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PART I
PROVENANCE

CONSTANT

Palamedes saw the tall Englishman come down the passage from the Grande Rue de Pera toward the entrance of the bar. Hair and skin of the same color—the palest sand—he seemed to enjoy being out among the darker tribes. He was dressed in a blue jacket and yellow ascot that must be his idea of how not to advertise himself on the prowl. A colonel in his real life, he passed in and out of the Hagopian Han with some regularity, like all the spies, and perhaps he thought the world did not recognize that salient fact. Perhaps he did not care. If Palamedes had learned one thing about the British, it was that they did not care for anything but how not to care.

They had run the city for several years, pushing aside all those who did not accept their role as rulers. Even when it was clear they were simply one more in a long line of lords and masters to claim Constantinople—and their time was coming to an end—the obvious did not deter them. They walked as this one walked, asserting dominion with every step. He smiled at the White Russian flower girl who came up to him with a basket filled with wan roses and fresh oregano, but he did not buy. The smile was to prove he had an eye for a leg in knee-length boots and a care for social disease. Perhaps he was saving himself for cleaner, though surely not for better.

Or perhaps it was because his manner seemed effeminate, though nothing about him spoke of the sexually confused except the supercilious twist of this mouth. Gay in the English fashion, possibly. Over a barrel and up the ass, no.

Led by Hamid, the waiter, Colonel Willard Makepeace came up to the tall beer barrel at which Palamedes sat. Hamid held out the stool for the colonel to assume, and when that was done Hamid backed away, but not without comment.

"Madame et Monsieur," he said very low in Turkish.

"Bring me another raki," said Palamedes in Turkish. In English, he said to the colonel. "What will you have, sir?"

"A gin blind," he said, turning to the waiter. "You know the recipe, I suppose."

Having little idea what had been said, Hamid nodded gravely. "Of course, sir."

Palamedes thought he should not intervene in this process. The Englishman would drink what was put before him, being accustomed to grief in a city that did not accept his kind. He would be grateful if the drink was not poisoned. Most British officers drank only in the hotel bar at the Pera Palas for exactly that reason.

"My name is Palamedes," he said, putting out his hand.

The Englishman returned the handshake as if he would do whatever was necessary to hurry his business along. "Willard," he said.

"Are you with the Occupation, Willard?"

"That's a good guess," he said, with a bad smile. "I could tell you I was on tour for my health, but there must be better places than Constant at the moment."

"Yes, I'm sure there are."

"But you seem quite at home. You're a Greek, Palamedes?"

"In what is rapidly becoming a Turkish city," he said. "I understand that the Pasha who came from the Turkish army has taken over much of the government. They say he'll soon have it all. Ever since Izmir fell to the Turks, your people seem to have given up on this country."

"We agreed on joint control of the city with the Turks," said the colonel of intelligence. "It seemed necessary."

"An expedient."

"Since the Greek army took to the sea at Izmir, we have little means of stopping the Turks," he said. "And less justification. I think there will be a treaty soon."

That did not sound like a death knell, but was. The Turks had massacred the Greeks in Izmir who had not taken to the sea. To think they would do otherwise in Constantinople was betting against history. And history usually won.

"But shall we talk of more immediate things?" said the colonel. "I'm here at the suggestion of Mister Ferletti."

"Ferletti is a knowledgeable man. A Levantine and honest."

"And he tells me that you have an item of interest to sell."

"That depends on your interest," said Palamedes. "I was told you are a collector."

"And don't I wish I had a collection," said the colonel. "I've dabbled here and there, mostly in coins and most of them Byzantine, but to call it anything but a short drawer in my quarters would be an exaggeration."

"Something for your people back in England, then."

"Yes. Just like that."

But Palamedes knew better. This man had come to the city with a hobby that mounted to an obsession with every buy he made. He began with coins and casual artifacts until Ferletti and the other dealers of Pera had nearly run through their supply of the real and unreal. Willard's drawer was of grand proportions, and no doubt he kept it at his office, where security was good. But he was cheap, too. Very stingy. That was usually the way of collectors unless they fastened on an item they simply had to have.

"I hope I'm not wasting your time," said Palamedes as if he were giving up the chase before it began. "My focus does not run to Byzantine coins, and frankly I know little about the others."

"But you do have something to sell."

