Dave Schwarz didn't intend to solve the break-in at the City of David or the riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He just wanted to get married.
When the religious British immigrant stumbles upon the mystical key to any girl's heart, however, his troubles only begin! The discovery draws him from the "swamp" of Jerusalem singles into a web of mysterious crimes and ancient enigmas, and pits him against a ruthless secret society eager to trigger the End of Days. Dave must beat them to the prize or he will lose his one true love forever.
Mandy Rosenberg has taken a break from New York to study in Jerusalem. In other words, she's shopping for a husband. Down-to-earth but jaded by years of dating, she finds unexpected romance with Dave. But is he really her long-awaited hero? Or will the dark side of their relationship threaten all?
Fans of the Indiana Jones franchise and the film Romancing the Stone will love this fast-paced romantic adventure in the biblical archaeology of Jerusalem and the secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The novel features a sexy flatmate, a dodgy restaurateur, and a hotel manager with secrets of his own.
On Tuesday, Dave Schwarz hit thirty and his best friend narrowly escaped a violent death.
The two events were probably unrelated, but both jolted Dave the way a sudden air pocket reminds nervous passengers that they’re soaring above the clouds in a pressurized metal tube.
Realization number one: Welcome to the Middle East. Strangely, Dave never thought of his new home as the Middle East. Brutal attacks like the heavy blow to the back of the head that had nearly claimed his friend should not have surprised him.
Realization number two: I’m thirty years old and still single. In short, my life is over.
Dave shook the morbid thought from his head. This was no time for navel gazing. He perched on the edge of a bed in room 419C of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center. A plastic curtain divided the room into quarters and reeked of disinfectant and tragedy. Drops of indolent Jerusalem rain slid down the dark windowpane.
Ben’s bulky form lay in the hospital bed, his eyes closed, a white bandage over his otherwise bald head, like an injured rugby fullback; the mind of an academic in the body of an East End bouncer.
According to the ward nurse, the ICU doctors had transferred Ben early Wednesday morning. He was in no mortal danger, but had his mind survived the trauma?
Dave cleared his throat. He whispered Ben’s name for the tenth time in two minutes. Behind the curtain, a ventilator wheezed. A telephone rang down the hall and the nurse with the squeaky shoe continued her rounds.
Dave reached into the plastic bag from Steimatzky and placed a book on the nightstand. The Jewish War by Josephus. He had purchased the Penguin paperback at the hospital gift store on the ground floor. Ben’s existing copy, a hefty side-by-side English translation of the original Greek, was thick with dog ears and split at the seams.
A bouquet of gerberas sat on the windowsill. Ben’s wife had sent the flowers but it wasn’t her flowing cursive that graced the message inside the card. The uneven block letters looked to Dave like a cryptic text copied by a blind scribe.
Yvette had called Dave at work half an hour ago. Would he stop by, make sure Ben was in one piece?
Dave plucked a yellow flower from the bouquet and dismembered it slowly.
If Dave lay in hospital, who would send him flowers? If he died, what would his lonely life have achieved?
“Looks bad. Doesn’t it?” said Ben, his eyes still shut.
Dave almost swallowed his tongue. “No, not at all.” He tossed the naked flower stem into the waste bin to join its petals. “I was thinking about myself.”
“Oh,” Ben said, as though that explained everything.
How long had Ben been conscious?
Dave searched the poky room for a cheerful thought.
“No shortage of Jewish doctors here.” His laugh was lame even to his own ears.
“Muhammad,” Ben said.
The hairs on the back of Dave’s neck stiffened. He had heard anecdotes of near-death experiences but he had not expected the bright light at the end of the tunnel to be the founder of Islam.
Ben worked his mouth, as if chewing gum. Dave scanned the headboard for an emergency button.
“Doctor Muhammad. Nice guy.”
Dave exhaled, his worldview intact.
He scratched his head. Ben usually drove the conversation. A laconic Ben concerned Dave.
“I met a girl,” Dave said in desperation and waited for the bomb to detonate. Ben devoured tidbits of Dave’s bachelor misadventures with the voracity typical of safely married men.
The patient in the sick bed merely grunted.
Had Ben recognized Dave at all?
Dave bit his lip and drew his last card.
“You made the Jerusalem Post,” he said.
