Excerpt: Book of Judas by Linda Stasi

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When her infant son is placed in mortal danger, New York City reporter Alessandra Russo is forced to save him by tracking down the missing pages of the Gospel of Judas, a heretical manuscript that was unearthed in Al-Minya, Egypt, in the 1970s. The manuscript declares that Judas was the beloved, not the betrayer, of Jesus.

The Gospel disappeared for decades before being rediscovered, rotted beyond repair, in a safety deposit box. Rumors insist that the most important pages had been stolen—pages that Alessandra now must find, if they even exist.

Do the lost pages contain a secret that will challenge Christianity’s core beliefs about the creation of life, or that might hold the power to unleash Armageddon? What if such explosive documents fell into the hands of modern-day terrorists, dictators, or religious fanatics?

Alessandra plunges into a dark world of murder, conspiracy, and sexual depravity…and most importantly, a race against the clock to save her own child.

Book of Judas will become available September 19th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

1

“The son of a bitch is dead. Wanna get drunk?” It was my pal Roy on the other end.

“What?”

“You know, hammered?”

“Roy? You sound like you’ve gone nuts.”

“Yup, nuts,” he answered, barely suppressing a laugh. Roy had been my best friend since high school. Death wasn’t something he usually took lightly—especially not since 9/11 when he’d lost so many of his firefighter buddies.

“Who’s dead?”

“Seriously, Russo?”

“Wait! Let me take this off speaker. I’m in the newsroom,” I said, wondering who and what he was talking about.

“I don’t care! I want the world to know. Ding dong, the ole son of a bitch is dead!”

“Oh my God! Your father? He died?” I asked, trying to keep my voice controlled.

“Finally!”

“I’m sorry. I mean, I know he was horrible to you, but your attitude is . . .”

“You sound like a girl,” he said, which he knew would rile me up because I liked to think of myself as a woman whose tough as any guy. The soldiers I was embedded with in Iraq used to say I could take it like a man. And I can.

I answered his poke with one of my own. “You should show some respect for the dead, Roy Boy.”

“You mean the same kind of respect dead Morris always showed me?”

Roy’s dad, Morris Golden, had always been an abusive brute—to his wife and to his son. His abuse got even worse, if possible, after he found out that his hero firefighter son was gay. He could no longer beat him—Roy’d become a big, strapping man—but verbal abuse from a parent can be a punch to the gut at any age.

“Jesus, you didn’t kill him or anything?” I asked, a little panicked now. Silence. “Roy? Did you kill him?”

What he said was: “Have you ever heard such great news on such a winter’s day?”

“It’s spring.”

“It is?”

“Shut up and stop being an ass. I’m sorry about your dad, Roy. I mean that, but I’m seriously concerned that you—”

He cut me off. Roy was trying to string me along, which had been our pattern since we were kids. But this was no time for games. I was late for the news meeting but I was equally concerned that Roy had finally snapped and killed the old bastard.

“That is not the attitude I expect from my oldest friend,” he mock-sighed. “Elation. Unmitigated joy. Piss-in-your-pants happy. All good. Feeling sorry that he’s dead? Not so good,” he said instead.

“Roy, cut the shit and answer me! How did he die? Tell me you didn’t kill him.”

“That’s two questions. And you yourself, Ali, didn’t answer my first one. Do you want to go get drunk?”

Getting more concerned by the second, and losing my patience with his games—and it took a lot for me to lose my patience with Roy; he was the one person besides my oldest girlfriend, Dona, to whom I allowed this kind of slack—I sucked it up and said, “I’ll ask you one more time. Buddy, did you kill your father?”

“Nope. I wanted to, but I didn’t. He called, I went over. Dead!”

Just then, a copy kid started hovering around my desk.

“Ali, the meeting’s starting in five,” he said. Then, “The editor said to get your ass in there. And he means it.”

I gave him a look—learned at my mother’s knee—that could scare a Taliban leader out of his sunglasses. It seemed to scare whatever courage he had left, right out of him, too.

