“I don’t understand why Colonel Sauerbrum isn’t here,” the Prime Minister grumbled.
Jake and Nava concentrated on the table top, trying their best to appear disinterested.
An orderly handed a note to Kohn and left the room. Kohn glanced at the paper and frowned, “Her cell phone stopped registering its location early this morning. It’s either broken or the SIM card has been removed. The last verified location was near the intersection of 35th Avenue and 81st Streets. I’ll send a search party to the location.”
“Very well. What’s on the agenda for today? I refuse to sit on my hands when I can explore one of the premier cities in the World.”
“What would you like to do, Sir?” Kohn asked.
“I’ve heard Central Park has some unique sights.”
“I don’t think I would waste time there,” Nava said. “Sounds like a lot of walking.”
“Yes,” Jake agreed. “It’s just a bunch of trees and a lake or two. The only reason people go there is to get away from the natural hubbub of the City.”
“What do you suggest then, Jake? You’re a native.”
“There’s all kinds of shopping. Broadway plays. Famous landmarks.”
“A Broadway play would be an electrifying experience. Providing security would be much easier, and we might be able to arrange a backstage meeting with some of the actors,” Nava said.
“I’ll have to admit I like the idea of a Play rather than shopping. I’ve heard the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ is popular. Arrange it.”
“You must be on your best behavior tonight,” Jake said.
“Don’t worry. I’ve learned to live with boredom. Spending 3,000 years inside a leather pouch in complete darkness makes one learn how to keep busy. At least this time I won’t be sealed away in a rock cubby hole.”
“From what I hear, this Broadway show is award-winning for a reason. Good music, wonderful performers, a hint of mayhem, screams and death. You should feel right at home.”
“Stop trying to cheer me up. By the way, what is the current state of affairs with the search for Sauerbrum?”
“All I know is Kohn sent a couple of his men to her last known location. They will find a body, but it was blown up beyond recognition. It will take hours to have the remains identified.”
“What about the rectangular box Nava took?”
“The box is called a cell phone. It’s a communication device. She has the SIM card, and as soon as we access it, I think we’ll find out who is after me.”
“You mean us.”
Just then, Nava glided into the room. The dress she had worn to the museum had been eye-catching, but her new choice was stunning. It was a sleek, black sharkskin dress. She had added a faux diamond necklace and matching wristlet. Jake stopped breathing when he saw her.
“It’s too much, isn’t it?”
“No, you look wonderful. A real show-stopper.”
“Definitely queen material.”
“What does Smith think?”
“You don’t want to know. Suffice it to say in over 3,000 years, he has not seen your equal.”
Nava blushed and then pulled a wicked looking snub nosed automatic from her handbag.
“Thank you for the compliment, Lieutenant. Just so you don’t get any ideas, I want you to know where my gun is hidden this time.”
“I’ll keep the warning in mind, Inspector.”
“Why is she playing so hard to get?”
“It could be the fact that I’m an immature eighteen year-old who just began shaving on a regular basis. Having an obnoxious paranormal ring with no social skills isn’t helping the situation.”
“Your age differences will not matter in ten or so years, and my social skills are legendary.”
“Smith giving you a hard time?” Nava asked.
“Let’s just say the relationship between men and women has changed in the last 3,000 years, and he hasn’t adjusted.”
“It has occurred to me she may prefer female companionship. I’ll begin monitoring her emotional responses with particular attention to her reactions to other women.”
“The gap between your social skills and modern society just got wider. Stop trying to analyze everything,” Jake ordered.
“The limo’s here. Let’s go,” Nava said.
The street level view of the Majestic Theater was eye-catching.
Bright lights lined the entrances, and computer-controlled LED displays advertised the ‘Phantom of the Opera’. The rest of the facade was drab brown brick with a couple of long, dark balconies. The crowd milling around the entrance gave no clue most of the theater seats were already filled.
Jake and Nava stayed close to the Prime Minister as they were led to private balcony seats near the stage.
“I’m very pleased the Theater Manager was so accommodating. Being Prime Minister does have its perks from time to time.”
