Chapter One: The Discrete Meet Turns Up The Heat
Fred Jones surveyed the large classroom before him and his heart sank. The room, which seemed as large as a theater, was barely half full. Many of the students were catching a nap while others gazed longing out the window at the Spring sun, grass and early sunbathers. Those looking in his general direction had the familiar glassy-eyed expression that resembled a recently deceased fish from the market.
“As I was saying, when Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon chose to examine the fourth antechamber of the tomb of King Tut….” Now, he was even boring himself, trotting out the well-worn lecture which hadn’t changed in years, the result of little preparation time. He longed for the next few weeks to fly by so he could go back to “fieldwork.” Now that’s when the job got exciting. Four months of what his critics called “tomb raiding” got his blood flowing. He just wished the other eight months didn’t involve the torture of teaching Introduction to Archaeology, grading hundreds of tests and papers, and attending boring departmental meetings.
“That insect killed Lord Carnarvon,” Jones continued. “He became another victim of the curse of King Tut. In fact, dozens of those expedition members lost their lives under mysterious circumstances, making people believe the treasure was really haunted!”
A tall, gangly student with light brown hair and a goatee broke the spell as he entered the classroom. “Dr. Jones,” he stammered nervously, as though his voice was cracking with the fear of disrupting the famed archaeologist. “Professor Hyde-White and several visitors are here to see you now.”
Those students who had fallen asleep began to stir while the window gazers shifted their attention to the unique intrusion. “Mr. Rogers,” Fred began. “Can’t you see I’m in the middle of an important lecture? Have them wait in the conference room until I’m finished here.”
“Sorry, Dr. Jones, but, man, this is really important,” said the tall, thin student. “These guys are, like, from Washington.”
“I’m so pleased you could join us on short notice, Dr. Jones,” said Professor Hyde-White. “May I introduce your guests? This is Captain Treesdale, Colonel Henry Thorwald, and…”
“Wow – Major General ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan” Fred found himself saying, resembling the same hero worship Sharon had shown him minutes earlier.
“I see you know America’s new leader of the Office for Special Services,” said Hyde-White, unruffled by his colleague’s rude introduction. “I trust you also know Professor Velma Dinkley from your department.” He gestured toward a short pretty brunette woman wearing glasses an orange turtleneck sweater and red skirt next to one of the officers.
Some of Fred’s enthusiasm went down a notch. He had hoped to have the glory of the special visitors all to himself. Of all the archaeology faculty to be at this meeting, he wanted Velma there the least. It had nothing to do with her being the only woman in the department. It was that she was such a know-it-all. Her intelligence did generate fear and jealousy among her fellow professors. Now he was concerned that her vast knowledge would easily upstage him at this conference. He mustered a neutral “Hello, Dr. Dinkley” to his colleague.
Velma evaluated her fellow Hanna College professor. Her excitement about the special visit was diminished by the presence of Dr. Jones. He was all action and no academia. While she churned out books and journal articles, he was out robbing some ancient culture’s burial site of its precious artifacts so they could be displayed in museums for wealthy Americans. The man never even did research….he often “borrowed” some other tomb raider’s map and swiped a precious object without understanding anything about history, context, local sentiments, or the symbolic implications of the piece for its culture. She managed a “Hello, Dr. Jones.”
Fred and Velma separately wondered what the OSS director could want from them. Archaeology typically had little to do with espionage and intelligence work.
“Last week, one of our operatives intercepted a secret communiqué from the French city of Vichy to Berlin,” Colonel Thorwald began. “The message reads ‘Quest for Mayan Artifact Continues Stop Request Extraction Team Stop Look Forward To Glorious Future Stop.’” Thorwald pulled his reading glasses from his face and rubbed his eyes. “We lost a good man getting that message to Washington,” he said, sadly.
“Do you have any idea what it could mean?” Captain Treesdale impatiently broke in, earning him a reproachful stare from his superiors.
“I have a hunch,” said Velma, hooking her finger over her lip. Fred secretly sighed in relief. He had no clue what the significance of the message was.
“Legend has it that the Mayans had an artifact that helped their civilization last as long as it did,” Velma continued. “No one knows the details of this item. It could be an amulet, a necklace, a spear, or something else. But anthropologists believe that whoever possessed it developed an incredible amount of courage in battle. Scholars believe that this item helped an outnumbered band of Mayan warriors crush the entire Bigmec army, giving them supremacy over the Yucatan.”
“So why don’t more people know about this…thing?” asked Captain Treesdale, sounding more interested in Velma’s impromptu lesson.
