Norwood Press, 2015 (hardcover)
Open Road (trade paperback)
Open Road (eBook)

Two ancient and priceless biblical documents hold revelations that could change the world as we know it

In 930 CE, a revered group of scholars pen the first sanctioned Bible, planting the seed from which other major religions will grow. But in 1953, half the manuscript goes missing while being transported from Syria. Around the same time, in the foothills of the Dead Sea, an ancient scroll is discovered—and promptly stolen. Six decades later, both parchments stand at the heart of a geopolitical battle between foreign governments and radical extremists, threatening the lives of millions.

With the American homeland under siege, the president turns to a team of uniquely trained covert operatives that includes FBI profiler Karen Vail, Special Forces veteran Hector DeSantos, and FBI counterterrorism expert Aaron Uziel. Their mission: find the stolen documents and capture—or kill—those responsible for unleashing a coordinated and unprecedented terrorist attack on US soil. Set in Washington, DC, New York, Paris, England, and Israel, The Lost Codex has been called “a masterwork of international suspense” and “an outstanding novel” by Douglas Preston and “brilliant” by Jeffery Deaver.

Read more about OPSIG Team Black and why The Lost Codex is book #3 .

From the first page, you know you’re in the hands of a storyteller at the top of his game: The Lost Codex has nonstop action, living-breathing characters, rich detail and sharp-as-a-knife prose. A brilliant job!”
Jeffery Deaver, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“A masterwork of international suspense, an enthralling mix of ancient history and modern terrorism, with rich settings, vivid characters, and a fascinating premise. From the opening chapter—in which a Dead Sea scroll with a stunning secret is discovered—to the final shattering twist, this is an outstanding novel from a major talent.”
Douglas Preston, #1 international bestselling co-author of Blue Labyrinth

“Incredibly realistic. This is the way we did it in the SEAL Teams. It is so true-to-life that it’s hard to believe it’s fiction. A fantastic story.”
Robert “Dusty” Barton, UDT US NAVY SEALS – BUD/S Class 51 (ret.)

“Jacobson’s entertaining third OPSIG Team Black novel contains enough edge-of-your-seat action sequences to fill a handful of Mission Impossible movies…this is an undeniable page-turner.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“A gripping page-turner that will only add to Jacobson’s already growing reputation as one of the best in the business. He shows he can handle not only domestic law enforcement, but international special ops stories as well.”
Suspense Magazine

“The Lost Codex has a plot that ratchets up the action in a realistic scenario…with intriguing characters (and) the added bonus of a great story line.”
Crimespree Magazine

“This story will take your breath away.”
— The Big Thrill

“Alan Jacobson swaps serial killers for ancient tomes to scintillating success in The Lost Codex, his first shot at entering the rarified world of Dan Brown an unqualified bulls-eye. In true Da Vinci Code tradition, Jacobson treats us to a tale centered on the remnants of the first Bible, which has resurfaced just in time to serve as a catalyst for even more global disruption than usual. Series hero Karen Vail is back, though on far less familiar territory as part of a task force searching for both the lost codex and the forces responsible for unleashing a wave of terrorist attacks across America. This is the kind of book Robert Ludlum would be writing if he were still alive. Jacobson seems both adept and at home in raising the stakes of his work in this puzzle of a tale in which fitting the pieces together is just as challenging as finding them in the first place. Storytelling at its best.”
The Providence Journal

“A faceless enemy has unleashed a series of coordinated attacks on U.S. targets. A covert ops team is tasked with a single mission: find and stop the terrorists, by any means necessary. What could have been just another counterterrorism novel is elevated to new heights in Alan Jacobson’s The Lost Codex. Jacobson brings a fresh take on the genre, incorporating a Dan Brown-esque twist involving ancient biblical documents that hold the secrets to the sinister plan—and much more…The author has a knack for making you feel as if you’re there, and you can almost smell the smoke in the aftermath of a D.C. subway attack or feel the tension on the streets of Gaza. Known as a bit of a research junkie, Jacobson skillfully grounds readers in the complex religious, geopolitical, and historical backdrop of the story without slowing down the action. Speaking of action, there’s no shortage. Edge-of-your-seat stuff. For those who are new to bestseller Jacobson—and this is a good entry point—there’s probably more backstory in some places than needed, though readers will still turn the pages fast and furious. For Karen Vail fans, while she’s not the central force of the novel, she’s a necessary force, adding humor and depth through her interactions with Uzi and DeSantos. Jacobson also subtly continues the personal evolution of Vail, who is one of the author’s finest creations.The Lost Codex is an ambitious, action-packed international thriller, but it’s also a story of justice and faith, sure to satisfy suspense and literary readers alike.”
The Strand Magazine

