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Four Months Ago, Fort Worth, Texas

The Perfect Murder

Bees slept in the dark space, waiting for sun and a return to foraging.

Light cracked the darkness, sending the bees into action. The first bee rushed to the opening.

A hand reached into the drawer, crushing her as he grabbed the stapler. She released a burst of pheromone, calling other workers into battle. They buzzed and swarmed to attack the intruder, imbedding four barbed stingers into his flesh.

“Damn!” Robert Jackson jerked his hand from the desk drawer and tried to shake off the bees. More lethal honeybees swarmed out.

He yanked the drawer open wider to retrieve his EpiPen. The contents spilled onto the floor. He knelt to search for the life-saving injection.

His breath rasped as air squeezed through his closing throat.

Call 911.

He tried to reach the phone in his pocket. The fingers on his right hand had swollen like sausages ready to burst their skins. His right arm wouldn’t move.

His vision blurred as his blood pressure dropped. He grabbed a marker in his left hand and scratched out the words, “Be careful.” He slowly started the third word. “B.” The ink trailed off into illegibility. In his last moment of consciousness, he scrawled one more letter.

 

 

 

 

DAY ONE

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

 

 

 

Numbers held special meaning for ancient and medieval people. In Biblical numerology, God is one. One symbolizes uniqueness and unity. The circle represents oneness and unity. Alpha is the Greek numeral for one.

 

Present Time, Sunday in June

Athens Airport, Greece

I sucked in hot, dry Athenian air, clearing the aircraft atmosphere from my lungs.

Most passengers came to Greece for relaxation and tourism. Not me. This research trip was a lifeline to rescue my academic career after last semester’s disasters.

Losing my mentor, Uncle Robert, devastated me. I struggled to bounce back after my boyfriend dumped me. Then I failed Greek. I never got an F. Ever. Hell, I rarely got Bs.

Focus on the mission. I scanned the signs held by cabbies and tour bus drivers.

“JACKSON.” The traditional blue and red glow of the family name popped out—sort of like the Lone Star flag.

I caught the eye of the man holding our sign. The tall blond stood out in the row of Mediterranean types. He headed toward us.

Rev. Dr. Billy Sullivan, my traveling companion, set down luggage and dug in his pocket for a tip.

I shook hands with our driver. “Amber Jackson.”

“Carl Helman. I’m the art history expert at the Classics Institute.”

“Oh, I expected an old German with little wire-framed glasses.”

Carl smiled. “No, just a Ph.D. candidate.”

He turned to Billy, waving away the tip.

“Carl, let me introduce Rev. Dr. Billy Sullivan. His expertise is Early Christian manuscripts and Biblical Greek.”

Billy gave his load to Carl. I stifled a giggle. The former preacher looked respectable in his monogrammed golf shirt. But he had snored his way across the Atlantic overnight, with a little trickle of drool on his chin.

Carl, on the other hand, looked like MacGyver The orginal MacGyver was my childhood hero. In the old reruns, he nabbed the bad guys by being smarter, not more violent.

“This will be a unique project for us,” Carl said as he loaded the Toyota. “We don’t normally study the Dark Ages.”

Billy claimed the front passenger seat, a tight fit for his bulk. I folded my big feet into the tiny back seat.

Carl headed for The Classics Institute, where the two staff scholars would join Billy and me on our research team this month.

The Institute was in the Plaka neighborhood, settled by Greek merchants when Athens became the capital after the War of Independence in 1834. It now teemed with tourists on a Sunday afternoon, surrounding us with aromas of sweat and cafes. The Institute snuggled next to the Jackson Textile Importers building.

My aunt and uncle had launched their international operations here, turning a family cotton farm and cotton gin into a multi-national textile business before selling to a conglomerate a year ago. They were University of Fort Worth alumni and helped support the study-abroad facility next door.

This jaunt was my college graduation present, a month in Greece doing research with experts. A fun trip, Aunt Lydia said. But I knew better. This Early Christian study trip was a charity gift to get me back on my feet for graduate school in the fall.

Carl showed us how to use the Institute's international SIMM cards in our phones Billy grumbled as Carl carried Billy's bags upstairs to a student room.

I got my aunt and uncle’s Athens apartment in the back of the Jackson building. The only thing missing was the homey atmosphere provided by my aunt and uncle. Aunt Lydia planned to come with me but backed out at the last minute.

