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Authors: Merry Jones

Outside Eden (22 page)

BOOK: Outside Eden
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And woe unto anyone who got in the way.

Dr Hadar listened to Harper with a poker face. No reaction at all, even when she explained that Peter had been wearing her gloves, that someone had probably put the scorpion in them deliberately, trying to kill her and make it look like an accident. That someone in the church was trying to stop her from preventing their next murder and the terrible catastrophe they were planning for the next evening.

She was about halfway through her story when she realized that Hadar wasn’t listening. He was watching the students at work in the pit near the wall.

‘Hannah,’ he interrupted Harper, shouting something in Hebrew.

Harper followed his gaze, saw a young woman stumble over a crooked plank, almost falling into the ditch.

Hannah laughed and yelled back, ‘Todah.’

Hadar turned back to Harper. ‘Yes, well, I have to get back.’ He started to step away, but Harper stopped him.

‘Just give me a minute.’ She rushed through her thoughts again, sounding disjointed, even a little paranoid. But Hadar was in a hurry. She had to be quick, so she skimmed over details, merely reminding him that Pastor Travis’s church believed that the battle of Armageddon was going to start the next day at sundown. That a murder was going to be attempted – that they’d already tried to kill Yoshi. She was about to talk about the three groups planning something violent when Hadar cut her off.

‘You’ll have to excuse me, Dr Jennings. You’ve said all this before. But with all due respect, I have work to do.’ Abruptly, he started away.

Harper went after him. ‘Dr Hadar, I’m telling you that this whole site is in danger, that someone tried to murder me, that someone else might die, and you’re too busy to—’

‘Yes, exactly. I am too busy.’ His eyebrows raised. ‘I’ve heard what you’ve had to say. And I’ve told you not to worry. I understand you’re upset about today. Why don’t you go back to the kibbutz and rest? Take a day off. A van is going back in a few minutes. I’ll arrange for you to be on it.’

Harper opened her mouth to insist that he take her seriously, but she stopped herself. She had no credibility. She was just a volunteer; Dr Hadar was the boss. And he obviously thought she was nuts.

As he walked away, students descended on him. Harper went back to her section, saw the small clump of dirt she’d left on the screen when Peter had screamed. She stared at it, not seeing it, replaying the agonizing pain of his scream, unable to get back to work. Dr Hadar was right. She should go back to the kibbutz, forget about dirt and ruins for the day. After all, someone from the church had tried to kill her, and would likely try again.

The van was filled to capacity. Lynne was there, wide-eyed, clinging to Travis’s hand. Marlene sat behind them, watching, listening, Frank beside her. Lowell sat in front of them. Harold was in the back. Others from the church filled the rest of the seats.

Harper looked for a vacant spot, saw one beside a plump woman with a perm. On the way, she stopped to talk to Lynne.

‘Are you all right?’ Stupid question. How could she be?

Lynne sat stiff, answered slowly. ‘Everything will be okay.’

Her pupils were dilated. Her reaction slow. ‘I should be with him, I know I should. But I can’t bear seeing him—’

‘It’s okay.’

Lynne stared into space.

‘He’s in good hands. Right now, Peter doesn’t know who’s there and who isn’t, and he won’t remember anything.’ Travis squeezed her hand.

Harper blinked, saw Hank falling off the roof, hitting his head. Lying unconscious, not knowing she was there. She dug her nails into her palm, but the flashback wouldn’t go away. Hank reappeared on the roof, fixing it, slipping. Falling. Hitting his head . . . Oh God.

‘He was screaming. His eyes were rolling, and his tongue . . . I couldn’t watch. I can’t.’

Harper saw herself running across the yard, kneeling beside Hank. She saw his battered head, grabbed his hand and held onto it, wouldn’t let go even as the EMTs took him onto the ambulance. Even at the hospital. The doctor insisted, ‘You need to let go, Mrs Jennings. We need to take him to surgery.’ Harper felt Hank’s limp hand, squeezed it. Felt its absence after she released it. Orderlies rolled Hank’s gurney away, and she couldn’t breathe, felt hollow, as if they’d taken her heart.

‘You’d do no good by being there, Lynne,’ Pastor Travis said. ‘Peter’s delirious. And he’d want you to do what’s right for you.’

‘He’ll be okay,’ Frank joined in. ‘They said it shouldn’t be fatal.’

Lynne’s skin got grayer.

Hank was on the roof again. Harper pressed her nails deeper, breaking skin.

