Of Lions and Lambs
Lilith sat on the cliff, her feet flipping carelessly as they hung over the edge. The sun rose for the first time since her creation, and she marveled at the spectrum of colors that burst from the glowing sphere through the trees on the side of the mountain. She breathed deeply, trying to suck its orange and yellow rays into her body, while admiring the wonders of her new world. Soon, birds began to dive in and out of the treetops, and new voices echoed from the valley below. She leaned ahead, her bottom precariously teetering on the loose rocks of the ledge. Herds paraded proudly throughout the land: deer, sheep, and zebra families running side by side with tigers, wolves, and lions. We are all one, just as the Father said, she thought, as she watched the animals playfully dance with one another. It was the eighth day of creation, and the first day of her life.
May 10, 1950
Today I located a large amount of pottery in site #4, but only more shards of jugs and urns. Truth be told, I'm starting to lose faith that the Devil's Concubine Bo... A large body cast a shadow over Hagar's entry into his journal.
"Well, have you found anything yet?" a large Greek man roughly inquired, while leaning over the small figure with round-rimmed glasses and shaggy, dirty-blond hair. "Well, Hagar?" the Greek again growled.
Hagar untied the red-and-white-striped handkerchief from around his neck and wiped the sweat from his brow. Removing his glasses, he blew the sand dust from their lenses, and then replaced them on his steeply sloped nose. He squeezed the arms of his spectacles over each ear in an attempt to keep them from sliding off. The large Greek's imposing figure provided little relief from the hot desert sun as his stinking, whiskey-soaked body hovered above the archaeologist.
"Nothing yet, sir," he replied, avoiding turning around to face the Greek by sliding back into the hole and busying himself brushing sand off a clay pot. Hagar, you idiot, you'd better find something soon, or you won't have any way of getting home, he thought, trying to ignore the hulk still towering over him.
"You told me you would find me something in this desert!" The large man's arms flailed. "That was three months ago. I want results now!"
Hagar continued to sweep his brush over the hard-baked clay, taking special care not to crumble the fragile pieces of shattered pottery he had uncovered. "Mr. Panagakos, look at everything we have already found." He stood up from his digging, his body aching as he straightened his back. He twisted and turned in an attempt to ease the spasms. He looked over the massive, half-mile excavation that surrounded them. "You see over there?" He pointed to a group of archaeology students scraping and digging in a large pit that was 25 by 30 feet in size. "That is where we found a community oven. And over there," he pointed to another group lifting a large piece of rock out of a deep hole with ropes and winches, "that is where we believe they performed the harvest ritual; that large rock was where the sacrifices were performed!" Hagar took a nervous step back, knowing that his excitement at what had already been discovered was not going to appease the drunken Greek.
The man moved closer to Hagar, his thick breath intensified by the excessive humidity and heat. "I don't give one shit about everything else you found. I hired you to find the Devil's Concubine Bowl. You told me this is where the bowl was hidden and this is where you'll find it." His unshaven face was so close to Hagar's that the archaeologist could feel the man's salt-and-pepper whiskers pricking his skin. "You got four days to find me the bowl, or I shut this whole thing down and you get your own ass back to Canada." Then he shoved the smaller man back into the hole and stomped back to his jeep.
Hagar picked himself up and sat on the side of his dig site. He rested his elbows on his lap, lay his head in his hands, and ran his fingers through his hair. Bits of sand and clay hid on his scalp, and he picked at them while thinking. Brian Hagar, what the hell were you thinking when you asked that devil to fund this project? But he knew exactly what he had been thinking when he first approached Professor Schmidt at the university and asked if he knew of any financers who would be willing to fund his expedition to Spain to find the Devil's Concubine Bowl, the oldest Babylonian magic bowl, THE bowl. The one used to drive Lilith out of Eden in order to save mankind. The professor suggested Ophis Panagakos, a wealthy Greek investor known in the archaeology world for his extreme interest in ancient religious relics and also for his excessive greed and desire to obtain the rarest of these treasures. Hagar had been so eager to make his mark in the archaeological world that he hadn't trusted his gut during their first meeting. When Panagakos asked the monetary value of the bowl, were it to be found, and Hagar answered, "Why, a find such as that would be, well, priceless," Panagakos salivated. Hagar, you idiot, the scientist thought, you are in bed with the devil.
The small man crawled back into his hole and continued to dust off a bowl he had discovered earlier in the day. This bowl was totally intact apart from a large crack that ran from one side to the other. The crude markings covering the inside told him it was a demon bowl from the sixth to eighth century AD, and the deep imprint from the creator's finger on the bottom of the bowl meant it was done by a skilled artist who had left his mark for all to see. A beautiful relic, but not the bowl he had been searching for or that Panagakos had been slavering over.