Palamedes hesitated. He saw Hamid dodging patrons in the aisle as he came with the raki and the nameless. It was good to wait, but bad to wait too long.

"I have something for the discerning collector," he said. "It's very much out of the ordinary."

The colonel nodded as if he had expected nothing less. Palamedes did not know exactly what Ferletti had told this man, but it would be enough to ensure his commission. The colonel was about to explore the area with English vigor when Hamid placed the gin blind on top of the barrel, and with less ceremony, the raki.

"Let me take care of that," said the colonel as his hand moved to his pocket.

"Not at all," said Palamedes. "It's my treat."

Although he had been stationed in Constant, as they called the city, for more than two years, the colonel seemed not to understand the etiquette of this place. Obligation, even the smallest, was everything. It was so even to people who thought it was not.

Hamid left with some disappointment when Palamedes told him to put the bill on his account. It was a large one that could grow larger this night. A celebration? That might happen.

"Now to your item," said the colonel. "Ferletti sung your praises. He says you put him into an icon that was a miracle of beauty and craftsmanship."

Palamedes said nothing. He nodded.

"He said you had access to major curiosities. You were with the Department of Antiquities until lately."

"That's true," said Palamedes, who understood that he should not claim too much at the outset. "I was a supervisor of an archeological section. I wish I could say it was an impressive department, but that would not be so. The government—the Ottoman government, that is—came to an appreciation of the past without a great deal of commitment—or money to ensure it. Their own past is mysterious to them, and the Byzantine past a nonentity. I'm sure you guessed as much."

The colonel tossed his head lightly. "I had that distinct impression. Who in the hell would let Schliemann run off with the riches of Troy? As far as I can see, no one here seems to think of anything but tomorrow if they can squeeze it in after today."

"Stupidity, yes," said Palamedes. "It's possible to bribe anyone here at any level. With the future so uncertain, the tendency has increased. I think there will never be another time when so many valuable items are available on the shadow market."

"I'm listening, Palamedes."

"Have you traveled on the railway here, Willard? Perhaps you came to the city that way."

"On the Orient Express with a connection from Berlin," said the colonel. "That was my last assignment—and a terrible patch I was glad to leave. Another great city on the verge of great change. Collapse might be a better word."

Palamedes waved his hand west toward Topkapi Palace across the Golden Horn, a direction that was good enough for any Englishman. "So many things were destroyed when the railway was built. The entire shoreline was dug up, including some of the oldest areas of the city—and you must know how old they are. Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and the rest. The workers sometimes found objects of interest in the tremendous debris they created. Of course, they had no idea of the value of the things they unearthed."

"But others did, Palamedes. I imagine you most of all."

"That was one of my first assignments with the department," he said, thinking it certainly should have been. "Perhaps a man like you—who comes from a country of considerable resources—will not believe it, but I worked alone much of the time. Sometimes entire buildings of great age were simply plowed under. Often, their stones were taken up and used in other construction. Sea walls, public buildings, etcetera. There was absolutely no one to supervise the smaller findings that came to light. And many that never came to light. I suppose we'll never know which things went into the pockets of the workers. They took what they could get for objects that no one really wanted."

"Amazing," said the colonel. "Believable."

So Palamedes hoped. The story was half the sale. With this man, it might be more. He had just enough information to be led willingly in the direction he wanted to go. Not that Palamedes planned to author a fraud. He was determined to provide value, more than any man deserved. It would have been a point of grievance at any other time.

"At one time the Palace of the Byzantine emperors covered most of the hill from Hagia Sofia all the way down to the shore of the Sea of Marmara," he said. "It was not a single building but a complex of many. Some were huge and communicated with others by passageways above and below ground. To say it was a labyrinth—an awesome labyrinth—is to state the obvious."

"I know that much," said the colonel.

"Then perhaps you understand that the Palace was a thousand years in the making. It was made and remade a hundred times by every ruler who added wealth to the empire. Constantinople was the capital of the richest empire on earth. The objects the Byzantines gathered in those buildings are beyond our imagination."

Willard had begun to nod halfway through Palamedes' description of untold riches wanting to be told. Now he put forth his demurral. "Yes, but didn't the Turks snatch the treasures? It took them all this time—centuries—to spend the plunder. From what I see, they succeeded too well."