I didn’t say that—Mr. Brandt did,” the kid choked out. “He said to quote him exactly!”

“OK, OK,” I snapped, “but as you can see, I’m very busy on the phone, here. With a source. Tell that to Mr. Brandt.”

Now the kid looked like he might projectile vomit. I brushed him away, warning, “Go ahead, tell him. You can’t be timid in this game, kiddo. Get moving!”

Apparently twenty-two-year-old males have no understanding of the dangers of continually poking sleep-deprived, water-retaining new mothers who also happen to be dealing with friends who sound like they’re on the edge.

Back on the phone, Roy was still talking, saying, “I been called a lotta things in my time, but a source? Soused yes, source no. ”

“But how did he die?” I repeated.

“Here, ask him,” he said. “He’s right here! In his house. We’re—I’m—waiting for the coroner.”

“Jesus, Roy. You’re in your old house in Hicksville just sitting there with your dead father?”

“It’s like a pre-shivah. But with the dead guy present, and without the snacks or the crowds. Not that this old bastard will have anybody to mourn him, or that I’ll even sit shivah. But I’m always up for some nice hamentashen and dry pound cake.”

The copy kid came back from the conference room, hovering again like a fly on bad meat.

“I said I’ll be right in dammit!” The kid turned on his heels and scooted away just as the HR lady walked by. She gave me the look that said, “We don’t speak to other employees like that.”

I wanted to tell her to drop dead, but we don’t speak to other employees like that. We used to all the time—it’s a newsroom for God’s sake, not a yoga retreat—but even we reporters are now supposed to be civil. What is this world coming to?

“Roy, I gotta go. And please, go wait outside or something. Don’t just sit there . . .”

“Outside? And give up the comfort of the living room? Or maybe I should call it the dead room now?”

“You’re in the living room? With the corpse? For Christ’s sake, Roy!”

“Hey, this was a long time coming. Let me enjoy the moment, will ya?”

“Ugh, that’s rough, even from you. And by the way, how did he die again?”

Once again he ignored my question and chirped, “Yup—me and dead Pops—we’re in the living room and I’m staying right here. I want to make sure he’s really dead.”

“You’re a sick bastard.”

“See you tonight and we’ll celebrate?” he asked as though I hadn’t just called him a sick bastard.

“All right,” I said. “I’ll meet you tonight, if I can get a sitter.” As I sort of mentioned, I was now the proud (read: harried) single mom of a six-month-old bouncing baby boy named Pantera Russo. Or Terry for short, because, as my mother reminded me daily, “Pantera is no name for a child.”

“I’ll drive into the city,” Roy said. “Got the old man’s car. I should say the old man’s old car.”

“Not the ’85 Buick?”

“None other. Whaddaya say we meet at El Quijote—seven-ish?”

Ish, and if I can get the sitter to stay. I’ll text you. Gotta run or I’ll get fired,” I said, while running to the conference room, cell phone to my ear.

“You’re a Pulitzer winner, they can’t fire you.”

“I never actually won. Bye!”

“Oh, Russo?”

“What? Please, honey, I’m late for the morning news meeting!”

“I forgot to tell you something.”

“I know you’re in a bad way, but I will be, too, in about thirty seconds if I don’t get in there . . .”

I remember that I was standing in The Standard’s newsroom just under the big screen that digitally flashed the headlines right next to the ancient clock that didn’t do anything much. You tend to remember things like where you were when your life changes forever.

He couldn’t be stopped. “Just listen to this one last thing,” he said, now sounding—what? Desperate? Excited?

“On his deathbed—yup, the deathbed confession really does happen—even though that was last night and I didn’t know he was dying.” Roy continued somewhat out of breath, “Old Morris, he grabbed my hand, my good beer mug hand at that, in his boney mitt and said, ‘Son’—like the old bastard ever called me anything but ‘Useless’—‘Son, I need to tell you that I stole something.’

