“You stayed out late,” Rob Goddard admonished as Jake entered the Study.
“It was the clearest sky we’ve had in weeks. I was star-gazing,” Jake lied.
“Uh huh,” his father replied absently as he studied an old scroll through a magnifying glass.
As usual, his father only wanted an answer. Any response was good enough. It had taken Jake years to learn the secret, and he applied the technique whenever necessary.
Today was a little different. Jake needed to know some facts and despite his lack of parenting skills, Jake’s dad knew many things about ancient civilizations.
“I found this ring at a store in the market,” he said as he put his hand under his dad’s nose. “I liked the way it looked.”
Pulling his eyes away from the magnifier, Goddard said, “Yes, that’s a replica of King Solomon’s ring of power. You can find them on eBay and Amazon. I hope you didn’t pay a lot for it.”
Jake grinned and said, “It was a real steal.” Pulling his hand back to admire the ring, he said, “What do all the markings mean?”
Frowning at the continued interruptions, his dad said, “Do we have to do this now? I’m in the middle of something more important than discussing a cheap piece of costume jewelry.”
“Oh, come on. For the first time I try to be interested in your work, and you brush me off. Great!”
Closing his eyes in exasperation, Goddard shook his head as if clearing his mind. “I’m sorry, you’re right. Okay, let’s talk history.”
Pushing away from the work bench, he walked to the chalkboard hung on a nearby wall and drew a ring shape eerily similar to the one on Jake’s finger.
“Legend says many thousands of years ago a ring was fashioned either by Angels or Aliens.”
Smiling, Goddard continued, “Since we’re in Jerusalem, I’ll go with the Church’s view of Angels being the source. According to the Talmud, a compendium of Judaism and its history, the ring was engraved with the shem ha-meforesh. . .the Unspoken Name of God. There were supposed to be four jewels inset on the ring face. One jewel gave the wearer power over the winds, the second gave power over birds and beasts, the third gave power over earth and water, and the fourth gave power over demons.”
As he recited, he scrawled marks on the ring face for each jewel. At last he sketched two interlocking triangles. One pointed up, the other down. Jake recognized the sketch as the Star of David.
Goddard became lost in thought. “According to legend, the ring allowed Solomon to become the most powerful King the World has ever known. It was lost to antiquity when Solomon died, and while many have searched for it, none have found it.”
“Hitler, Stalin, various US Presidents, the Governments of China and India. Some stories claim billions of dollars have been poured into the searches. Every time someone discovers a new archeological site related to Solomon’s reign, the stories of the lost Ring of Power begin anew.”
“If the ring was so powerful, why didn’t someone try to steal it?”
“Oh, they tried. Solomon was somehow protected. Whenever someone tried to take the ring by force or subterfuge, they were stopped. Something unknown prevented them from succeeding. Some stories claim the ring was taken after Solomon died but only by cutting off his hand. The ring couldn’t be removed from his finger. Other stories relate that as Solomon came near death, he hid the ring with the understanding from God a rightful person would someday find the ring and take the powers for the good of mankind.”
“Wow,” Jake said as he gave his ring a closer look. He didn’t see any jewels, but the runes at the four compass points had tiny faceted points carved into them. If there were any jewels, they were too small to be seen with the naked eye.
“So what do you believe?” Jake asked as his dad stared at the drawing.
“I don’t quite know how to answer your question. My academic training pooh-poohs the idea of mythical powers imbedded into objects. My religious background gives me faith such powers exist. My physical presence in Jerusalem with its religious history has a strong influence on my beliefs. When you combine academic training with religious beliefs, your brain gets skewed.”
Dropping his chalk, Goddard said, “I’m supposed to meet with the Head of the Israeli Research Division at eleven to discuss the most promising dig sites. Would you like to go with me?”
Yesterday, Jake would have made any excuse not to go, but the chance to learn more about the ring was too important. If he was going to sell it on eBay, more information couldn’t hurt.
“Yeah, I’d like that.”
The offices of the Israeli Research Division were located in a squat stone building looking more like a WWII storage bunker than an office.
A stocky woman in a dress better suited to the wardrobe of a “Leave It to Beaver” television show made them stay in the waiting room as she announced their presence. After what Jake thought was too long, she returned and sat at her desk, typing in short bursts.
Jake was beginning to wonder why he had wasted his time coming when the woman looked their way and said, “Mr. Laspor will see you now.”
