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Ark Page 10

by David Wood

  “Hold on.” He held out his hand and motioned for the others to stop.

  Bones didn’t need him to explain. His friend spotted the movement as well and rested his hand on his Glock.

  A short, stout young man, Native American by the looks of him, emerged from the trees and stopped at the edge of the sinkhole. He was clad in a police uniform.

  “Is that you Archer?”

  Archer moved to the front of the group. “Yep, it’s me. What are you doing out here Carl?”

  “We got a report of shots fired in the area around your house. I stopped by there and all I saw was an unfamiliar vehicle that had obviously been in some kind of accident, and your truck was gone. When you didn’t answer the door I feared the worst so I came looking for you.”

  “Well, thank you for looking out for me.” Archer said. “How did you know to check for me here?”

  Maddock watched Carl closely. Archer’s question echoed his own thoughts. Maddock and the others had not been here very long. For Carl to have stopped by Archer’s house, determine that he wasn’t home, and then arrive at this spot so quickly was suspicious to say the least.

  Carl hesitated only a moment before replying.

  “Just a lucky guess. If I hadn’t found you quickly I would’ve put out an APB.” He frowned as his eyes passed over Maddock, Bones, and Dima. “Now, why don’t you all come up out of there and you can introduce me to your friends?”

  When they exited the sinkhole, Archer introduced the group. Carl shook hands with each of them in turn. Maddock sized him up in an instant. He was broad of shoulder but thick around the middle, clearly out of shape, and his grip was weak. Furthermore, he was reluctant to meet anyone’s eye for more than a brief instant. He was no threat.

  “Well, I guess we’d better be going,” Archer said. “Thanks again for checking on me.” He headed back toward the spot where they parked the truck but Carl moved to block his way.

  “Wait a minute. Can I talk to you in private?”

  “Why private?” Archer asked. “There’s no problem here. These are good folks.

  Carl cast a sour frown in their direction and then nodded. “I just want to know why you would bring them out here, that’s all. This isn’t a place we show to just anybody.”

  “They aren’t just anybody. They have a good reason to be here.”

  “And that reason would be?” Carl put his hands on his hips and puffed out his chest, failing miserably to look tough.

  “They have the stone that…” Archer froze, anger burning in his eyes. He winced and gritted his teeth. Obviously, he knew he had made a misstep.

  Maddock expected Carl to appear surprised or skeptical, but instead a look of keen interest filled his eyes. “Really?” He said softly. “The stone? How is that possible?”

  “Well, we have a stone,” Maddock said. “It belongs to my friend’s family.” He inclined his head toward Bones. “In the process of doing some research, we learned about the stone that was once here and we wondered if they might be one and the same. Archer was kind enough to show us around.”

  “We’re archaeologists,” Bones added. “So we’ve got an interest in history and artifacts.”

  “Can I see it?” Carl said, a bit too quickly for Maddock’s liking.

  “We don’t keep it with us,” Bones said. “It’s in a safe deposit box at our family’s bank. We know it’s probably not worth much but it special to us.”

  “Really? Which bank?”

  Maddock almost laughed. The man had no subtlety.

  “Cherokee Community, close to the reservation.” Because Maddock knew Bones so well, he saw the tiny glint in his friend’s eye. “We bring it out for family reunions. I was telling Archer that if he wants to check it out, he should come up for the next one on the Fourth of July. You can come to if you like.”

  “Thanks. I just might.” Carl looked around. “I guess I’d better go. Glad you’re okay,” he said Archer. He turned on his heel and hurried off.

  “That’s an odd fellow,” Dima observed.

  “That’s a bought fellow,” Maddock said.

  Dima frowned. What do you mean?

  “If I don’t miss my guess, our friend Carl is about to make a phone call to someone who is very interested in the stone.”

  “Carl?” Archer asked. “The boy’s an idiot. How could he be in league with anyone of consequence?”

  “It seems to be part of the Trident’s practice to buy off low-level functionaries,” Bones said. “We ran across a couple recently.”

