Read The Atlantis Stone Online

Authors: Alex Lukeman

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Spies & Politics, #Espionage, #Thriller, #Thrillers

The Atlantis Stone (4 page)

BOOK: The Atlantis Stone
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CHAPTER 7

 

 

Selena had found the magazine with the article about the French museum. Now she was back at Project Headquarters, showing the picture she'd remembered to Elizabeth and Nick.

"You can make out the corner of a stone tablet behind that pile of broken chairs. The picture is blurry but you can see some writing on it. It's the same script as in the photograph."

"I guess we're going to Paris," Nick said.

"It's the only way to see what's on that tablet."

"How are you going to persuade them to show it to you?"

"I don't think it will be difficult," Selena said. "My reputation will get me in the door."

"You'll have to go commercial," Elizabeth said. "The Gulfstream is down for maintenance."

"I checked the schedules. There's a flight to Paris from Dulles leaving at six tonight."

"What about our weapons?" Nick said.

"You know the French are touchy about that. Even if you box them for the plane there's no guarantee you'll get them back after you land. You shouldn't need them."

"I've heard that too many times to put much faith in it."

Selena said, "It should be all right. We'll only be there long enough to photograph the tablet and go back to the airport for the flight home."

That evening they boarded an Air France flight to Paris and settled into business class. The seats were wide and comfortable. Once they were in the air Nick ordered an Irish whiskey. Selena asked for a mimosa.

Nick sampled his drink and leaned back.

"Sometimes I wish the only language you understood was English."

"If that were the case we wouldn't get to go to all these interesting places."

"Yeah, like Mali and Algeria. Or Pakistan. Real tourist spots."

"It's not always like that. Tomorrow will be interesting. You'll see."

Nick dozed in fits and starts on the plane. His dreams were jumbled, unpleasant. The next morning they had breakfast at a sidewalk café and took a cab to the French National Museum of Natural History.

The museum was situated in the heart of Paris on the left bank of the Seine in the
Jardin des Plantes
, once the Royal botanical garden. The neoclassical building dominated the landscape.

"Big, isn't it?" Nick said.

"This is only one location. There are fourteen sites, four of them here in Paris. This is the original and the most impressive. Wait until you see the Grand Gallery."

"You've been here before?"

"The first time was when I was a child. My uncle brought me here when I was eleven."

Selena had called ahead and arranged to see the tablet in the basement. As she'd predicted, her credentials had smoothed the way. They were met by the assistant director of the museum, Pierre Arnaud. Arnaud was dressed in a French suit with broad pinstripes that made him look like a gangster from a black and white movie. Nick could almost hear Edith Piaf singing in the background.

In spite of his suit, Arnaud wasn't a bad looking man. He affected a thin mustache that reinforced the retro look. He greeted Selena in a stream of French and kissed her on both cheeks, as if she were a long lost friend.

Selena responded in fluent French and introduced Nick. The assistant director's handshake was polite. Selena and Arnaud started down the hall, chatting away in French. Nick followed along, wondering what they were talking about.

At the entrance to the storeroom, Arnaud seemed to realize Nick was there and switched to English.

"Please excuse the clutter, Doctor Connor. We have many priorities and this room has not been one of them. It's full of discarded items, mostly junk. Your phone call reminded me that it's time we sorted it out. I had one of the custodians clear away a path to the tablet that interests you."

"There's no need to apologize, Monsieur Arnaud. I am curious, though. An artifact like this seems out of place in a natural history museum. How did it come to be here?"

"Ah, that is an interesting story. You are familiar with Bonaparte's campaign in Egypt?"

"Only in the broadest sense. It was never a field of study for me."

"Bonaparte's Army was accompanied by the great natural historian Gregory Saint-Hilaire. His task during the campaign was to collect and catalog specimens as the Army moved through Egypt. Most of his collection involved native flora and fauna, as well as fossilized relics and various kinds of Egyptian artifacts from the tombs and elsewhere. I know you are familiar with the Rosetta Stone. Did you know it was found by a French corporal during the campaign?"

"I did," Selena said. "The stone takes its name from a nearby town."

"
Oui
. When Napoleon abandoned Egypt he left his army behind. The British surrounded them at Alexandria and forced a surrender. The British commander was determined to steal everything Saint-Hilaire had collected but in the end, a negotiation was made. The British took the Rosetta Stone and Saint-Hilaire kept almost everything else he had collected, including this tablet you are about to see."

"Where was it found?" Selena asked.

"Close to Libya, in a temple near the Egyptian coast. It's odd that it was placed down here. There's no record of why it was stored in this room or how Saint-Hilaire got it past the British."

"It does seem like they'd want to keep it," Selena said.

Arnaud took out a set of keys and opened the door. He held it back for Selena and Nick to enter. As he'd warned, the room was a hodgepodge of things piled and stacked in no particular order. The tablet stood against the far wall, at the end of a narrow aisle cleared through the junk.

