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Ark Page 2

by David Wood

  It was locked.

  Twice he heard fist meet flesh. The second time, the old man cried out. Maddock threw his shoulder into the door and it burst open. He heard another crash as Bones forced his way in through the back. The intruders looked up in surprise, but each reacted in an instant.

  Before Maddock could close the gap between them, both drew automatic pistols and opened fire. Maddock dove behind the sofa, bullets shredding the upholstery just above his head and tearing into the sheetrock wall.

  “Come on, Tyson! Let’s get out of here!” Ahmed shouted. Still firing, the two men ran out the front door.

  Maddock sprang to his feet and, for a moment, considered chasing them, but he knew he would be a sitting duck.

  “Bones, are you all right?” He turned to see his friend standing beside his grandfather, checking him for injuries.

  “I’m fine. Here.” Bones dug into his pocket, took out the keys to his truck, and tossed them to Maddock. “Pistol’s in the writing desk.”

  While Bones attended to his grandfather, Maddock yanked open the drawer of the nearby desk and snatched up an old Ruger Single Six Convertible .22 revolver and a few spare bullets. He dashed out the front door just in time to see the SUV roar past the front of the house. From the passenger seat, Ahmed blazed away with his automatic.

  Maddock dropped to one knee, bullets whizzing past his head and smacking into the door and wall behind him. He had time for one aimed shot which shattered the SUVs rear window before the vehicle was down the street and out of sight.

  He sprinted to Bones’ pickup truck, intending to give chase, but stopped when he drew close. The front right tire was flat, and a quick inspection showed a bullet hole in the sidewall was the culprit. Ahmed was either very lucky or an excellent shot. Either way, any hope of catching the two intruders was now lost.

  He tucked the revolver into his belt and stalked back to the house, cursing all the way.

  Inside, Bones had moved his grandfather to the sofa. The old man lay stretched out with his head resting on a cushion, holding a bag of ice against his forehead. Blood trickled down the side of his face. Bones looked up when Maddock entered.

  “What happened?” Anger burned in his eyes and his body trembled with scarcely contained rage. Maddock was almost glad he hadn’t caught up with the two intruders. He shuddered to think what Bones would’ve done had Maddock somehow managed to detain them.

  “They shot out the tire. For what it’s worth, I got the license plate number.”

  Bones spat a curse and his grandfather raised a crooked finger.

  “No language like that in my house, Uriah,” he rasped.

  “Yes, Grandfather.” The irascible Bones was perhaps the most irreverent person Maddock had ever known, but his respect for his elders was absolute.

  “I don’t suppose you know who they are or what they wanted?” Maddock asked.

  The old man shook his head. “I have never seen them before, but I do know what they wanted.”

  Bones frowned. “And what was that?”

  “They are looking for our family treasure.”

  Chapter 3

  “Another late night, Miss Zafrini? Maybe you need to schedule some other sort of nocturnal activities.” Hank flashed a crooked smile over the top of his Maxim magazine and winked.

  Dima forced a smile. She knew the middle-aged security guard to be harmless and that his attempts at flirtation were intended to be flattering, yet it galled her that she had to put up with it. She had complained about him before and gotten nowhere. Even now, in the twenty-first century, working at a major university, she was still expected to take his clumsy overtures as complimentary rather than creepy.

  “You know me, Hank. Too busy for any of that foolishness.” She hurried out the door before he could make one of his usual comments about her long legs, glossy black hair, big brown eyes, or olive complexion. He had actually reached his peak the previous evening when he assured her that he knew Jordanians were not terrorists. “Freaking redneck,” she muttered as the door slid closed behind her.

  Outside, the humidity wrapped around her like a blanket. Even at nine o’clock at night Atlanta was a veritable steam room. Oh well, she’d known what she was getting into when she moved here, but the position in the university’s archaeology department had been too good to pass up. Or so she had thought.

