Image by © Schoyen Collection
The Q Document had tantalized Biblical scholars, theologians, and treasure hunters for centuries. Did the document exist or was it just one of many hoaxes? Skeptics, those people who would lose the most if a new discovery challenged church doctrines, denied the possibility that any document had preceded the Four Gospels about the life of Jesus. But the dreamers, the ones who were always looking for new evidence, hoped that the document might include the missing eighteen years of Jesus' life between age twelve and age thirty when he began his ministry.
Dr. Winston Arthur, Professor of Religious Archaeology, had been one of the pursuers of the legendary document, delving into the nefarious world of the international antiquities trade, often clashing with moneyed power brokers. Winston believed that the Q Document not only existed, but it would drastically alter conventional Christianity.
He didn't want the Q Document for fame and fortune. He wanted to resurrect his faith, to redeem his lifelong belief that something enormously essential had been left out of the Bible, and that omission had been the greatest betrayal of all. The Q Document would prove him right.
Tired from sitting too long, he stretched his tall, spindly body of sixty-eight, and rubbed his watery eyes. He was losing his silky white hair and his eyesight, but he hadn't lost any of his marbles, still feisty and irreverent, still erudite and insufferable. In spite of his irascible temperament, he was considered, reluctantly by his peers, a legend in the world of Biblical scholarship.
He had spent the entire day in his two-story townhouse communicating off and on with a mysterious person on the internet. After extensive questioning, Winston was convinced that the man or woman, known only as X, owned the Q Document. During the afternoon, Winston emailed his daughter the exciting news: "I have found the Q Document!"
After hours without eating, he went downstairs and into the kitchen and prepared a microwave dinner. The phone jingled. Thinking it was his daughter, he picked up.
"Gwen, have you read your email? Isn't it wonderful?"
"This isn't Gwen. This is X."
Winston felt a chill rush through his body, and he shivered. His knees buckled, and he sat down on a kitchen chair. X was a man. For days, he and X had traded emails about Q, always keeping their identities a secret. How had the mystery man acquired his phone number? A tangle of mixed emotions filled him with doubts about his source. Dealing with a stranger could be very dangerous. He thought he could avoid conspiratorial entanglements, but now he knew he had been naive.
"If you are X, describe what we've been talking about."
"We have been talking about the Q Document."
The quicksand of doubt invaded Winston once more. He fought a wave of depression. So many leads had been futile. Why did he keep trying?
"Okay, you're X. Why are you calling me? Why not email like always?"
"My email has been hacked. He knows my identity and where I live. Worst of all, he's read our emails. I'm afraid for my life. Bring me one-hundred thousand Euros and the manuscript is yours. It's a matter or life and death. You must believe me."
Winston recognized the panic and fear in his voice. He knew he could withdraw that amount from the Society's account since he was the leader. It was a gamble he was willing to take.
"When can I see the manuscript?"
"You'll bring the money? Tomorrow? I must have the money tomorrow. Cash, nothing else."
"All right. Tomorrow. Where are you?"
The man told him, speaking English with a pronounced German accent. Winston committed his name and location to memory and hung up. He climbed the steps to the second floor and stopped in the hallway leading to his office. He took a pen from his shirt pocket and scribbled the name and location near the ceiling on the faded wallpaper using the ancient language of his ancestors.
He continued into his cluttered office and sat behind the desk. The desktop couldn't hold another item without falling onto the floor. His pulse was still elevated at the thought of acquiring the Q Document.
Two hours passed as he continued to think about what he was getting into. More than one treasure hunter had been murdered poking their nose into unknown places. One of his best friends had gone to Egypt and simply disappeared.
A sound from downstairs interrupted his thoughts. A foreboding dread of expectation invaded him. Someone was climbing the stairs. Twilight had filtered into the flat and the light was fading fast. Two ominous silhouettes appeared in the doorway, one at a time. They wore ski masks. One was medium height, but the other man's head almost touched the ceiling. He was forced to duck entering the room. Winston froze.
The smaller man, Winston assumed to be the leader, spoke in a voice barely heard but with perfect diction.
"Good evening, Dr. Arthur. I'm so glad we caught you at home. I say, you look rather anemic. Have you tried vitamins?"
"What do you want? I don't have any money here."
The leader's voice remained calm, almost soothing. "You know what I want. Don't play dumb. I have intercepted the email you sent to your daughter."
Winston failed to control his trembling hands. "I don't know what you're talking about. You must be mistaken. We don't see each other any more."
"Don't lie, Dr. Arthur. Make it easy on yourself. I know you've found the Q document. So, if you're allergic to pain, I suggest you hand it over, and we'll be on our merry way."
Winston felt a debilitating vise-like pain grab his chest, and he struggled to breathe deeply.
"I don't have it."
The leader's voice increased in volume becoming slightly irritated. Monster man took a menacing step closer.
"I don't think you'd lie to your daughter. My associate is prepared to kick some serious gluteus maximus."
Winston tried to anticipate the monster's next move. A strange sensation of impending death overpowered him. He had never been so afraid in his life.
"It was a figure of speech. I don't actually have it."
The monster, having received a nudge from the leader, moved to the edge of the desk and hovered over Winston. He raised an arm that looked more like a guillotine ready to drop. Winston ducked and whimpered.
"Don't hurt me. Please, don't hurt me."
"I'm known," the leader said, "for my patience, so I"ll give you ten seconds to tell me."
Winston imagined the enormous strength the monster possessed. And the leader's voice had increased in volume, a growing threat that couldn't be denied. There were no delusions about that. This wasn't a Shakespearean play in which his daughter often played a part.
His pulse quickened as ten seconds passed. An anvil of chest pain sent a paralyzing numbness down his left arm all the way to his thumb. He feared that his pacemaker had failed.
The leader said, "Time's up. If you yell for help, I'm afraid my friend will get upset. I won't ask you again. Give me the Q Document."
Paralyzing panic invaded every part of Winston's body. Suddenly, he lunged for the side of the desk opposite monster, but he tripped and fell. He crawled to the other side of it and curled up into the fetal position. His vision blurred, and he felt dizzy, as he crumbled into absolute terror.
"Help me! Somebody help me!"
"All right, pick him up. We'll have to take him to the warehouse so the neighbors won"t hear him screaming."
Winston recoiled as the monster picked him up like an empty briefcase and flipped him up and over his right shoulder. They headed downstairs and through the kitchen toward the back yard and the garage. Winston hyperventilated and went limp. The monster lowered him to the floor and spoke for the first time.
"I think he died."
The leader bent over and felt his pulse.
"No, he's alive. But he's going to wish he was dead within the hour."