Books: Baden-Powell's Beads: Aksum (Book 3)

Gaboon, Book 3 of Beads SagaSynopsis: Patrick, Adnan, and Pam, now all bead holders, travel back to a nuclear devastated London where they experience some of the beads’ mysticism. The agents follow terrorists’ leads to a camp in Aksum, Ethiopia. There, they discover the long history of the beads that stretches back in time to their creation in ancient Egypt by the Biblical character, Bezaleel.

The Homeland Security agents feel a growing connection between a worldwide terrorist threat and Baden-Powell’s beads. Adnan infiltrates the terrorist training camp in Aksum and endures the torturous initiation to gain the confidence of its leader, Lij Mered, the 227th descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Lij Mered’s army, composed of Islamic extremists and Rastafarian henchman, grows rapidly. His spies return from South Africa with five of the original beads, and he reunites them with the Arc of the Covenant, sequestered beneath an ancient church in Aksum. Unbelievable power, the power to lead a conquering army, surges through him, and the die is cast for world domination, if only he could acquire all the beads, including those of our heroes.


Sample Chapters - Chapters 1 & 2

C H A P T E R   1

Memphis, Tennessee
April, 2005

Homeland Security agent Patrick Dartson leaned closer to the monitor, as if it would help him better understand what had just happened. On screen, the light of early morning struggled to illuminate the great English city―nature’s low, grey ceiling giving way before a man-made dust cloud, hiding the wounded city from the prying eyes of orbiting satellites. He watched as the images updated the irregular margins of the unnatural cloud expanding in all directions, swallowing the city, street by street―too thick to allow a glimpse of the chaos that lie beneath.

 A powerful bomb had detonated in London’s Notting Hill Gate subway station, tearing a hole in the ground approximately two hundred meters across. In his mind, he visualized what must be happening on the ground after such an enormous explosion: structures large and small collapsing onto themselves as the ground gave way—hundreds of people atop the blast dying instantly—destruction expanding from ground zero and morphing into the suffering that accompanies unimaginable injuries—innocent people being crushed and trapped in the rubble—water from pipes and sewer lines spilling into the chaos, drowning many who’d survived the initial blast—disrupted gas lines leading to secondary explosions—large and small infernos springing up as flammable material came into contact with superheated debris.

Seismometers around the globe would be documenting the event. Satellites were recording and broadcasting the images to military bases, weather stations, newsrooms, and to anyone who was real-time Googling London.

 Patrick could sense the initial terror and panic slowly evolve into a quiet acceptance as an otherworldly silence shrouded the altered landscape. For one brief moment, he held his breath and stared disbelievingly into the future, as the relative innocence of the past slipped into history.

His first thought—that he could have prevented this—was too horrible to consider. He and his partner, Adnan Fazeph, had hypothesized such an attack, but lacked evidence to back it up. They’d been warned of a credible bomb threat to the subway system and had been advised to take cabs while visiting London.

Spending the night in Pam Blanchard’s apartment, he’d slept little. Only just yesterday, he, Adnan and Pam, each sporting a bead, had returned from London with the body of his college roommate and Pam’s lover, David Freeman. Patrick postulated that the presence of these beads, so precious to the Arabs, had, up to now, protected London from such destructive terrorism. The trio’s grieving exit from Great Britain left London beadless for the first time since Baden-Powell’s return from South Africa with the original twenty-four beads at the turn of the twentieth century. Someone, probably inside the Islamic world, wanted all twenty-four and would stop at nothing to procure them. Why?

Leaning back in his chair and away from the screen, Patrick became acutely aware of the heaviness and heat of the trinket hanging by a leather thong about his neck. Before his hand could grasp the bead through his shirt, the oppression and burning became unbearable. He leaned forward, pulling it from his chest.

