Friday, October 28, 2005

Chapter 2

September, 1515

“We need to keep moving,” came a deep voice from above. Thomas opened his eyes, squinting in anticipation of the bright summer sun. Instead he found himself face to face with expedition’s leader, his superior. The young man shook his head and tried to remember where he was. Oh, yes, he was sitting near the edge of a nameless stream in a nameless wilderness. He had nodded off while resting by the stream. He breathed a small laugh and then realized that the older knight was still peering at him with an expression of bemused curiosity.
“Are you alright, Thomas?” asked the older man. Realizing that he must look rather foolish in his reverie, the young man quickly gathered his thoughts and smiled.
“Yes, yes,” he replied. “Please allow me to collect some water and I will be ready to travel.” The older knight gave him one more appraising glance, grunted his acknowledgment and trundled back to the rest of the group, some twenty knights. The young knight sighed and lowered himself to the water, allowing his thoughts to return to the memories of the past few months.
Thomas Wyclyff was the eldest son of an English serf and recent initiate into this ancient and mysterious order of religious knights. Although he dared not tell another human of his membership in this group, his heart swelled with pride as he thought about his sacred oath and the dangerous mission of which he was a part. He felt it set him apart from others and here he was in this new land to prove it. That was what mattered most to the young knight whose boyish face had hardened into the countenance of a man in these last few months trekking into the wilderness. The progressive weathering of his skin also marked the fading questions and doubts of his boyhood. As a child, Thomas had watched his father run the small estate he was attached to with admirable skill, keeping the serfs in line with one hand and his family in line with the other. Thomas, himself, had grown up in relative comfort, learning the things a young noble should know and receiving a modest education as well, benefits of his father’s position. He, like the rest of his brothers, could read and write and was an excellent horseman and proficient with a sword as well. However, Thomas felt he was destined to be a part of something larger, to leave his mark on the world. So, one summer night, in his fifteenth year he decided that rather than waiting for his destiny to come to him in the form of continuing to work the small manor for its Lord as his father grew older, he would strike out on his own to find it.
He remembered lying in his bed of fresh straw and rough linen that night, eyes closed, breathing deeply, his heart pounding in his chest as he listened for the complete cessation of sounds in the house. When all was quiet, he continued to wait just to be certain that he wouldn’t surprise his father and find himself in for a whipping instead of the great adventure he was sure lay ahead of him. Finally, when he could wait no more, he slid out of bed and put on his leather boots. On his way out the door, Thomas heard someone stir and turned to see James, his six-year-old brother standing behind him.
“Where—,” began his brother, but Thomas’ hand was over his mouth before another sound could escape. James looked up at him with large brown eyes and nodded his understanding. The two brothers, though nine years apart in age, had always been close. Of all of his five siblings Thomas loved James most of all. Perhaps it was because James was the youngest and his mother had fallen desperately ill not long after his birth. Thomas, though a boy, was the only child old enough to be of any help at the time. In any case, he had helped care for James and protected him from their other brothers. Certain he would not alert the household Thomas released his younger brother. James met his brother’s gaze and raised his eyebrows to silently finish the question he had begun. Thomas looked toward the door then slowly locked eyes with James. At first he did not seem to understand but then his face fell and his shoulders slumped as he realized Thomas was leaving and would not return. The younger boy stared for a moment at his own bare feet then sighed and suddenly grabbed Thomas around the waist in a fierce embrace. When the two brothers parted, Thomas tousled James’ hair and indicated that he was to return to bed. The younger boy did so without looking back, but Thomas could hear his sniffles in the silent house. He stood for a moment, gazing at his brother’s form under the bedclothes, watching his shoulders shake with silent tears. He briefly wondered if he was doing the right thing and felt a lump form in his throat. Then without another thought, he turned on his heel and headed for the stables.

