© 2003, Kevin R. Paglia
Reviews For ADAM'S STONE by Kevin R. Paglia
"Kevin Paglia spins an exciting fictional story guaranteed to make us stop, think, and wonder. What is the truth revealed by Adam's Stone? Did Adam and Eve exist? Was there really a Garden of Eden, and fruit God forbid man to eat? Is it possible for goodness and innocence to overcome the ultimate evil? You'll have to read the book to learn the answers." Laurel Johnson, Midwest Book Review
"If you are looking for a suspenseful, exciting, fast moving plot, this is your book. If you want a well-developed romance, this is not the book for you. I will look forward to reading additional books from this author." Reviewed by Nancy Riggins-Hume for The Road to Romance
Sample Chapter For ADAM'S STONE by Kevin R. Paglia
Anthony Fins plunged the shovel into the loose desert sand, looked up, and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. His leathery skin was already slick with the highest SPF sun block he could find to fight of the effects of a sun that had given him permanent freckles across his nose and shoulders. The sun reminded him of his home deep in the Mojave Desert, but this was far from home. In fact, Kuwait was as far away from home as he had ever been.
He wiped his forehead again and lifted his canteen. The water was warm from the sun, but it did provide some refreshment. He looked around for anyone else who may have been thirsty, then replaced the cap on his canteen before returning to work. The shovel he used was new, but a nervous fear of splinters made Anthony pull his gloves on tighter before gripping the handle. The insides of his gloves were soaked with sweat.
He pulled back and drove the head deep into the sand. The dig was wrapping up, and Anthony’s team was nearly finished restoring the habitat after a brief archeological dig five miles from Kuwait City, along the same highway that the Iraqis used a decade earlier to storm the city. It was a modest project with only ten people, but that was the way it always was with Global Rock Industries. They preferred smaller teams comprised of the best people in the industry, people who knew how to do a job to reduce the impact to the environment. Kuwait was still recovering from both Gulf Wars, so this was an important financial project for the country. The government thought it was a fair exchange: a little archeological digging in a barren part of the desert in exchange for a completely funded war memorial close to the Capitol.
Anthony knew this dig was just a cover story, however. GRI was well known for helping countries when they needed it most.
The geologist said this was a possible site for a rumored city that disappeared over a thousand years ago. Anthony didn’t argue; he was just a landscaper who preferred green grass between his toes to brown sand blown in his eyes. His desire to escape the brown desert of home lead him to pursue projects around the world. The excavation team had found nothing and left a few days ago. Anthony and his team were commissioned to restore the natural habitat as much as possible. It was more of GRI’s global commitment, to make every effort to restore an area to its natural state.
He stopped, hearing a noise. Everyone looked around as the rumbling drew closer. Anthony had heard similar sounds before as military helicopters flew by very low to the ground, but this time the pitch was different.
He bent his legs as the earthquake hit. It didn’t last long, probably a five on the Richter Scale. Anthony had felt stronger ones in California, but it had been a while. The others didn’t look so steady, though.
“Be grateful we weren’t working on a skyscraper.” Anthony extended his hand to pull Lance out of the hole he was digging.
“At least the asphalt doesn’t fill in your freshly dug hole.” Lance dusted the sand off his jeans. His tan GRI ball cap had long been stained dark with sweat, but it covered Lance’s crew cut and protected his scalp from sunburn. His new, shorter hair was an attempt to hide his impending baldness, a “cruel prank of nature pulled on a man who takes fanatical care of his body,” as Anthony once heard him say. Anthony ran a hand through his own thick, wood-brown hair, conscious of the ivory patches that appeared in his twenties.
“Patty, get on the horn and call into base. Find out if there’s any damage,” Anthony called to the dig’s cooperate supervisor, then remembered he could have used the walkie-talkies they all wore on their belts. “We need a damage report, make sure every thing is still upright, people.”
“Hey, Captain, I think this shovel has some structural damage.” A man had his shovel buried past the blade in the sand.
“I’ve seen you shovel; it won’t hurt your performance, Tim.” Anthony had been bestowed the title Captain after treating his crew to an all-expense-paid deep sea fishing trip out of his own GRI bonus for completing a job early and under budget. He liked being a friend to his team.