“Shit!” he exclaimed under his breath, springing from his chair quietly so as not to disturb Pam in the next room. He’d felt this earlier in the evening at the time of the blast, but not to this degree. Yet he never thought of removing it. Ghastly images formed in his mind—thousands of souls fleeing this world to the next, misting through the portal of this strange bead, filing it with the heat of anguish.

Pam streaked from the bedroom, clutching the front of her chemise, a pained expression marring the beauty of which he was becoming increasingly aware. The anguish she must have felt supplanted all modesty as she stood nearly naked before him.

“Is yours doing this too?” she asked, searching his face for answers.

 The vision of her snapped him back into the present. His training prepared him for this, handling situations under extremes, focusing when others would panic. He nodded.

“Pam, cover up. We need to talk. Something awful has happened.”

Glancing down at her state of undress, her eyes widened and she dashed into the bedroom of her small apartment, returning seconds later cinching the tie of her terrycloth robe.

“What? What is it?” she asked. “Is this what David felt all those times? Did the bead burn him like this?”

“No,” he answered. “I think this is worse.”

“Tell me.” She followed him away from the table and flopped down on the couch, leaving a comfortable distance between herself and where he landed on the opposite end.

He didn’t know an easy way. “I’ve been updated on the London bombing,” he said.

Pam’s face showed no emotion, though he could see the color fade from her checks. “How bad?” she asked, her voice quiet and low.

“Bad. It’s unclear at this time whether it was a conventional explosive…or nuclear. It’s too early to know for sure. The dust hasn’t settled yet.”

“Tim? Terry?”

He smiled inwardly. Doesn’t that dramatize the difference between men and women? His mind had immediately gone to details and his possible responsibility. In contrast, her first thought was of the only other people she knew in London, the two Homeland Security agents who’d saved their lives Saturday.

“No word from them yet,” he said, “or anyone else for that matter. Land and wireless communications have been disrupted. It may be a while before we hear.”

Her face lost what was left of its color and her breathing quickened.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about them,” he said. “It’d take a lot more than one bomb to off those two big Irishmen.”

“Don’t joke about this, Patrick,” she said, her voice cracking. “What will you do? Will you have to go back there?”

“We’ve prepared for this and been through this plan of action dozens of times. I haven’t received official word yet, but when it comes, Adnan and I will have very specific orders, depending on the events.” He rose from the couch and paced about the living room. “I just never thought it would happen,” he said, considering the nuclear possibility.

“You didn’t answer my question,” she said.

“The U.S. will assist in search and rescue when asked, and humanitarian relief, of course, but that won’t involve our department. While the rest of the world watches London, we’ll have our sights trained elsewhere. As bad as this looks now, we have to consider the vulnerability of other sites, particularly in the U.S. This first attack might be only a diversion.”

“What?” she gasped.

“Remember 9/11. While we watched the twin towers burning, other planes streaked towards the Pentagon and the White House. It’s how they operate. It’s not enough to have us running scared, looking over our shoulders. Their goal is to create enough terror so we won’t know which shoulder to look over.”

He closed the top of his computer and yawned. He needed sleep, but his mind raced. He and Adnan had been together for six years and knew each other’s thoughts and moves. Could Pam work into their team? Would the Department even sanction it?

“Offer’s still open,” he said glancing her way.

“I can’t think about that now, at least not until after David’s funeral tomorrow.” She weaved back toward her bedroom. “I’m so exhausted. Almost too tired to sleep.”

“Try,” he said. “It’s gonna be a long day. I’ll call Adnan before turning in.” The bead at his chest still burned, but it felt less acute. Pam waved as she disappeared into her bedroom and closed the door.

He punched Adnan’s saved number in his cell phone. “Hey buddy. Give me an update.”

“No look good,” Adnan replied. “When you come back to D.C.? Boss wants full update early tomorrow afternoon. He be in meeting with the President and Joint Chiefs until then.”

Patrick ignored his partner’s practiced accent—something Adnan worked on constantly. “David’s funeral is tomorrow morning. Civilian air traffic might be tight. I’ll probably catch a lift out of NAS Memphis. That base has been downsized, but the runway’s still active.”