On the entry table, I noticed a package.

Addressed to a dead man.

Classics Institute

His name had that familiar blue and red glow that emanated from the letters. “Robert Jackson.” My uncle.

Carl brought another load of my stuff. “Just ignore that mail. We’ll send it to your aunt since she decided not to come. Let’s meet in an hour to go to Daphni Monastery.”

“Sounds good.”

I picked up the package. Postmarks showed it had been mailed to Uncle Robert at his overseas apartment just before he died. I returned it to the entry table beside the basket of unopened mail.

His bizarre death troubled me. Who died from bee stings in February? Inside the house? Honey bees don’t swarm and attack unless they think the hive is in danger or you step on them while they harvest pollen from clover.

I glanced at his empty chair. I found myself waiting for him to come through the door and make the world right again. I snuggled into the worn leather, closed my eyes and imagined him beside me.

Uncle Robert never laughed at my questions or told me to hush up. He always treated me like I was smart, even when I was a clumsy kid following some crazy quest.

Was this research project another crazy quest? Early Christian art spoke to me about our heritage and history. But no one else seemed interested.

I showered away the flight across the Atlantic, then retrieved the Swiss Army knife from my checked suitcase and moved it to its usual pocket in my bag.

The package still beckoned from the living room. Bigger than a shoe box. Heavier, too. My fingers played with a loose corner of tape.

No. Opening a dead person’s package would be like robbing a grave. I shoved it away. Surely I could control my curiosity out of respect for my uncle.

The box filled the entire room. I moved it to the kitchen. It whispered my name. The guest room was no better.

I tried eating chocolate as a diversion.

Why would my uncle have it shipped it to Greece instead of his home in Fort Worth?

Did my aunt know it was here? Should I call her?

What would my uncle do?

He’d open the box. I grabbed my knife and slit the tape.

The phone interrupted.

“Amber, time to go over my plan for your studies,” Dr. Billy Sullivan said.

“I’ll be right there. I’m looking forward to it.” Not.

Learning Greek was mission impossible. I’d rather open an exotic package from Paris.

I stashed the box in the guest room, swung my bag over my shoulder and set forth on my quest to break into the upper levels of academia as an art historian.

I joined Billy in the Institute library, the front room that served as the general hang out for students and faculty.

“What do you need to learn this month?”

“I have to get past my mental block on learning Greek. And I want to study Early Christian art.”

“Teaching Biblical Greek is my specialty, so you’re in good hands.” He handed me an open book.

Strange letters looked like little black worms on the page. I scanned for letters from our alphabet. The first line looked easy. “Ka-ta Map-kon.”

Billy frowned.

I looked again. P stood out in bright plum purple. Except p is r in Greek. I made the mental switch, but it refused to change color on the page.

“Ka-ta Mar-kon, “From Mark. This is the start of the Gospel of Mark.”

“Can you read more?”

Apxn. What was Apxn? Ap would be the first syllable. No, make that Ar. But xn didn’t have a vowel. The blue n taunted me. What was a lower case n in Greek? An e. But e should be yellow.

“Ar-xe?”

“Try again.”

I scanned the letters. That white x should be an orange chi.

“Ar-che?”

“Lord, have mercy. You’ve had a whole semester of Greek?”

“Sort of ... I flunked the class.”

Billy waited for more gruesome details.

“The Greek alphabet drives me crazy. My mind just can’t switch between English and Greek letters. It gets confused. The letters are all the wrong colors.”

“The wrong colors? What do colors have to do with it?” Billy asked.

Careless mistake. I knew better than to talk about the color of letters. I learned that in elementary school. Other students made fun of me. Teachers didn’t like it. They told me that letters and numbers didn’t have colors. Why did my brain insist on coloring my letters?

“I mean everything is wrong about the alphabet, the sounds and shapes.”

“So you’re still learning the alphabet?”

Billy frowned as he rested his chin on manicured fingertips. My eyes were drawn to his ring, three colors of gold braided together in interlocking bands.

He looked up. “You must copy the Greek letters and words as you read them out loud. It takes longer, but it helps master the alphabet.”

He pulled a calligraphy pen from his pocket. “Use this. It has the thick and thin strokes of traditional writing.” He demonstrated in controlled, neat strokes.

