Table of Contents
Praise for Stephen Parrish’s Tavernier Stones
“From the opening pages to the closing scene, Stephen Parrish has created a literary mystery, one with adventure, history, cartography, jewels, and unforgettable characters. I was swept away. But even more, I can’t recall the last time that I finished a mystery that also moved me so much. The characters will stay with readers long after they stay up all night finishing this story.”
—Erica Orloff, author of
“An utterly compelling adventure that pulls you along on a rollicking ride and doesn’t let go until you turn the last page. The writing just sparkles.”
—Patricia Wood, author of
“Relentlessly fascinating, Stephen Parrish’s
is reminiscent of Dan Brown’s
, but this treasure hunt based on real historical figures involves ancient maps, complex codes, and a cache of mysterious lost gems. It’s one hell of a good time.”
—Mark Terry, author of
The Tavernier Stones
has something for every reader: adventure, intrigue, information, and no small amount of wit. An exciting debut from a talented new author, this novel delivers the goods.”
—Debra Ginsberg, author of
The Tavernier Stones
is a sparkling, multi-faceted gem of a fast-paced thriller.”
—Eric Stone, author of the Ray Sharp series of detective thrillers
The Tavernier Stones: A Novel
© 2010 by Stephen Parrish. All rights reserved. No part of this e-book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Midnight Ink, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
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Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author’s copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
First e-book edition © May 2010
E-book ISBN: 978-0-7387-2579-6
Cover design by Kevin R. Brown
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Manufactured in the United States of America
For Sarah, who believed unconditionally in her father
Kevin Aicher. Paul Baumann. Valerie Beguin. Every cartographer who has ever lived. Terra Clarke. Dave, Doug, and Dan. Betsy Dornbusch. Brian Farrey. The Gemological Institute of America. William Greenleaf. The former Gross Diamond Centers of Louisville, Kentucky. Sarah Hina. The University of Illinois Department of Geography. Mel Johnson. Kay Jewelers of Champaign, Illinois. Librarians everywhere, thank God for you. The University of Louisville Department of Geography. Dave Mull. Erica Orloff. Pat, John, Dave, and Joe. Patsy Parrish. Sarah Parrish. The former R. R. Donnelley Cartographic Services in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Ann Schein. Herwig Schutzler. Miss Snark. Heike Specht. Susie Stivers. Dave Stong. Alicia Tártalo. Teachers should be paid like doctors. Mark Terry. Becky Zins.
Pity the scrybe whose yearn for splendour
Tempteth him to quit his hearth and home
For all Earths treasure be but tinsell
And beyond his realm do dragones roame
—JOHANNES CELLARIUS, 1689
“THERE’S A DEAD GUY out there.”
Kommissar Gerd Pfeffer first heard it from the dispatcher, who was quoting the boys who had found the body. He repeated the phrase in his mind as he drove to the scene:
There’s a dead guy out there.
It would make an appropriate epitaph, he thought. There had been lots of dead guys out there. There would be lots more.
A narrow, overgrown road led Pfeffer into the Holmmoor, a bog north of Hamburg. Thickets on either side of the road strummed his car in irritating chords. Not far ahead, a gallery of rubberneckers, some with binoculars, peered into the woods. The focus of their attention was half a dozen police officers huddled like marooned buccaneers under a tarpaulin they had erected on an island of stable ground.
Pfeffer parked his car on the road, because the rains had turned the berm into a purgatory of mud-choked grass. The rest of the trip would be on foot, and cautiously: he was crossing from the real world into the bog.
It was one of the oddest calls he had received during his career as a homicide detective. Two boys had spent the weekend camping in the bog, on a patch of ground that had not yet thawed. Their campfire thawed it, and combined with the heavy downpours of late, as well as the strange temperature fluctuations of a typical Hamburg spring, up the body came.
First, the boys said, the peat began to crack. A fissure radiated slowly outward from the center of the fire, rending the mossy soil along a zigzag path as though etched by a lightning bolt.
Fingers emerged from the crack. The boys saw only their black tips and thought they were knobby roots, or maybe pieces of glacial till.
The tips grew into appendages. The appendages joined in a palm. When a thumb finally appeared, the boys extrapolated what lay beneath.
They laughed; it couldn’t be happening. They rolled on the ground laughing. Their sides ached and their eyes filled with tears, it was so funny. Then the realization sank in that here indeed was a human hand, and following it now was an arm. And soon to come, no doubt, was the rest, some of which—the head in particular—might be too gruesome to behold.
They ran, stumbling on rubbery legs, their young minds filled with images of a root-hairy dead man loping after them. By the time the police arrived, the arm had finished sprouting. It jutted straight into the air, flecked with peat, its fingers splayed widely like the comic image of a drowning man counting to five. The police immediately concluded the body was one of the so-called bog people, dozens of whom—some more than two thousand years old—had sprung out of the ground throughout that part of Germany.
Pfeffer stepped from one clump of grass to another, advancing toward the tarpaulin. Walking on the peat gave him the sensation of unsurefootedness, as though he might sink up to his neck on any step. He did sink—four inches here, eight inches there, nothing there—you never knew. The water, stained by the peat, was the color of strongly brewed tea.
The bogs around Hamburg had been disgorging Iron Age corpses for as long as Pfeffer could remember. Humic acids in the peat acted as embalming fluids that stained hair and beards red and tanned skin black. Bones decalcified, turning the corpses into leathery bags filled loosely with internal organs and a menu of last suppers, typically barley and linseed gruel. Most strikingly, features were so well preserved that except for the tanning, a modern-day public could see exactly what the victims looked like—could stare them in the face.
They died with quiet dignity or cringing in horror. And the resignation or anguish or shock their expressions communicated at the moment of death, when the executioner weighted them down in watery graves, was preserved for the millennia.
As Pfeffer reached the tarpaulin, the rain started up again. A young Polizist emerged from under the tarp, covering his head with a clipboard. He greeted Pfeffer with a firm handshake, then led him safely around shaking pools of stained water. The other officers remained under cover. They stared in fascination at a lump of soggy human remains.
The victim—for so they were calling the thing—lay on his right side with his right arm stretched out straight above his head and his left arm pressed close to his side. He resembled other bog people in that his skin had darkened to the value of burnt umber and his woolly hair and prickly beard were the color of rust. And it was clear he had been murdered or sacrificed: deep, angular stab wounds perforated his chest and abdomen.
But Pfeffer noticed that his garb was more modern than that of other bog people, who typically wore only sleeveless capes, probably because the linen used for the rest of their outfits couldn’t survive the peat acids. He estimated the victim’s clothing was from the Middle Ages or some other time long ago, but clearly not the twenty-first century: he wore breeches that stopped just below the knee, stockings over his calves, and broad metal buckles on his shoes.
So it wasn’t an ancient pagan sacrifice after all. Nor was it a recent murder.
An oval signet ring encircled the victim’s right middle finger, on the hand that had sprung up on the boys. Bezel-set in the oval mount was a dark stone slab. Pfeffer used his thumbnail to scrape the ring clean of peat. Carved in the slab were the initials “JC” and an image of one woman helping another place a basket of grapes on her head.