” Alfred said, nodding toward the plane.
Mackay glanced at the plane, then sighed and started walking, wondering if he could pull this mission off. An awfully lot of things had to go just right for success to happen. It had been his experience that was a rare occurrence. Something always went wrong.
Two senior members of the Order stood in a luxurious room with a thick white carpet on the floor and long silk drapes hanging from tall, rectangular windows. The Order was the invisible hand that sought to steer the world’s course. They influenced thousands of national leaders and bureaucrats all over the world. Gently leading them in the direction the Order thought best.
The Order had been around over a thousand years, held together by a single idea: to form a world order based on unity and reason with war no longer an option. While the goal was lofty and perhaps noble, the methods they chose were often ruthless and dictatorial. Any means to achieve the ends was acceptable to them.
“You are sure you heard correctly? Assassins are being sent to kill John Arrowsmith?” Sarine, one of the oldest members of the Order council, said.
Daric nodded and said, “Straight from the Chairman. A kill team was dispatched a few days ago. Their orders are to make his death look like an accident.”
“Damn, but this is dangerous. John Arrowsmith is well known now. He has been on all the talk shows and in the news media. The world knows Arrowsmith. If this goes south and the Order is implicated…”
“My thoughts exactly. We should have left well enough alone, but that isn’t the worst of the news.”
“What could be worst?”
“Our chairman has been talking to Iran about the scrolls of Jesus,” Daric said.
The Gospel of Jesus scrolls were at the center of a running controversy. Many said that Jesus wrote the scrolls and were his personal gospel to the world. Others said the scrolls were a fake sent to destroy the Christian religion.
Unfortunately for the western nations, the Moslems believed the scrolls were genuine and that it was sacrilege for a non-Moslem to handle such religious scrolls. Consequently, the entire Middle East was in an uproar over the scrolls being in the possession of the Stein family who were Christians.
Continuing, Daric said, “He has convinced our friends in Iran to take out the scrolls at Stein’s warehouse.”
“Sweet Mother of…” Sarine couldn’t finish, but sat down on a nearby couch and shook her head. Then she looked up and asked, “How?”
“Fighter jets. They will target the Stein warehouse and blow it to smithereens.”
“How stupid can the Chairman be? The Israelis will see them coming and track those planes right back to Iran. And what the Israelis know, the Americans will know. The military intelligences of both countries will go after this incident like rabid dogs. They could trace this back to us. Couldn’t you convince the Chairman to wait? This is far too drastic,” Sarine said angrily, fuming over the foolishness of such an attack.
Daric shook his head and walked over to an open window. A cool spring breeze blew in through the open space.
“He had his mind made up before I even talked to him. The wheels were already in motion. I doubt the Chairman could stop the launch of Iranian jets now anyway. The ayatollahs were already leaning in this direction. It didn’t take much of a push to get them involved,” Daric said as he looked out of the window.
“Then you don’t think it would do any good for me to talk to him?” Sarine asked.
Daric turned back toward Sarine and said, “None whatsoever. Like I said, he already had his mind made up. He is determined to destroy the scrolls of Jesus. He sees them as a threat to the Order’s goals.”
Sarine knew that copies of the Gospel of Jesus scrolls had already gone viral around the world. Paperback copies of the ancient scrolls were everywhere. She and the Order feared the damage this Gospel of Jesus could do to their plans to rule the world.
The Gospel of Jesus contained the ideas and preachings of Jesus, direct from his hand and written over two thousand years ago. The religious work was already creating divisions within the Christian world and beginning to have political ramifications as well.
“Destroying the scrolls now is pointless,” Sarine said in frustration.
“Some think that if the scrolls are destroyed, there will be no way to authenticate the Gospel of Jesus. They could claim the Gospel of Jesus is pure fiction,” Daric said.
“I disagree. People will believe what they want to believe, even if the scrolls are destroyed,” Sarine said.
“Perhaps, but in any case it doesn’t matter. Iran is bent on pulling off this attack to prove that the ayatollahs in Iran are best suited to lead the Moslem world. What better way to drive the point home than to destroy the scrolls and the infidels who possess them,” Daric said.
“Yes, I know. Jesus is considered a Moslem prophet of God, and in their one sided view, he and anything he wrote belongs only to them. To let an infidel handle such a religious relic is a great offense,” Sarine said.
Sarine stood up and studied Daric for a moment, then said, “Well, there is nothing we can do now. Perhaps it is time to plan for a new Chairman.”
“My thoughts exactly, but first we have to survive this disaster.”
They both nodded agreement and began planning their next moves.
John Arrowsmith entered Pastor Phillips’ church study, knocking on the door frame as he stepped inside the cozy room. He had decided to see his pastor at Ocean Front Church. He had questions on his mind that he needed answered.
“John, I didn’t expect to see you this morning,” Phillips said with a broad smile on his face, standing up from his desk chair and walking around his desk to meet John.
Pastor Phillips was still spry for a man in his mid-sixties. His gray hair was in sharp contrast to the alert and intelligent brown eyes gazing at him now through black rimmed glasses.
“I’m not interrupting, am I?”
“I always have time for you,” Phillips said.
They shook hands, then John sat down in a chair across from the pastor’s desk. Phillips retreated back behind his desk and sat down.
“I need some guidance, Michael. I have been having visions again. I don’t understand them, but they feel so real. Then, of course, there is this healing ability I have that seems to work intermittently. I don’t understand what is happening to me?”
“I once said, John, that it will take time to understand the path that God has set you on. At first, I thought you were a healer, sent to heal and help God’s people. Now, I think you are more than that, much more.”
“What do you mean?” John asked, curiosity lighting his eyes.
“I think you might just be a prophet of God,” Michael said, studying John’s reaction.
“A prophet? First, you thought I was a healer, now a prophet? That seems so for fetched.”
“I admit that I saw you only as a spiritual healer for a long time. But the visions and this soul glaze you told me about earlier, those indicate a greater calling. I said prophet because I could think of no greater calling, but you are right, I am not sure where God is leading you,” Pastor Phillips said.
“Prophets in the old testament parted seas and resurrected the dead. That certainly isn’t me!” John said emphatically.
“Isn’t it? Some would say Rebecca was dead when she was shot outside of the university conference center last year when she was delivering the Gospel of Jesus. You brought her back.”
John’s mouth fell open in surprise. He had forgotten about that terrible ordeal. Rebecca had been dodging Black’s men and Homeland Security agents, trying to deliver a copy of the Gospel of Jesus to the Christian Discovery Conference so the spiritual work could be authenticated when she was shot by one of Black’s men.
Rebecca’s life had drained from her as John held her in his arms and prayed for her life. He knew that for a few seconds Rebecca had actually died, but prayer and God’s mercy had spared her and restored her to life.
“That…that was different,” John finally replied, not really believing his own words.
“Is it? Let’s examine the facts. You heal people, not consistently, but you do heal, you have visions, and you have brought someone back from death. I think the parting of the Red Sea may not be too far away,” Michael said with a smile, teasing John.
“You can make a joke about this, but I am scared to death. I don’t know where God is taking me,” John said, anger beginning to edge into his tone of voice.
“Then you should just relax and enjoy the ride. Times are changing. I can feel ominous things coming, and I think you were put here by God to meet them.”
