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Storm Front: A Virgil Flowers Novel

Chapter One

His bags were packed and sitting by the door. Nobody thought that was strange, because four diggers were jammed into each small living suite. With two eight-by-ten bedrooms feeding into a tiny sitting and kitchen area, and an even tinier bathroom, there was hardly anyplace to keep clothing, so they kept it in their bags.

Elijah shared a room with a middle-aged volunteer from Alabama named Steve Phelps. When Elijah’s cell phone vibrated at two o’clock, his first move was to roll up on one shoulder, turn it off, and listen to Phelps breathe.

Phelps was a sound sleeper, and he was sound asleep now. Elijah often got up to pee at night, and hadn’t awakened anyone doing that for two weeks—the days and the sun were exhausting, and once his roommates were familiar with his night moves, they never twitched.

When he was sure of Phelps, Elijah rolled out of bed, moving as quietly as he could. He’d loaded all of his personal items—wallet, passport, small cash—into his pants the night before, so all he had to do now was get into them. His socks were already rolled into his shoes, which he would put on outside.

When he was dressed, he listened again to Phelps, then eased through the door into the sitting area. Here was the tricky part. Another of the diggers, who slept in the adjoining room, had keys to one of the dig cars—and the keys were sitting on a radiator in his room.

Elijah stepped to the door of the other bedroom, and again, listened for a moment. Both of the men snored, which was why they’d been put together. When he was sure that he could distinguish the separate snoring, he eased open the door (he’d put a dab of Crisco on the hinges the night before, when the others were out) and stepped silently into the room.

The men continued to snore, which helped cover his movement as he stepped barefooted across the room and picked up the car keys. Two seconds later, he was out of the room; a minute after that, he was outside with his bags, in the cool of the Israeli night, sitting on the steps, tying his shoes, and again, listening and watching.

It had been an exciting day—maybe somebody else had been restless?

But nothing moved anywhere on the kibbutz as far as he could tell. He’d been through one tricky part, and now here was the second one. When his shoes were tied, he walked down to the first floor with his bags—a nylon backpack and a leather satchel—and around behind the dormitory to a low wooden building used to sort and classify pottery and other finds at the dig.

There were no lights inside the building. He reached into his bag, took out a large screwdriver, and pried open the door. Inside, navigating without lights, he went to a row of metal lockers, felt for the fifth handle down, and with the same screwdriver, pried open the locker door.

A stone sat on the locker shelf. He couldn’t see it, much, but he could feel it, and it was heavy. He put it in his leather satchel, closed the locker door and the outer door.

A half hour later, Elijah the Mankato-ite sped west in a stolen car past Jezreel, where, roughly 2,850 years earlier, Jezebel the queen had been thrown out a window. Her body had been eaten by dogs—all except for the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet—just as predicted by the other Elijah, the prophet guy.

As they didn’t say at the time, Bummer.

The latter-day Elijah paid no attention to Jezreel, as the former royal city was now just another stony field. Ten minutes later, he rocketed past Armageddon—Megiddo to the locals—where there was no battle going on, penultimate or otherwise. At Megiddo, he turned northwest toward Mount Carmel and the Mediterranean coast at Haifa.

Elijah was in a hurry: he had to be gone before the diggers got up, and some of them got up very early, at four o’clock. He kept his foot on the floor, and the much-abused Avis rent-a-car groaned with pain. Out the passenger-side window, as he went past Megiddo, he could see the lights of Nazareth twinkling across the farm fields of the Jezreel Valley.

It was pretty, all right, but he’d been to Israel too often to be impressed. He remembered that first naive astonishment, forty-five years earlier, when he found that the Mount of Olives was full of fake religious sites, that the Sea of Galilee was full of Diet Coke bottles, and that Jesus’ hometown was an Arab city where a good Christian could get his ass kicked if he wasn’t careful.

Not that he didn’t love the place, because he did. He loved all of it, from the green and blue mountains in the north to the sere desert in the south, and especially the shephelah, the Judean lowlands, and above all Jerusalem. But he loved it more like an Israeli than an American; that is, despite its faults.

