The Testament of James, third excerpt

Added to the first two excerpts, posted earlier this summer, the following takes the reader through the first 10,000 words of Vin’s new novel, “The Testament of James,” published by Mountain Media on Dec. 16, 2014.

This material is copyright c Vin Suprynowicz, 2014, all rights reserved.

# # #

“You haven’t even talked about the main thing people claim was in the book, that they get all excited about,” Marian complained, though she still looked up from the floor only briefly.

“The crucifixion,” Richard nodded.

“Does this book or does it not say Jesus survived the crucifixion?” Marian asked.

# # #

CHAPTER TWO
TUESDAY EVENING

“Who knows?” Richard shrugged. “We only have third-hand reports. But even your accepted gospels have Jesus showing up back in Galilee the week after the crucifixion to share a fish dinner and let the disciples touch his healing wounds.”

“Especially in Luke,” Lance added. “He then comes back and does it all again a week after THAT, to convince Doubting Thomas, because Thomas wasn’t there the first time.”

“Well, people who are dead don’t show up for dinner,” added Professor St. Vincent, shaking his head. “It’s one of the laws of the physical world. The great mystery of the Christian church is the fact that Christians claim to believe what’s in the gospels, but they get terribly upset when you tell them their own book demonstrates Jesus was the world’s greatest conjurer, and his plan -– his very carefully laid plan — to appear to come back to life after being crucified was his greatest trick, better than Houdini chained underwater.”

“I don’t know that I’d say ‘conjurer.’” Lance White got a serious look on his face. “Conjurer sounds like a fake, a fraud. It’s pretty clear he believed he was fated to be the messiah, that he willingly shed his blood on the cross as atonement for the sins of his people.”

“And it actually worked,” Richard replied. “That’s the important part. Except possibly for getting stabbed in the side with that spear.”

“Like the horse that balks at the final jump,” Lance nodded, “even Schonfield finally figures the wounds were just too much; he has Jesus dying on Saturday night after being helped out of the tomb while he was still alive.”

Chantal looked at Matthew, lowered one eyebrow, and formed the name silently on her lips: “Schonfield?” Matthew responded by smiling and batting his eyelashes.

Now it was Richard who seemed to feel they were straying from the topic. “Anyway, the Christians celebrate the Ascension a month after Easter, forty days actually, the Book of Acts makes it pretty clear Jesus hung around with the remaining disciples for forty days. But if an infection from his wounds didn’t catch up to him, what did? Where’d he go?”

“Kind of makes you wish his brother had written a tell-all book, doesn’t it?” Matthew smiled as he passed around the room, offering people final refills on the wine or the coffee.

“If Jesus wanted to arrange to survive being crucified, the timing would have been crucial,” explained Lance White. “He’d have to have his most trusted disciple turn him in on a Thursday night so he could be condemned and crucified on Friday. The Jews didn’t want condemned prisoners hanging around moaning all through their Sabbath, so out of deference to Jewish sensibilities the Romans would break all the crucified prisoners’ legs with big mallets before sundown on Friday, the start of the Jewish sabbath. The refinement the Romans introduced that made crucifixion a torturous death was to bend your knees and nail or tie your feet to a footrest. That way you could straighten your knees and push up and catch your breath, for however long your strength lasted. But they didn’t break Jesus’ legs, because shortly after the women passed him the sponge soaked in vinegar he’d passed out and apparently died, so Pilate gave his body to Joseph of Arimathea. And Joseph of Arimathea immediately had Jesus placed in an empty tomb he just happened to have excavated nearby, which was very handy, since the normal procedure would have been to bury the condemned in a mass grave.”

“If anyone else knew how Jesus arranged to survive the crucifixion,” Richard explained “ — and what happened to him afterwards — it would have been his own brother, James the Just.”

“But it’s a fairy tale, right?” Chantal asked. “No one survived being crucified.”

Richard looked toward the ceiling, as though asking to be spared the inquiries of students who refused to do their assigned reading.

“Actually, they did. Josephus, you’ll remember, was the Jewish historian who went over to the Romans. One day he’s passing by some Jews who have been crucified and he recognizes three of his former comrades in arms. He asks if they can be taken down, and they are. He writes they’d been up there for two days. Two died and one survived. So there’s evidence people could survive even after two days on the cross. Jesus was probably up for only five hours or so, which is why Pilate was initially so suspicious when they told him Jesus had died.”

