Scene A - The Fall of Constantinople
May 29, 1453
Giustiniani was slain. Constantinople’s heroic Genoan commander—struck down by the great Ottoman cannon while defending the northwest wall. The wall was all but smoking rubble. Like a dark wind, the rumor of the commander’s death swept from regiment to regiment and chilled the heart of every man who heard it.
At the southwestern wall, Sultan Mehmet’s janissaries began a fresh assault. Jakab gripped his spear, trembling. He was no warrior. He was a monk, conscripted along with children and old men to defend the city’s walls. “Slain, slain! Giustiniani slain!” shouted a frantic youth racing past.
Upon hearing of the commander’s death, the archers dropped their bows and fled from the ramparts back into the city. Commands to hold the wall went unheeded. Jakab dropped his spear and fled.
But where was he to flee? The city was surrounded. The city’s main street was churning with people, all uncertain which direction to run. Many stood huddled together weeping, clinging to their last possessions. Some rushed south to the harbors to try to escape the city by boat. A scant hope, Jakab surmised. He had seen the masts of the Turkish fleet. The Sea of Marmara was no longer a sea but a floating forest.
In the tumult Jakab was pushed north. At the aqueduct that spanned the city’s third and fourth hills, Jakab broke free from the crowd. The Church of the Holy Apostles towered above him. There some of the nobility had taken refuge, and many priests had gathered to pray. Jakab turned east. There was only one place he wanted to be when the Sultan’s army took the city.
He slowed as he neared his destination to take in everything one last time: the brick walls, the central dome, the tympanum that crowned the wooden doors, and the words carved into the lintel. He pushed the doors open. The shrine was empty save for an aged monk kneeling before the altar.
“It is finished,” Jakab announced. “Giustiniani—” his knees buckled as he spoke, and he slumped to the floor.
The aged monk rose and went to him. “Then . . . they come?”
Jakab wept. “I am sorry, Laomendon.”
With determined strength, Laomendon gripped Jakab’s arms and pulled him toward the altar. “Come,” he commanded and began to chant.
Jakab tried to obey. Often in the dark days of the Sultan’s siege, he had taken comfort in Laomendon’s uncommon serenity. But now as his voice united with the aged monk’s chant, with the din of war echoing all around, Jakab despised his need for comfort. “What good is it?” he shouted. “God will not save us. Soon we will be nothing. Our city, our people—lost forever!”
“Not lost. Only . . . hidden. When our Lord was crucified, the apostles also feared they had lost all. But they endured. The truth of God will endure. We must believe.”
“Endure?” Jakab shouted. “Do you not understand? So few have come to our aid. Not even the Latins. May God judge them for their betrayal.” Jakab shook his fists in the air. “Once they came to rule us, to steal our sacred treasures. Now, what does Pope Nicholas do? Merely watches as these sons of Muhammad do the same. The janissaries will plunder our sacred relics for their hoard. Plucking fruit from every tree. Everything they see.”
“We must place our faith in the Lord.”
“Where is he now? I cannot see him.”
Laomendon turned his eyes upon Jakab. They were not serene eyes now, but fierce. “Enough! My son, you must cleanse your heart of doubt. It is only the pure in heart who shall see God.”
Laomendon’s rebuke made Jakab weep afresh. How could it be that this was the end? Jakab stood, and as his elder’s chanting filled the shrine, he walked about it, taking in once more its sumptuous beauty. He wanted its images to remain before his eyes to the very last: the frescoes of the apostles in the north aisle, and of the Christ in the central dome, and finally, the mosaics of the Four Keepers in the west chamber—as beautiful as any mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Emperor Justinian’s matchless church.
The Four Keepers stood proud and defiant, as Jakab himself wished to stand. Kostas, Zoticus, Panikos, and Nil each held an identical treasure—a golden dish. Jakab stepped toward Saint Kostas, whose fiery halo and cold, ebony eyes could of themselves inspire many seekers to become penitent. He kissed the golden dish in Kostas’s hand. “Until the wages of sin are paid,” he murmured.
Shouts beyond the shrine’s walls made him gasp. Hastily, he returned to Laomendon. “Father! Have we done enough? Have we sufficiently protected the Legacy?”
The old monk ceased his chant and lifted his eyes. “Tell me, Jakab, what do you see?” He pointed past the altar to the bare wall of the apse.
“Nothing,” Jakab said. “Nothing at all.”
“Thus it will be for the Turks. We made certain of that.”
“Do you not think, in time, they will discover the chest?”
“How can you be sure?” Jakab knelt beside Laomendon once more, his anger spent.
“Because as you have just said, they will take only what they see.”