“Me? I’m just an ex-cop trying to find a job,” John replied defensively, letting his anger slide away from him to be replaced by frustration at not finding a job.
“Speaking of which, I believe I have a position for you. The job doesn’t pay much, but you do get a small office.”
John’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What sort of job?”
“Pastor in charge of healing and prayers,” Michael replied.
“You just made that job up,” John accused Michael.
“John, you have to admit that things happen when you pray. I think my church needs a man like that on staff to help us grow spiritually as a church. Want the job?” Pastor Phillips leaned forward over his desk, eager for John’s agreement.
“I can’t exactly be choosy, can I? I don’t have a job at the moment.”
Michael smiled and leaned back, relief spreading across his face. “Then you will take the job?”
“Yes, I suppose, but I haven’t the slightest idea what my duties would be.”
“I’ll let God lead you in that matter. Let me show you to your new office.”
“You already have an office for me?” John asked, surprised that things were moving so fast.
“John, I have been planning this for months. I was just waiting for the right moment. I was afraid you would turn me down.”
“Maybe you should change my church title to prophet in waiting,” John chuckled for the first time, making a small joke.
“My thoughts exactly,” Michael replied, only he wasn’t joking.
Detective Sergeant Bret Walker was short and lean with red hair, and he wasn’t happy. Another suicide had occurred on his watch. He glanced at his young partner, Detective Rachel Park, and wondered how something like this would effect her. Park’s hair was short and brown with matching brown eyes. She was taller than him which annoyed him a little. He disliked having to look up at her. She aught to be at the beach doing something fun. A young woman in her early twenties didn’t need to be neck deep in death.
He took a deep breath and reminded himself that she had asked to be assigned to the homicide division and so far had performed well, though she was a bit brash at times. He knew that she would get better with experience. He would also have to get use to looking up at her. She was his partner.
“I don’t like this one little bit, Rachel. I know Darken is responsible somehow for what is happening. I just can’t prove it.”
“If we could get a warrant for that satanic church of his…”
“Been there, tried that. It’s the religious freedom thing. No judge will issue a search warrant unless I can directly tie the church to public endangerment or menace. Darken has been careful so far to avoid any obvious ties to these suicides.”
Walker was very familiar with Darken’s satanic church, the Church of the Dark as Darken called it. There weren’t many members, thank God, but the ones that did belong seemed to be fanatics. Deacon Darken ruled them with an iron hand. Walker suspected more than a few crimes could be laid at the door of that church.
“What’s the coroner say?” Rachel asked.
“Same as last time. Overdose of sleeping pills,” Walker said.
“Strange that the other suicides were overdoses too,” Rachel replied.
“Yeah, and the pill bottles have no identification on them. Just like the pill bottles we found at the other suicides,” Detective Sergeant Walker said. “It’s all a little too pat. Repeating patterns like this usually mean a serial killer.”
“Then you don’t buy the suicide angle?” Park said.
“No, my gut tells me murder, but the drugs are the mystery. Where did they come from?”
Walker shrugged and said, “Who knows where Brook got her drugs. This whole thing bothers me to no end.”
With a heavy sigh, Walker looked around the shabby one bedroom apartment where Brook had lived until her suicide—or murder. The apartment was located on the south side of town, peeling paint and torn carpet, but at least she had a place to live. Others were not so lucky. Too many people were living on the streets in these desperate economic times.
Everything on the south side of Gulfview was run down. It was where the homeless and the hopeless settled because no one cared what happened here, except for a few church missions and soup kitchens–and the police.
It was also where the Church of the Dark was located, preying on the people that society had rejected and enticing them to join a Satanic church that promised food and shelter.
This recession had only made a bad situation worse. More people were losing their jobs everyday, and now the homeless were beginning to overflow into the more prosperous areas of town, angering many store and property owners. His fellow officers were constantly arresting trespassers and panhandlers. The police department was being stretched to the limit. They weren’t set up to deal with the economic disaster that was looming over them.
Walker nabbed the coroner as he was leaving. “Anything?”
“No, fairly simple. Overdose just like the others. There were no pills left in the pill bottle. Same as the first suicide over on Sunset. I’ll run a blood analysis, but if the results are the same as last time, I would guess some form of barbiturate. It’s still the drug of choice for suicides.”
“Suicide note?” Detective Park asked.
“No, nothing. She also had an upside-down cross around her neck just like the other two.” The coroner paused a moment, then added, “There’s something strange going on here. Unlike the first suicide, you remember there was a single pill left in the bottle at the second suicide.”
“The one over on Fifth Avenue last week?”
“Yes. I was able to run an analysis on that pill. Got the result back this morning. That pill registered five times the strength I would expect. A couple of pills at that strength would be more than enough to kill a woman. In the first suicide, I assumed she had taken the entire bottle since the bottle was empty, but if those pills were of this same strength…”
“Then only a few pills would be needed to kill someone.”
He nodded and said, “But who would make pills so powerful and dangerous? It makes no sense.”
“Murder never does,” Walker said.
“You think someone deliberately gave these women pills strong enough to kill them?” the coroner asked, disbelief showing in his eyes.
“It’s the only thing that makes any sense. Suppose someone made up a strong batch of these barbiturate pills, then told the victim to take a couple to sleep or feel better. The victim wouldn’t suspect anything, and the death would look like suicide.”
“Which is what we have seen in the last three deaths,” the coroner said, nodding in agreement.
“The tip-off is the unmarked bottle,” Detective Park interrupted.
Walker glanced at her and smiled. The kid was sharp. “Yes, that bothered me from the beginning. There are a ton of pharmaceuticals floating around on the streets. All you need is a prescription, and there are a lot of fake prescriptions out there. So why make a special batch of pills with an unmarked bottle when pills are already available on the street?”
“It wouldn’t make sense unless you were making a murder weapon,” Park said.
“All of these murdered women belonged to Darken’s church. So why were they killed?” Walker questioned.
“Darken’s church?” the coroner asked.
“The upside-down cross is a symbol of the Church of the Dark as Darken likes to call his church. The upside-down cross is a way for anti-Christians to show their disdain for Christians by taking the cross that Jesus died on and turning it upside down. Darken’s members are the only ones that would wear something like that.”
“I wouldn’t know about that–your department. I will have a full report for you in a couple of days if I’m lucky. Probably more likely I won’t have the full results until the end of the week. State cutbacks have really slowed down forensics.”
Walker nodded. So now they knew for sure: murder. Next stop would be Darken.
Ocean Front Church was quiet. It was early Monday morning. John had come into the main sanctuary to pray after his talk with Pastor Phillips. He had a lot to pray about.
John knelt at the prayer rail which was located in front of and below the church stage where the choir loft and pulpit were located. The church stage itself was three feet off the ground. In the front center of the stage stood the lectern where the pastor gave his sermons. Dominating everything was a floor-to-ceiling cross anchored to the back wall.
After a few minutes of prayer, a peace descended on John, washing his fears and apprehensions away. God would provide. If an assassin was coming, God and he would meet that threat together. And if he was turning into some sort of prophet, then God would see him through that as well.
John heard a noise behind him. He turned, and his eyes met a young woman who was carefully making her way up the red carpeted church aisle toward him, dragging her left foot behind her. She moved slowly, stopping after each step, to bring her left foot up even with her right, then she repeated the process. It was painful to watch.