Dan Kohn, who had followed them, turned to leave. “Lock this door from the inside. Don’t open it for anyone unless I first radio you and authorize. The password is Henshaw. I repeat, Henshaw. Are we clear?”
“Yes Sir,” Jake and Nava said.
“Very well. I have guards on all floors, entrances and exits. No one should bother you.”
After the door lock snicked, Nava and Jake took seats behind the Prime Minister.
“This facility reminds me of Solomon’s Throne Room. Less gold in the decorations, but the lighting is far superior to candles and torches.”
“No running commentary. I would like to enjoy the performance without your mouth drowning out everyone.”
The performance began with a musical crescendo. The theme song blared from organ pipes and the bass was so resounding the building walls vibrated. It was during the deepest tones when the door splintered and several men grabbed Jake and Nava.
The Prime Minister was wide-eyed as a black-out curtain was draped across the balcony opening. With attention focused on the stage, no one in the audience noticed or heard any commotion.
Jake heard Smith utter words in a language he couldn’t understand, and swirls of smoke began forming. The smell of burning sulfur grew stronger.
Working with frantic haste, two men held Jake while a third slipped a steel gauntlet onto his hand wearing the Ring of Power.
As the gauntlet covered the ring, Smith’s chanting grew muffled. To Jake’s surprise, the gauntlet cuff clamped to his forearm where it sealed to his skin. The seal shut off Smith’s words, and the smoke swirls dissipated along with the sulfur odor.
“Are we good?” one of the henchman asked.
“Yes. Gag and take these two to the car. We’re not interested in this one,” the apparent leader said jerking a thumb at the Prime Minister. “But just so he doesn’t raise an alarm.”
With those words, he hit the Minister with the butt of his pistol, and the man slumped over against the balcony railing.
“Just a little payback for his treatment of our people. Let’s go.”
Jake and Nava were forced to follow the thugs.
Even though they used back hallways to exit the building, Jake was surprised no Shin Bet agents tried to stop them. He found out why when they walked out the rear door into the alley.
Three Shin Bet operatives lay sprawled near the door, dead from gunshots to their heads. Nava struggled when she spotted the dead men, but her captors were too strong.
Jake tried to contact Smith without success. He couldn’t even feel the ring on his finger. The metallic glove seemed to be a perfect insulator. Jake guessed its weight at around ten pounds. He tried to make a fist but the metal fingers were too thick to do more than grasp a big pole.
A symbol was embossed into the gauntlet cuff. It was the Star of David but centered with the symbol of a Christian Cross.
He wasn’t given much time to ponder the icon because Nava and he were shoved into the back of a black van. After minutes of lying in the back of the jolting van, Jake was sure the driver hit every pothole he could find.
A flashlight winked on, its beam focused in Jake’s face. His gag was pulled off, and he spat a foul sponge from his mouth. Nava’s sponge joined his moments later.
“How do you like our Shield of the Blessed Trinity? Makes you feel out of touch, doesn’t it?”
“Who are you? Why did you kidnap us?” Jake asked as he looked around. The leader was flanked by two men who kept their AR15′s pointed at him.
“We’ll answer that question soon enough. Just be happy you’re still amongst the living.”
“Things are going to happen, and you won’t like them,” Jake promised.
“Stop threatening me with the Ring of Power. We have it under control just like you,” the man bragged.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Nava whispered. “You won’t be able to hold us forever.”
“I wouldn’t dream of holding you forever, and stop being so dramatic. Soon as we have possession of the Ring, you’re both free to go.”
“It won’t come off. I’ve tried,” Jake said.
“You didn’t have the proper education or related tools to accomplish the feat. Boss Man does.”
Jake and Nava stared at each other and remained silent.
The van screeched to a halt next to a loading dock.
Jake could smell a river nearby, and the sounds of interstate travel came from behind him. It was all he could discern about their location before Nava and he were thrown to the concrete floor inside the warehouse.
The sliding door had just thumped shut when the manager’s office door banged open with a rattling of its blinds.
“Such a nasty place. Not fit for man nor beast. The perfect place, however, for separating the Ring of Power from its current owner. Wouldn’t you agree?”
