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Sutra of the Pearl

Book 1 Paths Unknown Series

Excerpt from Part 2, Vakkali, India

“What kind of stories do you write?” Ram’s question, at the end of a diatribe against other stupid types both in and out of India, seemed aimed at calming himself.

Since writers didn’t impress Ram, Julie spared him the phony hype about working at National Geographic. “I’m an adventurer. I write about my discoveries.”

“Really. There’s over a billion people here, so I’d say there’s not a helluva’ lot left to discover.”

Had this sarcastic tone come from anyone else, it would have brought out the worst in Julie. “But there is. Out there, offshore. A lost city.”

Ram drew a hand over his slow smirk.

“Eyewitnesses saw stone pillars and arches after a tsunami in the eighties.” A fervor rose in her gut. “Don’t you see? It could be at least two-thousand years old. An undiscovered Babylon. I’ve been trying to hire someone to take me diving for it, but they scatter when I tell them what I’m looking for. It’s weird.”

Ram pinched his lips between his fingers and gazed sidelong at the floor.

“It’s weird. Right?” she asked.

Between the pursed lips and hunched shoulders Ram cut a striking similarity to the Speak No Evil monkey.

“Come on. What’s out there that nobody wants to talk about?”

Ram forced out a sigh. “Never mind. Nothing. And if you can’t find the underwater city? Then what?”

She sat back and leveled a cool gaze at him. He wasn’t nearly as good at hiding the town’s secrets as he was his own. Ram didn’t have the kind of devious mind needed to keep a lie going. She should know. 

“Remind me to skunk you at poker some time,” Julie said. “You’d be terrible at it.”


“If I can’t find the underwater ruins, then I’m screwed,” she finally said, “because I won’t have the money to go after the Big Kahuna.

Ram shrugged.

“The lost manuscript. About Jesus in India. I already told you, didn’t I?”


“Okay then.” She jabbed a finger in his direction. “Tomorrow. Be here for a reading of The Secret Life of Jesus Christ.”                                       


The next morning, Julie cracked open her volume of Nocolai Notovitch’s book. A loose page fluttered to the concrete to soak up a splotch of ketchup.

Ram pointed to multiple layers of tape around the binding. “Doesn’t look like much of an artifact.”

Julie worked on the ketchup with the diligence of a soldier polishing his boots. “These are just modern reprints of the Russian explorer’s writings. It’s the original set of manuscripts he found that are missing from a monastery in Ladakh. Those are priceless. They’re about Jesus living and studying in India.”

Julie opened to a page. “Listen to this, ‘When Issa’—that’s a Muslim variation for Jesus—‘had attained the age of thirteen, when an Israelite should take a wife’ … blah, blah, blah … ‘It was then that Issa clandestinely left his father’s house, went out of Jerusalem, and, in company with some merchants, traveled toward the Sindh that he might perfect himself in the divine word, and study the laws of the great Buddha.’”

Julie paused for effect, but Ram’s eyes were half-closed.

He moaned. “That proves nothing.”

“No? Then how about this: ‘The earth has trembled, and the heavens have wept because of the great crime just committed in the land of Israel. For they have put to torture and executed the great, just Issa in whom dwelt the spirit of the world.’ Sounding familiar?”

“Yaa, but says who?”

“Traveling merchants. The parts about him studying at monasteries are first-hand accounts written by Buddhist monks and historians. Nicolai Notovitch discovered it at a monastery near the border with Tibet. After his brother published the transcript of the original, poof, the real one in Ladakh disappeared.”


“Whaddya’ mean, still? They sent Notovitch to a labor camp in Siberia when he tried to publish it, charged with …” Julie flipped through to the opening pages. “‘Literary crimes against society.’ He died there in 1893, but his brother eventually published it for him.”

“Ho-hum. And I suppose you think the Vatican stole it in a cover-up?”