Her eyes were fixed on him. He knew why she was here. The same reason they all sought him out–healing.He was slowly coming to terms with the healing abilitythat he seemed to have. He didn’t know why sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. He had struggled with that inconsistency, and finally decided to leave the matter in God’s hands. He would pray with anyone who requested healing, and he would deal with their disappointment and anger when that healing did not come.
He gave the woman a small welcoming smile. She seemed to draw encouragement from that smile. Her eyes were clear and focused, determined.
She finally stopped in front of him and said, “My name is Brenda. Can you help me?”
“How long have you been like this?”
“Since birth. I…I wasn’t suppose to come. My parents said you were a disciple of the Devil, that you supported a false gospel, but I have heard you speak on the radio, and I attended one of your revivals. I don’t think you serve the Devil.”
Her words gladdened his heart. So many hated him these days for his support of the Gospel of Jesus. Wherever he spoke, there were demonstrations and hecklers, but there also were large numbers of people eager to hear the words of Jesus.
“Brenda, can you kneel down with me at the prayer rail? Is that too difficult for you?”
“Nothing is too difficult if it means my leg can be healed,” Brenda said, hope shining in her eyes.
Awkwardly, and with help from John, she kneeled at the prayer rail. John kneeled beside her, putting his arm around her shoulders.
“Do you believe in God and Jesus as your Savior?” John asked, his eyes meeting hers.
John began to pray. The words came slowly at first, then faster, with more precision from somewhere deep inside of himself, somewhere not completely under his control. He felt a warmth began to rise within him, and a peace descend on him. Slowly that warmth spread out from his inner being to his arms and legs, to his fingertips. There it stopped.
“Believe, Brenda. Forgive anyone you have a grudge against, rebuke any hate, think only of the love of Jesus.”
John continued to pray, but the warmth advanced no further.
“I know it is hard, but you must seek forgiveness, Brenda. You must harbor no bitterness or hatred. You must let go of any negative emotions and let Jesus deal with them.”
Again, John bowed his head and continued to pray. Minutes passed, then slowly the warmth began to move from his fingertips into the young woman, flowing through her in ever increasing quantities. There was something about twisted nerves and dead pathways, bits and pieces of images flashed through his mind. Then suddenly, everything stopped. The healing warmth ceased as if someone had flipped a switch.
John opened his eyes and glanced at Brenda. She slowly opened her eyes. Fearing that nothing had happened, yet hoping that she was healed. Together they stood up, his arm still around her shoulder. She struggled to stand even with John’s help.
“I…I feel so strange, so at peace,” Brenda said.
“God heard you.”
“Am I healed?”
“Why don’t you take a step and see,” John said with a happy grin.
With John’s support Brenda took a short step and stumbled. John grabbed her and held her upright. Fear of failure flashed through her eyes.
“Your leg may still show signs of weakness, but strength is returning. Have faith.”
Brenda nodded and said, “My leg does feel stronger.”
She nodded and took another step. This time, she did not stumble. She turned and smiled in triumph at John. Then she took another step and another. By the time she was halfway down the aisle, she was walking normally. She gave out a loud yell of joy and ran back to John. She hugged him fiercely.
“Thank you, thank you! My parents will never believe this,” she said enthusiastically.
“Thank God. He healed you.”
“Him most of all.”
She walked away with a smile on her lips, tossing him a hand wave as she walked out of the church.
John felt good about what happened. His spirit had been lifted up and refreshed by the healing power that had flowed through him, washing him clean of any anger or fear, renewing his faith. John felt that cleansing joy in every healing that occurred. It was a small gift God gave him as a reward, a renewing of his spirit.
John smiled. This time he had not failed.
John heard a loud clapping of hands in the back of the church. He spied a short young woman dressed in a shabby long black dress with shoulder-length dark hair spilling down her back. There was a spiteful look in her eyes, one of intense dislike, yet he had never met this woman before.
She walked no further into the church, staying close to the doors of the church as if she might flee at any moment.
“An excellent performance, Healer,” the young woman scornfully said as she continued to clap. “Are all of your healings so artfully done? What is the trick?”
“No trick, just God at work.”
She stopped clapping and hissed, “So easy to say, but hard to prove.”
“Perhaps, Jesus then.”
“Don’t speak that name to me,” she shouted angrily.
“Who are you?”
“Your enemy,” she replied.
“How can that be? I don’t even know you,” John said as he started walking down the aisle toward her.
“Stop,” she shrieked. “Come no closer. He said you would try to approach me, even lay hands on me. I can not permit that.”
“Who is he?”
“The deacon of my church,” she replied firmly.
“What church is that?” John inquired as he stopped halfway down the aisle, studying her. There was something peculiar about the woman, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. She sounded odd, as if her words weren’t quite her own and out of sync with her lip movements.
“The Church of the Dark, the only true church.”
“You worship Satan?” John said, not believing what he had heard. Who in their right mind would worship Satan–the avowed destroyer of mankind?
“The only true god.”
“Satan is a false god; an angelic being cast down from heaven,” John said.
“Lies. I do not believe your Bible. It is full of lies,” she smirked.
“Again, why are you here?”
“Deacon Darken sent me. You may have heard of him.”
“Can’t say that I have, but then I don’t travel in your circles.”
“I am here to warn you. You are upsetting the balance. You must leave and never darken the door of a church again. Perhaps then, you will be spared.”
“The balance between my god and yours. Darken says your one of the First Ones that was foretold. You will not succeed in opening the Gates of Heaven.”
“Gates of Heaven?”
“Have you not read your own Bible? Your own Gospel of the Hated One? They both talk of God descending upon Jerusalem and a new age beginning, a new earth and a new heaven. The Gates of Heaven must be opened before God and his heavenly host can descend upon the earth. That was always the plan.”
She gave him a wicked grin. “I suppose you don’t even know about the Day of the Red Dragon when Satan will rule the world? It is coming, very soon.”
“I don’t understand any of this,” John said quietly. “But what I do understand is that Satan lies and deceives mankind so that he may control them, just as he is controlling you now. Repent of this wickedness and be free.”
“Never!” she screamed.
“Jesus Christ is the answer. Salvation can be yours if you repent.”
“Lies, all lies. Once we serve Satan there can be no salvation. Our souls are his.”
“That is what he wants you to believe, but it is a lie straight from hell. Jesus can save you, but only if you will it.”
“I don’t so will it,” she spit the words out. Then suddenly laughed. “Trying to convert me? Don’t waste your time. You have little of it left.”
“What does that mean?”
“You are doomed. Deacon Darken is coming for you.”
“What is your name?”
“Why do you want to know my name?”
“Of course not. My name is Bane.”
“Is that your real name?”
“It is the name that Darken gave me so it is my name now. All I was before is dead.”
“Bane, God can help you. You can throw off this web of lies and deception. Embrace Jesus and be saved.”
She laughed. “Always preaching salvation, you Christians. Where were you when I was starving in the streets? Only the Church of the Dark gave me food and a place to live.”
“At the cost of your immortal soul!” John shouted, trying to break through to the young woman.
