The story so far:
“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
– Matthew 24:3
Standing next to one of the immense fluted columns, Jack craned his neck to admire the arched ceiling. He felt small beside the column and was filled with a sense of awe. Creating such a reaction had no doubt been the builders’ intention back in 1248 when they began the foundation of the Kölner Dom, a cathedral that would never be completed in their lifetimes. It was respect for those long-ago builders, not religious ecstasy, that gave Jack his sense of wonder every time he had visited here.
All around him, tourists pointed and gawked, while pilgrims prayed, their eyes closed, their lips moving silently. Literal blind faith, he thought and shook his head in incomprehension.
He glanced at Heinz and smiled. The old man looked much better than he did when they’d met in Scott’s Pub the night before. Amazing what a shower, decent meal and a real bed can do, he thought.
Since entering the Dome, Heinz had been walking slowly, turning in circles, trying to absorb the splendor the church offered. His eyes wide in gleeful astonishment, he must have thought he was already in heaven.
“Never been here before, Heinz?”
He shook his head and smiled at Jack. He really liked Jack and he wished he could tell him all about the gentle man. Heinz thought there were some similarities between the two men, but even if he could speak, he doubted that he could explain how they were alike.
“Well, let’s walk around a bit. Communion will start in a few minutes. If you see the guy that gave you that letter for me, let me know right away…okay?”
Heinz nodded and turned away, looking at faces rather than the treasures of the cathedral.
Near the Sacristy, the GeroKreuz stood surrounded by a knot of admirers. A middle-aged woman with two fidgeting boys read aloud from a travel book in a language that might have been Italian. An elderly couple gazed at the relic as if they expected the wooden Jesus to hop down from the cross and cure their arthritis. There were others, but Jack’s attention was suddenly drawn to a woman standing by one of the columns, reading a guide book.
She looked young enough to make the guys jealous if he’d walked into a room with her on his arm, but not so young he’d be accused of having a midlife crisis. She wore khakis and a white blouse that draped nicely over her figure while making her look like a professional of some sort. “Medium” in both height and build, with shoulder-length brown hair, some men might call her ordinary. Jack called her perfect.
“Hmm?” the woman turned and favored him with a half-smile.
Jack hadn’t realized he had said the word out loud and felt more foolish than he had since high school. “Uh, the Dome. It’s perfect, don’t you think?”
Her smile broadened. “Oh, yes! It’s like the builders were inspired by a higher power. In fact, I know they were.”
He knew he should be disappointed that she was apparently a religious nut, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
She reminded him of someone, and it was gnawing at the back of his brain. When she turned back to face the GeroKreuz, he felt a twinge of disappointment that he couldn’t see her face.
He wanted to see her smile again, so he groped for something interesting to say, something that would make him look intelligent and get her attention back. “You know, the great bell of the south tower used to be a cannon.”
She turned to look at him again, tilting her head like a curious puppy. Encouraged, he continued, “Yeah, it was a French cannon captured in the Franco-Prussian War. They melted it down and made a bell.”
“That’s a beautiful story. Something forged for war and now it calls people together for peace. I’ll remember that to tell my students.”
He hadn’t thought about it that way. He just thought it was a smart use of scrap metal, but he wasn’t about to tell her that. “What grade do you teach, Mrs...?”
He trailed off, hoping she would correct him about the “Mrs.” part.
“I teach at a university and it’s Doctor Elizabeth Washburn.”
Her tone as she announced her name and title hadn’t the slightest hint of arrogance, as Jack might have expected. Instead, she said it naturally, and Jack appreciated that.
“Doctor, huh? That’s not good for me.” He grinned to show he was teasing.
“You can call me ‘Beth,’ then. Does that fix the problem?”
“Almost,” he grinned. “Would that be Miss...?”
He didn’t bother finishing the quip. Beth wasn’t looking at him any more, or even at GeroKreuz. Too short to see over his shoulder, she leaned slightly to the left, staring at something behind him. He turned to see what held her attention, but was still perplexed.
Looking back at her, he asked, “What is it? If you want to walk over and look at the stained glass, I’ll keep you company. You know they used to think it was thicker at the top, the glass, because...”
