Excerpts from
The Nile Conspiracy
(Book 5 - Legends of the Winged Scarab)

The rain had finally let up but the wind still buffeted them making it difficult for Aziz to keep the helicopter steady. It was almost impossible to follow the Ethiopian chopper ahead. Below them, the fledgling Blue Nile snaked through its chasms, the Ethiopian Highlands steeply rising from its bed.
    “You there!”
    Four pairs of weary eyes looked up.
    Undoing his harness, the colonel pointed at Vergil. “Yes you. Bring your bag up front. Remember what I told you on the yacht.” He snorted like a bull. “This is your moment to shine.”
    Jonathan’s head snapped up. Were these guys serious? Not having been supplied with headphones, he shouted into Vergil’s ear. “You’re not going to shoot at the dam from up here?”
    Vergil slid backwards through the opening yanking at Big Bertha.
    "Move your friggin’ feet, man,” he shouted back.
    “No, I’m not gonna shoot the dam. I’m gonna shoot me a friggin’ helo.”   ....
* * *
Only when the limo had deposited them at Lideta Army Airport near Addis Ababa and they were back onboard their own helicopter, a comfortable Koala, did the five men breathe more freely.
   “That was close,” Jonathan said.
   “What do you know about it?” Samy asked, still rattled by their clean get-away. So far. Because in the back of his mind suspicion gnawed at him. The prime minister may or may not have believed the story about Sudanese hirelings. And they still had to fly a couple of hours in Ethiopian airspace to reach the yacht moored in Djibouti Harbor.
“Imagine,” Jonathan said. “While Aziz was in that building over there, one of the trigger-happy kids poked me with his gun. ‘You American,’ he said. Beats me how he knew.” There was a faint “Duh,” through the onboard mike. Jonathan ignored it. “I thought I better fess up. So I told him I was hired to train Aziz.”
   Aziz grunted, “You wish.” Just to show he needed no training, he changed the rotor’s RPMs.
  Everyone sat up a little straighter. He tapped his gauges and mumbled, “I hope their fuel wasn’t tainted.”
   The smirk on Aziz’s face let Samy guess what the young pilot was doing. “Stop it,” he growled and turned to Jonathan. “So, what happened then?”
   Jonathan told them how one of them climbed aboard the Koala. “When he inspected the aft compartment, I held my breath. Can you imagine if the rocket launcher had still been back there?”
   “See, Old Vergil’s not so dumb after all.” The former looked at Samy who pointedly ignored the remark.
   “But then,” Jonathan continued. “The kid looked at the rope next to the rucksack with the rocks. I told him we were using the rope to tie the helo down on deck. My explanations must have sounded believable.” Jonathan grinned over at Aziz. “The boy asked if I had any chewing gum. But believe me, I think it was a close call.”
   “We had a bit of a close call ourselves, didn’t we guys,” Vergil piped up unaware his buddy privileges had been revoked.
   Something puzzled El-Amir. “Omar,” he said quietly, “What was that nonsense about explosives stuffed in tennis balls? All I saw them pack were some lengths of rope.” He sat up straight, suddenly having had enough of everyone knowing more than he did. It was high time to act presidential again.
   “Did you think they were going to lasso the damn thing and drag it off downstream, Karim?” Omar Samy wouldn’t have allowed himself to sound this disrespectful back in Cairo. Or even in Alexandria, his stomping ground. But up here—and after all they had been through—he didn’t care anymore. All he wanted to do was to get out of Ethiopia; alive, if at all possible. He kept glancing out the window. Some of the terrain they flew over was almost impenetrable. A lot could happen on or to a chopper in two hours.
   “No, nor did I believe they were going to volley it to death,” El-Amir said unaware of having hijacked the prime minister’s expression. “But you knew, didn’t you, Omar,” he probed, no longer quite so softly.
   “Yes, I knew.”
   “Then shoot.” The words almost mimicked the sharp crack of a pistol going off.
   “I wish you wouldn’t use that word, Karim.”
   “Not only will I use the word, but I might do precisely that unless you tell me about these balls.”
   If El-Amir was aware the others were discreetly turning up the volume on their earphones, he did not show it. While he wished he could talk privately with Omar Samy, he also figured he still had the upper hand. Once back on the yacht, surrounded by loyalists, it would be easy to arrange for this conversation to remain forever between him and his vice admiral. He was actually thankful when Samy interrupted his morose ruminations.
   “A few years ago, Shamoon happened to get his hands on an experimental explosive called Heptanitrocubane.”
   “Say again?”
   “Forget the name, Karim, It’s unimportant. It’s a substance that is shock-insensitive with a twenty-five percent greater performance than HMX. Some researcher developed it in America. Just a quarter-size wafer is enough to blow up a neighborhood. Imagine what a few innocuous tennis balls rolling around in a pump house could have done.”
   “How were you going to trigger them?”
   “The balls had tiny remote controls sewn into their seams. That’s why the Ethiopians hadn’t spotted them.”
   “Clever,” El-Amir admitted.
   “Press a little key on a satellite phone, and good night, sweetheart. The best thing was the stuff’s longevity; it’s been tested to be over one year. Our guys would have been long gone by the time the thing blew. As you know, Saad had planned for them to get out through the Sudan. The Ethiopians would have looked at a design flaw or shoddy workmanship, but they likely would never have suspected sabotage.” Samy ground his teeth so hard the others could hear the noise through their earphones.
   “Beats me why and how they got caught almost immediately.” He was quiet for a moment before adding, “What a waste of good men.”
   The ‘waste of good men’ didn’t seem to bother El-Amir half as much. “How did Shamoon get his hands on something like that?”
   “On the black market, where else. It seems the Americans didn’t pay their lab workers well enough to keep on the straight and narrow.”
   “At least we accomplished one thing,” El-Amir sighed. “The Ethiopians changed the conditions of their blasted document to a more favorable water distribution between us and the Sudan.”
And how are we going to bring all that additional electricity to our urban centers; never mind finding a way to pay for it? Samy thought. “None of it is to guarantee that the Sudanese don’t start siphoning off a bigger share before ours even gets to us,” he said aloud.
   After that discomforting thought, the cabin fell silent until the lights of a city twinkled on the horizon. Below them, they could just make out the port of Djibouti. Aziz had never landed on the yacht at night. He hoped the skippers weren’t asleep—or drunk. He hoped for those floodlights to come on just about then.
   “There she is. Good old Khamsin!” El-Amir had never been so glad to see his yacht. That he had never owned a boat before was beside the point. “When we get back, I’ll be giving you your own ship. She should be out of dry dock by now,” he said to Samy, thinking his generosity should soften his harsh words from before. “Any idea what name you’ll give the old Bucanero?”
   “The Ancient Mariner might be appropriate,” Samy replied.
   To El-Amir, Omar Samy’s answer sounded a bit sourly. “Come now,” he smiled over at his vice admiral. “Why not the Sirocco? It complements a name like Khamsin perfectly, don’t you think? And both names denote something fierce. Something to be reckoned with.”
   Before Samy could answer, another fierce squall came in from the ocean. The Koala lurched as the rotor stuttered. The stench of exhaust filled the cabin nearly nauseating everyone.
   Aziz swore under his breath. He tapped the glass of his gauges and spun several dials while straining to spy the yacht below. “Where the hell did she go?”
   “There! To the right!” Jonathan said and then suddenly yelled, “Watch the crane!”
   The rotor coughed again. This time, it was more like a dying stutter.

