Bible of Clay: An Epic Quest for the Ultimate Relic

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9780719562488: Bible of Clay: An Epic Quest for the Ultimate Relic

A compelling new novel that combines past and present in a riveting search for the source of the Book of Genesis itself.

In her provocative second novel, Spanish author Julia Navarro takes readers on an exhilarating journey across centuries and continents, as an upstart archeologist and a murderous group of conspirators vie for a treasure that will rewrite history–an explosive account of the world’s creation recorded millennia ago by a humble scribe onto the legendary Bible of Clay.

Moving back and forth through time, from the tense months preceding the contemporary war in Iraq, to ancient Mesopotamia, to the atrocities of the last century, this tale of vengeance, obsession, and the wholesale plundering of the ancient world’s most priceless treasures is populated by an international cast of political opportunists, ruthless killers, and unsullied seekers of truth. The Bible of Clay is historical fiction at its richest, a sweeping saga that challenges at once both conventional geopolitics and the very foundations of modern religion.

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About the Author:

Julia Navarro is a Madrid-based journalist and political analyst for Agencia OTR/Europa Press, and a correspondent for other prominent Spanish radio and television networks and print media. Her first novel, The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud, was an international bestseller.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
RAIN WAS FALLING ALL OVER ROME WHEN THE TAXI STOPPED at St. Peter's Square. It was ten o'clock in the morning.

The passenger paid the fare, told the driver to keep the change, and tucked a newspaper under his arm. He was lean and well tailored in an obviously expensive suit, his white hair combed carefully back, his resolute demeanor that of a person accustomed to giving orders. He headed straight for the first entry point, where visitors were inspected to make sure they entered the basilica properly dressed—no shorts, no miniskirts, no cleavage.

Inside the cathedral, the man rushed past Michelangelo's "Pieta"—the only work of art among the vast Vatican treasures that had ever moved him—without a glance. He paused for a second, orienting himself, then walked toward the confessionals, where priests from an array of countries listened in their native languages to the faithful who came from around the world to visit the Holy See.

He approached a confessional whose sign indicated that the priest heard confessions in Italian, and he stood, leaning against a column, waiting impatiently for the communicant already inside to finish. As soon as he saw the velvet curtain open and a man step out, he moved purposefully toward the confessional.

The priest coughed quietly, ready for the new communicant to begin confession.

"Mi benedica, Padre, perchŽ ho peccato."

"What is it you wish to confess, my son?"

"Not a past sin, Father, but a sin I am about to commit." He leaned toward the priest and smoothed the lapel of his suit jacket. "I intend to kill a man," he said. "May God forgive me."

With that the man stood, rushed from the confessional, and disappeared among the hordes of tourists crowding the basilica. It took the priest a few moments to recover from his shock.

The stunned cleric stepped out of the confessional and picked up a crumpled newspaper lying on the floor. He glanced at the headlines—rostropovich concert in milan; dinosaur movie a blockbuster hit; archaeological conference in rome—and scanned the text below the last, where something had been marked: . . . with world-renowned professors and archaeologists in attendance: Clonay, Miller, Schmidt, Arzaba, Polonoski, Tannenberg. The final name was circled in red: Tannenberg.

Another man had approached the confessional and was asking insistently, "Father, Father—are you all right?"

"Yes, yes . . . no, I'm sorry, I'm not—excuse me . . ."

The priest folded the newspaper and, his gaze abstracted, walked away, leaving his latest supplicant openmouthed and unshriven.
***

"I'd like to speak with Signora Barreda, please."

"May I say who's calling?"

"Dottore Cipriani."

"One moment, Dottore."

The old man ran his hand over his hair and was suddenly seized with claustrophobia; the room was too small. He forced himself to take a deep breath while his eyes ran over the objects that had surrounded him for these last forty years. On his desk sat a picture frame with two photographs: one, now sepia-colored with age, of his parents, and the other of his three children. On the mantel was a photo of his grandchildren. Across the room a couch and a pair of wing chairs were softly illuminated by a floor lamp with a cream-colored shade. The room's walls were lined with mahogany bookshelves containing hundreds of books; Persian rugs covered the floor; the entire room smelled of pipe tobacco. . . . This was his office, he was at home: He had to get control of himself.

"Carlo!"

"Mercedes, we've found him!"

"Oh, Carlo . . . My God! What are you saying?"

The woman's voice was filled with dread—and expectation.

"Get on the Internet and look in the Italian newspapers, any of them—the Culture pages. His name's right there!" The intensity in his voice matched hers.

"Are you sure it's him? There are thousands of Tannenbergs around the world, Carlo."

"But not thousands in the upper echelons of the archaeological field. The article is about an upcoming conference in Rome."

