The Bone Hunters

The Bone Hunters

by Robert J. Mrazek

Paperback(Tall Rack Paperback)

$9.99
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Monday, November 19

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451468734
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/01/2015
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 4.20(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Robert J. Mrazek is the author of the novels Valhalla, The Deadly Embrace, which won the W. Y. Boyd Prize for Excellence in Military Fiction from the American Library Association, Unholy Fire, and Stonewall’s Gold, winner of the Michael Shaara Prize for Best Civil War Novel of 1999. He is also the author of two works of nonfiction, To Kingdom Come and A Dawn Like Thunder, which was named a Washington Post “Best Book of 2009.” A former five-term U.S. Congressman, he wrote the law that saved Manassas battlefield in Virginia from being developed into a shopping mall.

Read an Excerpt

Praise

Also by Robert J. Mrazek

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Author’s Note

INTRODUCTION

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

SEVENTEEN

EIGHTEEN

NINETEEN

TWENTY

TWENTY-ONE

TWENTY-TWO

TWENTY-THREE

TWENTY-FOUR

TWENTY-FIVE

TWENTY-SIX

TWENTY-SEVEN

TWENTY-EIGHT

TWENTY-NINE

THIRTY

THIRTY-ONE

THIRTY-TWO

THIRTY-THREE

THIRTY-FOUR

THIRTY-FIVE

THIRTY-SIX

THIRTY-SEVEN

THIRTY-EIGHT

THIRTY-NINE

FORTY

FORTY-ONE

FORTY-TWO

FORTY-THREE

FORTY-FOUR

FORTY-FIVE

Acknowledgments

AUTHOR’S NOTE

In 1928, an archaeological expedition led by Austrian paleontologist Otto Zdansky unearthed a human fossil specimen at an excavation in Zhoukoudian, China, a prehistoric cave system thirty miles southwest of Peking. Paleontologists later estimated that the fossil had lain buried and undiscovered there for about 780,000 years.

The Peking Man, as the fossil was called, was generally viewed to be the earliest living example of Homo erectus, the first man to stand erect and use primitive tools. It was and is considered to be one of the most important fossil discoveries in the history of human evolution.

Concern for the protection and preservation of Peking Man began to mount after the Japanese invaded China in 1937. The fossil was moved from the site of its discovery in Zhoukoudian to the Peking Union Medical College, which had been founded by the American Rockefeller Foundation. At that time, the Japanese army was still respecting the assets of foreign interests in the country.

In late 1941, a request was made to the American ambassador, Nelson T. Johnson, for Peking Man to be sent to the United States until its security could be guaranteed inside China.

After some delay, the request was approved. A few days before the Japanese army entered Peking, the Peking Man fossils were sealed inside airtight glass containers and carefully packed in two wooden crates.

On December 8, 1941 (Chinese time), Japanese officials arrived at the medical college and demanded the turnover of the Peking Man fossils. The Japanese then ordered medical staff members to open the locked safe in the anatomy building in which the fossils had been stored.

The Peking Man was not there. He remains missing to this day.

INTRODUCTION

Monday, 8 December 1941

Chinwangtao Trunk Road

Quipao, China

It was one of the two darkest nights Corporal Sean Patrick Morrissey could ever remember.

The other one had been during that long winter in the Upper Michigan Peninsula after his stepfather had gotten the job as a watchman for the lumber company and the family had lived in a one-room shack near the Two Hearted River. Sean had been a skinny twelve-year-old back then. Now he was almost eighteen, tall, strapping, and a China marine, riding shotgun in the first truck in the military convoy. Beside him, Gunnery Sergeant James Donald “J.D.” Bradshaw was driving.

“It’s going to be a long night, kid,” J.D. said, taking off his felt campaign hat, with its pinched Montana crease, and laying it carefully on the bench seat next to him.

Reaching under the seat, he pulled out a dimpled bottle of Haig & Haig and handed it to Sean. The youngster took a healthy swig and felt it race like fire down his throat.

J.D. was one of the old breed. Three tours in China since 1928 and he spoke Chinese fluently. At thirty-six, he was old enough to be Sean’s father, and his crew cut had faded to pure white.

Over the previous year, he had played that role better than Sean’s real father, not to mention the two stepfathers who came after him. J.D.’s homely, acne-scarred face always seemed to be smiling, at least when he was around Sean.

It was J.D.’s example that had made Sean proud to be a China marine, proud of its traditions in this faraway place and proud of the way the marines were respected by just about everyone in the Far East—except the Japanese.

