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Jim Marrs is the world's most popular conspiracy author. This is his first novel, covering the Nazis and the occult.
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The Sisterhood of the Rose
The Recollections of Celeste Levesque
By JIM MARRS
The Disinformation Company Ltd.Copyright © 2009 Jim Marrs
All rights reserved.
British Honduras April, 1940
GISELLE TCHAIKOVSKY FELT A VAGUE apprehension as she watched the new twin-engine, twin-tail Beechcraft Model 18 lift off the packed-dirt runway at the airfield near Belize City. As it gently lifted in the warm humid air, the dark cowling and yellow paint of the craft made it look like one of the brightly-plumed toucans inhabiting the verdant jungle not more than 50 yards from the chain-link fence at the end of the runway.
She turned and pulled a large straw hat over her blonde hair to block the brightness of the midday sun. Squinting in the intense light, Giselle saw the only sign in evidence was a badly-faded, hand-painted board hung over a decrepit wooden shack. "Aeropuerto Belize" was its message.
Scanning the tiny reception shack, two run-down hangers, and the freestanding control tower, she knew that once again civilization as she knew it was far behind her. This small military airfield near the base of the Yucatan Peninsula was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the Miami airport she had left just two days ago.
But she was used to caring for herself in the Central American jungle. After all, she had just spent the past several months there on an archeological dig site prior to her brief return to the States. She had no apprehension over the primitive condition.
The apprehension came when she found no sign of Jim or the guides. It was not like Jim to be late, especially since they had been apart for almost three months. She knew the yearning to be with him that she felt, so she had a pretty good idea of how he must be missing her in return.
Trudging toward the seemingly deserted reception area with her baggage in tow, Giselle stopped to light a cigarette and tried to muster up some good humor. After all, she thought, how fortunate it was that there was this small military airfield in British Honduras. She well knew it was only one of a handful of landing spots anywhere near the Yucatan.
She recalled the length of time it had taken a year earlier when she and Jim had traveled by train from Mexico City and then by pack animals to reach this same area. A slight frown creased her forehead. It was caused by both the blinding sun and from recalling their harrowing adventures in the jungle.
She also felt grateful that on this trip a powerful business associate of her father in Miami had agreed to her use of his private plane and pilot. She knew it otherwise would have taken days, perhaps even weeks, to reach British Honduras by train or ship.
And the stopover in Havana had been great fun. Papa Hemingway had been in residence, writing a novel based on his experiences in the recent Spanish Civil War. When Madrid fell to the Fascist-supported Franco in the fall of 1938, Hemingway saw the handwriting on the wall and returned home. He now fought for the Popular Front strictly with his typewriter rather than a rifle. Giselle had taken the opportunity to contact him. He seemed overjoyed to encounter Giselle again and invited her for dinner with some cronies.
Giselle smiled as she recalled the appreciative look in Papa's eyes when they met in the hotel lobby in Havana. The first time they had met had been in Europe in the early 1930s during one of her dance tours. Giselle had been but a mere teenager. The great Ernest Hemingway, even then a literary legend thanks to his popular books on the "lost generation" of the Great War, had been kind and gracious but had shown no particular interest in her as a female despite her reputation as a world-class ballerina. One of the disappointments of being a child prodigy was that older men rarely saw past her accomplishments on the stage. This was perhaps a good thing she had decided. Between her Aunt Gez acting as chaperone and a teenage love affair with her dance partner Michel, Giselle had been kept from the advances of her older admirers. This undoubtedly had saved her considerable heartache.
It was a much different story during her recent stopover in Havana. Now that Giselle was a grown woman, Papa had exhibited a more personal interest in her. His eyes constantly appraised her ample cleavage and shapely legs. He had been more than happy to renew his acquaintance with the young American dancer and was quite surprised to learn of her recent work in archeology. Giselle had patiently explained how her disaffection with the tumult of the ballet tours led her to another profession.
Papa and his friends had turned Giselle's melancholy longing for Jim into two nights of welcomed distraction, a whirlwind tour of Havana's top nightspots filled with laughter and frivolity. Her smile widened as she thought of Papa, his eyes glistening with scotch, regaling her with his exploits in Spain and ranting how another war was approaching.
Of course, he had tried to accompany Giselle on the flight to British Honduras, exaggerating every potential danger that might await her. The British authorities could not protect her outside the area of Belize City, he had warned. She had been forced to be quite firm in her refusal of his offer. She had dreaded the thought of fighting off his advances the entire trip. There had been a bleary early-morning farewell and Giselle had slept during the entire flight to the Yucatan Peninsula.
Now she was here and no sign of Jim.
With a small sigh of irritation, she dropped the cigarette in the dirt and ground it out with the heel of her high-top riding boot. Leaving her luggage at the door, Giselle strode into the reception shack to find only an old woman slumped on a wooden bench and a fat man in a brown uniform draped over a counter. Both were sound asleep.