The pen produced uneven lines and blobs when I wrote a few characters.

“Revelation will be a good assignment since you like art history,” Billy said. “It’s packed full of Christian imagery.”

“Ugh. I hate Revelation.” I slumped lower.

He glowered over the top of his reading glasses.

Revelation made me feel like puking. The last book in the Bible is a prophecy of destructive punishment and resurrection. My stomach churned just thinking about arguments with my ex-boyfriend about that violent prophecy. Still, Billy was a potential mentor. I needed him if the grad school questioned the F on my final transcript.

“I had a bad experience with Revelation last year. My ex-boyfriend decided he was called to devote his life to the Lord and prepare people for the coming End Times.”

Crying would be so embarrassing. Billy leaned forward to hear me.

“I wanted to study Revelation, ask questions. I like to dig into ideas. Because I didn’t accept the church’s set answer he told me I was lukewarm and would be left behind at the Rapture.”

“Good to learn that you have different callings now instead of later.”

“It’s a humiliating way to get dumped.”

“Well, I can speak from experience. It ruined my pastoral career when my former wife decided she didn’t share my call and filed for divorce. I had to switch to teaching and writing. It took me years to get my career back on track,” Billy said. “You don’t want your crisis of faith to hold back his ministry.”

“Yeah, Dustin was smart to get rid of me.”

“Did you bring an interlinear?”

“Yeah.”

“Cover up the English translation line, copy the original Greek words, then see how many you understand. Check it against the translation line. Start with the first three chapters of Revelation.”

He sounded like my father, a high school principal.

Carl Helman bounded into the room. The art history teacher was anything but fatherly.

“Your rooms okay?” he asked.

“Mine’s good.” Except for missing my aunt and uncle.

“I had forgotten how Spartan student rooms are,” Billy said. “I’m not used to twin beds and a shared bathroom down the hall.”

Carl shrugged. “We aren’t a resort. People come here to study.”

Billy would love my accommodations, but I didn’t intend to give them up.

“Time to go,” Carl said. “Daphni Monastery is closed since the earthquake, but I made special arrangements.”

Carl maneuvered the tiny car through the narrow streets that circled the Acropolis, then navigated a six-lane highway atop the ancient Sacred Way from Athens to Eleusis.

“Daphni was a temple to Apollo, but Christians built a church over the sacred place,” Carl said.

His blue eyes caught mine in the rearview mirror. He winked. Was he deliberately provoking Billy? I crossed my eyes back at him.

Carl glanced toward Billy and cocked his head. “Christians plundered the temple columns to use in the church.”

Billy looked up from a brochure describing our destination. “Goths sacked the temple in 395 AD. I believe the Goths were a Germanic tribe.”

No smart-ass answer? Carl turned to the impossible Athenian traffic, yelling curses out the window.

How did he switch so fast from English to Greek to German? I couldn’t twist my Texas tongue around all those crisp, short syllables in Greek names and words. A Greek could say “Thou-kyd-i-des” faster than I could drawl “Daaaal-las.”

The Macedonian Dynasty ends

August, A.D. 1056, Constantinople

“Save the key, Father.”

The monk leaned in to hear the 75-year-old empress. “What key?”

Theodora pointed. “Stephen’s key. It’s in the Book of the Purple-born. I will not abandon it to these arrogant bastards.”

Father Alexios opened the book. No key. Was it hidden in the binding? A key would be easier to smuggle. Perhaps the empress was delirious. He opened his robe and bound the book to his heart.

“Take my chalice, too. Leave now,” she said.

Instead, he knelt by her bed and prayed, his tears bathing her restless hands.

Her scowl softened. “Oh, Alexios, if only I had borne a son as loyal as you. I should have married as my father ordered. But I was stubborn. I failed our empire.”

The monk glanced around the purple granite room. For almost two centuries, Theodora’s ancestors had begun or ended their lives here. Basil the Macedonian, Leo the Wise, Constantine VII Purple-born, and Basil the Bulgar-killer had shaped the Eastern Roman Empire.

The empress put his thoughts into words. “The Macedonian Dynasty dies with me today. But you can save the key.”

Voices of the patriarch and the leader of the senate echoed in the palace hallway.

The empress closed her eyes. “The vultures circle. Go while you can.