The Lost Codex

An OPSIG Team Black novel (#3)

Copyright (c) 2015 Alan Jacobson. All Rights Reserved.

 

PROLOGUE

 

Wadi Qumran
One mile Northwest of the Dead Sea
The West Bank, Jordan
August 6, 1953

Eylad Uziel walked carefully over the rough terrain of the Qumran caves. This was Bedouin territory in land governed by Jordan, but he was an Israeli—an unusual if not suicidal proposition. Then again, no one knew his true identity or nationality. Officially, he was the primary translator on the Catholic archaeological team led by Roland de Vaux, a French Dominican priest. Their sprawling, multiyear project was like no other in history: excavating the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Uziel, a soldier during Israel’s war of independence and a scholar before that, had been recruited into Mossad, the fledgling security service designed to gather information regarding threats to the state. Given Israel’s location, pinned in by hostile countries determined to wipe it off the face of the earth, Mossad’s charge was a vital asset during a time of unrest.

But Uziel’s assignment was extraordinary. In spring 1947 a Bedouin shepherd had stumbled onto a cave containing ancient scrolls on animal parchment that turned out to be a handwritten copy of the Old Testament, penned thousands of years ago under the threat of the advancing Romans and their conquering marauders. Uziel’s job was to blend in with the archaeologists working at the site, take stock of what was discovered, and perform a cursory accounting of its significance. Six years earlier, when the first cave had been discovered, the Bedouins who found the scrolls sold them to private antiquities dealers.

Israel, like the West Bank, was still under British rule at the time and powerless to stop the plundering of what its leaders felt was its legacy: the two-thousand-year-old documents were the earliest recorded portions of the Hebrew Bible ever discovered, copied by an ancient Jewish sect whose members likely believed that they were preparing an archive to preserve their religious and cultural traditions in the event the Romans sacked Jerusalem.

The scrolls belonged in a museum, not on the black market.

Uziel’s scholarly work, leading digs and excavating Israel’s hidden history in stone fragments, leather parchments, long-buried buildings, coins, and religious artifacts, also entailed providing analysis to the government and its burgeoning national museum, so that the ancient Jewish civilization that populated the Judean land over the centuries could be properly recorded, studied, and brought into historical perspective.

On November 29, 1947—the day of the historic United Nations vote in Queens, New York, that partitioned Palestine and led to the establishment of the state of Israel five months later—Uziel had purchased three scrolls from a Jordanian antiquities dealer.

Examining the manuscripts left him thirsty to see what other parchments had been holed away in that cave—and the adjacent caves that had been excavated in the subsequent years. Not far away sat the ruins of a complex that housed the Essenes, the Jewish sect whose community members were thought to be the scrolls’ primary scribes.

Despite Uziel’s efforts, and those of other Mossad and government agents, many of the ancient scrolls were still privately held—most notably, by a Palestinian family who had purchased them for a pittance from the Bedouin, who did not know the significance of what they had stumbled upon.

The Vatican had stepped in and taken custody of the rest, and despite requests from numerous Catholic and Jewish scholars, kept them under lock and key, sequestered for some as yet unstated reason.

Uziel made a case to the young Israeli government and national museum that they needed a set of eyes at the dig, overseeing any new discoveries.

Bolstering Uziel’s argument, intelligence analysts had heard rumors that Roland de Vaux’s deputy, Alberi Michel, was a bigoted, vindictive sort who was a fascist sympathizer and displayed flashes of anti-Semitism. Although Mossad could not verify such allegations, Uziel’s mission was approved and conceived in a way that the Israeli government could have eyes on the ground, ensuring that whatever remained of its cultural and historical treasures were not defaced, destroyed, stolen, or sold on the black market.