She shook her head and put a finger to her lips. She mouthed the words, “Just wait,” and put a hand on his forearm as if to steady herself.
“You OK?” He put his hand over hers, afraid it might feel cold and weak, and was shocked to feel the heat radiating from her. Yet it was a warmth that was electric rather than feverish and it made her skin feel somehow more alive than anything he had ever touched.
She nodded. “It’s him. Watch.”
With her free hand, she pointed to a thirty-something guy wearing blue jeans and a faded tee shirt. He had thick brown hair and a short beard that looked more like negligence than fashion. The man was scrawny with a dark brown, serious face that would look right at home on a college campus in any Middle Eastern country.
Jack also thought he looked like your everyday, run of the mill terrorist, sans turban or baklava.
“Is he one of your grad students?” Jack hoped that was it. He still hadn’t found out whether or not she was single.
She laughed softly. “Oh, no…not at all!”
“Your boyfriend?” Jack let his hand drop.
He wasn’t afraid of a confrontation but at this point, he wasn’t about to get into one, especially not here in Germany’s most famous cathedral. On his way in, he had noticed a camera crew in the balcony, probably shooting some tourist film. The moment would be immortalized.
“You don’t know, do you?” Beth looked into Jack’s eyes, frowning. She seemed to see a piece missing when she looked at him that way. “You don’t feel it? I was so sure…”
“Maybe if you told me what you’re looking at, I could see it.”
“No, no. It’s alright. Just watch, listen, and wait. I know you’ll understand…you have to.” She smiled and nodded to herself.
Heinz came running and grabbed Jack by the arm. He was excited and wanted Jack to follow, pointing toward the front of the cathedral. Jack realized with shock that Heinz was indicating the same man that Beth was so interested in. “I see him, Heinz. Why don’t you go ahead and get the reward he promised? I’ll be along in a minute.”
Heinz grinned, nodding his head like a little boy and scurried off in a half run toward where man was standing. Beth looked at Jack, eyebrows raised. Jack ignored her look and turned his attention back to Heinz’s “gentle man”.
Puzzled, Jack watched the mystery man observing the Sacristy, where three priests were performing the Eucharist ceremony. Two held ornate goblets and one had a plate of wafers. The faithful had formed a line and one by one, they stepped up to the altar, where one of the priests would either offer them a sip from the chalice or a Eucharistic host from the plate. Heinz’s gentle man hadn’t joined the line. He stood off to the side, just out of the priests’ line of sight, and had the look of someone ready to leap into action.
Jack felt his own muscles tighten in response. He didn’t think much of the Eucharist ceremony; the whole “blood and body of Christ” thing had always sounded macabre to him. Still, those priests weren’t hurting anyone and the skinny was acting suspicious. Since 9/11 Jack had become acutely sensitive to Middle Eastern types. If this guy was about to start something, Jack would intercede.
As if she could read Jack’s thoughts, Beth whispered, “No, he’s not dangerous. Relax.”
She tightened her grip on Jack’s arm and he realized she had felt him tense up. That’s how she’d known he was on alert. She didn’t have any mutant mind powers, except an uncanny knack for getting Jack to do what she said. He felt a little foolish for thinking otherwise, even for a moment.
Heinz was headed directly towards the man, who saw him coming and greeted him with a big smile. He wrapped his arm over Heinz’s shoulder and leaned over to speak in his ear. A moment later, to Jack’s surprise, the man wrapped his hand around Heinz’s throat and closed his eyes for a second. Heinz staggered back against the wall. Even from the distance, Jack could see a glow of happiness flood the old wino’s face. Slowly he fell to his knees. He ran his hands from his throat, down his chest. His lips moved as if talking to himself.
Beth again threw Jack an inquiring look. “Wasn’t that....?”
Jack nodded and said, “Yes, I’ll tell you later…promise.”
They returned their attention to the not-dangerous man as he made his move and strode up to the priest who held the plate with the Eucharistic hosts. He rested a hand on the priest’s arm and said, “Father, why are you doing this ritual?”
Good question, bad timing, Jack thought.
