Smith

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Meeting

Jake was almost home when two men grabbed his arms and a third slammed a heavy sap into his right temple.

He regained consciousness sputtering, strapped to a metal chair in a dark room with only a flickering dim bulb over his head.

The sputtering was caused by the bucket of water emptied over his head.

“He’s awake,” a low voice said in an Arabic-tinged French accent.

Blinking through the watery haze, Jake watched someone take a seat in front of him. It was too dark to make out any details about the face.

“Jake. So glad you are awake at last. I was afraid my assistant might have cracked your skull with his little toy.”

“Where am I? What do you want?”

Looking around the shadowy room, the inquisitor said, “Did you hear that? Intelligent questions.”

Turning his attention back to Jake, he said, “While you were taking a nap, I was admiring the ring on your finger.”

Jake hated the guy’s thick French accent. It was difficult to understand what he was saying. You had to concentrate on every word to understand. The words seemed forced as if he was faking the heavy accent.

“I tried to take it off to get a closer look, but it’s stuck.

“Where did you find it?”

Jake lied as he struggled against the restraints. “Found it at the antique shop. What’s this all about?”

“Jake, it’s not nice to lie. Didn’t your mother teach you better?”

“She died when I was young.”

“Too bad,” the man said in an insincere tone.

“Jake, something is going to happen, and I haven’t had time to prepare you for all the ring’s capabilities. Please close your eyes so they won’t get blood in them.”

“Blood?” Jake blurted. “What are you going to do?”

The Frenchman thought Jake was talking to him. He said, “Blood? I didn’t mention any such thing, but your idea is intriguing.”

Turning to someone out of sight, he said, “Bring me the clippers. Jake has suggested a method for removing the ring.”

Jake squeezed his eyes shut. There was a momentary pause and an odd quiet permeated the room. A hot breeze fluttered his hair, and he heard a boosh like a water balloon had burst. Warm goo splattered, and he felt wet all over. Someone began screaming, but the sound ended in a gurgle. Boosh. Boosh. More warm goo washed over Jake. First from his left, then from his right.

Something wiped his face. It felt rough, scaly and feverish hot. He heard a ripping sound, and the pressure of the restraints on his arms and legs loosened.

“You can open your eyes.”

Jake blinked and focused on the chair in front of him. No one sat in it, but it was covered in sticky red blood. His arms were no longer bound. He looked at them, and they were covered in the same sticky red goo. Looking down, Jake saw the floor was a pool of blood with some strange lumps scattered here and there. The room had an ominous feel seeming to linger in its dark corners.

Getting up, Jake tiptoed through the gore and found light switches. There were three blood pools. Spatter on the walls gave Jake the impression blood bags had exploded, but there were no bodies. Just the odd lumps.

“We must leave.”

“What happened?”

“I’ll tell you later, but we have to leave now.”

“I can’t walk around like this. I’ve got a bad headache, and I need a shower and clean clothes.”

“Got it covered. Just get out of this building.”

Creeping into the street and keeping close to the buildings, Jake surmised he was in the warehouse district. Thunder rolled and a streak of lightning cracked across the sky. Rain began falling so hard, Jake thought of the Boston car washes his father used to patronize. In moments, he was soaked to the skin and all the blood and gore disappeared. As the last of the mess washed away, the rain stopped. It was like he’d been doused with a fire hose at full volume.

Inspecting his arms and legs, Jake marveled. There was no evidence of his blood bath, but his head still ached from the knockout blow.

“It’s late, and you need rest. Your home is over a mile away. I’ll guide you.”

“Is there anyone else following me?”

“Not at the moment. Now stop asking questions and move.”

“I don’t need any more surprises today, but tomorrow I want some answers.”

“Fine. Fine. Just get moving.”

Shaking his head in disgust and dripping rainwater, Jake headed home where he fell into a dreamless sleep.

***

“You were out late last night. Were you at Avner’s?”

“Yeah. We were playing Ghost Recon with an Italian guy, and time got away from me.”

“We’re having supper with Monsieur Laspor tonight so don’t make other plans.”

Startled by the news, Jake frowned. “Why?”

“He’s interested in my work and wants to discuss progress. His okay on funding is essential to keeping me on-site.”

“I thought Harvard was fully funding your work? What’s he got to do with it?”

“Without his support, Harvard’s exploration license goes to Jefferds at Princeton. I’m walking a tightrope and need all the local support I can get.”

“I’m not going to stay here my whole life,” Jake warned. “Shoveling sand into a sifter is not my idea of the ideal life or a proper education.”

“You’ll do as I say,” his father replied. “Sifting sand has led to the gold coins I found this week. The new dig location is promising.”

“I’m not ten years old any more. I have my own life to live.”

“Not as long as you’re my responsibility.”

“You don’t have to protect me anymore, Dad. I’m a grown man in the eyes of the law.”

“That’s telling him!”

“Shut up!” Jake replied.

“Don’t talk to me that way,” Rob warned.

“I wasn’t talking to you.”

“Unless the invisible man is standing here, you were talking to me. Don’t lie.”

