THE KEY OF DAMASCUS BOOK II:
The Silver Fox
MONDAY MORNING WE GOT up around seven o'clock. This time Nachman didn't need to call me. I was wide-awake when I heard the clinking of some pans around the fire. I got up. used my electric razor that I had recharged in the truck during our trip the day before and had a quick wash. When I arrived at the fire the coffee was on. Nachman handed me a cup after sloshing it with some water and dumping it out.
"You had quite a night last night. I thought that you were attacked by some wild animal or something, although there aren't any man eating tigers around here."
I went over to the fire and poured myself some coffee. "I don't know about man eating tigers, but I've never had such horrible nightmares as the ones I've experienced this past week. This trip isn't what I planned. I envisioned to visit a number of digs and to absorb some history, but I never expected to get involved in a religious clash about some artefact that may or may not exist. I also didn't plan to put anyone including myself in danger. "
"Do you think it's the company?" he quipped.
"I don't blame you, but somehow I feel that we seem to be heading into disaster. Perhaps I should call the rest of the trip off and head for home while I'm still sane and in one piece."
"I can't help you there. You must do what you think is best, but it would be a shame to miss what we have planned. Just yesterday after hearing of Jacob's death I felt the same, but now I see it for what it was. Just part of life."
"Maybe so. I'll think about it. I don't know. I keep dreaming about those two guys and now the girl."
"I mentioned it to you yesterday. When you went off to visit your friends I had a visitor."
"I guess I was preoccupied with Jacob's death and didn't hear much of what you had to say."
"Let me tell you she was some looker. I have seen women, but this one was something else."
Nachman poured some coffee in his tin cup and sat down. "Tell me about your visitor."
"I don't know how and where she came from. She just seemed to appear."
"Don't tell me you also see apparitions? Perhaps our sun is getting to you. Strange things happen to people when they suffer from sunstroke."
"Don't patronize me. If you're going to make fun of me let's forget the whole thing."
Nachman's voice became calm and serious. "I'm sorry. This whole business is bizarre."
"As I was saying she came out of nowhere and after some preliminaries she asked me about the Key. She had heard that it is on the market to the highest bidder. While she was beautiful there was something sinister about her. I can't put my finger on it, but even though I was fascinated with her she also gave me the creeps. She had a coffee with me and then just walked off saying that we would meet again. She also called me by name. By the time I realized that I hadn't told her who I was and decided to ask her about it, she had rounded that corner over there, which as you can see is no more than a dozen steps away. I called after her and ran to ask her how she found out my name, but as I turned the corner there was no one around. I checked every angle, but no luck. You can see that there is no place where she could have disappeared so quickly."
Nachman looked around and took a sip out of his cup. "I'm not trying to be funny, or insult you, but these ancient places sometimes have a weird effect on people."
"So what are you saying? I have become delusional and have hallucinations? What about the coffee she drank? How do you explain it? I had to make another pot when you came back."
"Of course not. Sometimes the mind plays tricks on you. We've all had it happen to us." Then he tried to reassure me. "As far as the creepy feeling; I know how it feels because I felt the same thing when we saw those two journalists."
There was a long silence then he stirred the fire with a stick. "Are you all right after that terrible nightmare you had?"
"I'm not going to talk about it. If I do you'll only find another reason to say I'm sick in the head."
"I already told you that I was sorry, but if you choose not to tell me, so be it."
Nachman got up went over and brought the satchel with the food to the fire. He opened it and unwrapped some pieta bread and cheese. He handed me the flat pancake like bread and some cheese that he had cut from the slab. We ate in silence for a while and as the atmosphere cooled off I told him of my dream.
"How could you have known where and how Jacob died? Or did I tell you? If so then the rest is history, considering what has been happening. I mean the girl, the two reporters and the sun did the rest." He poked the fire again. "Let's leave it all behind us. We have a good day ahead and there is a lot to see here."
After breakfast I helped him clean up our utensils and he packed them into one of the satchels.
"I hired a young fellow again who should be along anytime. He will look after our things and the truck while we wander around."
"Where did you find him and can you trust him?"
"He's reliable. He's a local teenager hired for some menial tasks by the professor heading up the dig. They told me that they could do without him so I offered the lad some money and he was glad to spend the day relaxing, and getting paid for it. I don't know whether you know it, but normally the workers on a dig come from all over the world to gain credits towards their degrees or to obtain post-graduate experience. They don't get paid to gain this experience. In addition there are always a few locals that are hired for menial tasks and get a subsistence wage. The grants usually received from the sponsors barely cover the essentials, but there is always a little left over for miscellaneous expenses. Usually the head of the dig hires someone to run errands. This person who gets the job recommends local merchants where supplies can be bought at the best prices. I'm sure that the agent also gets something from the owners, but he still has to find the best value for the money, because he has to keep his reputation unblemished. If he doesn't then word gets around and no one will hire him again."
