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Ark Page 12

by David Wood

  “Stick with us. You’ll get used to it.”

  She frowned. “You say that like it’s a good thing.”

  “That’s just the way it is.” Bones pulled up a chair and sat down beside her.

  “You’re confident this is the second Noah Stone?” she asked, looking at the artifact they’d brought up from the sinkhole. “I mean, it certainly looks the part.”

  “Absolutely.” Maddock reached into his pocket, pulled out the triangle-shaped stone that had belonged to Bones’ family, and handed it to her. “They’re the same size and shape, the color is slightly different but both appear to be formed of the same stone—a stone the likes of which we’ve never seen. But the clincher is the way they react to one another. Try bringing them close together.”

  Dima had already noticed the strange warmth in the stones but as she brought them closer to one another the heat intensified. “This is impossible. Stones don’t work this way.”

  “Don’t be so sure,” Bones said. “We’ve seen some very strange phenomena from unusual stones. It just might surprise you to find out what all is possible.”

  “You’ve seen stones that grow hot when they come close to one another, even without an energy source?”

  “The heat is a new thing, but we’ve seen stones that absorb and amplify light, stones that pass energy from one to the other, and much crazier stuff.”

  Dima looked him in the eye, searching for signs of deception, and found none. “You two are either full of crap or you have led a very interesting life.”

  “A little of both.” Maddock said.

  “You said our next move would be to search for the book of Noah. Any idea how and where, exactly, you want to start? I was hanging my hopes on the Native American legend, but it seems like we’ve hit the end of the line on that score.”

  “I’m thinking we need to follow your friend Robert’s trail. Clearly he was on to something. Do you have any idea where he was when he sent you the document? That could at least give us a starting point while a friend of mine does some checking of his own.”

  Dima wondered exactly what sort of checking Maddock’s friend might be doing but that wasn’t important right now.

  “I’m not sure. There was no return address on the package and the note was cryptic.”

  “What about the postmark?” Maddock pressed. “Where was it from?”

  Dima felt like an idiot. She hadn’t even looked at the postmark. From the moment she had laid eyes on the fragment she could think of little else. The book of Noah had consumed her. “I don’t know,” she confessed. She hated making the admission. Maddock and Bones were so…competent, and she wanted them to respect her as well. And then she had an idea. “But I know somebody who can find out for us.”

  It felt like an eternity as she waited for Addie’s reply. Dima had left the box in which the document had been shipped, inside her desk at work. She had texted her assistant, asking her to locate the package. Finally, two hours later, her phone rang.

  “Hey Dima, it’s Addie. So sorry for the delay. I’m a little bit busy since I took over your job for you.” Addie’s tone held only a touch of chastisement.

  “I know, and I really appreciate it. I promise I’ll explain when I can, but right now things are…weird.”

  “Does it at least involve a good-looking guy?”

  “Yes,” she said, glancing at Bones. “Several, in fact.”

  “Ooh! Do tell.”

  “I will next time I see you. I’ll even bring a few pics. These guys spent a lot of time with their shirts off.” She winked at Bones who was grinning broadly. “Did you find the shipping box I asked you about?”

  “I did, but I totally can’t read this postmark. It’s ‘dog’ something.”

  Dima frowned. “Did you say dog?”

  “Yeah. Tell you what. I’ll snap a picture and text it to you. How’s that?”

  “Perfect.” Dima hesitated. “Addie, has everything been all right there? I mean, nobody’s given you a hard time or anything have they?” She hoped that, with the Trident apparently on their trail, Addie and her colleagues were safe, but she still worried.

  “They’re college students and I’m a teaching assistant who suddenly responsible for their final grades. They all give me a hard time.”

  “That’s not what I mean. Are you safe?” She tried to ignore the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. She just hoped Addie wouldn’t get caught up in all of this.

  “Safe?” Addie asked. “Yeah, I’m good. Dima, I wish you would tell me what this is all about.”

  “Trust me. It’s better that you don’t know. Just keep your eyes open, okay?”