Jake huffed from the room.

“Don’t forget tonight,” his dad called after him.

“Don’t worry.”

***

Jake was seething with anger. Slamming the front door, he headed to the market.

“It is my experience military service is the best way to demonstrate superior leadership skills. Ergo, as the future ruler of all mankind, you must join the military.”

“Yeah right.”

“I’m serious. Find the nearest recruitment location and volunteer.”

“I’m not the military type. Following moronic orders to sacrifice my body and even my life for the good of the nation-state is not my idea of sane fun.”

The ring tightened and the intense burning sensation he experienced the previous day began again. Jake stumbled in anguish against a nearby storefront.

“Alright. Alright! STOP IT!”

“That’s better. You need to understand I only have your best interests at heart.”

“Then stop torturing me. I don’t like being told what to do. You’re acting too much like my father, and he would never physically hurt me.”

“Did you know I came up with the phrase ’He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.’?”

“What?”

“The modern version is ‘Spare the rod, Spoil the Child.’”

“So according to Smith’s Law, hurting a kid proves love. If you take the statement to its logical conclusion, then love hurts.”

“Wasn’t that a song title?”

“Shut up.”

“I’m glad we have an understanding.”

“I’m glad you don’t talk in a 3,000 year old dialect anymore. Spareth. Hateth. Chasteneth? Did everyone back then have a lisp?”

“You shouldn’t act so superior to your ancestors. Like – ya know?”

***

A poster advertising Israeli army recruiting was nailed over the front entrance of the wood-frame building. Jake walked into the waiting area and plopped down in one of the cushioned, green vinyl metal chairs.

Three women and four men stared at him for a moment, lost interest and went back to gazing at their cell phones. He read every old magazine on fishing and guns he could find as he waited his turn. His patience was almost at an end when a beefy fellow wearing a military dress uniform with the nameplate ‘B. Mizrahi’ motioned for him.

“What do you want?” Mizrahi asked. His demeanor and tone indicated he thought Jake was wasting his time.

“Information about joining up. Does the Army accept American citizens?”

“Yes but I don’t recommend it.”

“Why?″

“American males think they are superior in muscle strength and intelligence. They soon learn Israeli training methods are too demanding and run home to mommy.”

“Not my boy.”

“I’m not like that, and my mother is dead. I have nowhere to run.”

“That’s telling him.”

“I don’t think you’re army material.”

“I didn’t think I was this morning either, but here I am.”

Shrugging in disgust, Mizrahi pulled a folder from his desk and began reading each document as if Jake was an idiot. Determined to learn about the programs available after basic training, Jake listened to the whole boring presentation.

In the end, he signed on the dotted line. He was to report for transfer to Basic Training in the morning. If he made it through the rigors of Basic, he chose Sharpshooter School for advanced skills.

***

“You did what?” Rob screamed.

“I signed up for the Israeli Army. I leave for Basic Training in the morning.”

“No you’re not!”

“Yes I am. I’m old enough to make my own decisions.”

“With some prodding.”

“Are you kidding me? You don’t have enough life experience to make such a decision. Do you really hate me so much?”

Jake’s voice got louder. “The only thing I hate is you trying to control my life.”

“We’ll see about this. You’re an American citizen. They can’t force you to live with this stupid decision. I’ll go with you in the morning and straighten this out.”

“There’s nothing to straighten out,” Jake growled. “It’s done, and you can’t stop it.”

“Don’t scream at your father. He only has your best interests at heart. Like me.”

“Mind your own business,” Jake mumbled.

“You are my business,” Rob said.

“Just leave me alone,” Jake said as he covered the ring with his hand.

“No son. I can’t, and I won’t. Now go get ready for supper. I don’t want to keep Monsieur Laspor waiting.”

***

A swarthy, narrow-faced manservant opened the door to Jibar Laspor’s flat and ushered Jake and his dad into a sitting area.

There were several tapestries hung on the walls and draped over the back of the plush sofa. Relics from the Solomon dig were scattered around in shadow boxes or glass globes. The room smelled musty and had the feel of a wax museum.

“I don’t like this place. Too many things remind me of days past. In fact, the tapestry over the sofa used to hang on the East wall of the largest brothel in Tel Gezer.”

“Unnecessary information,” Jake said under his breath.

“Just trying to carry on polite conversation.”

“Not now.”

“Is there a problem?” Laspor asked from the doorway. He was wearing a red velvet dinner jacket with a white pocket square.

“None whatsoever,” Rob replied. “We were just admiring your fine collection of artifacts. Outstanding.”

“Mere trinkets. My more prized relics are in the vault.”

“This pompous jerk is making me angry.”

“I would like to see them if you’re game,” Rob said. “Rumors about your unique collection are whispered in the halls of Harvard. To say there was a hint of jealousy would be an understatement.”

“Of course,” Laspor replied. “Come with me.”

***

Laspor led them through a door under the stairway to the basement.

A modern steel vault door was built into the northerly concrete wall. It looked sturdy enough to withstand a dynamite blast.

