Authors: Frederick Ramsay
Tags: #Mystery & Detective
“Is that so unusual? Men and women must wander in and out of the area all the time. Didn’t you have the guards search the palace? The marks may have been made by the searchers moving about here and there in that place.”
Gamaliel deflated. Of course, why hadn’t he thought of that immediately? “You are right, of course. But…”
“But they were sandals, not the sort of foot coverings the guards wear.”
“I see. No, I don’t but then it is not my place or responsibility to, is it? Moving forward, it is my humble opinion there is one very important question you should now address, Rabban.”
“And that is?”
“How or through whom did this woman receive and send her letters.”
“Yes, and I think I know. I will need to confirm it, but only when I think it is safe to do so.”
“There is more at stake here than meets the eye and the possession of certain information, with the wrong person knowing you have it, can be dangerous. If I confront the individual, others will soon learn of it. There is no privacy in this palace as far as I can tell, and he could be harmed, even killed. If I am right, that person’s life is in jeopardy if it were to come out that he knew or could reveal that important bit to me. I want him alive. For the time being all I need is the probability to proceed.”
“Not yet. I trust you, Loukas, but I do not wish to burden you. Your house has been violated once already and I do not think your man Draco is up to resisting someone with murder in his heart. Have you had any more midnight visitors?”
“No, but Draco seems to think he recognized the boots.”
“He knows who wore them?”
“In a manner of speaking. He thinks he recognizes the style and the people who wear them. It is not the same thing, alas, but for what it is worth, the boots are the sort worn in places like Armenia and Cappadocia, maybe Syria or Phrygia. In the north at any rate, not Greece.”
“No self-respecting Greek would wear such things.”
“And why would a Greek not wear them?”
“I do not have this firsthand, understand, but they are the sort of footwear Persians are partial to, therefore shunned by patriotic Greeks who still have issues as regards that race.”
“Ah! A very thin sort of argument, if I may say so, Loukas, but north you say. That is helpful. Yes that would fit. Now if we could just find this wearer of boots.”
“North is important?”
“It is. The worst of it is with all these people in for the Feast and camped everywhere, our murderer could operate from within or even outside of the palace if he had a sure means of entry. Unless the former, he could be anywhere.”
They sat in silence for a moment each lost in his own thoughts. Gamaliel watched the sun begin to sink in the west and stirred.
“I have let the time slip by me, I am afraid, and I must leave you. The Shabbat begins in two hours and I must be settled. You should too. I know you are not a believer, but Jerusalem will be shut up tight as a drumhead when the Shabbat begins. You had best be safely home.”
The two stood and left the garden. Gamaliel to his home to make sure the meals for the next day were cooked and set aside, and the large Shabbat lamp filled with oil and set alight. From this evening to the next he would do no work, which meant all items still arrayed across the table in his study would be covered with a linen cloth and banished from his thoughts. He would be occupied exclusively with prayers and thanksgivings, and the contemplation of Holy Writ. He might venture out to the Temple, but no further.
The physician, he knew, would leave the city through the Sheep Gate and make his way through the throngs of pilgrims camping on the hillsides and in the shadow of the wall. He would wend his way home and share none of his friend’s Shabbat discipline. He would enjoy a cooked meal and he would work. He allowed himself to be a God Fearer, a practicing skeptic, but definitely not a follower of the god of the Jews. On the whole, he felt, it was a far more convenient place for this odd friend to be, but he still wished he were in the fold, so to speak. He cared for him that much.
Gamaliel found his way home and through the portico of his house with time to spare. He made sure the servants had laid out his meals for the next twenty-four hours. He had time to spread the sheet of fair linen over his collection of odds and ends gleaned from the palace, his evidence, and sat down for the last hot meal he would have until sunset the next day. He managed to put aside his frustration at not being able to pursue his inquires further. The Law of Moses was the Law Absolute and he, of all people should know it. He managed to read and pray a bit before the lamp dimmed. When his wife was alive and there were children and family in the house, there would have been psalm singing and retelling of the stories and the mighty deeds of the judges and kings. The children never tired of hearing the stories of David and Solomon, Gideon and Sampson—well, not Sampson in their early years, of course. Gamaliel usually skipped the story of David’s involvement with Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah the Hittite.
This night he sat alone with his thoughts. When the lamp finally sputtered out he went to bed. He slept very well, a fact that surprised him when he woke in the morning.
Shabbat. The Shofars on the temple mount announced dawn and Gamaliel rose and contemplated a day filled only with holy things. No Pilate, no palace, and no death. He lingered over his breakfast of cold beans and lamb and devoted the rest of the morning to quiet contemplation. It was not an easy task. He had to force his mind to stay focused on spiritual thoughts and Shabbat’s requirement he pray and wait upon the Lord. He managed, but with great difficulty. Never in the past had he dealt with so large a distraction as the girl’s murder. Not since he left home as a young man and took up his studies. And then to compound the problem, he had a murder occupy him and at the same time the Prefect, the king, and the queen were angry with him, all within the short span of only a few days. It had to be a first for him, for any Rabban. If it weren’t for the inherent danger in this odd set of circumstances, he thought it might have made a good story line for one of those Greek comedies Loukas fancied. He could only guess at that. He’d never seen one of the scandalous performances by either a Greek or a Roman imitator, but he’d heard about them. He put thoughts of masks and scatological playmaking aside and forced his thoughts back into an appropriate spiritual rut.