Uziel wore a straw hat with a wide brim and a white linen shirt, his skin brown from months in the intense sun. Standing on a precipice and looking out at the Qumran landscape, he drew a cotton rag across his brow. There was no breeze and the air was desert dry, despite the proximity of the Dead Sea, which sat off to his left, in plain view on this clear day. Directly in front of him were the undulating burnt sienna and cinnamon colored rocky outcroppings of the hills that sported small openings to the caves which had served as hiding areas for the clay jars that bore the scrolls.

A loud whistle echoed across the divide a few meters away, in the vicinity of Cave 11. Uziel made his way over, navigating the rough terrain and using rope ladders stretched across the stony surfaces.

“I’ve got something!” one of the men said in French. “Another scroll, a big one.”

Uziel quickened his pace. Finds of any magnitude were now few and far between, and witnessing the moment of its unveiling was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Uziel climbed the rope ladder, slipping twice and nearly taking a header when his toe missed the rung and instead hit a protrusion in the rock face. “What do you got?” he asked in Arabic.

“Look, look!” Michel said. He tossed his whisker brush aside and squared his body in front of the excavated find. “Give me a hand.”

There were now three men in the mouth of the cave behind Uziel. He knelt beside Michel and helped him lift the clay vessel from the loosened dirt.

“How do you know there’s a scroll in here?”

“There’s always a scroll in these pots.”

Uziel gave him a look.

“And I peeked.”

Uziel laughed—-more giddy with excitement than from the comment.

The two men carried the container carefully, the other workers standing aside as if in reverence of its contents. Twenty minutes later, they had the receptacle open and the scroll sitting on a work table that was shielded from the elements.

They put on clean work gloves, then Michel glanced at Uziel. “It’s big, like I told you.”

“I can see that.”

They held their breath as they began to slowly unroll it. After exposing three feet, they paused and Uziel hunched over the parchment. This was why he was here: to read, and translate, the Hebrew or Aramaic.

“Remarkably well preserved,” Uziel said. His eyes moved from right to left, line to line, when Michel nudged his left shoulder.

“What is it?” Michel asked. “What’s it say?”

Uziel kept reading. “This is … it’s different.”

“Different? How so?”

He carefully unrolled another foot and continued moving across the document. “Extraordinary.” He stopped and looked up. “Clear the table, give me more to read.”

“Tell me,” Michel said, staring at the black ink block letters. “What does it say?”

Uziel soldiered on, his lips moving as he spoke the Hebrew aloud. Ten minutes later, having reached the end, he reached for the chair behind him and sat down heavily.

“I swear it,” Michel said. “By the hand of Christ, I will strike you with my walking stick if you don’t tell me what it says.”

“Christ is an interesting choice of words.” He made eye contact and his elation turned to concern. “This could change history, my friend.”

PART 1

“Our military and intelligence personnel go face to face with the world’s most dangerous men every day. They have risked their lives to capture some of the most brutal terrorists on earth and they have worked day and night to find out what the terrorists know so we can stop new attacks. America owes our brave men and women some things in return; we owe them thanks for saving lives and keeping America safe…”
—PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, SEPTEMBER 6, 2006

 

“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions to be destroyed.”
—FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE

Chapter 1

14th Street NW
Washington, DC
Present day

The waitress set the glass of Board Meeting brown ale on the table in front of FBI profiler Karen Vail. Vail took a long sip and said, “Notes of dark chocolate and coffee. I’ve definitely developed a taste for this. It’s very … stimulating.” She winked at her fiancé, DEA special agent Roberto Hernandez.

“You mean like an aphrodisiac?” Robby asked. “Beer?”

Vail leaned close to him, her lips tickling his ear. “When we get home, after I pull your pants off, I’m going to take your—”
Two gunshots echoed off the facades of the neighboring buildings. Vail and Robby pulled their pistols in unison and ran toward the exit of the storefront bar.

“That was nearby,” Vail said as she hit the glass door. So much for a romantic night out.

“Anything?” Robby asked, swiveling in an arc, eyes scanning the nighttime cityscape.