“My soul is just fine, Healer,” she shouted back
“Don’t you see that only hell awaits you?” John said in a calmer voice, restraining his emotions that kept threatening to break out at any moment. How could he reach this woman who was enslaved by Satan?
“I eagerly await that destination for that is where my master dwells.”
“Don’t say that,” John said, horrified by her words.
“Do you grow irritated with me? How wonderful to irritate a servant of God.”
“God will not be mocked,” John said as he once more advanced.
“Stop!” she shouted, fear in her voice.
“If your god is so powerful, why are you afraid? Is it that Satan fears God? Your lies betray you. It is you who is afraid? Do I bother you that much or perhaps it is this church that bothers you. You are standing on sanctified ground.”
“To stand upon sanctified ground is to burn with pain,” she said, fear touching her voice for the first time.
“You burn because churches are holy and holiness cannot abide evil. Evil must flee or parish.”
She laughed, ”Fool. Not all churches are holy, only a few. We have seen to that. You Christians are so easy to lull to sleep, and you are so obedient to the laws that Satan has passed, restricting the worship of God. It is almost laughable.”
“Then why do you burn here in this church?”
“This church is filled with the power of God that flows through you. That power fills the walls, the floor, the pews, the very air you breathe. Most churches have little of the power of God in them. A state we find most enjoyable, at least until this New Christian Movement started. They are trying to stir up the world, to evangelize everyone. That will not be tolerated.”
“Because if the world were truly saved by the grace and power of God, then all of the earth would be sanctified ground. You would burn with pain everywhere upon the face of the earth. There would be no place for you and your kind or the evil that you serve. Isn’t that what you really fear?” John said, righteous anger filling his voice.
“That will never happen! We will see to that, Healer.”
“You are in pain now because evil can not stand before God. Renounce your evil ways and know the joy of salvation.”
She laughed again, “Still trying to convert me? I am long past any salvation you might offer. Now leave as I have warned you or suffer the consequences.”
“I think not. Evil must be confronted and destroyed so let me warn you, as you have warned me. There is no place for your kind in this town.”
John moved closer. The woman screamed an obscenity at him and fled. She was through the door and gone in an instant.
John shook his head, trying to remember everything that had been said. There was so much. What did she mean by First One? And what was this balance she referred to?
But what she said about the Gates of Heaven bothered him most of all because those words reminded him of his vision. It was too much of a coincidence.
He needed to study the Gospel of Jesus in more detail. He needed an explanation for what had just happened.
John knocked on the pastor’s door and then entered the study. Pastor Michael Phillips looked up from some papers he was reading, surprised to see John back so soon.
“Sorry to bother you, Pastor, but something just happened that I need advise on.”
“Please, come in, John. You know that you are welcome anytime. How do you like that new office of yours?”
John sat down and said, “I really haven’t spent any time there. Something unusual just happened to me. I just encountered someone from the Church of the Dark.”
Pastor Phillips leaned slowly back in his chair. His expression growing concerned. “Here, in this church?” Surprise was in his voice.
“Yes. What exactly is this Church of the Dark and who is Deacon Darken?” John asked.
“You have probably guessed that the Church of the Dark is an imitation of the Christian church dedicated to Satan, and Darken is Satan’s servant. I would advise staying as far away from both as possible.”
“You have encountered this Darken before?”
“Only briefly. He sent chills up my spine. Evil radiated in waves from the man. Never have I felt Satan so close as the day I met that man. He came to stand at the door of my church. I rebuked him and told him to leave.”
“Darken actually set foot in this church?”
“No, I met him outside, on the church steps. I still can’t believe the gall of the man, to attempt to enter a holy church.”
“Why did he come?”
“In a word? Intimidation. Darken is all about intimidation, forcing his will on others. The evil that surrounds him and his satanic church wants to control this town. My church and others like it, prevent that from happening.”
“The woman that came into the church said that I upset the balance and must leave. What do you think she meant?”
Pastor Phillips shook his head and let out a deep breath. After a moment, he said, “I am sorry to say there are those that believe that a balance has been struck between Satan and God, an understanding if you will, that each side will abide by an unwritten rule not to interfere with the other. Sort of a truce. Such people claim that evil and good must exist side by side. That good can not be understood unless evil is also encountered. They claim that such balance is the natural order of things. That there can be no black without white, that both always must exist. At times, one side or the other may gain ascendancy, throwing everything out of balance. When evil is too strong, we have wars, recessions, hunger, plagues, and other terrible atrocities, but when good triumphs, we have peace, prosperity, health, and plenty. Duality, these small minds shout must always exist and balance.”
Pastor Phillips stopped for a moment, rubbing his brow with his right hand, and said, “Mind you, I don’t subscribe to that theory. I think that is an idea straight from a devil that is trying to limit the power of God, but far too many that should know better do believe in this duality.”
“So this woman thought that I and the New Christian Movement would upset the status quo,” John said, puzzling over the statement that Pastor Phillips had just made.
“Apparently there is a growing fear in those that follow Darken that you might upset things and put Satan and his evil bunch on the defensive. If that is the case, then John, I say go to it.”
“Do you know anything about the Gates of Heaven?”
“Gates of Heaven?”
“Yes,” John said.
Pastor Phillips thought a moment, then shook his head. “No, never heard the term.”
“This woman claimed that the Gates of Heaven must be opened before God can descend upon the earth and establish a new Jerusalem.”
“You are talking End Times?”
“It would seem,” John replied.
“Revelation does talk about a new heaven and a new earth, of a new Jerusalem, but I have never heard the term ‘Gates of Heaven’.”
“Neither have I. She also spoke about the reign of the Red Dragon.”
“Which can only mean Satan,” Pastor Phillips said. “Some think Satan has already began his rule with all the evil and war on the earth.”
“You think that the time of the Red Dragon, Satan, is already here?”
“No, not in the sense this woman thinks. A time when Satan has utter control of the earth would see unimaginable evil spread everywhere. We don’t have that, at least not yet.”
John nodded in agreement. “This woman, Bane, didn’t say that the reign of the Red Dragon was here, but that it was coming, and somehow I was standing in the way of that coming reign.”
“Well, thank God for that,” Pastor Phillips said with a smile. “We need Christians standing in the way of Satan.”
“I agree, but I think there was something more in her statement, something in particular about me being a hindrance and needing to be dealt with quickly.”
“That doesn’t sound good, John.”
“You think Darken and Bane would resort to violence?” John asked.
“I think Darken and his crowd are capable of anything. Be careful, John.”
“You are talking to an ex-cop, Michael. I can handle myself.”
Pastor Phillips frowned, then said, “John, you have never fought anything like this. Pure evil is a supernatural force of devastating strength. Normal human tactics and methods won’t work against such onslaughts. You are talking about spiritual warfare.”
“What exactly is spiritual warfare?” John asked, curious about the expression. He had heard the term before on several occasions but had never understood the term.
“That’s when you fight with spiritual weapons–God’s word and the Bible. Your material weapons do not work in the realm of the spirit.”
“Like my dream of the red lion and my dagger with the name of Jesus inscribed on it,” John said, remembering that dream vividly even after a year.
“Exactly. The battle can be fought in dreams, visions, and even real life. Be on guard.”
“Doesn’t sound like anything I need to be involved in,” John said, feeling a little anxious.