The flanks of Carmel were still dark when he drove into town. He’d leave the Avis car outside the dealership, he’d decided, where they’d find it when they opened at eight o’clock. He had a legitimate set of keys for the car, but it had been rented on a credit card provided by a credulous American graduate student from Penn State. The student would be mightily pissed if Elijah lost the car. In fact, he’d be mightily pissed if Elijah left the car outside the Avis agency, but Elijah had more important things to worry about than the feelings of grad students.

Luckily, the Avis agency wasn’t far off Route 75, and not far from the harbor, either. He found it easily enough, dumped the car, left a message on the dashboard, and called a cab.

As he waited, he fumbled a couple of pills from a bottle that he kept in the backpack, swallowed them without water.

The cabdriver didn’t speak much English, but Elijah had excellent Hebrew, so they got along. The cabdriver asked, “Only that luggage?”

Elijah had the nylon backpack and the leather duffel with brass buckles. “That’s all,” he said. “It’s only a day trip.”

“I don’t go on the water,” the cabdriver said over his shoulder. “If the water grows too deep in my shower, I get seasick.”

“Never been a problem for me, though I live as far as you can get from an ocean,” Elijah said.

“This is in the States?”

“Yes, Minnesota,” Elijah said.

The driver noticed that his fare was sweating, even in the cool of the early morning. He also had the expensive leather bag clenched in his lap, as though it might contain an atomic bomb. The driver didn’t ask.

Strange things happened in Israel every day of the week, and asking could be dangerous. Though in this case, the driver thought, danger was unlikely: the man wore a black snap-brimmed hat, a white clerical collar under his black polyester suit, and he had an olive-wood cross hanging from a silver chain around his neck.

He was a type. He would have been a type anywhere, but in Israel, he was really a type. Give a guy a black suit, a clerical collar, a wooden cross, and a sick, screaming baby, and he could walk through any checkpoint in Israel with his socks full of cocaine or C-4. Because he was an annoying, proselytizing, American Christian type—the kind who usually came with slightly noxious religious and political opinions, and who was almost always chintzy with the tips.

Though not in this case. The driver dropped Elijah at the Fisherman’s Anchorage at HaKishon, the mouth of the Kishon River, and Elijah gave him a hundred-shekel note, which was way too much. He didn’t ask for change, simply hustled away, the pack on his back and the leather bag clutched in his arms, like a sick baby.

Elijah had been to the port four days earlier, where he’d found the people he’d been looking for: a German couple, drifting around the Med on an ancient fiberglass sailboat with an engine that worked some of the time. He’d offered them five hundred dollars to transport him, without questions, across the water to the Old Port at Limassol on the Greek half of Cyprus.

The Germans had been reduced to eating pilchards fished from the dirty port waters and cooked over an alcohol stove, so a little human smuggling wasn’t really a central ethical problem for them. The woman, a lanky blonde named Gerta, told him that she could provide carnal entertainment during the trip for an extra two hundred, but Elijah declined, citing conservative religious values.

When Elijah arrived on the dock, the Germans were awake and waiting, perhaps nervous that their five hundred dollars had gone somewhere else.

Gerta’s partner, also lanky and blond, but improbably called Ricardo, pushed them off the dock within thirty seconds of his arrival. He fired up the engine, which coughed loudly before resuming its silence. Ricardo whacked it a couple of times, and got it running well enough to get them out into open water, where the Germans launched the sails.

Ricardo said, “Such a nice day for sailing. Should I put your bags below?”

“No, no, they make a place to sit,” Elijah said, in German. His German, like his Hebrew, was excellent, and their English was no better than the cabdriver’s, so it was what they had. He sat on his pack and clutched the leather bag in his lap.

“So you are carrying your valuables there,” Ricardo said, as Haifa slowly lowered itself on the horizon. He was eyeing Elijah’s bag as a great white shark might examine a dog-paddling fat lady.