“The key will be safe with the holy brothers at Daphni.” The monk slipped out.

Omega pi eta,” Theodora whispered. “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Present Time

Daphni Monastery, Athens

Stillness enveloped us in the massive church. Light trailed from windows high overhead, revealing dust hanging in the air and swirling as we disturbed the abandoned space.

Culture’s foes had stripped the marble panels from the walls. Naked patches revealed the rough stone bones of the structure.

Christ the Judge scowled from a golden mosaic high overhead. More than nine hundred years of turmoil and nature had not dimmed the artist’s vision. It spoke past barriers of time, culture and language.

“The most awesome Christ Pantokrator ever conceived in Byzantine art,” Billy read.

Pantokrator. All Strength. My Koine Greek was pitiful, but even I knew Pantokrator.

I stared up. Where was the nice Jesus, the gentle Good Shepherd of the Beatitudes? This Jesus, the angry judge of Revelation, gave me the creeps.

Light flickered across his dark, lined eyes as he glared into my soul. Instead of offering a blessing, his sinewy fingers pointed down to Hell. The room spun and then dissolved as I fell into the darkness, cast into Hell just like Dustin predicted.

Strong arms caught me. “Fräulein Jackson, don’t lock your knees when you stare up,” Carl said.

“God spit me out,” I mumbled.

“No, you fainted. I fail to understand why you want to study this primitive art.”

I regained my balance and let go of Carl’s arm. “The books say it’s a masterpiece.”

“If you like grim crap from the Dark Ages.”

“But these were the early images of Christianity. We jump from classic Greek and Roman art to the Renaissance, skipping a thousand years. Aren’t you curious?”

Carl shrugged. Billy glanced at his watch.

I turned to the mosaic. “Why are you angry? Why are you here?”

“I’m not angry, it’s butt ugly,” Billy said.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Sullivan, I was talking to the Angry Jesus. Why would an artist create the Angry Jesus in this holy place?”

“Jesus is angry because we don’t follow His Word. We can’t opt out of God’s Law. Everyone faces the judgment of the Living God.” Billy’s voice boomed with the authority of twenty years of preaching.

“Eff your Angry Jesus.” Carl flipped an obscene gesture toward the dome. “This is about power and domination. The unholy alliance of Empire and Church created the Angry Jesus to control people through threats of Hell.”

The two glowered at each other. Billy had 30 pounds on Carl, but Carl looked like a soccer player. An image of a kick between the eyes popped into my head.

Just who I needed for my mentors—an intolerant atheist and a sanctimonious preacher. Aunt Lydia must have been desperate.

I walked away to listen for the story of this place, whispered by those who crafted the mosaics and walked these marble floors.

The thriving monks were filled with devotion when they built this church. Crusaders violated the holy space just a hundred years later. Finally, Ottoman Turks threw out the Latin interlopers.

The furious face of the Pantokrator, though, survived the assaults and earthquakes that rocked this sanctuary. Hair tingled on the back of my neck when I looked at it.

Carl followed me down a side aisle.

I flashed an apologetic smile. My dimples and long, dark blonde hair usually got me through tense situations. “Thanks for helping with our research. You must have your own project and class preps.”

“We’re between sessions. I teach one more class in July. After that I’m unemployed. The extra pay this month should get me through my doctoral research.”

“I thought you worked for the Classics Institute.”

“One-year position.”

A mosaic showed two black-robed figures presenting a chalice and book to a nice Jesus.

“Who are these saints?”

Carl read titles set in the mosaic. “Holy Alexios and Empress Theodora. Obscure patrons, like donor plaques today.”

We circled back to the central room. It opened into four arms of the cross through arches that stretched three stories high. Light flowed through the curving space.

I lay down to photograph the dome. Carl stretched out beside me and counted windows and columns.

“The architecture is unusual,” Carl said. “Usually, four main piers support the dome. Here eight piers are arranged in an octagon. It spreads the weight and allows the central dome to be bigger.”

“So this isn’t a total waste?”

“Perhaps not.”

I couldn’t keep my eyes off the Angry Jesus.

“Dr. Sullivan, why is Jesus labeled IC XC?”

“It’s an abbreviation,” Billy said. “Iota Sigma for Iesous and Chi Sigma for Christos. Often, you just see Chi, like the X in Xmas.”