“Captain, I think you ought to see this,” Patty’s voice crackled over his walkie-talkie. “Bring the camera.”
“Roger that,” Anthony replied. He fished his camera out of his pack and started up the deep desert dune. Though he was a fit one hundred and seventy-five pounds standing at a few inches short of six feet, the heat and the soft sand made the trek difficult. By the time he reached the top of the hill he was panting.
The camera was as an important part to the recovery as any shovel. It was a five-year tradition for them to document their projects. At the end they all got together for a dinner and laughed about what went on during the project. It was the first year’s footage that inspired Anthony to take up jogging. All his jogging, however, didn’t prepare him for trudging up the steep desert dunes.
His heavy breathing made it a little harder to get the small camcorder running, but he was able to get the cap off and turn on the camera just as he came to Patty’s side. Anthony had traveled wide enough to have seen a lot of things with his team. He thought of himself as hard to surprise, but as he followed Patty’s gaze he was stunned to silence and the camera hung at his side. Their base camp was gone. Not buried under sand and dust, but swallowed by blackness.
“That is an impressive hole,” Patty said calmly as she pulled her red hair back through her tan GRI cap. The hole had cracked through the rock base and opened a hidden cavern cast in shadows by the setting sun.
The rest of the team came up the hill. They all stood there, mesmerized by the darkness.
“Who’s got a light on them?” Anthony asked, patting his utility belt’s empty flashlight loop. Tim was the fastest to retrieve a large flashlight from his backpack.
“Always keep an extra one around,” Tim said, “ever since I was stuck without one on a camping trip.”
The flashlight cut through the darkness as Anthony, Tim, and Lance looked around the edges. Patty and the others looked for a rope with which to lower the three explorers down the sand embankment. Once the rope was found, the three slid down the sand into the darkness, using the rope for balance.
The trucks were in one piece, though they were either on their sides or sticking up in the sand. Anthony turned on the headlights of all the trucks he could reach. Tim and Lance retrieved flashlights of their own from the supply truck. Their beams cut through the darkness, revealing the cavern.
“Looks like an underground cavern in the bedrock,” Lance said as his shaft of light explored the edges of the hole. “I wonder how old it is.”
“I’m more curious as to who made it,” Anthony said as he shined the flashlight up the rock roof twenty meters high. “Those are gouge marks.”
“Captain, have you ever seen those horror shows when a group of workers uncover something that is old and then something much older comes out and eats them all?” Tim added a nervous laugh. “Hey, is that a pair of eyes watching us from the shadows?”
Anthony shrugged it off with a baiting smile as he walked past Tim. “I’m not scared. The captain always survives.”
“Not if Stephen King wrote it.” Tim pointed east. “There’s a tunnel off that way.”
It took a little digging to clear the sand out of the way until the tunnel was big enough for the three to crawl through on their hands and knees. The floor of the tunnel was worn smooth, and had a build up of minerals. Tim paused for a moment, pulled his canteen, and poured a swallow of water on the floor. The three watched as it trickled in a slow but steady line down the tunnel.
“It’s slanted,” Tim said. “I think it was used for irrigation. Look at the erosion. It deepens around the bend, indicating the water was moving fast when it hit the wall and was forced to turn.”
“A primitive irrigation system.” Anthony smiled as he thought about the other team. “I think the archeological dig ended a little too early. Let’s keep going and see where it ends.”
After a few minutes of crawling, Anthony was gasping for breath again, his arms sore. He wasn’t sure how long they had been crawling before he saw a cavern open up in front of them. Maybe it was Tim’s reference to horror shows, but Anthony took an extra second to shine the light all the way around the cavern before entering.
“Something just crunched under my foot,” Lance said as he lifted his foot to see a snake skeleton.
“Limited impact, guys. Touch nothing, don’t even blow the dust off.” Anthony knew what the others were wondering. “Something tells me this is going to be big.”
The cavern wasn’t big, but was fairly empty, even of sand, though there were piles here and there that had slipped through a few cracks in the ceiling. Clay jars and plates lay all around the walls, and a central cooking oven lay on its side in the middle of the cavern. Anthony looked across the cavern and noticed a shelf dug into the wall and a stone tablet half-buried in a pile of sand below it. Its top left corner was missing, probably from when the tablet had long ago fallen off the shelf, Anthony was sure. The missing piece had to be buried somewhere in the sand.