Fifteen hours in the Mediterranean heat had clouded his concentration, so Hagar decided to call it quits for himself and his team. "Dalia, Adara, come, let's call it a day," he yelled while he carefully set his trowel and brushes in a copper bucket and hoisted them out of his hole. The evening sun had begun to set, and its remnants of light danced as they twinkled on the waters of the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred feet from the site. Hagar carried his tools to where his jeep was parked. Dalia, Adara, and their teams were already packing the jeeps for the drive back to the centre of Cadiz.
"It was a very good day," Dalia said, untying a large shovel she had fastened to her back. "We have made great progress today. You have found us a very productive site, Hagar; be proud of what you are accomplishing here." Her English was impeccable, despite her having been born in Spain and having moved to the United Kingdom only ten years earlier to complete her PhD in Biblical Archaeology. She had witnessed the conversation between Hagar and Panagakos. Although she could not hear what had been said, she knew the Greek had put great pressure on her mentor.
Hagar lifted his bucket into the jeep and vainly brushed the sand from his pants, bushels of it spilling out of the khaki pockets. "Yeah, it is a productive site," he said, tone matching his worn-out facial expression. He leaned his arms on the end gate of the jeep and fondled the handle of his trowel, tipping the bucket from side to side. "If only we could find it, Dalia; that would be it! We would be the ones written up in the journals; everyone would know that the creation story in the Bible is incomplete, that there is so much more the Church doesn't want us to know."
"All right, we're loaded; let's get back to the hotel before dawn starts to break and we need to get out here again," Adara said, interrupting Hagar's rant before he had a chance to break into his typical rave on Catholicism and the tortures man places on himself in the name of God.
"All right, all right." Hagar waved his hands in the air as a sign of submission to his colleague.
That night while sitting at his desk, Hagar recalled his reasoning for making contact with Panagakos in order to use the man's money and Spanish government connections. The conviction in his voice that Cadiz was the former Atlantis and Garden of Eden, and Plato's verse describing the exact location of Atlantis beyond the Pillars of Hercules, the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco, was all the proof he needed to reel in the slobbering millionaire. Cadiz was the exact spot the bowl would have been buried to stop any further evils from entering the Garden of Eden. But what am I missing? He thought. It's got to be there in the ancient village. He rubbed the back of his neck, attempting to relieve some of the stress that had caused the muscle to ball up. The knot was tight and shot pain across his shoulders.
Panagakos took another slug from the filthy whiskey bottle. Brown liquid funneled back down the bottle's long neck, and flakes of bread settled on the bottom. "More bread," he ordered the meek waitress waiting patiently beside his table.
"We are out of bread." Her voice broke as she spoke the words, afraid of what would happen next.
He slammed the bottle down onto the wooden tabletop and wiped his arm across his lips. "I said I want more bread!" Bits of stewed lamb sprayed across the table as he belched out his demand to the little woman.
She hurried to the back of the small restaurant where an old man anxiously tore pieces of talau and piled them onto a small breadboard. "Here," he whispered. "Get him out as quickly as you can. And please don't agitate him any further," he pleaded while handed the board to the waitress. "And tell him that there is no charge for his food and drink today. It is a gift from his loyal servant."
The obedient woman carried the bread back to Panagakos, setting it down carefully on the table so as not to disturb the man, whose face was buried in the dish licking the gravy from the bottom. She slowly slid her hand away from the table, but a quick, firm hand on her wrist made her jump.
"What is this?" the Greek asked squeezing her wrist hard, causing her hand to become numb from the pressure. He pulled her closer to him, his body sweating through his dirty, brown suit jacket, and his white shirt yellowed from the vile juices he was exuding.
"It's talau. Bread." She swallowed hard, her heart pounding in her chest, and the air escaped from her lungs. "There is no charge today. It's on the house." She turned and tugged her hand, trying to break away from his grip.
His mouth curled into a disgusting smile. "Maybe I can give you something very special in return." He pulled her closer still, his lips now brushing against her cheek. She turned her head to avoid his ripened foulness. He breathed in deeply as her black hair fell onto his face, the smell of her filling his head. It had been a decade since he had held a woman this close and his excitement grew. He pulled her onto his lap and began fondling her body. She wrestled to free herself from his hold, but her twisting movements on his lap only excited him more. "Come on, poutana, let me give you payment for your kindness!" he yelled at the struggling woman.
The old man came to the front of the restaurant. "Felisa, go!" he ordered watching his daughter scramble to break free from Panagakos. Rage filled his soul and he removed his apron and wrapped it tightly around his hand.
The Greek let go and began to laugh. "Oh, Jerrald, you got a hot one there. We were just having some fun!" He took another long swallow of whiskey and tore a piece of pita in half. "She is a very lovely girl. How much do you want for her?" he asked, pulling a large roll of money from his suit pocket. "Or maybe she is on the house too?" Again he laughed.
Jerrald's rage grew even stronger as he approached the disgusting man, wanting to confront him but terrified to do so. "You have eaten and have drunk; it is time to close my restaurant." His voice trembled as he bravely uttered the words. Ten years had passed since the Greek had last set foot in the tiny restaurant, and the circumstances of their last meeting would affect Jerrald's life forever.
