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Authors: Jack Cavanaugh

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BOOK: Tartarus: Kingdom Wars II
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Zelek’s gaze fell on the clay jar. He understood now. “The third scroll.”

He picked up a sizable rock and lifted it over his head. “Let me out, or I’ll destroy the jar.”

Semyaza’s expression remained unchanged. He did not acknowledge the threat.

Zelek protested, “You promised—”

“—to keep you safe from the marauders. I have kept that promise.”

His arms trembling with exertion, blinking back the sweat that stung his eyes, Zelek said, “You deceived me.”

“Would you expect any less from Lucifer’s lieutenant?”

Zelek had but one move left. He lifted the rock to smash the jar.

His arms froze in place, held back by an unseen force. Crying out in frustration, he strained against it with all his might, to no avail.

The ground beneath him trembled. The cave shuddered. From the domed ceiling rocks pelted him like meteors. He collapsed onto the floor. Semyaza, untouched by the rocks and appearing as beautiful as ever, looked down on him without pity.

A second fissure opened. This one on the opposite side of the cave. The sea rushed in, crashing against the rocks and Zelek.

The cave filled quickly. Zelek ben Judah remained alive long enough to know he’d been entombed in seawater, and long enough to watch the clay jars settle gently against the ocean floor.

The last thing he saw before he died was the glory of Semyaza shining against the black dome of the cave ceiling while a thousand flecks of sand glistened like stars in the sky.


heavenly glory blazed directly in my path. Shielding my eyes, I fought to keep them open. To close them now meant almost certain death. I hated driving east at this time of morning.

As if Southern California freeways weren’t dangerous enough, the sun hovered at just the right inclination to make seeing nearly impossible. Through the thinnest of eye slits I saw the cars ahead of me begin to stack up at the Second Street off-ramp. I slowed, maneuvering into the queue.

For some reason my mind flashed back to an elementary-school assembly. Instead of going to the auditorium we carried our chairs out to the playground, and as we sweltered on the blacktop, a man who called himself Mr. Science taught us about the sun.

“Never look directly at the sun,” he said.

To demonstrate what would happen if we failed to heed his warning, Mr. Science pointed a telescope at the sun. Then he held a grape with a pair of pliers close to the eyepiece. The grape was supposed to be our eye. We slid to the edge of our chairs in anticipation.

At first nothing happened, but Mr. Science assured us that even though we couldn’t see anything yet, the sun was cooking the retina of the substitute eye, causing permanent damage. Seconds later, when the focused sunlight burned through the skin, hot juice squirted out of the grape, eliciting squeals of disgust from the girls and howls of delight from the boys. Not only did Mr. Science make his point, but he inspired all manner of shenanigans with grapes-as-eyeballs at lunch.

A wave of taillights rippled toward me. I braked. Traffic came to a standstill. I turned my head, using the pause in the action to give my eyes a rest.

As bright as the sun was, I’d seen brighter, on top of the Emerald Plaza tower in the middle of the night. Let me tell you, the sun’s a dim bulb compared to the light of two dozen angry angels. If Mr. Science ever demonstrates what happened to me that night, he’ll place a grape on the ground and squish it under his heel.

It’s hard to believe that was a month ago, or that it’s been that long since President Douglas was assassinated. I haven’t seen a single angel since. At least that I’m aware. I mean, when they take human form, who can tell? I lived with one every day for four years and never knew he was an angel.

But then I suppose all that will change soon. Professor Forsythe had that Paul Revere tone in his voice when he called.

The angels are coming! The angels are coming!

He didn’t actually say it. He didn’t have to. Believe me, it takes a lot to drag me away from my cheese Danish and coffee in the morning.

When I finally arrived at Heritage College, the parking lot was full. Likewise, the area streets were lined with cars. If the universe is expanding like scientists say, why is it I can never find a parking place?

I ended up a quarter of a mile from the college. I must have looked like one of those Olympic walkers as I hurried toward the campus.

My cell phone rang. It was my publisher. I considered letting the answering service take the call. I wasn’t sure I was ready to talk to him yet.

I flipped open the phone.

“Grant? Higgins. Have you read the contract?”

“My agent faxed it to me this morning,” I told him. “I haven’t had time to go over it yet.”

“Whatever problems you have with it, I’m sure we can work them out,” he said. “I don’t mind telling you that I’m getting a lot of pressure from above on this one.”

I grinned. Pressure from above. Little did he know.

“I told you, I haven’t had time to look at it yet.”

“Can I at least tell them you’re interested?”

Of course I was interested. I needed the money.

The publisher came to me on this one. They wanted a tell-all book documenting how the Douglas administration had systematically deceived me while I was researching President Douglas’s biography. It would begin with an eyewitness account of the assassination and then detail subsequent events that uncovered the web of lies that concealed the truth from the American public.