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As he packed up his horse and prepared to resume his journey, it was this final memory of his brother that plagued the young knight’s thoughts. Often in times of uncertainty his mind would almost instinctively drift back to that night six years ago and he would wonder, as he did now, if he would ever see his younger brother again. He ducked a tree branch and figured, given the uncertainty and desperation of this mission it was likely he would not, at least in this world, anyway. Perhaps not in the next, either, he thought. He was, after all, a heretic. A member of a forbidden order of knights, disbanded and excommunicated by the Pope himself two hundred years ago. Now he was traveling across unchartered land in an attempt to protect a secret so important and so profound that he had not learned its true nature until setting foot in this new world. Thomas shifted on his horse, the heat of the day making the sweat run down his back in rivulets under his breast plate. It itched terribly beneath the undergarments protecting his skin from the raw steel..
The knights had traveled lightly on their journey and had made good time in the past three months since landing on the island in the cold northern sea. From there they had made their way inland following the river southwest until they came upon what looked to Thomas like another ocean, although he was later informed that the water was not salty and it was really just an enormous inland lake. They continued moving southwest, in hopes of finding a dry, temperate climate far from the shore where they might hide their immense secret.

Thomas Wyclyffe rode through the thick underbrush, swatting at tree limbs and, incredibly, wild roses whose thorns seemed to grab at him like gnarled, angry hands and berated himself once again for his doubts. In the weeks since the ambush had reduced their group to nineteen knights, sickness and injury had taken more lives: now there were only fourteen. The string of unburdened horses behind them was a reminder of their loss. At least the armor protected him where he was covered.
One man had succumbed to wounds sustained during the first ambush, three others fell victim to some sort of mysterious fever and one had ventured away from camp for firewood one evening and had not been seen since. Thomas was well aware of the dangers of this mission, and had begun the expedition with a reasonable expectation that he might make it home alive, but now he was not so sure. In the end, it wasn’t really his own survival that plagued him but, rather, the survival of the secret that the group carried. The thought of it vanishing from the Earth without a trace in this wilderness…that was unthinkable. Thomas’ stomach growled.
Thomas reached into one of his saddlebags for hunk of dried meat. He slipped his dagger from his belt and carved off a piece. As he chewed, he studied the dagger. It had been a gift from Sir Andrew Guillume, his friend and sponsor into the Order. It was a finely crafted weapon, made of the strongest metal with a razor sharp edge. Carved into the dark handle was the Templar Cross and engraved into the blade was one of the ancient names of the Order, “la milice du Christ.’ He ran a finger over the words that came from the time in which the Order was founded by Hughes de Payens, nearly four hundred years ago. Older, some said. From what he knew of the secret they carried, Thomas found that rumor to be wholly believable.
The day had been hot and humid but, now, large storm clouds formed in the western sky and the air had developed a cool undertone. Lightening flashed in the distance and the Templars decided to find some shelter out of the way of the coming storm. They had been caught out in a driving rainstorm for several hours a few weeks ago and, for their lack of preparation, three of them had fallen ill and died. They did not intend for such a thing to happen again.
The group did not ride long until they found what they were looking for. Overlooking the banks of a dry creek bed stood a small outcropping of rock that was perhaps twenty feet high. The group dismounted, at the hand signals of the leader.
Christopher Ahernes, the Master of this group of knights, began to unpack his horse. Using the rock outcropping, they could quickly construct a structure that would keep most of the rain off of them, using flaxen canvas, poles, and rope. The knights went to work, and with the brooding storm clouds moving quickly in overhead, finished the shelter with little time to spare. Thomas was just under the canvas when the dim greenish light that preceded the storm, made dimmer by the canvas was replaced by the flash of a single bolt of lightning, which was blinding throughout the tent. The flash came only an instant before the crack of the thunder, letting Thomas know that the lightning had been close. As if on cue, the clouds cut loose a torrent of rain like Thomas had never seen, not even in the last storm. They had made it to the safety of the tent just in time. The horses, however, were out in the rain, soaking.
As the storm seemed like it would never cease, Thomas and his fellow knights turned toward Brother Christopher for the stories of the order that they had joined. Christopher’s stories had given the group strength, and continued to bind them and bring them together through their adversity. They were thousands of miles from home, beset on all sides by natives who he could never pass for (although he did admit he was certainly more tan than he’d ever been) and they were slowly being killed. Of course they’d cling together more.
Thomas turned his thoughts to the lesson at hand. Christopher was speaking:
“The order, as we have determined, is old indeed. It was old when I learned of it, and old when my father learned of it. We seek to be better servants to Christ, our Lord. That is our purpose.” Christopher always began that way.
Most of the knights were taking off their armor, drying it as best they could so that they’d not have to scrape off the rust caused by the rain. Armor was life to a knight. Even though hands were busy, Thomas could see that every ear was listening to Christopher. Christopher said that this was the way the stories were to be told, and not written down. Each man wanting to be a Master must learn them, word for word, so that the meanings, information, and lessons would be available for the next group of initiates. In this way, the group had transferred information for thousands of years.
Christopher continued, “In the year of our Lord 1019, our order became known to the World. Mundis Vulgaris. This is our first year among those without knowledge.”
The rain continued unabated. Christopher’s blue eyes, in striking contrast to his dark hair, gleamed in the dim firelight, his passion for the subject obvious. You could ignore the sun beaten face, the three day growth of beard, the clothes stiff with the white crust of salt from dried sweat, but never the eyes. Thomas was mesmerized by them.
He continued, “Our Order is older than the Kingdom of Britain. When Rome sacked Carthage, we were already a thousand years old. We date back in time to a point when knowledge was young. It is our sacred duty, put to us by the Lord himself, to protect and preserve this knowledge from those that would destroy it or misuse it.”
When Thomas had met Christopher, he had been just a young boy, head full of stories of adventure in the Spanish Orient. He had met Christopher in London. If Thomas had been found after he had left his home, he would have been literally an out-law, outside of the protections of the law. He and his family were the serfs, and it was their bound duty to work the land for their lord throughout their lives. As an out-law, he could be, quite legally, murdered by anyone who he met. He had reached the decision to leave, and had stolen a horse in the process. Looking back on it he felt that this was foolish, but he would not trade his circumstances with anyone. He had gotten the one thing that he wanted most in life: freedom.
That freedom had led him to London, the largest city in Europe, they said. He naively thought that the bustle of people, their sheer numbers, would provide cover for him. A dirk at his throat and a cudgel applied to the back of his head had shown him otherwise. They had taken everything that he had, down to the roughly spun farmers’ clothes that had marked him as a target.
Naked, without a possession in the world, he had been found. Found by Christopher’s men, some he had already buried, some that were sharing the meager warmth of this fire. They saved him from death, and he knew it. Death comes quickly on the streets of London to those with nothing and no one.
This act of kindness alone had been enough for Thomas to declare fealty to Christopher. Looking back on it, it was amazing how quickly he had become ready to sell his freedom for clothes, a bowl of warm porridge, and a bed of straw to sleep on. His search for freedom had led him to recognize the value of food.
But Christopher would have no fealty from Thomas, or from any of his men. He treated them as brothers, not the cast out, out-law serfs that they were. Where Christopher saw worth, there was instruction. Where there was talent, he brought forth strength. Where there was character, Christopher brought forth men.
It turned out that he was noble in blood as well as spirit. Interesting, from Thomas’ perspective was that Christopher claimed to be a monk. Even more interesting, was that he was a married monk, with six children. This was no sort of monk that the Church would claim. Thomas stopped his reverie as Christopher came to a new point.
“You all know that we came here and found our treasure. Our quest has been a hard one, and it will likely become harder. We’ve lost good men, our brothers on this journey, and it’s likely that we’ll lose more. We are demons or gods to these native men. Perhaps both.
“Our treasure that we carry is one that is worth more than gold, more than riches, more than spice. There are those who have already killed in the attempt to posses it. We carry a treasure that is the most valuable that this world has ever known. It delves into the secrets of how we as men were meant to interrelate to the Almighty God, the creator of the universe. What we have here, as our treasure, is nothing less than the key to bringing judgment upon all of creation. We carry the word of God, Himself, writ in his own hand, and sealed until the time is right.”
Thomas didn’t know if he believed Christopher or not, (sometimes he had his doubts) and, upon examining his feelings, found that he didn’t care. The man was good. The man himself had never been wrong (in Thomas’ knowledge, at least) and had never told any of those about him a lie, never wronged them, never cheated them, and had been a pillar of everything that the fables said a man could be.
Christopher continued, “Now we must work on those things that you must remember, by heart, so that you can pass them on to those that follow us. These things must be committed to your memory, so that you might, in your turn, pass them along as well.”
The work of memorizing the story of the sacred society began, as always with questions and answers, the better to trigger memory, and know another member, should they have not met. The memorization was fun, and the new portions that Christopher was ever revealing were exciting. After forty-five minutes of memorization practice, they were done. It was dark, and time for Thomas to sleep, at least until his watch. He hoped that the rain would have ended by then.



