Authors: Gabriel Hunt
Amun unrolled the print, weighing down one corner with Gabriel’s gun. It showed a black-and-white photograph of a stone tablet covered in hieroglyphics. One corner of the tablet was broken off
“Do you recognize it, Mister Hunt?” Amun asked
“Of course,” Gabriel said. “It’s the Rosetta Stone.”
Amun stretched out a finger and traced it along the edge of the Rosetta Stone. “As you can see, there is a piece missing. Broken off. Lost forever. Who knows what additional information it might have contained, what secrets.”
“What’s your point?”
“What if I were to tell you, Mister Hunt, that a second entire tablet exists, twice the size of this missing piece, one that contains even more precious—more powerful—information than the stone in the British Museum? Information that could, quite simply, change the world . . . ?”
Enjoy these other Gabriel Hunt adventures:
HUNT AT THE WELL OF ETERNITY
HUNT THROUGH THE CRADLE OF FEAR
HUNT AT WORLD’S END
HUNT BEYOND THE FROZEN FIRE
HUNT AMONG THE KILLERS OF MEN
AS TOLD TO
Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.
200 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
in collaboration with Winterfall LLC
Copyright © 2010 by Winterfall LLC
Cover painting copyright © 2010 by Glen Orbik
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
GABRIEL HUNT was created by Charles Ardai and is a trademark of Winterfall LLC.
ISBN 13: 978-1-4285-1130-9
The “DP” logo is the property of Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.
Printed in the United States of America.
The coauthor wishes to thank Gabriel and Michael Hunt for allowing me to pen this exploit, as well as Peter Miller, Kevin Collette, Cornell Stamoran, Marc Wolff, everyone at Hard Case Crime, and, of course, Randi and Max.
Gabriel Hunt’s grip on his pickax was slipping.
He had been in worse scrapes before; it’s just that he didn’t particularly relish the thought of dying while caving for fun and practice. That would be an embarrassment. When it was truly his time to check out, Gabriel would much rather have his obituary say that he’d been eaten alive by an angry tiger or felled by gunshots from enemy assailants. Or old age. That wouldn’t be so bad.
But to fall into a gaping pit because he had slipped on
Gabriel called down to his friend and caving partner, “How you hanging, Manny?”
Horizontal and belly-down, Manuel Rodriguez dangled in midair on the end of the static nylon rope, fifteen feet below Gabriel’s legs. His only hope for survival was Gabriel’s grip on the pickax.
“Is that a joke,
?” Manny shouted. He was trying to keep the terror out of his voice but wasn’t doing a very good job.
It had happened quite innocently. Every two or three years, Gabriel made an excursion to one of various caves around the country so that he could hone his skills. His travels sometimes required that he perform a bit of
spelunking—an outdated term, but Gabriel liked the sound of the word. It had a certain romance to it.
Dangling within an inch of one’s life over a dark abyss, though, didn’t have any romance to it at all.
Manny lived in New Mexico near Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Besides the exceptional landmark that was open to the public to tour on a daily basis, there were several other caverns in the park that were available only to experienced cavers. All it took to access them were a small fee and a license. Gabriel had done it many times, very often with Manny, a fifty-eight-year-old former ranger at the park and an expert spelunker.
They had been in one of the more “challenging” (as Manny had described it) caves for a little more than three hours when Gabriel and Manny—secured to each other by a fifteen-foot-long buddy rope—sat down to rest on a ledge above a black pit that supposedly led to a chamber of noteworthy formations. The hole was ninety-six feet to the bottom. They had come equipped with all the right gear. They each wore the necessary helmets, grubby clothing, knee and elbow pads, sturdy boots. Both men carried plenty of light sources and extra batteries, as well as water, snacks, trash bags, empty bottles in which to urinate, and a first aid kit. For the vertical descent, Manny had brought along an assortment of tools such as carabiners, rope, waist and chest harnesses, Petzl stops, rappel racks, handled ascenders, pitons, chocks, hammers, and a couple of pickaxes. The goal, however, was to accomplish the journey without damaging the cave at all. Hammering pitons into the rock face was to be avoided if possible. It was best to use noninvasive tools such as Spring-Loaded Camming Devices that wedged into already-existing cracks or in
between stone protrusions. “Leave nothing but footprints” was the motto among serious cavers.
Gabriel had finished eating a power bar, coiled a long section of rope around his shoulder and back, and stood on the ledge to locate a convenient spot to install a chock or SLCD for what was called an SRT—Single Rope Technique—descent into the hole. The plan was that Manny would follow him, staying tethered to him throughout the excursion. But when Gabriel had stooped to examine a possible position, his boot slipped on something wet and slick. He slammed hard into the ledge, facedown, and continued to slide across the slimy ridge until his body was falling through space. He must have plummeted twenty feet or so before he realized that he had pulled Manny off the ledge as well. Another dozen feet shot past before Gabriel swung the pickax that was, miraculously, still in his right hand. He chopped the rock face in front of him as hard as he could—and broke his fall. Hanging on to the ax’s handle was another thing altogether. It had a ridged rubber grip and a lip at the bottom against which the side of his right hand collided painfully—but it was enough to enable him to hold on. He gripped the ax handle as tightly as he could with both hands, but already he could feel the strain in his fingers and arms. Making matters worse, his palms were moist from the sudden shock. And when Manny reached the end of the tether with a violent jerk, Gabriel really did damn near lose his grasp.