“God, I know a couple hundred archeologists who would love to find their way in here,” Lance said in a barely audible whisper.
“GRI will get their shot first, then I’m sure the surviving Kuwaiti scientists will have a shot as well. In a year this could be the discovery that replenished the Kuwaiti spirit,” Tim said. “They’ll probably get millions of dollars just in archaeological digs from this one find if it pans out.”
“Okay, guys, let’s make our way out before we contaminate the site too much.” Anthony knew the risk of their contaminating the site was high, and he wanted to preserve the site as much as possible. But unquenchable curiosity tugged at him, and he took a few seconds to follow the others to the tunnel’s mouth as he memorized every detail of the carved room.
Tim was the only one in the tunnel when they heard the rumbling again. Anthony pushed Lance into the tunnel then turned for one last look. The flashlight revealed cracks in the wall over the tablet.
“Come on, Captain, we’ve got to go now!” Lance screamed as a crack streaked along the wall next to him.
“Get going. If the wall lands on that tablet, there won’t be anything left to read.”
Anthony ran across the cavern and grabbed the tablet, stumbling over a pot and dropping his flashlight on the way back to the tunnel. He hugged the tablet to his chest as he dived into the tunnel and landed on his back. He paused for a second to see the light reflected from the flashlight glimmering over the rocks before it disappeared and the first rock fell, but by then Anthony was wiggling his way through the tunnel on his back. His shoulders bounced off the wall, guiding him as he moved as fast as he could through the tunnel. The falling rocks sent a dust cloud that chased him up the tunnel as it collapsed.
Lance and Tim caught him as he shot out of the tunnel the rocks rumbling behind them as they scrambled up the rope and out of the cavern. A dust cloud rose straight up into the air then dissolved in the desert breeze as the crew moved away.
Anthony sat up with the tablet still hugged against his chest. Once they realized they were safe, the three started laughing as they collapsed on the sand.
“Are you guys all right?” Patty screamed over the dying echo coming out of the cavern. “What happened?”
Tim lay back in the sand and watched the dust blowing away. “Nothing much, Captain here thought he would play Indiana Jones and rescue a tablet.”
All eyes turned to Anthony. He pulled the tablet away from his chest and loosened his grip. Everyone crowded around Anthony to look at the mysterious writing carefully etched into the stone.
Patty finally broke the silence. “Hey, Captain, did you remember to recharge your portable last night?”
“I charged it, but unfortunately it was in my tent.” Anthony looked into the pit and wondered where in the sand trap his tent was now.
“I got mine,” Eric said as he pulled out his cell phone from his vest pocket.
“You see, that’s why I keep you around.” Anthony paused as he looked at the phone. “Does anyone remember the number for home base?”
The ringing phone was getting on Jeremiah’s nerves, but he didn’t break his lotus position in front of the makeshift altar. He continued his trance act as the fifty followers filling a semi-circle around him repeated his every word. For him, the trance was a well-rehearsed act, a way to convince people--wealthy people--who thought themselves outcasts to release the worldly things that bound them to the earth and find peace. For them, Jeremiah was a prophet with a message of hope, one who would eventually ‘disperse’ their wealth to such ‘worthy’ causes as his many offshore accounts so he could get away with a moment’s notice, provided he would be able to get away tonight at all.
This gathering, filled with twenty-year-olds using their parents’ money to buy his salvation, would have been a big score for him had something not gone wrong. He had hoped Los Angeles would be ripe for the picking, and for a while it was. His bank account had become sufficiently plump, and he had even scored a couple of temporary young ‘wives’ for the few months he was in town. After he emptied the account of its cash and headed back to the compound to deliver a message of hope for the apocalypse before he disappeared from their lives, the police arrived. Likely they came on the tip of another con he knew who wanted to shave a few years off of his sentence, Jeremiah thought.
Now he was trapped in the small warehouse-turned-temple on the edge of the battered industrial center, leading prayers for the Army of Rapture to come and take them away as more black and whites surrounded the building. He uttered his mock prayers over the persistent ringing of the phone as he tried to think of a way to implement his escape plan without getting himself killed.