My agent said the publisher was anxious to save face after printing the president’s story. And frankly, my career could use some damage control, since I was the expert researcher who had been duped.

“We want you to show that things aren’t always as they seem,” Higgins pressed. “After reading this book John Q Public will never take a White House statement at face value again. They’ll always wonder what’s really going on behind the scenes.”

“This isn’t the world you think it is,” I mused.

“Exactly! So you’re in? Grant, I want you to know that I went to the mat for you on the advance money.”

It was an impressive amount. Nearly double what they’d offered me for the biography. My agent told me not to let the amount give me a swelled head, that it reflected the publisher’s desperation more than their assessment of me as an author. He was right.

“Shouldn’t you be talking to my agent?”

Higgins mumbled something about desperate times and desperate measures. We both knew that his end run around my agent was unethical.

“How much leeway will I be given on the project?” I asked. “If I do it, I want to do it my way.”

“That’s what we want!” Higgins insisted. “Your frustration. Your outrage. How you felt when you first realized you were being led down a garden path.”

That wasn’t what I meant. I wanted to write about what I saw in the sky the day of the assassination. I wanted to reveal to the world the supernatural forces behind the plot. But I knew if I started talking about angels and the war in heaven my publisher would pull the contract off the table in a human heartbeat.

I’d reached the stairs that led from the parking lot to the campus.

“Listen, Higgins, I’ll need to get back to you.”

“You sound winded.”

“I’m late for a meeting.”

“A meeting? Grant, you’re not meeting with another publisher, are you? Let me get back to my boss. I can get you more money.”

“I’ll have to call you back.”

“When? Grant, the pressure on me is incredible. Don’t leave me hanging.”

“Soon. I’ll get back to you soon.”

“How soon?”

I’d reached the top of the steps. My breathing was labored, and it was difficult to talk. “I’ll call you as soon as I have an answer.” I snapped the phone closed. For good measure I turned off the ringer.

The first thing I noticed about the campus was that there were more students milling about than usual. Someone or something had poked the hive. The place was abuzz with conversation.

The professor had told me to meet him in the library. It was our usual meeting place. As I wove my way in that direction some of the students recognized me from recent events. They fell silent and stared as I passed them.

I opened the library door and had stepped aside for some coeds who were trailing behind me when Sue Ling grabbed me.

“You’re late,” she said by way of greeting. She pulled me away from the door.

“I couldn’t find a parking place.”

“This way.”

Her pace was urgent. Her expression serious. Something was wrong.

“The professor, is he—”

She plowed ahead. “He’s waiting for you.”

Small, with dark hair and brown eyes that shimmer with intelligence, Sue Ling is the most devoted person I know. As his personal assistant she serves the professor with passionate loyalty, with an emphasis on passionate. Just once I’d like to know what it feels like to have a woman look at me the way she looks at the professor.

“Talk to me, Sue Ling. Tell me what’s going on.”

“You’ll learn soon enough.”

Did I tell you she was stubborn? So am I.

I put on the brakes. Sue Ling’s momentum carried her several steps before she realized she was walking alone.

“Grant!” she protested. “We don’t have time—”

Fifty feet ahead of us the door to the administration offices swung open. Seated in his wheelchair, the professor held the door open with one arm.

“Miss Ling, I told you to bring him the moment he arrived!” the professor said, clearly exasperated.

From the expression on her face it was evident his words stung. Sue Ling prided herself on her efficiency.

I stepped between them. “Professor, it’s not her fault. I—”

But the professor wasn’t listening. His arm looked like a windmill in a gale as he motioned toward me. “Come, come—”

I half-ran toward him. Sue Ling didn’t follow. When I looked over my shoulder, she had turned and was walking away.

“We need your help,” the professor said, pulling me inside.


lose the door.”

Jana Torres did as she was instructed. She took a seat opposite the producer of the KTSD news, who sat hunched behind a desk that served as the bedrock for a mountain of papers. Matt Gabra was a short, sinewy man with more energy than any man Jana had ever known. During the station’s annual blood drive the joke around the office was that the San Diego Blood Bank sold the producer’s contribution as a substitute for an energy drink.

“New York called,” Gabra said. “The network is offering you a contract. You impressed their high-priced socks off with your report from the bridge.”

The thrill that shot through Jana was so strong it nearly lifted her off her chair. This was what every television news reporter dreamed of. And for someone as young as she was to be offered a position with the networks…she could hardly contain herself.

Gabra didn’t share her excitement and for good reason. The networks were always raiding the best talent from the local stations. It was the bane of local producers. The moment local personalities boosted ratings, the networks snatched them away.

“Look, Jana”—the producer came from behind his desk and stood in front of her—“I can’t match the kind of money they’ll throw at you. Just tell me what it’ll take to get you to stay.”