Laspor put his eye against a round hole, and a light scanned it. Waiting for a beep and green light, he entered six digits on a keypad and the locking cylinders pulled back to allow the door to swing open.

The room inside the vault was large and held several tables with glass covers. Pedestals in the corners lighted by overhead spotlights displayed what looked like costume jewelry.

“Oh my.”

“These items are my most prized possessions. Here is the necklace worn by Solomon’s Egyptian wife,” Laspor bragged as he pointed out a gold filigree pendulum and chain.

“Actually, Solomon gave that necklace to his daughter, Taphath, on her sixteenth birthday.”

Jake snickered, and Laspor gave him a look of disapproval.

“You find my collection humorous?”

“Not at all, Monsieur Laspor. I’m sure he was coughing,” Rob said. His sharp look told Jake to keep his reactions in check.

“Yes. I see your son has taken an interest in King Solomon. I notice he’s still wearing the ring that matches Solomon’s ring of power.”

“Yes, ever since he found it at the Antique Shop in the market, he won’t take it off.”

“Yeah,” Jake agreed. “Dad wants me to be interested in his work so I wear it to make him happy.”

“May I see it again?” Laspor asked. “I’m always interested in the latest attempt to mimic the wealth of Solomon.”

Before Jake could respond, his father said, “Of course.”

Reluctantly, Jake placed his hand in Laspor’s outstretched palm. Whipping out a magnifying glass, Laspor studied it.

“My, my. The craftsmanship mimics the old style of jewelry-making quite closely.”

“Tell this guy to let me go. His touch is disturbing.”

Pulling his hand away from Laspor, Jake said, “I know it’s a fake, but it looked good. I thought Dad would like it.”

“It’s the most realistic looking fake I’ve ever seen,” Laspor said with a peculiar glint. “Would you mind if I made a wax impression of it?”

“No way. I don’t like this guy or his prized possessions. Get me out of here.”

“Mr. Laspor, if you want one of these rings, the store has at least another twenty in stock. I’m sure you can find one you like better than mine.”

Turning to his wide-eyed father, he said, “I’ve got an early day tomorrow. The bus leaves at 8. I’m going home to sleep. Nice to meet you again, Mr. Laspor. May your digs always be where the treasure is buried.”

“Might I ask where you’re going? Perhaps the coast for some beach time?”

“Israeli Army Basic Training. I think it’s important for a man to know how to protect himself. Wouldn’t you agree Mr. Laspor?”

“Jake made a foolish decision today I will rectify in the morning,” his dad said.

“Listen to your father, Jake. There are dangers in the World even military training doesn’t prepare you to face,” Laspor said.

“I just want to be more difficult to kill than I am right now, Mr. Laspor. I’m sure a man of your interests understands.”

Leaving the astonished men, Jake bounded up the stairs, hailed a taxi and headed home.

***

Jake dialed Avner the moment he entered the taxi.

“I know this is sudden notice, but I joined the Israeli Army today. I ship out tomorrow morning.”

“What? You’re kidding, right?”

“No. I’m serious. Just wanted you to know I’ll be out of touch for at least ten weeks.”

“Why in the World would you do a stupid thing like that? You’re an American citizen.”

“You sound like the recruiter.”

“What’s going on? Did you get a girl pregnant? Do you owe child support?”

“Now you sound like my dad. It’s just something I have to do. I’ve been thrown into a lot of fights in the last few days, and I need to know how to protect myself.”

“You can go to the local DoJo if you want to learn how to kick butt. The Army is the last place any American wants to be.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Hang up on this guy. He’s too negative.”

“Because it’s true. There are stories on the Internet. Americans who join the Israeli Army get beat up and ridiculed all the time. They’re preyed upon by the other soldiers.”

“Then I’ll just become a better fighter. I’ll earn respect.”

“You’ll earn a stay in the hospital.”

“It’s done, and I’m going.”

“Let me help.”

Thunder crashed, and lightning brightened the sky. His cellphone crackled.

“Was that thunder? Even God doesn’t want you to go.”

“Stop being melodramatic.”

Another thunderclap boomed and lightning wove through the night sky in jagged strips.

The taxi driver began hunching over his steering wheel staring into the night sky.

“Wow. Thunder at this time of year is rare,” he muttered.

Jake ignored the driver. Staring at his ring, he yelled, “Stop it.”

Acting on Jake’s order, the driver pulled to the curb.

“That will be $6.50.”

“Why did you stop? This isn’t the address I gave you.”

“You said to stop. I did. Are you a troublemaker?”

“I’ll say.”

“No. I’m just a crazy American having trouble expressing myself to native Israelis. Please drive to the address I gave you.”

“Your personality has changed ever since you found the ring. You’re not the same,” Avner said.

“How true.”

“Goodbye Avner. I’ll contact you after I’m released from Basic.”

“Wait . . .”

Jake ended the call and stared at the passing buildings.

“Finally some peace and quiet. Don’t you worry. After some strength training and a few scars, the women will find you irresistible.”

“Gee. I feel better all ready,” Jake replied sarcastically.

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