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FROM USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR J. ROBERT KENNEDY
THE GREATEST ArchaeoLOGICAL DISCOVERY SINCE KING TUT'S TOMB IS ABOUT TO BE DESTROYED!
The Arab Spring has happened and Egypt has yet to calm down, but with the dig site on the edge of the Nubian Desert, a thousand miles from the excitement, Professor Laura Palmer and her fiancé Professor James Acton return with a group of students, and two friends: Interpol Special Agent Hugh Reading, and Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Martin Chaney. It's work for the professors and their students, and a vacation for the two law enforcement officers, but as Reading quickly discovers, he and the desert don't mix, and Chaney is preoccupied with a message he has been asked to deliver to the professor by his masters in the Triarii.
But an accidental find by Chaney may lead to the greatest archaeological discovery since the tomb of King Tutankhamen, perhaps even greater. And when news of it spreads, it reaches the ears of a group hell-bent on the destruction of all idols and icons, their mere existence considered blasphemous to Islam.
As chaos hits the major cities of the world in a coordinated attack, unbeknownst to the professors, students and friends, they are about to be faced with one of the most difficult decisions of their lives.
Stay and protect the greatest archaeological find of our times, or save themselves and their students from harm, leaving the find to be destroyed by fanatics determined to wipe it from the history books.
From USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy comes The Arab Fall, the sixth entry in the smash hit James Acton Thrillers series, where Kennedy once again takes events from history and today's headlines, and twists them into a heart pounding adventure filled with humor and heartbreak, as one of their own is left severely wounded, fighting for their life.
"James Acton: A little bit of Jack Bauer and Indiana Jones!"
Though this book is part of the James Acton Thrillers series, it is written as a standalone novel and can be enjoyed without having read any of the previous installments.
With over 800,000 books sold and over 3000 five-star reviews, USA Today bestselling author J. Robert Kennedy has been ranked by Amazon as the #1 Bestselling Action Adventure novelist based upon combined sales. He is the author of over thirty international bestsellers including the smash hit James Acton Thrillers. He lives with his wife and daughter and writes full-time.
"A master storyteller." — Betty Richard
"A writer who tells what we are thinking but sometimes afraid to say." — Bruce Ford
"Kennedy kicks ass in this genre." — David Mavity
"One of the best writers today." — Johnny Olsen
"If you want fast and furious, if you can cope with a high body count, most of all if you like to be hugely entertained, then you can't do much better than J Robert Kennedy." — Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer
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The Protocol Brass Monkey Broken Dove The Templar's Relic Flags of Sin The Arab Fall The Circle of Eight The Venice Code Pompeii's Ghosts Amazon Burning The Riddle Blood Relics Sins of the Titanic Saint Peter's Soldiers The Thirteenth Legion Raging Sun Wages of Sin Wrath of the Gods The Templar's Revenge
Rogue Operator Containment Failure Cold Warriors Death to America Black Widow The Agenda Retribution
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“All Muslims are charged with applying the teachings of Islam to remove such idols, as we did in Afghanistan when we destroyed the Buddha statues. God ordered Prophet Mohammed to destroy idols. When I was with the Taliban we destroyed the statue of Buddha, something the government failed to do.”
Sheikh Murgan Salem al-Gohary, Dream TV2 Interview Nov 10, 2012
“Egypt’s Justice and Development for Human Rights warned against the ongoing incitements from a large number of men of the Islamic religion to destroy the Pyramids and other Pharaonic antiquities, deeming them pagan symbols of pre-Islamic Egypt…. these calls have greatly increased after the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Dr. Muhammad Morsi.”
One of the most famous figures in history is Cleopatra. Much is known of her as she was the last Pharaoh to lead her kingdom, and died at a time where Roman culture kept written records of events that shed much light upon her.
We know much. She was born Cleopatra VII Philopator in Alexandria, Egypt, in 69 BC. She was married three times, the first two times to her brothers, as was Egyptian custom, then finally to the Roman Mark Antony, a romance that inspires to this day. Before Antony, she famously consummated a relationship with Julius Caesar himself, producing a son Ptolemy Caesar, nicknamed Caesarion (literally translated as Little Caesar). She also had three children with Antony.