June, 2001


Jim’s trip to Shiprock and his subsequent visit with Frank Tso and Bob Jackson had left him both excited and perplexed. The armor appeared to be dated in the early 16th century, according to the inscription on the breastplate, yet accepted history stated that no European had set foot as far west as New Mexico by that time. In fact, the Spanish had only just begun their expeditions into North America with Ponce de Leon’s discovery of Florida in 1513 and Cortes’ run-in with the Aztecs in 1519. It was possible that the armor had been left there much later and had simply been a relic of some doomed knight’s family. Bob had informed him that the skeletal remains had been sent back to Albuquerque for analysis at NMU and the results of their dating procedures should be back in the next few days. If those results showed that the unfortunate knight met his end at Shiprock in the early 1500s, there would be many a history textbook due for a rewrite.
After spending most of his Tuesday at the site, Jim decided that the best way to spend his evening was to head over to the campus library at St. John’s and see what he could dig up on the Knights Templar. For a small school, St. John’s had an impressive library, mostly due to the benevolence of an alum who had made a fortune in natural gas back in the 1950s. Said benefactor had never actually finished his degree but, apparently, had a big soft spot for his former school and felt that later generations of students should not be short-changed in their education by having an under-funded library on campus. Hence, the library was the largest building on campus.
Jim entered the imposing building and marveled again, as he always did, at the workmanship of the building. Though not designed by any famous, world-renowned architect, the building had a certain charm that Jim loved. It was a three-story design with two book-filled wings stretching north and south. The front of the structure faced west toward the setting sun, which always made dusk Jim’s favorite time of day to visit the library. The early evening sun was always warm and inviting, even in winter, and he always enjoyed the state of mind it elicited in him as he sat among the stacks, browsing through one forgotten tome after another. Today, however, there would be no time to enjoy his surroundings. Jim was on a mission.
Anxious to get on the trail of the historical Knights Templar, Jim quickly found an available computer and began delving into the depths of the library’s digital card catalog. As always, Jim was soon working at a fevered pace. It was the same each time he started a new project. The need to know, to learn, to discover burned in him, made him need to work faster and faster, to absorb as much information as quickly as he could. Sometimes, he would work eighteen or twenty hours straight for days on end, rarely pausing to eat or even to sleep, and finally crashing and sleeping for a full day or more when his body could take no more. It was almost as if he had a biological need to learn about whatever new topic had grabbed his attention. This time it was the Knights Templar. As he searched database after database, his eyes flicking from one entry to the next, deciding in an instant whether to keep or discard it, Jim felt that need welling within him.
Of course, if this turned out to be one of his usual academic wild goose chases, it would be over in a few weeks. Typically, as soon as he had done enough background researc, visited a site and put it all together in a paper for publication, he was onto his next chase. It was like when he was a child and the old farmhouse in which he lived had become infested with cockroaches. He would turn on the light just in time to see the wretched creatures scurry for cover. Repulsed, young Jim would quickly stomp on as many as he possibly could before the last straggler skittered under the refrigerator. His passion for research was much the same as his revulsion to the cockroaches. He was constantly trying to squash one area of interest before it was too late to get to the next. It was possible the Templars would turn into the same thing, but Jim didn’t think so, not this time. Jim had read once that Leonardo Da Vinci had approached his work in a similar manner, rarely completing one project before moving onto the next, yet he still managed to produce some of the world’s most visionary science and some of it’s most famous works of art. Perhaps this was Jim’s Mona Lisa. He certainly hoped so.
Finally, Jim had gathered what he thought to be an adequate list of references and hurried into the stacks to track them down. This was really Jim’s favorite part of research. He thought it might have had something to do with some residual need to track and find prey, passed down from primitive man through generations and generations of humans. He had never hunted much either as a boy or a man since he never really saw the point of killing another creature simply for fun and he didn’t need to do it for the food, that’s what grocery stores were for, but he could certainly understand the attraction. It was something that most definitely could be called biological. Or maybe, thought Jim with a grin, it’s the only anal retentive part of my personality. He pulled another book off of the shelf and thumbed through it, chuckling to himself.
Out of the fifty or so references he began with, Jim found many books that portrayed the Templars in a rather fantastical light. Conspiracy theorists of old who theorized that anything the Templars might have been doing behind closed doors was bad. These books called the order witches, heretics, baby-killers, homosexuals, and worse. Wondering how those books ended up on the shelves of a university, Jim left them right where they were and took only those that he thought dealt with the historic Templars. These he checked out to peruse in the solitude of his own home.
It took him twenty minutes and four trips to move all of the books from the trunk of his car into the house, after which he brewed a large pot pf coffee and sat down on his couch, looking forward to a formal introduction to the Knights Templar.