KHAMSIN, The Devil Wind of The Nile
(Book 1 - Legends of the Winged Scarab)

The ancient priest waited as Ramose and Tuthmose came up the path to the House of Life.
    “High Lord of Ptah, honor me to open the gates for you.” He bowed as deeply as his arthritic back allowed.
“How are you, Old Father,” Ramose greeted the wizened man and bowed to his great age. “I am pleased to find you still so well.”
“It has been long, Rama. Ah, and Tuthmose is with you, if my old eyes do not deceive me,” the frail man whispered, his mind as sharp as ever. Tuthmose acknowledged the greeting with his own low bow.
The old lector continued, “You both have used your time well. I am proud to have taught you once.” His toothless mouth widened with pleasure and he bowed again. “I am now the Overseer of your treasure, Great Ramose.”
The two friends stepped aside to let the old Overseer pry the heavy doors apart. He struggled fiercely but neither of them lent a helping hand. This was the old man’s task, and he was proud of it. At last, the wooden gates creaked wide. Within five steps was a second gate and, again, the old man strained with all his might, his tenacity at last rewarded.
Walking his visitors through the familiar passage, the Overseer stopped and looked up at his tall former pupil. “Forgive me, Ramose. I had hoped to welcome the Venerable Badar as well. Did he not come with you?”
“You will see him soon, Overseer. Because the Divine Father has been blessed with a great age the river journey was hard on his health. He needed to rest. Be patient, Old One. You will see him within half a moon, I promise you.”
The old man’s leathery skin stretched drum-tight over his fleshless face in a toothless grin. He looked forward to the prospect of meeting the Venerable Badar again. He could be patient hoping that Osiris would be as well for his Ba.
They came to the end of the passage and turned into another. Suddenly, Rahetep stepped out in front of them, closing a hidden door behind him. “You are going to be pleased with our work,” he smiled at Ramose and fell into step with them. “Our old Overseer has guarded your Tablets like a lion guards his pride. Here we are.” Rahetep opened a heavy door.
“Ah!” Ramose and Tuthmose marveled at the magnificent display before them. A step spanned the length of the far wall. Neatly stacked on its ledge leaned a row of fifty gleaming slabs of yellow nub. Small carvings emerged as a distinguishable pattern of etched squares from the soft metal.
“Our Great Sepulcher of Knowledge.” Rahetep gleamed like his tablets. Then he sighed, “Alas, the legends of the Mats are sealed to us. We still do not possess the key.”
Ramose chuckled.
Rahetep caught the bemused look. He held up his hands, “Just one of my sayings, Ramose. Working first with the Mats and then the Tablets as long as I have, does it surprise you that I have great yearning to penetrate their secrets.”
 “High Priest of Ptah,” the old Overseer whispered, his tired eyes watery from excitement and from regret. “The Tablets are completed. They are yours to take to Ineb-hedj.” He always knew that the Tablets would leave the House of Life one day, just as he would have to once his task was finished.
Ramose laid his hand on the Overseer’s shoulder. “I am grateful for the extreme care you have given our Tablets, Old Father.”
Again Tuthmose marveled, “They are splendid.”
“They are indeed,” Ramose agreed. “Still, our work with them is far from done.” He let his words sink in before he continued. “The yellow nub of the Tablets is thick enough for what I have in mind. Would you agree, Rahetep, that their blank sides cry out for a translation?”
“Ramose! You broke the code! By Horus, you found the key!” The Chief Priest’s face lit up. After all these years, he was to glimpse the ancient past which had tantalized and tortured him long enough. He was jubilant.
“Yes, the gods gave me the key which, incidentally, is more like a template. You shall have a copy of it. I also brought a complete translation with me, written in my own hand. Badar knows which of the fifty scrolls translates which Tablet. I have told Tuthmose much of what I know. He, Badar, and you two, Rahetep and old Father, are the only ones to get to know the legends of the Ancient Mats.”
“Who will stamp the translation onto the Tablets?” Rahetep asked.
“We will have to choose wisely. There is another matter of concern: Once the Tablets are inscribed with the translation, their gleaming surfaces must be obscured with something that will not ruin them when they are cleaned—in the distant future. They are to be numbered on the lower rims. In the correct order.”
Ramose hesitated but then decided that he would like to be remembered in the future.
“And, Rahetep, make certain that a small winged scarab is stamped next to those numbers. I have chosen the Khepri as one of my personal seals. Maybe someone in the future wants to know who translated them. A small vanity, I know.”
“What could be used to cover them?” Tuthmose asked Rahetep who was an accomplished alchemist and already had a mixture in mind.
“Give me a day or two to experiment. There is a pitch extracted from certain plants. It darkens as well as hardens over time and is soluble only in the sacred black liquid that bubbles up from the ground when it is mixed with natron.”
 “Excellent,” Ramose nodded. Then, with a sly grin, he added, “Rahetep, I trust your laboratory priests will not confuse the pots of cobra venom with the mixture of the pitch.”
“So do I,” his former tutor chuckled. It was good to have Ramose back to challenge him just as young Prince Rama had at an early age. Yes, Rahetep thought gratified, the return of his greatest of all pupils was exhilarating. “The actual Mats are getting too brittle to be kept intact much longer,” he said.
Ramose reflected for a moment and then nodded, “We shall burn them. And, Rahetep, from now on, no more papyrus copies.”
* * *