  “Archer, I think you should consider getting away for a while,” Maddock said. “Is there anywhere you can go? Someone you can stay with where the Trident wouldn’t easily find you?”

  “Do you really think that’s necessary? Carl knows the story just as well as I do. If he’s in league with this Trident group, he’s told them all about the stone and about this place.” He gestured back toward the passageway.

  “Maddock’s right,” Bones said. “It’s not worth the risk. Even if Carl tells them the story, there’s no guarantee they won’t come after you just to cover their bases. They might not trust him to have told them the whole story. Like you said, the guy’s an idiot. Besides, Dima’s presence here proves that you’re a person of interest in this whole thing.”

  Archer considered this for a few moments and then side. “All right. I’ll do it. I’ve got a few places to choose from.”

  “Don’t tell anyone where you’re going. Not even us,” Maddock said. He doubted Carl was hiding nearby eavesdropping but it wasn’t worth the risk.

  “You’re good boys, but you sure do know how to complicate a man’s life.”

  “Sorry about that,” Maddock said, and he meant it. Archer seemed like a good fellow.

  “So what do we do now?” Dima asked. She raised her hand before either of them could protest. “It seems like there’s a chance we are after the same thing, so it only makes sense to combine our resources. If yours truly is a Noah stone, you need me. I’m something of an expert in that area. And don’t say it’s too dangerous. The Trident is already after me and I have a feeling you two can protect me better than I can protect myself.”

  Maddock and Bones looked at one another and Maddock nodded.

  “Good. That’s settled then.” Dima folded her arms. “So I ask again. What do we do now?”

  “Bones and I are going to call our crew,” Maddock said. “I want to go after the second stone.”

  Chapter 19

  Tyson wanted to break something. He sat in a coffeehouse in Augusta, Georgia, near the South Carolina line, listening to Ahmed’s story. Tyson had set Ahmed to go after Zafrini while he paid a visit to New Echota. It had seemed an efficient plan, but Ahmed had botched it.

  “You let her get away? And you didn’t get the document?” Tyson threw his hands in the air. "I knew I shouldn't have let you go alone."

  "It's not my fault. Two men showed up. Both were armed." Ahmed shifted nervously in his chair.

  "They just showed up? Pure coincidence?" Tyson wasn’t buying it.

  "I don't think it was a coincidence at all." Ahmed paused and looked down at the floor as if he were considering his words carefully. "I'm almost certain they were the same men who stopped us from questioning old man Bonebrake."

  "Almost certain?" Tyson asked.

  "Well, the blond haired man didn't ring any bells for me, but how many Indians do you know who are that big?"

  It was a fair point. The man they had encountered in North Carolina cut and imposing figure, and a memorable one.

  Tyson had thought it wise for the two of them to follow up on different leads. Ahmed was to keep an eye on Archer’s place in case Dima showed up there. Meanwhile Tyson had continued to survey the woman’s home and office.

  “If those two showed up at Archer’s house, that means they’re following the same trail we are. Obviously, old man Bonebrake told him something.”

  “So, do we go back after him?” Ahmed asked.r />
  Tyson began pacing back and forth across the room. “Possibly, but we won’t be able to take him by surprise. Perhaps there’s another way of finding out what he knows.”

  His cell phone rang, interrupting his thoughts.

  “Mr. Tyson? This is Carly with the Horry County Sheriff’s department. You asked me to call you if anyone else came around asking about the… you know.”

  “Let me guess,” Tyson said. “It was a tall, Native American man and a blond man.”

  “How did you know? Carl stammered.

  Tyson rolled his eyes. The gods save him from insufferable fools. “Never mind that. Can you tell me anything about them? Did you speak with them?”

  “Oh yes.” Carl’s voice suddenly rang with enthusiasm.

  Tyson had offered him compensation for useful information. He’d offered a paltry sum, in fact, but the man did not appear to be wealthy by any stretch of the imagination.

  “They were asking about the Noah Stone.”

  Tyson’s chest constricted. It was as he had feared. These men, whoever they were, were following the same trail. “Anything else?” He snapped a bit too harshly.

