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Ark Page 9

by David Wood

  Footsteps from somewhere nearby caught her attention and she turned, expecting to see Archer. Instead, her eyes fell on a hook-nosed man, a Saudi by the look of him, striding toward her. She wondered where he’d come from, but the question was answered when she spotted a white Toyota 4Runner parked in the shelter of a leafy dogwood. She’d been so immersed in her conversation with Addie that she hadn’t even notice.

  “Dima Zafrini?”

  Alarm bells rang in her mind. Who was he? How did he know her name? How did he know he would find her here? This was all wrong. She was halfway back into her car when a hand clamped over her mouth and a strong arm snaked around her waist.

  “I need you to come with me.” The man’s breath smelled of clove cigarettes and his oily tone soured her stomach.

  She tried to scream but managed only a muffled groan. Her hands grabbed for the steering wheel, but he yanked her out of the cab and dragged her, thrashing wildly, toward his waiting vehicle. She fought like a cornered cat, kicking and scratching for all she was worth. She jerked her head to the side and managed to utter a weak, “Help” before he muffled her again. She bit down on his finger and heard a satisfying curse, but her efforts were too little. Dima knew how to defend herself, but the man was too strong.

  “We want the three stones, and I think you know where to find them,” the man snarled.

  Somewhere within the terror coursing through her, she became aware of the crunch of tires on the drive. Her captor released her just as a silver Hyundai Santa Fe skidded to a halt. The doors flew open, and two men leaped out.

  Everything happened in a flash. Shots rang out, an engine roared to life, more shots, and then a crash as the Toyota driven by the man who had just attempted to capture her clipped the back of the Hyundai. By the time the dust settled and Dima regained her composure, the man was gone.

  She looked at her rescuers, if that was, indeed, what they were. One was a stocky blond man of above-average height. The other was a huge Native American with a ponytail. Both held handguns at their sides and stared in the direction where the Toyota had gone.

  “Unbelievable,” the blond man said as he kicked the rear passenger-side tire. He clipped us just right and knocked it off the rim.”

  “That was one of the guys, wasn’t it?” his friend asked. “Ahmed.”

  “Looked like him. The nose.” The blond man holstered his pistol and turned, his eyes falling on Dima. “Are you all right?”

  Adrenaline coursing through her, all her fight or flight responses firing at once, Dima managed only three clipped words. “Who are you?”

  “I’m Maddock. This is Bones.” Maddock paused, as if she was supposed to recognize the names. “Look, I know you’ve got to be freaked out about what just happened, but I promise you’re safe now. We’ve already had one run-in with that guy.”

  Dima bit her lip. If these two were planning on hurting her, there was nothing she could do. For the first time since moving to Atlanta she wished she’d allowed herself to get caught up in the Southern gun culture.

  “I just want to leave.” She hated the quaver in her voice.

  “We won’t stop you,” the big guy, Bones, said. “But if he’s lying in wait somewhere down the road, you might find yourself in another hard place. You want to call the cops?”

  That eased her concerns a bit, though she was still on her guard. “You said you’ve met him before. Have you had dealings with Trident?”

  The way their jaws dropped, almost in unison, would have elicited a giggle from her in almost any other circumstance.

  “You know about the Trident?” Maddock asked.

  “I don’t know about the Trident, but I know about a company called Trident that deals in antiquities. I’ve got a card from a guy named Tyson.” She returned to her CRV, fished around in her purse until she found the card, and brought it back to show them.

  Maddock glanced at it and passed it over to Bones. “Tyson and the guy who tried to kidnap you work together. They attacked Bones’ grandfather trying to get information.”

  “Are you serious? What kind of information?”

  “The same information you’re looking for—the Noah Stone.”

  She saw sincerity in Maddock’s eyes and knew he was telling the truth. She wasn’t completely comfortable with these two just yet, but she was beginning to think maybe she could trust them.

  “Everything calming down out here?” said a gruff voice from the direction of the house.