The vapor from their now-rapid breathing trailed off like apparitions, carried on the breeze that found its way down the collar of Vail’s sweater. She had left without pulling on her coat, and the chill made her shiver involuntarily.

A shrill scream off to the right in the vicinity of 14th Street NW sent them sprinting down the block. They turned the corner—and saw a body laid out on the sidewalk, the blood pooled next to it dripping over the edge of the curb.

“Call it in,” Vail said as she continued on toward the injured man. She pressed two fingers against his carotid and shook her head. “Let’s secure the perimeter, hold the scene for Metro PD.”

Robby brought the phone to his ear and craned his neck to find the street signs so he could report their location.
Vail hovered over the body but could not resist the urge to check the identity of the deceased.

C’mon, Karen, let Metro do their jobs. This isn’t your case. This isn’t your jurisdiction.

She gently patted the man’s jacket with the back of her hand, then moved on to his jeans. In his front pocket Vail felt a wallet. She forced two fingers against the denim and extracted the smooth black leather bi-fold. Her heart skipped a beat as she splayed it open and saw an FBI shield. Agent Harlon Filloon.

Whoa. Was he killed because he’s a federal agent? Was he working a case? Or is it just a coincidence?

“Robby.” Vail held up the credentials so he could see what she had found, then folded them and slid them into her pocket.
He nodded as he finished the call and then reholstered his phone.

“Something’s not right.” She rose from her crouch and glanced around, her Glock now tight in her grip, following the direction of her gaze.

She moved toward the street corner a few yards away and heard feet slapping against asphalt. Fleeing suspect?
Vail pressed her back against the building’s masonry wall as Robby headed toward her.

“What’s up?”

“Footsteps. Running. Could be nothing.”

Glock out in front, chest high, elbows locked against her ribcage, she swung left, around the corner of the edifice—
And saw a man sprinting across Irving Street, approaching a row of brick townhouses. “Hey!”

He turned, their eyes met, and that’s when she saw the handgun glint in the amber glow of the streetlight.

“FBI, don’t move!”

He twisted his torso and something flew from his hands as he brought up the pistol. But Vail and Robby fired first.
One or both of them scored a direct hit—and a concussive blast blew them both back onto their buttocks, glass and shrapnel flying past, and against, them. Vail shook her head, opened her eyes, and looked up into a fog of detritus floating down toward her. She rolled onto all fours, her hearing diminished. Robby

She swung her gaze around and saw him on a knee, slowly pushing himself upright. “You okay?”

“I think so.” He staggered toward her, slipping on shards of glass littering the asphalt.

Car alarms blared as people scurried out of the nearby buildings, running this way and that, trying to escape a formless threat.

As Vail made her way toward the area where the perp was standing when they shot him, she became aware of her phone ringing—-and vibrating violently in her pocket.

Vail stopped and brought the handset to her face.

“Agent Vail, this is Director Knox.”

A call from the FBI director? On a Saturday night?

“Yes sir,” she said as she caught a glimpse of Robby starting to sift through the rubble. “Can you speak louder?” I just escaped being blown to bits and my hearing’s a bit muffled.

There was a pause, then, “We’ve got a situation I need you to handle.”

“Does it have anything to do with the gunshots? Or the bomb that just went off?”

“Yes. I know you’re on site.”

Vail looked around, her eyes trying to locate a camera—-but she did not see one. “You do?”

Then she remembered the ShotSpotter system installed around the district: hundreds of acoustic sensors designed to capture and instantaneously pinpoint certain sound frequencies, in particular those of gunfire.

“I need you to secure the scene.”

Vail jerked her head around as sirens blared in the distance. It was muted, but she definitely knew the unmistakable cry of a law enforcement vehicle. “Metro PD’s gonna be here in seconds. Why do you need me to—-”

“You are to take control of that scene. Not Metro PD.”

“But s—-”

“No buts. Listen to me, Agent Vail. You are to take control of that scene on my authority.”

“Okay, but—-”

“This is the time to follow orders and not ask questions. Can you do that?”

“Of course.” Who am I kidding? Hopefully the director.