Cleopatra was not truly Egyptian. Alexander the Great, a Greek, conquered Egypt, and after his death, Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemaic dynasty. This dynasty famously refused to learn Egyptian, speaking only Greek. Cleopatra changed that however. She learned Egyptian, embraced its ancient culture, and declared herself the reincarnation of the goddess Isis, a popular figure throughout Egyptian history. After her death, her son Caesarion was named Pharaoh by his supporters, but he was promptly put to death on Octavian’s orders, Egypt subsequently becoming a Roman province.
There are several versions of Cleopatra’s death claimed by history, however whether or not it was one snake or two, or whether she was bitten on the arm or the breast, are irrelevant. She died by her own doing, willingly. One misconception is that she was killed by an asp. Asps were not indigenous to Egypt, however the belief today is that all poisonous snakes, including king cobras, were called asps. It would make sense that a king cobra was used, as this creature held an important place in Egyptian culture. The famous death masks we are so used to seeing, the most recognizable perhaps the blue and gold mask of King Tutankhamen, actually represents a king cobra, the ridge of gold and blue surrounding the face the hood of the snake.
Cleopatra’s death is documented, the date, August 12, 30 BC is known, and it is accepted she was entombed with her beloved Antony.
What is not known is where they were buried, and why we have been unable to find the tomb of the most famous, and most recent, of all the Pharaohs.
Liberty Island, New York, New York Today
Randy Douglas sipped his Diet Coke through the too narrow straw that seemed to turn every drag into a fizzy mess of bubbles rather than the cool treat it should have been. It was always disappointing when that happened, and he never went back to a place a second time if it did. But here he had no choice. This was where he worked, and every time he bought his lunch with fountain drink, he’d comment to the staff member about the straws to no avail.
Maybe someday they’ll listen.
He popped the top off the drink, setting the plastic rim and offending straw to the side, instead drinking directly from the cup as he finished his cheeseburger and fries. Sitting at the far corner of the patio overlooking the bay, he watched the Liberty Island ferry approach, a sight he had seen hundreds of times before, over hundreds of lunches.
Lunches that were none too healthy.
He patted his paunch, something he never thought he would let happen, but since retiring from the New York Police Department after thirty years of service, he had gone shack whacky at home with his wife, so decided he had to work in order to stay sane and save his marriage. A friend had hooked him up in this cushy gig as a security guard with the US Park Police.
He eyeballed four men walking off the ferry, his cop instincts kicking in. They appeared Middle Eastern, their faces cleanly shaven, and wearing the latest Western fashions, they shouldn’t have stuck out. But they did. Perhaps it was the fact they weren’t smiling, but that wasn’t it.
Randy took a sip from his open cup, and watched as the four men stepped off the dock and onto the red stone walkway that ringed the island. The four turned to the right, walking along the edge of the seawall, and it wasn’t until he saw the group break away from the throng that he realized what had made him single them out.
And no, it wasn’t their assumed religion.
It was that they were four single men, all with the same ethnicity, not smiling, and walking separately. He had seen enough crimes go down in his career to know to look for groups of people who were together, but weren’t. Those not good at it were too obvious. They kept checking their speed so they wouldn’t catch up, they’d stop when another would stop. It could be quite comical sometimes, if it weren’t for the fact you knew they were about to commit a crime, but couldn’t do anything about it until they had actually begun.
What a screwed up justice system we have.
Catch them on the way to the act, with paraphernalia, weapons and tools of the trade, they get a slap on the wrist so they can go off and do it again. Catch them in the act, they could go away for life. Why not treat the two crimes equally? If they’ve got the plans to the bank, the equipment to crack the vault, and the guns to hold the hostages, charge them as if they had robbed the bank rather than the intent to rob.
But he was just a cop.
Emphasis on was.
He stood up and tossed his trash into the bin, holding onto his half-full cup, the ice cold beverage still cooling him on this hot spring day. It was gorgeous, perfectly blue skies, only a slight haze from the polluted city today, the air smelling fresh and crisp, everything in bloom with new life all over the island. Walking past the stark white gift shop, he slowly closed the distance between him and the four men, four men who seemed to have no interest in Lady Liberty. Where almost every head was turned up to gape at the 151 foot high statue atop its nearly equally high base, theirs were all turned to the right, looking out at the bay.