  She turned to see a wizened old man standing on the front porch, aiming a rifle in their direction. This must be Archer.

  “We’re fine,” she said. “Someone tried to kidnap me and these men chased him off.”

  “I saw the end of it,” the man said. “I watched long enough to make sure these two didn’t try anything. I would’ve shot you both if you had.”

  “I don’t blame you,” Bones said. “Are you Archer?”

  “How about we continue this conversation after you fellows have handed your guns to the young lady?”

  “No problem,” Bones said. Slowly, he and Maddock reversed their pistols and handed them to Dima.

  “Are the safeties on?” She hoped the answer was “yes.” She didn’t actually know where the safety was on either of these weapons, though she could probably figure it out.

  “Mine’s a Glock,” Bones said, as if that answered the question.

  “No external safety on that one,” Archer called, apparently seeing her bemusement. “Lock them in your car for now.”

  She complied, and the three of them slowly approached the house.

  Archer let his rifle dip, but didn’t lower it completely.

  “I appreciate the trigger discipline,” Maddock said.

  “I’m a veteran,” Archer said simply.

  Dima had no idea what they were talking about, and it pissed her off. She made a quick mental note to fill in this gaping hole in her knowledge base, and then interrupted the budding boys’ club. “Mister Archer, we’re here about the Noah Stone. We didn’t come together, but that’s what all three of us are researching. Ben Street from New Echota said you might be willing to talk to us about it.”

  “Ordinarily I would be, but this is hardly an ordinary circumstance. You need to convince me real quick why I should talk to you.”

  “How about we show you?” Bones slowly opened his leather jacket, reached inside, and withdrew an oddly-shaped black object. “We found the stone.”

  Chapter 17

  Archer invited them inside and offered them coffee. The last thing Maddock wanted on this humid afternoon was a hot drink, but he and the others accepted out of courtesy. After the way they’d started off, manners were essential. If Archer had anything of interest to tell them, they didn’t want to give offense. While the old man busied himself in the kitchen, Maddock, Bones, and Dima made small talk. She was clearly frightened, but seemed to be warming to them. The revelation that he and Bones possessed the Noah Stone, had gone a long way toward convincing her they were legit. By the time Archer served the coffee, she seemed eager to hear their story.

  Archer pulled up a rickety kitchen chair and faced his three guests who sat arrayed on a sagging, overstuffed sofa. He took a sip of his coffee, grimaced, and sat it down on the coffee table that stood between them. “Mixed it too strong. That’s the problem with instant. Hard to get it right.” A fat, gray cat hopped onto his lap, turned, and cast suspicious eyes on Maddock.

  “All right, you two. “How about you explain yourselves?”

  Bones quickly recounted the events of the past few days, emphasizing the attack on his grandfather and their desire to get to the bottom of the mystery behind the Noah Stone, not for their own gain, but to hopefully foil whatever plan the Trident might have and to protect his family.

  Archer listened intently, nodding his head at appropriate times. Dima stared at Bones, her expression unreadable. When Bones finished telling the story, Archer gazed at the ceiling for several moments before speak

  “How do you know the stone is real?”

  Maddock looked at Bones and waved his hand in a “go ahead” gesture. They had agreed to keep the circumstances surrounding the recovery of the stone a secret, but otherwise to be open about things. Besides, even if Archer repeated the tale, who would believe him?

  “Because it works.” Bones took out the Noah Stone, pressed the sharp edge to his palm, and dragged it across his flesh.

  Dima let out a little gasp, but Archer’s expression remained stolid as Bones let a few drops of blood trickled onto the stone. He then looked at the cat and said, “Jump.”

  The cat immediately sprang off of the old man’s lap and onto the coffee table.


  The cat sat down and stared expectantly at Bones.

  “Roll over.”

  Maddock snatched up his coffee cup just in time to keep the enraptured feline from upending it.

  “I don’t believe it.” Awe and wonder filled Dima’s soft voice. Then her eyes narrowed and she looked at Archer. “Your cat doesn’t know any tricks, does she?”