The priest opened and closed his mouth several times, clearly at a loss for words. Finally, after an exasperated sigh, he settled on, “My son, I will be glad to speak with you about the Eucharist and any of the Holy Sacraments after Mass. Please…”
“But this ceremony is a lie,” the man continued. “It is based upon an event that did not happen. This ritual is a fictitious rendition of the so-called Last Supper and what I might have said and done.”
Jack glanced at Beth. “Is this some sort of practical joke? Walk up to the priests and pretend to be Jesus? Is that why the camera crew’s here?”
She shook her head emphatically and whispered, “No. For the love of…just listen to what he has to say; and not just with your ears.
He wanted to think of a clever comeback, but before he could, the mystery man announced himself to everyone in the cathedral.
“My name is Eloah. Two thousand years ago, your ancestors knew me as Yeshua, son of Joseph or perhaps, as you now remember me, Jesus – son of God. I will use the name Jesus again.”
The tourists and the faithful alike all stared at the self-proclaimed Jesus, mesmerized. For the second time today, Jack had a sense of tunnel vision. The would-be messiah had captured his attention almost as strongly as Beth had, but obviously not for the same reason. Jack felt every hair on his body prickle. If he’d been outside he would have run for cover, sure that lighting was about to strike.
Jesus continued, “Fear not, for I have not come to herald the end of days as prophesied in your Bible. I have returned to save this world from a nuclear holocaust that will occur in a war between the three major religions. I bear an inadvertent contribution to this pending disaster by the founding of the Christian religion. A religion established in my name, but based upon a misinterpretation of my words and intent; by a resurrection miracle that did not occur. The Christian religion was generated by men of power seeking to control humanity through fear; the fear of death and the hope of an unnecessary salvation.”
If this was a practical joke, no one was laughing. Jesus’ softly spoken words had somehow carried through the entire cathedral, but no one else made a sound.
“My purpose will become clearer in the coming days. In the interim, I have a message for the Catholic Pope.”
Jesus looked toward the camera in the back of the cathedral is if he were staring the Pope in the eyes. “Pope John Paul, your church holds documents written by me and Mary Magdalene. I require them to be released to independent scholars – independent of the church – for authenticity testing.
“Following authentication, I demand the contents of these documents be released to all of the world’s media within ninety-six hours. I don’t believe a threat for non-compliance is necessary. But, perhaps you will re-read your own Bible, Mark 11:15 and 17. I tell you now that what is written there is but a small piece of what I actually did that day and nothing compared to what I will do if you fail to release these documents.”
Jesus appeared to have finished his speech and focused his gaze directly on Jack. Though Jesus did not move his lips, Jack heard the words, “Follow me.”
Jack closed his eyes and shook his head, trying to jar loose the big chunk of crazy that must have lodged itself in his brain. When he opened his eyes, he saw that Jesus had locked eyes with Beth.
He hadn’t shown any expression for Jack, but he flashed a smile at Beth, and she nodded as if acknowledging a command. Jesus then pivoted and exited the Sacristy through the back.
“What the hell…” before Jack could get his question out, Beth tightened her grip on his arm and pulled him forward. He thought about grabbing a hold of her and demanding some answers, but decided that for now he’d go along for the ride. After all, he had come here trying to find Heinz’s elusive “gentle man”. He hadn’t expected him to be “Jesus” and he certainly hadn’t expected to hear him extorting the Pope. Regardless, he was determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. He hesitated only long enough to gently remove Beth’s hand, nod that he was with her and follow as she ran toward the altar.
Heinz was standing near the door that Jesus had gone through a few seconds earlier. He reached out and grabbed Jack’s arm, stopping him long enough to say, “He cured me! My reward, he cured me!”
Tears were running down his cheeks, and Jack thought he’d never seen happier tears than these. It took him a moment to realize that Heinz was speaking. Dazed at this new revelation, Jack was at a loss for words. The urgency of following Beth and Jesus was such that all Jack could do was smile and pat Heinz on the shoulder. That was all he had time or sensibility for.
“Jack! This way!”
Beth’s voice cleared the fog and he managed a quick, “Good for you, Heinz – good for you,” before turning away to catch up with Beth. He followed her through the door, then a narrow hallway leading off to the right. They entered a large room filled with cabinets, chests and tables. Straight ahead was a door and off to their left, another.