"The city was plundered twice," said Palamedes. "Your people—the Crusaders—came first in 1203. Why they attacked another Christian city no one knows, except that it was there. They were on the way to the Holy Land that everyone thought was their goal. Of course, they were greedy. They did a fine job of stripping the city of everything that was precious, including all the relics of Jesus and the Holy Mother they could find. By the time the Turks took the city two hundred years later, they found little booty. Not that they cared a great deal. They wanted the strategic location, knowing it was the thing of greatest value."

"So the blame goes to us, eh? In this version, the West."

"Blame?" said Palamedes, who drank a bit of his raki for the first time since the Westerner had come to the table. "It's history, sir. No need to find blame in it unless you're looking hard for a lesson."

"Actually not," he said with a smile that moved from bad to wicked. "You might put me down in the long list of invaders. And hope you're right about it. Now what do you have for me this night?"

"Something that slipped through the hands of the plunderers," said Palamedes. "Perhaps they overlooked it their haste. The stone I have was mostly likely the eye of a statue. My feeling is it must have been one of the eyes of Apollo, since he was the god of revelation."

"Revelation." The colonel laughed. "Almost as good as sex, they say."

"Though not as available," said Palamedes. "This has always been a city that valued the sublime. Apollo, Jesus of Nazareth, Mohammed of the Koran. All lifted the eyes of their followers to the eternal for a glimpse behind the veil. Legend has it that the man who possesses this stone holds the key to the future in his hands."

"Legend. Rather glad you said that."

But he was interested. He went to his gin blind now, heedless of its recipe. The measure was beyond a British sip. It was preparation.

"I don't know what the stone is composed of, but it's a very pleasing green," said Palamedes after his measure of raki. "But when cleansed in seawater, the color changes to an extraordinary shade of bluish-green. And it glows in the strangest way. It's not an effect that lends itself to a description in science. The change in color remains as it is for some time. I was astonished when that first happened. I still am."

"A stone incarnate," said the colonel, liking his words.

"The ancients had a word for that," said Palamedes. "Archeiropoietai. It means not man-made. God-made. A natural object improved by the Almighty."

"Perhaps I should see the object for sale now," said the colonel with his free hand. "And the transformation, too."

"I'll gladly present it for your inspection," said Palamedes. "And I promise you won't be disappointed. If you are, my price will not have to be met."

"And that would be?"

"Seventy pounds," said Palamedes.

"Impossible," said the colonel.

"British pounds," said Palamedes if he had not heard the colonel's demurral. "And not the equivalent in another currency. I'm afraid I'm not one of those who see the future in this city as what I'd like it to be. Seventy pounds will see me and my family to another place."

"It should see you to America for that sum. Palamedes, what you ask is beyond my means."

"For an object that defies description, Colonel?"

He noticed the inclusion of his rank immediately. "Especially for that, I'd say. You must think I'm in charge of the Ottoman Bank. Its wreckage, that is."

"I know what you're in charge of, Colonel. In fact, I know you for a man who has access to secrets."

Willard Makepeace seemed not to mind that his identity was known. He was certainly one of those who liked his position and its leverage on the future. Coincidentally, it was something like the object he had come to bargain for.

"Let me tell you frankly, Palamedes, the only secret worth knowing is my sailing date from this city."

"Yes, sir. And my sailing date as well."

The smile of the colonel of intelligence was beyond wicked now. It was himself. "And if I could arrange that?"

"My exit would have to be quiet, Colonel. Secure."

"Of course."

"Then let's say the price would be fifty pounds for the God-made."

"Thirty."

"Forty-five."

The colonel would have said thirty-five, and insisted upon it, if Palamedes had not offered to pick up the drinks. Fortunately, raki was cheaper than obligation. And the gin blind might do just that. It seemed they had an agreement in principle.

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THE INNER SANCTUM

Although Samson Mondieu had been hired from his job at the Library of Congress into Claw, he had never met the firm's founder, Horace Clawson. In the early days, when Claw was a search engine in a crowded field of competitors, the CEO had run the company as his personal domain, managing the everyday minutely. Even now, after he had taken Claw public and retreated to its board of directors, the new directions in R&D were still generated by him. The latest emphasis centered on programs that measured human responses on the Internet, coming closer every day to blurring the line between real and artificial intelligence. That might not be a natural progression, but it was certainly where all the money was going.