  Archer chuckled. “She’s never followed an order in her life until just now.”

  “Would it work on wild animals?” she said to Bones.

  “It already has. I’ve done it.” Bones handed the stone to Maddock. “Your turn. I don’t feel like cutting myself any deeper. Besides, this is the hand I use to brush a lady’s hair back before kiss her.” He flashed a smile at Dima.

  “I just narrowly avoided being kidnaped and you choose now to hit on me?” She folded her arms and gave him a stare like a disapproving schoolteacher.

  “Sorry. I can’t always turn it off. There’s something about an intelligent woman.”

  Dima smiled, or perhaps it was a smirk, but that ended the exchange and everyone turned their attention to Maddock.

  He hadn’t tried using the stone yet, but he’d watched Bones do it a few times, and his friend had described how it worked. He took a deep breath and pressed the stone into his hand. The moment his blood oozed onto the stone, his flesh began to tingle. The air around him seemed to crackle as if an aura of energy surrounded him. He sensed life all around him. Something moved in the forest close to the house and he called out to it with his mind. After a moment’s hesitation, he felt it approach. Something clattered outside the front door. Moments later, Archer let out a surprised curse followed by a chortle.

  Maddock turned to see a doe peering in the window. Their eyes met, and then he felt the connection break. In that instant, the deer darted away.

  “Well, I’ll be damned. Can I see that?” Archer held out his callused hand.

  Maddock passed the stone to the old man, who turned it over and over, examining every detail. “I always believed the stories were true, but to actually see it for myself, that’s truly something.” He smiled and handed the stone back to Maddock. “Needless to say, I believe you boys.”

  “It’s amazing,” Dima said, “but my interest is in the Noah’s Ark story. Other than the nickname ‘Noah Stone’ there’s not really any connection to the Biblical Noah.”

  “I think there might be.” Archer stood, retrieved his rifle and headed for the door. “You three come with me. There’s something I have to show you.”

  They piled into Archer’s battered pickup. Dima rode in the cab while Maddock and Bones sat in the back. Now satisfied that they meant him no harm, the old man had told Dima to return their weapons, and now the two of them were on high alert, wondering if the Trident would make another appearance.

  After a short drive down a rutted dirt road, they pulled over to the side in the middle of the forest. Archer led the way, changing directions seemingly at random. Ordinarily Maddock would have enjoyed the lush greenery, cool air, earthy aroma, and the soft ground beneath his feet, but after the incident at Dark Entry, he found no comfort in the woods. The way grew more difficult as they picked their way through rocky terrain choked with brush and brambles. Finally, Archer called a halt.

  “There’s a sinkhole up here. Be careful on the way down.”

  The hole was large enough to swallow a small house, and filled with more of the tangled undergrowth they’d fought their way through. A stand of trees grew out of the center, a testament to the years that had passed since the ground in this spot had collapsed. Inside, only thin slivers of sunlight filtered in, and Maddock felt they were walking at twilight. When they came to a halt at the far end of the hole, Dima put her hands on her hips and frowned. “You brought us to see a hole?”

  Archer smiled, pushed aside a tangle of vines, then slipped his hand into a crack in the rock face, and pulled. He skipped to the side with surprising agility for a man of his apparent age as a tall, flat chunk of stone teetered and fell with a muffled thump. Where it had leaned against the rocky face, a two-foot wide crack split the rock.

  “In here,” he said. “It isn’t far.” He turned, scooted sideways into the passageway, and disappeared from sight.

  Bones tilted his head and pursed his lips. “I suppose I’ll go next. If I can make it through, you two definitely will.

  “And if you get stuck, I’ll be here to pull you out,” Maddock added.

  “Thanks for that.” Bones exhaled loudly and slid into the passage. He needn’t have worried—there was plenty of clearance and he too quickly disappeared into the darkness. Dima followed behind him with Maddock bringing up the rear.

