The Staff of Moses – Chapter 14

The Nature of Miracles

Oliver and Diana killed nearly an hour sipping drinks and discussing the meeting at the book shop in low tones at the rooftop bar. Oliver wanted to give Rais Karim time to cool off and leave the hotel, just in case the disgraced spy had harbored any thought of waiting for them at another floor or tracking down their room number to continue their discussion.

Eventually they reached the end of rehashing the encounter in the bookshop, Diana took a long sip from her drink, then turned to Oliver and said, “I’m telling you Oliver, if Rais and your Senator buddy hadn’t vouched for it, I would have truly believed that the scroll I saw today was a forgery. A truly spectacular example of ancient Egyptian style manufacture, to be sure, but a complete fake less than a century old. I’ve handled paperback books from the twentieth century that were more brittle than that scroll.”

Oliver chuckled and pushed his empty glass away. He leaned one elbow on the bar and looked to Diana, saying, “There is the obvious explanation that the scroll is a fake, but I’m not inclined to go with that. There’s little motivation to fake an artifact in every detail of authentic construction, ink chemistry, and content unless you also artificially age it. So, if we throw that line of thought right out the window, it leaves us with the simple result that this scroll is the genuine article, just remarkably well preserved.”

“But what could protect it so well? I’ve handled artifacts that were sealed in clay jars, hidden in temples, buried in mud, you name it. None of them were even close to that well-preserved. Most scrolls in museums have never been opened or were examined over the course of months, even years, of painstaking unwrapping. These days we don’t even unroll most of them, just use x-rays and MRIs to look into them virtually. But here I am, sipping a coke and recalling just…” Diana swept her arms apart, “…rolling open a five thousand year old scroll.”

Oliver grinned and nodded, but didn’t reply.

Diana laughed aloud and shook her head. “This isn’t your first time encountering something like this, is it?”

Oliver shook his head and slipped Diana a wicked smile.

“Is it always this exciting?”

“Yep. I still remember my first genuine relic.”

“That’s the one your uncle brought back from South America, right? The one that got you started on all of this tomb raiding business.”

“Precisely. Although I still think I’d have been a legitimate historian if the doctoral board hadn’t taken such a dim view of me pursuing the truth on the university’s dime and reputation.”

Diana nodded gravely and lapsed into silence for a while.

That made Oliver feel bad. He hadn’t meant to shut down their conversation by bringing up the past. His disgraceful fall from the halls of academia was far enough in the past that it hardly bothered him any more. When it had happened, Oliver had spent about six months sulking and posting venomous rants on the internet, but then he had found the second shard and it had rekindled his desire to search for the truth, damn the consequences or obstacles. That was when he had taken up adventure photography as a cover and a means of earning a living, and he had never looked back.