It was covered from top to bottom with script in the same language as the writing on the Egyptian column in the Russian photograph. Selena took one look and smiled. Even Nick could see the similarity.

"What do you think?" Nick asked.

"It's wonderful. It will take some time to translate but I can't wait to find out what it says."

She turned to Arnaud. "With your permission, I'd like to photograph the tablet. When I've completed the translation I'll be happy to send it to you."

"That is acceptable." Arnaud looked at her. "What exactly is your interest in this particular artifact?"

Selena wasn't about to tell him it might be the key to unraveling the legend of Atlantis.

"It's assumed the Minoans traded with Egypt but no one has ever found anything there with their writing on it. This tablet may be historical proof of Minoan interaction with ancient Egypt. It could shed new light on the Minoan civilization and the Egyptian world of that time."

The explanation seemed to satisfy Arnaud. "How did you learn of it?"

"An article about the ongoing renovations of the museum. There was a picture of this room."

"Fascinating."

Selena took a camera from a small pack she carried at her waist and began taking pictures. She stepped closer and tripped over a piece of wood lying on the floor. She put her hand out against the stone tablet to break her fall.

The tablet moved.

"How did you do that?" Nick said. "That thing has to weigh a thousand pounds."

Selena looked mystified. "I don't know." She turned to Arnaud. "Has anyone tried to move this?"

I don't think so. There wasn't any reason to. Besides, it appears to weigh quite a bit. I would assume it will need equipment or several very strong men to move it."

"Let's see," Nick said.

He went to the tablet and grasped it on both sides. He grunted once and shifted it two inches to the right.

"You must have been taking your vitamins," Selena said.

"It looks a lot heavier than it is. I wonder what kind of stone was used?"

Arnaud was suddenly energized. "This makes it of great interest to us. A new, undiscovered mineral would be a scientific discovery of the first rank."

"That could be why the guy who found it hid it away," Nick said. "He probably wanted the glory of a new discovery for himself."

Arnaud looked offended. "Saint-Hilaire was one of the luminaries of French science. I'm sure his actions were taken for the purest of reasons. His reputation is beyond reproach."

Selena stopped Nick from saying anything else with a light touch on his arm.

"I'm sure that's true, Monsieur Arnaud. Everyone is aware of the great contributions France has made to human knowledge. Your museum is a testament to that quest."

Nick looked at the ceiling.

Arnaud said, "Well. We will certainly examine the tablet more closely. Have you got all the pictures you need?"

"I do, thank you."

Nick looked at his watch. "We have time to make the afternoon flight if we leave now."

Selena smiled at Arnaud. "Thank you so much, Monsieur Arnaud. You have been very helpful. As soon as I have completed my translation I will send you a full report."

"My pleasure. In the meantime, we'll begin working on a translation here."

"Then we'll be able to compare notes," Selena said.

During the brief exchange they'd moved out into the hall.

"I need to talk to the custodians about this room," Arnaud said. "Do you think you can find your way back to the entrance? If you take those stairs at the end of the hall, it will bring you out near the main gallery."

"Of course. Thank you again for your hospitality." Selena smiled at him.

As they climbed the stairs Nick said, "You laid it on a little thick in there."

"You insulted him when you said Saint-Hilaire acted out of personal motives."

"Why are the French so prickly? They always seem to take offense at nothing."

"I'm not sure. I don't think they ever quite got over the loss of their empire under Napoleon."

"Hell, that was more than two hundred years ago."

"The world's center of power has shifted a long way from Paris. Pride is a hard thing to let go of."

"My mother used to say pride and a dollar will get you on the bus."

"It takes more than a dollar these days," Selena said.

CHAPTER 8

 

 

Three men sat in a car parked in front of an office building near Dupont Circle.

"This isn't somebody's home."

The speaker was Vasily Ivanov, one of the two men Borya Yeltsin had brought with him to America. The driver was named Viktor. Both were seasoned Spetsnaz veterans.

Yeltsin looked at him. "Really? Your powers of observation astound me. This is the address where Sokolov sent the map and photograph. Wait here. I want to see who works in that building."

He got out of the car, strolled over to the building and pushed through the glass doors. A security guard sat behind a counter at the back wall across from the entrance, reading a paper. He barely looked up as Yeltsin entered. A directory near the doors listed the building's occupants. Yeltsin scanned the list, looking for something to tell him where Sokolov's letter had ended up. He'd expected to find a residence, not an office building.

"Can I help you?" the guard called across the lobby.

"No thank you." Yeltsin's English was perfect. "I think I have the wrong building."

Yeltsin had an eidetic memory. One glance at the list was enough to imprint it firmly in his mind. He went back outside and got into the car.

"Well?" Vasily asked.

"Quiet. Let me think for a moment."

What stood out on the list? There had been several lawyers. If the letter had gone to one of them, it was going to be difficult to discover which was the correct target. A business consulting firm was listed but that didn't seem to fit. The top floor of the building was given over to an entertainment and booking agency.