Back at Parris Island, the drill instructors had described the Japanese as little men with buckteeth and Coke bottle eyeglasses whom you could knock over with a soupspoon. J.D. told Sean not to bet on it, not after the way they had whaled on the Chinese army in one battle after another for the past three years. Now the Japanese army was on the move, and everybody else seemed to be on the move too, trying to get away from the Japanese. No one knew where they would strike next.

Sean felt better having the Colt 1911A1 .45-caliber pistol in his hip holster and the Thompson M1928A1 .45-caliber submachine gun sitting snug on his lap. Three spare twenty-shot magazines lay next to him along with a satchel of fragmentation grenades.

A few days earlier, the dependents of the American military officers, diplomatic officials, businessmen, and correspondents had embarked on a train for Shanghai. Only the embassy guards and a small detachment of marines remained behind in the legation compound.

Captain Theo Allen commanded the marine detachment. With pale blue eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses, he reminded Sean of his mild-looking high school English teacher, but according to J.D., Captain Allen was one of the toughest men in the outfit and an expert in hand-to-hand combat.

That morning the captain had received a cable from Fourth Marine headquarters up north at Camp Holcomb to assemble a small truck convoy and stand by for further orders. Two recently repaired Studebaker trucks were brought to the compound from the depleted motor pool. Captain Allen would lead them in his staff car.

All three vehicles were painted the same flat green with the letters USMC stenciled on the doors in black paint. Canvas roofs lashed to metal struts covered the freight beds of the one-and-a-half-ton trucks.

Late in the afternoon, Captain Allen received his orders and the convoy departed from the legation compound with nine marines aboard. One rode with Captain Allen in the staff car, and the other eight were divided into each truck.

As always, Sean was entranced by the crazy mix of sounds and smells that filled the ancient city. The streets were choked with people and animals, and the air was alive with the chants and clappers of the street musicians, the aroma of spicy foods wafting from street stalls, and the stench of the open sewers that carried along rotting fish and animal dung. Radios blared in Chinese from the open doorways of the shops and eating places.

The convoy made a long, slow, circuitous route across the city before the captain’s staff car swung left off a crowded thoroughfare and passed through a pair of towering stone gates that flanked the high stone walls of a large compound. Sean saw the words PEKING UNION MEDICAL COLLEGE engraved over the entranceway.

The street noise receded as soon as they were inside. Up ahead of them, an elderly white man was standing outside the main building in a brick-paved courtyard. He was surrounded by a dozen Chinese coolies. It was obvious he had been waiting for them.

Before Captain Allen’s car rolled to a stop, the old man began limping toward it with the aid of a long walking stick. He was wearing an old-fashioned tweed suit with a white shirt and a bow tie. Spectacles were perched on the long nose of his horsey face.

When Captain Allen emerged from the Studebaker, the old man began speaking English to him in a singsong voice, as if he was more used to speaking Chinese than English.

“We are ready,” he said. “You must hurry.”

Sean heard a boom of what sounded like distant thunder.

“Long-range Jap artillery,” said J.D. as the noise became a low constant rumble.

That was when Sean saw the two big wooden crates sitting on the brick courtyard behind the first row of coolies. Each was the size of a large refrigerator. One was painted bright Chinese red, and the second was raw teak.

Speaking Chinese, Captain Allen directed the coolies to put one crate in the back of each truck. There were Chinese symbols painted in black on the red one they put in Sean and J.D.’s truck.

Captain Allen gathered the detachment around him.

“I can’t tell you what is in those crates, because I don’t know,” he said. “Whatever is in there is important and our orders are to see they arrive at Chinwangtao, the seaport next to Camp Holcomb. When we get there, the S.S. President Harrison will be waiting for them. It’s the last American liner still in China.”

Sean felt a surge of excitement. At seventeen, he had never felt true fear.

“It’s about two hundred miles to get there,” the captain added. “We’ll drive all night and make just one stop to refuel. Gas cans are lashed in the back of the trucks. You should know that Japanese troops might already have cut the road in several places, so be vigilant at all times.”

When he dismissed them, J.D. taped strips of white surgical tape over the headlights on all three vehicles to reduce their visibility. Captain Allen inspected the two marines in the back of each truck and made sure they were armed with .30-06 Browning Automatic Rifles and a supply of twenty-round magazines.

When they started the engines and prepared to move out, the old man in the tweed suit called out to Captain Allen from the edge of the courtyard. Tears were running down his cheeks.