“Harlon Filloon, the downed man, is an agent. You’re to protect his identity and keep others—meaning police, medical examiners, forensic personnel—-away from his body.”

“Yes sir.”

“Send Agent Hernandez home. And tell him not to talk with anyone about what he just saw.”

“Send him home?”

“I don’t have time to repeat my orders. Do as you’re told. I’ll be in touch.”

“Yes sir.”

“We’ve dispatched a team that’s four minutes out. Let them in. No one else is to enter that scene. No one. Understood?”

“Understood.”

“Who was that?” Robby asked as Vail shoved the phone back in her pocket.

“You need to leave,” she said, still trying to process what Knox told her—attempting to read between the lines, attempting to understand, attempting to clear her head of the fog induced by the blast. “Go home.”

Robby tilted his head. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“I can’t say anymore. And you can’t either. Not to anyone.” She started toward the end of the block, where she had been standing when she pulled the trigger. “Just listen to me. I’ll call you as soon as I can.”

“What the hell’s going on? Why do I need to go home?”

“I don’t know. But I’ve got my orders. And—”

“Your orders are to send me home?”

“Yes. And it’d be best for you to listen.”

“Karen—”

“Robby, please. Let me deal with this and we’ll sort it out later, okay?”

Jonathan. What are the chances he was on this block at this exact moment when the bomb exploded? C’mon, Karen. Don’t be ridiculous. Ridiculous or not, she wanted to be certain her son was safe. “And check in on Jonathan. Make sure he’s okay.”

“I’m sure he’s fine. He’s probably at a bar with some friends.”

“A bar? What the hell are you—-”

“He’s in college. That’s what college students do.”

“Just call him. No—text him, make sure he’s okay. Humor me.”

“Fine.” Robby backed away, then slowly disappeared into the mass of people staring at the destruction—but keeping their distance, afraid to approach.

Vail did not like being rude to Robby, but what else could she do? When the boss of all your bosses ordered you to do something, you did it, right? Actually, I’d better not answer that.

As she was taking a quick survey of the area, getting a feel for what she was dealing with and making sure no one approached the scene, a police car pulled up behind her. “Police! Don’t move.”

You’ve gotta be kidding me. Vail turned slowly, hands up, and identified herself. “I’m a federal agent. I’m gonna remove my creds,” she said, carefully extracting her Bureau ID and then holding it up. “I’ve taken control of the scene and I need you to clear the area. I’m under orders from FBI Director Douglas Knox. This is a federal investigation, a matter of national security.”

The cop clicked on his tactical flashlight and pointed it at her face.

“Turn that goddamn thing off,” Vail yelled. “Notify all responding units to establish a larger perimeter and evacuate any restaurants or residences in a two-block radius.”

“I don’t take orders from you. This is our jurisdiction—”

“Look, I’m just doing as told. You need to do the same. Tell your lieutenant to contact Director Knox’s office. Let the brass fight it out.”

The officer seemed to think that was a good idea because he pulled his radio and began speaking into it—hopefully conveying what she had said and not requesting reinforcements for dealing with a deranged redhead with stolen FBI creds standing in the middle of a potential crime scene.

While the cop jabbered into his two-way, a couple of large black unmarked cabover vans pulled up, two or three dozen personnel hopping out the back doors dressed in dark tactical coveralls with white luminescent block letters spelling POLICE.

“You Vail?” a man with a square jaw asked as he approached.

“Who are you?”

“The director told me to touch base with you. We’ll secure the perimeter. He wants you to start your investigation.”

My investigation? “Right.”

He seemed satisfied with that response because he turned and headed toward the knot of similarly attired officers who were moving gawkers away from the scene.

A moment later, Vail felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned and saw one of the men holding up a jacket. “You’ve gotta be freezing.”

Must’ve heard my teeth chattering. “Thanks so much. You’re my hero.”

The man nodded curtly. As Vail snuggled into the coat, her Samsung vibrated with a text from Robby:

jonathans fine. hes at a bar. told you

She dashed off a quick thanks as a red Corvette pulled up. She knew that car, which now bore a personalized plate: BLACK 1.
The vehicle came to an abrupt stop and Hector DeSantos got out of the driver’s seat, dressed in a leather jacket and wearing small metal rimmed glasses.