The timing couldn’t have been better. Jana’s contract was coming up for renewal and, for the last couple of months, Gabra had been moaning that while he liked her work, the budget being the way it was, she might have to take a reduction in her salary package if she wanted to stay.

“You have what it takes,” Gabra continued. “No surprise there. And it was inevitable you’d catch the eye of the networks. But consider this—now might not be the best time for you to make the move. Let me tell you what’ll happen. You’ll make the move to New York, thinking that within a year or two you’ll be anchoring the six-o’clock news. But reality is, you’re going to be the low man on the totem pole. You’ll be the reporter standing in a frozen field in Idaho in January reporting on the potato blight, or hanging on to a lamppost in Florida to keep from being blown away by hurricane winds. Stay here, and you’ll have your choice of assignments. All the big stories. The network will always be there for you, and with a little more seasoning and a track record of impressive ratings, you’ll be able to write your own ticket.”

Jana stood. “I’m sorry, Matt.”

She didn’t fault him for trying to talk her into staying. It was his job. But this was the networks! The big time! This was her chance!

Her cell phone began vibrating against her hip. Jana checked the display.

Grant Austin.

His timing was a few minutes off. She wanted to snatch up the phone and scream,
Grant, guess what? I’m going to New York!
But celebrating a job offer in front of a producer would be in bad taste.

“Sleep on it,” Gabra said, not giving up. “Let me make some phone calls and see what I can do to sweeten the pot.”

Two raps on the door and it flew open.

Jay Ostermann barged into the room. A throwback to an earlier generation, Ostermann always wore a bow tie. Middle-aged, he’d worked all of his professional career at KTSD, mostly doing research. He occasionally made it on the air when there was a science or history story that nobody else wanted to do. He clutched a fax in his hand.

“This just came in. It’s big, Matt. It’s really big.” He thrust the page at the producer.

Apparently there had been similar barging incidents in the past, because Gabra wasn’t quick to take the page. Science reporters and producers don’t often share excitement over the same stories.

“Ostermann, we’re in the middle of something,” Gabra said.

The bow tie wasn’t about to be put off. “No, sir…this…this…is something you’re going to want to see. The networks are going to be all over this, and we have a local connection.”

Jana craned her neck to see what was on the sheet. Ostermann frowned and angled it away from her.

Gabra took the page. His eyebrows raised.

“They’re having a press conference at Heritage College in an hour,” Ostermann said.

Gabra was nodding now. The more he read, the larger his nod. By the time he’d finished, he was saying, “Yes…yes…”

“Didn’t I tell you it was big?”

“Bigger than
Da Vinci Code,”
the producer said.

Ostermann corrected him.
“The Da Vinci Code
was fiction.”

“Yeah? Tell that to all the tourists who are flocking to Saint-Sulpice and Rosslyn Chapel.”

“Which reminds me,” Ostermann said as an aside, “did you get the brochure?”

Gabra nodded. “Sherri booked us reservations for July.” He handed the fax back to Ostermann. “Let’s run with this. Get it to—”

“Let me do the story!” Ostermann begged. “Please. I’ll never ask you for anything else.”

The producer mulled for a moment. “All right. Get a camera crew.”

Ostermann thanked him profusely and bolted out the door.

No sooner had he gone when Gabra turned his attention back to Jana. “Where were we?”

“Give it to me,” Jana said.

Gabra’s face broke into a wide grin. The man recognized a bargaining chip when he saw one. “What do you know about this? It’s big, isn’t it? It would have to be the story of a lifetime for you to pass up a chance at the networks.”

“Here’s the deal,” Jana replied. “I get my choice of stories and an unlimited expense account.”

Gabra laughed. “In your dreams. Double your current expense account.”


Standing to one side of the president’s office I flipped closed my phone after leaving a somewhat disjointed message on Jana’s answering machine. When she didn’t answer, my mind had wandered back to the projections on the walls.

“Incredible,” I muttered.

I was staring at images of manuscripts that no man had seen for centuries.

“Is she coming?” the professor asked.

He and the president of Heritage College, an elderly man with thinning white hair, sat facing each other in front of the president’s desk.

From the moment I entered the office the president had looked at me as if I were a refugee from a carnival freak show. Either I’d grown a second head since shaving this morning or the professor had told him of my angel parentage. When the president shook my hand he squeezed it repeatedly as though he expected something other than flesh.

It was the professor who had suggested we keep my angel heritage a secret. I readily agreed. Apparently, he felt it necessary to tell the president.

“I left a message on Jana’s cell phone,” I said.

“Did you try the station number?” The professor’s tone had an edge to it, understandable considering what was at stake.

Turning aside I dialed information to get the station’s number. The operator connected me. The conversation was brief.

“She’s in a meeting,” I reported. “I left a—”

“Did you tell them it was urgent?”