SIROCCO, Storm over Land and Sea
(Book 2 - Legends of the Winged Scarab)

     “During the war, the British imprisoned General Aziz El-Masri who was then Commander of the Egyptian Army. If better luck had been on his side, he would have liberated my country from its dictator, the Germans, as well as the British.”
“Any relation of yours?”
The answer was a shoulder shrug.
Jonathan pressed on. “Did the general survive the war?”
“Evidently,” El-Masri suddenly grinned. “I was born in forty-seven.”
Bill cleared his throat. “What are you planning to do, Jabari. You do realize that you have practically kidnapped us, which has the makings of an international incident, I might add. And I assume this plane is still the property of the Egyptian military, or at least of whoever claims to be the leader of your government these days. And once the existence of all these tablets becomes public knowledge, no doubt they will be classified as national treasures. So, it comes to mind—forgive me for pointing this out—that you are about to steal both.”
“Steal? Steal!” The Egyptian jumped to his full five-foot seven-inch height. As the Americans were seated, he towered over them, all indignation and spitting rage.
“You dare to call me a thief, when your woman abscondered with my Saqqara tablets!”
“My woman did not steal anything,” Jonathan exploded trying to jump up as well but failed, being hemmed in by the table and by Bill.
“Let me correct you, my young interferer.”
“Now hold on.” Bill was turning red himself now.
“No! You hold on. The world has been stealing from Egypt forever. They all came supposedly to explore and study. And then went back home with loot from our ancestors crammed into their lorries. Shiploads of sacred mummies, carted off to Europe for fertilizer. Fertilizer!”
“Mummified cats, I think,” Jonathan dared. A jab from Bill, and a scornful look from The Pharaoh made him retreat deeper into the hard seat.
“You cannot really believe that the likes of your glorified Carters and Champollions did not take whatever they wanted before leaving us the pittance of their finds. The British, the Germans, the French and, oh, let us not forget the Americans. What they did not damage and destroy, they grabbed with both hands. And now, that I have discovered the most incredible writings since the Rosetta Stone.”
Jonathan squirmed. This was not the time to point out Jean François Champollion’s ground-breaking contribution to Egyptology.
“But now, my own people aim to steal from me. They have stolen before. Yes, I admit, I was forced to make some deals. Negligible objects, of course. What was I to do? To go against those in power would have been suicidal. The secret buyers came in droves.
“The Japanese in their private jets. The South Americans, mooring their ostentatious yachts off Alexandria. Too much money, and no respect. All they wanted was to squirrel away our antiquities in their private collections.
“And now this! My own people ordering me to melt down these tablets to finance their corrupt campaigns. People who assume that they are the next president.
“Such blasphemy! I cannot let this happen. I will save these treasures for Egypt. They are my heritage. They are,” the Egyptologist paused, seemingly exhausted. “They are my nemesis. I will safeguard them to the death.”
Stunned silence followed Dr. Jabari El-Masri’s impassioned testimony to his almost fanatical belief in his country’s glorious heritage. The man before them was neither a thieving scoundrel nor an uncaring zealot. He was through and through Egyptian. He was a world-renowned Egyptologist. And he was willingly endangering his professional credibility. Most likely he had already made personal sacrifices preserving the legacy of this awesome land of his. His whole life, he had painstakingly labored to unravel the enigma of a great bygone civilization, unequalled anywhere. The man standing before them was an Egyptian patriot who, in their eyes, now lived up to his name. It translated into Brave Egyptian.