“Hector, what the hell’s going on?”

“Nice to see you too. Knox is on his way with some intel. Other than that, you probably know more than I do.”

Vail gave him a dubious look. But before she could reply, a DC Fire Chief vehicle—and two engine companies—arrived, their diesel engines and airbrakes making it difficult to speak at normal volume.

They watched as three members of the tactical team approached the commander. A healthy helping of testosterone flew in both directions, Vail catching snippets of the argument. Finally the chief backed away, promising to escalate the matter to higher ranks—after playing his trump card that they were endangering lives by not permitting his men to check gas mains and other flammable infrastructure.

As the commander turned to make his case to his superiors over the radio, a Ford Explorer pulled in behind DeSantos’s Corvette. Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Uziel, head of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force for the Washington Metro field office, got out and headed toward them.

“Santa,” Uzi said with a fist bump against DeSantos’s closed hand. He glanced at Vail, eyes moving head to toe. “Karen. You look very nice. Did we interrupt something?”

“I was out with Robby.”

Uzi swiveled. “Where is the big guy?”

“I sent him home.” She noticed Uzi’s confused expression. “Knox’s orders.” Vail looked past his shoulder and saw the dozens of men in black outfits now establishing a physical boundary with unmarked sawhorses. I think I’m starting to see what’s going on here. “A few months ago, I’d be at a loss to explain what’s happening.”

“And now?” Uzi said.

“Let’s start with the fact that Hector’s here.” She looked at DeSantos, her head tilted ever so slightly, inviting him to jump in.

“And he doesn’t get involved in a case unless it’s a sensitive matter,” Uzi said, glancing at the damaged storefronts and streetscape.

“I’m standing right here,” DeSantos said. “You got a question?”

“You have the answers?” Vail asked. “Because, yeah, I’ve got questions. Like, What’s going on? What the hell happened? Who was the guy who got blown to bits?”

“Can’t tell you.”

Vail narrowed her eyes. “Don’t start with me.”

“Santa—”

“How about we go get some answers.” DeSantos handed booties to Vail and Uzi, then led them down the street and into the epicenter of the blast. Some of the men Vail saw arrive in the black trucks were poring over the wreckage, taking photos and measurements along the periphery and working their way closer to the body. Or what was left of it, which wasn’t much.
“Who are these guys?”

“A forensic crew,” DeSantos said.

Doesn’t look like any forensic crew I’ve ever seen.

“First impression?” Uzi said. “This was deliberate. And if that’s the case, Santa, it needs to be investigated as a terror attack until proven otherwise. As head of the JTTF—”

“That’s why you’re here, Boychick,” DeSantos said, using his nickname for Uzi—-Yiddish for buddy.

Uzi glanced at Vail.

“Now you know how I feel,” she said.

“Look.” DeSantos gathered them together and said, “All I know is that officially this is being investigated as a gas main explosion. Unofficially, yeah, it’s a terrorist event. And that’s why you’re here.”

“If I’d been properly notified, I could’ve had my task force—”

“It’s sensitive. These guys dressed in black?” He turned to Vail. “They’re OPSIG operators.”

Vail knew OPSIG stood for Operations Support Intelligence Group—DeSantos’s unofficial employer—a black ops unit housed in the basement of the Pentagon that carried out covert, deniable missions around the world.

“Why is this an OPSIG mission?” she asked. “And why am I here?”

“My guess is that you owe Knox for getting your ass out of hot water in London. He needs your expertise and sensibilities on this. You also happened to be first on-scene and he needed someone here he could trust.”

I was hoping he wasn’t gonna say that. “I’m not a Special Forces operator. I haven’t had the training.”

“That,” DeSantos said, “will come.”

Can’t wait.

Two bright xenon headlights illuminated them, throwing their shadows across the buildings behind them.

“I think you’re about to get some answers,” DeSantos said.

The armored black Chevrolet Suburban SUV stopped alongside them and out stepped Douglas Knox, accompanied by two members of the director’s protection detail.

“Status?” Knox said, looking at Vail.

“Area secured. Expect calls from DC Metro and Fire.”

“Already taken care of.”