  “Okay.” Addie stretched the word out in true Southern fashion.

  “I gotta go. Send me that picture, okay?”

  “Will do. Love you.”

  “Love you too.” Dima ended the call and waited. Moments later, a text message came through. It was a snapshot of the postmark on the package.

  Bones moved to her side and looked as she zoomed in on the image. “Dogub… what the hell is that? Greek?”

  “No. It’s Turkish.” She sprang to her feet, wrapped her arms around his neck, and gave him a squeeze. “I know exactly where Robert was.”

  Chapter 24

  The tour van bounced along the rough dirt road. Up ahead the snow-capped peak of Mount Ararat towered above them. The higher peak of the dormant compound volcano stood nearly seventeen thousand feet, dwarfing the four-thousand-foot high cone of Lesser Ararat. Maddock felt a sudden surge of adrenaline as he looked up at the fabled mountain. He couldn’t believe he was here.

  Dima had immediately recognized the name Dogubeyazit as a small city in eastern Turkey, near the borders of Iran and Armenia. It was, she said, a place name any true Noah’s Ark aficionado would know, as it was the closest town to Mount Ararat.

  “I’m a little confused,” Bones said. “Haven’t researchers pretty much debunked the theory that the Ararat anomaly is Noah’s Ark?”

  The Ararat Anomaly was a vaguely boat-shaped formation located on the northwestern corner of Ararat’s Western plateau. First photographed in 1949 by a United States Air Force reconnaissance mission, the locale had gained fame through various television shows and other media that focused on the search for the ark. The presence of another reputed ark location close by, the Durupinar Structure, only added to the region’s notoriety.

  “It has been dismissed as the ark. At least, for the most part,” Dima said. “It’s not easily studied. It’s pretty much buried in ice and the government restricts access to it, but the size of it alone makes it a poor candidate for Noah’s Ark. It’s about as big as a modern aircraft carrier. Still, people persist in believing the legends.”

  “Well, the Bible does say it came to rest on Mount Ararat, doesn’t it?” Maddock asked.

  “Technically, it was the ‘mountains’ of Ararat, but the translation is far from certain. It could be another place with a similar name. Ancient Hebrew contained no vowels so many of the words in the older portions of the Bible, particularly proper nouns, require a certain amount of guesswork. That’s why God’s name, for example, isn’t certain.”

  “His name isn’t God?” Bones asked.

  “Some say it’s Yahweh, others say it’s Jehovah.”

  “Actually, I knew that. I just like listening to you lecture. You do this tilt of your head that’s kind of hot. I’ll bet you have a lot of male students in your courses, don’t you?” Bones winked at her.

  “You are a mess.” Dima smiled shyly. “But yes, I do.” She was obviously warming up to Bones.

  “So why do so many people persist in believing the ark is here if the site is such a bad match?” Maddock asked.

  “Like Bones said, part of it is the name Ararat. That’s a strong connection to Scripture. Also, the rumors of the ark being located here are quite old. Marco Polo even wrote about it in his travels. He spoke of a mountain in the heart of Armenia where the summit is perpetually cov
ered in snow, and said that this was the place where the ark was reputed to have come to rest. The ark is so imbued in local legend that it’s hard to shake it. Plus, I imagine it’s good for tourism. You know, like the Loch Ness Monster.”

  “Hey! That thing is real,” Bones said.

  “If you say so.” Dima gave him a patronizing pat on the thigh.

  “What do you think Robert was doing here if this probably isn’t the location of the ark?” Bones asked.

  “Obviously he was doing related research. And there just happens to be a well-known ark researcher working the mountain right now. I think it likely that Robert spoke to him.”

  “Crap. And here I thought we were going to get to do some climbing.” Bones turned an accusing frown at Maddock. “Why did you let me think we were going to climb the mountain to look at the anomaly?”

  “Because I knew that, if I told you the truth, you’d complain the whole way over, just like you’re doing now.”

