By Douglas Preston
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2004 Splendide Mendax, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Tom Broadbent turned the last corner of the winding drive and found his two brothers already waiting at the great iron gates of the Broadbent compound. Philip, irritated, was knocking the dottle out of his pipe on one of the gateposts while Vernon gave the buzzer a couple of vigorous presses. The house stood beyond them, silent and dark, rising from the top of the hill like some pasha's palace, its clerestories, chimneys, and towers gilded in the rich afternoon light of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
"It's not like Father to be late," said Philip. He slipped the pipe between his white teeth and closed down on the stem with a little click. He gave the buzzer a stab of his own, checked his watch, shot his cuff. Philip looked pretty much the same, Tom thought: briar pipe, sardonic eye, cheeks well shaved and after-shaved, hair brushed straight back from a tall brow, gold watch winking at the wrist, dressed in gray worsted slacks and navy jacket. His English accent seemed to have gotten a shade plummier. Vernon, on the other hand, in his gaucho pants, sandals, long hair, and beard, looked uncannily like Jesus Christ.
"He's playing another one of his games with us," said Vernon, giving the buzzer a few more jabs. The wind whispered through the piñon trees, bringing with it a smell of warm resin and dust. The great house was silent.
The smell of Philip's expensive tobacco drifted on the air. He turned to Tom. "And how are things, Tom, out there among the Indians?"
"Glad to hear it."
"And with you?"
"Terrific. Couldn't be better."
"Vernon?" Tom asked.
"Everything's fine. Just great."
The conversation faltered, and they looked around at each other, and then away, embarrassed. Tom never had much to say to his brothers. A crow passed overhead, croaking. An uneasy silence settled on the group gathered at the gate. After a long moment Philip gave the buzzer a fresh series of jabs and scowled through the wrought iron, grasping the bars. "His car's still in the garage. The buzzer must be broken." He drew in air. "Halloo! Father! Halloo! Your devoted sons are here!"
There was a creaking sound as the gate opened slightly under his weight.
"The gate's unlocked," Philip said in surprise. "He never leaves the gate unlocked."
"He's inside, waiting for us," said Vernon. "That's all."
They put their shoulders to the heavy gate and swung it open on protesting hinges. Vernon and Philip went back to get their cars and park them inside, while Tom walked in. He came face-to-face with the house — his childhood home. How many years since his last visit? Three? It filled him with odd and conflicting sensations, the adult coming back to the scene of his childhood. It was a Santa Fe compound in the grandest sense. The graveled driveway swept in a semicircle past a massive pair of seventeenth-century zaguan doors, spiked together from slabs of hand-hewn mesquite. The house itself was a low-slung adobe structure with curving walls, sculpted buttresses, vigas, latillas, nichos, portals, real chimney pots — a work of sculptural art in itself. It was surrounded by cottonwood trees and an emerald lawn. Situated at the top of a hill, it had sweeping views of the mountains and high desert, the lights of town, and the summer thunderheads rearing over the Jemez Mountains. The house hadn't changed, but it felt different. Tom reflected that maybe it was he who was different.
One of the garage doors was open, and Tom saw his father's green Mercedes Gelaendewagen parked in the bay. The other two bays were shut. He heard his brother's cars come crunching around the driveway, stopping by the portal. The doors slammed, and they joined Tom in front of the house.
That was when a troubled feeling began to gather in the pit of Tom's stomach.
"What are we waiting for?" asked Philip, mounting the portal and striding up to the zaguan doors, giving the doorbell a firm series of depresses. Vernon and Tom followed.
There was nothing but silence.
Philip, always impatient, gave the bell a final stab. Tom could hear the deep chimes going off inside the house. It sounded like the first few bars of "Mame," which, he thought, would be typical of Father's ironic sense of humor.
"Halloo!" Philip called through cupped hands.
"Do you think he's all right?" Tom asked. The uneasy feeling was getting stronger.
"Of course he's all right," said Philip crossly. "This is just another one of his games." He pounded on the great Mexican door with a closed fist, booming and rattling it.
As Tom looked about, he saw that the yard had an unkempt look, the grass unmowed, new weeds sprouting in the tulip beds.
"I'm going to take a look in a window," Tom said.
He forced his way through a hedge of trimmed chamisa, tiptoed through a flower bed, and peered in the living room window. Something was very wrong, but it took him a moment to realize just what. The room seemed normal: same leather sofas and wing chairs, same stone fireplace, same coffee table. But above the fireplace there had been a big painting — he couldn't remember which one — and now it was gone. He racked his brains. Was it the Braque or the Monet? Then he noticed that the Roman bronze statue of a boy that held court to the left of the fireplace was also gone. The bookshelves revealed holes where books had been taken out. The room had a disorderly look. Beyond the doorway to the hall he could see trash lying on the floor, some crumpled paper, a strip of bubble wrap, and a discarded roll of packing tape.