‘You’ll be with him when it counts.’ Marlene leaned forward, poking her head between Lynne and Travis. ‘First, you need to take care of yourself. Like on an airplane when you put on your oxygen mask before you help others.’

Lynne didn’t respond.

The driver climbed in and started the engine. Time for Harper to take a seat. She reminded herself that Hank’s accident had happened a few years ago and, except for aphasia and a slight limp, he’d recovered completely. He was in Jerusalem, not a hospital. But Harper still felt the warmth of his hand. The sticky blood on her skin . . . No. She was in Israel, on a dig. Without bloodstains. Hank was fine. Peter would be, too.

Dr Ben Haim called to the driver to stop and ran up to the van. He climbed on, announcing that he’d just now talked to the doctor at the army base. Peter would be taken to the medical center at Kibbutz Golen in a few hours. He was still in pain, in and out of consciousness, but so far, he was responding well to the anti-venom.

Harper looked at the passengers around her, wondering if one of them had planted the scorpion. Could it have been Travis? Unlikely; Travis never did anything himself. But he might have encouraged one of his followers to kill her. Was someone eyeing her now, disappointed to see her alive? She scanned the group. Problem was, she sensed a threat everywhere, from no one in particular. Finally, she settled into her seat and looked beyond the woman next to her. Tried to see out the window, to concentrate on green hills and fertile valleys. But Harper saw the scenery only sporadically; mostly, she saw Hank on the roof, fixing loose shingles. Slipping. Sliding. Falling. Again. And again.

When it was finally possible, after lunch, the killer took the pastor aside. They took a walk to the highest point of the kibbutz, stood in the breeze, looking out at green fields and hills.

The killer waited for a moment, then took a breath, recited practiced lines. ‘Things have changed now. Peter’s out of commission.’

‘I’m aware.’

‘So, let me take care of the sacrifice.’

The pastor rolled his eyes. ‘Really? This is what you wanted to talk about? I should have known. Short answer: no.’ He started to walk away.

The killer was at his heels. ‘But I’m the only one with experience—’

‘We have limited time.’ He wheeled around, put up a hand as if halting the idea. ‘Too much is at stake. We can’t afford another screw up—’

‘I won’t screw up.’ Why was Ramsey still assigning blame? Why couldn’t he understand that nobody had been at fault?

Travis looked out over the hills. ‘Fact is I’ve already assigned it.’

What? Already? ‘To who? Is it Frank? Lowell?’ Couldn’t be Harold . . .

‘You don’t need to know. The fewer who know, the better. Too many eyes are on us – largely because of your mistakes.’ He checked his watch. ‘Let’s head back. It’s time for the prayer group.’ He started back down the hill.

‘No. Ramsey, wait.’ The killer hurried after him. ‘Give me a chance to redeem myself. Please . . .’

‘I believe we’ve already discussed this matter. I see no reason to revisit my decision. You had your chance. You failed and, in failing, you jeopardized our hopes of fulfilling the code. No. If you want redemption, don’t come to me. It’s out of my hands. The only one who can help you is God.’ He turned and strode away.

The killer didn’t move. Stayed there, back straight, jaw tight, throat thick and choked. Feeling wobbly, as if the earth were trembling. As if there were nothing to hold on to. How could Ramsey leave like that? Without a hopeful word, a reassuring embrace? Supposedly he loved everyone in the church; helped them in times of need. Was leading them to salvation and eternal life.

But the killer stood alone. Unloved. Rejected.

And then the realization hit: it wasn’t the killer who was at fault. It was Ramsey Travis. Truth was, he was only human, had human frailties. He wanted so desperately to fulfill the instructions in the code – was so close to accomplishing God’s requirements that he was blind to anything else, including anyone who got hurt on the way. Though he didn’t know it, Ramsey needed the killer’s loyalty and help more than ever.

In the end, God would recognize the truth, reward devotion, forgive minor errors. In a little more than a day, Pastor Travis would see how well the killer’s efforts had pleased the Lord and would bask in the glory.

Meantime, there was a third lamb to sacrifice – quickly, before Lowell or Frank or whichever council member had been assigned made their move. This time, the killer would find one weaker than that Yoshi. Less agile. The Lord would accept a sincere offering, even if it weren’t a perfect specimen. The main thing was to complete the triad by sacrificing one of Isaac’s people.

It shouldn’t be difficult; Jews were everywhere. It was just a matter of picking the right one.