He looked as well, but noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Pleasure craft, commercial vessels, ferries. Nothing that seemed odd to him. He looked back at the group, and nearly froze, his mind fighting its natural instinct to flee. But he pushed through it, his pace barely slowing at the sight of a group of four men leaning on the railing that surrounded the island, and a third group of four men slowly approaching from the opposite direction. All Middle Eastern, all well dressed, all cleanly shaven.
These two new groups were not on the ferry he had just watched arrive with the first group, so must have come in on earlier arrivals before his lunch.
Twelve men, all, in his mind, acting suspicious.
But was it just his cynical cop mind assuming crimes where none were? Life on Liberty Island was boring, the biggest thing he had to deal with was tourists angry about line ups.
No, this was different.
Twelve men, all converged on the south side of the massive structure, all pretending to not be together, not one of them within five feet of another, all leaning on the railing, looking casually out at the bay.
I’m calling this in.
He pulled his radio off his belt and clicked the Push-to-talk button.
“This is Douglas, I’ve got a possible situation in Sector Six, on the south side walkway, requesting backup, over.”
The mike squawked, then he heard his asshole supervisor’s voice come over the radio. Great, here we go again. Randy couldn’t stand this guy, and the feeling was mutual. Pete Yakovski seemed to hate anyone who had been on the force, and after some digging, Randy had found out why. Yakovski had applied, and been rejected, numerous times, once even making it into training which he failed.
But somehow the United States Park Police had hired him at arguably one of the most significant national monuments in the country. And he had worked his way up to shift supervisor.
“What is it this time, somebody littering, over?”
Randy felt his blood boil as his face and ears burned red. He sucked in a deep breath, all the way to the bottom of his stomach, then slowly exhaled.
“I have twelve, say again, twelve, Middle Eastern men acting in a suspicious manner, over.”
There was a pause, and Yakovski’s voice seemed a little more muted. In fact, if Randy didn’t know any better, he’d say the bastard was scared.
“How are they acting suspiciously, over.”
“They didn’t arrive together, but are now all congregated in the same spot. Those that did arrive together are pretending to not know each other, and none of them are looking at the statue, they’re all looking out at the bay, over.”
“Are you kidding me? A group of tourists decide to look at the city instead of the statue for a few minutes, and you want us to arrest them? Get back to your post, you’re wasting my time, out.”
The mike went silent and Randy pressed it to his mouth. “Piss off, you arrogant, ignorant asshole, I’m still on my lunch break!”
But he hadn’t pressed the button, instead remaining content to know Yakovski was an asshole, and always would be, and that unlike Yakovski, Randy could quit at any time, this merely a hobby job.
So screw orders.
He hooked his radio on his belt, took a sip of his Diet Coke, then continued his observation of the twelve men, who he was now close enough to see were anywhere from late teens to late thirties. All in good shape.
If something does go down, you don’t stand a chance.
His finger absentmindedly flicked open the snap securing the holster of his Heckler & Koch P7M13 pistol as he drained the last of his drink, nothing left but ice in the bottom of his cup. He tossed it into a nearby garbage bin, then took position up the branch in the path leading to the northern entrance of the monument, about two hundred feet from where the first man stood. Tucked nearly out of sight, and in the shade of a large little-leaf linden tree, he waited, for what he did not know, but with the pace his heart was pumping at, he knew his subconscious was telling him it couldn’t be anything good.
And finally it began.
One of the men suddenly stood erect, then another, both looking at a specific point in the bay. Their counterparts joined them, and Randy looked to see if he could spot what they were looking at. And a good chunk of bravery was cleaved from his stomach, a pit forming that he had felt innumerous times when things were about to go down.
And he fought through it, as he did every time.
Use the fear. Let the adrenaline flow.
He knew it would heighten his senses, make him more alert, if he could only control the fuel surging through his body. He immediately began his tactical breathing techniques, sucking the air in through his nose, forcing it into his stomach, then slowly exhaling through the mouth, and repeating this several times until he had his heart rate down to near normal.
Shakey hands can’t shoot straight.
He flipped the buckle to his holster aside, lifting his weapon slightly as the sight before him unfolded.