“We all become involved to some degree. Simply praying against evil and malignant events is a form of spiritual warfare. Every time you pray that the plans of Satan will be defeated, you are engaging in spiritual warfare.”
“But you are talking about spiritual warfare at a higher level, aren’t you?” John said.
“Indeed, I am, and I hope you are never exposed to that kind of attack, but then again a prophet of God may not be able to avoid such an encounter,” Pastor Phillips said with a small smile, making John feel a little uncomfortable. He didn’t think he was a prophet of God.
John looked away for a moment, then back at his pastor, a serious expression on his face and said, “I will do whatever God commands me to do.”
“As will we all. Now, let’s say no more about it. Perhaps this was a one time event.”
“I hope you are right, but I have a feeling that trouble is coming my way.”
“Then you had best do some hard praying so you will be ready for it,” Pastor Phillips said.
John nodded and stood up to leave.
“John, if you need to talk again, don’t hesitate to see me. You are not alone.”
“Thanks, I will remember that,” he said as he walked out of the pastor’s study.
The Church of the Dark was a building painted black with red stained windows. A gloomy, evil looking place that depressed the human spirit as it was meant to do.
Walker could feel the heavy weight of evil pressing down on him as he walked into the evil stained building. Some would say that feeling was his imagination, but Walker knew better. He couldn’t begin to imagine the evil that must be performed in this church, all in the name of the Devil.
Darken stood at the front of his little church facing Walker, behind him, nailed to the back wall was an upside down cross. On each side of Darken, stood an athletic, well muscled tall looking man: his body guards. He never went anywhere without them.
“Good afternoon, Walker,” Darken said in a pleasant voice.
“That’s Detective Sergeant Walker to you,” Walker said with barely controlled anger in his voice. He detested Darken and this church.
“So formal today. Ah, I see you have brought the delightful Detective Park with you. Welcome to my church.”
“You know why I’m here?” Walker said.
“Has there been another death?” Darken said, his fake sounding surprise irritated Walker. “This is getting to be rather monotonous, isn’t it? After every suicide you seek me out. Let me repeat what I have said numerous times before to you: I had nothing to do with any suicides.”
“I know you are involved in this somehow,” Walker said.
“That would require proof, my dear detective,” Darken replied with a knowing smirk.
That smirk on Darken’s face told Walker that Deacon had murdered the women and was daring him to prove it. Overconfidence, that would be Darken’s downfall. But at the moment, Walker had no proof.
Walker had come here to confront Darken and see how he reacted to his accusations. He read body language fairly well. Every good detective did, and Darken’s body language said he was guilty as hell.
“I believe Miss Brook went to your church. When was the last time you saw her?” Walker asked.
“It must have been all of two days ago, Saturday night I believe, when we held our church services. It was a wonderful service.” His oily smile and smug expression made Walker want to grab him and wring his neck. He kept reminding himself that he was a police officer first and held to a higher standard of conduct.
“You wouldn’t happen to know where she got the drugs to commit suicide?” Walker asked. He had decided not to mention murder yet. Let Darken think that the police still thought the deaths were suicides. Darken might get careless.
“I have no idea,” Darken replied.
“I thought you used drugs in your so-called worship services,” Walker pressed.
“Sometimes, but I assure you, nothing harmful,” Darken replied. “Now, I have answered your questions and been most cooperative. Get out.” There was a hard note to his voice mixed with scorn.
“Not yet. I thought I might have a look around.”
“This is private property. You need a warrant to search this church.”
“Yet here I am,” Walker said as he walked toward Darken’s office.
One of Darken’s bodyguards moved to stop him, but Darken waved him off. Too bad, if the bodyguard had tried to stop him, he could have nailed them all for obstruction of justice and dragged Darken and his bodyguards in for questioning, but Darken was too smart for that.
“Look for anything in plain sight that might help us. Don’t open any drawers,” Walker cautioned Park as he entered Darken’s office.
Walker knew that if he found anything incriminating, he could not legally use it in a court of law, but he was desperate and needed a lead, something to assist his investigation, but he found nothing after a general search. Walker and Park were careful not to open drawers, looking for anything in plain sight. They might get away with evidence found in plain sight in a court of law, if there had been something to find. With a deep sigh of regret, Walker left Darken’s office.
Walker still had nothing on Darken. He could run him in and interrogate him at the police station for a while, but his lawyer would have him out within a few hours–a waste of everyone’s time. But he was tempted. Finally, he turned away and walked out with Park following behind him.
“Leaving so soon?” Darken said, arrogance in every syllable he uttered.
Walker ignored him.
“Why don’t we arrest him just for the fun of it? We might be able to sweat the truth out of him,” Detective Park said, anger in her voice.
Walker shook his head as he exited the Church of the Dark. He was glad to be out of that wicked place.
“No use wasting our time, at least not yet. Arresting him now with no evidence could lead to charges of harassment and lawsuits. Darken always has a lawyer at hand. I think he is sued on a regular basis for one thing or another, none of the lawsuits ever stick though. He is a slippery customer.”
“You know he had something to do with the suicides, probably supplied the drugs,” Park said, frustration evident in her voice.
“Yes, but we can’t prove that.”
“So now what?” Park asked, disgusted with the situation.
“We keep digging and hope for a break.”
The two American newsmen stood outside of a large hotel in Tel Aviv, Israel, with their bags and camera equipment piled up beside them on a warm, dusty Monday morning. They had traveled half way around the world to arrive at this destination and neither of them wanted to be here.
“At least it’s spring. The weather is not too bad in the spring. On the other hand, the summers are brutal,” Charlie said, looking up at Tony.
Charlie was only five feet, seven inches tall and found he was usually looking up at someone. He was forty-five years old and a veteran news reporter. His blue, intense eyes missed little which made him an excellent reporter.
“Stop trying to cheer me up,” Tony said, picking up their equipment.
He was the camera man and official porter for the news team. He stood six feet, six inches tall and had the strength of an ox. His long brown hair hung down to his shoulders, and he had a broad, but lovable face.
“I mean the last time I was here the heat was horrible. I had the misfortune to draw a news assignment here right in the middle of summer. The humidity was so high you felt like you were walking around in a bowl of soup,” Charlie said as he brushed his blond hair back out of his eyes.
“You are just trying to make me feel better. You know I don’t want to be here.”
“Luck of the draw,” Charlie said.
“I still say Dave sent us on this assignment because of Charlene,” Tony said, his lower lip protruding in a mild pout. “The way she kept smiling at you and giggling every time you talked to her was bound to get us in trouble. Dave noticed, and he is not a forgiving kind of guy.”
“Charlene isn’t Dave’s girl,” Charlie defended himself with a frustrated sigh. Tony had been pushing this conversation ever since they left New York.
“Does Dave know that? I don’t think so. They have been on a couple of dates, you know.”
“A couple of dates doesn’t make her his girl.”
“Okay, then why were we sent to Israel? We were suppose to go to Paris to do a news story there, not Israel. Why the sudden change? I will tell you why. Because Dave is in charge of overseas news assignments, and he was getting even. Who wants to know about Israel anyway?”
“Regardless, we are here, and I have got to come up with something for the morning news cycle back in the states. There is a seven hour time gap so we need to find something in the next few hours to talk about for five minutes over the national news.”