Grabbing his clipboard and pen, Rob Goddard stepped to the office door and held it while motioning for Jake to follow him. The room they entered had no windows, and Jake felt odd the moment the door closed behind him.
A balding man with a physique indicating he ate too many pastries met them from behind a military-style metal desk. Rob Goddard shook his hand and nodded toward Jake.
“This is my son, Jake. Jake, this is Mr. Jibar Safize Laspor, Head of the Israeli Research Division in charge of the site I am investigating.”
Laspor’s eyes were a muddy brown color and their whites appeared stained in patterns of darker brown as if they had suffered some kind of trauma. Laspor grabbed Jake’s hand, and the firm grip squeezed Jake’s fingers against the ring, making him wince. Laspor noticed the wince, looked down at the hand and turned it so he could see why Jake was distressed. His eyes narrowed when he spied the ring.
Without releasing his grip, he said, “Sorry about the grip. I didn’t realize you were wearing a ring.”
“It’s okay. I forgot I was wearing it. I should have warned you.”
Still holding Jake’s hand, but trying to act nonchalant, Laspor asked, “May I ask where you got it? It bears a striking resemblance to King Solomon’s ring.”
Pulling his hand from Laspor’s, Jake lied, “At a store in the market. It looked nice, and the price was right.”
“Hmm. I am familiar with all the stores there. Which one?”
Now Jake was getting uncomfortable. The man’s questions were too probing. He was formulating what he considered a plausible lie when his father interrupted.
“It’s just a trinket. I told him he could find them on eBay, but he’s an instant gratification type.”
“I came to find out where you recommend I dig. Harvard is pressuring me for results and if I don’t find something of value soon, they’re going to pull the plug on this project.”
Pulling his gaze away from Jake, Laspor said, “Yes, there are some promising areas I have received permission to explore. Let’s take a walk, and I’ll show you.”
Reaching over to a hat stand in the corner, Laspor grabbed a dark beret and fitted it on his head as he strode out the door. Jake’s eyes bulged.
It was hot as blazes, and the humidity was suffocating.
The noon day sun was relentless in August, and today was no exception. Jake followed Laspor and his dad up the streets leading to the Temple Mount. They pushed through the guarded eight foot fence topped with barbed wire and walked into the plaza. Scattered groups of laborers, sweating in the high humidity, dotted the wide plaza. There was no evidence anyone had been shot last night, and Jake looked carefully. None of the workers shied away from Laspor indicating he used other men during his night time pillaging.
Laspor took several minutes to show them new sites where he said digging had been authorized. All of his dad’s questions and Laspor’s answers were non-specific until they arrived at the dark hole Jake had found last night.
“This is one of the more promising sites,” Laspor said indicating the hole. Jake did his best to act disinterested.
“Sonar readings taken in this area indicate a warren of tunnels lead from this access point to areas too deep for our instruments to fathom. I think you should begin your research here.”
“When does your team have the time to take sonar readings?” Jake’s dad asked.
“We normally perform our tests after nightfall. The accuracy of the instruments is more reliable without the high heat scrambling the readings.”
“Uh huh,” Goddard replied absently as he looked into the hole.
Without warning, Jake felt dizzy. His eyes went in and out of focus, and he stumbled. Grabbing the nearest wall, he fought a wave of nausea. His ring felt tight.
A voice spoke in his mind.
“Greetings, Jake. Sorry it took so long to begin talking, but I had to learn your language. Your idioms, hyperboles and peculiar metaphors are significantly more nuanced than Syriac or Egyptian.”
“What?” Jake asked.
Laspor looked at him, and his eyes narrowed. Rob Goddard acted concerned. He grabbed Jake’s arm to keep him from falling. Jake’s knees felt weak.
“Oh no. Looks like you’ll do better if I hold off until you’re in bed. It takes a while to get used to me. I’ll be quiet now.”
“You okay?” his father asked.
The ring didn’t feel tight any longer, and Jake’s dizziness went away as if it never existed. Standing straighter, he took a couple of deep breaths.
“You must have inhaled a lung-full of vapors from the hole,” Laspor said. Looking at Jake’s dad, he warned, “Your team should wear masks with oxygen tanks when you explore these tunnels. No telling what you might encounter. Don’t you agree, Jake?”