Ben opened his eyes. “What did they say?”
Dave retrieved the folded printout from his shoulder bag.
“‘Break-in at the City of David,’” Dave read aloud. “‘An apparent break-in at the City of David Institute Tuesday night caused minor structural damage. All artifacts are accounted for, according to Dr. Erez Lazarus, curator of the museum in East Jerusalem. An employee who was present at the time sustained mild injuries. The police have opened an investigation and at this point suspect local vandals.’”
“Mild injuries,” Ben mumbled and shook his head.
In a sequence of fluid movements, he sat up, propped his back against the wall with a pillow, and snatched the article from Dave’s hands.
Not for the first time, Dave felt the sting of his so-called friend’s so-called sense of humor.
“How long have you known I was here?”
Ben didn’t look up from the article.
“And what were you doing at work so late?”
“Preparing an itinerary. Yvette’s away so I wasn’t rushing home. I heard a commotion outside and went to investigate. Next thing I know, I’m lying here with the mother of all hangovers. They didn’t even mention my name, the bastards. Erez probably saw to that.”
Dave had met Erez, Ben’s boss, a number of times at the City of David Institute, or the COD, as Erez referred to the popular tourist attraction. Erez was not known for his tact.
“You should carry a gun,” Dave said, feeling suddenly vengeful.
“A gun?” Ben said, outraged. “I’m an archaeologist, Dave. Not a hit man.”
Dave pictured Ben behind a heavy-duty revolver. The image made a certain amount of visual sense. His shaved head and beefy, don’t-mess-with-me build called to mind the thugs of a Guy Ritchie film, rather than the rabbi’s son enamored with academic nuance and scientific enquiry.
“Indiana Jones had a gun.” A shameless smirk twisted Dave’s lips as he said it.
“Indiana Jones.” Ben lowered the printout and rolled his eyes. “God, I’m tired of that name. ‘Found the Ark of the Covenant yet? Been to the Temple of Doom?’ For Heaven’s sake. Indiana Jones is a fictional character. Archaeology, on the other hand, is a very real, painstaking process of scientific research. Hypothesis. Excavation. Analysis. Well-founded conclusions. No stunt men. No special effects. We fight our battles in academic journals, not dark alleys… Ouch!”
Ben’s hand shot to the back of his head and Dave felt a small stab of remorse. He also felt relief. This was the Ben he knew and… well, the Ben he knew.
Not that Dave was a man of adventure either. He failed to comprehend why some people tied ropes to their legs and dove off bridges, or out of perfectly good airplanes. Dave was a confirmed serotonin junkie. Any day of the year, he chose a good book, a hot cupper, and air-conditioning over jeopardy to life and limb. But the opportunity to ruffle his friend’s feathers had been too good to pass up.
“What ever happened to the Ark, anyway?”
Ben raised a sarcastic eyebrow, then relented.
“Not a trace in the archaeological record. The Talmud mentions two theories. Rabbi Eliezer said the Babylonians carried it off after they destroyed the first Temple in 586 BC. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai claimed King Josiah hid the Ark in tunnels beneath the Temple Mount shortly before. In either event,” Ben added meaningfully, “there’s no mention of lost Egyptian cities or Nazi plots.”
“Beneath the Temple Mount? Can’t you just dig there and find out?”
“Not since Moshe Dayan gave the keys of the Temple Mount to the Waqf as a gesture of good will. Now they renovate with abandon and all we can do is sift national treasures, or fragments thereof, out of their rubble. But don’t get me started on that.”
Dave didn’t. Instead, he asked, “When does Yvette get back from Madrid?”
“Paris,” Ben said. “She’ll be back tonight.”
Ben’s wife was, quite literally, a supermodel. She spent her days flitting between the catwalks of the world’s fashion centers.
“Oh, good,” Dave replied, a study of casual innocence. “So you’ll both be home for Shabbat.”
This was Ben’s cue to invite Dave over for a Sabbath meal. Of the many banes of bachelorhood, the weekly scrabble for meal invitations pressed Dave the most. Few things were as miserable as a festive Shabbat dinner-for-one at home.
Ben didn’t take the hint.
“All right,” he said, “let’s have it.”
“The girl you met.”
Dave was no longer desperate enough to bare his dating soul. “Just some girl I met on Shabbat after shul.”