“My brain refuses to read anything but IC XC. Today we’d label this picture OMG!”

Carl laughed. The Pantokrator frowned.

Billy looked down at me. “Your professor may be right. Some people just can’t learn languages.”

Ouch. “Maybe the book Christ holds is the key. Is it Revelation?”

“No, this has eight seals. Revelation has seven.”

The Pantokrator’s face grew dark as he clutched the book to his heart. Revelation’s warning whispered: “Mess with these words and you’ll be cut off from the tree of life.”

We got up off the floor and escaped into the June warmth.

Forest at Daphni

“Let me show you my world, the Classical world,” Carl said.

We climbed over foundations and stones, remains of the monastic community. An ancient forest shielded the ruins from modern Athens.

“This place gets its name—Daphni—from this forest. This tree is called Daphne in Greek, laurel in English.” He picked a sprig and tucked it into my hair.

“Apollo’s lover Daphne was turned into a laurel tree, so laurel is sacred to Apollo. The oracle at Delphi enhanced her visions by eating or burning the sacred leaves.”

I pulled the sweet spicy sprig from behind my ear. “This smells familiar.”

“You call them bay leaves—for cooking. The hallucinogenic properties are probably a myth. I’ve never tried smoking or eating them.”

“A great factoid for my trivia bank.”

“You collect trivia?” Billy asked.

“Yeah, I love interesting little tidbits. My family teases that I’m a wiki head who collects worthless knowledge.”

As we walked the uneven path to the car, I tripped.

Carl laughed. “I warned you about eating those leaves.”

As we headed back to the Institute, images of treasure spilling from a dusty box distracted me from the faith-versus-facts bickering in the front seat. Perhaps the box contained an old book, or maybe emperors' portraits on coins. Uncle Robert’s final challenge awaited me.

Jackson Textile Importers

I locked the apartment door. First step was photographing the address labels and customs stamps on the dusty box.

A nagging voice—that Behave yourself, be a good girl voice of my mom—told me tape it up.

Maybe just a peek, my curious, gotta-know-everything gut said.

Uncle Robert joined my mental debate. That’s a good question. Let’s find out.

Uncle Robert beat out Mom. I set aside a letter from the top of the box and eased out the bubble wrap.

Tissue opened to reveal pieces of an old goblet. Cloisonné enamel and pearls decorated the silver base. The bowl, carved from stone, was broken into two big chunks and some smaller pieces. A wad of tissue held loose pearls and enamel chips.

I tried fitting pieces together. Were the pearls real? I rubbed one against my teeth. It had an authentic gritty texture. Real silver? It was tarnished like silver.

“Are you a pile of junk or something valuable?”

The goblet remained silent.

I settled into Uncle Robert’s chair with the letter. I felt him beside me, encouraging my curiosity.

Fortunately, the Paris antiques dealer had written in English.

 

“I trust you will be pleased with this artifact. The Greek letters around the base indicate a possible origin in southern Italy or the Eastern Mediterranean.

“I fear the provenance is not strong. I discovered this lovely goblet at a shop in Besançon, just northwest of the Alps near the Swiss border. Items from the East are found in the area since the Duchy of Burgundy participated in the Crusades.

“You said you might give this antiquity to Mme. Jackson as a present. I could arrange for a specialist in Crusader art to authenticate and restore it.

“I continue to seek Byzantine coins for your collection of emperors.”

 

Huh. Maybe a Crusader drinking cup. Or a fake Crusader drinking cup.

“Why did you buy this?”

No answer. Instead Uncle Robert’s last words: Be Careful Bees.

I returned the goblet to its hiding place, unpacked my laptop and organized the guestroom desk.

Time for a Greek alphabet poster. I wrote English letters in order, then put Greek letters under the equivalent English letters.

Some Greek vowels have two characters instead of one. An E can be eta (H) or epsilon (E). An English O can be omega (Ω) or omicron (Ο).

I debated about chi (X). Does Ch go under C or under K?

Next, I color-coded the Greek letters with markers to match the colors they are in English. A is a gold letter, so I put a gold outline on alpha. E is a yellow letter, so epsilon and eta got yellow outlines. O is bright white, so omicron and omega didn’t get outlines.

That helped. The wrong colors confused me when I tried to read Greek. Do other people really see in black and white when they read? I can’t imagine.