“But how will the Legacy of Andronicus be passed on? What if Alexander and Demetrius do not reach Athos? They carry our Order’s secret texts. What if the shrine is destroyed? What if—”
Laomendon placed one hand on his arm. “No more questions for this poor, old monk. All of us have suffered long nights of labor, and we have done all we could with the time God gave us. The fate of the Legacy, like the fate of our Order, we must leave in the hands of God and his saints. But rest your mind in this knowledge. The Latin betrayers will be shown their shame.” The old monk spread wide his arms, threw back his head, and laughed wildly. “Andronicus assured us that our people shall enjoy the humiliation of the Latins. We, my son . . . we shall have the last laugh!”
The clashing roar grew near, now punctuated with shrieks and curses. It hammered the walls. The shrine’s doors burst open. One door swung wildly, broken from its hinges. The soldiers of Sultan Mehmet had come.
Scene B - 8 Ball Productions
Office of Reggie Lovett
January 2, 20—
“. . . the kind of serious film you always wanted to make. The Last Supper Dish has divided the world’s two largest churches for centuries. The Pope’s tryin’ to bring Catholics and Orthodox together, but the Dish is always the fly in the soup. I’m sure you know ‘bout Steve Finder’s novels—all bestsellers. Dishers go nuts over ‘em. You can’t get more culturally relevant.” Reggie laid it on thick. He needed to pique Natalie’s interest. The two were video chatting. Reggie was sweating. So far, Natalie hadn’t taken the bait.
Natalie shrugged. “I don’t read genre. But I know about Finder. You’d have to be living under a rock not to.”
Reggie rubbed his hands together. “You and Ray once saw the potential for a film ‘bout the Dish.” He paused to gauge Natalie’s reaction. Two years previously, 8 Ball Productions had broken up. A brainstorming session after the release of their documentary Basket Case had resulted in the dissolution of the partnership. Natalie had worked without Ray on her next film. It flopped.
“I remember, but Ray wasn’t interested in the cultural angle back then. All he wanted to do was interview travel-blogging Disher girls.” Natalie smirked. “Probably imagined joining them on their adventures. Anyway, I doubt Ray would be interested in resurrecting 8 Ball Productions.”
Reggie smiled. “Well, you’re wrong. I’ve already talked to him. He’s interested in the Dish film. He’s matured, believe me, he’s—”
Natalie’s face hardened. “I’ll never forget what he did.”
Reggie held up his hands. “You told me all ‘bout it. Listen, he regrets that fight. Deeply regrets it. He wishes he had that toy 8 Ball back—”
“Really?” Natalie appeared unconvinced.
Reggie sighed. This is tougher than I thought. He searched for words. “He—he misses you. And he wants to apologize. He wants the Mystic 8 Ball, says he never should’ve let it go. After all, it was a gift you gave him. He thinks if he had it back, you two could start fresh.”
“Really?” This time, Natalie sounded hopeful.
“You still have it don’t ya?” Reggie asked.
“Yeah, in a vault,” Natalie said sarcastically. “Look, Regg, I dunno. All this sounds—I mean, did Ray really say that?”
“I swear on my Mama’s grave. But you can’t come right out an’ attack him with it—he’ll jus’ run away. Guy like him needs to smooth his way into apologizing. The Dish movie gives him the chance. And together, we can all do somethin’ that’ll impact the world.”
Natalie agreed that Ray was too immature to deal with his flaws if confronted and saw the wisdom of letting him muster the courage to apologize on his own.
“Think you can give Ray a chance?” Reggie asked.
“Only on the condition that he apologizes. If he does, it’ll be water under the bridge.” Natalie signed off.
Reggie heaved a sigh of relief. Stretching the truth was a standard skill in the film industry, but distasteful to do to a friend. One down. One to go. He sipped some whiskey to bolster himself. Time for video chat number two.
Ray was happy to see him. “What’s up, Regg? Must’ve been over a year since we talked. How you been?”
“Jus’ hangin’. Say, I got a movie deal perfect for you. I know you ain’t got nothin’ right now.”
Ray laughed wryly. “Understatement of the year.”
Reggie grimaced. He’d produced Babe Game, Ray’s film made without Natalie. It was so bad neither he nor Ray had yet recovered financially. Best not dwell on his career failure. Get to the point. “What say we get 8 Ball Productions back together? Me as producer, Clark on camera . . .”
Ray’s eyes narrowed. “Who’s doing sound?”
“Natalie, of course,” Reggie said matter-of-factly.
Ray spun once in his office chair. “Not gonna happen! Not after what she did to ruin everything.”
