Below are two excerpts from The Q Fragments. The first is from the “contemporary” period of the story that occurs in the streets of the old city of Jerusalem where Walker and Nat, after buying the scroll fragments, are being followed by two men intent on stealing them.
The two men conferred, then split up. The taller one, wearing rubber soled leather sandals, turned down the street where Nat and Walker were hiding. Walker pulled back out of sight. After the man passed, he told Nat what they were going to do.
They stepped out of the shop and followed Rubber Sandals, walking quickly, talking, seemingly unaware of their surroundings, merely two men in a hurry. They hurried past Rubber Sandals without looking at him. He fell in behind them and opened his cell phone.
They turned off the main thoroughfare into a narrow side street with few pedestrians. After a short way, Walker led them into another twisting street, the narrow cobblestones winding among stone walls cut by doors almost flush with the street. Rubber Sandals continued to follow, keeping his phone to his ear. As they turned another corner, Walker, seeing that the area was deserted, whispered, “Keep walking. Don’t look back. Meet me at the hotel.”
Nat moved fast, rounded a corner and disappeared. Walker followed a few steps, slipped into a dark doorway and waited. Rubber Sandals, muttering into his phone, turned the corner. As he passed the doorway Walker hit him hard below his left ear where the skull meets the neck, dropping him dazed to the cobblestones. Walker stooped and slipped a black pistol from the man’s waistband and slapped him softly across the temple with it, knocking him unconscious. At that moment the second man appeared, phone to his ear. He saw Walker standing, facing him and stopped, his eyes going to his partner sprawled on the ground. Walker racked the slide on the black pistol, chambering a round, the sound ringing harsh and deadly in the deserted street.
“Another Glock,” Walker said, pointing the chunky pistol at the center of the man’s chest. “You guys get a discount on Glocks? Everybody’s got one, even the police.”
The man was shorter than his partner but easily twice as broad. Brown eyes stared at Walker from a face lined and scarred by the hard side of life.
“Don’t you think it’s kind of ironic, Israelis carrying German guns?” Walker asked.
This next excerpt is from Part 2 that takes place in the Judea of 2000 years ago when it was under Roman rule and the Procurator was a man named Pontius Pilate.
The Centurion Marcus Claudius Strabo strode purposefully through the halls of Herod’s Palace by the sea in Caesarea Maritima, now the seat of Roman administrative power in Judea. Those in his path were careful to give him plenty of room. Marcus’ temper was known and feared by all. Powerfully built, tall and blonde, his hair almost white, Marcus was a master with the Roman gladius and pilum, the short sword and javelin, and few dared to challenge him. Rumor was that once, when in Rome, he had entered the arena, disguised as a gladiator, and killed all those who opposed him, winning a wreath from the Emperor.
This was, indeed, rumor. Marcus had never been to Rome. Until he had joined the Legion in Gaul, he had not ventured more than a few leagues beyond his village. Now, thirty years later, he had seen half the world and he liked most of it better than he liked Judea.
“The Prefect?” Marcus snapped at a minor official hurrying by with an armload of scrolls. “Where is he?”
“Sorry, your honor, he is, I think… yes, he is in the baths,” the man stammered, gesturing with this chin over his pile of scrolls toward the sea.
“The baths,” Marcus grumbled as he stalked off, “Hell’s own dark gate, the baths. Always the baths. You’d think he’d be clean enough by now.” He quickened his pace, scattering servants before him.
The Roman Governor of Judea, Prefectus Pontius Pilate, lay reclined on a delicate cedar wood divan, talking with a small group of similarly reclining men. They were laughing at some joke and eating olives, fish, bread and cheese, washed down with wine in large silver cups.
“Ah! Marcus,” Pilate exclaimed, “join us. Pico here has a delicious tale of his evening with Herod’s people.”
“I swear by the gods, if Herod was dispossessed of that dense beard and those ringlets about his ears, anyone would take him for a Roman patrician’s wayward son,” said one of the men with Pilate.
Had Pilate grown his hair and beard, he might have been mistaken for a Jew. He kept his hair cropped short which did not conceal the gray beginning to show amidst the black. He was of medium height, but powerfully built, his tanned face broken by wrinkles and a long scar running down from the corner of his left eye, separating the end of that eyebrow into a small, black island, continuing deeper and down across the cheekbone, trailing off before cutting through his upper lip. A handsome face, even with the scar. Handsome, edged with hardness and a hint of cruelty.
“Prefect, I bring news,” Marcus said, looking pointedly at the reclining guests. Pilate stood.
“Please continue. I must deal with the Empire’s business,” he said to the others.
He and Marcus walked to the western end of the baths and decorative pools Herod had built on a low promontory by the shore of the Middle Sea. The distance from the others and the roll of the waves breaking on the rocks below giving them privacy of speech.
“They are here,” Marcus said.
“Hmm…… Tiberius’ spy and his black shadow, at last. No matter. We are prepared are we not? Everyone knows their duty.”
“We are ready, Prefect,” Marcus said.
“We must be cautious with the Jews. They are a stiff necked lot, and, my bones tell me, are bound to cause trouble before our visitors depart.”
“Many Jews have found it in their best interests to obey your counsel.”
“True, but that business of the shields in Jerusalem still rankles and Tiberius has not forgotten. Nor, apparently, forgiven.”
“The Jews were quick enough to take our gold then. They will again, should it come to it.”
“We will deal with them,” Pilate said, “but now, tell me your news.”
“Two fast triremes are coming into the harbor. They tie up within the hour. They fly the Senate’s flag, so it is him, Lucius Quintus. How shall we receive him?”
“As we would Tiberius himself,” Pilate said, then laughed, “Well, not as the old man himself, more as a demi-Tiberius I should think.”
“A reception party of virgins and young boys then?” Marcus chuckled.
Pilate did not smile. “You do not know the old man,” he said. “Tiberius cares not for the debauch and wine. Would that he did for his mind would not have rested here, on Judea, on us. He eats simply and drinks sparingly. His tastes run to philosophy and the ways of the Greeks, not the sybarites. Unfortunate for us…”
Both men stood silent for a while, watching the perfect sweep of the ships’ three tiers of oars as they appeared beyond the point and made their turn into the harbor.
“Come, let us prepare to greet Tiberius’ watch dogs,” Pilate said.