* * *
After the Cataclysm
(Book 3 - Legends of the Winged Scarab)

With the Northern Hemisphere cooling down precipitously due to the ash circling the earth on the jet stream, the temperatures became noticeably lower even as far south as the Caribbean. But with warm moisture driven north on the tradewinds, afternoon thunderstorms and downpours were now a daily occurrence around Isla Margarita.
   The men had been back for barely a couple of days when life on the estate resumed its almost pleasant routine, if one could call it that, considering their not-all-together comforting exile.
* * *
   Heads together, they leaned over the inlaid mosaic table on the shaded terrace. Because of their whispered intense conversation, they completely missed the approach of the heavy-set man.
   “Working hard I see!”
   Four heads jerked up in unison.
   “Hey, Jabari, where did you spring from?” Sam called out. He jumped up and pulled another rattan chair close to the table. “Here, take a load off.”
   The profusely sweating man took off his fedora and looked at the foursome for a few seconds before wiping his forehead with a crisp white handkerchief. Then he plopped heavily into the proffered chair.
   “Have some lemonade,” Sam said, his boyish face open, his eyes solicitous. “Man, this is what I call hot’n-humid.”
   Naunet, Jonathan and Bill tried to hide their annoyance not only over the inopportune appearance of the Egyptian, but because of his rude challenge. No smile had accompanied his terse reprimand. They had indeed been working hard for months, every day, and a brief break should not be invoking sarcasm, especially not from Jabari who had been absent most of the time. Still, they felt guilty. Not for drinking lemonade or taking a break in the fresh air, but for plotting their escape. The question was, what about Jabari? Should they include him in their daring plan?
   For the last six months, Naunet had slaved over those golden slates. They had arrived at her doorstep as if by conveyor belt and she had been allowed barely three days to translate each one. And this very morning, she had finished putting Lorenzo’s photograph together with the translation for tablet number fifty. It was the last one, and a very special one for her. It should have never been brought back up from the depths of the Mediterranean. She felt as if she had stolen from the other Naunet, that goddess of the sea, now once again unappeased and perhaps waiting to take her revenge on them.
   It was because of having worked on the tablet before that she had only needed to recheck the translation she had already done on Crete. That last and most intense writing damned a culture gone bad through avarice, greed and debauchery. The curses still rang in her ears. She wondered what Lorenzo would think about them once she handed over the completed leather-bound, gold-embossed folder he had provided. It was quite conceivable that the man’s twisted mind would believe that ten thousand year-old predictions should be relevant in their day and age. He fully assumed some of the fire-and-brimstone predictions had already been unleashed that Christmas morning when Yellowstone blew.
   After all she had endured, she cared little what Jabari thought at the moment. She finally had to get this off her chest—or turn into an erupting volcano herself.
   “I finished everything this morning, Jabari. And no thanks to you, I must say. Where were you during the last week? I could have used some assistance.” The moment she uttered the last word, she noticed the Egyptian’s chin jutting straight out. Holding her temper in check, she quickly changed her tone. “I really had hoped you would confirm my translation. Especially the last tablet’s. It’s the most revealing, as you can guess. I have it inside. Jonathan can bring it out if you want to have a look now.”
   At the last second, Naunet remembered that the tablet was still in the backpack that Jabari had hauled in when he came upon her argument with Edward. And because of the Crete translation, she hadn’t needed to look at it again. If Jabari realized that she had not touched the slate, he would find it more than odd.
The Egyptian pushed away from the table and crossed his arms in front of him. His black eyes bore into Naunet who felt herself engulfed in some inexplicable panic. Within an instant, this man was no longer their friend Jabari, but had reverted back to the autocratic Dr. El-Masri, Egypt’s pharaoh, lording over all of his country’s antiquities—and everyone who dared to be around them.
   “My dear Dr. Klein.”
   When Jonathan heard his wife being pointedly addressed by her maiden name, he too sensed that Jabari had changed, and not for the better. He and Bill exchanged a quick look. Both sat up in their chairs, but decided to stay out of the uncomfortable exchange.
   “My dear Dr. Klein,” El-Masri said again. “Do you really think that I would let you work away blithely without checking up on your work?” When he saw Naunet’s face getting flushed at his words—blithely being the most insulting—he added, “By the way, I must admit, your work is fairly good.”
   The only sound on the terrace came from the rustling leaves of the surrounding banana palms. The wind was freshening and dark clouds scudded overhead, drawing foreboding shadows onto the terracotta pattern.
Naunet stiffened. “My dear Dr. El-Masri.” Reverting back to her formal European ways, Naunet addressed the man opposite her in a similarly pointed manner, her voice clear and sharp. If the confounded man was fluent in hieratic script, why had he asked her down here? Come to think of it, why had he demanded that she come to Cairo two years ago for the same reason? She was truly incensed; and powerless like a trapped gazelle. “As I just told you: I finished the last tablet and my binder is inside. I’ll be happy to get it for you. I am sure you prefer to take it to your master yourself.”
   She saw Jabari flinch. Good. Was he being pressured by Lorenzo? Or blackmailed, with Zahra on the ship and his son marooned on Santiago Island? Suddenly, Naunet felt sorry for the man. The feeling vanished as soon as he spoke again.
   “You seem incapable to grasp that those ancient words, first woven into fading mats of colored grasses, and then chiseled onto the High Priest’s golden tablets, confirm what I have believed all my life: We Egyptians did not spring from some sub-Saharan culture, nor from a primitive Noba tribe. When will you people get it through your thick heads that we are not a black race.”
   “Whoa, easy there, my friend.” Bill assumed Jabari was trying to refute an insistent belief among some of the scientific community concerning the origin of the ancients. “When you say ‘we Egyptians,’ do you mean the people preceding you modern-day Arabs?”
   “How dare you! You Americans have no clue about archaeology; or history, for that matter. You may call yourself scientists, but what do you know about us!” The man before them exploded like a hot geyser. Spittle had formed in the corners of his mouth and his chest heaved as if he had difficulty breathing. His face was a mottled mask of red and purple blotches.
   Sam’s mouth fell open. He had never seen anyone blow up like that and wished he were someplace else, preferably with Maria. On the other hand, this display of unbridled passion and arrogance was fascinating. Still, he moved his chair further back in case glasses started flying off the table.
   “I bet,” El-Masri pointed his finger at Naunet, “I just bet that you omitted to write down where the ancients came from. Just so that your lily-white world would not have to admit that my ancestors came from Crete!”
   “We don’t know for sure where they came from,” Naunet said quietly but with authority. She was no longer in the mood to appease this man and his unfolding attack on her work or her chosen country even if she was technically still a citizen of Austria. “The one sentence mentioning the ancients’ origin disappeared with the missing corner of the first tablet. I am sure you remember, it was knocked off in your Cairo lab, and then mysteriously vanished from there.”
   “It was Crete,” El-Masri sputtered. His fist hit the table to make it clear that this was as good as a proven fact as far as he was concerned. “We emerged from the Ideon Cave.” His dark eyes swept toward the sky. He stretched his hands high above his head and, in a sing-song voice not unlike that of an ancient high priest, he intoned, “I sprang from the birthplace of Zeus. I am the fruit of Zeus. I ... am ...  a demigod.”
   Had the man gone mad? They sat in stunned silence …

