The streets were cold and quiet as Jasem approached the corner. A man in a jacket and beanie sat on the ground in front of his newsstand unpacking one of several stacks of papers still bound with plastic string.
‘I open at four AM,’ the man grunted. ‘Come back then.’
Jasem flicked the man a dollar coin and picked up the paper from the stack he was unpacking, ignoring the man’s protests as he walked away into the night.
Back in his hotel room, Jasem opened the paper on the table and flicked to the Classifieds section. The advertisement caught his eye almost immediately.
‘FOR SALE: Four pre-Islamic pagan scrolls dating back to at least 200 BC. An ideal gift for an educational or religious institution by an individual or group. Serious buyers only. Enquiries should be written and addressed to the Business Focused International post office box.’
The clerk watched Jasem as he tried on a charcoal grey porkpie brimmed hat. The young man waited for the right moment, and then approached Jasem with a dark suit and jacket.
‘Excuse me, sir, but I thought you might like to try these on for size too.’
When he was finished shopping, Jasem paid for the items and the clerk placed them in bags, walking around the counter to give the bags to Jasem.
Stepping off the subway in Paterson, New Jersey, Jasem found and entire Middle East squeezed into a dense and lively area that spanned only two and a half miles. An entire world was channeled into a few bustling, intersected main streets, which housed numerous halal meat markets and restaurants, Lebanese bakeries, and stores that sold Syrian sweets and spices from Turkey. Shop signs were in Arabic, and loud Arabic music spilled out of stores that sold hookahs.
It was midday on a Sunday in the Silk City, and every table in the restaurant was occupied by locals and their families. A basket of large lafah bread arrived at the table. The man sitting opposite him was an antiquities dealer named Ahmed.
‘Do you understand the true nature of these particular scrolls, Jasem?’ Ahmed queried. ‘They are very different to the others.’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘How do you know?’
‘I am Bedouin. My mother came from a long line of pre-Islamic pagan Arab practitioners. She herself was one back in Israel,’
Ahmed sat back and folded his arms, nodding slowly as he studied Jasem in silence.
‘The family is ready to sell. For the right price, of course.’
‘How much are they asking? Jasem queried.
‘Two hundred and fifty thousand,’ Ahmed replied. ‘Non-negotiable.’
Jasem followed Ahmed into the bank, trailing behind him as they approached the front desk, where there sat two bearded men in suits wearing kippahs.
‘I’m here about a numbered account,’ said Ahmed to the man in front of him.
The man placed a card and a pen on the counter.
‘Write down your account number, please.’
The second man at the desk stood from his seat. When Ahmed had written down the number, the first man passed the card to the second man, who disappeared through an ornate steel gate door behind the desk.
Jasem and Ahmed stepped out of the elevator and were met by yet another man in a suit. They followed him and along a corridor of steel gated rooms, much like prison cells. They entered one such room, where the man placed four long, flat safe deposit boxes on the table in front of them, promptly leaving them to view the contents in private. Ahmed carefully lifted the lid of one of the boxes and pulled back a translucent protective sheet to reveal the scroll.
Jasem leaned down to look closer, and Ahmed leaned with him, observing the wonder in Jasem’s expression.
‘Two thousand years old,’ he stated. ‘Extraordinary, isn’t it?’
‘How did they get to America?’
‘Bedouins in Israel sold them to the family, who smuggled them to the U.S.’ Ahmed
paused thoughtfully. ‘Be warned, Jasem. These are extremely powerful documents. They could be very harmful if you are not ready.’
‘I am ready,’ said Jasem.
Thanks for reading! Final excerpt coming tomorrow!