“But if Jesus survived, wouldn’t someone else have mentioned that?” asked Chantal.

“They did,” Richard replied. “Mohammed says in the Koran that Jesus didn’t die on the cross; the Romans were fooled. That was the Arab tradition.”

“But Christians are taught that Jesus rose on Easter Sunday,” Chantal frowned.

“Meaning no offense,” shrugged the old professor, “but I rose last Easter Sunday, and I expect to rise this coming Sunday as well, as I dare say you all will, God willing. We all rise on Easter Sunday, even if it’s just to turn on the TV and watch a ball game. The original Aramaic word -– the one we’re pretty sure came down in the oral tradition — doesn’t mean arise as in ‘ascend into heaven.’ It just means ‘get up.’ Our visitor from California mentioned Paul Schonfield, a serious Bible scholar, one of the men who translated the Dead Sea Scrolls. Back in the ’60s, Professor Schonfield wrote a best seller called ‘The Passover Plot,’ which laid out this whole scenario. He said it was the only interpretation of the known facts that has Jesus showing the same care and singleness of purpose with which he arranged every other thing he did to match the detailed prophesies of the coming Messiah.

“At the last supper, Jesus says ‘This night one of you will betray me.’ The modern Christian reader assumes, ‘Well, he has God-like powers, he can see the future.’ But of course if he was God he also could have flown through the air to get away from his tormentors, turned into the Goodyear blimp, leveled them all with a thunderbolt, whatever.”

“That’s right,” Lance agreed. “The only way a mortal Jesus could be sure he was going to be betrayed at a specific time was if he arranged it, a job for which he’d naturally pick his most trusted and competent disciple, the guy in charge of the petty cash, Judas of the Scarii, Judas of the Dagger. In fact, at the Last Supper Jesus turns to Judas and tells him when it’s time, he says ‘What you are about to do, do quickly.’ That’s John 13:27. Controlling the time of his arrest meant he could dictate the time of his trial, which let him plan, within a matter of hours, when he was likely to be crucified, which had to be as late as possible on Friday.”

“The story is that the Testament of James confirms that Jesus had a plan to survive the crucifixion,” Richard explained, “a plan that wouldn’t have worked if he’d been condemned in a Jewish court; they’d stone you to death. It had to be a Roman court, it had to be crucifixion, and it had to be on a Friday.”

“But if he didn’t die on the cross, where DID he go?” asked Chantal.

Richard smiled, finally glancing at his watch. “Did the brother of Jesus really decide the best way to cut the legs out from under this weird new cult that was using his brother’s name, the best way to discredit Paul of Tarsus, was to make a clean breast of things, explain how his brother Jesus pulled it all off . . . and where he went? If he did, such a book would pre-date all four canon gospels by decades. Now THAT would be some lost book.”

“The Holy Grail of lost books,” said Lance White, getting a far-away look in his eyes.

Professor Richard St. Vincent stood and stretched. “And with that, my children, I must make an end. The fire has died, the night grows late. If Matthew and his friend propose to start searching for this lost book tomorrow, they’re going to need a good night’s rest. Let us each to his bed, and God Bless You All.”

# # #

“You should stay,” Matthew said to Chantal.

Everyone else had gone. They’d found Skeezix still asleep on the rug with big Tyrone. On the coldest nights from December through March the grown-ups had been known to just throw a blanket over the little scout and let him sleep in, but it was April now and Skeezix, stretching and yawning, had insisted he had somewhere to go.

So Chantal had helped Matthew clean up and then they’d carried their wine glasses upstairs to his apartment, as had long been their habit, on a kind of autopilot.

“I would love to stay. And then I feel like I’m blackmailing you for something you don’t want to give, or can’t give, whatever. I know it’s harder because of how it started out between us, Matthew, but I can’t be just your Saturday party girl any more.”

“There’s never been any Tuesday girl, Chantal.”

“I know that. I appreciate that. You’re used to going it alone, I get that, too. You’re the hero of your own adventure novel, ‘Matthew Hunter, Tracer of Lost Books.’ A housewife in curlers and a squawling rug rat don’t fit in.”

“Are we expecting a squawling rug rat?”

“A girl can dream.”

“And you don’t use curlers, God be praised.”

“Overseas deployment can be hell on a girl’s hairstyle. But if you want me you’ve got to take the whole package. I won’t sit pining by the telephone.”

“You’re always welcome here.”

