Here’s a third instalment in the series of short monthly extracts from The Judas Case. New readers may wish to begin with the one revealed in The Literary Consultancy’s Showcase in March.
In our May extract, Solomon Eliades takes a witness statement about a very important arrest:
“Cassiel, make a record of this conversation, if you please.”
I turned to Saul.
“Let us begin.”
“You were involved in the operation to arrest Yeshua under the guidance of our Yehuda on the night of 13th Nisan, weren’t you?”
“I was. But—”
“Then the last person we know of who saw our man would be you. The Service needs your help, Saul. What you can tell us may be very important.”
To my pleasure, he relaxed at these words. Hope returned to his eyes. At last he was going to be useful.
“Yes. I want to help. Let me tell you what happened.”
“I am Solomon Eliades, charged to investigate the death of Yehuda from Kerioth. This is the account of Saul an officer of the Temple Guard, as told to me the 18th Nisan in the year 48 of the Temple’s restoration.” I turned to Saul. “Tell me in your own words, the events of 13th Nisan, what you saw and heard during the operation. From the beginning.”
He fell silent for a moment. Then he stretched out his hands palms down upon the table, looked up at me and spoke.
“It was a little after dusk, at the beginning of the day, and I had just begun my duty with the night watch. There were twelve of us, in the barracks room on the north side of the Court of the Nations. An urgent message came that we were to assemble in the Service’s office below. Lord Philo was there. The man with him was the one that I know to be Yehuda from Kerioth.”
“You could never mistake him. His hair was the most peculiar colour of red. Like the hero Achilleos’ must have been. And he had freckles on his face and neck. His beard was an even darker shade of the same colour. Middle height. Broad face. No marks or disfigurements. A long-fringed shawl. He seemed very strong. Solid.”
That was my Yehuda, as I remembered him. With hair like the hero Achilleos. Gone. Gone down to Sheol.
“How did Yehuda seem?”
“He was calm. Philo spoke first. Our task was to take into custody this Yeshua from Galilee, for his own safety. Yehuda would lead us to him.”
“And how was Yehuda going to do that?”
“He told us that Yeshua and his followers would spend the first part of the night at prayer in a quiet place outside the city. He would take us there. Once in place, he would personally identify Yeshua for us. We would do the rest.”
“How was identification to be made?”
“He would greet him and embrace him.”
“Why was this personal identification necessary?”
“I’ll come to that in a moment,” Saul said with just the slightest return of the previous day’s bumptiousness. “Yehuda warned us that the followers were armed. Two swords, he said. Carried by Yeshua’s bodyguards. He would point them out to us. I asked Philo: what should we do? He smiled at this – they all did – and he said that he had made arrangements for assistance. They laughed.”
“The rest of the night watch. The day watch too. Some of them were still in the barracks at the end of their duty and Philo had ordered them to come down too.”
“I don’t understand. What did Philo fear?”
He did not answer. His comrades had laughed when he asked what they should do about two peasants armed with swords.
“We were issued clubs from the armoury,” he said. “Every second man was given a naphtha torch. Then we filed out. Yehuda was in the lead with Captain Malchus. I was just behind them.”
“Where did you go, exactly?”
“Down to the Kidron Gate. We halted just outside and waited for a long time.”
“Why? What had gone wrong?”
“Nothing went wrong. We were ordered to break ranks and to sit down and wait. I moved a little way off, and I prayed. Then I looked across the Kidron to the opposite bank and wondered where Yehuda was going to lead us. They must be up there, somewhere. Then the soldiers arrived.”
“The soldiers. Twenty of them, with their officer. Swords, shields, torches. Backup. That’s what they said.”
This matched Quintus’ account, but why had Philo not mentioned these soldiers to me? And the record on Yehuda’s case scroll said nothing about our good friends being involved. There had been a long discussion about what to draw from the armoury. No mention of any backup.
“Twenty soldiers. And twelve of you from the night watch? That’s a lot, to arrest one holy man.”
“He had his followers. And they were armed.”
“Of course they were. But you were expecting trouble?”
“Tell me about the soldiers. You’ve spent time liaising with our good friends, haven’t you?”