"Go back to the hotel," Yeltsin said.

Back in his room, Yeltsin got out a laptop computer and began researching the names and firms on the list. It didn't take long to find what he was looking for.

"Clever old bastard."

"Major?" Viktor was confused.

"Sokolov sent the letter to a booking agency that handles entertainers and speakers. The woman probably uses the agency as a cut out to keep her address private."

"Why would she use a booking agency?"

"Because she is a well-known lecturer," Yeltsin said.

He turned the computer toward Viktor. Selena's picture and academic resumé showed on the screen.

"Her specialty is extinct languages. It explains why Sokolov would send the picture to her. He would want to know about the parts of the inscription he couldn't understand. He thought she'd be able to translate it"

"What do you want to do?" Vasily asked.

"Tonight we come back. The woman's address will be in a file in that office. Once we have that, the rest is simple."

Late in the evening of the same day, Michael Daly was still at his desk. Daly owned the booking agency that handled Selena's professional correspondence. At the moment, he was thinking that being the boss of a successful company wasn't always what it was cracked up to be. Today he'd had to soothe the egos of a B-list male film actor, cancel the next tour stop for a troupe of Mexican acrobats and placate an annoying Harvard professor. He was checking the final details for the acrobats' new itinerary when he heard the elevator stop at his floor.

Who the hell is that at this time of night?
he thought.
How did they get past the security desk?

He picked up his phone and called downstairs. Security didn't answer, which was odd. Daly was a veteran of Afghanistan. All at once he felt the odd sensation at the base of his skull that warned of danger. He hadn't had that feeling for a long time, not since Helmland Province. It made him wish he had a gun.

The District of Columbia had rigid gun laws that made it impossible to get a carry permit. Inside the Beltway nobody had guns except the bad guys and the cops. Daly had a pistol at home in his Alexandria apartment, but it wasn't much good to him at the moment.

This is foolish. Nobody's coming in that door with an AK or a grenade. Get hold of yourself.

That was when Yeltsin came through the door, a Makarov 10 mm pistol in his hand. Daly's mind went into overdrive.

shit what can I use I need a weapon he's got a suppressor on that piece three is too many

"Who the hell are you?"

"Be quiet," Yeltsin said. "Put your hands on top of the desk where I can see them. Cooperate, and you won't be hurt."

"What do you want? There's no cash here."

Viktor and Vasily moved to stand on each side of Daly's chair.

"I don't want cash," Yeltsin said. "Only information. Put your hands on the desk."

Yeltsin gestured with the pistol. Daly put his hands out on the desk.

"Okay. What information?"

"You received a package from Amsterdam recently. Don't lie. I can see you did in your eyes."

"No. I never received such a package."

"Viktor," Yeltsin said.

For a big man, Viktor moved with the swiftness of a striking snake. He grabbed the back of Daly's head and drove it face down into the hard wooden surface of the desk. There was the dull crack of cartilage breaking.

Viktor pulled him back up by the hair. Blood streamed down Daly's face. His nose was smashed, pushed to the side.

"I told you not to lie. Did you receive the package?"

"Yes, damn it."

"See? All you had to do was tell the truth. Where is it now?"

"I don't have it."

"Viktor..."

"Wait," Daly said. "It was addressed to someone else. I forwarded it."

As soon as he said it, he wished he hadn't. The pain of his broken nose made it hard to think. There was a brass lamp with a heavy base and sharp corners on the desk, not far from his left hand. He ran a scenario through his mind.

Grab the lamp. Smash the guy on the left with a backhand to the head. Drop behind the desk and take the second guy down at the knee. He's gotta be armed. Get his weapon.

It was a stretch, but he couldn't think of anything else to do. He was damned if he was going to knuckle under to them. Besides, they didn't have the look of men who would leave him alive when they left.

Nothing to lose.

"Yes, I got a package. I don't know what was in it."

"You sent it to someone?"

"Yes, to a client."

"That client would be a woman named Connor?"

Daly made his move. He grabbed the lamp and brought it around in an arc and slammed it into the side of Viktor's skull. The big man grunted and went down. Daly pivoted toward the second man, aiming for his left knee.

Yeltsin's first shot took Daly under his arm. The second one blew out the side of his head. The body fell sideways to the floor.

"Shit," Vasily said.

Yeltsin put away the Makarov. "I'm going to look at the files on his computer. Help Viktor."

"He doesn't look so good."

"Do what you can."

Yeltsin began searching Daly's files on his computer. He scrolled through the directory until he found a folder labeled
Current Clients
. He opened the folder and looked for Selena's name. It only took seconds to locate it. He memorized her address.

Viktor was conscious. He sat up, holding his head.

"Bastard got me good."

Yeltsin went over to where Viktor sat on the floor.

"Vasily, help me get him up."

The two men got Viktor onto his feet.

"Can you walk?"

"Da."

The three Russians closed the door behind them as they left.

 

BOOK: The Atlantis Stone
10.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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