“What Pam do?”

“She’s considering it.”

“What you think?”

“I believe she’ll go for it. Not much exciting for her here now.”

“Gotta go. May be up most of night. Get back here soon as you can,” Adnan said, clicking off.

His tired mind struggled to wrap itself around this new horror. What city was next? Was the Rastafarian Ras Marcus, who’d been working through Scotland Yard, behind this? His accomplice, Cheri Hassan, if not killed in the explosion, was locked up somewhere in London. Or was she?

Stealing sleep from stress was also part of his training. As his head hit the pillow on the couch, he focused on not focusing, systematically shutting down his brain, one compartment at a time. Sleep was the weapon against terrorism he’d use tonight.

#

Ras Marcus, the Jamaican Rastafarian whose mission it was to procure the ancient beads at any cost, watched events unfold on television from his hotel room in Paris. As reports of more death and destruction streamed in, he settled deeper into a state of calm, legs crossed in lotus position, hands palm up on his knees. Incense filled the room and helped him focus. The closed curtains allowed only slivers of light into the smoky den. A twenty-four hour news network broadcast continuous coverage of the London carnage. The small man shifted onto his sajada and began his morning prayers. He’d borrowed this custom from his Arab brethren; the difference being his use of ganja, or marijuana, to open the mind. He took another large hit off his bong and closed his eyes.

He took no personal satisfaction from having destroyed a portion of the great city. It was only the first of many. Though he tried to concentrate on his supplications, the chants were routine and did little to assuage his growing irritation at having his attempts at the other beads thwarted by the Americans.

Completing his morning ritual, he rolled up his rug and only then noticed the light on his cell phone. He’d been anticipating this call.

He hit the call-back button and heard the connection. “Maraba.”

“You’ve done well,” came the reply in Arabic. “Do you have them?”

“I have three,” Ras Marcus answered.

“Three more in addition to the three from the States?”

“No. Only the three from America.”

The silence on the other end spoke volumes. His Arab leader’s first concern was always to retrieve for Allah what was Allah’s. Even the mass slaughter of the infidels could wait.

“Do not worry,” Ras Marcus said. “The heathen Americans stole the three items we sought and carried them to their country, safe from the blast. It will be a simple matter to retrieve them.”

“No! First, bring me what you have—personally.”

“As you wish,” Ras Marcus said. “I need more men and supplies anyway.”

“Have you lost your guards?” The voice lowered, becoming nearly a growl.

Ras Marcus was glad he was having this conversation from afar. More than one man of his rank and stature had literally lost his head in an outburst of rage from the self-proclaimed Emperor of Ethiopia. Even over the phone, he could hear the metal on metal sound of the scimitar being withdrawn from its scabbard.

“My men died nobly in battle against the infidels. It was only with Jah’s help I was able to escape. The others stayed with the bomb, protecting it through the time of the explosion. Jah-u-Akbar!”

“Have you no one with you?” the man asked.

Ras Marcus knew this to be a question regarding the safety of the beads. He knew his life was expendable, unworthy of concern from the great man.

The door to the lavatory opened. Through the smoky shadows and steam, backlit by the dim iridescence of the lone shower bulb, emerged the naked form of the long-haired temptress, Cheri Hassan, the vision only partially disturbed by the whirling of the towel she wrapped about her body.

Ras Marcus paused momentarily, long enough to allow the mental image to burn into his memory and loins. Rastafarians viewed women as vessels used to populate the earth with their kind. He shared none of the concerns his Arab friends had with casual sex.

“I have one with me, someone who shares a hatred of the Americans. Someone who knows the importance of the beads.”

“Enough talk. Bring me what you have—now!” The line went dead.

“Who was that on the phone?” came the gravelly, damaged, feminine voice.

“Pack your things,” Ras Marcus said. “We leave immediately.”