“May I ask—”

“Sir,” said one of the OPSIG agents. “We found something.”

They followed the man into the nearest residential apartment building, where the destruction was more pronounced. The odor of cordite was thick and the air was smoky. Using a tactical flashlight, he led them down into a basement room that was stocked with bomb-making materials—and vests in various stages of construction.

“Holy shit,” Vail said. “What are we looking at here?”

Knox turned to his protection detail. “Leave us.”

“But sir—”

“Knox faced the OPSIG operator. “Has this room been cleared? The building?”

“Yes sir.”

“We’re fine here,” Knox said to the agents, who reluctantly left. When the door closed, he continued: “We received intel this morning that there was a high probability of the first-ever suicide bombing on US soil.”

Vail felt her stomach tighten. This was not just bad news. It was horrible news of the worst kind. Planes hitting skyscrapers resulting in mass murder was traumatic enough. But conventional suicide bombings in a major US city was a whole other kind of terror—one affecting tens of millions of people all day, every day, until the bomber or bombers were caught. The majority of the country’s population would be living on edge, waiting for the next explosion to rip through their restaurant, park, or playground.

“We’ve been working our sources trying to verify that information.”

“Why wasn’t I told?” Uzi asked.

Vail thought that was a very good question, but was surprised to see Uzi challenge the director so brazenly, particularly in front of others.

“I made a judgment call, Agent Uziel. Which I often do as FBI director.” Knox gave him an icy look. “Our source in Turkey, Cüneyt Ekrem, was—”

“Ekrem’s unreliable.”

“Exactly. And he’s failed us multiple times in the past. We only took it seriously because of the implications. The Agency has been unable to verify the intel with even one other source. We intercepted no communication suggesting such an attack was even being planned. Until half an hour ago. My next call was going to be to ASAC Shepard,” Knox said, referring to the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI task force, Marshall Shepard. Uzi’s boss.

Vail and Uzi exchanged a look—which she was unable to interpret.

“I never made that call because we got a report of an explosion.”

“The explosion was the result of my—and Agent Hernandez’s—gunfire.”

Knox turned to the OPSIG agent. “Was he wearing a suicide vest?”

“Yes sir. That’s what exploded.”

Knox swung his gaze back to Vail. “Was he planning to detonate?”

She played it back in her head. “I don’t think so. I’m guessing that he was trying it out, seeing how well he was able to conceal it under his coat. Hard to say. But Agent Filloon must’ve seen something that looked suspicious and confronted him. He shot Filloon and tried to get back to his hideout. But Robb—-Agent Hernandez—and I engaged him and … well, the rest you know.”

Knox began pacing, the fingers of his right hand massaging his scalp.

“Was Filloon on duty?” Uzi asked.

“He was,” Knox said. “I’ve had a number of agents mobilized all over the district searching areas, talking with CIs, trying to get verification.”

“I should’ve been notified,” Uzi said. “I should’ve been part of that. With all due respect, sir.”

“Noted.” Knox stopped and glanced at the workshop table, detonators, circuits, and timers laid out before him. “At least we found him—and his factory.”

Vail followed Knox’s gaze. “And we’re keeping this quiet because … ?”

“Because we don’t know what we’re dealing with yet,” Knox said. “And if Metro PD gets involved before we have our ducks lined up, things could get out of hand very quickly. Right now we need to manage the intel, manage the investigation, control who knows what, and when.”

Sounds to me like our FBI director is a control freak. Still, he does have a point. His reasoning is flawed for other reasons, but I’m not the one calling the shots.

“The public needs to know we’re under attack,” Uzi said. “They could become our eyes, which is particularly important when dealing with suicide bombers. Unfortunately, I know.”

Vail understood he was alluding to his time in Israel dealing with the Palestinian intifadas, where suicide attacks in Israeli towns killed scores of civilians in cafés, on school buses, in discos, at wedding ceremonies.

“The president wants to avoid a panic. We can stand here wasting time debating whether or not he’s right, but for now those are his orders. Which means those are your orders.”

Uzi pointed at the laptop at the far end of the room. “Maybe there’s something on that comp—”

A phone started ringing. Uzi and DeSantos glanced at each other, then began searching the room.