Tapping the counter, Giselle assumed her most polite tone and said, "Excusa, Señor ..." The man jumped as though a coral snake had suddenly crawled up his arm. He backed into a desk spilling several piles of official looking forms.
"Madre Dios!" he exclaimed, frantically attempting to recover the flying forms.
Giselle merely gave him a slight smile, simultaneously apologetic and sultry. "Oh, I am terribly sorry, Señor. An important man such as yourself must have much more pressing business than the safety of a poor lone woman traveler, and an American at that."
The swarthy man shifted his attention from the papers on the floor to Giselle. His small dark eyes narrowed in sudden appreciation of the slender woman standing before him and he broke into a broad smile.
The pair stood looking at each other, both wondering what to say next. Giselle felt uncomfortable to feel the man's piggish eyes sweep over her body, lingering at the shape of her hips in the tight-fitting white denim pants.
She was relieved to hear a roaring noise from the road that echoed through the small reception area. As one, she and the official moved to the door and peered down the road at an approaching cloud of dust.
As the weathered Ford pickup slid to a dust-raising stop, Giselle recognized it as the one Jim had bought three months earlier when she left for the States.
"Jim!" she cried, her eyes widening with eagerness and anticipation. Grinning broadly, she pushed past the gaping airport official and ran to the driver's door. She was stopped short by the sight of the short, dark driver climbing down from the cab. Two unfamiliar men squatted in the bed of the truck. They viewed her with dispassionate eyes.
"Miguel," said Giselle softly, "Where's Jim? Has anything happened?"
Miguel, who had been with Giselle and Jim earlier that year when they had discovered one of the greatest archeological finds of the century, hung his head.
"Si, Señorita, there is trouble, mucho problema," he muttered as if he felt guilty for not providing Giselle with a happier homecoming.
Placing one hand on her hip and cocking her head slightly, Giselle peered into Miguel's face. Deadly serious, she formed her words slowly, "Miguel, everything will be just fine. Now tell me what has happened."
As though a dam had burst somewhere inside of him, Miguel began to speak, his rapid delivery almost becoming a babble.
"Señorita Giselle, when Señor Peter heard you were returning, bad things began to happen. He changed. He turned the peasants against Señor Jim and the rest of us and began collecting a gang of bad men including banditos and renegade headhunters. Muy malo! He said he had a duty to perform and nothing would stop him. Oh, Señorita, we believe he plans to take the treasures of the temple."
"Peter!" gasped Giselle. "Oh, Miguel, you must be mistaken. Peter has been with our expedition from the beginning. I helped deliver his child. He would never do anything like that."
Miguel merely shrugged, not wishing to dispute his employer.
"He wouldn't take the treasure!" snapped Giselle, more to herself than to Miguel. "We all agreed that everything would remain in place until it could be excavated properly. That's why we all agreed to secrecy concerning both the find and its location."
"Si, I know, Señorita Giselle, but things have gone very wrong. There has already been one attack on our camp. One of the men was hurt. Señor Peter denied it and we couldn't prove it, but both Señor Jim and I think that Señor Peter was responsible. That's why Señor Jim stayed behind to guard the treasure. That's why he sent me to get you. We have had to hire some men as extra guards." He motioned to the men in the truck bed. Only then did Giselle notice that both men had old but deadly looking bolt-action rifles lying next to them.
Giselle stood still, her mind racing. She now understood the apprehension she had felt on the return trip and why she had felt a pressing need to hurry back. But what possibly could have happened to Peter?
She recalled the arduous jungle treks with Peter Mantel and his wife, poor Katrina, pregnant and uncomfortable the whole way. Peter was the stereotypical scientist, right down to his slight German accent. He was cool and levelheaded, always making detailed plans for every aspect of the journey. Giselle had always admired his meticulous planning and his reserved demeanor. It made him somehow unapproachable and thus mysterious and attractive. But he had always been there for them, pulling his weight and adding a good balance to the reckless enthusiasm of both she and Jim.
What had happened?
Giselle knew that the answer would not be found at the small airport with its one dusty dirt runway and single sleepy administrative officer.
"Miguel, por favor, get my bags," she said peremptorily. She pointed at the small pile of luggage sitting near the shack's door. "We're returning immediately. Do you have enough gasoline?"
"Si, Señorita," responded Miguel, brightening as he realized that Giselle had taken the heavy weight of decision-making from him.
Amid the sudden activity, the airport official said to no one in particular, "Perdone, but there are regulations to be met, forms to be filled out ..."
He suddenly realized that the luggage had been tossed in the bed and that Giselle was climbing into the passenger side of the truck as Miguel turned the ignition switch and hit the floor starter with his foot. The dirt-encrusted truck coughed to life and began to pull away.
"Oye! Wait, you can't leave until these forms ..." the official's voice died away as he stood watching the truck disappear back down the road, this time the dust cloud diminishing into the distance like a film run backward.