“Man, listen to me. Would it make a difference if she knew she screwed it all to hell and she’s sorry—real sorry?” Reggie’s eyes were pleading.
Ray snorted. “Like that would ever happen!”
“But if it was true, would it make a difference?”
Ray shrugged. “Well . . . yeah.”
Reggie grinned. “Yeah? Well, guess what? I jus’ got done talkin’ with her. She wants to give you back that 8 Ball—”
“The Mystic 8 Ball!” Ray broke into a wistful smile. “She gave it to me during film school. Best gift ever—it helped make our films rock!” His frown quickly returned. “But whatever, I mean, I’m glad I gave it back to her. ‘Cause she walked out, thought she knew better. You sure she wants to give it back? She’s too stuck up to admit she’s wrong.”
“I swear on my Mama’s grave, fool! Why would I call you if I didn’t just hear her tell me how much she misses you? Listen, she wants to do the Dish movie like you talked about before y’all blew up. Dishing is a big, hot topic. Remember all the stories about that heiress Jane Whitaker? Got arrested in Moscow sniffin’ around for the Dish—”
“I remember she’s hot.”
“Fool, keep a lid on it. If you and Clark act like horn-dogs, Natalie will bolt. You need her skills to pay the bills.”
“Okay, but Nat has got to apologize or no dice,” Ray insisted. “On day one, I’m gonna demand it from her.”
“Fool, listen to me. Natalie’s got pride. If you run at her, she’ll come back at you even worse. Best to play it cool. Jus’ work with her on the film. Treat her with respect. Eventually she’ll let down her guard, and there you’ll have it.”
Ray liked Reggie’s plan.
After Ray signed off, Reggie drained the rest of his whiskey. Never had he told such a pack of calculated lies. It’s for their own good. They need each other.
He leaned back in his chair, imagining ticket lines and box office receipts. And after we make a killing on this Dish movie, they’ll both thank me.
Scene C - Dishing with Lady Jane
February 10, 20—
As dusk settled in, souvenir vendors at the central market were closing after another busy day. Jane Whitaker stood in a shop at the far end of a dead-end alley. She was on a secret mission and had dressed accordingly. Her face was hidden by the brim of her white Barmah hat and by the fox fur collar of her vintage Versace gray-silk bomber jacket. Her hands trembled with excitement as she received a package from the proprietor.
“Only you would have been able to choose such a rare treasure,” he said to her. “It must be, as you say, destiny.” He grinned broadly through his beard.
“Oh, I’m sure of it.” Jane tucked the package into her jacket. “I almost didn’t come in ‘cause I wasn’t sure this was a shop. Like, the sign isn’t in English and stuff, ha-ha. But then, I saw that tailless cat in the window, and I just had to see it, ‘cause I’ve never seen a cat without a tail. Destiny works in mysterious ways, y’know what I mean?” Before the proprietor could reply, Jane added, “Cats give Baby Girl the shivers, don’t they Pookums?”
Grudgingly shifting to share space with the package was Baby Girl, Jane’s long-haired teacup Chihuahua. The little dog had one blue eye and one brown and was dressed in a baby-blue monogrammed sweater. Jane lifted the dog and kissed her ear. “You’re so brave,” she cooed encouragingly.
The proprietor chuckled. “Kübra, that old stray, cannot even kill a mouse. He is so fat and lazy.”
“Ha-ha. Kübra, huh? What’s your name?”
The proprietor paused as if searching his memory. “Er, you may call me Babu.”
Jane giggled. “I’m Lady Jane. I’ll always remember you. I can’t believe the secret to the Dish was here all along.” She touched the brim of her Barmah hat in a parting salute.
Babu meekly inclined his head. “I am richly blessed by our meeting. May you find the reward you seek. Farewell!”
Exiting the shop, Jane surveyed for spies. Seeing none, she ducked into an alcove and unzipped her jacket. “Wait here for Mama,” she instructed Baby Girl, setting the little dog down. She secured the package in one hand and reached into her jacket pocket for her phone.
It took her a minute to pose herself. She shook her head twice to get into character, pushing her long blonde hair back behind one ear, lowering her chin and parting her lips in a half kiss. She snapped several pictures with this facial arrangement, making sure both the package and the shop were visible in the frame. It was a frustrating procedure because she wanted Baby Girl in the picture too, but it was hard to manage everything at once, and the package was the most important thing, besides herself.
Eight tries later, she finally got The One, and it was super cute. But choosing the best filter before posting her picture to Dishpix.com would make it even cuter. The choice came down to Electra or Xanadu. She chose Xanadu.
Where was Baby Girl?
Peeing in a lonely patch of grass.