“If that were true, we wouldn’t have a problem,” Chantal sighed. “What you mean is ‘You’re welcome here any time.'”

“That doesn’t make –”

“Yes?” she asked, all innocence, batting the eyelashes.

“OK, maybe there is a difference.” He sighed. “Chantal, I’m afraid of what you want.”

“What did I want that was so wrong? You wanted me, too, unless that’s changed.”

“I want you.”

“So?”

“I’m old enough –”

“To be my father. Women starting families with teen-age boys who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up does not have a great track record. Next problem?”

“I run off at the drop of a hat. I’m set in my ways. I don’t know if I’m cut out to set up housekeeping. You want babies.”

“In God’s good time, yes.”

“Babe, when we’re together we mate like bunnies.”

“I believe the phrase is ‘fuck like bunnies.'”

“I accept the correction.”

“This is bad?” Chantal asked, fluttering her eyelashes again.

“It’s wonderful. What I mean is that God’s good time won’t take long. And you’re not going to be content sitting home changing diapers when the phone rings and the Earl of Balmoral has died and nobody can find half the books that are supposed to be in the country house and off I go and who’s going to take little Heather to her piano lesson.”

“You got that right. So I’ll miss a few trips when I’m in labor. This is really the deal breaker? I’ve got a passport. When dropped I do not break easy. OK, I don’t remember on which line it’s supposed to say ‘man-woman.’ But it’s on page 20-something, I find it eventually. I’m very teachable, you said so yourself. Plus they’ve got these cool hand-held computers now, dear, you wouldn’t believe what I find online while you and Bob are … sorry. While you and Bob were arguing about which reviews were supposed to be on the back of ‘The Hunt for Red October.’ I didn’t mean to talk down Bob.”

“No fault of yours. On the other hand, if I’d been here …”

“Oh stop it. He loved it when you left him in charge. Was he trying to pull off some deal that he should never have tackled alone, trying to impress you?”

“That’s exactly what worries me. We should remember Bob’s good qualities now, he was a bookman, he knew the classics, who the hell else is going to sit around, now, quoting Northanger Abbey? But Bob was ambitious, impatient, he wanted to make a big score he could brag about. He could have missed the danger signs.”

“Well if he did it’s not on you.” Chantal took him by the arm, pressed up against him, starting the old electricity again, though possibly not on purpose. “I will not let you play the Butterfly Game. If only I’d turned left instead of right, if only I hadn’t picked that day to do my laundry, if only I hadn’t gotten that call from London. Are things OK in London? How long can you stay away?”

“It’s Hurry Up and Wait, as usual. Pinky’s convinced it’s the real thing, he’s lining up backers, I told him he’s nuts to be taking anyone into his confidence till he’s got the book in hand, word is gonna get out. He’s got good security people right in his own organization, he should go out-of-pocket for now and concentrate on actually getting the piece in his hands; send a private jet, borrow some guys in colorful berets. He’s always trying to think two steps ahead, he takes his eye off the ball.”

“So we’ll get you back there as soon as we can, so Pinky doesn’t spend all that money till you get a look. And don’t think I missed ‘Heather.’ Heather?”

“I’m not against parenthood, Chantal, although by the time Junior is ready to play catch I may have to shuffle out to the yard with my walker.”

“You’re young enough to see your children through school, providing you start now, and you know it. But you’ve made it clear you don’t want that and that’s why I’m staying at Mary’s. I did not come here to twist your arm. I came here to see if you need my help because of what happened to Bob. I will gladly help you in the short term, if you need it, for a week. I will do what you tell me needs done but I’m asking you as a favor and as a friend don’t take me to your bed and then break my heart again with this ‘I’ll call you’ bullshit. We’re good friends, at least as far as I’m concerned, who tried the other thing and it didn’t work out and that part is over.”

“That feels bitter.”

“Freedom means different things to different people, dear. Love can make you feel free, or it can make you feel trapped. People are wired different, I get that. If you decide different you’ll tell me. Till then, what’s really going on?” She took a step back. “What really happened to Bob, did somebody actually come here that night to deliver a copy of this Testament of James, is there any chance it’s real, and if so where is it? On a scale of one to ten how likely are people to start shooting at us? I need to know because I’ve got this little borrowed pink revolver in my purse but if you expect any real trouble I can make a phone call and get us some bottle-necked backup, I still know people at the War College.”

“You’ll call in the dolphins?”