When she got back to the kibbutz, Harper didn’t stop in at the nursery to see Chloe and Hagit. She went straight to the bungalow to start packing. Her mind was made up; she wasn’t going to discuss her decision with Hank or anyone else. Wasn’t going to listen to more lame reasons for her to stay. The dig, the opportunity to participate in the excavation of Megiddo South, was simply not worth risking her life and Chloe’s safety. And, even if Peter’s bite had been an accident – which she was certain it wasn’t – she didn’t want to be there with Chloe when Travis and his church members unleashed whatever they’d planned to bring on the end of days.

She pulled her shorts, jeans and T-shirts out of the closet, stuffed them into her duffle bag. Rolled up a skirt, a sweatshirt, a sundress. Threw in her underwear, flip flops, sneakers. A nightgown. Opened the drawer with Chloe’s clothes. Blinked. Except for a few pairs of socks and a stack of diapers, it was empty. She looked in the bathroom, checked Hagit’s room. Saw no baby clothes. Where were all Chloe’s things?

The laundry bag. Harper looked. Found only her own dirty clothes.

Damn. Harper looked under the bed. Then slumped onto it, baffled. Maybe Hagit was doing the laundry?

Well, never mind. They’d just get Chloe’s clothes out of the washing machine and transport them wet, in a plastic bag. They’d dry the load in Jerusalem. Meantime, she had to go tell Hagit to get her things together. And go to the office to arrange transportation.

Harper hurried out of the bungalow along the path toward the school. They’d leave before dinner. By bedtime, they’d be in Jerusalem. She’d be with Hank, would sleep beside him. She smiled, picturing it, as she passed Ramsey Travis’s bungalow. And felt someone watching her. Lowell was sitting on Travis’s porch, alone, his face sullen.

Harper kept going, spurred on by the uneasy ripple dancing along the back of her neck.

The killer didn’t hurry. Moved at a steady, careful pace all the way down the hill. Timing was critical. But so was the choice. Maybe the lamb should be someone who’d insulted the church, who’d talked to police. Someone who’d been unfriendly, standoffish. Or who’d interfered with the last attempt to find a lamb – like that guy Gal. Except, no. Gal was too strong. Maybe that young woman Adi, who’d taken them on a tour when they first arrived. Or her friend, Yael.

The killer walked and thought. Considered the boy who worked the desk in the main office. Decided, no, he could easily sound an alarm. Thought about the staff at the restaurant, but they worked as a group. It might be hard to isolate one. The killer kicked a pebble, frustrated. The fact was that most of the people who lived at the kibbutz didn’t cross paths with the dig volunteers. How was the killer to get one alone without knowing where to look?

But defeat was not an option. There had to be a way to please Travis and do God’s work. And then, boom: the killer knew. The face of the lamb appeared like a vision. She was older, kind of chunky and out of shape; it wouldn’t take much effort to overcome her. She’d be alone when Harper took her baby out for a walk. What was her name? Hag-something. Hagit! That was it. Yes. Hagit would be the final lamb. She was perfect.

The sounds of children playing skittered through the air, as light as butterfly wings, as ticklish as the breeze. Harper steeled herself, bracing for Hagit’s protests. Ready to fend off her resistance. She simply didn’t care what Hagit might say. She and Chloe were going to leave with or without her. The same instincts that had kept her alive in Iraq were ordering her to grab her baby and go. No argument by a babysitter was going to stop her.

Maybe they wouldn’t even get the baby’s laundry; she could buy more clothes in Jerusalem. Her biggest concern was transportation. Could she rent a car? If not, she could pay someone to drive them. Maybe Gal would do it.

Coming up the hill to the nursery, she saw Harold and a couple of other church members lingering near the fence. What were they doing there? Her spine jangled a warning. Harper checked them out, saw no weapons. She kept walking, nodded a greeting. All three nodded back, identical expressions on their faces. What was that expression? Watchfulness? Uneasiness? Alarm? Never mind. She had no time, kept moving.

The man beside Harold stepped forward, silently blocking her way. She was about to ask what he wanted when, beyond him, the gate to the nursery swung open. Three people stepped out. Frank, Travis and, in between them, wearing a grimace, Hagit.

The killer knew where to find the lamb: the nursery school. Hagit would be there with Harper’s kid. This time the plan would work. The killer would go in with a message, saying that Harper wanted Hagit to meet her. That she’d sent the killer to get her. Hagit would go willingly, would suspect nothing. Would have no chance to resist. Would be the third sacrifice.

BOOK: Outside Eden
11.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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