  “Yeah, but it was kind of ridiculous. They claim they have a stone of their own. Or, at least, something similar.”

  Tyson froze. Ahmed, seeing the expression on his face, rose halfway out of his seat but Tyson waved him away. “Do you think they were telling the truth?”

  “Well, that I can’t say, but they seemed sincere. It’s not like they were boasting or anything.”

  “Did they show you their stone?”

  “No, but they told me where they’re keeping it. In the Cherokee Community bank up in North Carolina.”

  A broad grin spread across Tyson’s face. “Carl, tell me everything they said. Don’t leave out a single detail.”

  Chapter 20

  The sun beat down on the white sands of Bowhead Island. The tiny island off the shore of South Carolina was home to no one, save the birds and squirrels high in the lush, green trees and the snakes and rodents that slithered beneath the palmettos. It was a fine day at sea, but Maddock wasn’t feeling it.

  "I don't think you know where to look." Willis Sanders leaned over Maddock's shoulder to look at the map where Maddock had marked the most likely spot where the wreck would be found. Willis was a former comrade in the SEALs and now a member of Maddock's crew. The other crew members, Matt Barnaby and Corey Dean, were busy at the helm of their boat, Sea Foam. Bones was elsewhere, presumably watching Dima soak up the sun in her bikini.

  "Of course I don't know where it is,” Maddock said. “We’re working from a five hundred year-old story. That's why they call it an educated guess."

  "Man, don't even try to get all pedantic on me. I just don't want to spend any more time in this sun than I have to." Willis had slathered his dark brown skin with sunblock, giving his face an odd, grayish tinge where he hadn't rubbed it in thoroughly.

  "What is it with you and the sun lately? You've never been this uptight about it."

  "Skin cancer. It's the silent killer."

  Maddock scratched his head. "I thought that was carbon monoxide."

  "You die your way, I'll die mine."

  Maddock rolled his eyes and returned his attention to the map. "We know the Templar, whoever he was, came ashore in this area." He tapped a spot on the map. "Working backward, he was probably carried past the northern tip of Bowhead Island. Considering the way the currents run in this area, it's most likely the ship went down somewhere along this path." He traced a fishhook-shaped line he'd drawn on the map.

  "Hopefully it wasn’t too close to land." If the wreck lay too close to shore, it risked being broken up by the ebb and flow of the tides. In deeper water it could lie untouched for centuries.

  “We know he caught sight of the island just before the ship went down, so it can’t have been too far away. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

  "We've got a hit, Maddock." Corey, the tech guy of the crew, sat watching the sonar readouts on a digital display. The fair-skinned redhead preferred the shelter of the cabin to exposure to the elements.

  "Already?" Their luck couldn’t be that good.

  "Wait. It's looking like...yeah, never mind. It can't be what we're looking for. False alarm."

  Maddock didn't bother checking. They'd done this sort of thing for years and Corey knew what he was doing.

  "I'm going to stretch my legs. Let me know if you find anything promising."

  “A stretch sounds good,” Matt agreed. “Willis, take the helm?” The stocky, brown-haired man gave up the wheel and sidled up to Maddock. “Spending a little time with our new friend also sounds good.”

  “She’s our colleague. Be professional,” Maddock said without a trace of sincerity.

  “Seriously? And how long did it take you to hook up with Jade when she was working with us?”

  Maddock grimaced. “Fine. Knock yourself out.”

  They headed out onto the deck and back to the stern where Bones and Dima stood gazing out at the white ribbon of wake that trailed behind them.

  "Are we there yet?" Bones asked.

  "Yeah. Get out." Maddock sat down on the deck with his back against the rail. “What’s going on out here?”

  “Not much. Just getting ready to soak up some rays.” He flashed a smile at Dima, who returned a frown.

  “Yes,” she said, “I’m wearing a swimsuit under my clothes and I wanted to work on my tan, but now you’ve made it weird.”

  “No skin for you,” Matt jibed.