“Guard them with your lives,” he shouted in his singsong voice.

“Easy for him to say,” said J.D., spitting tobacco juice through the open window as they rolled through the entrance and back onto the main road.

“What do you think is in the crates?” asked Sean.

“Not heavy enough for gold,” said J.D. as he focused on maintaining the fifteen-foot distance between each vehicle ordered by Captain Allen, “but the red box is the important one.”

“How do you know?” asked Sean.

“The Chinese lettering,” said J.D., and Sean remembered he was fluent in the language.

The darkening sky to the west was still tinted with a reddish glow when they passed through the last gate on the edge of Peking and proceeded east along the trunk highway. The rumble of artillery fire slowly faded as they left the city farther behind.

At first the trunk road had a lightly macadamized surface, with two lanes running in both directions. After twenty miles, the roadway shrank to two lanes and went from macadam to rutted hardpan. The convoy was forced to slow down to thirty miles an hour.

Along the route, they passed thousands of Chinese refugees heading away from Peking in the freezing darkness. A few lucky ones were driving old charcoal-powered trucks and cars. Others rode in oxcarts, their personal goods and furniture piled around them. Sean even saw a rickshaw coolie trudging along in his long padded gown, hauling a family of four behind him.

Most of the refugees were on foot, straggling along in the middle of the road, oblivious of the blaring horns. More than a few lay along the sides, their dead bodies stripped naked.

A bitter Siberian wind began blowing from the north, and the surface of the road became a swirling mass of gray dust. It sent little tornadoes of fine powder through the cracks in the windows and filled their mouths with grit. J.D. passed Sean the bottle of Haig & Haig again.

The refugee traffic began to thin out as they headed farther east. At one point, they saw a Rolls-Royce stopped along the side of the road, its engine pouring black smoke. A slender and pretty young woman in a blue silk dress was standing next to it, waving frantically for the convoy to stop, her face contorted with fear.

“Maybe we should stop,” said Sean.

“Might as well stop for everyone,” said J.D.

Sean pulled out his wallet with the dog-eared photograph of Cathy. She was standing in her father’s backyard in Pontiac looking back at him with a shy smile. Cathy had written in November about how proud she was of his promotion to corporal. Her father was a foreman at the Chevy plant and didn’t think Sean was worthy of her. He would think differently when Sean got back with his new stripes.

Rain began to fall when they were better than halfway to Camp Holcomb, the heavy downpour turning the dusty hardpan into a rutted mess. Glancing out the rain-streaked window into the darkness, Sean saw a few lights in the distance. They turned out to be a deserted train station along the Peking-Mugden Railway.

They had been driving more than five hours when the staff car slowed down and pulled over to the side of the road. It was nearly midnight. Captain Allen emerged from the passenger side and walked back toward them through the rain.

Sean lowered his window.

“Replenish your canteens while we gas up,” he said, “and turn off your lights.”

J.D. grinned as the captain went past, took another quick swig of the Haig & Haig, and passed the bottle to Sean. Sean heard the two marines behind them on the freight bed unleashing the gas cans to refill the tank.

A deserted rural village straddled both sides of the road around them in the shadowy darkness. Fenced animal pens rimmed the open spaces between a dozen clay-walled huts. There were no lights in the buildings. The animal pens were empty.

J.D. opened a large paper sack and pulled out a handful of Chinese raisins. Stuffing them in his mouth, he began chewing the fruit. Juice trickled down from the corners of his mouth to his chin.

“You take a leak first,” he said, scanning the buildings, “and check the tires.”

Leaving the satchel of fragmentation grenades on the seat, Sean took the Thompson and stepped down from the cab onto the muddy apron. After circling the truck to make sure the tire pressures were holding, he stopped by the front fender to relieve himself. While one of the two marines in the back poured gas into the tank, the other trained his BAR toward the closest line of huts.

Another marine moved between the trucks, refilling the men’s canteens from a five-gallon GI can. Sean watched raindrops dripping off the edge of the brim of his campaign hat.

A dog began to bark. Its cries seemed to be coming from behind one of the buildings on the far side of the road. The dog stopped barking for a few seconds and then began again, more excited now.

Then the dog’s cries stopped.

Sean pulled back the bolt on the Thompson and inserted a bullet into the magazine. A few moments later, a shadowy figure of a man emerged from one of the darkened buildings. The man was swaying a little as he headed toward the captain’s staff car. Sean wondered for a moment if he was drunk. He saw that the man was carrying something in his hands. It appeared to be trailing smoke.