* * *
The Crystal Curse
(Book 4 – Legends of the Winged Scarab)

When they reached the door to Lorenzo’s ill-gotten treasure stash Jonathan turned and smiled at his guard while poking a finger at his own chest. “Jonathan.” Putting on his best boyish grin, he motioned the plodding man to follow him in. When the man shook his head, he pointed again at his chest, “Jonathan,” and then added, “Your mother’s a whore.” After what felt like forever, the pardoned killer from Isla Margarita shrugged his shoulders and nodded receiving a grateful thumbs-up in return. …
… Despite her delight of seeing her husband come in Naunet looked up from her notes and calmly waited until Jonathan reached her desk.
“How nice to see you,” she said.
A quick sideways glance at B. Stiff hunkered down on one of the packing grates warned Jonathan they were not alone.
“I just wondered how you were getting along. Anything on these tablets about Crete?” Jonathan asked emphasizing the last word.
“I gleaned some hints about it,” Naunet answered with slightly arched eyebrows. “Though definitely not Minoan.”
“I remember something from the Book of Samuel.” Again Jonathan pronounced the last word slowly. “It spoke about hope being afloat. Or, as we say in Spanish,” he grinned as if he were saying something funny, “La esperanza está a flote.”
Naunet stared at her husband guessing more than seeing him nod. She ventured, “I don’t think Samuel wrote anything about Crete. As I recall, he wrote about the Arc.”
“Good old Samuel,” Jonathan nodded, this time openly. “It is possible he followed the Arc to Crete.” He saw Naunet’s eyes grow wide and answered her unspoken question with another slight nod.
“What are you two blabbing about?” B. Stiff was working his way toward them when the ship suddenly lurched forward. …
The sudden movement threw B. Stiff off balance. To prevent from brushing against a large painting to his left, the little man grabbed onto the nearest handhold. It turned out to be the protruding penis of one of the prone Greek statuary he was supposed to be looking after—besides spying on Naunet. With an audible crack, the shiny marble phallus detached itself from its curly base.
“Oops,” Jonathan grinned, “I guess even the magic of your name won’t put humpty dumpty back together again.” …
“You clumsy oaf!”
None of them had heard Jabari slide into the huge room. “What have you done! This is a priceless relic!”
The look on the man’s face as he held the ancient artifact at arm’s length was priceless in itself and both Jonathan and Naunet tried hard not to burst out laughing.
Jabari, on the other hand, found no humor in the situation and continued to berate the man. As with his former self, Dr. Jabari El-Masri’s explosive anger produced the desired effect. The grinning guard had just time enough to step aside as a terrified B. Stiff, clutching his precious penis, yanked the door open and fled out into the corridor.
Jabari motioned to the Wilkinses. “What a lucky break, if you pardon the pun.” He bent over Naunet’s desk pretending to look at some of the photographs. “We need to talk. As you know, we are all in the same boat …”
“No kidding,” Jonathan challenged.
“We need to trust each other and exchange ideas how we can survive this ordeal together.”
“Sure we do.” Jonathan’s sarcasm was not lost on Jabari who chose to ignore it.
“I mean it, Jonathan.” He waved an impatient hand at the handsome American wondering how best to tell them what was on his mind. “We need to trust and help each other, and protect each other’s back. You have to back me up.”
“Against any wall in particular?” Whatever scheme the Egyptian had in mind, Jonathan was not ready to let him off so easily.
“Jonathan! We don’t have time for your jokes. I beg you. Please, both of you, listen to me.” …
“It’s about Crete.” Jabari said. “Or rather what I told Lorenzo about the Ideon Cave.”
“Are we back to your belief you sprung from Zeus’s loins?”
“Jonathan, this is serious. And, no, I did not tell him about that. Well, not all of it, anyway.” Jabari turned to Naunet. “It’s about the crystal you wore around your neck when you boarded this ship.”
“I would hardly put it that way, Jabari. I didn’t exactly board this crate voluntarily,” Naunet snapped.
“I am truly sorry, my dear. But tell me. Do you recall anything special about the crystal when you handled it? Perhaps when you touched it for the first time?” …
She decided not to say anything until she found out what Jabari was up to. “Special? In what way?”
“Perhaps peculiar would be a better word. A certain property. A strong light or a variance in temperature.” Jabari too was testing the waters before giving too much away.
“I think you better let us know what you have in mind. No telling how long we’ll be left alone in here.” Jonathan glanced at the guard leaning against the door. He gave the man one of his thumbs-up and called out, “Your mother’s a whore.”
The guard nodded happily before going back to looking bored.
“I beg your pardon!” Jabari stiffened.