The imposing, feminine form froze, then turned his direction, slithering across the distance separating them. His breathing quickened as she pulled up in front of where he sat. The light from the gap in the window curtain caught her face, serving only to dramatize her perfect Mediterranean/Arabian features. She dropped the towel covering her nakedness.

“Ras Marcus, Ras Marcus,” she hissed, air escaping through the partially healed tracheotomy hole in her neck, there due to the throat-shattering blow of the American woman, Pam Blanchard. “Must you always be in such a hurry?”

He took another drag from the water-pipe, then reached for the smooth round hips standing before him and pulled her close.

#

Cheri Hassan owed Ras Marcus her life. But for his bailing her from the police holding area in London, she’d be at the bottom of the debris with thousands of others. She doubted anyone would’ve come looking for her, though she was sure she now enjoyed the status of being on Scotland Yard’s most wanted list. It would take years, if ever, to get the legal system in London back on its feet. Mere survival would be the focus for the immediate future.

But it was neither gratitude nor loyalty that kept her with the small, swarthy Jamaican. He recognized her fire and desire to do whatever it took to help him accomplish his twisted goals. So what if her motivation was money? He had access to plenty and was willing to part with a good deal of it. She knew the Americans holding the beads and would have no second thoughts eliminating those troublesome agents if called upon to do so. In fact, she’d rather enjoy it, she thought as she fingered the healing hole at the base of her neck.

Her mind drifted as Ras Marcus had his way with her body. She felt nothing for him, but fortunately, he was quick to finish, satisfying his own needs, ignoring hers.

With a mere grunt in her direction, he rolled off of her, shook out his dirty dreadlocks, and disappeared into the bathroom. His scent lingered, but she knew better than to interrupt him as he washed. Using the towel she’d dropped to the floor only moments before, she cleaned herself and waited her turn. Her escape from this life and to the south coast of France would have to come later.

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C H A P T E R   2

Memphis, Tennessee
.

Patrick was up early Monday morning. A friend at the Defense Department had arranged for one of the Navy fighter jets being redeployed to the D.C. area to stop through Memphis and pick him up. He’d just have time for the funeral before he had to leave.

Pam skirted about the kitchen, mumbling to herself the entire time while making coffee. She grumbled and acted as if she’d never be able to make herself presentable with her fading black eye, jet lag, no sleep, and messy hair desperately in need of professional attention. Patrick gave her a wide berth and busied himself on the phone and his PC. He’d have to leave directly from the church for Millington Naval Air Station, northeast of Memphis. Pam offered to drive him. She might have been using that as an excuse to escape the questions that would follow the service. She’d told him David’s family would smother her as though she were truly their daughter-in-law. She loved his family but wished to deal with the grief of losing him alone. In a way, she felt responsible. It had been her idea to go to London.

At her request, he called to make sure the service was still on. The nation struggled under much of the same throes as in the early days after 9/11—the terrorist alert rose to its highest level. Commercial air traffic ground to a near halt. Security measures increased. Federal, state, and local governments cancelled or postponed nonessential functions. National Guard troops sprang up like mushrooms after a rain. Television and radio programming devoted full time to the London disaster. The media was treating this as though it was a terrorist bombing employing conventional, though massive, explosives. Patrick was far from convinced.

Young Dr. David Freeman didn’t have a will at the time of his death. His family abided by his expressed wishes to donate his body to the University of Tennessee for anatomy training. There would be no graveside service. A memorial was to be held for him at Central Methodist Church in midtown Memphis, making attendance easier for his peers and the staff of the Campbell’s Clinic.

Patrick and Pam sat near the back of the nave. The formal services concluded with a tearful eulogy from David’s proud and heartbroken father. Fellow residents, professors, nurses and staff from the teaching hospitals, and even a few patients lined up afterwards to express their thoughts and lend what little comfort they could to the grieving couple who’d just lost their only child.

When it came Patrick’s turn, he embraced both the mother and the father and tried mightily to be strong and not break down. He did okay until Mr. Freeman spoke.