“They said they’d get word to her.”

The professor pursed his lips. “Not good enough. Keep trying. Right now we need friends in the media.”

With the press conference fifteen minutes away as a final row of chairs was set up in the gym, I flipped open my cell phone and tried Jana’s personal number again. This time she answered.

“I’ve been trying to reach you,” I said.

“I know.”

“Are you still in your meeting?”


“Can you talk?”


This didn’t sound like Jana. Normally she is two snowflakes away from being an avalanche of chatter. However, since time was short, I launched into the purpose of my call.

“Here’s the deal. There’s a press conference I think you’d be interested in.”

“The archeological find in Alexandria.”

I blinked. She was one step ahead of me. “Um, yeah—anyway, it’s at—”

“Heritage College and it starts at ten o’clock.”

I don’t know why I was surprised. This was news. Jana was a newswoman. “OK, you know about it. Is your station going to send someone to cover it? And if they are, is there any way you could do the story?”

She didn’t reply.

“I know what I’m asking. But if the station manager has already given it to someone else, is there any possibility that you could switch assignments or something? You have an edge. You know some of the key players. The professor, for one. He specifically asked me to call you.”

The other end of the phone was silent.

“Look—I hope I’m not putting you in a difficult position. But tell your manager that the professor is willing to give you an exclusive interview.”

Still no answer.


I looked at the display. We were still connected.

“Jana? Can you hear me?”

I felt a poke in my back. It was Jana.

“Of course I can hear you,” she said, amused at having startled me.

“You’re here,” I said, still talking into the phone.

Her cameraman and another reporter began setting up their equipment. I recognized the reporter. He always wore a bow tie. While I couldn’t remember his name, I remembered watching him report a story from in front of the Reuben H. Fleet science museum. I think it was on an eclipse.

“I have news!” Jana said.

Jana Torres is one of those women who can light up a room with her smile. When she’s really excited—as she was now—her smile can melt the human male heart.

“I’ve been offered a promotion!” She paused for effect. “By the network!”

“Jana! The network? That’s the big leagues!”

Just then Sue Ling approached us. “What’s this about the big leagues?”

Jana repeated her news, and Sue Ling, who is the epitome of decorum, squealed with delight. She hugged her former college roommate.

“I’m so happy for you,” she said, “though I can’t say I’m surprised. You’re the best reporter on the West Coast.”

Watching the two friends celebrate I remembered a quotation, something to the effect that the hardest thing for a friend to do is to be happy for another friend’s success. Whoever said that didn’t have friends like Sue and Jana.

“When do you leave?” I asked. “I assume you’ll be going to New York.”

Jana took a deep breath. “I turned them down.”

“What?” Sue and I said in unison.

Before Jana had a chance to explain, the press conference began. School personnel filed onto a platform behind the podium. The professor was among them, wheeling himself up a ramp.

“That man! He was supposed to wait for me.” Sue touched Jana’s arm. “Don’t leave until you explain yourself.” Then she ran to assist the professor the rest of the way up the ramp.

Once they were onstage Sue took a seat next to the rest of the faculty members.

“What’s she doing up there?” Jana asked.

“Assisting the professor.”

“Assisting him with what? She has no books, no papers. Normally, she stands in the wings.”

Leaving the question hanging in the air, Jana joined her team. I took a seat in the back row.

Whoever had arranged for the press conference had anticipated a much larger media response. There were chairs for at least a hundred people. At best there were twenty people in the gym, not including the personalities on the platform. Many—like me—were associated with the school in some capacity.

I had to chuckle. Typical academics. They assume the rest of the world will be as excited about their findings as they are. I had an English professor, a pompous curmudgeon, who once held a press conference to announce that he had conclusive proof that Shakespeare’s plays had in fact been written by Christopher Marlowe. It was his contention that Marlowe had staged his death in order to escape debtors. My English professor claimed to have discovered a confession by Lord Burghley, who had assisted in the ruse by delivering the body of one John Penry, a nonconformist Puritan preacher executed a few days before, to the queen’s coroner, claiming that it was Marlowe’s body.

The press conference had been held on the steps of the library in anticipation of a great crowd. Three representatives of the press had showed up. One was a freshman writing his first article for the school paper.

It turned out to be just as well, though. Lord Burghley’s confession was a fake. The professor had been set up by the other professors in his department. Nobody liked him.

I wondered if the people who had organized this press conference really thought it would be the lead story on
Entertainment Tonight.

The president of Heritage College made his way to the podium. He gripped it with familiarity, like a preacher about to deliver a sermon.

“Good morning and thank you for coming,” he said in a deep speaking voice. “My name is Dr. Marvin Whitson, and I am the president of Heritage College.”

Cameras recorded the introduction while reporters scratched the information on pads of paper.

BOOK: Tartarus: Kingdom Wars II
8.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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