The synagogue buffet after Saturday morning prayers was the closest Dave would get to a singles bar. The slender waterfall blond had stood beside a foldout table of herring and Jerusalem kugel—pizza slices of caramelized pasta—on plastic plates. Her free-flowing hair meant she was unmarried. The ringless fingers ruled out an engagement. But was she available?
Dave had meandered closer, a plastic shot glass of Black Label in hand. He intercepted snatches of her conversation with a girlfriend. American accent. West Coast.
“And?” Ben said. “Tell me you made a move.”
He had drained his glass. He placed her in his sights. The world focused around him. The moment swelled with destiny. It was now or never.
“Not as such,” Dave admitted. “She’s American, anyway. And probably too young.”
Ben covered his face in his hands. “Dave, Dave, Dave.”
“But I might know someone who knows her,” Dave continued.
“Dave, oh, Dave.”
“Stop it, Ben. I don’t want to be the scary older guy who can’t take a hint.”
Ben removed his hands from his face and glared at Dave, the large, repulsive cockroach. “Why do you keep doing that?”
“Don’t tell me I’m picky.”
“You are picky but that’s beside the point. Imagine you’re a good-looking, single girl. Would you be interested in a nebekh who doesn’t have the guts to ask you out in person?”
Dave had no sisters. He had attended Hasmonean Boys. His insights into the psyche of the fairer sex derived from acquaintances at the Hampstead Garden Suburb Hebrew Congregation, Bnei Akiva summer camps, and more blind dates than he cared to remember. Hollywood filled in the blanks. But Dave could see where this was going and he would not go down quietly.
“They want to get married, don’t they?”
“True,” Ben conceded. “Marriage. Kids. The whole package. But what else do they want?”
Dave shrugged. “Security?”
“Fireworks, Dave. Romance. A man to sweep them off their feet. They want to fall in love but not with Mr. Nobody. They want the leader of the pack. Mr. Numero Uno. Mr. Top Dog.”
“Mr. Top Dog? You hit your head harder than I thought. What ever happened to ‘just be yourself’?”
“Be yourself. But differently. You can’t sit on the sidelines. You’ve got to put yourself out there.”
“I am out there,” Dave said, louder than he had intended. The plastic curtain rippled behind him and the ventilator quickened its pace.
Why do people always blame the victim? Dave looked at his watch. “Which reminds me. I’ve got Rabbi Levi tonight.”
“Excellent,” said Ben. “Here’s your chance. One telephone number. That’s all I ask.”
“You’re not dying, Ben. You don’t get a last wish.”
“Don’t you dare leave that shul without one new telephone number.”
“What if I don’t fancy anyone?”
“Who cares? Think of it as practice. A game. I wish you’d just read the damned book.”
Dave felt his shoulders tense. The Pickup Artist’s Bible was the only paperback in Ben’s library with more mileage than Josephus. In a moment of despair, Dave had agreed to read it. He had stopped on page two of the introduction.
“Ben. I’m not prowling bars for a one-night stand. I’m looking for a wife, for Heaven’s sake. My soul mate. The woman who will share my life and sit at my Shabbos table.”
“It’s just a foot in the door,” said Ben. “And girls are girls. Give her a reason to get to know you.”
Dave drew a long, frustrated breath. Why did he confide in Ben in matters of the heart? Dave looked at the bouquet of flowers and remembered.
“Hypothetically speaking,” he said, “if I get the number, I don’t have to call it, right?”
“That’s the spirit.” Ben smiled, no doubt anticipating future field reports of humiliation.
Humiliation: the constant in Dave’s life. How had it happened? All his childhood friends were married plus two or three kids. Somewhere along the tracks of life, Dave had derailed.
“Ben, is something wrong with me?”
Ben looked him squarely in the eyes. “You left a civilized Western country to live in the Middle East. You tell me.”
“Thoroughly enjoyable read... engaging and hard to put down!”
“Tightly-written, with a vein of wry comedy that finally erupts into a frenzy of biblical proportions, the story keeps us compulsively turning pages... A very fun read!”
Yael Unterman, author of The Hidden of Things: Twelve Stories of Love & Longing (Yotzeret Publications)
“...a fast-paced, interesting story that I enjoyed. I would recommend it to friends.”