“Just making sure the guy doesn’t understand English,” Jonathan grinned, not altogether displeased with himself despite Naunet’s quiet ‘Jon!’  …
* * *
For once, Jonathan itched to get back to the tunnel to tell Bill about the new developments.  Before he did so, he felt the need for fresh air. He had always done his best thinking staring out at the sea. Through sign language he made his ever-present burly guard understand. Once outside, he leaned over railing and gulped salt air into his lungs. It took him a moment to feel the guard behind him standing so close they almost touched. Good God, don’t tell me this prison rat has designs on me. He turned to get his rear end out of its danger zone.
Now, the two were face to face and the guard poked him hard in the chest. “Jonathan!” Then the man touched his own chest. “Vergil.”
“Vergil. Well, what do you know. The man has a name,” Jonathan grinned. As pleasantly as possible he added, “And your mother’s still a whore.”
The guard grinned back. “That maybe so. But next time I’ll throw you overboard.”
If there was ever an oh-shit moment, this was it. Jonathan was so shocked to hear an unmistakable New York accent all he could manage was, “Brooklyn?”
“The Bronx.” Vergil was obviously enjoying the moment.
Not for the first time, Jonathan noticed the height of the man, unusual for someone he had taken as a native Venezuelan; still, there was a swarthy Latin look about him.
“So why were you in a Venezuelan prison?”
The man’s lips stretched into a wide grin. “For raping my mother.”
Jonathan pushed himself away from the railing and inched his back against the peeling superstructure. “Shit, man. You might have told me.”
”That I’m a rapist? Or that I know what’s going on?”
“Preferably both. By the way, what is going on?” It was worth a try. Anything to stave off real or imagined attention from a sex-starved jailbird.
“You’ll find out.” The man put his dinner-plate hands on Jonathan’s shoulders and spun him around as if he were a child’s dreydel. Sphincter-clenching time again! To Jonathan’s relief, his guard laughed, “Relax, man. I only do women. Besides, we wouldn’t have time to enjoy it. I need to get you back to your tunnel before we both get in trouble.”
When they reached the vault, the guard ratcheted the lock. Before he pulled the heavy door open he stabbed a hard finger into Jonathan’s chest. “Jonathan,” he grinned and nodded in the imbecilic way he used to. “You were right. My mother was a whore. From Sicily. Perhaps that’s why she named me Vergil. She told me it means rod bearer. I am sure her interpretation and mine are quite different.” He gave his hips a couple of forward thrusts. “But I didn’t rape her. Lucky for me, she died before I got interested in sex.”
“That’s comforting,” Jonathan coughed. “So, what were you in for, really?”
“You could call it bad timing. Being too impatient.”
Was there a wink? Jonathan couldn’t be sure.
“We were getting so good at stealing, me and my buddies got sloppy. That’s how we wound up in that shithole of a jail.”
Jonathan tried to figure out why Lorenzo might have had this guy released from Isla Margarita’s notorious San Antonio prison. He decided to take a stab at it. “So, you were stealing art for Lorenzo?”
“No, man,” Vergil laughed. “We let him think we were ruthless killers. Well, sometimes, you could say we were. He hired the lot of us.”
The man stepped again uncomfortably close toward Jonathan who expected anything but what came next.
“We weren’t stealing art. We were stealing ships. Containers, trawlers, yachts, even a tanker or two. Twenty-five years we got, for what their crappy court called piracy on the high seas. And here we are, stuck on another stinking rats nest without women.” A disturbing gleam stole into the man’s eyes. “Say, how would you consider giving your new friend a break?”
“Afraid I don’t do men,” Jonathan said through his teeth.
The guard broke into laughter as if he had just heard a great joke. “Not you, dummy. I was thinking of your woman.”
It took all of Jonathan’s willpower not to hit the insolent bastard in the face. Instead, he gave the door such a violent push that he literally tumbled into the ballast tunnel. Half embarrassed and five times as furious, he shoved the heavy steel shut with his foot slamming it into the guard’s face. At least, the swine had the decency not to follow.
Bill stood in front of their work table delicately filing away at something he kept turning around in his hand. Jonathan assumed it was a new thick bolt for the metal frames. As he went closer he saw it was B. Stiff’s guillotined piece of marble. At that instant, what had just transpired outside the tunnel hit him squarely in the nuts.
“God-damn-it, Bill! Stop playing with your dick! We’re sitting on a powder keg here.”
The imperturbable Dr. William Jefferson Browning gently laid the exquisite penis down. He then carefully positioned his flat file in front so it would not roll off the table. Looking over the rim of his bifocals he put an arm around his younger colleague’s shoulders.
“In that case, my friend, I strongly suggest you get a longer fuse.”