Panagakos kicked the seat of a chair at the other end of the square wooden table. It fell backwards and banged on the stone floor. "Sit! Let's talk."
Jerrald took a step closer to the large man but did not sit. "It's time to leave," he repeated, his voice much firmer than earlier. He bent over and set the chair aright, then slid it beneath the next table and waited for his guest to respond. His face began to turn red. His hands became sweaty, and his stomach turned. "Out!"
Panagakos's chair rumbled on the floor as his large body slid it back so he could stand. He moved closer to Jerrald, towering over the small man. "You still upset at what happened? You know she's a whore like her mother." He bumped his body into Jerrald, sending him backwards onto the next table. "You're lucky I found out for you the whore you married. I found her right there and there and there." The vulgar man laughed pointing to various places around the small room where he had raped Jerrald's wife in front of his eight-year-old daughter, Felisa, while Jerrald had been away at war, ten years earlier. When word had spread about the rapes, the innocent woman could not handle the shame, and hanged herself in the alley behind the restaurant.
"You are the devil," Jerrald whispered backing away from Panagakos.
"Ha ha, almost!" Panagakos shouted as he left the building. He stumbled down the darkened street and turned into the alley beside his hotel. A dark figure waited for him in the shadows of the Basra night. Panagakos zigzagged from one side of the alley to the other in his drunken stupor, not noticing the man leaning against the hotel's wall.
"Tsk tsk, Ophis. You have been a very bad boy," the figure said while lighting a cigarette, its glowing embers illuminating his handsome face. Panagakos immediately recognized him.
"Mr. Lu, I just had food and drink and now go to bed. I caused no trouble." His large body cowered and he lowered his head to address his employer, "I caused no trouble at all." The Greek barely lifted his head to look into the eyes of Lu.
Lu stepped out of the shadows, walking slowly towards Panagakos. "I thought we had a very good understanding, Ophis. You are to get me the bowl, and I will give you riches beyond your wildest dreams. Was that not our deal?" Lu bent over to look the man in the eye. "Were you not supposed to do this in a discreet manner?" He tilted his head and smiled as he looked at the trembling man. "Why were you in Jerrald's establishment, then?"
Panagakos fell to his knees in preparation for what might come next. "Please, Mr. Lu, I was just seeing an old friend is all." The Greek continued looking down at the sandy street, avoiding any eye contact with his employer.
"Oh, Ophis, you amuse me." Lu turned on his heel and started to walk away from the groveling man, and then he stopped. He turned again to address the Greek. "Do you think I'm an idiot, Ophis?"
Panagakos slowly came to his feet and tried to steady himself; the lamb and pita rested uneasily in his stomach. He staggered over to the hotel's wall and braced his hand on its brick structure. He began to gag and vomit onto the ground. He wasn't aware that Lu was now standing beside him, leaning against that same wall with another lit cigarette in his mouth. He took a long drag and blew the smoke into the man's face.
"Ophis," he began, the cloud from the cigarette lingered between their bodies and then began to swirl around the Greek's head, "I believe your usefulness to me has come to an end." Lu placed both hands on Panagakos's shoulders and squeezed. "You see, you disgusting pig, I had such high hopes for you." He patted the Greek on the cheek. "You were going to get me the one item I have been searching for all these years, but I suppose you are as useless as I thought after all." He pushed the man back into a row of garbage cans sitting beside the door leading to the hotel's kitchen. A street dog yelped as it ran out from behind the cans. The dog stopped to sniff the Greek lying in the refuse from the kitchen. Rats scurried about, desperately looking for a safe haven from the commotion; they ran over Panagakos's legs and into his suit jacket. He crawled in the trash, attempting to get up by grabbing hold of the dog's back as a means of support. Again the dog yelped. Then slowly it turned to face the Greek, its lips curled back in a snarl. Dozens of rats ran along the dark corners and crevices of the alley until the ground was moving in frenzied excitement.
"Ha haha! Ophis, you stupid ass," Lu chided putting his cigarette out on top of the Greek's head. "Have fun, boys!" were his parting words to the man now covered in rats feasting on the skin of his face and belly. The dog tore at his throat as screams and then gurgles erupted from Panagakos's body. Lu casually walked out from the alley and onto the street in front of the hotel. A woman's scream echoed behind him from the alleyway. He continued across the street and then vanished.
Five o'clock in the morning comes early after a full day in the desert heat. The jeep convoy rolled towards the dig site. Hagar had barely slept the night before. A sore neck and blurred eyes from leaning over a desk studying his maps had caused a headache to form at the back of his head. Even as the sun started to come up and the daytime appear, the lines, numbers, and charts he had scoured over the night before continued to dance in front of his eyes, causing a flurry of emotions to surface. Tears began to form as he realized that the bowl was no longer, perhaps never had been, buried at the ancient site. What would he tell Panagakos?