“Not bottle-nosed, bottle-necked. The brass of a high-powered round has a shoulder. Never mind. A few people owe me favors who would seriously outclass some Italian with a pocket pistol.

“I’ll keep that in mind. Pink?”

“What?”

“You have a pink pistol? Like, you’re actually carrying it around?”

“I told you, dear, it’s borrowed. Wouldn’t do much good in my suitcase. Pink is a marketing gimmick. It has zero effect on wound ballistics.”

A black blur came shooting up the stairs, made one skidding footfall on the bedroom floor, and vanished under the bed, leaving the bedspread swaying slightly. Only seconds behind came all 20 gray-striped pounds of Tabbyhunter, though he leaped directly onto the bed, turned, and prepared for combat, crouching down, fur fully blown out, keening his battle song.

“Was that Serafina?” Chantal asked.

“Something’s up.”

“Someone downstairs?”

“Trying to get into the shop, probably.” Matthew grabbed one of his black aluminum baseball bats from behind the door, positioned his right hand about a third of the way up.

“But the lights are on.”

“We always leave a few lights on. Probably someone who doesn’t know we live upstairs. Or someone desperate.”

“I’m coming with you.”

“OK.”

“In fact, I’m going first,” said Chantal, producing her Lady Smith revolver from her purse.

“I know the layout better.”

“They won’t be hiding in the furnace room. Plus I’ve got the gun.”

“You’re actually going to use that?”

“I hope not. But I still go first. That way I don’t have to shoot through you, which could seriously mess up my point of aim. It’s called ‘deflection.'”

“I knew that.”

It was indeed never completely dark in the store, barring a power outage. It was traditional to leave one green-shaded desk lamp burning near the front counter, as well as a single 40-watt light back in the kitchen, so if anything did require late-night attention Matthew wouldn’t be stumbling around in complete darkness, tripping over the odd box of new acquisitions or one of the waist-high rolling racks. It also kept the building from looking abandoned, and might in theory allow a passing patrol car to spot a burglar throwing a shadow. There was no alarm system installed, since the valuable volumes were locked in the safes, and since bookstores are not generally high-priority targets for junkies and other thieves in the first place, being famously short on guns, drugs, and jewelry.

Now they were sure they heard the sounds of someone moving around in the store, interrupted by the dull thumps and pattering paws of additional cats sensing an unfamiliar presence and deciding a quick exit to some other part of the building or out the cat-door to the side yard constituted the better part of valor.

The cat door was cut into the bottom of the regular door that led out to a stoop and thus to the side yard from the kitchen. Always kept locked, that side door was still the most likely entry point; anyone with some duct tape could have taped one of the small glass panes, broken the glass without much noise, and reached through to unbolt the door from the inside.

Chantal and Matthew skirted the kitchen to avoid exposing themselves in the light. By hand sign they agreed to work their way around till they could position themselves behind the substantial shelter of the twin desks and front counter. If someone had broken in through the kitchen door they’d most likely try to escape by the same route, and the goal at present was to run them off, not to block their exit and consequently re-enact the shootout at the O.K. Corral.

Seated in Marian’s chair, Chantal rested the butt of her revolver on the counter and leaned forward to acquire a good sight picture, pressing her chest down and making herself a relatively small target. She then gestured to Matthew, who threw on all the lights controlled by the front door switches.

“Identify yourselves, you motherfuckers!” Matthew shouted. “We’re armed!”

He winced as he heard books dropped on the floor, followed by running feet -– moccasins or crepe-soled shoes, though, not heavy boots. It sounded like there were two of them, though all they caught was a glimpse of a black-clad figure sprinting for the kitchen door.

And that would have been the end of it, except that this was the moment two more uninvited guests chose to come barreling IN the now-unlocked kitchen door.

There was much shouting from the kitchen. The two newest arrivals, who were not speaking English, appeared to be armed and were ordering the first set of burglars to get their hands up, or whatever.

“Rashid, is that you?” Matthew shouted.

“Mattieu, are you alright?” Came a voice from the kitchen. “We spotted these bastards breaking in here. Is my brother with you?”

“Hakim?”

“Yes, it is Hakim.”

Matthew and Chantal moved tentatively away from the shelter of the front counter, advancing slowly toward the kitchen. Matthew gestured for Chantal to lower her revolver. She firmly shook her head no and kept it directly in front of her in a two-hand grip, though she did lower her point of aim, so if the weapon went off unexpectedly it would just harmlessly blow off someone’s kneecap.