  Inside her battered Honda CRV, she blasted the air-conditioning and the new Volbeat album in equal measure and spent the drive home cursing her lazy department head who kept dumping his projects on her so he could spend time “training” his new grad assistant. Rumor had it, tonight’s instruction was taking place at the Marriott Marquis. She had considered tipping off his wife but she had no idea under what name he booked his room. Besides, his marriage wasn’t her problem. She had enough concerns of her own to be getting on with.

  By the time she reached her apartment she had tired herself out and a dull feeling of discouragement had settled upon her. Perhaps she should move back home. At least there she’d be around friends and it would get her mother and father off her back.

  Passing through the empty lobby, she checked her mailbox and was surprised to see among the circulars and credit card offers a small box with no sender’s name or return address. She wondered what it might be. She never received mail from home, much less packages. Her parents had finally mastered the Internet and now did their pestering through cyberspace.

  The box was light; so light, in fact, she wondered if it might be empty. She gave it a shake but heard nothing. Weird.

  Her apartment was decorated in a style she liked to call “too busy to care.” The sofa, her lone piece of living room furniture, faced the television set which she hadn’t gotten around to removing from its box. As long as she set it up in time for football season, she would be fine. A single, framed photograph hung on the wall—a family portrait from her teen years. Four faces smiled back at the camera. She didn’t like to look at it, hated to in fact, but she displayed it out of a sense of obligation.

  In the kitchen, luxuriously furnished with a card table and two folding chairs, she tossed the junk mail in the garbage, poured a glass of red wine, and contemplated dinner. Cold pizza or salad from a bag? It had been a long day and even tearing open a plastic bag felt like far too much effort. Pizza won out.

  Sitting down at the table, she pushed aside the half-finished puzzle she’d started on Valentine’s Day when her date stood her up, and carefully opened the box. Inside, encased in layers of bubble wrap and pressed between two sturdy squares of cardboard, she found a Glassite envelope containing scraps of old vellum covered in faint writing, and a note. She took a bite of pizza, grimacing at the cardboard texture of the stale crust, and began to read.


  I know this isn’t the proper way to care for or transport an ancient document but I needed to get it to someone I trust, someone who can work on it with me. You’re an expert at this. I have one more stop to make, but I’ll get to you as soon as I can. Feel free to begin working on it. I think you’ll find it’s right up your alley. Have fun!


  Robert Crane was an old friend and colleague. She hadn’t seen him for years and was surprised he even knew her current address, much less setting her a task without first touching base. And what was up with this note? Robert had never been the secretive type, but this message was maddeningly vague. Maybe it was a prank. When translated, the fragments inside the envelope would probably spell out an insult. That would be more Robert’s style. She could still hear his infectious laughter. The man loved his jokes. Oh well, she could use a laugh.

  She held up the envelope and examined the sheet inside. Her heart began to race. If the document was a fake, Robert had outdone himself. A quick inspection with a magnifying glass convinced her that this was the genuine article. Warming to the challenge, she grabbed her laptop, a pad, and a pen and set to work. A few minutes later she had already translated a few phrases.

called the name of that son Noah … began to multiply on the face of the earth … in the earth in those days, but they were not of man…

  So it was something from the Bible. More accurately, something extra-Biblical. She knew the book of Genesis contained no story of Noah’s birth. It came to her in a flash and the breath caught in her chest. Her slice of pizza slipped from numb fingers to fall forgotten onto a paper towel.

  “It couldn’t possibly be. There’s just no way.”

  She hastily typed the phrases into her web browser, took a deep breath, and tapped the enter key. The search results left no doubt.

  “Robert,” she whispered, “if this is a joke, you are a dead man.”

  Chapter 4

  “Mister Bonebrake, we need you to tell us everything you can remember about this treasure.” Maddock sat at the kitchen table with Bones, his grandfather, Angel, and Bones’ mother, Miriam. Behind Miriam, Bones’ uncle, “Crazy Charlie” Bonebrake, paced back and forth, one hand resting on the grip of the 357 Magnum he wore on his hip, and a dark look in his eyes.