Beth went straight, but Jack reached forward and grabbed her wrist, swinging her to the left. From what he knew of the Dome’s layout, the door on the left would lead to the exit, while the other would take them deeper into the Sacristy.
He was right. The door at the end of the tunnel swung open to reveal an alleyway. Out of the corner of his eye, Jack glimpsed a figure as it moved through a doorway in one of the adjoining buildings.
“I see him! Come on.” He grabbed Beth’s hand and ran after the figure, reaching the doorway in a few strides. He pulled on the wrought-iron handle, but the door wouldn’t budge. Beth put her hands over his and added her strength to the effort, but it didn’t help. Without being told, she put her palms flat on the door at the same time Jack did and they shoved together. It held fast.
“Where could he have gone?” Beth asked.
“I saw him go through here,” Jack replied.
“I did too, just as we came from the Dome.” She put her hands on her hips and sighed.
Jack continued to examine the door. He didn’t see a lock, though there could be one on the inside. Even if there wasn’t though, the hinges were rusted enough to be frozen. With an hour and a good tool set, he could probably open it, but Beth didn’t look like someone who could wait an hour and he didn’t have any tools.
The look on her face reminded him of a little kid who just found out there’s no Santa Claus. He had a brief fantasy of busting the door down with his shoulder and earning her undying admiration, but knew better than to try it. The thing looked like solid hardwood and had iron cross-ties. It had probably been designed to withstand a few blows from a battering ram.
He looked at Beth and shrugged. “Any ideas?”
She shook her head. “None.”
They both turned in circles, looking for another exit – a window, a door or a ladder – anything. There was nothing.
“He did go through this door, didn’t he?” Beth insisted.
Jack stared at the door. “Yeah, or maybe he ascended up to heaven.” That earned him a small smile from her, but it faded as she stared at the door.
“There’s no way we’re going to get this open, is there?”
“It doesn’t look like it’s been opened this century, that’s for sure. I think we’ve lost him.”
“I think you’re right, we’ve lost him for now, but it’s alright. He’ll find us.”
Apparently satisfied with her own logic, she smiled at him as if nothing were out of the ordinary. “Listen, Jack, there’s a café not far from here where we can talk over a cup of coffee.”
He didn’t need long to consider the idea. He wanted to spend more time with her.
“Sounds good to me.” He fell into step beside her; there were a few things he wanted to ask without having to look her in the eye while he did. “Why are we trying to catch this guy?”
She stopped cold and pivoted to face him. “I think you know that. Don’t you?”
He didn’t like admitting that he’d heard a mysterious voice in his head, but in the context, he supposed it didn’t sound so bad. He nodded. “I heard him say, ‘follow me,’ and then I saw him look at you.”
“I’m so glad! I was starting to worry you hadn’t heard the message.” She exhaled dramatically and started walking again.
“He didn’t move his mouth when he said it,” Jack prodded.
When that got no reaction from her, he continued, “And I wouldn’t have been able to hear him even if he had spoken out loud, not with my hearing, and not from that far away. No one should have been able to hear him without a mike. Even that wouldn’t explain why everyone was listening so intently. You can’t tell me they all spoke English.”
“He had a message for us. We listened.” She said those words slowly, as if explaining something to a child.
He wondered if she realized that wasn’t any kind of explanation. “If he had a message for us, why lock us out? Why say, ‘follow me,’ and then decide to play hide-and-seek?”
She fingered her chin for a moment before answering. “I think…I think he didn’t want us to find him. Not yet.”
“Then what the hell did he want us to find?” He didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but he couldn’t help laughing. This was all so absurd.
She stopped again and looked him directly in the eyes. “Each other, Jack. He wanted us to find each other.”
Once again, he wondered where he had met her. At first, he had thought she just looked like someone he had known, but now he realized it wasn’t just how she looked. It was everything about her. He ran through everything she had said and done, trying to connect her with some event in his life. He still couldn’t place her, but he realized he had overlooked something very disturbing about her.
“Yes?” She tilted her head, looking up at him.
“I never told you my name.”
“And you just now noticed?” She laughed and took his hand.
They had reached the café and she led him through the door. Jack hated being out of the loop; not knowing something that someone else obviously did. It was even worse when that someone was a beautiful woman that expected him to be in the know as well.