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Several hours and two pots of coffee later, Jim laid down his pen and legal pad, took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. When he looked at the clock on his VCR, he was shocked to see that it was 3 am. Although he was tired now and would be even more so when his alarm went off in just four short hours, Jim felt good about the work he had done and things he had learned. During the past few hours he had filled several pages of his legal pad. In order to more carefully organize his notes., he took out a fresh piece of paper and summarized his findings in several bullet points:

The Knights Templar were founded in 1118 as the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon by a French noble named Hughes de Payen under the commission of Badouin I, King of Jerusalem. Their charter specified that they were to make the roadways in the Holy Land safe for travelers. The original order consisted of nine knights.
For some strange reason, for nearly a decade after being founded, the Knights did nothing to make the roadways safe, merely tunneled under the old site of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.
The Knights took a vow of poverty and chastity and took up residence in the royal palace in Jerusalem for about a decade. Then, in 1128 they returned to Europe where they were officially recognized by the Catholic Church as a religious-military order under the guidance of Saint Bernard.
The lives of the Templars were strictly controlled by the mandates of the order. They were compelled to wear white garments as a metaphor for the pure and just life they were supposed to lead. In battle, they were compelled to fight to the death and were not allowed to retreat unless facing at least a three-to-one disadvantage.
Through a variety of measures and despite their vow of poverty, they became the wealthiest and most powerful religious and political order in Europe in a span of two hundred years. Then, in 1307, all of the Templars in France were arrested and the order was disbanded, its members condemned as heretics.

As Jim reread his summary he scratched his head in confusion. There were so many things that didn’t make sense, not only with the site at Shiprock but also with the Templar history itself. For instance, how did an order of what were essentially poor Cistercian monks become the most powerful organization in Europe in only two hundred years? How were nine solitary knights expected to patrol the roadways between Europe and the Holy Land by themselves? What on earth were they doing tunneling under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem? What did they find there? Why did the knights fall so suddenly into disfavor? And what the hell was he doing worrying about this at three…no, it was now three-thirty in the morning? Jim shook his head as trying to clear of the myriad of thoughts that were buzzing through it like a swarm of tired, angry bees. He decided to give Bob Jackson in the morning to get his take on the situation. With that thought, Jim O’Neal put the Templars out of his mind and himself to bed.