“He’d be glad you’re here,” the crestfallen man said into Patrick’s ear, increasing the power of his hug. “You were his tightest friend. His days with you at Dartmouth were his happiest. Thank you, Patrick.”

The sob that escaped his chest surprised him. He maintained his composure but couldn’t stop the tears as he stepped back, grasping the father’s hand.

“I’ll find who did this, sir,” Patrick said, feeling awkward, not knowing what else to say.

“I don’t guess that matters much now, does it?” the father said.

“It does to me, sir,” Patrick said.

“Me too, Mister Freeman,” Pam said, hugging the elderly couple. “I feel so responsible.”

“Nonsense,” said Mrs. Freeman, who’d been quiet to that point. “You made him happy. We’ll always consider you and Patrick family.”

Patrick and Pam pulled away, giving others in line a chance to offer condolences. The two slowly made their way past the coffin one more time. He draped an arm around Pam’s shoulders and she leaned her head into him. Again he felt that strong pull toward this very attractive woman who just lost her lover…his best friend. And again, he fought it. It just didn’t seem right…not yet.

As they exited the church down the center aisle, his gaze settled on a couple of attractively dressed ladies hidden from view behind overly large, Southern-style hats. They seemed somehow separate from the other mourners—not as solemn. Young and pretty, one of them whispered something to the other as he and Pam passed. Pam’s hand went to her chest. He felt a heaviness too, but wasn’t that to be expected?

He’d seen those women before—in the London pub—snooping on him and Adnan!

Patrick picked up the pace and hurried Pam to the car.

“Wait here,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”

“What is it?” she called after him, but he was already several steps away, and motioned for her to stay put. Not wanting to draw attention, he slipped into the back of the church and stood in a far corner behind an extravagant flower arrangement. The two women approached the coffin and made the sign of the cross over themselves. Each leaned into the coffin to plant a final kiss on the deceased. Nothing out of the ordinary. Or was there?

Look away from the obvious, away from the diversion. Those watching were drawn to the stunning women in classy, form-fitting dresses and gaudy headwear, each clutching a purse under her left arm. The first leaned in toward the body, her right hand disappearing into the wooden frame of the casket. Nothing unusual. All eyes were drawn to her face closing in on the deceased. Her right arm casually shifted inside the casket numerous times. She was patting David down, doing a quick manual search of the body and coffin! The second woman did the same, her right hand positioned to search a different area within.

Patrick struggled to control his rage. Every fiber of his being screamed for him to interfere. This duo had spied on him before, and shortly thereafter, he’d had a near fatal run-in with Cheri Hassan. Hustling out the door, he jogged to Pam standing by her car.

“Get in,” he said. “I’m driving.”

Pam, obviously still shaken, strolled unhurriedly and without questioning his tone to the passenger side of the car. He started the car but didn’t pull out.

“Don’t you have a plane to catch?” she asked, frowning.

“Look.” He gestured toward the front of the building. Moments later, the two striking woman in large hats sashayed arm-in-arm from the church into the bright Memphis sun.

“That’s just how Southern women dress sometimes,” Pam said.

“Those aren’t Southern women. French, maybe. And they aren’t here to pay their respects.” Patrick reached inside his jacket, pulled out a powerful Zeiss photo-binocular, and focused on the women’s faces. He clicked off a number of pictures. The two descended the steps, only intermittently visible around the cars in the parking lot.

Patrick quickly backed out and maneuvered the car, never losing sight of the two. He was sure they’d be in a rental, and felt validated when they drove off in a non-descript white sedan, out of character for the aristocrats they played. He snapped a shot of the car and license as it pulled away.

“Aren’t you going to follow them?” Pam asked.

“And do what when I catch them?” He replaced the binocular in his jacket. “No, I’ll learn more from the rental car history. All I need is some information that doesn’t add up.”

“You’re not making any sense,” Pam said.