He hoped the officers wouldn’t make this another Waco. Surely they wouldn’t let this standoff attract that much attention, Jeremiah thought, now wishing he had allowed children in his flock to use to hold back the police.
“Master Cross, what shall we do now?” a woman asked when there was a lull in the chant.
Jeremiah opened his eyes; the rest of his flock was now moving around him. This was a moment he had hoped to avoid.
“Put the holy water around the doors and windows.” Jeremiah forced himself to use his prophet’s voice, softer than his normally harsh voice, and dripping with sincerity and love. It disgusted him to hear himself talk this way, but he knew he wouldn’t have to use the voice again for a while if all went well. “That will slow down Satan’s forces. Then use the blessed bath water and divide the room into quarters, and the quarters into more quarters.”
His holy water was actually a simple blend of chemicals. There wasn’t any water in the whole mix at all. He had told his followers the burning feeling on their skin was really their sins being burned away from the flesh. Jeremiah watched as his people worked quickly to finish what he ordered of them. Now they waited for his next command.
After a short break the phone started to ring again, but Jeremiah ignored it. “Believers,” he said, “it has been revealed to me that the end time is at hand! Divide up into equal numbers in each of the sacred squares you consecrated, and leave this one for me.” Jeremiah motioned for them to move away from the altar’s platform. “Turn your eyes to Heaven and the gates will be opened up for you.”
He was glad to be leaving them, anyway. Some of the flock had become too clingy and expected words of wisdom to be given at every request, but Jeremiah had used up most of his mock wisdom quips some time ago. He did kind of wish he could have one more night with his wives, but settled instead for his freedom.
Jeremiah took a deep breath and stepped back. With his foot he nudged open a lock under his altar and waited. If the cops were halfway decent, they would know he would be unarmed.
The phone stopped ringing, and there was a knock on the door--a friendly knock, the kind hostage negotiators used.
“Satan’s forces will not be allowed to enter the house of the sacred!” one of his followers yelled.
“This is Sergeant Williams of the LAPD,” bellowed a compassionate man’s voice. “We know you’re unarmed, Jeremiah. Let’s talk about the kids you have in there. Why don’t you come out, or at least let me come in?”
“Only the consecrated are in here, and only the consecrated will be allowed in here,” Jeremiah shouted back.
Sergeant Williams’s voice remained cool and calm, as if he was inviting the whole group out to pizza. “We have a ram out here; we can come in by force if you make us. I won’t lie, you are in some serious trouble.” Honesty, Jeremiah liked that. “If you resist, people could get hurt or worse, and it will be your fault.”
“The crimes committed are your own!” Jeremiah shouted. “If you are willing to face the wrath of God, then enter by force and be judged.” Jeremiah then started another chant about tranquility and harmony with everything around them. He lifted his arms high so his followers would raise their voices as well; the chant drowned out the sergeant’s pleas.
Jeremiah wondered how long it would take for the cops to lose their patience. Perhaps the media had gotten wind of the standoff and were already on their way, possibly hoping for great footage of police barging in on the peaceful church. Jeremiah figured the last thing the LAPD needed was to be splashed all over the news by letting this cult get out of hand.
“Come on, cop,” Jeremiah muttered impatiently under his breath as the chanting grew louder around him. “Are you gonna break down that door or what?”
He didn’t have to wait long. Seconds after Sergeant Williams gave up shouting through the doors, Jeremiah heard the engine rev up as the battering ram gunned up the stairs of the converted warehouse. Jeremiah saw the impact as the doors fell on the rug, which was decorated with a cross. He had always told his followers to never walk on a cross, for it was sacrilegious.
A spark from the rug drew his eyes as the machine made contact. A pressure switch under the rug completed the circuit and the chemicals, now doused throughout the warehouse, ignited.
It was the blinding light and blistering heat that threw the police back from the door. The fire was just as Jeremiah told his followers would be when the fire of God’s wrath was poured out on them. They believed in their protection from the flames just long enough for the wave of fire to sweep over them. The chanting turned to screams that could be heard over the roaring flames, but they lasted only a few seconds.