  “Fair enough. But I still say we should sneak up there and take a look around. If the third stone is up there, maybe the other two will react to it.” He put a hand to his pocket, where he carried Esau’s stone, and then eyed the small backpack where Maddock carried the Templar’s stone.

  “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Maddock said. “That would be one heck of an undertaking, but we will do it if we have to.”

  The Jeep slowed and came to a halt.

  “We are here,” their guide announced. Faruk was a slightly built man in his late twenties with sharp brown eyes and a mustache which he had allowed to grow wild, perhaps to compensate for his receding hairline. “This is not one of the usual stops. I can take you to places with better views of the mountain if you like.”

  “Not right now,” Dima said. “We are meeting someone at the camp. If you wouldn’t mind waiting here?”

  Faruk nodded, turned, and cranked up the radio. Loud music, an odd form of hip-hop with distinct Arabian strains, filled the van.

  Maddock and the others climbed out and follow Dima over a low rise. Down below they spotted a small campsite. Several tents were arrayed in a circle around a cold campfire. In the distance, a man pushed a four-wheeled object that resembled a lawn mower.

  “Ground penetrating radar,” Maddock said. “We’ve used that a few times.”

  “What you mean we, white man?” Bones said. “You make me and Willis push the thing around while you sit back and drink mint juleps.”

  Before Maddock could correct him, someone called out from the bottom of the rise.

  “Can I help you?”

  The speaker was a bear of a man, broad shouldered and even bigger around the middle, with a silver-streaked black beard and mustache that obscured most of his face. He wore a pith helmet pushed down over his flyaway gray hair that seemed to stick out in every direction.

  “Are you Henderson Bentley?” Dima asked.

  The man might have frowned, but it was hard to tell behind the mass of facial hair. Only a furrowing of his brow afforded any hint to his mood.

  “Who’s asking?”

  “My name is Dima Zafrini. I’m a professor from the United States.” She hesitated. “I tried to contact you but I was unsuccessful.”

  “That’s because I don’t want to be contacted.” Bentley folded his massive arms and glowered. “What do you people want?”

  Maddock was quickly losing patience. “Were looking for a missing person. We have reason to believe he visited your camp recently.”

  Bentley tilted his head. “We haven’t had many visitors. As you can see, I’m not the sociable type.”

  “His name is Robert Crane,” Dima said.

  The lines on Bentley’s forehead smoothed and straight white teeth appeared in the gap between mustache and beard. “All right, then. Come on down.”

  The made their way down the slope and fell in alongside Bentley as they walked back toward camp. Dima introduced Maddock and Bones. At the mention of Maddock’s name, Bentley stopped.

  “Dane Maddock? I’ve heard that name before.” His fingers vanished into his facial hair as he scratched his chin. Then his eyes brightened. “I remember. You know Jade Ihara, don’t you?”

  Maddock nodded. Jade was a former girlfriend with whom he was on the outs since he and Angel had gotten engaged.

  Bentley threw back his head and laughed. “I tell you what. That girl can’t decide if she loves you or hates you.”

  “You two have worked together?” Maddock asked as they resumed the track toward the camp.

  “We attended the same seminar last summer. Didn’t take too many drinks before the two of us started swapping stories of the lovers who have done us wrong. I gotta tell you, my ex is a vindictive little thing. Took off and stole my dog. But the memory of her doesn’t raise half the ire in me that the thought of you does for Jade.”

  “She has…a bit of a temper.”

  “That she does. Anyway, I’m sorry about the way I acted. We get all sorts of crazies here: amateur archaeologists, conspiracy theorists, religious nuts. Try to do any kind of surveying, much less excavating, out here and people start thinking you’ve found Noah’s Ark.”

  “Have you?” Bones asked.

  “That’s not what we’re looking for. Not exactly. We are searching for signs of an ancient settlement that might have sprung up in the wake of the Great Flood.”

  “You believe there was a flood?” Maddock asked.

  “I’m open to the possibility. I know the evidence is stacked against me but I still think it’s not out of the question. I’m a true believer and I don’t apologize for that.”