“Oh yes. They were from the 3rd and 4th.”
“So they were known to you?”
“No. I didn’t recognise any of them. They weren’t Quintus’ men, from the garrison. They were the Caesarea boys. They’d come down with the Prefect last week.”
“Now think very carefully. Were any of them Marcus’ men?”
He looked at me and he understood why I asked. There was a moment’s silence.
“No,” he said. “I know who you mean, but they weren’t there. All of them were regulars.”
“Well done. What happened next?”
“We waited. Captain Malchus and their officer went down to the streambed. They talked for a long time.”
“What did they talk about?”
“Couldn’t tell you. Once or twice their voices were loud enough for us to hear. They were arguing. Malchus waved his arms about and pointed back to us.”
“An argument before an operation. What did you think?”
“As far as we were concerned, Malchus was right, whatever it was about. He’s a good man. Properly observant. That’s why His Sanctity thinks so well of him.”
“How long did this go on?”
“About… as long as you could say your prayers twice over? The moon had moved further over above the Temple wall.”
“We moved off together. Night watch in the lead. The soldiers behind us. We went down to the Kidron, crossed the stream at the Beth-Anya road, then we climbed up the hill.”
“What was the mood?”
The mood, he told me, was changed. Men fell silent and moved with care. Torchlight danced on their faces. At a gatepost on the left of the road, Malchus raised his hand and they came to a halt. Saul heard Yehuda’s words. “He’s close. Over there.” He indicated a grove of olive trees. “The top end. By the wall. That’s his usual place.” Malchus turned round and pointed with his right hand and then waved ahead. Two men peeled off from each side of the group and vanished into the trees. The rest waited. Malchus gestured, his hands palm-side down. They dropped to the ground in silence.
“I remember the moonlight. There was a light wind from the south, blowing up the valley and a cloud moved across the moon. It was low in the sky by now. Suddenly, even in the torchlight, we could see each other’s faces quite clearly. I shivered.”
The scouts returned, whispered to Malchus and nodded to Yehuda. Malchus raised his hand and swept his arm upwards in an extravagant, all-embracing fashion. The men stood to.
“How did our Yehuda seem? What did he say?”
“Yehuda turned to me,” said Saul, “and he handed me his torch. ‘I won’t be needing this,’ he said. I took it and for a moment did not know what to say. Then he disappeared beneath the trees.”
“What happened next?”
“We waited. At last the soldiers stirred and moved off into the trees: one group to our left, by the wall, the others to the grove above us. I was surprised by how silently they moved. Someone was going to be surprised. Malchus waved us forward.”
He paused again.
“Suddenly, we were there: an open space at the heart of the olive grove.”
“How many of them?”
“Twelve. Thirteen if you include our man Yehuda.”
“And did you observe him? How did he behave?”
Saul paused for a moment and drew his hand across his beard.
“He was calm. Matter of fact. It was almost as if you would barely notice him.”
I smiled. Perfection. Slipping into the background and going unnoticed at the moment of crisis.
“Yehuda walked towards them. The two at the front faced up to him but he walked past them and for a moment it was as if they opened to him, the line of bodies parted. At the back of the group three men stood together. And what do you think? One of them was a priest.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’ll tell you in a moment. That wasn’t the only surprising thing about the magician. Yehuda stepped towards the man on the right, opened his arms and embraced him. And that was the moment when I understood why we needed someone to identify the man we were going to arrest. It was extraordinary. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.”
“What do you mean?”
Saul put down his mug.
“Didn’t you know?”
He smiled at me again, that trace of self-regard in his knowledge.
“They were identical. Yeshua and the man who stood next to him. You could not tell them apart.”
“But Yehuda could?”
“Of course he could. He went straight up to the man on the right, took his hands in his own, and he kissed him. He knew exactly what he was doing.”
“And what did Yeshua do?”
“He returned his greeting.”
“And what about the other one?”
“No, the other man. The one who looked like Yeshua.”
“The twin, he held Yeshua’s right hand in his. It was a very strange grasp. As if the other man held Yeshua to restrain him, to keep him out of trouble.”
“They were twins?”
“They were twins.”