Jeremiah held on tight to the handholds under the altar to make sure it didn’t blow away with the explosion. It was an addition to the escape plan that he insisted on after one harrowing experience when the hatch was popped open and his back burned. A hissing came from the seams where the fire sucked the air from the escape tunnel into the warehouse. Jeremiah could feel the pressure on the other side of the altar wane as the flash fire subsided.
The rescue operations would now be totally focused on the remains of the people inside the warehouse. All cameras and attention would now be focused on the building. No one would be looking for someone escaping. He slid open the door below him and rolled into the shaft. It was a short walk to the sewer connection.
Jeremiah took a deep breath and opened the sewer hatch. The stench of human waste filled his nose immediately. He mused to himself in disgust that anyone who created such a smell deserved to be taken advantage.
It was a half-hour walk through the sewer to his secret loft. He pulled himself out of the nearby manhole and looked for anyone’s attention he may have drawn. When he was certain no one saw him crawl out of the gutter, he went through the back door. The first thing he needed was a scrubbing.
He tossed the five bundles of twenties and hundreds into his duffel bag for traveling money and headed for the shower. The muck and smell of the sewer took a long time to wash off, but finally he emerged feeling clean. He tied a towel around his hips and went to the lone cube refrigerator for a beer. He had sneaked away many times over the past few weeks to enjoy his beers since he allowed his followers to drink only water. He popped the top off the second to last beer and guzzled it, then pulled out the last one with the intent of savoring the taste of the Coors.
The small, portable black-and-white television in the corner glowed to life as he immediately clicked to a local news station. His old temple filled the screen with flames as the fire crews struggled to control it. There was widespread panic as the police tried to evacuate the surrounding buildings as fast as they could. The fire had already spread to two of the neighboring lofts, and the flames threatened to leap to a third. He had expected the flames to be hot but short lived, but apparently the older buildings were more flammable than he expected. Jeremiah turned up the sound and smiled victoriously at the havoc he caused. He toasted the screen with the bottle and sipped his Coors.
“The best estimate is fifty-four dead, which includes forty-eight cult members and their leader, Jeremiah Cross, and five police officers who were attempting to question Cross. The explosion seems to have been triggered by a booby trap at the front door,” the reporter said, reading from a notepad. “There are four fire departments fighting the blaze. They expect to be able to bring it under control overnight.
“It is unlikely there will be any survivors of this doomsday cult. Jeremiah Cross had allegedly gathered a small group of disenchanted people by telling them they could escape the impending judgment of God by getting rid of everything they owned, according to family of victims. The funds Cross collected were used to purchase food and other supplies, but a large portion of the money is unaccounted for. Suspicious relatives who worried about Cross’s motives alerted police two weeks ago. The teller became suspicious of Cross’s deliberate attempt to shield his face. She notified the police when the cult’s account was closed and all the money pulled out.”
Jeremiah felt mixed emotions at the report; he was glad that his ex-partner had not turned him in, but disturbed that his actions had drawn the attention.
“The police arrived here this afternoon to find the doors locked,” the reporter continued. “Attempts to contact the members were ignored. Finally, when police tried to enter the loft, the fire erupted and quickly spread. Witnesses believe an accelerant was spread throughout the building. Stay tuned for more as the story develops.”
Jeremiah toweled his hair again and dug out some traveling clothes. The roughly three hundred thousand dollars he was able to collect would be enough to lay low for a while and set up a new operation. The first thing he needed to do was change his look. He was tired of the red hair anyway. He looked through his ten different hair colors and chose the light brown color that would match his natural beard color. He would have to grow one to hide his face for the two or three months he needed to set up a new operation.
In addition to a new look, Jeremiah would need a new alias. It would take a lot of money and intense research to find a name that sounded charismatic, yet not manufactured, and have an accompanying Social Security number he could lift.
For now, though, he could relax a little and watch the news. He wasn’t sure if his last partner was right in his assessment that Jeremiah just liked to see his scams on the news, or if he just truly liked the news. He turned to the international news first to see if there were any new wars he could incorporate into the next scam. The newscast was on the financial news, but the segment was almost over. The tag for the following section was for the Kuwaiti desert. That was sure to be of interest, Jeremiah thought.