  They sat in the small kitchen of Miriam’s home where the attack had occurred the night before. It was a quaint, cozy place with dark wood cabinets and yellowing linoleum. The room smelled of coffee, bacon grease, and Lysol. It reminded Maddock of visits to his own grandparents’ house when he was younger.

  “It’s all right,” Miriam said to her father-in-law. “You can tell us.” Miriam Bonebrake was a handsome woman, tall with delicate features and big brown eyes. It was plain to see where Angel had gotten her good looks.

  Samuel shook his head. “There is no need to discuss it any further. Those men are gone and I don’t want to cause trouble for the boys.” He twitched a crooked, liver-spotted finger at Maddock and Bones.

  Angel smirked. “Grandfather, these two are perfectly capable of finding trouble on their own. Believe me.” She reached over and took Maddock’s hand. Her diamond engagement ring twinkled in the morning sunlight that shone through the window. Maddock still couldn’t believe his good fortune. Thank God for beautiful women with bad taste in men.

  “We have a lot of experience in treasure hunting,” Maddock said, turning his thoughts from the lovely lady at his side. “It’s our profession.”

  “And we know how to take care of ourselves.” Bones bared his teeth in something just short of a grin. “Besides, these men want the so-called family treasure, whatever it is, and they clearly think you’re the key to finding it. They’ll keep coming back until they get what they want.”

  “Unless we find it first,” Maddock finished.

  “You don’t know that.”

  “With respect, Grandfather,” Bones said, “yes we do. We’ve dealt with situations and men like this before.”

  Samuel let out a sigh of resignation. “All right, but I want a cup of coffee first.”

  “I got it.” Angel rose, gave Maddock’s shoulder a squeeze, and went to refill her grandfather’s mug. Maddock couldn’t help but stare at her. He loved her big eyes, her fine cheekbones, her long brown hair, her trim, athletic figure…

  “Dude.” Bones elbowed him in the ribs. “Can we focus here? We’ve got a situation.”

  “Sorry about that.” Grinning, Maddock took out his phone, turned on the voice recording feature, and slid it across the table. Meanwhile, Bones borrowed a pad and paper from his mother and prepared to take notes.

  When Samuel finally had his steaming mug of coffee, he took a sip, savored it for a few seconds, and finally began the story.

  “Esau Bonebrake was the brother of my great-grandfather,” the old man said.

  “So I’m not the only one who got stuck with the weird Bible name?” Bones asked.

  Samuel carefully placed his mug on the table, folded his hands, and fixed Bones with a stern look. “Uriah, if you insist on interrupting me with your juvenile comments, the story is going to take a long time to tell, and at my age, time is not on my side.”

  “Ass,” Angel whispered to her brother.

  Samuel turned his eyes on her and she quickly adopted a look of contrition. “Sorry.”

  “Esau was an unusual man,” Samuel said, resuming the narrative. “He kept mostly to himself, never married, and spent most of his time in the mountains.” Samuel seemed to anticipate Maddock’s thoughts. “That in itself was not out of the ordinary for the mid-1800’s, but there is no doubt he was an eccentric. He was a treasure hunter.”

  Bones grunted and mimed stabbing himself in the heart, but everyone ignored him.

  “He also collected stories and legends the way Angel collects dolls.”

  “Dolls?” Maddock arched an eyebrow at Angel.

  “They’re vintage,” she said, as if that explained everything. “Now stop interrupting Grandfather’s story.”

  Samuel smiled. “One of the stories that was passed down through our family spoke of an ancestor who had discovered an item of power. The details have been lost, but Esau took it for the truth and spent years searching for it until he finally found it. At least, he claimed to have found it. If anyone else saw it or knew what it was, I cannot say. He called it the ‘family’ treasure but, by all accounts, he kept it to himself. But, shortly after he found the treasure, Esau developed the ability to talk to animals.”

  “I talk to animals all the time,” Bones said, “but they never answer back.”

  “I think he means like a horse whisperer.” Angel rolled her eyes.