"Wouldn't a person like that have tendencies to steal?"
"Not the experienced hands. As I mentioned before the ones that work on the digs regularly have a reputation to uphold, because if they are caught stealing the game is also over for them. The word spreads quickly in this business as you have found out during the last couple of days."
I looked around. "While we wait I'll wander around the temple for a bit exercise."
Nachman didn't make any move to come with me. "Go ahead, I'll finish off here and will be with you as soon as the kid arrives."
I drifted around looking at the strewn rubble in some places and inspecting a number of the restored walls by past diggers when I heard someone call.
Turning around I saw Nachman beckoning me.
Before I even reached him, he started his recital about the old city.
"There are thoughts that Hatzor was built by Solomon during the nineteenth and thirteenth centuries BCE. The architecture and especially the city gates have a distinct character that is similar to the gates in Megiddo, and some excavations in Jerusalem. Yet no concrete evidence has been found to confirm that Solomon even existed except in the Bible. You will understand as we walk through these ruins that this city was a very rich one during the Bronze Age. As I mentioned before the digs and the city are divided into two parts. The upper tel here is the acropolis, and there is the lower tel where the city stood. Along the western and northern sides a huge earthen rampart was constructed. A wall protected the eastern side above a steep slope. This is where the two city gates were located. You can understand the interest in the lower tel because this site contained public buildings where the administration was located."
We went through a large portion of the lower tel. As the morning passed the sun got hotter and beat down on us mercilessly. I checked my watch noticing that it was eleven thirty. I took another swig from my water flask. The liquid was protected from direct rays by a canvas material so it was adequate to drink, otherwise it would probably have been hot enough to steep tea. I came up to Nachman who was pouring some water on his head to cool himself.
"By the weight of my hip flask I think I'm getting to the end of my water supply."
He wiped his brow with a bandanna. "It's getting close to noon. By the way I forgot to tell you that the director of the dig invited us for lunch. He wants to meet you and probably give you a lesson in Archaeology 101. Remember these guys are essentially teachers and never pass a chance to show off. I think it would be faster and give our feet a break if we took the truck."
I climbed into the truck.
"I'm looking forward in meeting the gentleman. With all the lessons I'm getting at the different locations do you think that one of them would give me a credit towards a degree in archaeology if I decided to change my profession?"
"I doubt it. They'd want you to get your hands dirty and earn it, but they're always ready to give a lecture on their digs except when it's something very important and they want to keep it secret until a formal announcement is made."
I was happy with the invitation.
"It's a break for us that we won't have to cook anything in this blasted heat."
Nachman gave me a preamble before we got to meet the professor.
"The dig is supervised by a German, but the project is a joint venture between the US, Germany and Israel. The man in charge is professor Shulehausen. He's an expert in his field and a great gentleman. He wanted to meet with you when I told him that you have traveled extensively in Germany and spoke his language."
As we approached the dig we could see the workers file towards a tent that was set up to serve as a mess hall. Someone must have warned the professor, because as soon as we parked the truck the old fellow was outside the tent heading towards us with his outstretched hand.
Nachman reached out greeting the host.
"Shalom again Professor Shulehausen. I brought my friend that I told you about last night. Meet Brad Scott."
He came towards me. "Willkommen Mr. Scott. Nachman told me that you speak excellent German."
"Danke Herr Professor. I was also looking forward in meeting you. I am told that you are a great expert in your field, and call me Brad. My father is called Mr. I'm just Brad."
For a moment the professor was lost.
"Your father? … But of course. Ha! Ha!" He stretched out his hand to me. "It's a pleasure meeting you Brad."
The old teacher had a firm grip and shook it a few times too many for my liking, but it's a common European practice when the person wants to demonstrate his sincerity of being happy to meet you.
"Thank you professor."
"Nachman! Brad! Come inside and have some lunch. It's nothing much, but in this heat it's enough. We usually have a heavier meal at night."
The inside of the tent was organized in a cafeteria style. On one side there were a number of tables set up end-to-end where stood some Thermos' marked coffee, tea, milk, and water. Then further were pans with bread and plates containing cheese and a bowl with preserves. There were other baskets with fresh fruits. We stopped for a moment at the entrance. The professor pointed towards the long table.