  There was a dank, musty air about the place. This close to the coastline, Maddock was surprised to find an underground space completely free of groundwater. The Chicora had chosen a good place to hide whatever it was they kept down here.

  About ten meters back, they found themselves in a tiny cave. The old flashlight Archer carried cast a faint yellow light. Probably needed fresh batteries. When Maddock and Bones added the beams of their mini Maglites, the cave lit up. They found themselves facing a stout metal door set in the rock. Archer produced a key and unlocked the padlock that held it closed.

  “We don’t let many people in here,” he said, pushing the door open. “Don’t touch anything.”

  Beyond the door lay another, even smaller cave. Rusted metal shelves stood to their left and right, all piled with Native American artifacts, but it was what lay before them that caught his eye.

  A rectangular stone box set against the far wall. Maddock knew immediately what it was.

  “The man who brought us the stone was real. We know it to be true because this is his final resting place.” Archer moved to the crypt, grabbed hold of the lid, and slid it to the side. A low grinding sound and a fine cloud of dust rose around them.

  Bones leaned down and shone his light into the stone coffin and cursed.

  “What’s the matter?” Maddock asked. “This is hardly your first dead body.”

  “You need to see what he’s buried with.” Bones glanced at Archer. “I know were not supposed to touch anything but would it be all right if we remove the lid?”

  Archer stared at him, chewing his cheek, before finally nodding.

  “We’ll be careful,” Maddock reassured. “We’ve done this before.” Carefully, he and Bones lifted the stone lid and set it gently on the ground. Maddock shone his light inside the coffin and immediately understood Bones’ reaction.

  The skeleton that grinned up at them was clad in what had once been a white cloak. In his hand he clutched a dagger with a familiar symbol on the pommel—a red cross.

  “He was a Templar,” Dima whispered.

  Maddock and Bones nodded.

  “I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.

  “We have, but it’s been a while.” Maddock ran the beam of his light all around the coffin and immediately spotted a wooden cylinder. “What’s inside there?”

  “He recorded his story before he died, at least as much of a as he could remember.” Archer held up a hand. “No, you can’t open it, and there’s no need. I know the story verbatim. It’s been handed down from generation to g
eneration. I’ll write it down for you. But the short story is, he and his companions came over the ocean in a ship carrying items they wanted to keep away from the Saracens. The items he treasured the most were a pair of sacred stones.”

  “A pair?” Dima asked. “Not three?”

  Archer shook his head. “Only two, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t part of a trio. Anyway, their ship went down in a storm just off the shore of Bowhead Island. The only thing he saved was the single stone—the one you have now.”

  “If you have an idea where the ship went down, why hasn’t anyone tried to recover it?” Bones asked.

  “People try from time to time, but they’ve never succeeded.”

  They stood there in silence, gazing at the knight’s remains.

  “You’re right,” Dima finally said. “If a Templar brought the stone here, that makes it much easier to believe that the stone came from the Holy Land.”

  “Do you think this,” Bones patted his chest pocket where he held the stone, “might be what Noah used to bring the animals onto the ark?”

  “I’m starting to think so,” Dima said. “The fragment of the Book of Noah mentions stones, a Templar brings your stone to the New World, and it holds a power that could fit in with the Noah story.”

  “It’s just so hard to believe,” Archer said.

  Bones looked at the man and grinned. “Trust me, in our line of work, it’s not that far-fetched.”

  Chapter 18

  The heat struck him as soon as he emerged from the underground chamber. Maddock mopped his brow and tried to process what he’d just learned. The stone that had belonged to Bones’ ancestor had been brought to the New World by a Templar, which meant there was a good chance it was, indeed, an artifact from the Holy Land. Another stone had been lost in a shipwreck somewhere off the coast of South Carolina. When he considered Dima’s evidence that Noah possessed three stones that were at least special enough to merit a mention in the Book of Noah, the objective seemed clear to him. He was about to share his thoughts with Bones when he saw movement up ahead.


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