Excerpt from The Samson Effect
THE FAT MAN’S skin glistened in the noonday sun. Dirty children ran around him, some kicking a ball, others darting up to the merchants’ stands, fingering through trinkets until the bearded owners shooed them away. All around the fat man came the sounds of honking cars, children’s playful screams, and men calling out for buyers to purchase their wares. The fat man was burning up in his long-sleeved shirt and khaki pants, but better to suffer the burning temperature than have his pinkish white skin fry under the oppressive rays of the sun.
He removed his hat and mopped his brow with his sleeve, then continued his shopping expedition. As he passed by the street vendors, his eyes caught one particular object being peddled by a thin, wrinkled man. He walked to the booth and picked up a piece of parchment, worn in the weather of time. The ancient Hebrew text was remarkably well preserved. As he glanced over the parchment, he interpreted some of the words he knew from his limited vocabulary. King David, Mighty Strength, and Lord’s Protector. The symbol he saw at the bottom sent chills through his overheated body.
The fat man forgot his discomfort as well as his shopping errand as he fumbled with his cell phone. The old man behind the merchandise asked, “You like? Fifty dollars.” The fat man held up one pudgy finger, prompting the old man to wait.
When the call connected, the fat man could hardly control his excitement. “Doctor, I may have found it … Yes! Yes! Please come quickly; there may be more here.” The fat man gave directions and then disconnected the call. His eyes darted from left to right as he found a seat in the shade of the thatch-covered booth. His hands clung to the parchment.
“Fifty dollars. Very old, very valuable. Fifty dollars.”
The fat man smiled, nodded, and held up one finger. His hands trembled as he scanned the parchment. Behind him, the old merchant shouted and a twelve-year-old boy came running. The old man leaned down and whispered into his ear. The boy nodded and ran off into the crowd of shoppers.
The fat man looked at the old merchant, who returned his gaze with a smile. He turned to see the boy run up to an armed Palestinian soldier and gesture wildly with animated hands. The soldier looked at the fat man and then took out a radio and spoke into it.
The fat man began to perspire more. He glanced at his watch and then down to his cell phone. “C’mon doctor, hurry up.”
Two more soldiers joined the other and the three stood there staring at him. Behind, he saw a cloud of dust rising in the air and made out the doctor’s black sedan racing toward him. He slumped in his chair and exhaled a pent-up sigh.
A few minutes later, the sedan pulled to a screeching halt. Dr. Michael Sieff flew from the driver’s door. He was the complete opposite of the fat man: slender, tall, and he had a rich, deep color that betrayed the hours he spent working in the sun. The only physical trait the two men shared was their thick, black, curly hair. Michael left the car door open in his haste and ran up to the fat man. “Caleb, what did you find?”
Caleb extended his hand and gave Michael the parchment. The doctor read it with lightning-quick expertise and smiled. “This is it, my friend. Yahweh must have led you to it.” He reached over and patted Caleb on the head.
“Fifty dollars. Very rare.”
Michael looked to the old merchant and smiled. “I’ll give you twenty.” After haggling back and forth a few times, they agreed on thirty-five American dollars. As Michael reached into his pocket for his wallet, he heard a hissing crack and felt something flick onto his face. He turned to the wooden post next to him and rubbed his fingers over the hole.
He spun around to Caleb. “Quickly, get in the car—” His words lodged in his throat. Caleb was slumped in the chair, staring at him with wide eyes and blood from the bullet hole in his forehead running down his face. Michael froze. “No,” he whispered. Another bullet whistled past him, waking him from his trance.
He thrust the parchment into his pocket and ran toward his car. A spray of bullets from a machine gun cut off his path, forcing him to dart into the throng of people doing their daily shopping. The machine gun sent panicked people screaming and running in all directions. Michael turned to see his assailants, but the chaotic crowd made it impossible. He heard another stuttering crack of gunfire and ran deeper into the crowd.
At the far end of the row of merchants, he saw two men dressed in Western suits point in his direction and begin wading their way through the crowd. He turned, only to find two more men brandishing guns and moving toward him. He removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his eyes, looking for any hope of escape. By now, the crowd around him began to thin as men, women, and children ran for safety from the flying bullets, clearing a path for his assailants. Beyond the market, the soldiers stood rigid, watching the unfolding action but not attempting to intervene or join in the action.
Michael knew he was out of options. There was nowhere to run, no place to hide from these murderers. He bowed his head and raised his hands in defeat. The armed men encircled him, training their sights on him. Michael slowly looked up and turned in a circle to see the open barrels of eight machine guns staring back at him. He almost laughed aloud, knowing one wrong move from him would mean his death, but these idiots would also take out at least half of each other in the process.
As he finished his circle, a smiling, pepper-gray-haired Palestinian led a small, well-dressed band of men into the circle of guns. He walked up to Michael with a smile etched on his face. “Dr. Sieff, my apologies if any of my men may have gotten a little excited. I meant for them to know I only wanted to talk with you, not kill you.”
The smug look on the Palestinian’s face infuriated Michael. He looked off into the distance to see the soldiers watching, content to keep their distance. He twisted out his own smile. “No offense taken, Azim.” He nodded at the eight machine guns trained on him. “Mind calling off your dogs?” The gunmen grunted and shoved their weapons closer to him.
Azim ordered his men to ease back and he stepped up to Michael. As if it was an afterthought, he smiled and said, “Oh, I’m sorry about Caleb.”
Michael couldn’t control the muscles in his face from tightening. He felt the blood and heat rush to his face. Tempted to wrap his fingers around Azim’s neck in spite of the men who would love any opportunity to riddle his body with bullets, he instead hacked up the vilest substance he could and spit it on Azim’s leather shoes. For the first time since their encounter, the smile faded from Azim’s face. With lightning-quick reflexes, Azim grabbed him by the shoulders and forced him down as a knee sunk into his stomach, knocking the wind out of him. Michael collapsed to the ground, struggling to suck in air. A leather shoe appeared next to his face and wiped itself clean on his cheek. A few moments later, he felt himself being jerked to his feet, supported on each arm by two of the machine-gun-toting dogs.
Azim grabbed Michael by the chin. “Dr. Sieff, I was hoping we could be civil toward each other, but now I can see that’ll be impossible.” He squeezed his fingers around Michael’s chin, and then let go. “Now, the parchment, please.”
Michael rolled his eyes, still struggling to take breaths. “I … I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Azim never broke his gaze, but a slight nod of his head sent one of his men rifling through Michael’s pockets. The man pulled out a parchment and handed it to Azim.
Azim finally broke his gaze from Michael and read over the parchment. His expression remained chiseled with angry disappointment. “What is this?”
Michael silently stared at him.
“This is nothing more than a fragment of a recipe.”
Michael’s breath had started to return to him. “I didn’t have a chance to look at it before being shot at.” Icy contempt shot daggers from his eyes. “I hope the life of a good man was worth it.”
Michael saw the blood vessels building on Azim’s forehead and neck. In an even, graveled voice, Azim said, “The Samson Effect is mine. I warn you, stay away from it or you’ll be reunited with that good man.”
Azim gave the order and everyone retreated, leaving Michael alone. Shoppers cautiously returned to their activities, and children once again began playing in the streets. The soldiers resumed their watch, and Michael heard merchants crying out for buyers.
He dusted himself off and made his way back to the car. Knowing it was futile to ask for help, he opened the rear door and walked over to Caleb. He struggled to carry his friend, but managed to place him in the back seat. Once done, he slipped behind the wheel and started the engine. Michael looked in the back seat and removed his hat, pulling the parchment from it. He shook his head as he looked at Caleb. “Forgive me, my friend.”