The Relic is the second book in the Abraham's Bones series.
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Joe Prentis Website
The Relic is the second book in the Abraham's Bones series, about the political and religious struggle in the region. As the Vaticans ambassador to the region, he is faced with the almost impossible task of finding a viable peace, but finds himself struggling with the leader of a powerful leader of a radical religious group.
Zephan shifted the assault rifle to his left hand as the dusty Ford swung past the traffic barrier and rocked to a stop in front of the checkpoint. Most of the traffic at this early hour consisted of flatbed trucks loaded with produce for the markets in East Jerusalem. It was not unusual to see a passenger car among the early arrivals, but there was something about this car that brought all of his senses instantly alert. He knew that terrorists sometimes selected a nondescript vehicle like this one and packed their nails and iron bolts around a hundred kilos or more of high powered explosives. As he looked down the length of the battered automobile, he decided it was setting level on its wheels. This was a good indication that a bomb had not been concealed inside the framework or underneath the rear seat. He stood for a few seconds longer behind the reinforced glass and then stepped out on the tarmac.
The other soldiers in Zephan’s squad had been assigned to this checkpoint no more than a week before. He hoped they would be able to perform their duties by the end of the day without his constant supervision. Five serious incidents had occurred over the past week. He hoped there wouldn’t be another one to contend with today.
Zephan studied the driver’s face as he approached the car and compared it to the photograph attached to his clipboard. The man in the photograph was tall and lean with most of his features hidden behind a wild tangle of beard. The driver was obviously not the Sheikh, but it didn’t mean he was any less dangerous. In a military intelligence briefing the previous week, they told him that the army of insurgents commanded by the Sheikh probably numbered more than five thousand. It was rumored that his intention was to take Jerusalem by force and perhaps Israel as well. It was easy to imagine the insurgents slipping into the city in groups of twos or threes. There was also the frightening possibility that the person serving next to you could be one of the Sheikh’s men. In these dangerous and unstable times, it was a sobering thought.
The driver’s placid smile seemed forced, but no more so than what he normally encountered each day from foreign nationals. He kept his attention focused on the driver’s eyes which were partly concealed underneath the bill of a Yankee’s baseball cap. He relaxed slightly after he decided these two were probably harmless Americans who wanted to get an early start at the tourist’s sites in Jerusalem. Zephan was just as eager to get back to the coffee and baklava he purchased in a village shop before daybreak.
He went through his checklist while Eleazar examined the underside of the car with a mirror attached to an aluminum pole. The man in the passenger seat wore an expensive suit with his tie pulled at a careless angle. He suddenly realized that the two men did not look as if they belonged together. After six months at this hazardous checkpoint, he knew it was the little things that made you aware of the possibility of danger. Sometimes it saved your life.
Zephan touched his index finger to the bill of his cap, a prearranged signal for Avram to remove the passenger from the car. When there was a possibility of trouble, it was important to separate the occupants with as little fuss as possible.
Eleazar remained motionless near the rear door for another few seconds, and then began to creep along the side of the car with his eyes fastened intently on the mirror. Zephan didn’t move until the three of them were out of his line of fire, and then he brought the rifle up with one smooth motion and pointed it at the side of the driver’s head.
“Step out of the car, please,” he ordered briskly.
“Something wrong, officer?” the driver asked in a heavy American accent. Zephan jerked the door handle with his free hand, then stepped back as the man swung around in the seat. Avram shouted a warning as a flash of light reflected back at them from an object in the man’s hand. The assault rifle jumped and slammed the driver against the side of the car. The passenger opened his mouth to scream, but Avram smashed the butt of his weapon against the back of his head.
Although the driver had taken more than a dozen hits at close range, he continued to stay on his feet with his knees locked and his body angled against the side of the car.
No one could have lived through that, Zephan told himself, but didn’t relax his grip on his weapon. Suddenly, the man’s head jerked erect and a long, ululating wail emanated from his throat. It echoed up and down the wadi, setting the dogs to barking from the direction of the kibbutz. Zephan took a step backward and shivered violently. The man stayed on his feet for a few seconds longer and then slid to the ground in a lifeless heap. When Zephan moved cautiously toward him, he realized the object in the man’s hand was a small engineer’s daybook like the ones the supervisors carried at the construction sites. He moved it aside with the toe of his boot and cautiously picked it up. A picture inside the front cover showed a tall man dressed in casual clothes. He studied it for a few seconds before he realized the man in the picture was the American archeologist recently appointed by the Vatican to conduct the upcoming peace talks. Across the back of the photograph was the name, John Christopher, and the command ‘KILL HIM!’ written in Arabic. He called out to the other soldiers and motioned them away from the car as he rushed toward the telephone.