Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sample Chapter 28

Tiberius is Dead!

Street graffiti is everywhere in Jerusalem as I enter the ancient town. That graffiti is such a Roman thing or used to be. I do not remember it as so prominent in my memory. Graffiti if any was small and anti-Rome and in the less reputable parts of the town, such as where taverns and brothels were the norm.

“Long live Gaius Julius Caeser” is marked everywhere.

The landscape in the lower city has changed. The streets seem more crowded and dirtier. I have seen this place at Passover and it wasn’t this crowded in the middle of the day. I get the ambiance of a place in flux with a lot of transients such as on a market day. Is this market day?

The dress of the people here seems different. Are these Jews from other lands in their native dress or are they simply foreigners?

Two of my agents met us outside the walls of the city. In fact where Jesus was crucified, the place is still there, but buildings are built along the road and in front of that old traditional execution place.

My agents have brought me credentials. No body can enter the city without credentials from the authorities. My servants must wear name tags. I must wear an ugly ring with the present city authority’s seal upon it.

I look back and forth as we walk and approach my old townhouse.

The building is a shambles and I am not allowed to enter.

“It is rented out Ma’am, per your instructions of many years back.”

“Yes. Quite right.” I say and remember my long standing instructions.
Why did I want to come back here? Yes. To start the breakup of networks and for the distribution of my assets.

My agents accompany me to a house some several streets down the way. It is no doubt the property of these agents and is small and comfortable. There is a small courtyard in the Roman fashion as well as a terraced roof. A trickle of water in a tiny fountain in the courtyard masks street noises.

I sit and am served refreshment. The agent asks if I want to visit the Temple mount. I am in such a strange mood and feel so disorientated.

“We did not know if you wanted to stay inside the city walls or outside them.” was his explanation as to tell me the present situation.

“We welcome you as a guest for as long as you need to stay. The place is small and your servants may have to sleep in the courtyard tonight while we find arrangements for them.”

“And what other arrangements can be made?”

“We had to get you credentials first. You cannot stay here or in an inn or even in your old abode if it was available without credentials. We must apologize for your temporary inconvenience.

“We have a villa outside the walls being cleaned and ready for your stay if that is where you would like to stay. In the meanwhile, this house is yours and for your entourage.

“We do not know you directly. Our uncle was your most humble servant in the past. He has passed on. We know that you are kosher and have supplied the kitchen as such. We do not practice the local customs ourselves.”

“When will the villa be ready you say?”

They looked at each other.

“Two, maybe three days. It has been occupied by a Roman officer for some time. It is quite a mess.”

“I will accept your hospitality for the time being and we must go over the books later in the week after I settle into the villa.”

“Books? Uncle said nothing about books.”

I might have to take them at their word until I can get settled in. I put full faith in some of my agents in the past. Things are changing. The few properties I have here I remember. My other business assets are likely not in the hands of these young creatures.

It was a full week before I could move outside the city walls to a very large comfortable villa with a courtyard. The reckoning of accounts from my town agents as to properties and expenses and profits seemed reasonable. I have since found out that they in fact were blood of my chief agent here and deceased. My son had been the one corresponding and doing business and receiving and sending payments back and forth.

Time to wrap up a lot of things. I tried to seek out my old friends Martha and Mary but they would not receive me at their villa. Their brother Lazuarus had been murdered some time back according to the gossip. I had not heard of it. They had been so devoted to their brother. The two are in permanent mourning of their loss. Poor dears.

I have since gotten back into the city since my first arrival. I did a little shopping. I also went to visit J.D. who has set up digs in a seedy part of town. His rooms are tolerable and I try to understand his tastes now that he is separated from my household. I stop in to see him to discuss matters.

“These two agents of my son. I call them Frick and Frack behind their backs. They seem honest enough but I do not know.”

J.D. responds with the old Persian adage about how you always give the other trader the benefit of the doubt. After you find out that they have lied or screwed you, then you cut their throats.

I confide in J.D. that a lot of gold and silver will have to be moved east and south. Did he want a well paid job in managing the transport? I give him the choice of going east to Persia or south to Arabia.

He confides to me that he is in Jerusalem to stay. This is where he will die with dice in his hands. I give him a look. He responds that he has contacts from the old days that he trusts and he will scope out a bunch of men trustworthy enough of the task that I am seeking. Considering the circumstances I am grateful for the thought and consideration from my former and faithful servant. He tells me to give him a couple of weeks to find a few good men for the job.

Rebecca has settled into a melancholy that reminds me of her lost man. I will have to see if she wants to stay and occupy the property of her townhouse when the present occupants leave it. At least with J.D. here in retirement, there would some sort of family connection to look out for her for the time being. A marriage would be more suitable for her. That and more children would ease my worries about her.

I went to the Temple platform, first to the Court of Gentiles and then to the Court of Women. I had to dress and act appropriately. I had not been there in ages. I paid for a sacrifice to be made to the Jewish god to look after me in my old age and for J.D. and Rebecca as well.

There was a great bronze statue of the late emperor Tiberius. It stood uncomfortably in the Court of the Gentiles. In this Jewish holy place, the statue did not belong. While visiting one day I saw slaves and workmen uncrating another object. The object was a marble statue of the new emperor Gaius Julius also known by the popular nickname of Caligula.

I overheard Roman soldiers telling the workmen that the marble statue was to be put in the Temple itself by order of the new emperor. I wasn’t the only one to overhear the soldier’s words. An unease in the air was felt immediately. Old men and young men were gathered about with fingers pointing and words uttered in anger but not easily discernable.

It was prudent to leave immediately. I sensed an air of unrest. I had not felt that feeling since the day that there were riots on the Temple mount, the afternoon before they came and seized Jesus.

True to form a riot soon took place. I was outside the city gates but I could hear screams of men as Roman steel struck the life out of many.

The city was on lockdown. I could not get back into the city for days. When in fact I did get back into the city, there was an unease that I did not like. Perhaps lockdown was coming back at any moment. I went to J.D. for some gossip.
The old man informed me that many people were indiscriminately rounded up and executed. Officials had checked J.D.’s credentials and he no longer felt comfortable in his retirement place. He had reconsidered my offer of employment. He would perform one more task for his former master.

If things were getting bad in Jerusalem, then there was an option of selling a lot of assets at a discount. For this I considered approaching the son in law of my old business acquaintance Joseph of Aramethea.

Before I could make arrangements for a trip to Caesarea, I ran into another old acquaintance. Matthew the tax collector was now part of the local civil authority in some capacity. It had taken some time, but my credentials had finally ended up on this bureaucrat’s desk.

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