"Brad, Nachman don't be shy. Help yourselves. The dishes, cups and utensils are here at this end."
"Thank you," beamed Nachman. "You lead the way and we'll follow."
He brushed past both of us towards the utensils. As we filled our trays with the food and the drinks the old man pointed to the table.
"For Brad's benefit I must tell you that the milk comes from a goat. Europeans enjoy it, but I know that not all Americans like the distinct flavour and the sharp taste."
"Thank you for your warning. I'm not a milk lover regardless where it comes from except in coffee. There I like it."
We found a little table at one corner of the tent. As we sat down and began our meal the professor extended his sympathy to Nachman. "I'm sorry again about your friend Jacob. That was a dreadful business. At my age I know that death stares us all in the face, but that's no way for anyone to die."
"Thanks. Have you heard anymore about the autopsy or any other news?"
As I ate I listened to the conversation between the two at the table with apprehension.
"No, but the police said that they would be back today. I don't know whether to bring us news of the autopsy or more questions."
Nachman put some preserves on his bread. "What I don't understand is this thing with his eyes. How can anyone's eyes just explode? Regardless of fear or anything else."
The professor took a sip from his cup. "There are many things we still don't understand in spite of our advances in science or the psyche. Who knows what reaction you or I would have if we were confronted by something that our brain could not tolerate. Who knows what would be the final outcome?"
As they spoke I thought of my last night's dream, but didn't have the courage to tell it to a stranger for fear of being ridiculed.
Through my reverie I heard the professor ask, "What do you think Brad?"
"I … I don't know. All I can say is that this trip turned out to be a greater adventure than I had anticipated."
"I guess we'll know more when the police come. That is if they come," concluded our host. "Brad how would you like to view some of the artefacts that we have uncovered? Nachman, do you want to come along?"
"No. I want to wander around the dig if you don't mind. I want to talk to some of the diggers."
"If it's about Jacob there is only one person that saw anything. That is if there was anything to see, and she has taken some medicine to help her relax. She is off for the day and is resting in her sleeping quarters. If you intend to talk to her be careful, she is very vulnerable right now. Try not to upset her."
"I do want to talk to her and I'll try my best."
Nachman left us and went off in the direction of a group of tents.
When we finished our tea the professor stood up and pointed toward a table where the soiled cups and dishes were piled. After we disposed of our utensils he motioned to me.
"Brad, let's go and I'll show you some of our finds. They're very interesting. This place was rebuilt many times on the ashes of the previous destructions."
"The majority of the digs that I have visited with Nachman seem to have been built and rebuilt on the ashes of a previous settlement."
"That's man's legacy," replied the professor.
We entered another tent where a number of artefacts were scattered on a table with some notebooks beside them. Professor Shulehausen picked up an ivory carving of an ugly figure that looked like half beast half human.
"Isn't this beautiful. Look at the work of the ancient carvers. The skill of the artisan."
"Amazing," I breathed. There was nothing else I could say because if I had really told the professor what I thought of the statuette he would have thrown me off the dig as an ignoramus. That part would have been true, but no one could have told me that the horrible thing he was displaying was an object of beauty. We went through a number of bronze figurines, pieces of jewellery and statuettes made of clay. We spent a couple of hours browsing though the relics with the professor giving me the run down of each piece and their history. I got immersed in the old man's explanations and completely forgot about the heat. Time flew by quickly, but it was beginning to get tiresome. We were inspecting a clay bowl when a young girl entered the tent.
"Everyone is waiting for your lecture professor. The other two are finished."
The professor glanced at his watch.
"Mine Gott! I got so wrapped up that I completely forgot. It's my turn today to lecture on yesterday's finds.
"Brad, are you interested in sitting in?"
"I wouldn't mind, but I should find Nachman to see what our plans are since he's the leader of our little expedition." I lied because even though the last hour was interesting I had enough.
I wandered outside until I saw my guide standing talking to a girl near the east side of the palace being excavated.
As I approached them he beckoned me. "Come here I want you to meet someone."
Since originally I didn't know whether he wanted me in on his conversation I had taken my time, but now that the invitation was granted I quickened my pace. As I came up Nachman gestured to a young woman in her late twenties standing beside him.
"I want you to meet Dorothy. She would rather we call her Dot. She's from the University of Nebraska. She was the unfortunate person who found Jacob yesterday."
I shook her hand. "My name is Brad Scott. I'm happy to meet you Dot. It must have been a terrible shock. Are you all right? I wish it was under different circumstances."