“A Jap mine,” shouted J.D. “Hose him down.”

Resting the butt of the Thompson against his arm, Sean pulled the trigger and fired a short burst. The bullets hammered into the man’s chest, throwing him backward. Two seconds later, a huge explosion engulfed him and lit up the night.

Sean felt fragments of road gravel peppering his face like hard rain, and the air was filled with the reek of cordite. The driver’s-side door of the staff car swung open and the marine driver climbed out, taking cover behind it.

“They’re coming,” he shouted, firing at one of the doorways with his .45-caliber pistol.

A Nambu machine gun opened up on them from the roof of one of the buildings. Tracer rounds flashed through the rain and hammered into the staff car and the windshield of their truck.

This is what it’s all about, thought Sean Morrissey. It was really happening to him. Not what he had imagined from comic books or war movies. This was the real thing.

He heard the marines at the back of their truck begin to return fire with their BARs, momentarily silencing the enemy machine gun as more figures emerged from the dark buildings and began moving toward the convoy.

The driver of the captain’s staff car started running back toward Sean’s truck, ducking and weaving as he came. Muzzle flashes erupted from the ragged line of Japanese soldiers, and the marine went sprawling face forward. He didn’t move again.

Using the hood of the truck for cover, Sean aimed the Thompson and pulled the trigger, this time firing a full magazine. Four enemy soldiers crumpled to the ground.

Replacing the magazine, he began firing in short bursts, three or four rounds at a time, as their return fire smashed the headlight next to his elbow and shattered the cab’s windshield.

Another shadowy wave of soldiers emerged from the darkness of the houses. They came on together, running flat-footed with their legs spread wide. Sean saw one of them raise his arm and smack something loudly against his helmet.

Sean remembered that to arm Japanese grenades they had to be hit against a hard surface. He fired at the soldier as he prepared to hurl the grenade. The explosion dropped him and two others. One kept coming.

“Banzai . . . Banzai,” he yelled.

He was the tallest Japanese Sean had ever seen, over six feet, and was waving a sword as he closed to within five feet of the truck. When Sean fired a longer burst, he stayed suspended for a few moments, dancing grotesquely as the bullets tore into his chest before he fell away.

Sean could now hear the BARs firing from the direction of the roadway behind the convoy. The Japanese were obviously trying to encircle them, attacking from both directions along the road.

He heard a loud moan from inside the cab of the truck. It had to be J.D. As Sean dove through the open passenger door, he felt a sharp stab of pain in his right arm. Glancing at the sleeve, he saw that a bullet had passed through the fleshy part of his shoulder.

J.D. was still sitting upright in the driver’s seat behind the shattered windshield. A shot from the Nambu machine gun had torn away his right eye. He was barely conscious and blood was puddling on the seat around him from another wound in his side. Sean dragged him out of the line of fire and laid him on the floor of the passenger-side. J.D.’s good eye briefly regained its focus.

“I’ll be back,” said Sean.

He dropped through the open passenger door and found a new firing position in the shallow drainage ditch that ran along the edge of the roadway. The wound in his arm was starting to throb as he reloaded another magazine.

The staff car was now on fire and the blaze from its gas tank illuminated the roadway ahead of the convoy. Dead Japanese lay all the way back to the darkened buildings. There were no more attackers, at least for the moment.

The firing was constant at the other end of the convoy. Out of the corner of his eye, Sean saw someone crawling toward him from that direction along the ditch. It was Captain Allen. There was a tourniquet around his thigh, and blood was flowing from a wound above his scalp.

“They’ve got us surrounded,” he said through clenched teeth.

A Japanese soldier who had been lying beyond the staff car suddenly got to his feet and began charging toward them. His head was lowered to the ground as if he didn’t want to know what was waiting for him. Sean cut him down with a single burst.

“Can you drive this truck?” said Captain Allen.

“Yessir,” said Sean.

“Get the red crate to the port at Chinwangtao,” he said. “The President Harrison.”

“Yessir,” said Sean.

Captain Allen took the Thompson from him and aimed it toward the nearest buildings.

“Go,” he said.

Bullets from the Nambu machine gun thudded into the dirt in front of him as Sean rose from the ditch. A moment later, he was through the open passenger door and behind the wheel as Captain Allen returned suppressing fire at the machine gun position on the roof.