Two boats, their sleek white hulls skipping above the waves, any safety measures useless, were racing toward the seawall that stood not fifty feet from where he was. All twelve men were standing tall now, staring at the boats as they rapidly closed the gap.
Randy activated his mike.
“This is Douglas, I’ve got two high speed boats heading toward the island, directly toward my twelve suspects. Something’s going down, we need to sound the alert, now! Over!”
“This is Yakovski. I thought I told you to return to—”
“Listen you ignorant bastard, I’m telling you a terrorist attack is about to go down. Now get your thumb out of your ass, and sound the alarm!”
The screaming engines of the boats began to ease as they powered down for the approach. Randy knew if they made the island, they wouldn’t stand a chance at stopping any attack.
So he made the decision that cops, soldiers, and everyday heroes do.
He ran toward the danger.
Rushing from his position, he raced to the seawall, drawing his weapon. He hit the guardrail and saw the two boats cutting in opposite directions, as they slid toward the wall. Each held four men, one at the helm, the rest already lifting what looked like ladders, assembling them into lengths that would easily reach the top of the fifteen foot seawall.
Randy grabbed his mike that Yakovski had been screaming threats over and pressed the button. “Two boats are now at the seawall. Eight men are assembling ladders to come ashore. I am engaging, whether your cowardly ass sends me backup or not. Out.”
He switched off the radio, flicked off his safety, and took aim at the closest boat. He sucked in a deep breath, and eased it out as he squeezed the trigger. The report was loud, and the ricochet off the hull told him he had found his target. He rapidly began to squeeze off rounds at the first boat, sending the tourists in the vicinity into a panic.
Screams filled his ears as his peripheral vision monitored the hundreds of people around him scrambling to get out of the area. A quick glance at the twelve men had them turning toward him, but not drawing weapons, the security checkpoints before getting on the ferry preventing them from bringing any firearms.
He had to stop the boats. They were obviously bringing the weapons for the group. A crackle of gunfire from the second boat sent him ducking as the seawall took several hits from the return fire. He popped up but another burst of gunfire kept him pinned.
Where the hell is the backup?
He heard someone screaming in what he assumed was Arabic, it familiar enough to his ears from the newscasts and movies. He leaned out and saw two of the men from the ferry charging his position. He took aim and squeezed twice. The first man dropped, two rounds in his chest, the other jumping over his fallen comrade’s corpse, screaming “Allahu Akbar” at the top of his lungs, his right fist raised in the air, his eyes burning embers of hate.
Randy squeezed off two more rounds, ending the charge.
He reloaded, and peered back over the edge. Ladders from both boats were against the walls, and gear was being tossed in what looked like backpacks from the boats to the top of the wall. He opened fire again, this time taking out the pilot in the first boat who had been yelling “Yalla! Yalla! Yalla!”
Randy was rewarded with another hail of gunfire that sustained itself until he heard several single shots from further down the path. The weapon assaulting his position didn’t stop, but did change direction. He popped his head up and saw the light blue uniform of one of his fellow guards drop behind the seawall as bullets tore into the stone.
He recognized her blonde hair immediately. He switched his radio back on and heard the chatter as his report was finally being taken seriously. He reloaded and peered over the edge. It looked like they were finished transferring their equipment as the men from the boats began to climb the ladders. He looked at the group that had already been on the island and they were pulling weapons from the backpacks, then racing for the base of the massive statue.
And with a sickening feeling in his stomach, he knew what they were trying to do.
He activated his mike.
“They’re going to blow up the statue!”
“Who is that? Is that you Randy? Are you okay?”
It was Yakovski, his voice actually one of believable concern.
Maybe he’s not such an asshole after all?
He pressed the button. “I’m okay. Carrie is taking fire opposite my position, two hundred yards east of me. Two boats have off-loaded a bunch of equipment. Weapons confirmed, perhaps explosives. They’re already heading for the base of the monument. I’ve taken out two of the original twelve, one of the eight new arrivals. We need the Marine Patrol Unit for the boats and SWAT now! Over!”
He squeezed off several more rounds, taking out one of the climbers, then shifted slightly and took out the gunman raining bullets on Carrie. She immediately responded by jumping up and emptying her mag at those climbing the ladder closest to her. One went down, but a burst of gunfire from the pathway was met with a cry from her and she fell out of sight.