"What's up, Doc?" Philip's voice came floating around the corner.
"You better have a look."
Philip picked his way through the bushes with his Ferragamo wingtips, a look of annoyance screwed into his face. Vernon followed.
Philip peeked through the window, and he gasped. "The Lippi," he said. "Over the sofa. The Lippi's gone! And the Braque over the fireplace! He's taken it all away! He's sold it!"
Vernon spoke. "Philip, don't get excited. He probably just packed the stuff up. Maybe he's moving. You've been telling him for years this house was too big and isolated."
Philip's face relaxed abruptly. "Yes. Of course."
"That must be what this mysterious meeting's all about," Vernon said.
Philip nodded and mopped his brow with a silk handkerchief. "I must be tired from the flight. Vernon, you're right. Of course they've been packing. But what a mess they've made of it. When Father sees this he's going to have a fit."
There was a silence as all three sons stood in the shrubbery looking at each other. Tom's own sense of unease had reached a high pitch. If their father was moving, it was a strange way to go about it.
Philip took the pipe out of his mouth. "What say, do you think this is another one of his little challenges to us? Some little puzzle?"
"I'm going to break in," Tom said.
"The hell with the alarm."
Tom went around to the back of the house, his brothers following. He climbed over a wall into a small enclosed garden with a fountain. There was a bedroom window at eye level. Tom wrestled a rock out of the raised flower-bed wall. He brought it to the window, positioned himself, and hefted it to his shoulder.
"Are you really going to smash the window?" said Philip. "How sporting."
Tom heaved the rock, and it went crashing through the window. As the tinkling of glass subsided they all waited, listening.
"No alarm," said Philip.
Tom shook his head. "I don't like this."
Philip stared through the broken window, and Tom could see a sudden thought blooming on his face. Philip cursed and in a flash had vaulted through the broken windowframe — wingtips, pipe, and all.
Vernon looked at Tom. "What's with him?"
Without answering, Tom climbed through the window. Vernon followed.
The bedroom was like the rest of the house — stripped of all art. It was a mess: dirty footprints on the carpet, trash, strips of packing tape, bubble wrap, and packing popcorn, along with nails and the sawed butt ends of lumber. Tom went to the hall. The view disclosed more bare walls where he remembered a Picasso, another Braque, and a pair of Mayan stelae. Gone, all gone.
With a rising feeling of panic he ventured down the hall, stopping at the archway to the living room. Philip was there, standing in the middle of the room, looking about, his face absolutely white. "I told him again and again this would happen. He was so bloody careless, keeping all this stuff here. So damn bloody careless."
"What?" Vernon cried, alarmed. "What is it, Philip? What's happened?"
Philip said, his agonized voice barely above a whisper, "We've been robbed!"
Detective Lieutenant Hutch Barnaby of the Santa Fe Police Department placed a hand on his bony chest and kicked back in his chair. He raised a fresh cup of Starbucks to his lips, the tenth one of the day. The aroma of the bitter roast filled his hooked nose as he looked out the window to the lone cottonwood tree. A beautiful spring day in Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States of America, he thought, as he folded his long limbs deeper into the chair. April 15. The Ides of April. Tax Return Day. Everyone was home counting their money, sobered up by thoughts of mortality and penury. Even the criminals took the day off.
He sipped the coffee with a huge feeling of contentment. Except for the faint ringing of a phone in the outer office, life was good.
He heard, at the edges of consciousness, the competent voice of Doreen answering the phone. Her crisp vowels floated in through the open door: "Hold on, excuse me, could you speak a little slower? I'll get you the sergeant —"
Barnaby drowned out the conversation with a noisy sip of coffee and extended his foot to his office door, giving it a little nudge shut. Blessed silence returned. He waited. And then it came: the knock.
Damn that phone call.
Barnaby placed his coffee on the desk and rose slightly from his slouched position. "Yes?"
Sergeant Harry Fenton opened the door, a keen look on his face. Fenton was never one to like a slow day. The look was enough to tell Barnaby that something big had just come down.
Fenton went on, breathlessly. "The Broadbent place was robbed. I got one of the sons on the phone now."
Hutch Barnaby didn't move a muscle. "Robbed of what?"
"Everything." Fenton's black eyes glittered with relish.
Barnaby sipped his coffee, sipped again, and then lowered his chair to the floor with a small clunk. Damn.
As Barnaby and Fenton drove out the Old Santa Fe Trail, Fenton talked about the robbery. The collection, he'd heard, was worth half a billion. If the truth were anything close to that, Fenton said, it would be front- pageNew-York-Times. He, Fenton, on the front page of the Times. Can you imagine that?
