The contents of an ancient scroll set in motion a deadly quest for the tomb of Solomon and the long lost treasure of the Second Jewish Temple. The Project team is up against a madman who believes he is the last high priest of an ancient and cruel god. He seeks the Seal of Solomon and the mystical powers he's sure it will bring him. He'll stop at nothing to get what he wants, including murder and treachery.
From the streets of Beirut to the barrens of Saudi Arabia and the wild canyons of Ethiopia, the Project team follows a strange trail of confusing clues in search of Solomon's bones and the sacred heritage of a nation.
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The train was almost ready to leave.
Professor Angelo Caprini settled down on the seat of his first-class compartment and wrinkled his nose at a faint hint of perfume left behind by the previous occupant. He glanced at the bag resting next to him. The contents were going to make him famous.
Caprini was a short man, squat. He had a prosperous gut that spilled out over his belt. His eyes bulged behind thick glasses, an effect made worse by a receding chin. Behind his back his colleagues called him The Frog. It was an apt description, right down to the hint of webbing between his toes, although no one but Caprini knew about that.
He'd spent the last three days at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, the holy grail for researchers seeking the most advanced x-ray technology in the world. The bag contained an ancient scroll from the Roman town of Herculaneum, destroyed along with Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. The scroll was unreadable, encased in a hardened shell of black volcanic ash. Caprini had made the pilgrimage to Grenoble hoping that advances in crystal x-ray phase tomography could reveal the charcoal-based ink on the burned papyrus concealed beneath the crust of lava. His faith had been rewarded.
The scroll came from the library of the Villa Literati in Herculaneum, the only collection of written works surviving from the ancient world. There were hundreds of scrolls but no one knew what secrets they concealed. A lost work by Plato, perhaps. A first-hand account of the Punic wars. A play by Aristotle. A contemporary account of the crucifixion of Christ. Anything was possible.
Caprini could barely contain his excitement when the x-rays revealed the first page, white lines of Aramaic lettering against a black background. Parts of the second page could be seen under the first, faint ghosts written down two thousand years before. While the technician operated the equipment, Caprini couldn't keep himself from talking about what he was seeing.
The tech had a profitable agreement to pass on information when something of unusual interest turned up at the research facility. Listening to Caprini babble on, the technician knew the scroll was something that qualified. A few days after leaving a message money would appear in his Swiss bank account. The more important the message, the more money appeared. It was a very satisfactory arrangement. The technician had made the call after he got off work.
Impatient, Caprini tapped his foot on the floor of the train compartment. He was looking forward to getting back to Naples and his wife's cooking, proper food, not like here in France. The food in France was too rich, it always gave him indigestion. He'd be in Rome tomorrow morning and by afternoon, back in Naples at his office at the National Museum where he could organize his notes and plan his announcement.
If I wasn't afraid of flying I'd be there by now, he thought. He glanced again at the overnight bag. The scroll was inside, safely tucked away in a hard case with a bed of foam.
A man in a conductor's uniform knocked on the compartment door. He held a brown, paper wrapped package in his hand.
"Yes, what is it?"
"There is a package for you, sir."
That's odd, Caprini thought. He opened the door, reaching for the package. The conductor took a silenced pistol from under his uniform coat and fired twice. Caprini looked down at his chest in shock. The assassin caught him before he fell, then propped the body up in the corner of the seat. Small spots of blood showed on the front of the professor's blue Armani suit.
The assassin pulled the curtains of the private compartment closed. He placed the package on an overhead shelf, picked up Caprini's overnight bag and looked inside. He opened the case containing the scroll. Satisfied, he closed the bag, backed out of the compartment and shut the door behind him. If anyone looked in, they'd think the professor was asleep.
The train was about to leave. Caprini's killer stepped back onto the platform and walked away into the milling crowd.
Some time later the train was crossing a deep gorge in the Italian Alps when the package detonated and ripped apart Professor Caprini's coach. The blast sent the speeding train off the rails, to its doom.
The screams of the passengers echoed from the indifferent walls of the gorge.
The train fell for a long time until it smashed onto the rocks far below.