“Yes, but I’m afraid some of them will have to go over the side before we get to the Old Port,” Elijah said.

“Over the side?” Ricardo was puzzled.

“Yes, over the side,” Elijah said. He pulled an older-looking Beretta 92F from the bag, a gun that may have migrated from Iraq to Israel, looking for work. It fit well in Elijah’s rugged hand, a hand that might have seen an early life throwing bales of hay onto a horse-drawn wagon. “It’s a shame, because it is a fine piece of weaponry. Fast, powerful, and accurate.”

The muzzle was not pointed at Ricardo, but neither was it pointed far away. Ricardo, who’d been sitting unnecessarily close to the reverend—for Elijah was indeed an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church in America—eased away. “Perhaps not over the side,” Ricardo said. “When we get to the port, I could find a place to put it.”

Such a fine piece of weaponry would sell for a couple of thousand dollars on the right stretch of the Med, Elijah thought, and come to no good end.

“Perhaps,” Elijah said.

And perhaps not.

The trip took all that day, the next night, and most of the following day. The winds were perfect: strong enough to give them a good run, but not so overwhelming that the seas got trashy. Elijah spent the time on deck, reading books on an iPad, wrapped in a nylon rain suit during the cool of the night. He’d come prepared.

When Cyprus hove in sight, and when Ricardo was preoccupied with getting the engine started again, Elijah dropped the pistol over the side. As they came into the marina area, Ricardo, who’d properly understood the display of the pistol as a counter to any possible ambitions concerning the reverend’s valuables, asked about the gun.

“Fell over the side,” Elijah said. And, “I think the man on the dock is trying to get your attention.”

Dockside, they told their story: Elijah Jones was an American who’d joined his German friends for a sail in the Med, but who’d unexpectedly begun urinating blood and was in great pain. Elijah explained that he was dying of colon cancer, and was making a last trip around the eastern Mediterranean to say good-bye to friends in Greece, Egypt, and Israel. Now he just wanted to get home to Mankato, Minnesota, so he could die in peace.

He would need to stop at the local hospital, he said, and then go on his way. As proof of his condition, he showed the customs man his bag of medications and a treatment letter from his physician at the Mayo Clinic.

He was also sweating and stifling groans, and as the customs officials conferred over his documents, he asked to be excused to the dockside, where he promptly peed blood into the Mediterranean Sea. The chief customs agent stamped his passport and expressed the wish that God would bless him.

Twenty minutes after they reached the port, Elijah was on his way to Larnaca International; six hours later, on his way to Charles de Gaulle in Paris, and six hours after landing there, on his way to Minneapolis.

At Minneapolis, two uniformed paramedics, one male and one female, were waiting in the customs area. Elijah, sweating like a boxcar loader, was pushed into the baggage area in a wheelchair. The customs guys asked him if he had anything to declare, he groaned, “No.” A drug dog gave him a perfunctory sniff, and they waved him through to the EMS techs and the waiting ambulance.

The male paramedic carried his bags, and joked, “What you got in here, a rock?”

Ninety minutes after that, Elijah checked into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and told the techs to put his duffel bag on the floor by the bed.

Three days later, when his condition had again been stabilized, and he was no longer peeing blood, he checked himself out.

But he didn’t tell anybody. He just walked.

With the heavy leather bag.

Chapter Two

It was one of the great Minnesota summers of all time—or maybe it just felt that way, after one of the most miserable springs in history. On April 22, in a nasty little snowstorm, he’d skidded off a highway in Apple Valley, and had had to call for a tow to get his four-wheel-drive truck out of the ditch.

On May 1, he’d gone north to a friend’s cabin near Hayward, Wisconsin, to do some early-season fly-fishing for bluegills, and it had snowed the whole day, and the day after that, totaling sixteen inches of the stuff, and then it had spent two days raining old women and sticks, as the Welsh would say, although they’d actually say something more like mae hi’n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn.