The Greek alphabet finally made sense. I tacked my new poster to the wall.

The marker board looked too clean. “Uncle Robert?” and “Is it fake?” recorded my questions. I added a third: “What does Revelation mean?”

I had come to Greece to study images of Paradise. Instead, I was stuck in the hellhole of Revelation. Maybe my dream of becoming an art historian was silly. My parents thought I should get a graduate degree that actually led to a job. Or better yet, move home, teach high school and take graduate classes on the side to save money.

Talk about real Hell. Reading Revelation had to be better than teaching unruly teens. Or admitting to my parents that their daughter failed.

I opened Revelation, struggling past the crazy-colored Greek words to the message the Elder scratched two thousand years ago.

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.” Revelation 1:3

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

First Century, Island of Patmos

John raised his palms to the sun. The island of Patmos under his feet felt insignificant, a mound of rock teetering between the cloudless blue of the heavens and the rolling aqua of the Great Sea.

It was the Lord’s Day. The elder prayed for those who had lost so much, whose faith was shaken by tragedies.

He shuddered as if Heaven and earth shook. He put hands over his eyes, his body swaying against the hurricane wind of the spirit. How long did it last? Seconds? Minutes? Hours? He collapsed to the ground.

At last his universe calmed. He rose, gathered his cloak around his shoulders and stumbled down the dusty path to the village.

He filled a goose quill with lampblack ink. Unmindful of grammar, he scratched crude Greek letters on the papyrus. He must send a message to the seven churches. Jesus stood among them. God had not abandoned his people.

Present Time

Sunday Evening, the Plaka

Hunger beat out worries of Hell. I went to find dinner companions.

Dr. Billy Sullivan and Carl Helman crowded around a map with Dr. Sophia Wright, the petite classics scholar who led the Institute.

Most academic types were casual. But Sophia always had her dark hair in a stylish short cut and dressed like she worked in an office.

Carl glanced up. “We go on a road trip tomorrow to see medieval manuscripts.”

Billy, the Biblical scholar, beamed. “More than see! We’re going to touch and feel and read and study and smell manuscripts. I’ll hold in my hands the very Word of God as copied by men of God over a thousand years ago.”

“Where?”

“Meteora, where monks lived suspended in the heavens,” said Carl. “About four hours northwest of here. We leave before dawn.”

“I told Lydia I wanted access to a monastic library with Greek manuscripts on this sabbatical,” Billy said. “I’ve hunched over copies or peered through glass cases for too many years. I don’t know how she did it.”

“Mrs. Jackson maneuvered it through some junk dealer,” Sophia said. “Your miracle is the result of a well-timed donation. Lydia Jackson is good at that.”

“She is remarkable. It’s an answered prayer.”

Sophia frowned. “Meteora is a tourist trap, so don’t expect much. It will be a waste of time. Are you two up to the climb?”

“I was a distance runner for the track team, and I've hiked around campus for the last four years,” I said.

“With God's help, I can climb anywhere. Significant documents are still out there,” Billy said. “Today, most new sources are found in broken books and loose pages, or tucked in another book.”

“Perhaps the scenery will be a nice diversion.”

Carl winked at me. Billy was oblivious to Sophia’s dim view of our mission and of Aunt Lydia’s method to arrange it.

My stomach growled. “It’s dinner time. Shall we eat at the taverna around the corner or in the Plaka?”

Billy looked up. “Amber, you'll be my photographer. I need sharp, well-focused, high-resolution image photographs of the manuscript pages I select for further study. None of this cell phone crap.”

A chance to prove myself. “I’d love to. I’m a pretty good photographer.”

Travel plans pushed aside thoughts of food. Finally we could seek sustenance. We snaked through tourists along Adrianou Street and snagged a table outside. Shops and cafes spilled onto the sidewalks and courtyards, blending inside and outside in a seamless flurry of activity.

After we ordered, Sophia turned to me. “Miss Jackson, what are your academic goals for this visit?”

I took a deep breath. “I have two. First, improve my Greek. Second, study Early Christian art. Perhaps find a topic for my master’s thesis.”

“Why? Why do you want to master the Greek language? Why examine Early Christian art?”

“I was in a Bible study group. The teacher talked about the original Greek words. He said you couldn’t fully understand the Bible unless you studied Greek. So I took Greek last semester. And my interest in Early Christian art is related. What are the early images of the church? How did those influence the development of Western Civilization? How have our beliefs changed since then?”