* * *
Our charming Edward plays pivotal roles in the
Legends of the Winged Scarab -
Books 2, 3, 4 and 5

Edward, Con Extraordinaire
Stories of Deceit

Edward Guernsey-Crock, Esquire, tall, urbane and, oh, so very British, wore his double-breasted Armani suits and Gucci loafers—sans socks, if you please—with jaunty self-assurance. At fifty-four, he was still pleasingly buff, and he adored women. Not the juicy twenty-year olds with their smooth thighs, uncontrolled appetites, and scheming mothers. No, it was a seasoned woman whose company he sought to cultivate. The one bored with her workaholic, albeit wealthy, husband. The recent widow, overwhelmed by pushy stockbrokers and patronizing tax attorneys. The tummy-tucked single, over-forty-something, real estate agent with an expense account and keys to unoccupied mansions. Invariably, the chosen ones believed they’d died and gone to heaven as he lavished his noble British breeding upon them. Without fail, their sympathy and generosity knew no bounds when he let tidbits of recent bad luck slip through his wooing. As if reluctant to admit his current lack of funds, he would only briefly mention the burglary of his storage unit. Valuable paintings. Priceless antiques. Grade-A diamonds. Alas, all uninsured and gone forever. The story varied according to his audience and audacity.
Part of his success was that he was mild-mannered, and even in the worst of circumstances never failed to be polite. If a lady became too inquisitive or too suspicious of his tall tales, he simply switched one venue for another and, of course, the lady.
Edward—he never changed his first name—smiled happily. What a beautiful city San Diego was, rife for conquests. The moment he arrived he realized that downtown itself as well as the well-shod suburbs were close to perfect for a gentleman of his discerning taste.

* * *

Shadow Love

The Pond

The sun now rose noticeably later. Still, the colorful autumn resisted ceding its reign to its drab successor fighting to keep the days pleasant.
Having a glass of wine or two before lunch had become part of Monika’s routine; so were daily walks right after she had had something to eat. Sometimes she would skip the food.
On this particular day, she came upon a small clearing surrounded by a dense stand of trees. The long climb had taken her breath away and she sank thankfully onto a log. Shaking her feet free of her hiking boots, she stripped her socks off. Her shins were scratched up from brambles and she called herself stupid not to have worn jeans instead of a skirt.
Something gurgled through a scatter of low branches.
Monika followed the pleasant sound and found a lively rivulet skipping over moss-covered boulders, unmindful of the passing of time; like a happy child. It gathered in a small pond hemmed in by rocky ledges.
Was the small pool daring her? With a furtive look around, she stuck a toe into the deep green liquid. Silly woman. What hordes of onlookers would be gathered up here? At best, a chipmunk might watch from its near-by hideout.
What about mountain lions? The idea of a crouching predator almost made her turn and flee back to the safety of her cabin. Squinting against the sun, she could see its comforting chimney below.
“Silly, silly woman,” she said to herself again.
On a sudden impulse, she shrugged her sweater off, then wriggled out of her skirt. After a moment’s hesitation, she stripped off her thin shirt and bra. Spreading her clothes onto
the mossy ground, she bent over the small pool. Her reflection rippled up at her.
“Not too bad for an old mountain goat,” she nodded to the distorted image. A handful of the cold water thrown onto her full breasts firmed her nipples. With a contented sigh, she sank onto the fragrant ground. Her lids grew heavy, and long squelched dreams welled up, opening her senses to the peace around her.
She welcomed the sun to penetrate her warmth-starved nakedness. Her hand slid down and she cupped her mound.
Slowly, her fingers slipped deeper. As an urgency within her smoldered into a bright flame, she soared toward the sky. At last, she sank back, happy with this beautiful day.
She had followed the intruder on velvety paws, confused by the early arrival of an Upright. Boisterous and unheeding of where they tread and what they trampled, they usually came either when the mountain blazed during the hot season, or when the hills’ white mantel was thick and treacherous. She should already have retreated deep into the canyons. But this season, the snow hares had not yet left their telltale prints. They might still be up here, nibbling on the last grasses of the high meadows.
She crouched down, well hidden behind the mossy ledge, blending perfectly into her surroundings. Only her eyes glowed through the thicket. It would have taken a keen observer to spy her tufted ears, or something with a much better nose than the Uprights possessed. Her mother had taught her to fear them, and to avoid them whenever possible. Never before had one of them invaded her pool. At least this Upright, prone and without its covers now, did not carry the noise-stick that killed. It was a much larger prey than she had ever tackled. She hesitated. But she was starving. With hindquarters beginning to quiver in anticipation, she gauged the distance.
Lured from its leafy den by the warm day, the little mouse dashed across her path just as she prepared for a well-judged jump onto the Upright’s throat.
Her instinctive reaction to the mouse was lightening fast. At best, this morsel merely increased her hunger. Still, it was something and she swallowed the squirming rodent whole. The Upright had lifted its head. With eyes slitted at her intended prey, she knew it was too late for a surprise attack. All she could do now was to watch and wait.
“You there!”
The harsh call rang in Monika’s ears. She jerked her head up in alarm. The sun’s autumn disk had begun its slide toward the western horizon, yet the late afternoon air felt still mild. She must have been dreaming. Drowsiness overtook her again and she sank back onto her mossy bed.
“Hey! Wake up!”
Monika blinked. A shadowy face hovered so close over her that all she could make out as a tan deepened by a thick halo of curly pearl-gray hair.
“Do you know you are trespassing!” The vibrant baritone carried little forgiveness.
Should she stay on the ground or get up? Considering that she was practically naked, she decided to stay where she was, cupping her breasts in her hands and crossing her legs. Then, a bit too pointedly to cover her shock, she talked up at the stranger.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was on somebody’s property.”
It would be neither easy nor graceful to pull her thin shirt out from under her buttocks. Besides, it would mean taking her hands off her breasts. She could feel her nipples harden again.
“A bit late for modesty.” The man’s voice was flat.
Flames of anger spread over Monika’s face. Any other man would have flashed a meaningful smile or at least stammered something trivial to ease a naked woman’s embarrassment; most might have tried to lengthen their enjoyment. She knew that she still looked good. What did he want? Oh, God! She swallowed hard and squinted up at him. A rapist! Actually, he sounded more like a sourly hermit. Perhaps he lived in a nearby cave and his mind had gone off. A bit like hers. An involuntary grin appeared on her lips. He reminded her of her lusterless but obviously—judging from the past hour—not completely lustless existence on this mountain.
“Surely, you will find it in your heart to forgive a defenseless lady.” She managed to smile at the face she still could not make out. What was she doing? Offering herself up like a sacrificial virgin, all drivel and expectation? Grimacing at such preprogrammed reaction to the male species, she yanked her shirt from under her and draped its crumpled fabric over herself. To get into her skirt was a lot harder lying down but at last she managed to wriggle into it as she surreptitiously stuffed her bra into an infuriatingly small pocket.
He was still staring down at her, his shadowy features set.
“A defenseless lady. Really? Then I better help you to your feet,” he said as his lips stretched into a wide grin.
The whiteness of his even teeth surprised her. Not a caveman after all.
He pulled her to her feet so brusquely that her shirt fell away and she stumbled against his chest that suddenly resonated with a bellow of laughter. With one steadying hand placed around her slim waist, he used his other to brush a few twigs and scurrying ants off her shoulder, his fingers long and sinuous. It was most likely an unconscious gesture on his part, but it stirred her sluggish lava of past desire into renewed hotness.
Her reaction was to flee. From him. From her own surging feelings. Monika thought that she was scrambling away from having become the potential prey of a desperate mountain predator. Mistakenly, she assumed it was the man.
The starving bobcat shadowed the Upright in her headlong flight all the way through the woods. When the frantic woman crossed the meadow and stumbled into the cabin, the weary animal slunk back into the undergrowth. She would wait there for a better opportunity.