At the sixth hour he ate some bread and cheese and drank a cup of water for his midday meal. He threw a cloak across his shoulders and made his way through throngs of people on their way to and from the Temple. His usual Shabbat routine, once on the Mount, consisted of a stroll along Solomon’s porches. He enjoyed listening to the speakers, mostly rabbis from the city, but during High Holy Days, many others from across the length and breadth of Israel appeared. In addition there would usually be a few Zealots drumming up rebellion, but carefully. They knew there would also be soldiers, Temple guards, and spies planted in the crowd eager to turn them in for a reward. And finally there were those men blessed with minds that had deserted them before their time and who would rant on about issues long since decided, or of incomprehensible dimensions, and occasionally would reveal visions of startling originality.
Because this particular Feast would not end for another three days, there were more than the usual number of men vying for attention scattered along the porches. Some had attracted sizable crowds, some fewer. He strolled along and paused at them in turn, listening and occasionally disputing with the rabbi on a minor point. He identified many of his former students in the crowds doing the same and he listened to their arguments as well, dispassionately, like a teacher. When he resumed their tuition in the next few days, he would point out to one or the other where they had done well, where they might have made a stronger case. He was in his element and the exhilaration he felt blotted out the business of the murders.
One rabbi, he noticed, had collected a larger crowd than the others. He wandered over and listened. The man’s disciples were among those who had gathered around the unusually tall man. They, however, had their backs to their teacher and were engaged in murmured conversations with a few spectators. They offered what Gamaliel could only assume were answers, explanations, or possibly an exegesis of the speaker’s points. This did not strike him as usual, although he had seen it done once or twice before but usually with a well-known rabbi, not like this unknown.
As with all the speakers on the porches, a certain group of young men gathered to heckle or harass the rabbis. This tall rabbi had attracted some of them as well. When he paused, one of the young men smirked at his companions and asked, “Tell me teacher, which of the commandments given us by Moses is the greatest?” It was a transparent attempt to trap someone they took to be no more than an itinerant country rabbi. To the young fool’s apparent dismay, the rabbi quoted the Summary of the Law. The answer any student used to discourse would have made, of course. That should have ended it but the youth would not be put off. Having made a fool of himself once with a question any thirteen year old could have answered correctly, he pressed on. Whether he sought to regain some measure of dignity or was just stupid, Gamaliel could not say, but with the supercilious expression common to men of his age plastered across his face he asked, again, “Well, then who is my neighbor?”
Gamaliel waited for the sharp words of dismissal he expected, words that he would have used had he been it that rabbi’s sandals. But none came. Instead the speaker fixed the boy with a sad look and set him a parable, one about a man traveling to Jericho and beset by robbers, beaten and left for dead. Righteous types would not help him, but passed on the opposite side of the road. Finally, he related, a Samaritan, the most despised of all their neighbors, stopped and gave aid and that well beyond anything needed or expected. When the image had been sufficiently drawn, he asked the boy which of the travelers was the man’s neighbor. Very neat.
Gamaliel turned to a man he took to be one of the disciples and asked the identity of this quick witted rabbi. “Yeshua ben Yosef, a man from the Galilee,” he said. So this was the hair in the High Priest’s soup. He shook his head. He turned back to Yeshua ben Yosef and thought, give that man to me for a year and I could really make something of him. So many of Gamaliel’s own students were mere imitators of their betters. The number of original thoughts they expressed could be numbered by using their fingers. Some of them would only require one hand. This man had potential.
He left the crowd and made his way to the Temple itself. The second part of his Shabbat routine involved stopping to visit the priest’s vestry. Whether he would find the High Priest in or not, he could not say. He hoped not. Another rant from Caiaphas did not fit into his idea of a pleasant Shabbat. He was in luck. Only a few older men on the roster whose names had come up for this day loitered about with Ehud, the High Priest’s clerk.
“Ehud, Greetings in the Name. I take it that the High Priest is not about?”
“No, Rabban, he is finished for the day.”
“Yes, well when you see him, tell him I have at last witnessed the rabbi he is so worried about and can find no fault with him.”
“That is true? But I thought…I mean we sent…I will tell him.”
“Yes, do that.” He turned to leave and then paused. “Ehud, tell me, why did your parents give you such a name? Are you left-handed as the judge in the Book?”
Ehud blushed. “They were told by one of the elders that the judge would be found somewhere in the line of our ancestors. They hoped it would strengthen me, I suppose.”
“Indeed? Well, let’s hope they were correct.”
Ehud, the left-handed judge
. Loukas insisted the killer had been left handed. Had he been? Did it matter? If it mattered, how did it matter? Gamaliel caught himself in this speculation when he realized that he’d failed in his determination not to let the business at the palace interfere with his Shabbat. But he also realized that the preoccupations of the previous days could not be held at bay forever. He muttered a prayer of atonement and made his way home to await the end of Shabbat so he could recommence his investigation with a clear conscience.
Rishon arrived, or more accurately, the previous evening Shabbat concluded and Gamaliel resumed his work on the palace murders. But for his brief lapse at the Temple, he had succeeded, more or less, in maintaining the discipline that he would not entertain any thoughts about either of the two murders. And he had assiduously stuck to his decision with the one exception when he’d encountered Ehud. However, he knew from past experiences that when he struggled with problems whose solutions did not quickly come, a clean break from any attempt to solve them would often result in useful insights hours or days later when he reopened the “book of his mind.” Shabbat especially seemed to turn over answers to questions on the First Day that he could not have thought of on the Sixth. With that hope in mind, he removed the cloth covering the several items still on his study table. He pulled up a stool, sat, and stared at them intently, willing them to speak to him.