“Carrie!” cried Randy, his chest gripping his heart tight as the young woman, full of so much promise, went down. He grabbed his mike. “Carrie’s been hit! I repeat, officer down, over!”
“Is your position secure, over?”
Randy took a look. Now that the boats were empty and the equipment transferred, he seemed to have been forgotten, all the terrorists, for that’s what they were, racial profiling be damned, were either at the star shaped base of the monument, or running toward it. He loaded his last magazine and emptied it at the men, taking three down permanently, wounding two who continued toward the wall, one limping, the other gripping his shoulder. He ejected the mag and sat down, the little alcove he was hidden in the only thing between him and certain death as bullets tore at the stone pathway, ricochets coming uncomfortably close.
“I’m out of ammo!” he yelled into his mike. “I’ve taken out three more hostiles, wounded two. By my count that’s nine down, eleven still a threat. My position is secure unless they decide to rush it. I need ammo! Over!”
“Help is on its way. Sit tight! Out.”
Randy peered around the corner and saw the last man clearing the top of the ladder, the two he had wounded lying on the ground, their weapons swinging back and forth as they looked for threats.
Randy looked over to where the voice had come from, and saw three of his comrades on their bellies, lying on the pathway leading to the entrance to the statue.
“Ammo!” he yelled.
Dick Vance, an old timer like him from the force, waved then tossed a magazine that clattered toward him, but was ten feet short. He tossed another one, harder, and this one landed within two feet of him. He reached out and grabbed the mag as bullets tore through the pathway, a shard of stone slicing through the fleshy part of his hand between his thumb and forefinger.
He loaded the mag then looked at the three men across from him.
Vance gave him the thumbs up.
“On three!” Randy flipped himself over on his knees then pushed himself to one, his kneecap protesting. “One, two, three!” He leaned out as the others jumped up, and began squeezing off rounds at the two men guarding the ladders. Within seconds it was over, the four weapons against two weakened men no match.
Randy ran toward the ladders as Vance and the other two youngsters as he liked to call them ran to join him. Screams from above told them all they needed to know as the cracks of small arms fire was met with the heavy bursts of fully automatic weapons.
Randy looked at Vance.
Vance handed him several magazines.
“Harbor Patrol is on the way, the ferry has been recalled, and we’re setting up evac points at the dock and on the north side of the island. Tourists are being moved from the monument now, but we haven’t had time to get them out. That jackass Yakovski wasted several minutes ranting about you. The damned stairwell is still full, all the way to the torch.”
“We may only have minutes.” Randy pointed at the two young men who had accompanied Vance. “Jones? Ferrero?” The men nodded. “You two ready to be heroes?”
Jones grinned. “Effin’ right we are.”
“Then get up those ladders and shoot anything that has a gun and isn’t wearing a uniform. We’ll be right behind you.”
The two men charged up the ladders, their weapons slung across their backs, as Randy and Vance followed. Shots rang out in their direction, and Randy heard one of the young men cry out, as the other returned fire. Jones fell past them and Randy reached out, grabbing him and swinging him into the ladder. The young kid grabbed on as Randy’s shoulder screamed for relief.
“You alright, kid?”
“I’ve got it,” he winced as he grabbed the rungs. Randy let go and resumed his climb, Vance already over the top. Randy reached the lip of the base and looked over. Ferrero was on his belly, firing at a group near the temporary construction stairs leading to the third level, the rest already either up the stairs or just about to be. Vance was squeezing off rounds from his pistol when Randy dropped beside him, opening fire. A burst shattered the stone in front of them, and Vance cried out, rolling over, his face bloodied where the shards had torn open the skin.
“Screw this!” cursed Ferrero as he jumped up and ran toward the position, but to the left, pouring bullets on the two terrorists, and drawing their gunfire. Randy got to his knees and took careful aim, squeezing the trigger and taking out one of the men. Lining up for his second shot, he heard Ferrero cry out, and from the corner of his eye saw him stumble and fall.
The final target was down.
He grabbed his mike and pressed the switch.
