By Mark W. Meier
Prophet of Death
As soon as your phone rang I knew I’d missed opportunities that could be easily remedied. Riiiiiiing-POP!
You shrieked, spraying half-chewed club crackers across your kitchenette.
A swallow of water cleared your mouth.
If you didn’t suspect Amy was calling you might have smashed the desk phone. Simply tossing it out your window wouldn’t be as satisfying as the way pitching out your TV had been. You threw your plastic cup toward the sink and dove for the phone on your rickety desk.
One more swallow, just in case. “Hello?”
“Did you just scream?” Amy’s voice told you she was smiling.
“No.” A lie you immediately corrected. “Well, yes. I stubbed my toe getting to the phone.” A second lie within seconds. This one you didn’t rectify.
“Did you call the ambulance?”
“Yes, but with all the snow they said it’d be quicker to self-amputate.” You paused for effect. “Do you own a cleaver? I don’t think my potato peeler will work.”
If you had been on a cell phone I could have made the call drop. Instead . . . POP! I could see the vein in your forehead swell as your blood pressure spiked.
“Sorry, Andy, no cleaver. Maybe you’ll just have to bandage it and hope for the best. So do you want to talk about the Wise Men?”
“Sure.” You reclined on your bed against the outside wall, your pillow keeping the cold from seeping into your back. “You said they knew ahead of time when Jesus would be born. How?”
I hated it when you used that name. I hated everything about you, Amy, and every single human in existence.
“Well, the Persians of that time might not have had the technology we do, but they knew almost as much about the stars.”
“How? They didn’t even have telescopes.” Two thousand years of technology had to make a difference to your way of thinking. Regardless, you were wrong.
“The stars they could see were understood.” Amy’s enthusiasm for the topic was evident in her tone. “The motion of the planets were plotted out, and they knew when retrograde motion would occur.”
“I know about retrograde.” You wanted to show her you knew something about science. “Normally planets move across the night sky –too slowly for most people to notice. Because Earth is also orbiting, planets sometimes look like they’re moving backward against the starry background. They move forward, pause, move back, pause, then forward again.”
You heard Amy slurping. “Are you drinking?”
“Some tea. It helps me relax before I go to sleep.”
You scrambled to the bag of groceries she’d given you, hoping she’d put some tea in. No such luck.
I created static on the phone line and ended it with a POP!
You grimaced and moved back toward your bed. “Maybe I’ll have to try that some time.” That vein at your temple pulsed again.
“I’ll let you try some of what I have. Some people just don’t like tea, no matter what kind.” Amy brought the conversation back around. “The astronomers of Persia were astrologers as well. Every star and constellation had a name, as well as something it was associated with. You’re familiar with that, right?”
“Sure.” You brought up the first thing to come to mind. “Leo is associated with fire, for instance.”
“Exactly. And when planets moved through Leo, that meant certain things to the people associated with that planet.”
You warmed to the conversation. “You mean, like Pluto transiting Capricorn. America will have things come back to haunt the nation we haven’t seen since the nation was founded –the last time Pluto was in Capricorn.”
“Uh, sort of. It’s more like how Regulus and Jupiter met three times. That it happened in Leo meant a lot to these astrologers.”
“You mean the Star of Bethlehem wasn’t a nearby nova or supernova?”
Amy laughed. “No, silly. A bright star suddenly showing up would have been recorded somewhere else. Like when the Chinese recorded a new star in the sky in the year 1040.”
“Right where the Crab Nebula is.” That all made sense to you.
Amy continued. “So what happened had to be something most people would ignore. Nobody but an astronomer would make note of a triple conjunction.”
“Or an astrologer.” You reached for the box of crackers on your desk.
“Remember, they were the same thing back then. But the Wise Men knew how the planets moved. They’d have predicted the triple conjunction of the King Planet and King Star in Leo –the constellation associated with Israel. That whole dance would mean a significant king was going to be born in Israel. They’d guess it would happen in the capitol city, so they went knocking on King Herod’s door.”
You didn’t know much about the Bible, so you didn’t know who Herod was –one of our patsies, to be honest. I had to do something –anything –to keep you from learning too much, though.
I brought a single word into your memory –something Amy had said while you were cavorting in the snow.
“You’re just guessing the Wise Men knew ahead of time, right? You said, ‘maybe.’”
“Sure.” Amy didn’t seem reluctant to admit that. “Even so, Levitical law restricted what Mary could do after giving birth. Mostly it meant she couldn’t go anywhere for forty days. The Wise Men were less than six hundred miles away, and a camel can go at least forty miles in a day, so they could have made the trip before Mary was allowed to travel.”
An authoritative knock rattled your door.
You stood. “King Herod isn’t the only one with visitors, Amy. Someone’s here.”
“Okay. I’ll see you in the morning.” You waited for her to hang up before you returned the handset to its cradle.
You opened the door and found Marshal Woods. He held a cardboard box filled with the things he’d confiscated from you.
“Marshal.” You stood in the doorway, hands on hips, blocking him from entering. “Isn’t it snowing kind of hard for you to be out and about?”
Woods sneered and thrust your belongings at your chest. “It stopped almost an hour ago. The task force investigating you is based only a mile away, so when we finished analyzing your things I thought I’d bring them back. That way I don’t have to go out on a Sunday.”
You lowered the box to the floor and pushed it aside with a foot. “I’m so glad I could accommodate you in that respect. If it weren’t so late I’d invite you in for coffee. Oh, wait, no I wouldn’t.”
That earned you a sincere grin. “Have a nice evening, Mr. Reymond.” Woods spun on his heel and marched down the hall.
You closed the door, put the box on your bed, and rummaged through it.
Computer, check. That was the most important item.
A folder of printed pages, check. Your papers had all been loose, so the folder must have come from the Marshal’s Service.
“I wonder if he’s going to charge me for the folder,” you muttered.
Printer, paper, connecting cables, all check. Even the laptop’s charger was included. “Looks like it’s all here.”
POP! That one came from the printer. You hadn’t even plugged it in.
Then, in rapid succession, a series of popping sounds came from the laptop, your phone, and pretty much anything else I could think of –even your pressed wood desk.
You stifled a scream. The vein at your left temple pulsated.
One more. POP!
Your phone. You grabbed your head with both hands and pulled on the hair above each ear. Coupled with your mouth writhing in frustration, you chewed the insides of your cheeks.
My mission wouldn’t take much longer.
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