These days, no one saw Clawson often around headquarters in Northern California. If it was the staggering sum he had received for his share of the company, or his age and shifting interests, the result was withdrawal from contact with all but upper level management. Or so Samson had heard. He had worked for Claw less than a year and knew his boss from publicity photos.

So he had been surprised when he was summoned to the townhouse on the west side of New York and told to bring nothing but himself. The order had come from Human Resources—the head of the department—who fashioned it into a question. "You do know about document integrity? I mean pen and ink. Nothing digital."

Samson had not answered. He nodded to the man who had come down to his office on the second floor. While the man filled him in on the future, Samson shut off his computer and accepted the plane ticket along with the news that he was to report to the legend, because no one ever refused Horace Clawson.

The building was seven stories with an entrance not on Central Park West but on the turn to Eighty-Third. The classical columns meant to separate the rich from the very rich and quietly famous, like a temple of money in hiding. The no-name door was answered by a man without a uniform who knew everything about security. He did not ask for credentials or reference a list, but had Samson hold for a scan before leading him down the hall to a second, more private elevator.

So the inner sanctum really was a sanctum. By the buttons on the elevator panel, Clawson's space took up half the building-the better half, facing the rise in the park. Since space was the most precious thing in Manhattan, the statement made was more impressive for being unstated. It was so noiseless that Samson was startled when the bell pinged their arrival on the fifth floor.

Directly ahead as the door opened was a well-appointed room that would have served as the center of the house for all but the top percentile. All the motifs—even the chandelier and gee-gaws—echoed the basic structure of the building—early twentieth century, but chopped, resectioned, restored and climate-controlled.

The second door on the left down the hallway was the library or study. Horace Clawson, master of the algorithm, sat at an imperial desk with shelves of books that reached to the ceiling. He had graying hair that was sparser than his publicity photos and a thicker, whiter beard. Dressed for the yacht in a cotton sweater and Sperry topsiders, he rose from the helm to greet his visitor with a smile that knew what it felt even if it felt nothing. His height was impressive, six-two, with a waistline that knew the treadmill, but it was his eyes that showed the difference. They were slate-blue and so neutral they put distance between him and the world that others visited. His voice was deep but controlled, too.

"Good to meet you, Samson," he said as they shook hands. "I understand most of your work at the Library of Congress was for the Congressional Research Service. Arms control."

"Arms transfer, sir. I tracked where all the lethal stuff was going. And filed a report."

"Might be better if they read it, eh?"

"In a perfect world."

Clawson liked that, as everyone did who disliked Congress, which was nearly everyone. "I can't say I was responsible for bringing you in from the cold, but I knew what I wanted for a researcher when I had one in-house."

Samson noted the jargon, though he never understood what the cold was. It was nothing he had ever known. "Thank you, sir."

"Wesleyan graduate," he said. "Good school, good international departments."

"Absolutely."

"You studied the Classics—Greek and Latin," said Clawson. "A working knowledge of French and Spanish."

"When they work," said Samson. "I'm afraid I haven't had much chance to use them lately."

"I'm aware you spent much of your career in government service before you came to us," he said, his hand reaching to Samson's arm to guide him to the chair before his desk. "Before you went to the Library you put in eight years with other government agencies."

"Yes, sir."

Clawson stepped back to his desk. "The alphabet gets long in there, but I understand most of your time was spent in the intelligence community."

"It's not much of a community," said Samson. "One big umbrella these days, but they don't have much use for each other except when they put out press releases."

"Turf wars."

"I'd say it's pettier than war, sir. Calling it that got some attention and a lot of money to spend on their wish lists."

"You understand I inquired," said Clawson, drawing an arc with his right hand. "Or as far as I could. It seems some of your work is still under classification."

"It's not very mysterious," said Samson, knowing that was as true as the government. "I was an intelligence analyst for two years. The rest of the time I was attached to a field unit. That's probably where the classification comes in. They don't want it known that the people in my unit were farmed out to joint commands. Most of the work was riding a desk and sifting documents. And waiting for a call. The times we were active in the field didn't amount to a tenth of the total."

"Well, we won't get into that," said Clawson, as if he might be putting it aside for later. "I have a need for a man with your experience. He should know research and documents and the places they go to hide. The work involves some digging. I hope you're all right with that."