“Yeah,” Jake coughed. “I think I caught a strong whiff of rats.”
He could tell Laspor didn’t get the reference, but the ring briefly tightened. He thought he heard a chuckle.
Acting like the heat and humidity were too high for him to remain outdoors, Jake goaded his father into leaving the plaza. He noticed Laspor staring at him with an odd expression.
Jake went straight home, downed three ibuprofens and flopped on a couch in the study.
The dizzy spell worried him. The voice he heard in his head coupled with the dizziness made him doubt his sanity.
He didn’t like to feel weak. His interpretation of biology studies left no doubt he could have inherited a genetic weakness for cancer from his mother. His fear of physical frailty morphed into a need for physical strength. Despite his father’s influence, Jake was a fighter. One of the earliest life lessons from his dad was to turn the other cheek.
“No matter what the provocation, violence is not the response of a civilized man.”
Jake felt deep in his gut certain things required a violent reaction. What if someone tried to dominate him with threats of bodily harm? What if someone was going to torture him with a diabolical injury? Was he not to react to defend himself? Even use violence if necessary to save himself or his loved ones? Turn the other cheek sounded ridiculous when put into those perspectives.
It was scary to think your mind was failing. The thought of losing his brain functions to a psychotic break from reality was mortifying.
He felt the ring tighten.
“Are we relaxed now? I hate to admit it, but being cut off from all human contact for 2,948 years has me feeling anxious. I’ve held my tongue, but introductions are in order.”
Seeing no one in the room, Jake said, “Whoever you are, the joke is wearing thin. Ha. Ha. Now come out and talk to me face-to-face.”
“You’re dense aren’t you?”
Feeling confrontational, Jake growled, “I’m serious. Whoever you are, cut the crap.”
“I’m sorry, Jake. I come from a time when talking to a disembodied voice was commonplace. I’ve just reviewed your psychological beliefs. Interesting. You have a great fear of losing your sanity; an unfortunate situation to say the least.”
“Who is talking? Where are you?”
“My name is Smannanelcannic. My essence is imbued into the ring you now wear.”
Staring at his hand, the furrows in Jake’s brow became deeper.
“Salmon Mechanic? I’ve heard better names on SNL. Avner? Is that you?”
“Based upon current naming conventions and your inability to enunciate common names, you may call me Smith.”
“Nonsense, Smith or Salmon Mechanic or whatever you call yourself. I’ve seen TV shows with better special effects.”
“No, I exist. For better or worse as your modern marriage vows state. Solomon was the last to possess the ring, and he hid it just before his death because no one existed who had the psychological depth to wield its powers. You found it which means you are chosen.”
“Chosen for what?”
“You are dense aren’t you? Something is wrong. The person chosen to wear the ring of power is supposed to be a unique individual most suited to command its gifts. I am afraid you are a common thief with a speech impediment who found the ring by accident. The error must be corrected.”
Jake’s finger began burning. The skin under the ring began to smoke, and the smell of burning flesh filled his nose. Jake tried to pull the ring off by twisting and jerking it, but it wouldn’t pass his knuckle.
As the pain became unbearable, he ran to the bathroom and poured cold water on the burn. Grabbing a soap dispenser, he coated the ring and his finger. The sharp pain and the smell of burning meat became worse, and tears poured from his eyes. The more he tried to jerk and twist the burning ring off his finger, the tighter it became. The soap didn’t help.
In desperation, Jake glared at the ring and yelled, “Stop!”
The ring cooled at once. There was no gradual temperature change. It went from cherry-red hot to ice cube cold in less than a heartbeat.
Twirling the ring, Jake saw no burn or any indication of injury. Returning to the couch, he flopped down and stared at the ceiling.
“I’m losing my mind.”
“Your strength is proven. You are the person to wear the ring. I must begin familiarizing you with its operation.”
“Just stop. My finger was almost burned off whether it looks like it or not. If I hadn’t experienced the pain, I wouldn’t believe it myself.”
“Sorry for the pun, but you’re a hard nut to crack.”
Jake crossed his arms and scowled. He didn’t like being made the object of a punch-line.
“You must take the time for some orientation. There are many gifts and burdens associated with wearing the ring. If you are unschooled in its peculiar characteristics, personal injury is guaranteed.”
Coming to the conclusion Smith wasn’t going to stop badgering him, Jake pushed off the couch and headed toward the market.