Jane swept Baby Girl up with kisses and retucked the little dog and the package into her jacket. Then she turned onto the street without looking and collided with an old man riding a donkey. He shouted at her in Turkish. Giggling mightily, Jane scurried up a steep incline and pushed her way through the gated arbor to her hotel just as the last brushstrokes of day faded away.
Guests had gathered for happy hour in the hotel café. Entering the lobby, Jane lowered the brim of her hat and hastened to the stairs, hoping Baby Girl wouldn’t betray their presence with a yip. She didn’t want another Moscow incident, after all. Once in her room with the door locked, she’d be safe. Wouldn’t Pope Boniface be furious! But what could he do? Justice was on her side, as in all her favorite stories. She was one step closer to fulfilling her dream. Soon, the world would know.
As Jane climbed the stairs to the second floor, she imagined walking on red carpet through a sea of cameras, their flashbulbs shimmering in wave upon wave.
Scene D - Promising Strike
University of Pittsburgh
February 15, 20—
“This dig sounds promising, Dr. Ayhan—may I call you Zainab?” Professor Adam Burke scribbled names and dates on a notepad as he spoke on his phone. “Sounds like you’ve found a Byzantine shrine in the middle of Istanbul. We’ll need to gather an archaeological dream team!” Burke suggested some colleagues, and Zainab agreed.
Burke snapped his fingers. “Hey, there’s a guy near you—Dr. Pa-poopy-lus? You know him?” Burke heard Zainab correct his pronunciation. “Papadopoulos, sorry. Bad hip, you say? I can suggest some other names.” The smile on Burke’s freckled face grew wide. He wanted to mention a woman’s name, a woman he’d never seen but wanted to meet.
“I’d also recommend Dr. Elena Hromadova at Moscow State. She’s new to the field. She quotes me extensively in her research.” Burke lived with the hope that a woman who loved his intellect would love him in other ways. It went without saying that such a woman would be a great beauty.
He shifted from the subject of Hromadova quickly: “Say, I’m sorry you had trouble getting in touch with me. When I became Chair of Byzantine Studies, I immediately went on sabbatical. Didn’t my assistant give you my cell?”
He laughed. “Yes, that’s right. Hard to get good help these days. What have I been doing on sabbatical? I’m preparing for the big conference at the National Archaeological Museum in Bulgaria. They’re the first to exhibit the Saint Nil icon I found in Sofia. A big event for sure.”
As Burke spoke, he reached behind him and lifted an object from his bookcase. It was a wooden panel the size of a book and bore the likeness of a thin monk with a scraggly beard and golden halo. Only half the monk’s face appeared, as the entire upper left corner of the icon was missing. Near his heart, the monk clutched a dish in both hands. The icon was a facsimile. Burke had paid quite a bit to have it made. Small differences between it and the original would only be clear to an expert—such as himself. Saint Nil’s irises, for instance, were too white. No replica could approximate the natural aging process that over the centuries inevitably turned white paint yellow.
“The anticipation for the Nil is at a fevered pitch,” Burke said. “After all, it’s still the only one in existence.”
Carefully, Burke replaced the facsimile on its display stand. He decided to cap off the conversation with one of his favorite lines: “Well, Zainab, if giving my life to history enables me to make history, I guess I’ll just have to suffer the fame and fortune.” A nice way to wrap up a conversation with a fellow archaeologist, especially one lesser known in the field. Then he dialed his secretary: “Clear out my appointments for the next ten weeks. I’m leaving the country. Reschedule what you can. Nothing before May.”
From the top drawer of his filing cabinet, Burke took a small dartboard and three steel-tipped darts. He hung the dartboard from a hook on the back of his office door, stepped off five paces, and faced his target.
“Ah, Winters,” he said a bit too cheerily. He flicked the first dart and struck a glossy photograph thumb-tacked to the board. The photograph—already full of holes—was of an old man in a gray suit standing at a podium accepting an award. The dart hit Winters, puncturing tufts of thick, white hair. Burke rarely missed.
“For so long you’ve eluded me,” Burke said, flinging his second dart. “Even though you haven’t published one thesis worth a damn in over a decade.” The dart hit the podium where Winters stood. “And without your sycophants, you’d have sunk into scholarly oblivion long ago.” With his fingertip Burke plucked at the tip of his third and last dart.
“You’ve harped on the same question for years, why would the Orthodox Church hide the Last Supper Dish? And you’ve repeated the same tired answer—if they can’t produce it after centuries, then the Vatican must have it.”
Squinting as he took aim, Burke readied the third dart for a finishing strike. “Once I get to Istanbul, I gotta feeling I’m gonna find that Dish.” The dart stabbed the old professor’s heart with a satisfying thunk.