“Let’s check in first. I need to dump some of this equipment. I feel like a pack animal loaded down with all of this stuff,” Tony complained.
Charlie smiled and walked toward the hotel doors. Tony was probably right. Dave had shafted them. Well, what else was new? His career wasn’t exactly headed for the top.
Thirty minutes later, Charlie and Tony sat around a small table in their hotel room. Tony was cleaning his camera equipment.
“Sand gets into everything around here,” Tony complained.
“It’s the Middle East. What did you expect?”
“I tell you what I expected–Paris. That’s what I expected.”
Charlie just shook his head. Tony needed to find a new song to sing. This one was getting old.
“I was talking to a few of the hotel staff. They said things are pretty tense between Israel and Iran at the moment. United Nations negotiations broke down again. Everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Charlie said.
“Another reason to be in Paris,” Tony grumbled.
“Anyway, one of them said some of the Tel Aviv residents are leaving town.”
“Why is that?” Tony asked, looking up from his camera, suddenly interested in what Charlie was saying.
“If Iran strikes, Tel Aviv will be one of the first targets hit.”
“What a comforting thought since we are in blooming Tel Aviv,” Tony said, shaking his head and frowning.
“I was thinking about doing a few ‘man on the street’ type interviews, then maybe relocating south of here. Hotel clerk said there was a pleasant little inn on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. That would be close enough to come into town for some interviews, yet far enough away to survive in case things go south between Israel and Iran.”
Tony carefully laid his camera down and leaned back in his chair, crossing both his arms. He glared at Charlie. “Okay, out with it. What aren’t you telling me?”
Charlie shrugged and said, ”Just a rumor.”
“What kind of rumor?” Tony pressed.
“The hotel porter said that Iran not only has a nuclear bomb, but more nuclear material than anyone thought. He said an Israeli spy got the information out of Iran a couple of days ago. Since then, the prime minister and every minister of government have been locked up in a meeting.”
“They don’t seem to keep secrets too well around here,” Tony said.
“You know how it is. Someone’s brother or aunt or cousin in an important position talks and rumors are born.”
“You think the rumor is true?” Tony asked, concern creeping into his voice.
“Who knows, but one fact does stand out. The porter says military troops and armor are headed south out of Tel Aviv.”
“Man, that can’t be good.”
“The porter agrees. Government authorities have said the military is simply going on normal maneuvers, but no one really believes that.”
“Getting the hell out of Dodge, you mean. I’m beginning to like that idea of moving south myself. That inn sounds like a good idea.”
“Fine. Grab the camera and let’s get some interviews. We can upload the data by satellite later.”
A few hours later, Tony dumped his camera equipment on the hotel table and collapsed into a nearby chair.
Charlie had a bucket of ice he had gotten from an ice machine down the hall and was busy pouring the ice into a glass and adding some bottled water. He was sweating from the long walk around the local area. He drank the entire glass quickly, enjoying the feel of the cool water on his parched throat.
“We must have walked a hundred miles,” Tony complained, taking his right shoe off and rubbing his foot.
“It wasn’t that bad,” Charlie said, pouring himself another glass of water.
“You weren’t lugging around all the equipment.”
“I think we have enough interviews to send back to the states,” Charlie said.
“And then some. I will set up an upload link and transmit our stuff back to the states via satellite. Then we can get something to eat. I am starving.”
“You are always starving,” Charlie said with a smile.
“Not so, but I do need to eat regularly which is damn difficult to do since I have been hanging out with you. How about passing some of that water over here?”
Charlie passed the ice bucket and a bottle of water to Tony, then said, “Let’s upload our stuff, then we can go downstairs to the hotel restaurant.”
“Now you are talking.”
After the upload to the satellite, they were about to leave when a knock at the door got Charlie’s attention. He walked over and opened the door to find Bill Wilson standing there, one of his news competitors, but a nice guy all the same.
“Heard you guys were here,” Bill said, waltzing in with a smile on his face. “Hi, big fellow.”
Tony nodded and waited, obviously anxious to be on his way. His stomach was already growling.
“So why are you here? I thought only fools and the troubled were sent here,” Charlie said.
“I have been doing a tour of the trouble spots in the Middle East. Planning on doing an entire series of stories dealing with the Middle East and its problems. I spent a week over in Iran, then Iraq, and now here. I want to tell you that every hour I was in Iran, I expected to be dragged off to jail. That is one terrifying place. They don’t like westerners much either.”
“So what did you find out?”
“Nothing. That place is locked down tight. No one is talking. But I got the feeling while I was there that something big is brewing. One of their important mullahs went on a tirade at one of the embassy galas that I attended. Talked about how Israel was about to be wiped off the face of the earth.”
“They have been saying that stuff for years,” Charlie said.
“I know, but this time, I believed him.” Bill leaned in closer to Charlie and said, “Don’t quote me, but I think Iran is going to attack Israel and very soon. No hard facts, you understand, just a feeling I got from all those Iranian officials I chatted with. It was like there was this giant secret that everyone was dying to tell, but couldn’t.”
“You really think so?” Charlie asked, amazed at the news.
Bill shrugged. “Just a hunch. Hey, want to come to an early supper with me? I got an interview set up with one of the military public relations officers. To show you my heart is in the right place, I will share the interview with you. You can even bring gruesome over there.”
“Right now. I am going over to pick her up now. We can meet downstairs in the hotel restaurant,” Bill said as he walked to the door. “We probably won’t find out much. These Israelis are as tight lipped as the Iranians, but we might get lucky.”
As Bill walked out the door, Tony said, “I’m not gruesome.”
Sebastian Black knocked on the hotel room door and waited. He had only recently found out about Sharp being in town. One of his contacts at the Order had come through for him.
Sharp was part of an Order assassination team. Their forte was natural looking deaths or accidents with no messy police investigations or questions that might lead back to the Order. The only question was whether Sharp was here to take out Arrowsmith or somebody else.
The door opened slightly the second time he knocked and dark eyes stared out at him, followed by a puzzled expression. “What are you doing here, Black?”
Black put on his best friendly smile and said, “Heard you were in town. Thought I would drop by.”
Sharp opened the door and let Black in, still wearing a puzzled frown. “We aren’t exactly friends, Black. This seems damn strange. The Order send you?”
“Just professional curiosity, and no, the Order did not send me. Sorry to hear about Lari.”
“Yeah, we were together a long time.” He shrugged and said, “She got careless, and her target killed her. It happens.”
“Who is your new partner?” Black asked.
“You know better than to ask that. My partner always stays in the shadows, anonymous. Besides, she is working now. Once the target is locked in, it’s hands off until the job is finished.”
“Sorry, didn’t mean to give offense,” Black said with a small grin. “By the way, your target wouldn’t be John Arrowsmith, would it?”
Sharp clenched his jaw, anger sliding into his eyes. “I don’t know what you are talking about, and you know better than to ask a question like that. Targets are confidential. Only the Order handlers know the identity of the target. This is damn suspicious. I will have to report you to the Order.”
“Be my guess, but wouldn’t they frown on unnecessary communications at a time like this?”
Sharp hesitated, uncertainty edging into his face. “I can do it later, but rest assured I will report this infraction.”