But the summer . . . ah, the summer, which was now coming to its peak, the summer was a joy to behold, even from the inside of a diner.

Virgil Flowers was sitting sideways in a booth in a Perkins restaurant on Highway 169 in Mankato, Minnesota, his cowboy boots hanging off the end of the seat. He was talking to Florence “Ma” Nobles about her involvement in a counterfeit lumber ring, of which she denied any knowledge. He’d been investigating her for a while, and had even met three of her five intra-ethnic fatherless boys—Mateo, Tall Bear, and Moses.

Virgil picked up a french fry and jabbed it at her: “Dave Moss said you sold the same barn fifteen times, Ma. He says your boy Rolf has another two thousand board-feet of lumber down at the bottom of the Minnesota River, getting old. Dave says you’ll be peddling that all over New England next year.”

Ma made a rude noise with her lips, and Virgil said, “C’mon, Ma, that’s not necessary.”

Ma said, “That goddamn Moss can kiss my ass—though, to be honest, he already did that and seemed to like it all right. This is more a domestic dispute than anything else, Virgie. I broke it off with him, and he’s just getting back at me.”

Virgil said, “I’m not sure I can believe that, Ma. There’s a fellow named Barry Spurgeon who spent forty-four thousand dollars buying lumber from your boy, so he can build some sort of a barn-mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut. He got suspicious and did a tree-ring test and that tree was cut down last year. Last year, for Christ’s sakes, Ma. You didn’t even let it go five years. Spurgeon wants that money back because he paid for real old-timey barn lumber.”

His phone rang and he picked it up and looked at it: Lucas Davenport.

“I gotta take this,” he said. He pushed the “answer” tab on the phone and said, “Hang on a minute, Lucas,” and to Ma, “You sit right here. Do not run away.”

“Instead of talking about barn lumber we oughta talk about how to scratch my itch,” Ma said, pushing out her lower lip. “Here it is July and I ain’t been laid since March the eighteenth. You’re just the boy to get ’er done, Virgie.”

Virgil slid out of the booth and walked back toward the men’s room, where nobody was sitting. “What’s up?” he asked Davenport.

“Got an assignment for you . . . easy duty,” Davenport said.

“Aw, man. I left my shotgun at home.”

“No, no, nothing like that,” Davenport said, though he’d been known to lie about such things. “There’s an Israeli investigator who needs to talk to a professor at Gustavus Adolphus, though the professor actually lives there in Mankato. Probably on your block. He’s a minister named, uh, let me look . . . Elijah Jones. A Lutheran minister, like your old man.”

“An Israeli? What’s that about?”

Virgil was keeping an eye on Ma as he spoke to Davenport, and it wasn’t particularly hard to do. She was undeniably a criminal redneck, but she was also a pretty blonde, only thirty-four, though she had five children, including a nineteen-year-old. She had a long, thick pigtail down her back, and a short, slender body. If, purely hypothetically, she were lying on a California king with that hair spread out over her . . .

“. . . some kind of precious artifact—”

“What? Say that over again,” Virgil said. “I’m sorry, I’m trying to keep an eye on a local criminal here . . . that barn-lumber scam I’ve been working.”

“I said, the Israeli’s coming into MSP and it’d be nice if you’d pick her up,” Davenport said. “This Jones guy supposedly stole some kind of precious artifact from an archaeological dig and smuggled it back to the States. He apparently left Israel illegally—the Israeli cops tracked him to a port and he caught a boat to Cyprus and then flew home from there.”

“What kind of artifact?” Virgil asked, now semi-interested. “Does it have mystical powers?”

“I don’t know about mystical powers, but supposedly it’s a piece of a stele—a steelee? I don’t know how you pronounce it—that’s got some ancient writing on it. The whole thing has apparently got the state of Israel in an uproar,” Davenport said. “Anyway, the Israelis want it back and the State Department says if Jones stole it and brought it into the country, he broke about nine laws. I’ll send you a sheet on it.”

“That sounds like a federal case,” Virgil said. “Why don’t the Israelis talk to the FBI?”