“I’ve got three men down, two on the second level, south side, one at the bottom of the base, south side. Four more terrorists are dead, but the remaining have made it to the third level. You need to empty the monument, now!”
He grabbed Vance by the jacket. “Are you okay?”
The man nodded through the blood. “I think so, just hurts like a mother. How’s it look?”
“Could be an improvement. I’ve gotta check on Ferrero.”
“Forget it. I’ll do it. You go after those bastards.”
Randy grimaced, then nodded. He pulled two magazines from Vance’s vest, then ran toward the steps as his friend, grunting behind him, rose to his feet. Randy reached the steps leading up the side of the monument to the next level, the shouts in Arabic distinct, the gunfire unfortunately stopped, indicating they were meeting no resistance.
And he knew his old legs weren’t going to get him up two levels of these steps in time. Sirens had his head spinning to his right and he could see several boats of the harbor patrol arriving at least giving Randy the satisfaction that these men weren’t going to get away with what they had planned. They’d be caught.
The thought sickened him, but he knew he was right. They had no intention of getting away with it. They intended to die for their cause, martyr themselves for entry into a twisted sexual paradise designed to urge young horny males living in repressed societies to die young for their god so they could access some booty.
Where do the female martyrs go?
He pushed himself up the last few steps, but there was no one there to engage, the last man clearing the second level and disappearing from sight. Finally a burst of gunfire, but it was short-lived, and he had no doubt one of his comrades was now dead.
Randy gasped with each step he took toward the next set of steps, his thighs screaming in agony as he pushed himself to continue. He hit the first step, cursing his age, cursing the sedentary lifestyle he had pretty much adopted since retirement, and swore when he got home today, he would hug his wife, call his daughter as he did every Thursday night, then hit the treadmill.
He heard shouts behind him and a quick glance showed a SWAT team rushing down the path, too far behind to be of any help.
If only that asshole Yakovski had called it in.
As he pushed himself up the steps, one at a time, his hands on his legs, pushing with them, he took a glance up at the most gorgeous woman in his life, save his wife and daughter—Lady Liberty. She stood proudly, arm raised in the air proclaiming the ideals of her country. Made in France by French artisans over a nine year period, then transported in pieces across the ocean, it took two additional years to raise the money to build the base she now stood on, and once erected, she became the symbol, the beacon, that tugged on the heartstrings of every modern American, and drew every immigrant who graced her shores with dreams of those ideals.
Freedom and democracy for all. A place where dreams could come true with hard work, where no man could blame his country for his failures, only himself, a beacon to the world of what could be accomplished if men and women were given the freedom to do what they wanted, when the wanted, with whom they wanted.
And proof of this philosophy stood over his right shoulder, one of the richest, freest cities in the world, in a country that in just two centuries had surpassed all others despite many with histories in the thousands of years.
And this beacon that soared above him in her own adopted home, had inspired him every day of his life growing up and working in New York City, and there was no way in Hell he was going to let her fall.
He pushed the last few steps, and saw the entrance that stood at her south side, unguarded, the shouts inside echoing up and down her copper structure, the screams of trapped tourists inside heart wrenching as the high pitched cries of women and children sometimes drowned out the shouts in Arabic.
He nearly crawled toward the entrance, his legs flaming piles of meat that barely functioned, his hands barely off the ground as he gasped for breath, his weapon, still gripped tightly in his hand, dragging on the stone. Stumbling the last few feet, he willed himself upright, taking a deep breath and pushing the pain to the back of his mind, instead focusing on the job ahead.
The shouts behind him told him the young legs of the SWAT team were closing in quickly, but they were still too far behind. He was the only one here, the only one who could stop what was about to happen. He stepped into the doorway, and he heard the most chilling two words he would ever hear in person shouted by one, then echoed by many.
God is great!
Randy felt his chest tighten as a rumbling sound rolled from the structure, his feet beginning to shake as the entire edifice began to vibrate, then a screeching sound, like a beast from the seventh level of Hell had escaped its confines, tore open his ears as at least a dozen deafening blasts followed each other in rapid succession, and as Randy continued into the entrance, he saw a wall of dust and fire rush toward him. He squeezed his eyes shut, raising his hands to protect himself, and began to turn.
But it was futile.