* * *

Moments of The Heart,

A Book of Poems and Short Prose

Offshore Sailing

White Wings on an Ocean
defying the moon’s pull.
The sailor laughs himself
off the harsh brown land.
His hold crammed for survival,
he tempts death.

White Wings on an Ocean,
straining, a billowing team.
The sailor braces against his contrary wheel
raping the rudder as lines wail taut.
The storm flogs with malice.

White Wings on an Ocean
screamed into shreds that bandage the mast. 
A halyard flails, lifelines gone,
the dinghy torn off.
The sailor weeps for soft green meadows.

* * *
Pasha, From Animal Shelter to A Sheltered Life

All Creatures Great and Small

Four small Chihuahua puppies, found abandoned during a frosty night, were adopted out within the week of their arrival at the shelter.
That left us wondering what would happen to one of our great creatures, Selina, a surrendered pure-bred Great Dane. Only eighteen months old, her ebony coat was offset by a dash of chest-white. While she appeared regal, what she really wanted was to jump into someone’s lap for some cuddle-time. After being dipped free of pesky ticks, she was taken for long romps. Having been chained for most of her short life—much too long for her—she must have felt that she had arrived in doggie-heaven, and her joy and exuberance showed it. She was truly one of those wonderful great creatures. Big, too.
Turning to those of smaller stature but with equally big hearts, two hound-mix puppies ravenously licked their dishes clean, clamoring for more as hunger had been their constant companion during most of their young lives. Faith and Hope stayed with the shelter for a while as did Marty and her pups, until they were old enough to be adopted out. Chrissy and Sweety kept patient top-dog Leon company.
Great or small, we knew that they all would rather have had their own human to play with.
It was heartening how well black lab Portia's injured hind leg had healed, despite being whipped about with happy tail-wagging.
Lost, injured and half-starved, this dainty black lab was found by a couple of our town’s Good Samaritans who took her to one of the regular shelter vets. Diagnosis: a broken hip. Without hesitation, this soft-hearted couple footed the bill and named her Portia. Not being able to keep her themselves, they brought her to the shelter, and for the longest time, one of their family members sent treat-packages to her and all her buddies until she was adopted.
It was a rare time when the cat motel had a lot of vacancies thanks to several adoptions. Still waiting for their big break were Turk, so bright of fur and heart, and Lizzy, blue of eye and truly beautiful. We quickly found that Josie and Frisky were wise; and Mimi so wonderful—if only she would show it more readily.
However animals might appear to a visitor, cooped up in cages most of the time, they are seldom quite themselves.
When people come to the shelter to look at them, to choose one over the other, they (the people) need to be lenient during those first encounters.
If more people would recite to themselves what the renown British veterinarian and beloved author James Herriott stated in his delightful book All Creatures Great and Small, I think there might be a lot less animal cruelty:
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

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