“Well, it is a federal case. The feds have issued a hold on Jones, based on information from the Israelis, and also because he said he had nothing to declare when he came through customs, which was a lie. The feds asked us in because of local knowledge—that’d be you—and because we owe them one this month, and the boss okayed it,” Davenport said.

“I bet the stone does have mystical powers,” Virgil said. “Maybe the Israelis can use it to blast Iran, or something. Or maybe it curses the person who has it—your balls rot off, or your seed only falls upon barren ground, so to speak.”

“My seed’s already got me in enough trouble, so I don’t care anymore,” Davenport said. “Just bust the fuckin’ minister, get the fuckin’ stone, and get the fuckin’ Israelis out of here. Okay?”

Ma caught Virgil looking at her, and her tongue came out and stroked her upper lip. Just in case Virgil might have missed it, she did it again. Davenport said something else, but Virgil missed that, and he said, “Goddamnit, I’m up to my ass on this lumber thing. What time is she coming in?”

After a moment of silence, Davenport said, “I just told you that: I don’t know. Today, tomorrow, the next day. She’ll either call ahead or send you an e-mail when she knows for sure.”

“Sorry, I’m really . . . I’m afraid this guy’s gonna run. What’s her name? The Israeli?”

“Yael Aronov,” Davenport said. He pronounced it “Yale.”

“Is that Y-a-e-l?”


“That’s pronounced Ya-el,” Virgil said. “In the Book of Judges, Yael meets this enemy commander named Sisera, and gets him in her tent, where, and I quote, ‘Yael Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took a hammer into her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.’ End quote.”

“See, you’re the perfect guy for this,” Davenport said. “You not only know the Bible, but your third wife was just like this Yale chick.”

“Ya-el,” Virgil said. “And when you’re right, you’re right.”

The lumber scam did not get resolved. As they walked out to the parking lot, Virgil told Ma that she’d have to find another person to scratch her itch. “Not,” he said, “that you don’t have a pretty attractive itch.”

“I appreciate your sayin’ that, but sayin’ it don’t solve the problem,” Ma said.

“You better get it scratched right quick, because if you keep selling that lumber, I am gonna put your ass in jail,” Virgil said.

“You’re one mean cowboy,” Ma said. She left in a new red Ford F-150, which seemed to Virgil to be some sort of a taunt, since she’d been poor-mouthing about the depressed state of the architectural salvage business.

Virgil didn’t hear from the Israeli woman that afternoon, and he didn’t have much on his investigative plate, so he made a quick run over to the Mississippi River, where he hooked up with his old friend Johnson Johnson to do some evening walleye fishing. He wound up spending the night at Johnson’s cabin, where Johnson and his current girlfriend, Shirley, made a nice dinner out of baked walleye and fresh hand-picked watercress. Virgil and Johnson did a little northern fishing in the early morning, and then Virgil headed back home.

At Rochester, he stopped at a McDonald’s, got a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, declining the offer of a Double Quarter Pounder, checked his e-mail on his iPad, and found a message from the Israeli: she’d be arriving at Minneapolis–St. Paul at one o’clock. Virgil checked his watch and figured he’d have enough time to cut cross-country to the Cabela’s outdoor superstore at Owatonna on his way north.

Virgil Flowers was a tall, thin man, two inches over six feet unless he was wearing cowboy boots, which he usually was, and then he was three and a half inches over six feet. He wore his blond hair long, curled over his ears and the back of his neck; in general, he looked like a decent third-baseman, which he’d been in high school and for a while in college, until he found out he couldn’t reliably hit a college-level fastball.

After college, he did time in the army, expecting an assignment in the infantry or intelligence. The army made him a cop, which, to his surprise, he liked. He was a captain when he got out, landed a job with the St. Paul cops, and a few years later, moved to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Now he was the only resident agent in the southern end of the state. He would work six or eight murders in the course of an average year, and spend the rest of his time chasing down people whose criminal activities required more range than an individual sheriff’s office could normally cover. Ma Nobles, for example, lived in one county, her son in another, a suspected accomplice in a third, and the lumber might well be hidden underwater, precisely on a county line.