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Robert Jennings was standing outside one of the terminals in the Albuquerque airport, watching the passengers disembark from the plane. As the harried business travelers and happy vacationers hurried past him, he thought offhandedly that they looked like a colony of ants hustling off to do their day’s work, each intent on his own scheduled tasks, oblivious to all the rest. Robert had been watching them for some time and had decided that he could tell which were the business travelers and which were the vacationers by the expression on their faces as they entered the terminal. The vacationers looked eager and somewhat confused as they stepped out of the plane’s narrow gate and into the airport while the business traveler wore and expression of impatience and world-weary fatigue as though he or she could hardly wait to get to the next leg of the journey. Robert guessed that the man he was looking for, based on what he had been told about him, would be one of the latter.
Most of the passengers had already departed the terminal, heading off to claim their baggage, find another plane or simply to leave for their local destination. It was getting late, close to midnight, and Robert soon found himself standing alone by the gate. He frowned and checked his information again. Yes, he was in the right place. The man he was looking for should have been on this plane, but it was beginning to look like he was not. Robert checked his watch and decided to give it a few more minutes. Dammit, he thought impatiently, I can’t believe the Brothers in D.C. would send someone for this mission who was too stupid to get on the right plane. He slumped into one of the sparsely cushioned chairs and sighed.
Finally, there was a bit of commotion by the boarding ramp, and Robert looked up to see a pair of attractive female flight attendants exit the plane followed by a tall, muscular man in his mid-thirties. The man had short brown hair, sunglasses and a goatee. He was wearing blue jeans and a short-sleeved shirt that revealed his heavily muscled arms, one of which sported a tattoo of a crown draped on a cross with a single rose at its base. That told Robert that this was probably his man. Robert watched as the man leaned close to one of the flight attendants and whispered something in her ear. She responded by slapping him hard enough to knock his sunglasses off and send them skittering across the floor of the terminal. Then she and her co-worker hurried away, leaving the man to rub his cheek and look for his sunglasses, which had ended up by Robert’s feet. He picked them up and walked over to the man.
“You must be Jesse,” he said holding out the sunglasses for the man to take, which he did, a suspicious look on his face. Robert continued. “I’m Robert. The Brothers from Washington D.C. sent me.”
The man still did not answer but merely stuck out his hand for Robert to shake. He did so, but in the manner that only a member of the Brothers of the Rose and Cross would know or understand. Only then did the other man speak.
“Nice to meet you Robert.” Under the strict rules of secrecy of their Order, neither man revealed his last name. Jesse retracted his hand and rubbed his face once more, nodding in the direction the two flight attendants had gone. “I thought I might have procured a little entertainment for us this evening, but I guess I must have said the wrong thing. Their loss, though, right?”
Robert smiled and nodded, again wondering what kind of maniac the boys in D.C. had sent him to deal with for the next few weeks. Jesse picked up the large duffel bag that he had set aside while looking for his glasses and the pair began to make their way through the nearly empty airport.
“So what, exactly, do we know about this?” asked Jesse as they walked.
“Not a whole lot,” replied Robert, assuming that Jesse was asking about the reason for their trip to New Mexico. “The only thing we really know is that there has been some sort of big discovery out near Farmington and it looks like it might be one of our boys.”
“Really?”
“Yeah. Sounds like they found some armor and weapons and stuff. Looks like they think it might be of English origin in which case, I certain that its one of ours.”
“What about the map? Did they find that?”
“Maybe. Our sources tell us that there was something big that the college guys are sitting on. Probably hoping to get some money out of it or something. Rumor has it that there’s going to be a big article in the paper about it tomorrow, but nothing for sure yet.”
“So what’s your plan? Rough up the egghead until he spills the beans?” Jesse’s eyes lit up at the prospect but Robert quickly vetoed the suggestion.
“No,” he said. “Nothing like that, at least to begin with. I think we can be a lot more, um, discreet in our actions and still get what we want.”
“If you say so,” Jesse half-heartedly agreed. “Just remember that if we need a little more muscle, that’s what I’m here for. But, hey, you’re in charge, so we’ll go with your plan.” For now, he added silently.
“Fine,” said Robert, who was checking his watch and noticed neither the edge in Jesse’s voice or the steely glint in his eye. “I figure we can start checking around on this in the morning. We’ve got one more guy to pick up tomorrow afternoon, but I can do that if you’d rather get settled in.” Jesse considered this for a moment and came to a decision.
“What did you say this professor guy’s name was again?” he asked.
“Robert Jackson.”
“Great. I’ll go see what I can find out about this guy while you go pick up our third tomorrow. I’ll head on out to Farmington and you can rent another car and meet me there tomorrow evening.” By this time the two of them had reached the parking lot and were standing in front of the tan mini-van Robert had rented earlier. Jesse held out his hand for the keys. Robert wasn’t exactly sure that he wanted to send this man into Farmington without someone to keep an eye on him, but it would be a more efficient use of their time and Jesse was a Brother, after all. He deposited the van keys in Jesse’s waiting hand.
“Just try to stay out of trouble until we can figure out what it is we want to do, okay?” he asked.
“Of course,” Jesse replied. “What could possibly happen?”

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Jim O’Neal popped out of bed at seven o’clock the next morning, looking forward to another day of digging up information on the mysterious Knights Templar. His first order of business was to call Bob Jackson to discuss what he had learned the previous evening about the order. Both Bob and Frank had given him their cell phone numbers the day before in the event that Jim might be interested in returning to the site at Shiprock. Jim found Bob’s number and dialed it. No dice, his call went into voice mail. Jim shrugged and set about making himself some breakfast.
Breakfast most days for Jim consisted of a thermos of coffee and the morning paper. Today was no different. Despite the inordinate amount of coffee he had consumed the night before, and despite the fact that his stomach was still complaining about it, Jim poured himself a steaming cup and retrieved the Albuquerque Journal from the front stoop. He sat down at the dining room table to read, intending on indulging himself with a bit of relaxation before heading off to the school. He unrolled the paper and took a sip of hot coffee…which he promptly spat out in surprise when he saw the headline:

NMU Researcher Finds Mysterious Stone Tablet at Shiprock

That wiley son of a bitch, thought Jim. Bob had shown him some tantalizing bits at the site yesterday but had mentioned nothing about a stone tablet. I should have guessed. Jim flicked the paper’s photo of a smiling Bob Jackson holding said stone tablet and continued to read.