“They had to be sure we weren’t putting David in the ground with one of these,” he said, tapping his chest. “Not that they’re above grave robbing. They just needed to know if it was with him at the time of burial.”

“But he’s not being buried.”

“They don’t know that. It’s unlikely that anything will be added to the casket at this point, regardless of what is done with his remains.”

“Remains…sounds so cold,” she said. “That’s your friend you’re talking about.”

His mind was busy processing this new information and he barely acknowledged Pam’s statement. “I’ve got to get to Millington,” he said almost under his breath, turning onto Madison and mentally going through the route she’d earlier laid out for him. “I appreciate the use of your car.”

“Patrick Dartson!” she barked, punching his right shoulder. “Don’t you dare start acting like I’m not here. You want me as a partner, remember?”

His analytic mind jolted back to the present.

“Okay, partner.” He smiled, glancing her way. “What Adnan would be doing right now is reaching into the back seat for my computer case.”

Seconds later, Pam had the computer open on her lap and powered up. He guided her through the maze of passwords and to the site he wanted. From inside his jacket, he handed her the binocular and said, “Now download this using the USB line. Select ‘Identity’ and ‘Car Trace’ and hit send.”

Pam skillfully completed the task. “Now what?”

“Just watch the screen for a reply and keep me from getting lost on the way to the Naval Air Station.” He felt comfortable with her working at his side...maybe more than comfortable. “Oh, and call Adnan. Tell him I’m on my way. Use the phone on the computer.”

This would involve a few assumptions on her part. He glanced her way and caught the squinty-eyed stare she threw at him. He was testing her and she saw right through it. Her fingers flew over the keys. Only occasionally did she glance back to the screen, making it obvious she watched him more than the computer.

“Hi Pam,” Adnan’s voice boomed from the laptop. “Nice shirt.”

Obviously startled by having the eyes and ears of another man in her lap, Pam’s hands shot to pull the lapels of her jacket over her blouse. Patrick tried not to laugh.

“Should have something for you momentarily on car,” Adnan said. “The IDs may take longer.”

“Are you two joined at the brain?” she said.

“Our computers are,” Patrick replied. “Adnan, what’s the word up there?”

“Not good and getting worse. You are here for one o’clock, yes?”

“I’ll be there. Any intel for me to read on the way?”

His partner’s feigned annoyance nearly leapt from the screen. “You think Adnan dumb-ass? You think I not know routine? Maybe, on purpose, I not give you information. Maybe I want you look bad—”

The ranting continued at first in English, then in Farsi.

“Hit the off button,” Patrick said to Pam.

“No!” screamed the voice from the computer. “I not done yet. I up all night while you down there with pretty girl and—”

“Please,” Patrick said, eyebrows raised imploringly to Pam.

She grinned and cut the connection.

“This feels right,” she said.

“Does, doesn’t it?” he responded.

He wasn’t sure why. Was he being totally rational? Or were dangerous emotions clouding his judgment? They were both vulnerable, having lost a friend and lover. He’d have to be careful, and rely heavily on Adnan’s opinion, but deep down, he knew he’d hang onto this woman. And that thought saddled him with guilt about his recently killed best friend.

“Anything else?” Pam asked. “Did I pass?”

“Close it up and secure the case,” he said with more authority than necessary.

“You don’t have to snap at me,” Pam said. “I know you’re the boss.”

“Pam, while I’m in D.C., I want you to give this serious thought. Once you’re in, that’s it. You can’t back out, even if you want to. You’ll see a scary world through different eyes. Americans live in Disneyland and think it will always be so. You’ll see the thin thread by which it hangs, and you’ll process information through that prism. Everything changes.”

“It already has,” she said, placing her elbow on the window frame and staring out at the passing landscape. The sunlight reflected off the pooling moisture in her eyes.

 

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Photo credits: Guitar © by Alexandr Mitiuc; Caduceus © by James Steidl; Fleur De Lis © by aves — Fotolia.com