In addition to his cop duties, Virgil was an outdoor writer, though he’d recently branched out and had stories printed in both the New York Times magazine and Vanity Fair. Despite a mild disregard for money, between the state job and the writing, he found himself edging toward affluence.

So that’s what he did. Meth labs had been his special curse for quite a while, generating a number of the killings he’d worked, but now they were beginning to fade away.

Tough, on-the-ball law enforcement, Virgil was proud to say, had forced Minnesota criminals to go back to stealing.

Virgil got out of Cabela’s for two hundred dollars, not a bad price, considering the possibilities, and made it into the airport’s short-term parking a half hour before Yael Aronov’s plane was scheduled to land. He bought a fishing magazine at a newsstand and a croissant at Starbucks, and settled in to wait.

He was deep into a pro-and-con article on the use of bucktails when his phone rang, a call from an unknown number.


“Is this Agent Flowers?”

“Yes, it is.”

“The plane has landed. Your supervisor gave me this number and said you would meet me. Are you here?”

“Yes. In baggage claim. You’re at carousel nine. I’m a tall, thin man with cowboy boots and a straw hat, sitting in the chairs facing the carousel.”

“Very good. I will be there as soon as I can.”

She was another twenty minutes. Virgil finished the bucktails story and was reading about Bulldawg technique when people began gathering around the carousel. He put the magazine away, and two minutes later, a woman walked up and said, “You’re the only cowboy. You must be Virgil?”

“Yes, I am,” Virgil said, unfolding from the chair.

They shook hands and she said, “Yael Aronov,” and, “I have two large bags.”

“That’s fine,” Virgil said. “Where are you staying?”

“At the Mankato Downtown Inn? Is that correct?”

“That’s correct,” Virgil said.

Yael was a tall woman in her late twenties or early thirties, athletic, with dark hair cut short, regular features, an olive complexion, and quick, dark eyes. She was pretty, but if Virgil had been asked what she looked like, he would have said, “Tough.”

“I’m tired. It was straight through—Tel Aviv to Newark, and then a long layover in Newark and then to here,” she said. “I need to sleep.”

“I was never told who you work for, exactly,” Virgil said. “I understand you’re looking for an artifact of some kind.”

“I work for the Israel Antiquities Authority, the IAA. I’m an investigator—really, the only investigator,” she said. “We’re looking for part of a stele”—she pronounced it stella—“that was stolen by this Reverend Jones.”

“I don’t know exactly what a stele is.”

“Okay, I will tell you,” she said. “In the ancient Middle East, the various kings, Persian, Egyptian, Assyrian, when they conquered a place, would sometimes put up a stone pillar boasting about their conquest. They often inscribed the pillar with more than one language, usually their own and the local language. Then, after they died, another conqueror would come along, and the old pillars would get thrown down and broken up, and maybe new pillars set up. What Reverend Jones found was a piece of one of these pillars, a piece of a stele. Unfortunately, he stole it, and carried it out of the country.”

“You’re sure?”

“One hundred percent,” she said.

Jones, she said, had been working on Israeli digs since the late sixties, most recently at an excavation on the Jordan River east of the town of Beth Shean. He was one of the most trusted diggers—a man with long experience, decent Hebrew, and good friends all over Israel.

Then, a little more than a week earlier, there’d been a stunning find: a fragment of a black limestone stele, a little more than a foot long and about ten inches thick at the thickest part.

She broke off to say, “Here are my bags.”

They were, in fact, two of the largest suitcases Virgil had ever seen come off an airplane. But when he pulled them off the carousel, they were light, as though they were almost empty.

“They weigh—”

“Nothing,” she said. “But believe me, they will weigh much more when I go home. I will put refrigerators in them, if I can.”

“Why is that?”