  “So, have you found anything promising?” Dima asked as they entered the circle of tents.

  “Nothing like what we’re looking for, but we did find something interesting. Remnants of an old monastery. Matter of fact, that’s what your friend Robert came here to ask about.

  “That’s surprising,” Dima said.

  “He said he was following up on an old story and he just wanted to confirm it could be true. He seemed really pleased to learn that there had been a monastery here. He said it, what was the word, ’dovetailed’ nicely with his research.”

  “Did he say if his research pertained to Noah’s Ark?” Dima asked.

  “No, he didn’t. He said it was a story about a wandering monk. He also said that he had just come from the Ishak Pasha Palace down the road a ways. That’s all I know. He looked around for a little while, had a cup of coffee, and went on his way.”

  “Did he say where he was going next?” Maddock asked.

  Bentley looked up at the sky. “I believe he did. Let me think.” He took off his pith helmet and ran a hand through his shaggy hair. “I remember. He said he was going to the ice cave.”

  Chapter 25

  The tiny town of Halac lay deep in the shadow of Mount Ararat. Faruk steered the jeep along the narrow dirt street that ran between the mud and stone huts. Few passers-by looked up as they passed. Tourists were, according to Faruk, not uncommon here. People came to see Ararat or Durupinar, but the ice cave drew its share of interest.

  "What do you think he was looking for in the ice cave?" Bones asked, keeping his voice low.

  "Difficult to say," Maddock said.

  "The cave is part of a massive system of lava tubes," Dima said. "Maybe he was looking for a passageway leading to…I don't know, maybe up to the anomaly?"

  "It's possible," Maddock agreed. "Or maybe something connected to the monastery, since that's what he was interested in, according to Bentley."

  They spent the remainder of the short ride exchanging ideas. They quickly ran out of realistic scenarios and soon delved into the absurd, each idea more ridiculous than the one before, until they had one another in stitches. By the time Faruk stopped the jeep, the three were in high spirits.

  Maddock stepped out into the hot afternoon sun and looked around. "I don't see a cave."

  "It's down in the hole." Faruk pointed to a spot in the distance.
"We will have to walk the rest of the way."

  "You can wait for us," Maddock said. "No need to exert yourself unnecessarily on our account," he added, seeing the hurt on their driver’s face. "We've already taken you out of your way with this side-trip."

  "It is no trouble. I would also like to visit the cave," Faruk said. "It would get me out of the heat."

  Maddock couldn't think of a believable reason the man should remain behind, so he acquiesced and they followed the guide to a deep hole at the foot of the mountain.

  "You can't see the cave from here," Faruk said. "It's at the bottom. We must be careful on the way down. The way is, how do you say it, steep?"

  Maddock and Bones exchanged amused smiles.

  "We've made our way down a steep hill or two in our time," Bones said.

  "Very good." Faruk bobbed his head, smiled, and beckoned for them to follow him into the hole.

  They worked their way down the steep slope until they reached the bottom. Here, the ground was flat but cluttered with undergrowth, boulders, and sharp, broken rocks. On the far side of the pit a dark shadow beckoned.

  "That is the way in," Faruk said. He led the way toward the entrance, which was partially obscured by fallen stones from the ceiling of the cave entrance.

  The moment Maddock set a foot inside the cave, the cool air raised goose bumps on his flesh. The difference in temperature from outside was remarkable.

  The fifty foot descent to the main chamber, over slick, mud-covered rocks, proved to be much more challenging than their climb down into the pit, and by the time they reached the bottom they found themselves in deep darkness, with only faint light from the entrance to show the way.

  "Looks like admission is free," Bones said. "At least there's no security guard or guides to avoid." He turned and looked at the slope down which they had just come. "Weird. Look at the entrance." He pointed up at the source of the light.

  "I'm not seeing anything," Dima said.

  "The way it's shaped. It looks like the Rolling Stones logo."

  Maddock couldn't deny that the opening resembled a mouth with plump lips. What he didn't like was that the jagged rocks at the bottom reminded him of fangs.


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