  “Fine. Never let it be said I stood between a lovely lady and her quest for the perfect tan.” Bones stood and stripped off his t-shirt. “Okay, now I’m topless too.”

  This elicited the tiniest of laughs from Dima, and Maddock didn’t miss the way she eyed Bones’ muscular frame. “All right, when in Rome, I suppose.” She gracefully slipped out of her shorts and shirt. Her bright, yellow bikini perfectly offset her deeply tanned skin.

  “Do you need someone to lotion your back?” Bones asked.

  “As a matter of fact, I do. Matt, will you do the honors?”

  The former Army Ranger played it cool, accepting the bottle of suntan lotion and giving it a shake, but as soon as Dima turned around, he pumped his fist in triumph.

  Maddock looked on with a touch of envy as his crew mate attended to the attractive woman.

  “Good thing my sister can’t see you looking at her like that.” Bones arched an eyebrow at Maddock.

  “What? No, I wasn’t looking.” Maddock had to laugh. “Okay, busted. But your sister doesn’t get too terribly jealous.”

  “Angel doesn’t get jealous? Are we talking about the same person?”

  “Well, not compared to some women I’ve dated.”

  Bones nodded sagely.

  “I’ve been thinking,” Maddock said a bit too loudly, trying to redirect the conversation, “about our next move once we find the second stone.”

  “Find the third one?” Matt said, not looking up from the task at hand.

  “Yeah, but how?” Bones asked. “We’ve got no clues.”

  “Not yet, but I think the next step is to follow up on Dima’s Book of Noah. As far as we know, it’s the only text in history that mentions the stones. Right?”

  “As far as I know,” Dima said from her position on the deck. She lay face-down on a towel, the sun glinting off her oiled back. “I’ve been studying Noah’s ark for years and never heard of the Noah Stones until my friend Robert sent me the fragment. I was a little skeptical at first, but now that we know they’re real, I think we should try to find it.”

  “This is kind of premature, don’t you think?” Bones said. “Even if we find the wreck, and the stone really was on the ship, there’s no guarantee the stone is still there.”

  “Aren’t you the optimist? What’s up with you?”


  Maddock didn’t miss the scowl Bones directed at Matt, who was now working on Dima�
��s legs, and he understood. “First the girl at the museum and now her. You’re striking out all over the place, aren’t you?”

  “It’s not that. Well, it’s mostly not that. My dry spells tend to be shorter than your…” Bones glanced down and cleared his throat. “Never mind. Anyway, it’s knowing what those guys did to my grandfather, and facing the fact that they got away from us twice. I want to hit someone, Maddock. Hard. In the face.”

  “I’m sure you’ll get the chance before this is all over.”

  The boat slowed and the whine of the engine lowered in pitch. “Looks like they found something,” Maddock said. “Let’s check it out.”

  The stop turned out to be for nothing. Under closer scrutiny, the wreck Corey had spotted turned out to be too recent. Three hours and two more false alarms later, Maddock was ready to pop open a Dos Equis and call it a day. He was about to suggest the same to his crew when Corey got another hit on sonar.

  “I’m not getting my hopes up,” Corey said, “but this one looks promising.”

  “Let’s send Uma down to check it out.” Uma was the nickname of their underwater miniature submersible camera. The robotic device could get an up close look at a wreck without stirring up too much silt and could safely go in and out of narrow spaces.

  They hastily readied the device and sent it down. The crew huddled around the screen that displayed the images Uma sent back. Soon the image of a sunken ship filled the screen. Maddock had to admit it did look promising. It was a wooden ship, mostly buried in the sand.

  Corey guided the submersible up and down the length of the ship. They couldn’t make out many details from the exposed portion of the wreck so next they had Uma scan the seabed around the wreck, looking for objects that might have spilled out.

  Maddock watched, hoping for some clue that would tell them they were on the right track. Finally, he spotted something.

  “Stop. Over there.” He tapped the top right corner of the screen.

  Corey brought Uma to a halt, rotated her a few degrees, and panned out. A dark, cylindrical object lay in a rocky section of the sea floor. He had almost missed it.


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