Black had a problem. He had hoped to find out the identities of the assassins, then neutralize them, but he had only half the team, the unimportant half. If anything happened to Sharp, the female assassin would be alerted that something was wrong. He definitely didn’t want that. No, best to just keep an eye on Sharp, and hope for a break.
“Well, I suppose I had best be going. Despite our differences, why don’t you call me? We can get together while you are in town, maybe have dinner.” Black gave Sharp his business card. Sharp took the card and nodded.
“Maybe. It does get damn boring waiting around,” he replied reluctantly.
Black left and rode the elevator down to the main floor in deep thought. Sharp hadn’t meant to, but he had given away a few things. He said his partner was already working. And the way Sharp reacted when Black mentioned Arrowsmith’s name told him his hunch was correct: Arrowsmith was the target.
The other thing Sharp had given away was the gender of his partner: a woman. Sharp usually worked with women partners, although he had been known to work with male partners on occasion. Their weapon of choice was exotic poisons that couldn’t be traced in an autopsy. Their clients wanted a natural looking death. No questions asked.
That meant the woman assassin had to form some sort of relationship with Arrowsmith and work him into a position where the poison could be easily administered, in a drink or on food. He would have to talk to Arrowsmith and see if any new women had turned up in his life lately.
Black didn’t know how much time he had to prevent Arrowsmith’s murder, but he figured it wasn’t much. He would have to work damn fast.
Charlie sat down at a table in the hotel dining room along with Tony and waited for Bill to show up with the Israeli public relations officer. Tony scanned the menu.
“We should wait for Bill and the Israeli PR officer before ordering,” Charlie said.
“You wait,” Tony waved a waiter over and pointed a finger at an item on the menu that he couldn’t read. The waiter nodded and left.
Charlie smiled and said, “You just ordered roast goat with potatoes.”
Tony shrugged and said, ”Maybe I will like it.”
Charlie sipped some wine he had ordered and waited for Bill to show, wondering if this was going to be another one of those pointless meetings.
“So, you think there will be war?” Tony asked.
“It’s only a matter of time. You heard what Bill said.”
“The military leaving Tel Aviv didn’t exactly inspire confidence in me that things were going okay. So how do the Israelis survive a nuclear attack?” Tony asked.
“Disperse, get away from any obvious targets.”
“Which seems to be what the military is doing now? What about everybody else?” Tony observed.
“There’s the rub. I think they have some fallout shelters, but other than that, I don’t know,” Charlie said.
“As usual, the civilians get the shaft. Think anyone other than the military will be leaving?”
“They could move the government to Eliat in the south on the northern tip of the Red Sea. That might be the safest place in the country right now,” Charlie said.
“Is that because the rest of the country will be toast if war breaks out and Iran zaps Israel with nukes?” Tony asked with a frown.
Charlie shrugged. Who knew how bad it would get? But he felt Israel would survive.
He said, “Probably not, but the destruction could be very bad. Depends on how many bombs and missiles the Iranians launch and the size of the nukes. Most everyone agrees the Israelis have bigger and more nukes than the Iranians. In any exchange the Israelis would be hurt bad, but the Iranians could be wiped out.”
“And radiation burns for everyone else,” Tony said, shaking his head.
“You’re right. The radiation poisoning could be the worst part of this war. No one knows how many deaths could result from that or how much of the Middle East would be lost due to radiation poisoning.”
“Gloomy picture. Sounds like you have given this some thought,” Tony said.
“A good reporter does his homework.”
Charlie saw Bill and a slim attractive woman with long dark hair walking toward their table. The woman must be the Israeli PR officer. She wore no uniform so she obviously was a civilian working with the military.
“Well, I see you guys actually showed up. I’m surprised. This very pretty lady is Sarah, the most informed person I know,” Bill said.
“You are very kind,” Sarah replied in a husky voice with a slight accent. Her English was very good, which Charlie expected in a good PR officer.
“Sarah, this is Charlie and the big guy is Tony. Charlie is a reporter and Tony is the camera man,” Bill said, making the introductions as they both sat down at the table.
“I am pleased to meet you,” she said with a polite smile.
The waiter brought Tony a large plate of meat and potatoes. Tony smiled and said, “Sorry folks, I was hungry.”
“You are forgiven,” Sarah said. “A man as big as you must eat.”
Bill motioned for the waiter, and they all ordered items off the menu along with drinks. Charlie stuck with the wine, Bill ordered a beer, and Sarah decided on coffee.
When the waiter left, Charlie leaned back and said, “So what can you tell us about the current situation in Israel, Sarah?”
Sarah smiled and said, “You don’t waste any time, do you Charlie?”
“I always seem to have these pesky deadlines to meet,” he replied.
“What would you like to know?”
“What the rest of the world would like to know. Is Israel going to war?”
“Not unless provoked,” she replied.
“Does Iran possess nuclear weapons? That is the main question. Most of the nations in the world do not think so, not yet,” Bill said.
They stopped talking for a moment when the waiter brought their drinks. Then continued when the waiter left.
“But what does Israel think?” Charlie pressed Sarah.
“We keep our opinions to ourselves,” she replied with a smile.
“Which means you know Iran does have nuclear weapons,” Charlie said.
She turned to Bill and said, “Charlie is very quick.”
“That’s Charlie. That is also a question I wouldn’t mind hearing answered.”
“We believe that Iran has nuclear weapons, but we have no proof. And without proof, who will believe us? Our official position is Israel must defend herself against any and all threats. We will not start a war, but we can be provoked.”
“And what is the unofficial position?” Charlie asked.
“The same,” she smiled.
“Congratulations. You are just as tight lipped as the other officials I’ve met,” Bill said with a smile. “Can’t you give us a little hint?”
“Off the record?” she asked.
They all nodded.
“Let’s just say if I were you gentlemen, I would get out of Tel Aviv.”
“Why is that?” Bill asked.
“Because that will be the first target the Iranians strike.”
The waiter brought their food. They ate quietly with some minor chitchat. Charlie noticed that Sarah smiled a lot, but gave nothing away about what was really going on in Israel. Charlie admired her PR skills.
After lunch, she said her farewells and Bill walked out with her. Charlie thought Bill was taken with her a little.
Charlie turned to Tony and asked, “How was the goat?”
“Okay, bit of a tang, but not bad. Now what?”
“You heard the young lady. Now we pack up and move south.”
Tony smiled. He liked that idea a lot.
Mackay stood in front of the American embassy where he had gone after landing at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. He had needed the embassy’s secure communications to put the final touches on the Stein evacuation plan and to verify the arrival of the C-130 cargo plane at the Stein warehouse on Wednesday.
Mackay motioned with his hand at the small car that was coming down the street. He recognized Simon Stein behind the wheel. Simon noticed Mackay immediately and stopped in front of him.
“I can’t believe you called me,” Simon Stein said as Mackay got into Simon’s car.
“You were the most logical one to call since we have met before.”
“When you saved me from the feds last year, you never identified yourself. I never knew your name until now.”
“I thought it best at the time to remain anonymous. However, recent events have changed everything.”
Simon offered his hand and said, “I’m glad to meet you again, Mack Mackay. I wasn’t in very good shape the first time we met so my memory is a little vague, but I remember your face. I owe you a great deal.”