Ramming the gearshift into first, Sean engaged the clutch and the truck lurched forward. As it gained speed, machine gun bullets raked its side and the engine compartment. The truck kept going.

They had gone several miles when Sean slowed down and stopped again. They were in open country. He gently lifted J.D. back onto the seat and examined his wounds. The right eye was gone, but the bullet had only creased his skull. Sean placed a gauze bandage around the empty cavity. The bleeding from his chest wound had slowed to a trickle. Sean removed an ampoule of morphine from the truck’s medical kit as J.D. grimaced at him through the pain.

“Don’t want it,” he said.

“I need to get you to a corpsman,” said Sean.

J.D.’s left eye squeezed shut.

“Get to the port,” he said. “We can’t be more than a couple hours away.”

If the road ahead is clear of Japs, thought Sean. He picked up the half-full bottle of Haig & Haig and tipped it toward J.D.’s mouth. The sergeant took several deep swallows before Sean poured another inch onto his wound.

“Let’s go,” J.D. growled.

Sean drove through the night repeating the same silent prayer. Save him, Lord. Save him, Lord. Save him, Lord. J.D.’s breathing got increasingly ragged. Each time they hit a mud-clogged rut in the roadway, the cab would shudder violently and J.D.’s hand would tighten convulsively on Sean’s wounded right arm.

It was after three in the morning when Sean saw the lights of Chinwangtao in the distance. The always bustling city was nearly empty. As they drove through the streets, the quiet was unearthly. Sean didn’t stop until they reached the piers where the big oceangoing ships had to dock.

When he was heading across the concrete jetty that led to the outlying piers, J.D. regained consciousness. Sean pointed out to him a small detachment of Chinese soldiers hauling bales of cotton toward the walls of two large warehouses.

“They’re setting fire to the port,” said J.D. “The Japs must be close.”

Sean drove down the length of the last pier. All the ship’s berths were empty until he reached the end of the wharf. A darkened ship slowly materialized out of the gloom. Sean could see Chinese coolies rolling oil drums up the gangway to the forward deck. Far above them on the bridge, an officer was yelling down to the men on the dock and waving his arms in a circular motion.

“They’re pulling out,” said J.D. “I can’t see the name of the ship.”

Sean got out of the truck and ran to the edge of the gangway.

“Is this the President Harrison?” he yelled up to the officer on the bridge.

The man looked down at him and laughed.

“I hear she vas sunk by de Japs,” he said in a thick European accent. “This the Prins Willem.”

The Prins Willem was obviously an old coast runner. It stank of leaking fuel, and reddish stains streaked the once-white paint on the superstructure. The hull plates were covered with huge patches of rust. Sean didn’t know much about ships, but this one didn’t look as if it could make it out of the harbor.

“Ve leaf now . . . Jap here anytime,” the officer called out.

His crewmen began hauling in the mooring lines.

“There is something real important in that truck,” yelled Sean as the ship slowly began to edge away from the pier. “Can you take us with you?”

“Vat is it?” demanded the officer.

“I don’t know, but they don’t want the Japs to get it,” he called out.

The officer stared at him for several seconds. Then he waved to the half dozen coolies who were still standing on the dock. When he called out something in Chinese, they ran to the truck, dropped the rear gate, and swarmed aboard.

Sean watched as the red crate was hauled across the dock to the gangway and then up to the deck of the ship. He could see it was punctured with bullet holes and he wondered if what was inside had been destroyed.

“Are you coming?” asked the officer.

Sean ran back to the cab of the truck and opened the passenger door. J.D. was sitting there in the same upright position. For a moment Sean wondered if he was still alive.

Suddenly, he heard the sound of gunfire from farther down the pier. In the garish light from the burning warehouses, a Japanese motorized detachment was heading swiftly across the concrete jetty. He watched it turn onto the pier and accelerate toward them. Behind him, he heard the lines being cast off. The gangway was still attached to the pier as the ship began to pull away from the dock.

“We have to go, J.D.,” he said, reaching to move him out of the seat. “The Japs are here.”

“I ain’t goin’,” said J.D.

Sean looked down and saw the pile of fragmentation grenades sitting on his lap. J.D. had removed them all from the canvas sack. Sean glanced back toward the departing ship. Its metal gangway was trailing along behind it, the end still barely attached to the dock.

“Go,” yelled J.D.

Sean ran toward the gangway, which was already separated by two feet of black water. He leaped for it and managed to land on the bottom rung. As he began climbing toward the deck, he looked back to see the first Japanese armored car in the motorized detachment pull to a stop next to J.D.’s truck.