Miguel drove the truck south for many miles before stopping to pour gasoline from a jerry can. After filling the gas tank and consuming a light snack of tortillas and beans washed down with homemade tequila, the truck turned west onto a narrow rutted track that knifed through the lush green foliage. Giselle knew they were nearing the border with Guatemala.
They passed palm and cacao trees woven together in a tangle of undergrowth that housed an amazing variety of life. There were various species of insects, bats and even predatory animals, including jaguars and ocelots. Towering overhead was the jungle canopy, composed of tall trees with spreading branches more than 150 feet off the ground. These were covered with climbing plants such as orchids and bromeliads. They all reached high striving for light and moisture as the dirt on the rocky forest floor was shallow and poor. The canopy was home to a diverse number of howler and spider monkeys, parrots, toucans, macaws and multi-colored butterflies.
The monotony of the jungle scenery coupled with the heat put Giselle into a sleepy reverie despite the bumping and jarring. While her body relaxed during the long drive, her mind wondered at this turn of events.
Her thoughts again turned to Peter Mantel, handsome Peter with his impeccable manners and that slight guttural accent which had always intrigued her. He was tall and blond with sharp features and piercing pale-blue eyes that always seemed to quickly analyze everyone and everything around him. His knowledge of archeology and many other subjects had captivated Giselle. She had often thought that if Peter had not had his young wife with him and if she had never met Jim, she might well have developed a real attachment for the quickwitted scientist. What could have caused Peter to suddenly become a problem, if Peter indeed was the problem? Could it be that someone else had found out about their discovery?
Still puzzling over the matter, Giselle settled into the bench seat of the truck and soon was falling into the same restless sleep she had experienced on the airplane.
In spite of her reverie, Giselle was somehow aware after several hours that they were getting close to the dig site when there was a sudden, loud report.
"Damn! I really don't need a blowout this close to camp," she thought, rousing herself. But then there was another. And another. The truck began swerving madly within the narrow confines of the jungle track. Her mind was racing, trying to understand what was happening.
Something clanged off the side of the truck near her head and Giselle realized they were under attack. Instinctively, she reached for her travel pouch but realized it was a useless gesture. Not expecting trouble, she had not taken the gun she had carried for so many of the previous months.
When two more slugs impacted her side of the truck, she knew that their attackers were off to their right. Clinging to the thin metal door of the truck, she furiously searched her memory of the area and yelled to Miguel over the roaring of the engine and the explosions of gunfire, "Veer to the left! There's a stream over there!"
Just as the truck wheeled to the left, a small object flashed past Giselle's face and embedded itself into the upholstery by her left shoulder. Holding tightly to the doorframe for support, she pulled the object loose with her left hand. It was a small wooden arrow. Set in carved notches were clipped pieces of parrot feathers.
Holding the point close to her nose, Giselle recognized the bitter odor of curare, a fast-acting poison that paralyzes the motor nerves. Natives of the region had used it for centuries. Her countenance was grim. These people are not playing games, she thought, tossing the arrow out of the cab.
Miguel was desperately swerving to and fro, more to avoid hitting oncoming trees than to dodge the bullets and arrows raining about the speeding truck. "Over there!" shouted Giselle pointing toward a brighter area of the jungle foliage ahead.
The truck careened wildly through the dense greenery throwing torn branches, stems and leaves in every direction before breaking into an open area formed by a small stream which flowed down a steep hillside. Over time it had cut a rocky swath through the jungle.
As the truck bounced along the streambed, the fusillade of gunfire and arrows slackened considerably. "Stop here," ordered Giselle. "The camp can't be more than 100 yards over there." She pointed off to the right.
Climbing hurriedly from the cab, she called to the two men in the back. "Okay, boys, here's where you earn your pay. You hold them off while I find reinforcements."
As the armed pair took up positions behind the truck, Miguel moved to her side, and placed a hand on her arm. With a look of genuine concern in his eyes, he said, "Here, Señorita Giselle, you may need this." With his other hand he offered a heavy and lethal-looking .38-caliber Smith & Wesson Police Special. She gave him a grateful smile, still wishing she had kept her pistol with her.
Grinning and flushed with adrenaline-driven excitement, Giselle grabbed the steel-blue revolver and yelled "Muchas gracias, Miguel! Vaya con Dios!" She sprinted for the cover of the jungle's leafy shadows.
As Giselle made her way through the thick foliage toward the camp, she kept a sharp lookout for anyone lurking in the undergrowth. But nothing moved.
Rapidly, but warily, making her way through the dense underbrush, Giselle found memories of this place pushing into her consciousness. She thought back to the day that she, Jim, Peter and Katrina along with their guides had discovered the vine-enshrouded temple buried deep in the primeval jungle of this part of British Honduras. That was little more than three months previously, in late 1939. It seemed much longer to Giselle after her recent activities in the States trying to retrieve part of their find.
Excerpted from The Sisterhood of the Rose by JIM MARRS. Copyright © 2009 Jim Marrs. Excerpted by permission of The Disinformation Company Ltd..
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