Barnaby could not imagine it. But he said nothing. He was used to Fenton's enthusiasms. He stopped at the end of the winding driveway that led up to the Broadbent aerie. Fenton climbed out the other side, his face shining with anticipation, his head forward, his huge hatchet nose leading the way. As they walked up the road, Hutch scanned the ground. He could see the blurred tracks of a semi, coming and going. They had come in bold as brass. So either Broadbent was away or they had killed him — more likely the latter. They'd probably find Broadbent's stiff in the house.
The road went around a corner and leveled out, and a pair of open gates came into view, guarding a sprawling adobe mansion set among a vast lawn dotted with cottonwoods. He paused to examine the gate. It was a mechanical gate with two motors. It didn't show any signs of having been forced, but the electrical box was open, and inside he could see a key. He knelt and examined it. The key was in a lock, which had been turned to deactivate the gate.
He turned to Fenton. "What do you make of that?"
"Drove a semi up here, had a key to the gate — these guys were professional. We're probably going to find Broadbent's cadaver in the house, you know."
"That's why I like you, Fenton. You're my second brain."
He heard a shout and glanced up to see three men crossing the lawn, coming toward him. The kids, walking right across the lawn.
Barnaby rose in a fury. "Jesus Christ! Don't you know this is a crime scene!"
The others halted, but the lead character, a tall man in a suit, kept coming. "And who might you be?" His voice was cool, supercilious.
"I'm Detective Lieutenant Hutchinson Barnaby," he said, "and Sergeant Harry Fenton. Santa Fe Police Department."
Fenton flashed them a quick smile that did little more than bare his teeth.
"You the sons?"
"We are," said the suit.
Fenton gave them another feral twitch of his lips.
Barnaby took a moment to look them over as potential suspects. The hippie in hemp had an honest, open face; maybe not the brightest bulb in the store but no robber. The one in cowboy boots had real horseshit on the boots, Barnaby noted with respect. And then there was the guy in the suit, who looked like he was from New York. As far as Hutch Barnaby was concerned anyone from New York was a potential murderer. Even the grandmothers. He scanned them again: Three more different brothers could not be imagined. Odd how that could happen in a single family.
"This is a crime scene, so I'm going to have to ask you gentlemen to leave the premises. Go out through the gate and go stand under a tree or something and wait for me. I'll be out in about twenty minutes to talk to you. Okay? Please don't wander around, don't touch anything, and don't talk to each other about the crime or what you've observed."
He turned, and then as an afterthought turned back. "The whole collection is missing?"
"That's what I said on the phone," said the suit.
"How much — ballpark — was it worth?"
"About five hundred million."
Barnaby touched the rim of his hat and glanced at Fenton. The look of naked pleasure on Fenton's face was enough to scare a pimp.
As Barnaby walked toward the house he considered that he had better be careful — there was going to be a lot of second-guessing on this one. The Feds, Interpol, God knows who else would be involved. He figured a quick look around before the crime-lab people arrived would be in order. He hooked his thumbs into his belt and gazed at the house. He wondered if the collection had been insured. That would bear some looking into. If so, maybe Maxwell Broadbent wasn't quite so dead after all. Maybe Maxwell Broadbent was sipping margaritas with some piece of ass on a beach in Phuket.
"I wonder if Broadbent was insured?" asked Fenton.
Hutch grinned at his partner, then looked back at the place. He looked at the broken window, the confusion of footsteps on the gravel, the trampled shrubbery. The fresh tracks were the sons', but there were a lot of older traces here as well. He could see where the moving van had parked, where it had laboriously backed around. It looked as if a week or two had passed since the robbery.
The important thing was to find the body — if there was one. He stepped inside the house. He looked around at the packing tape, bubble wrap, nails, discarded pieces of wood. There was sawdust on the rug and faint depressions. They had actually set up a table saw. It had been an exceptionally competent piece of work. Noisy, too. These people not only knew what they were doing, but they had taken the time to do it right. He sniffed the air. No sweet-and-sour-pork smell of a stiff.
Inside, the robbery felt just as old as it did outside. A week, maybe even two. He bent down and sniffed the end of a cut piece of lumber lying on the floor. It lacked that just-cut fresh-wood smell. He picked up a piece of grass that had been tracked into the house and crumbled it between his fingers — dry. Clots of mud tracked in by a lugged boot were also thoroughly dry. Barnaby thought back: Last rainfall was two weeks ago today. That's when it had happened; within twenty-four hours of the rain, when the ground was still muddy.
He wandered down the huge vaulted central hall. There were pedestals with bronze labels where statues had once stood. There were faint rectangles with hooks on the plastered walls where paintings had once been. There were straw rings and iron stands where antique pots had once sat, and empty shelves with dust holes where treasures had once stood. There were dark slots on the bookshelves where books had been removed.
He reached the bedroom door and looked at the parade of dirty footprints coming and going. More dried mud. Christ, there must've been half a dozen of them. This was a big moving job, and it must have taken a day at least, maybe two. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Codex by Douglas Preston. Copyright © 2004 Splendide Mendax, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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