Mercedes was breathless. And convinced. "Yes, of course, yes. Then he . . . All right, then. We'll do it. At last! Tell me you're not having second thoughts."

He looked at the picture of his parents. "No, never. And you aren't either, I see. Neither will Hans and Bruno, I'm sure." He fingered the buttons on his telephone. "We need to meet. I'll call them now."

"Do you want to come to Barcelona?" Mercedes asked. "I have room for us all."

"It doesn't matter where. I'll call you back—I want to talk to Hans and Bruno now."

"Wait, Carlo—is it really him? We have to be sure. Have him put under surveillance, no matter what it costs. If you want me to, I'll wire a transfer now. We cannot lose him again."

"I'll see to it immediately. We won't lose him, Mercedes. Don't worry. I'll call you back as soon as I can."

"Call me on my cell phone, then. I'm going to the airport. I'm taking the first plane to Rome. I can't just sit here; I need to—"

"Mercedes, don't move until I call you. We can't make any mistakes. He won't escape now—trust me."

He hung up, feeling the same anxiety he'd sensed in Mercedes. He suspected that in two hours she'd be calling him from Fiumicino Airport. She was a woman incapable of sitting and waiting for anything, much less this.

He dialed a number in Bonn and waited, tapping his fingers impatiently on the desk, for someone to answer.

"Hello?"

"Professor Hausser, please."

"Who's calling?"

"Carlo Cipriani."

"Carlo! It's Berta! How are you?" the woman responded delightedly.

"Berta, dear, how nice to hear you! How are you? And your husband and children?"

"We're all fine, thank you—dying to see you. It's been three years, Carlo! Father talks about you as if you were here yesterday."

"Oh, Berta, I'd love to see you all again as well—you know you have an open invitation to stay with me in Rome." Carlo paused and lowered his voice, allowing the urgency he felt to come through. "Listen, is your father in?"

"Yes, I'll put him on now. Are you all right?"

"Yes, my dear, I'm fine. I just wanted to speak to your father a moment."

"Here he is. Take care, Carlo."

"Ciao, bella."

The rich baritone of Hans Hausser came on the line within seconds. "Carlo . . ."

"Hans! He's alive!"

There was a long silence. Then Hans finally spoke.

"Where is he?"

"Here, in Rome. I found him by accident, reading the newspaper. Look, go online right now and read any Italian newspaper, the Culture section. You'll see for yourself."

Carlo's explanation was accompanied by a series of rapid keyboard clicks on the other end of the phone. "I'll hire an agency to keep him under surveillance," Carlo added. "They'll follow him anywhere he goes, even if he leaves Rome. We all have to meet. I just called Mercedes, and I'll call Bruno now."

"I'm coming to Rome."

"I'm not sure it's a good idea for us to be seen together here. Perhaps somewhere else . . ."

"Why not? He's there and we have to do it. We're going to do it. Finally."

"I know, and we will. I'll do it myself if I have to. Or we'll find someone to do it for us. I've thought about this moment my entire life, Hans—how it will happen, how it will feel. My conscience is at peace, but I wonder if it will remain that way."

"That, my friend, we will know when it's over. May God forgive us, or at least understand us—"
A shrill chirp interrupted Hans' words. "Hold on, Hans, my cell phone is ringing." Carlo picked up his cell and looked at the small screen. "It's Bruno. I'll call you back. . . . Bruno!"

"Carlo," said the taut voice.

"I was about to call you."

"Mercedes just did—is it true?"

"It's true."

"Then I'm leaving for Rome right away—I'll book the next plane out of Vienna. Where shall we meet?"

"Bruno, wait—"

"No, I'm not going to wait. I've waited for more than sixty years, and if he's finally turned up, I won't wait a minute longer. I want to be there when it happens, Carlo."

"You will be. . . . All right, come to Rome. We'll all meet here together. I'll call Mercedes and Hans again."

"Mercedes has already left for the airport; I'll leave here in an hour. Tell Hans."

"I will," said Carlo. He opened his desk drawer and took out a bag of fine pipe tobacco. "Come to my house," he said as he hung up the phone and turned to his computer to pull up the number of the president of Security Investigations.
***

It was midday. He still had time, he thought, to go by the clinic and have his secretary reschedule all his appointments. His oldest son, Antonino, was already tending to most of his patients by now, but some old friends insisted that Carlo and Carlo alone pronounce the official word on the state of their health. He had no complaints about that; it kept him active and forced him to contemplate yet again each day the mysterious machinery of the human body.

He hailed a taxi, and then as he sat back for the short ride to his office he felt a sharp pain in his chest. No, not the warning of a heart attack; it was anguish, pain—and rage at a God whom he didn't believe in yet pra...

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