“Of course, I do. Notovitch showed them his notes. A dumb move, if you ask me.” Julie flipped through to a different part of the book. 

Another page escaped which Ram slapped between his palms, mid-flight.

“Here it is,” Julie said. “This is what the cardinal told him. ‘Why should you print this? Nobody will attach much importance to it, and you will create numberless enemies thereby.’ Then the cardinal offered to buy it off him.” Julie’s voice rose. “I quote, ‘For his trouble!’” She held the book out. “Here, do you want to read it? I can lend you the whole thing.”

“Naw, I’ve got other stuff on the go.”

Julie grunted. He was likely talking about his penchant for tapping out “Letters to the Editor.”

Excerpt from Part 2, Vakkali, India

Julie’s years with the Plowshares Three were a thing of pride for her. At least she got that right. But her legacy wouldn’t matter unless she could stop this attack.

She paced her balcony hoping Jathia would turn up at his skiff so she could explain the dire fall-out from setting the waste rods on fire. Not likely he could understand the horrors of out-of-control nuclear fission. Arjun might get it, but she sensed him to be the true madman of the bunch.

When Jathia didn’t appear, she asked around and ended up inside a one-room, mud brick dwelling on the outskirts of town. Surprisingly well kept for a terrorist, a typical rural hut in every other way.

The furniture consisted of little more than a low table with an outdated television, a wooden wardrobe bursting with everything a household needed, and a squeaky iron bed shoved against a wall. Occupants cooked and washed outside with water from a common well. Toilet business took place in a field or on nearby train tracks. But she noticed he had an indoor squat toilet in a closet-sized room at the back. Quite presentable.

He sat on what seemed a freshly laundered bedspread and motioned to the threadbare couch for her. “Sorry I kept you waiting outside. Just tidying a bit.”

“Jathia, I’m worried sick the town could be attacked any minute. Do you understand how dangerous this plan is?”


“Did you talk to Arjun. Have you convinced him, too?”


“And the others?”


Why am I so worried? He’s completely taken care of it. Embarrassed to have needlessly invaded his private space, she stared at the concrete floor between them. A red object the size of a toe stuck out from under his bed. She rose, crept forward, then jumped back. “Jesus. Are those Arjun’s socks?”

Jathia pursed his lips and peered over the side of the bed. “Actually, it is all of him.” He grabbed an ankle and in one forceful tug, pulled most of the stiff corpse into view.

There were no signs of violence other than a strange, twisted facial grimace. 

“What the hell? Now you’ve pulled me into a murder. How much more fucked up is this going to get? I’m outta’ here.”

She headed for the door but Jathia grabbed her arm. “I thought you might be happy. I fixed things.” He looked as crestfallen as the boy who tried to bake mama a surprise birthday cake but dropped the batter on the floor. “No more Arjun. No more attack.” 

“This is not what I meant when I told you to convince the group.” She yanked away from Jathia. “Christ, he looks tortured. What did you do to him?”

“Tied him up. Poured pesticide down his throat. Like the farmers use to suicide if they cannot pay their debt.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Yes. This bastard was trying to die for two hours. I could not even fish. Just sitting and waiting.”

Julie paced with clenched fists but had to agree: her immediate concerns were solved. She collapsed in a heap beside him on the bed. “What now?” 

Jathia rose and perked up like he’d been formulating an answer for weeks. “We splash whiskey on his shirt. People will think he is sozzled. Then …” Jathia blinked in earnest at her slumped form at the foot of the bed. “We drag him out, in the dark, when nobody sees us, and drop the croaker in the boot.”

Julie rolled her eyes. “Um, intoxicated people don’t need to be in the trunk. They’re usually okay in the back seat.”

Jathia jabbed his finger at her. “Good point. Find a rubbish field and discard him. Like a suicide farmer. Or a drunk hobo. No one is giving a shit. And if the police recognize him, they can boast to the newspapers they killed a rowdy sheeter.”

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