The idea came to Berekiah as he stood before the Roman Basilica, watching the new governor take office. It was one of those flashes that seemed, at first, too bold … almost reckless. He tried to dismiss the plan out-of-hand, before it was half-formed. But it would not leave him alone. All through the official ceremonies and later, as he waited for the crowds to disperse, he thought about it, turning it over in his mind, looking for weak points, probing for flaws.

He left the agora and returned to his store, passing by the displays of jewelry and coin in the front, the artisans laboring at their tables in the rear, to climb the stairs to his office. He closed the door firmly and sat down at his desk, frowning in concentration as he worried the plan into shape. He took out some parchment and wrote down his thoughts.

Fact. Saul has been gone for months and still our synagogue is in turmoil. He felt it every Sabbath, a kind of chill that settled over the assembly. Even from a distance, the little man continued to cause problems.

Fact. We keep bleeding. As he’d pointed out to Sosthenes, every few weeks, one or two at a time, upstanding members of the Hebrew community—people he’d known for years—simply walked away to join Saul and the others. It was shocking. It was infuriating. It had to stop.

Fact. Sosthenes is too old and impotent to do anything about it. Their last conversation had convinced him of this. Sosthenes had mishandled the matter from the start. He wasn’t likely to take aggressive action now.

Berekiah put his elbows on the desk and templed his fingers at his chin. I could protect our community, deal with Saul, if Sosthenes would get out of the way. In these difficult times, the synagogue would be served best by my skills, by my energy and drive. It’s time.

He took up his quill again.

Fact. Sosthenes has to go.

What came to Berekiah in the agora, the epiphany distracting him from the ceremonies of the morning, was the notion that he could skewer Sosthenes and Saul with the same thrust.

What if I bring Saul up on charges … before the new governor?

That was his first idea. That’s where the plan started. Gallio was so new to the city, Berekiah realized, he’d be eager to make influential friends. I’ll wager he’ll send Saul packing just to win the favor of the Hebrew community.

A public trial, if it led to a conviction, would finish Saul. Neat and clean and for good. The most likely sentence would be banishment. Whether he wanted to or not, Saul would have to leave Corinth.

The thought of that made Berekiah smile. And it set him thinking how he could use such a trial to his own advantage. If I take this idea to the council of elders? If I give them the strategy and the tactics? They’d be grateful, he realized. They would thank him for the chance to put Saul out of their misery.

And if we are successful? If Saul is banished? They would credit him with the victory. They would see him as the man who’d dealt with Saul, as a man of vigor and action.

The contrast with Sosthenes could not be greater.

Still, they’re not likely to put Sosthenes out to pasture, even if I am the one who brings them the plan. They have too much respect for the old fool. They’ve known him too long.

It was at that point, however, that the second idea hit him—something so audacious, it made him gasp.

I bring them the plan. But Sosthenes acts as spokesman. Let him prosecute the case. Let him bring the charges before Gallio. And then make sure that Sosthenes fails!

The more Berekiah thought on it, the more excited he became. If I can find a way to make sure Sosthenes loses, if I can help him bungle the job? What happens then? If he can’t get a conviction from Gallio…

That was the matter that set his mind spinning in the agora. It was the scheme he could not let go now.

Berekiah stood and walked to the window, brushing aside the curtains to look out over the narrow street. I will bring the plan to the council. I will rally support behind it. But, when it comes time to pick a spokesman, I will suggest that the synagogue ruler should have the honor.

He smiled to himself, looking down at passing pedestrians.

And then I’ll find a way for Sosthenes to lose … and lose badly.

The thought of the old man stumbling, proving himself so inept that he ruined a perfect opportunity to deal with Saul, made Berekiah strangely thirsty. He took up a pitcher and poured himself a cup of water.

If he loses, they’ll blame him. And then they’ll get rid of him at once. Who wants a fool for a leader? Berekiah understood, of course, that in turning away from Sosthenes the elders would, of necessity, turn to him. That made him thirsty again. He drank another cup of water.

Of course, that still leaves Saul. But Berekiah knew, if he were synagogue ruler, he’d find a way to send that crooked man packing. No matter what, Saul will be more vulnerable, he calculated. He’ll be looking over his shoulder. I can threaten him with more prosecutions. Threaten to prosecute other members of his congregation.

Berekiah thought of Saul’s companions—the couple from Rome—and laughed. I’ll take the tentmakers to court. That’ll get Saul’s attention. He laughed again, liking the idea the more he thought of it. He’ll feel me breathing down his neck. And he might be persuaded that, for the safety of his friends, he should move on.

But how can I make certain Sosthenes fails?

He’d have to work on that, Berekiah realized. It wouldn’t be easy. But it might just be possible.

Berekiah returned to his chair and went over the details again.

Then he smiled suddenly and brought his meaty hand down hard on the desk.

[Next Chapter]

[Beginning of the novel]