“Got it,” Vail said, holding up the device. “Caller ID, but it’s in Arabic. Uzi, don’t you speak—”

“Let me see.” Uzi took it, looked at Knox, and then reached over to a machine mounted on the table. He examined its steel casing, found a switch—and turned it on. It emitted a low groan and then he answered the call in the bomber’s native tongue. He kept his responses short, with a hint of anger and urgency—as best as Vail could tell from his demeanor and tone. She figured the noise from the machine gave him some cover for his voice not matching that of the dead man.

Seconds later, he hung up and pocketed the phone.

“What was that about?” Vail asked.

“We need to go.”

“Who was it?” DeSantos asked.

“Our bomber’s accomplice. He said he heard about an explosion around here but couldn’t get any verification, and wanted to know if everything was okay.”

“And you told him?”

“I told him I had a close call, it was nearby, that I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to stay here. He said I should go to a safe house they had. They’d regroup and figure out what to do. He gave me the address. Let’s move.”

“How do you know it’s not a trap?” Knox asked.

“We don’t. But if it’s legit, we may have a lead into one or more of his accomplices.”

“Take Team Seven.” Knox rapped his knuckles on the door and the OPSIG agent pulled it open. “Tell Team Seven to get ready to roll. Two minutes.”

“Yes sir.”

“You coming?” Uzi asked Vail as they headed back out to the street.

“Safer here,” DeSantos said. “Help them document the scene.”

“I don’t need you to protect me,” Vail said as she matched him stride for stride up the steps. “I’m a federal agent. And I was nearly blown up by a suicide bomber. I’m kinda pissed.”

“Revenge?”

“Justice. Besides, have you ever known me to shy away from a fight?”

“I’ve known you to start a few.”

“That’s not fair,” Vail said. “It’s accurate, but not fair.”

They emerged into the cold night air, which prickled her skin, awakening her senses as she looked out at the bomber’s carnage. “I take it you’re coming then?”

“I’m coming.”

One of the black cabover trucks pulled up to the curb down the block.

“That’s our ride,” Uzi said. “Grab a vest and a helmet.”

Below is the Reading Group Guide for The Lost Codex. If you haven’t read the novel yet, save these questions until you have finished it because they contain spoilers.

Use the following topics to launch into a stimulating discussion:

1. What did you enjoy most about The Lost Codex?
2. Was the plot engaging? Did the story interest you?
3. Would you consider The Lost Codex to be a plot-driven book (fast-paced page-turner), or does the story unfold slowly with a focus on character development? Or would you consider it a good mix of both?
4. Was there one character in particular you found yourself drawn to? If you had the opportunity to spend time with any of the characters, who would it be?
5. The Lost Codex takes place in multiple countries and cities. Did the settings come to life for you? Have you ever been to any of the locations in the novel? If so, did you find yourself walking down the streets again? If you haven’t been to any of these places, which would you like to visit? How did the settings affect your enjoyment of the book?
6. If you could ask Alan Jacobson one question about The Lost Codex, its characters, the plot, his research…what would it be?
7. How did you feel about the ending? Were you satisfied with how it resolved?
8. Did you learn something you didn’t know before reading The Lost Codex? What was it?
9. Much of the historical information mentioned in this book is true. Do you believe that unearthed historical documents and the information they contain should be available to everyone or do you believe the past should stay in the past and has no bearing on the present?
10. Alan Jacobson writes fiction, but loves to put a great deal of factual information in his novels. Does this enhance your enjoyment of his books or not?
11. Black ops are a little known function of the US military that has proven vital to protecting national security. Such covert missions are understandably controversial because of their lawless nature. Do you believe they should be a tool deployed to serve our nation’s interests and protect our citizens?
12. If something were to be discovered that disproved the existence of God, as you believe God to be, would you lose your faith? Do you believe it would have a huge impact on the world and our way of life? Why or why not?

Note from Alan: If you’re interested in what really happened to the Aleppo Codex after it left Syria, read Matti Friedman’s book, The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World’s Most Coveted, Sacred, and Mysterious Books. Although it’s nonfiction, it reads like a first-rate suspense novel. I highly recommend it.