  Samuel nodded. “He could break a horse with the sound of his voice. He could catch a fish by whispering a few words and simply wait for it to swim into his hands.”

  “Forgive me, but it sounds like a fairly common legend,” Angel said. “I’m sure I’ve heard a hundred similar tales from other families and certainly from other nations.”

  “Perhaps, but despite his reputation, everyone at the time seemed to take his power as a matter of fact. Many claim to have witnessed his abilities firsthand. According to my great-grandfather, the two of them once stumbled upon a mountain lion’s den. Wanting to protect her cubs, the mother charged at them. Esau took one look at her, waved his hand, and said ‘Shoo!’”

  “And it worked?” Maddock asked.

  “Yes.” Samuel took another sip of coffee, closed his eyes, and smiled. “Excellent.” He sat up a little straighter, as if the drink had fortified him, and went on. “When the War Between the States broke out, Esau left to join the Union army. He took his treasure with him for good luck. During the Chickamauga campaign, he and his unit found themselves separated from their main force. Trapped by the Confederates, they were slaughtered. Only Esau managed to stay alive by hiding in a cave behind a waterfall. He remained there, living off the raw fish he summoned, waiting for the enemy troops to leave the area. Finally, realizing he stood little chance of making his way through enemy lines and back to the Union forces, and not wanting to lose his treasure, he hid it in a crack in the cave wall, intending to come back for it someday.”

  “I’m guessing he never went back for it?” Bones asked.

  Samuel shook his head. “He was captured and spent the rest of the war wasting away in Andersonville.”

  Maddock let out a tiny whistle. Now a national historical site, Andersonville was a notorious Confederate prison camp. Captured Union soldiers were penned in an open stockade with no protection from the elements, and kept away from the shelter of the prison walls by the threat of the death line—an invisible line that marked out a buffer zone between the prisoners and the guards. A prisoner who stepped over it was shot immediately. Disease-ridden and malnourished, the prisoners who survived came out looking like the victims of the Nazi concentration camps in World War II. It was easily one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the so-called Civil War.

  “He was never the same after that,” Samuel said. “He was a broken man, half crippled and nearly mad. He lived out the remainder of his days in my great-grandfather’s home. He eventually told the story to my grandfather, who passed it dow
n to my father, who in turn told the story to me.”

  “Didn’t anyone ever search for the treasure?” Angel asked.

  “Not as far as I know. Everyone believed Samuel owned something that he loved enough to call it a treasure, but they doubted it was anything of value. Besides, he had only a vague idea of where he had hidden it.”

  “The proverbial needle in a haystack,” Bones said.

  “But maybe not so impossible to find nowadays. We’ve got historical records to search through, topographical maps, and satellite imagery. It’s possible.” Maddock turned to Samuel. “Do you know any specifics about the place he hid the treasure? Landmarks? Nearby towns?”

  “A few,” Samuel said. “My grandfather wrote the story down.” He turned to Miriam. “Would you please fetch me my Bible?”

  Bones’ mother hurried away and returned moments later with a battered old Bible. Its worn cover, cracked spine, and dog-eared pages said it had seen its share of use. Samuel took it from her with care, opened it, and thumbed through its yellowing pages until he found a single sheet of paper. He turned the Bible around so Bones and Maddock could see.

  Maddock leaned in for a better look. Faded writing in a tight, neat hand filled the page. It recounted the story of the skirmish, Esau’s escape, and his discovery of the cave. The details of the cave’s location were few, but there were enough to give Maddock hope that, with help, they could find it. The final line caught his attention.

  Blood is the key.

  “Blood is the key. Any idea what that means?”

  Samuel shook his head. “I can’t say for certain, but since it is the story of a family treasure, I assume Esau was speaking of the importance of the family bloodline.”

  “We’ll just have to figure it out. So,” he said to Bones, “are we going to go for it?”

  “That’s sort of what we do, isn’t it? But I don’t want to leave Grandfather alone, not with those men still out there.”


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