Mackay shook Simon’s hand. “Glad to have helped. We had best be on our way. There is lots to do and not much time.”
Simon put his car in gear and drove away. As he drove, he listened intently and in growing surprise as Mackay explained the reason he was here and the importance of moving the scrolls.
“You can’t be serious,” Simon Stein finally said, disbelief obvious in his voice as he shifted gears, his small car picking up speed. They were heading west to Isaac Stein’s warehouse where the scrolls of Jesus were kept.
“Dead serious,” Mack Mackay said, watching the Tel Aviv scenery slide by.
“How do you know the threat is genuine?”
Simon was having a hard time wrapping his mind around the coming attack. To destroy the scrolls of Jesus was unthinkable, even by Iran. Jesus had hand written those scrolls; they were his gospel and unique. Simon nervously pushed his brown hair back off of his left eye.
“Eighty percent certainty. Never can be 100% sure, but in my business you treat eighty percent and above the same as certain.”
“How will the attack come?”
“Fighter jets most likely, quick in and out. There will be nothing left standing when they are done.”
“Can’t someone do something? Can’t your government do anything?” Simon asked, concerned about the possibility of the scrolls being destroyed.
“Ha! We have been talking to Iran for years and accomplished nothing. We aren’t exactly on the best of terms and haven’t been for some time. No, you will get no help from anyone. The best we could do was arrange for a C-130 to sit down by the warehouse late Wednesday afternoon and start loading the Jesus scrolls for evacuation to Britain.”
“You can’t be serious. That doesn’t give us nearly enough time,” Simon objected.
“That isn’t the half of it. C-130s are rarely on time,” Simon said with a deep sigh.
“What if there isn’t enough time?” Simon protested.
Mackay shrugged and said, “Save what you can then. Come dawn Friday morning, there will be nothing left to save.”
Simon frowned, frustration and fear mixing on his face. “I need to call Rebecca. I will need all the help I can get to convince father. He will be reluctant to move the scrolls. He has grown rather attached to them.”
Mackay nodded and glanced at his watch. It was early Tuesday morning, still dark outside. It had been a long plane ride plus the seven hour difference in time zones–all of which had tired Mackay out. He was looking forward to taking a nap.
The C-130 cargo plane would be here Wednesday afternoon, if it arrived on time which, unfortunately, rarely happened. There were always hang-ups, unexpected delays, in an operation like this. They would probably have to work through the night and try to launch before dawn on Thursday. That still gave them an extra day before the Iranian jets hit–if the intelligence held.
“Rebecca? Is that you?” Simon said over the phone.
Mackay reached over and put his hand over the phone. “Don’t mention the attack over the phone. There is a lot of monitoring of the airwaves in this part of the world. Just tell her to meet you at the warehouse.”
Simon nodded and continued to speak to Rebecca. Mackay hoped that Simon and Rebecca could convince Isaac to move the scrolls, else all of this effort will have been for nothing.
They pulled into the Stein warehouse compound just as the sun came up. They had stopped for breakfast and a break, then continued driving until they reached the Stein compound.
Mackay was exhausted. He hadn’t slept a wink on the flight over, too busy going over operational plans. Then there was the stop at the embassy and now this long car ride to the warehouse–all of this activity was catching up with him.
Mackay got out of the small car and stretched his legs, massaging his back to get some of the kinks out. He hated small cars. He was stiff from the long ride. He glanced at the large sheet metal building standing in front of him. The guards had waved Simon through the chain link gate that led into the compound and phoned ahead to his father.
Simon started walking toward the large two story building, aiming for the open twin metal doors that led inside. Mackay followed.
Isaac Stein met them at the entrance. He was a slightly overweight man of average height with graying temples and a receding hairline, but a ready smile. Mackay found that he liked him.
“Welcome, son. And who have you brought with you?”
“This is Mack Mackay. The man who saved me from the American authorities last year.”
Isaac stepped up to Mackay and shook his hand vigorously. “I can’t thank you enough for saving my son. He means the world to me.” Isaac smiled at his son and continued, “Please, come inside. I have some refreshments. The sun is just now coming up and while it is comfortable now, it will get a lot hotter.”
Mackay followed Isaac to a small office inside the building. He couldn’t help but notice the rather large steel vault that occupied most of the inside of the large metal structure, dwarfing the small office that sat in front of it.
“That where the Jesus scrolls are kept?” Mackay asked, pointing to the closed steel vault doors.
Isaac nodded. “Indeed it is. That is a solid tungsten steel vault. A bomb could go off, and it wouldn’t crack that vault,” Isaac said with a confident grin.
Mackay and Simon glanced at each other. If Isaac only knew.
As they entered Isaac’s office, Isaac sat down behind a small desk littered with stacks of paper. “Please have a seat and rest. I know you have had a long journey, Mr. Mackay.”
“Mack is fine.”
“Mack it is. Call me Isaac.”
Mackay sat down in a straight-back wood chair in front of the desk. Simon ignored the other chair and continued to stand, preparing himself for the difficult discussion to come.
“Father, we have some very disturbing news.”
“Which we can discuss after we have had some tea,” Isaac said as he placed three cups on the desk, pushing aside a stack of paper.
He produced a tea pot from behind him and poured the tea, handing Mackay and Simon a cup. Then Isaac leaned back in his chair and sipped his own tea, a pleasant smile on his face.
“Ah, that is good. Troubling news is always best faced with a cup of tea in hand. Now what is the news? I suspected that Mack was not here for a social visit.”
“Friday, sometime after dawn, Iranian jets will strike this warehouse and destroy everything in it,” Simon said. He gave the news to his father straight and hard, knowing his father didn’t like dancing around bad news.
“Impossible!” his father whispered in astonishment, taking another sip of his tea and shaking his head. “I have some rather good contacts myself in Iran, and they have mentioned nothing about an imminent attack. Sure, there have been speeches and threats concerning the Gospel of Jesus, but nothing firm. I’m afraid your information is bogus.”
Mackay frowned. This was going to be harder than he expected. “My information is very reliable, Isaac. Fighter jets are going to bomb this warehouse come Friday morning and destroy the scrolls.”
Isaac shook his head stubbornly. “I simply don’t believe it.”
“I have a C-130 coming in Wednesday afternoon to take your Jesus scrolls to safety,” Mackay said, leaning forward in his chair. “You must load the scrolls aboard and get out of here.”
“I’m afraid your C-130 is making the trip for nothing,” Isaac replied, setting his tea cup down. “I know you mean well, Mack, but your CIA has been wrong before, and I think they are wrong again.”
“Then you aren’t going to move the scrolls to safety?” Simon asked, incredulous that his father would not listen to reason.
“They are safe already. They do not need to be moved.”
Mackay shook his head and stood up.
“I need to get some sleep. If you two will excuse me.”
“Of course,” Isaac said. “There is a barracks not far from the gate you drove through. I am sure you can find some accommodations there.”
“Thank you,” Mackay said as he moved to the door of the small office.
He needed a break from this deadlocked discussion and some place to sleep for a few hours. He was exhausted after the long plane ride and drive here. This was not going well, and if Isaac didn’t change his mind, come Friday, there would be no Jesus scrolls. The warehouse and scrolls would be blasted into oblivion.