"I'm fine with it," said Samson. "My work was all digging and hunting. A manuscript or a man doesn't matter as much as most people think."

"It could be both in this case," said Clawson. "All right?"

"Not a problem."

"I've already gathered a team to manage this project," said Clawson. "They're prime academic numbers in their own right, but I became aware of a need that hadn't been filled. Call it a swing man, which is what I'll call you. He can talk the talk and lose none of the references. He can go into the field when necessary. Go on the hunt, let's say."

"I'd say yes if I know what we're dealing with."

"A manuscript, of course," he said. "It's very old and without a doubt genuine. Byzantine for the most part."

"For the most part?" said Samson. "Are there several parts?"

"It's a multifaceted piece," said Clawson. "I bought it from a private dealer who was close with the facts on how it came to market. Ignorance was a condition of the sale. If I hadn't wanted the piece so much, I would have pressed him for its origin. But I agreed."

"I understand," said Samson. "You think the manuscript might be pirated?"

"At some point," said Clawson. "The exact point is obscure. These things can travel indirect roads to their destination. But I wouldn't want to lose it, and I wouldn't want anything known before the team finishes its work."

"I can agree with that," said Samson, who saw that competition might arise. Other collectors, foreign governments who discovered that their past had been put up for sale. "I can see that pressure could come with forward publicity."

"That's possible," he said. "I want to say it isn't likely, but I'm not much for the future until we know more about the past."

"What happens at that point?"

"We'll keep a close eye on the process," he said as if he had no intention of going deeper now. "This was a special purchase. The manuscript is faced with icons that make the entire piece worth the price. That's what attracted me. The icons are beautiful examples of Byzantine art, and I bid for the piece on that basis. I had no idea the manuscript would be interesting on its own. When I suspected that was true, I consulted experts in the field. They convinced me that I needed a research team to investigate the manuscript."

"You mean you gathered an entire team for translation?"

"Not just that," he said with a small turn in his voice. "Other factors have come into play. For instance, the manuscript has a title that doesn't make sense. It's called The Mysteries of the Stone."

"Mysteries," said Samson. "Plural."

"That seems to be the case. The team is trying to determine the relevance of that now."

"Are they having problems finding relevance?"

"So far, we haven't found as much as we'd like," said Clawson with obvious regret. "But I'm confident they will. They're working hard on discovery, especially since there appears to be an underlay of previous material."

"Previous?"

"Some text that was obscured by the present layer."

"So the manuscript is a palimpsest."

Clawson nodded with momentum. The complication he had guaranteed was moving forward. Medieval manuscripts were not usually made of paper but thick durable parchment that was sometimes reused. Multiple use was possible with animal skin, since the original text could be scraped off and new layers added. Like canvas reused for painting, no one knew if the addition was more valuable than what had been committed to the parchment first. And there was really no way to know short of taking it down. Samson hoped that was not the same as taking it apart.

"I see why you gathered a team."

"You'll meet them soon," said Clawson in his command voice. "If you're in for the duration of the project, that is. I have to know that now."

"I don't see a problem with a thorough investigation of the piece," said Samson. "If it comes to more, we can talk."

"You won't have to do anything illegal," said Clawson. "It's possible you might have to work around the edges at times."

"I've done that before," said Samson. "But I'm not sure we can plead national security this time around."

"Not our own," said Clawson, waving his hand with a gesture that carried. "But I accept what you're saying. I'd be disappointed if you said anything else."

Samson did not know how seriously to take the compliment. The obsession of collectors put them past exaggerations into territory that was reserved for the lawless. He had seen it before and found it amazing. Being this close to it unfortunately was to share it. Clawson knew that, too.

"I'm not looking to make an issue of anything," said Samson. "As long as I know I have access to you for the fine points."

"I'll probably be around more than you'd like," he said. "Over the shoulder, I hope not."

"I suppose seeing the project through might take a while."

"It may be longer than we think," said Clawson. "We have other complications. You'll learn of those as we go along."

"Layers within layers," said Samson. "I like it."

"I'm glad to hear that," said Clawson. "Enthusiasm is the best part of any work."

"You can be sure I'll bring mine."

"I'll give you a twenty percent upgrade in salary," he said. "Expenses—whatever come along—and I do expect some."

"That's generous, Mister Clawson."

"Harry," he said. "And don't you worry—I always get my money's worth."

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