SHIPROCK—Dr. Robert Jackson, professor of archaeology at the University of New Mexico stunned the small community of Shiprock and the rest of the academic world last week when he uncovered a European burial site near the Shiprock monument. Dr. Jackson’s team has since uncovered a surprising cache of artifacts including armor weaponry, human remains and a stone tablet.
“I believe what we have found here could drastically change the way we view world history. If my preliminary calculations are correct, this means that there were Europeans in the New World much earlier than we had anticipated,” said Jackson.
The armor and weaponry discovered by Jackson’s team may date to the early 1500s and, according to Jackson himself, may be of Scottish or English origin. Previously, the only Europeans thought to have traveled nearly as far West as New Mexico were Cortes in Mexico and Coronado in Kansas. An analysis of the human remains expected this week could confirm the dates.
One big piece of the puzzle that does not seem to fit so far is the mysterious stone tablet.
“The tablet seems to depict some sort of mountain along with what is perhaps its name. At this point, we cannot say for certain,” puzzled Jackson. “Perhaps when we figure out what the tablet says, we will be closer to solving this mystery.”

Jim’s eyebrows arched. “Now that will make the academic archeologists happy,” he muttered under his breath, “Releasing findings like those, without peer review. If he’s screwed this one up, he’ll be teaching high school in Tucumcari.”
Jim put the paper down and considered the new revelations brought forth by the article. He knew he had to talk to Bob about it, not to mention give his friend a well deserved butt-chewing for being so secretive, and then disclosing his find to the local paper. Jim tried his cell phone once again, but still got no answer from Bob. He decided to try Frank’s cell. The young man answered on the first ring.
“Hello?”
“Frank, hi, it’s Jim O’Neal. Saw the story in the paper this morning. I can’t believe you let Bob take all the credit.”
“Hey, you know what graduate student actually means…some professor’s slave, guaranteed not to see the sun for four to six years. I’m used to a life with no recognition,” quipped the young archeologist. “So, what’s up?”
“I’m trying to get a hold of Bob, but he doesn’t seem to be answering his cell. He’s not around by chance, is he?”
“No, he’s not,” replied Frank, sounding surprised. “He said he might be a little late to the site today because he had some important information that he wanted to confab with you about before he came out. We’re supposed to tear down today and head back to Albuquerque. When my phone rang, I thought it was probably him.”
“I haven’t seen him since yesterday. Maybe he just overslept.”
“It’s possible, I guess, but highly unlikely. Dr. Jackson hasn’t been out here any later than seven during the entire expedition. I tried calling his hotel a few minutes ago and got a busy signal. Maybe you should stop by and see what’s going on. He’s staying at some rattrap out on 40, called the Hi-Way 40 Inn or something along those lines.”
“Okay, I’ll swing by there and see if he’s around. I’ll let you know what I turn up.”
---
Jim O’Neal had not been the only person in Farmington that day with more than a passing interest in what had been unearthed at Shiprock. Marjorie Carroll had been leisurely sipping a cup of coffee in her hotel room that morning when she picked up her complementary copy of the Albuquerque Journal. Flipping through the pages she came across the same article Jim had seen, choked on her coffee and spilled a fair amount of it on her bare skin.
“Oh, holy cow!” she exclaimed, leaping to her feet and blotting hot coffee off of her leg. She hurried to the ice bucket, which was now only filled with very cold water and splashed some on the burn. She examined her leg for a moment and, deciding that she it probably wasn’t going to require any major medical attention, turned her attention back to the article.
Marjorie, who preferred the diminutive Marji, had only been in town for a couple of days and was still trying to get her bearings in the small New Mexico city. She was still surprised by the cultural differences between the southwest and her own native New England. Marji had traveled a bit in her life, mostly along the eastern seaboard and a few times to Europe, but she had never anticipated such a vast cultural difference to exist between two places in her own country. The architecture, the scenery, even the weather were all foreign to her, but she was beginning to enjoy this place that still, in some ways, looked like a Hollywood movie set to her. It was different, but she liked it.
Marji had arrived in town the day before yesterday on the rumor that something archeologically important had been found at the majestic and mysterious rock formation near Farmington known as Shiprock. Though not an archeologist by trade, as Jim was, she certainly had more than a passing interest in the subject and, through her current occupation, had a pretty good idea of what it was that Dr. Robert Jackson and his group of students had stumbled across out there. The newspaper article only confirmed it for her. She put down the paper and rummaged through her briefcase to find her notes. Reading through the pages of her own small, careful script she found what she was looking for. Simply to make sure her assumptions were correct she reread the article.
“This is it,” she said aloud. “It has to be.”
Again she double-checked her notes and the description of the find. If she was going to track down this Dr. Jackson, she would first need to be sure that this was what she was looking for. No use in needlessly embarrassing herself or her superiors if it was not. After yet another comparison, however, she was certain that this was the find she thought it might be. Convinced, she quickly got dressed and finished her coffee before dashing out the door in hopes of finding Dr. Jackson.
---