Then Gabriel was presented with the ultimate insult—he smelled the stuff he had slid across. It was all over the front of his pants and shirt.
Gabriel winced, remembering a cave full of bats he’d
found himself in half a year earlier in China. The smell was the same all over the world.
“This is the last time I go caving with you!” Manny called. His added weight dangling at the end of the line was slowly pulling Gabriel’s shoulders from their sockets. “I’m a fool for letting you talk me into this again!”
Gabriel resorted to an old ploy—bravado could cover up genuine terror every time. “Come on, Manny,” he yelled down, “you know you have to stay on top of the game. Sharpen your skills every now and then.”
“I’m nearly sixty years old. I don’t have anything left to sharpen.”
Gabriel attempted to flex his arms and pull himself up, but with the extra load hanging below him it was impossible.
“What the hell do we do now?”
“Relax, Manny. I’ve got it under control.”
In fact, Gabriel had no idea how to get out of the predicament they were in. The rock face sloped inward in front of him, so there was no foothold within reach. The more serious problem was that he had only two hands, and they were busy holding on to the pickax for dear life.
After a few seconds of silence, Manny asked, “Anytime you want to start letting me know how you’ve got it under control is okay by me.”
“Your light’s still working, isn’t it?”
Manny had a light affixed to his helmet. As he twisted slowly on the end of the line, the beam traced the pit’s circumference.
“It’s the only part of me that isn’t failing,” Manny answered. “My bowels are gonna be the next to go.”
“Hold on, Manny. Take a look around you. Is there a ledge you’d be able to stand on if you could get to it?”
During his next 360-degree turn, Manny replied, “Yeah. Over on the other side. Behind you. But I can’t reach it.”
“All right. Let’s see if we can get a little swing going, okay?”
“We need music for that,
Sweat poured off Gabriel’s forehead beneath his helmet, ran over his brows, and stung his eyes. Another problem on the rapidly expanding list.
“Shut up, Manny, and see if you can swing over to the ledge. Slow and easy. I’ll try and get you started with my legs.”
Gabriel managed to grip the taut tether with the insteps of his boots. He then strained to wiggle the rope enough to send some movement down to his partner. At the same time, Manny flapped his arms and legs as if he were trying to fly—anything to propel himself back and forth in the air.
“You look real graceful,” Gabriel said through his teeth. It was becoming much more difficult to hold on.
“Not half as graceful as we’re going to look when we’re flat as tortillas on the bottom of the cave.”
Gabriel was glad that Manny was keeping his sense of humor. A good sign. But as his friend attempted the circus feat, the pickax started to squeak. As if it were about to come out of the rock. Gabriel needed to lessen the weight on his body in a big way. The sooner Manny got over to the ledge, the better.
He tugged on the rope with his legs some more and felt his partner’s momentum increase a little. Manny was now a human pendulum, swaying feet first toward
the target ledge, back and forth at a twenty-degree angle . . . which soon increased to thirty degrees . . . and finally to thirty-five degrees. And then Manny’s boot touched the edge of the stone outcropping.
“Almost there, Gabriel!”
The pickax creaked again.
Manny swung back to the ledge and came close enough to push off from it with his legs. The maneuver gave him more speed and force—but it also placed much more strain on Gabriel’s wrists and the pickax. The metal lip at the bottom of the handle was deeply embedded in the flesh of Gabriel’s hands. Then the ax slipped a few millimeters with a painful wrenching sound.
“One more push and I think I can make it!” Manny announced.
Gabriel was unable to speak. He simply closed his eyes and willed his partner over to the other side of the pit.
Anytime, Manny, anytime
. . .
Manny returned to the ledge and pushed off hard. He swayed so far to Gabriel’s side of the hole that he was able to touch the wall there. Then, on the way back to the ledge, he hurtled himself up and over—and fell onto the ledge with a
“I made it!” Manny rolled and came to a sitting position. He panted for a few seconds and said, “Pardon me while I say a few Hail Marys.”
The subtracted weight relieved the pressure on Gabriel’s arms. He was now able to concentrate on the next problem at hand—saving himself. Manny was on the opposite side of the cave from where Gabriel hung and a couple of yards lower. The two men were connected by a fifteen-foot tether. Gabriel could simply let go, fall, and hope that Manny was able to pull him up
to his ledge. But then they’d be stuck there. Most of the ascending equipment was back at the top, on Bat Guano Ridge.