“‘Yeah, like what—my childhood?’ I told him, so he squeezed my hand like he wanted to break it, which he probably did, and wheezed out, ‘Stop whining, Useless.’ I swear he said that. Then, he said, ‘What I stole were some pages. A codex. When I was bank manager.’ He called it a ‘Judas bible’ that had been left in a safety-deposit box in his bank branch in Hicksville. He claims he only stole some pages because he wanted to save them from rotting.”

“Wait a damned minute!” I said, stopping short and putting my rush to the morning meeting on a brief hold. “I’ve heard about that. It was called the Gospel of Judas. I know it because we covered it when National Geographic negotiated for it. But—I swear—even though it was mentioned that it had been left in a Citibank in Hicksville, I never made the connection that it was our branch—our Hicksville branch. But, Roy, it was supposed to be rotted into a bazillion pieces.”

“Well, not all of it was found then, my father told me. He said he stole it way back in the 1980s or something. Then he sealed it up in a brass tube in the house.”

“Jesus! No pun intended. How many pages did he steal?”

“He didn’t say.”

“But why those particular pages? Did he tell you that at least?”

“Yeah, but get this: he said he stole only the pages that revealed Jesus’ secret to resurrection. Like Jesus’ resurrection was nothing but a magic trick.” He spat with such disgust, I felt like I’d have to clean my phone receiver. Roy’s Jewish faith was solid—but he’d always had a real soft spot for Jesus. Thought He was a cool dude. His words, not mine.

I wasn’t swayed and like the good reporter that I am, stuck to the storyline. “Did Morris expect you to use this resurrection magic trick on him or something?”

“I sincerely doubt that. If that were the case for sure he woulda chosen somebody else,” he answered, knowing that I knew their brutal father-son history. “But my father also said that the stolen pages were like two thousand years old and because of what was in them, they were worth—are you ready?”

I was more than ready. A great story like this would take me off the “she’s-just-back-from-maternity-leave-so-stick-her-on-the-easy-boring-city-council-since-she’ll-have-to-rush-home-beat,” and put me back where I had been before I took maternity leave. I knew that even thinking about the story opportunities as my oldest friend was sitting next to his father’s stiffening body was probably so awful it would condemn me in my next life to manning a toilet-bowl brush in a public toilet in China, but still, I am a reporter at heart.

“He said these resurrection pages or whatever the hell they are, are worth,” pause, pause, “ten million bucks!”

I nearly dropped my phone and just stood there stock-still with Bob glaring daggers at me from inside the glass-walled conference room.

“How much did you say?”

“Ten million.”

“You inherited something worth ten million from that tightwad? Oh, I’m sorry, your father, that tightwad.” How could it be that dour, dull Morris the bank manager was actually an international man of mystery? Impossible. The guy rode a bike to work to save fifteen cents on gas—way before it was hip to ride a bike to work. He had three suits, all dark blue, and one good pair of shoes that he resoled over and over again for thirty-five years. “Bastard!”

I wasn’t going to be cleaning the toilets in Hebei province in my next life for saying that at least. Roy’s father was an abusive terror. I remember he made Roy work like Cinderella around the house for an allowance, which he was made to use to pay for his own piano lessons, which Roy despised in the first place. Roy would be left with zero money for regular kid stuff like the ice cream truck, and when his mother got caught slipping him a couple of bucks out of her tightly controlled grocery money, Morris knocked her around so bad that she ended up in the hospital. She told the doctors she’d fallen down the stairs. How many times a day do doctors hear that one?

“There’s a hitch though,” Roy continued.

“A hitch?”

“He said that if these pages are unlocked in the wrong way without the proper keys, it’ll release Armageddon.”

“Armageddon? That could be a hitch, yes,” I sort of joked back.

Then, “See, though, even if all the spells or whatever the hell is needed to open it properly are followed, he said that if terrorists got hold of it, it would give them the power to raise the dead and control who lives and who dies.”

“You’re talking all the power in the world! Jesus H., Roy.”

“I realize that,” he said, perhaps finally taking in, or maybe believing what his old man had said.

“Hey, kiddo? Forget El Quijote, I’ll come out to Hicksville.”

Copyright © 2017 by Linda Stasi

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