The blast wave, augmented by the confined space, shoved him off his feet, sending his body soaring through the air, the feeling oddly curious. He should be terrified, he should be in pain, but he felt nothing, his vision filled with the rapidly shrinking monument, her torch held high, her face looking down at him with an expression of pride in what he had tried to do for her, and sympathy for what was to become of him.
Tears filled his eyes as he saw the dust and debris from the blast exploding from every opening in the base and the old lady herself. He hit the water hard, his breath knocked from him. Quickly he began to sink and it took him a few moments to realize what was happening. Kicking with his legs, he slowly worked his way to the surface, but something was wrong. He was reaching up with his arms to help, but he wasn’t seeing his right hand. Looking over at his shoulder, he gasped. His right arm was gone, nothing but a bloody stump remained. He shouted in panic, expending his air, then stopped, kicking even harder, his still exhausted legs working on the last bit of adrenaline his body could muster.
He broke the surface and sucked in a deep breath, trying to stabilize himself as he strained to reacquire Lady Liberty in his sights. He turned around and saw her, still standing, hand defiantly in the air, and he smiled.
Something was wrong. She didn’t look like she should, she didn’t look like she had for the fifty plus years he had been looking at her from every angle imaginable.
She was leaning to the left. His left, her right. And she continued to lean. He gasped as the elaborate stone pedestal she stood on crumbled on its western side, and she tumbled over, the cries of the metal and stonework painstakingly constructed by stonemasons and metalworkers over a century ago failing under the awesome power of modern explosives, carried by fanatics hell bent on destroying the very way of life she represented.
And they had succeeded in their mission.
To destroy the symbol that most truly represented America.
He sobbed as the mighty lady crashed into the ground in a pile of dust, her defiant torch, held to light the way of millions who had come to our shores, disappearing as Randy sank beneath the waves, his attempt to save her a failure, and his will to live, gone.
Alexandria, Egypt 11 August, 30 BC
She gripped her pillow tightly, sobbing as she had never sobbed before, the heartache she felt all-consuming, the thought of going on without her beloved Antony unimaginable. She knew now how he had felt when she had lied, sending word to him that she had died. It had been a desperate act, one born from fear after their forces had deserted them and joined Octavian’s forces against her darling Antony, fear that her beloved would think that she, Cleopatra, had betrayed him, and would have her killed.
What a fool she had been.
Her dear Antony, upon hearing the lie repeated by her messenger, overcome by grief, stabbed himself in the stomach with his own sword. And if her messenger was to be believed, he lay on his couch, crying out her name, praying to the gods to deliver him from this wretched place and back into her loving arms in the afterlife. And when his prayers went unanswered, and he continued to slowly bleed out, death escaping him still, he begged his servants and friends to finish him off, but none had the courage nor the will.
Her messenger had fled, bringing her word of his actions, and she had immediately returned him with orders to bring her dying Antony to her sanctuary. She smiled at the remembrance recounted to her by her messenger, of how Antony had apparently reacted to the news she was alive. Smiles and laughter, thanks to the gods, then demands he be taken to her immediately.
But with Octavian’s treacherous forces so close, she hadn’t trusted the party that had arrived, and rather than welcome him with open arms, ordered her handmaidens to lower ropes to him through the window of her bedchamber so that if it were a ruse, the ropes could be cut, and the perpetrator’s skull cracked open upon the rocks below. The act of being hauled up the side of the building had nearly killed her love, but her warrior had hung on, long enough for them to kiss once again, and as she saw how horribly mutilated he was, she had torn her clothes off, covering his shivering body, then tore at her own in anger, for she knew she was the one to blame.
“Stop, my love,” he had said.
“But why? It is my fault you have done this to yourself. It was my lie, from my lips, repeated by my messenger, that caused you the grief you suffered. The grief that caused you to do this!” she cried, pointing at his wound.
“But it is my grief no longer. To know you are alive, to know you will survive, is all this man’s heart needs to go on. I may die here today, but our love is eternal, a flame never to be snuffed by the treacheries of others, a bond that will continue after our deaths and into the afterlife, forever at each other’s side, forever as one, I Caesar, you my Queen, for eternity.”
He winced, and she rushed to his side, her tirade of self-pity over.