“Well, for one thing, the account was mistranslated until recently,” Velma noted, nearly blushing with the rapt attention shown her by the male audience. “A Frenchman recently purchased the original Carlos diaries and had them reanalyzed. I only know this from a conference paper delivered at Harvard last year by one of his associates.
“Who might this Frenchman be?” asked Colonel Thorwald.
“His name is…” Velma began, but she was cut off by a red-faced Fred Jones. “Paul Darnand,” he spat, as if he had a bitter dose of medicine in his mouth.
“How do you know Dr. Darnand?” asked the female professor, upset at her colleague’s interruption and tone.”
“He’s a…well, competitor in my line of work” said Fred Jones. “Just beat me out in the race to acquire the scepter of Agamemnon and the crown of Persian King Darius. The guy is always one step ahead of me. He’s totally ruthless when it comes to getting what he wants. The guy watched hundreds of Arab diggers die in the hot sun just because he refused to abandon the quest for something called the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls.’”
Velma gasped. Although she never met Paul Darnand, she was familiar with his writings and research. Once she thought of him as an enlightened wealthy man who devoted his riches to the cause of archaeology. Now he was just a grubby tomb raider like the blond man across the table. Only she was sure that for all his faults, Dr. Jones never killed anyone.
Captain Treesdale’s and Colonel Thorwald’s expressions brightened. “Well, it seems we came to the right place to learn about this mysterious telegram,” said Thorwald. Then his expression changed as he caught the look from his superior.
Professor Hyde-White noticed it as well. “General Donovan, is there some problem?” the man from England inquired.
Fred and Velma exchanged nervous glances. If it was one thing they could agree upon in faculty discussions, it was their revulsion of Hitler.
“We obviously have to beat Darnand to this Mayan artifact, if we want to preserve the free world,” Hyde-White insisted. Nobody had to remind him that his country was locked in a desperate battle for survival against the Nazi bombers.
Donovan stopped abruptly as a figure stepped out from behind a screen off to the side in the room. Fred gawked at the presence of a pretty redhead in a purple jacket and skirt.
“Who are you?” Donovan half-roared, half-gawked. “How did you get in here?”
“Daphne Blake, ace reporter, New York Chronicle” the redhead beamed with a confident smile. “And I just got my best scoop of the month. Mayan artifacts, government espionage, foreign plots, Nazi intrigue…”
Donovan bellowed with rage. “You try and write one single word of this meeting and I’ll have you muzzled….”
“I’m sure with all of the campaign contributions my daddy’s making to Mr. Roosevelt, the Attorney General won’t make a peep,” said the redhead, throwing a smirk at the OSS Director.
Their eyes continued to blaze at each other for a few seconds, then Donovan slowly eased back into his chair. Outfoxed by a journalist, he thought with dismay. “What do you want, you little muckraker?”
“As a matter of fact, I can provide the transportation,” Daphne responded, biting back an indignant snarl. “You know that all commercial traffic might be watched, but daddy owns a Lockheed Vega. And I can fly it.”
Fred whistled in wonder. Not only was she beautiful but… “you’re an aviator?”
“An aviatrix,” she beamed back at the handsome blonde at the table. She eyed him up and down. He looked a little geeky with the vest and tweed coat, but with a change of scenery, a thin white cotton shirt over those rippling muscles… Velma rolled her eyes.
Fred shook his head. He preferred to work alone, although the presence of two attractive women in a hot, steamy jungle wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Velma piped up. “Might I suggest my graduate assistant, Norville Rogers?”
Fred winced. The gangly student who had summoned him earlier didn’t seem like the type suited for such dangerous work.
Professor Hyde-White clapped his hands with delight. “Bravo! Hanna College will be well-represented in the quest to save mankind from Hitler’s evil. Mr. Wickles, the museum curator, can cover both of your classes, Dr. Jones and Dr. Dinkley.”
“That’s good to hear, son,” said the American intelligence director, rising to clap a large hand on the famed archaeologist’s shoulder. “Because what little is left of the free world is counting on you.”
“Excellent show!” the Professor beamed as he strode into his colleague’s home. “Not only will we have two of Hanna College’s finest faculty helping on a mission to save the world, but it could open up some lucrative connections with the government.”
The famed archaeologist chose his words carefully. “I’m just not comfortable working with a team.”
“Of course not,” Fred said with a grim voice, picking up a revolver and tossing it into his suitcase. “Besides, you know what a… cautious fellow I am.”
Will Fred find the Mayan Artifact?
Back to the HUB