“Israeli taxes,” she said. “Israel would tax words, if that were possible. Would tax air. This way . . . no taxes.”

“All right.”

They towed the two bags out to Virgil’s truck and threw them in the back. Out of the airport, he said, “So, keep talking. The stele was a foot long and ten inches thick . . .”

“Yes. Everybody was jubilant, excited,” she said. “The director of the dig, Rafi Frankel, this is the greatest find of his career. It came out late in the morning—they stop digging at noon because of the heat. Reverend Jones was actually the one who found it. We have photos from the earliest moments, when all you could see was one dressed edge of the stone coming up through the dirt.”

More photos were taken as the stone was dug out of the ground, she said, and as it was removed from the dig pit and carefully wiped. When it was out of the ground, it was driven back to a dig house, put on a table, where more photos were taken.

“Frankel is a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in the Institute of Archaeology,” Yael said. “He called friends there and told them of the find, and of course, the word spread instantly. He said he would transport it the next day to Jerusalem. Some of the people from the dig stayed up late, until ten o’clock, examining the stone. Then it was secured in a locker, and the room was locked, and everybody went to bed. When they got up at four-thirty, the stone was gone. So was a car, and Reverend Jones.”

Frankel immediately called the Israeli cops, who eventually traced the Avis rent-a-car to the city of Haifa. There, they lost the trail for a couple of days, fooled by a false scent: the report of a tall man in a dark hat and dark suit walking near the Avis dealership with a couple of big bags. They tracked the man down, but he turned out to be an Orthodox Jew who lived in the neighborhood, and had nothing to do either with the dig or with Jones.

Backtracking, they eventually found a cabdriver who had taken Jones to the port. A yachtsman there told investigators about two Germans who had vanished with their boat that same morning that Jones disappeared. The Germans were identified by customs, and four days later, they were found in the Old Port of Cyprus.

The Germans said they’d taken the American for a sail, but he’d become seriously ill, had begun vomiting and urinating blood. They’d dropped him at the Old Port, they said, as the fastest place they could get to, and had last seen Jones getting into a taxicab.

“We didn’t believe all of that, of course. We think they were paid to take him out of the country. But, mmm, it was a hard story to break because a Cyprus customs official actually witnessed Reverend Jones urinating blood,” Yael said. “When we continued to trace his travels, we found that he came here, and was taken to the Mayo Clinic. He has terminal cancer. After three days, he left the clinic, without permission, and his whereabouts are now unknown.”

“And you have reason to believe that he had the stone with him,” Virgil said.

“Oh, yes. He was carrying a large leather bag, which he would allow nobody to touch. The cabdriver said he carried it like a baby.”

“What could he do with it?” Virgil asked. “If you have all those photos, he couldn’t sell it.”

“Ah. But he could,” she said. “For a lot of money, if he made just the right connection. Perhaps he saw it and went a little crazy. He’s dying . . . maybe he thought this would be a big thing, if he could publish it himself.”

“You know what’s on the stone? What it says?”

“No, no, that will take some study,” Yael said. “One side is in Egyptian hieroglyphics and the other, perhaps some primitive form of Hebrew. Nobody really knows for sure,” she said. She yawned, and then said, “Maybe I sleep for a few minutes. This day catches up to me.”

“There’s a pillow right behind your seat,” Virgil said.

“Thank you. This is excellent,” she said, as she fished the pillow out of the back and then snuggled against the passenger-side window. “I sleep now.”

And she did, as Virgil drove along, thinking about the story she’d told. The story interested him for two reasons: he’d grown up as a minister’s son, and Bible tales had been a big part of his youth. The other thing was, she’d told the truth right up to the end, and then she’d begun lying. She was good at it, but Virgil had been listening to liars for years, and he could hear the lies in her voice.

There was something about the stele that she didn’t want him to know—or that she didn’t want to talk about.

He wondered why. Mystical powers? Hmm.

He drove on.

Storm Front: A Virgil Flowers Novel
by by John Sandford

  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0425270246
  • ISBN-13: 9780425270240