“Wine,” he gasped, and she motioned for one of her handmaidens to fulfill the request. Cleopatra sat on the couch, lifting his head gently into her lap, tears rolling down her cheeks and onto her bosom, dignity no longer something she cared about, her grief overtaking her, for she knew her lover was about to die.
The wine arrived, she held it to his lips, and he drank it thirstily at first, then with each sip, slightly weaker, until finally his lips drew no more, and he sighed one final time, looking into her eyes, his own filled with tears, as a weak smile looked up at her. She caressed his cheek, wiping away a tear that had escaped, and returned his smile.
“I love you, my darling.”
“And I you,” he whispered, his eyes closing, his smile waning, and his body going slack in her arms.
“No!” she screamed, dropping her face to his, pressing her lips against his forehead, holding him tighter than she could remember doing before, as her handmaidens rushed to her side, comforting her and urging her away from the corpse that now lay in her lap. She fought them off, refusing to let go, and it was hours before she finally could be convinced to release him.
And with one last kiss, she whispered in his ear, “I shall be with you soon, my love.”
But it wasn’t to be. The treacherous Octavian had captured her in her mausoleum in the middle of her grief, and ordered his freedman Epaphroditus to guard her lest she should attempt suicide. It was her final defeat. Her armies were wiped out or had deserted her, her lover was gone, dead by her own words, and now she, in a final act of humiliation, was being denied her right to suicide, her right to reunite with her lover, and instead, if she knew Octavian, would be paraded through the streets of Rome, humiliated before the masses, then condemned to either a life of isolation, or worse, torture.
And she was determined not to let that happen.
She let go of her pillow and sat up in her bed, causing the ever alert Epaphroditus to rise as well.
“Can I get you anything?” he asked, always the model of politeness.
He nodded, exiting the room and whispering something to the Roman Centurion standing outside. Within moments her handmaidens arrived, rushing to her side, one brushing her hair, another wiping her face of her tears, another straightening her clothes.
It was her trusted confidante, touching up her face, that she whispered her orders to. And as she hoped, the young girl gave no indication she had even heard the horrific directions, other than to make momentary eye contact.
Cleopatra stood up, her entourage scurrying with a flick of her wrist, her plan set in motion.
Residence of Queen’s Preferred Goldsman, Alexandria 11 August, 30 BC
“Your Queen needs you.”
Tarik’s eyebrows shot up, the hooded man who stood in the doorway at first thought to be a beggar, was anything but, the quality of his robes dismissing the very idea. He stepped over the threshold and into the luxurious home of one of Alexandria’s greatest goldsmen, and one of several personal jewelers to the Queen.
Tarik regarded the man skeptically. How can I possibly help the Queen? She’s a prisoner of that pile of camel dung Octavian! He looked at the man again, but all details were hidden by the robes that covered him from head to toe.
Suddenly the man flipped the hood back, and all doubt was removed, the royal markings painted on his face, the necklace that adorned his neck made by Tarik himself.
He bowed, deeply, to this stranger.
“How may I be of assistance to my Queen?”
“Her majesty requires two king cobras to be delivered to her chambers tomorrow morning.”
Two king cobras?
Tarik’s mind raced as he tried to imagine what she could possibly want them for. They were deadly, terribly deadly, just one bite would kill a man. It would be a slow death, but painless, the venom first paralyzing the eyes, then the body, so nothing would be felt as the heart stopped beating, and the body slowly starved itself of oxygen.
Then he smiled.
A fitting way to strike back at Octavian, who no doubt entered her chambers unannounced, unwanted, to gloat at his victory over her and the great Antony.
If she could have one of the cobras strike him, he would be dead, and even if she were killed, she would have the satisfaction of knowing her enemy died first.
It was an incredible plan, but how he could possibly help her execute it eluded him. He said as much to the messenger.
“Your brothers are farmers?”
“Suppliers of the royal household?”
“Each day you deliver, among other things, a basket of figs to her majesty?”
“Yes, yes I believe they do.”
Tarik wasn’t involved in the deliveries, but he remembered his brothers mentioning it once that the Queen had a love of the chewy treat when in season.
“Place the snakes in the basket, pile the figs on top. Once delivered, we will take care of the rest.”