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MY ROOM WAS TRASHED.
The bed had been stripped, the linens tossed, the mattress flipped. The closet and armoire stood agape, with hangers, shoes, and sweaters flung in all directions.
My euphoria crumbled.
Stupid. Of course they'd gone, and wouldn't introduce themselves if they hadn't.
I checked the door for signs of forced entry. The lock was intact. The wood was not gouged.
Heart bounding, I rushed into the room.
Every drawer was open. My suitcase was upended, the contents pitched and mauled.
My laptop lay untouched on the desk.
I tried to think what that meant.
Thieves? Of course not!
Why leave the computer?
From whom? About what?
With shaky hands, I s.n.a.t.c.hed up underwear, T-shirts, jeans.
Like Jake, gathering belongings from around his truck.
My mind loosened.
The thought carved a wedge. Anger barreled in.
"You smarmy little b.a.s.t.a.r.ds!"
I slammed drawers. Folded sweaters. Rehung pants.
Outrage hardened me, annihilating any prospect of tears.
I finished with the bedroom, moved to the bath. Arranged my toiletries. Washed my face. Brushed my hair.
I'd just changed shirts when the phone rang. Ryan was in the lobby.
"My room's been ransacked," I said, without preamble.
"Probably Hevrat Kadisha looking for Max."
"You're not having a gold-star morning."
"I'll b.u.t.tonhole the manager."
"I'm on my way down."
By the time I descended, Ryan had been joined by Friedman, and they'd established two things. No visitor had inquired about me. No desk clerk had given out my room key.
Or had admitted to doing so.
I believed it. The American Colony was operated and staffed by Arabs. I doubted there was a Hevrat Kadisha sympathizer among them.
The manager, Mrs. Hanani, asked if I wished to file an official police report. Her voice conveyed a decided lack of enthusiasm.
Clearly relieved, Mrs. Hanani promised a full in-house investigation, stepped-up security, and compensation for anything stolen or damaged.
Friedman a.s.sured her that was a splendid plan.
I made a request. Mrs. Hanani hurried to the kitchen to fill it.
When she returned I slipped the items into my backpack, offered thanks, and a.s.sured her I'd lost nothing of value.
Climbing into Friedman's car, I wondered if later I'd regret my separate-rooms dictum. Professionalism be d.a.m.ned. Lying in bed, alone in the dark, I knew I'd want Ryan beside me.
It took almost an hour to get back to the Kidron. The Jerusalem police had been tipped that a suicide bomber was headed their way from Bethlehem. Extra checkpoints had been set up, and traffic was snarled.
On the way, I asked Friedman about the permit. Patting a pocket, he a.s.sured me he'd obtained the paper. I believed him.
At Silwan, I directed Friedman to the same clearing in which Jake had parked. As he and Ryan dug tools from the trunk, I checked the valley.
Not a black hat in sight.
I led the trek downhill. Ryan and Friedman followed.
At the tomb I stood a moment, considering the entrance. The small black portal stared back blankly.
I felt a hitch in my heartbeat. Ignoring it, I turned. Both my companions were perspiring and breathing hard.
"What about the jackal?" I asked.
"I'll announce we've come to call." Friedman pulled his revolver, squatted, and fired a bullet into the tomb. "If she's in there, she'll take off."
We waited. No jackal appeared.
"She's probably miles from here," Friedman said.
"I'll check the lower level," Ryan said, holding out his hand.
Friedman handed him the gun.
Ryan winged a shovel and crowbar through the opening, then wriggled down into the tomb. I heard a second shot, then the sc.r.a.ping of boots. Silence. More sc.r.a.ping, then Ryan's face appeared in the entrance.
"Jackal-free," he said, handing Friedman his weapon.
"I'll take first watch." Friedman's mouth looked tight. I wondered if he shared my aversion to close confinement.
I strode forward, shoved my pack then my feet into darkness and dropped, hoping to fool whatever neurons were monitoring personal s.p.a.ce. They fell for it. I was in the tomb before my brain was wise to the move.
Beside me, Ryan was working a Mag-Lite. Our faces were jack-o'-lanterns, our shadows dark cutouts in the wash of white behind us.
"Point it over there." I indicated the northern loculus.
Ryan redirected the beam. The rock had been moved. No hint of blue leaped from the gloom.
I crawled to the loculus. Ryan followed.
The small recess was empty.
"They got him?" Ryan asked.
I wasn't surprised.
But I was crushed to see it.
Max had been taken.
"I'm sorry," Ryan said.
Southern manners. Reflex. I started to say, "It's all right," caught myself. It wasn't all right.
The skeleton was gone.
I slumped back onto my heels, feeling the oppressive weight of the tomb. The cold rock. The stale air. The velvety silence.
Had I really had a close encounter with one of Masada's dead?
Had I lost him for good?
Was I sitting in a burial place of the holy?
Was I being watched?
By the Hevrat Kadisha?
By the souls of those peopling the catechisms of my youth?
Who had Max been?
Who had lain in this tomb?
Who lay here still?
I felt a hand on my shoulder. My brain snapped back.
"Let's go below," I whispered.
Crawling to the tunnel, I used the same technique that had gotten me into the tomb.
In and down.
Ryan was beside me in seconds.
Hadn't I dumped all the fallen rocks to the right? Some now lay to the left. Was my memory faulty? Had these rocks also been moved?
Dear G.o.d, let it still be here!
Ryan crooked the Mag-Lite at the breach I'd created in my tumble. Bright white arrowed into inky black.
And fell on russet.
As before, my eyes strained to absorb. My brain struggled to sort.
Rough texture. Lumpy contour.
Peeking from one edge, barely visible, a tiny brown cylinder k.n.o.bbed at one end.
A human phalanx.
I grabbed Ryan's arm.