For a moment Jake squinted at the elderly man. He looked familiar but in the dim light of the dirty warehouse, it was difficult to be sure until he came closer.
It was Stacks Assistant from the National Library of Israel.
“You! So you’re the Boss Man behind all this,” Jake snarled. Then to Nava. “This guy worked at the National Library. He’s the screaming image of a librarian who takes more pleasure in eating potato chips than reading.”
“You will sing a different tune once the Ring is no longer yours to command. By the way, my name is Cyril Manzur, not Stacks Assistant.”
“I think Stacks Assistant fits you better,” Nava said.
Manzur’s face turned red, but he didn’t respond. Instead, he glanced at the gang leader and said, “Bring the box. Let’s get this show on the road.”
A cart rolled into view. On it was a metal box with a round, sculpted stone clamped to it. The effigy looked like a misshapen face with eye holes, a nose with open nostrils and a rectangular opening for the mouth. A wild beard and hair completed the carving. The eye holes were dark and foreboding. Jake felt a cold shiver when he stared at them. The rectangular mouth was large enough for the metal gauntlet to fit through it.
“I’m sure a man of your intellect recognizes the Mouth of Truth,” Manzur sneered. “Legend says anyone who puts a hand into the Mouth will hear a question asked about his or her life. If the question isn’t answered truthfully, the liar dies an agonizing death.”
Noticing the concern in Jake’s eyes, he added, “Such legends are exaggerations. The true purpose of the Mouth of Truth is removal of the lying artifact you call the Ring of Power. The reason for the box is simple. Once your hand goes into the Mouth, it will enter the lead box. This particular box was used at the Oakridge National Laboratory to shield scientists from enriched plutonium radiation. It will be sufficient to protect innocent third parties, such as myself, from the effects of a successful removal.”
“Put your hand in the Mouth,” Manzur ordered.
Jake drew back. The way the gauntlet cuff had clamped to his wrist hinted at paranormal forces beyond his comprehension. He had visions of his wrist melting off his arm. Smith was powerless - something Jake had never imagined. Sweat began to bead on his forehead, and he licked dry lips.
“Put your hand in the Mouth, or my men will cut off your arm. I’m losing patience,” Manzur blustered.
“You are playing with powers beyond your comprehension,” Jake warned.
“Get the machete,” Manzur ordered.
“Jake!” Nava screamed. “He means it.”
Jake reluctantly stepped up to the sculpture and stuck the gauntlet into the Mouth. He felt the cuff relax and thought he heard a faint cry for help.
Manzur pointed to one of the men and said, “Use the built-in grappling arm sleeves and remove the gauntlet. You should have an easy time, then, taking off the ring.”
The man stuck his arms into the lead lined sleeves. The moment he grabbed the gauntlet, he hesitated.
Looking at the gauntlet as if it was asking him a question, he said, “No, I’ve never done such a thing.”
Lightning flashed inside the box, the man screamed and everyone watched their first electrocution. The nauseating smell of burnt meat and hair filled the room. The man collapsed with his arms still inside the box sleeves. Steam drifted from every part of his body.
Manzur was silent for several moments. At last he ordered the body pulled away from the box and stared through the viewports at the gauntlet.
“Bring the woman.”
Nava struggled until Jake said, “Nava, you have to do this. I think I know what is happening. You’re the only person in this room who can tell the truth and remove the thing. Please.”
She held his gaze for a few moments, and then walked to the box. With a resolved look, she put her arms into the sleeves. Jake recognized the look of anguish as she felt the warm, gooey remains of the dead man’s flesh coating them.
Taking a deep breath, she touched the gauntlet.
A clear voice spoke in her head. It wasn’t Smith.
“Do you have feelings for Jake Goddard beyond the physical?”
She dropped the gauntlet like it had burned her. Jake didn’t know what she had been asked, but he’d seen the angry look before. She had worn it for most of the day when they toured The Met.
Determination filled her eyes, and she picked up the gauntlet again.
“You speak the truth,” the voice said in her mind. “You may remove the shield. Be warned. Do not trust the Ring. It protects only itself.”