“I haven’t seen Rashid,” Matthew shouted as they approached, in part so the Egyptian would know they were coming. “He’s not here, Hakim.”

They entered the kitchen. The original set of black-clad burglars were indeed being held by the two-late arriving Arabs in billowy white or beige shirts – hard to tell in the dim light — both of whom had produced knives which they held low, indicating they knew how to use them. The broad, curved, bright steel Bowie-looking thing in the hand of the larger Arab had a blade that must have been a foot long all by itself, almost a cross between a knife and a Gurkha Kukri. The black-clad burglars were white guys who looked pale and not particularly tough, one tall and thin, one short and tubby. The taller one carried a good-sized black leather purse over his shoulder, the accessory no modern second-story man should be caught without.

“What have you done with my brother, you assholes?” asked the bigger Arab, whose beak of a nose reminded Chantal of Omar Sharif. He motioned with a flick of his blade. “Dov’e ‘me fratello?”

The smaller of the two burglars, the fatter one with the lighter hair, started to answer, but stopped and looked at the floor when the taller one snarled “Zitto, stronzo.”

Mr. Cuddles the cat was rubbing up against the legs of the older Arab who’d been doing all the talking. He looked down at the oversized creature on the floor and his expression was not one of warmth or affection. He snarled something in Arabic to his sidekick, presumably instructing the younger man to pick up the cat and throw him outside.

Shifting his own, smaller but still deadly looking blade to his left hand, the second Arab stepped across, bent down, and picked up the 20-pound orange tiger as ordered, one-handed under the ribcage.

There was a brief pause, as though Mr. Cuddles couldn’t believe this was happening.

Finding himself suspended in mid-air by this complete stranger, who apparently intended to slice him down the middle with a particularly nasty looking kitchen implement, Mr. Cuddles made a high nasal noise, very piercing. Then it was as though the bundle of fur simply exploded, with a racket like someone starting a chainsaw. Hakim’s smaller buddy started to shriek. Mr. Cuddles caromed off the table and the sink, actually running horizontally, before he hit the floor and headed for the back stairs in an orange blur. The smaller Arab’s fighting knife slid across the floor and stopped at Matthew’s feet.

The original set of black-clad burglars decided to make use of the moment of confusion to bolt through the outside door to the side yard. They made it out, though Hakim seemed to be considering launching his own knife at them, backhanded, carnival-style, when Matthew intervened.

“Let them go,” he said. “Getting the police involved isn’t likely to help Rashid.”

“Yes, run! Run, you Christian dogs!” Hakim responded, though he did lower his blade to his side. “You never did have stomach for a fight!”

# # #

The above takes the reader through the first 10,000 words of “The Testament of James,” by Vin Suprynowicz, copyright c Vin Suprynowicz, 2014, all rights reserved. To read the next excerpt, beginning Chapter Three, go to https://www.vinsuprynowicz.com/?p=2031 .

One Comment to “The Testament of James, third excerpt”

  1. Alex Szollo Says:

    Dear Mr. Suprynowicz,
    My name is Alex Szollo, I am 23 years old(turning 24 on September 16), and I’m an avid reader from Timisoara, Romania. I have been able to read ever since I was 3 and a half years old, which I owe to my awesome mother, who taught me the letters at a very young age in order to kick my Cerebral Palsy in the behind.
    I’ve read countless books of every single genre, and I’ve always had a soft spot for heroic figures. I grew up idolizing superheroes such as Batman and Superman, and legendary figures like Robin Hood.
    A while ago, I found out about your epic novel THE BLACK ARROW, and it sounded just like what I love reading: the story of a revolutionary who rises up against an oppressive regime that puts the liberty of its citizens at risk, something like what were to happen if Batman and Robin Hood were combined into one character. I’d LOVE to read the novel, but I cannot order it online as I have no credit card, and it is not available in Romania.
    I come to you with a request that you may treat however you see fit.
    The only “payment” I could provide for a copy of your epic novel is a review on my all-genre book blog, where I discuss all sorts of books that have somehow grabbed my attention. I’d be honored to feature THE BLACK ARROW there. So if I sent you my home address and promised a review, could you send me a signed copy of THE BLACK ARROW in paperback? ANY answer will be considered an honor, even a “go fuck yourself, kiddo!”
    Warm regards,
    Alex Szollo, avid reader

Comment:

RSS 2.0" title="Subscribe to this posts comments via RSS 2.0">RSS subscribe