“How will you apply this knowledge?”

“Go to grad school. Write a thesis. Hopefully become an art historian.”

“Yes, we discussed graduate school at your uncle’s funeral. I am surprised you were accepted at Columbia. I know the dean there.”

I sat up straighter. “Great. That will give my work more credibility, knowing I studied with you.”

“Your work must stand on its own. The program there is rigorous. It will be a challenge for you.”

As I blinked back tears, the inquisitor turned her attention to Billy. “Is your title Doctor or Reverend?”

“Either is fine. I use Doctor, but I’m also ordained. I teach New Testament Greek at a seminary. I also speak and write for the Nicene Foundation. I may be at the Nicene Foundation full time. The founder is retiring and I’m a finalist for the top job.”

“Dr. Wright, tell us why you are here.” Billy said.

“I want to light a fire in my students about history, to get them to examine it anew,” Sophia said. “That's hard in three 50-minute segments a week. Here, away from their regular world, we can shake their preconceptions and create true curiosity.”

The sun slid behind the towering plateau of the Acropolis as Billy explained the difference between uncial and minuscule manuscripts. We dug out scraps of paper as he demonstrated changes in writing styles that scholars used to date manuscripts.

I had pegged him as a slow-talkin’ Southern preacher. Tonight, he was a passionate scholar. No wonder my aunt liked him.

Sophia leaned over Billy’s calligraphy. “That script is similar to the oldest manuscript of Plato’s Dialogues, a tenth century Greek codex I studied at Oxford.”

“Yes, it probably came to Western Europe during the Crusades,” Billy said. “Greek calligraphy is my hobby. I’m part of an Early Christian interpretation group.”

“How amusing. Do you parade around in costumes and construct swords from duct tape?”

“Nope, no duct tape. We correspond in the language of the times and host living history events. We even use hand-made candles for worship.”

What did Sophia have against duct tape? It came in great colors now.

The scholars lost me in the intricacies of letter forms. About all I got was that uncial is all caps (older), and minuscule means lower case letters (newer). Carl rolled his eyes at the minutia. We turned to appetizers, much better than my student diet of Ramen noodles and scrambled eggs.

I tore pita bread and scooped up creamy goat yogurt flavored with garlic, lemon, cucumber, and dill. “Ttzaziki is so much better than ranch dressing.”

Carl laughed. I finished off our share, then helped myself to the rest.

A hand rested on my knee.

“So, Fräulein Amber, are you one of the Jackson heiresses?”

“Nah, I’m just a grateful recipient of my aunt’s generosity. My folks are underpaid teachers.”

Doch, your aunt must think you are very special.”

I guided his hand off my leg.

“Yeah, she’s always treated me like a daughter. She and Robert don’t have kids. My folks keep telling her not to spend money on us. They think we should work hard, get good grades and earn our own way.”

“I say enjoy it.”

Was he referring to his hand or my trip?

“Oh, the trip is awesome. I asked for an audio Greek language course for a college graduation gift. Instead, she gave me this research trip to Greece.”

“Academics aside, what are your personal goals?”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Images of Hell confronted me as I entered a monastery chapel at Meteora, Greece. That dichotomy inspired me to try fiction writing. My essays, news stories and photographs received state, national and international honors during 33 years of publishing a nationally known community newspaper. I hope you enjoy reading “The Revelation Key'” as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it. For the details behind the story—including what's fact and what's fiction—visit wyliecom.com

Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
My biggest challenge was finding a theme in Middle Byzantine art that linked with a new interpretation for the Book of Revelation. When I discovered Constantine VII Purple-born, it all clicked. The Eastern Roman Emperor was an author, scholar and artist—and the heart of the Macedonian Renaissance.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
“Who did it?” draws me in as I become acquainted with the protagonist in the quest for truth and justice. I join the team as I turn pages late into the night. Strong women, exotic locations and quirky characters make mysteries a great read. Synesthesia gives my main character an extra tool.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The bee and chalice link the present-day murder with the history that motivated it. Imagining and making Constantine VII's chalice was a labor of love. His son, who ruled five years, has an ornate chalice displayed in Venice. An emperor who ruled 46 years surely had his own chalice.

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