Frank had been right about a couple of things. The motel was on Highway 40 and it was a rattrap. However, it was actually called the Stop-N-Drop Inn, a name that reminded Jim more of fire safety week in grade school than of a restful place to sleep. The place was run by a friendly couple from Abilene, Texas, named Stu and Evie. At least that’s what the chubby, jovial man behind the counter, who Jim took to be Stu, told him.
“Yep, some mighty nice folks around these parts,” wheezed Stu. “What was the name of the fella you were looking for again?”
“Bob Jackson.”
“Here he is. Room 405. It’s around on the backside so it’ll be easier to get there if you just walk down the alley.”
Jim thanked the man and exited the motel office. He wasn’t sure how Stu and Evie planned to stay in business because there were very few cars in the parking lot, two to be exact. There was his own Wrangler parked in front of the office next to a dilapidated pick-up truck that Jim guessed belonged to the proprietor. He paid them little attention as he turned and walked down the alley toward the backside of the hotel.
Room 205 was the third door down on the backside of the building. There were two cars parked in front of the room, a tan minivan and a Jeep Cherokee. The driver’s door on the van was open just a crack. Later, when he thought about the events that were about to transpire, Jim thought it was that that should have been the tip-off. As it was, he thought nothing of it as he approached the door.
Like the door on the Olds, the door to the room was slightly ajar. Jim paused, peering into the darkness og the room. He was beginning to feel a little hinky about the situation, thinking that this was usually the point in the movie when the homicidal maniac charged out with an ax to do great bodily harm to the hero. Gingerly, he pushed the door open. So far, so good. No murderer to be seen. He stepped into the musty room. Relaxing a bit, he looked around and was not surprised to learn that Bob was a lousy housekeeper. Two suitcases lay open on the bed, their contents strewn about the room. Socks, shirts, pants and underwear littered the floor. The bed was unmade and the television was on, the sound muted. The silent images filled the room with bizarre shadows. There was a light on in the bathroom. Jim took a step in that direction preparing to call Bob’s name when the words die in his throat. At that moment the bathroom door opened and a strange man stepped out wiping his hands on a towel. He looked up and saw Jim. Both men froze. Then Jim noticed what the man had been wiping off of his hands.
“Hey—“ began Jim, but the man had already taken two huge steps across the room and swung, catching Jim squarely in the nose. Jim’s vision went gray as the pain receptors in his broken nose sent fiery flashes of agony to his brain. The man then picked him up and threw him against the bed and Jim’s face flared with more pain as his cheek struck the wooden headboard. He lay there for a moment before rolling off the bed onto a pile of clothing. Groggily he got to his feet in time to see the Olds speed out of the parking lot. Wanting to follow the man and perhaps get in a few lumps on him, Jim took a step toward the door. Then he remembered what the man had been wiping on the towel. With one hand on the wall to steady himself, he staggered toward the bathroom, afraid but really already knowing what he would find. He was mostly correct.
Just like the discarded hand towel in the doorway, the white towel of the bathroom was covered with blood. Bright red streaks of the stuff covered the walls, puddles of it stood in the tub. The shower curtain had been torn from its hooks and was, likewise, covered in blood. But there was no Bob.
Jim staggered back out of the room and vomited near the curb where the olds had been parked. He thought he could still smell its noxious exhaust in the air as he stood there with his hands on his knees, gasping for breath. Then he pulled out his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1.

1 Comments:

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