Behind it came a light tank. Blocked by the truck, the tank’s gun turret swung smoothly toward the retreating cargo ship and opened fire. The first round from its 37 mm gun slammed into the stern of the Prins Willem, opening a four-foot jagged hole in the hull plates.

His fingers working in their familiar rhythm, J.D. Bradshaw began pulling the pins from the grenades on his lap. As he finished the task, the passenger door swung open and a squat Japanese officer with gold teeth pointed a pistol at him.

“Welcome to hell,” said Bradshaw before the massive detonation erased the end of the pier.

ONE

5 May

Bellamy Annex

The Long Wharf

Boston, Massachusetts

It had turned out all right after all, thought Dr. Barnaby Finchem.

Astrud was originally from Norway, but after coming to Boston as a doctoral exchange student, she had become a devoted citizen of the Red Sox nation. One of her cherished fantasies was to sit in the first row of seats next to the Pesky Pole in right field. Barnaby had acquired tickets from a Harvard colleague who owed him his tenure.

Barnaby had then endured four innings of the actual game, his six-and-a-half-foot and three-hundred-pound slab crammed into a plastic seat designed for Tom Thumb. Their seats faced the Green Monster across the outfield, and the only way Barnaby could see the batter’s box was to lean forward over the railing and crane his neck around the person one seat closer to home plate.

Of course, everyone near the Pesky Pole was leaning forward and craning their necks as well. In the second inning an inebriated fan in the row behind him started harassing him over his free-flowing mane of snow-white hair.

“Hey, Medusa, you’re blockin’ the whole goddamn outfield,” the fan called out, generating laughter from the morons around him. Barnaby turned around. The man was as bald as a cue ball.

“Jealousy is no excuse for stupidity,” he retorted.

From there the man’s comments had become increasingly obscene.

It had all mercifully ended when the Red Sox pitcher gave up a fly ball that sailed wide toward the Pesky Pole and straight toward Barnaby. An obese woman in the seat behind him rammed him forward over the railing in her zeal to catch the ball. After a stern warning about lifetime banishment from Red Sox security, he and Astrud were escorted to the nearest exit gate. Thankfully, she hadn’t blamed him for the fiasco.

In the cab going back to Cambridge, she had become increasingly solicitous, at first stroking his sore knee before her supple fingers slowly moved up his thigh. When they hit a traffic logjam near the Longfellow Bridge, Barnaby decided on the spur of the moment to bring her to his secret lair on the Long Wharf, which was only a few blocks away.

Now, as he was approaching seventy, Barnaby’s past two heart attacks had forced him to severely curb his libido. He now took pride in a strict regimen of never attempting to seduce one of his doctoral students. Only if one of them seduced him, and she was unbearably desirable, would he allow his defenses to be breached.

Astrud met the standard.

He had met her at an academic competition for Norse scholars organized by one of his colleagues in the archaeology department. Barnaby now taught only one course, the Origins of Civilization lecture series, and it was harder to get into his course than the seats by the Pesky Pole.

Nine doctoral candidates were in the academic competition. As the star of the archaeology faculty, Barnaby had been chosen to chair the jury. His life achievements were legend.

After achieving first-class honors at Cambridge, the expatriate Englishman had spent forty years becoming the foremost expert on Norse culture and language in the world. There had been other candidates for that honor, but they were now dead, including a man he was forced to kill a year earlier.

Each student in the academic competition had been charged with the task of creating an original depiction of ancient Norse life. Three of them were triumphs of vision and inspiration, magnificently rendered, deeply felt, and intuitively recreated, projects that resonated within Barnaby’s own carefully nurtured imagination. Five of the remaining projects were less than brilliant. And then there was Astrud’s.

In her primitive oil painting, she had imagined a fifth-century Norse funeral scene in which a young woman lay in a wooden bier, her white-clad body covered with wildflowers. Historically, he knew it had absolutely no connection to Norse life, but the face was indelibly lovely surrounded by its helmet of blond hair. Looking at it, he realized it was a self-portrait of the doctoral student standing beside him, the artist herself.

“How did you research the context for this funeral scene?” he found himself asking her. “We have no evidence of how a Norse funeral was conducted in the fifth century.”

“I imagined it, Dr. Finchem,” she said, gazing up at him with those exquisite blue eyes.

By all that was holy, he knew he could not vote for her project, but when the competition was over, she expressed no disappointment at all when she came up to him at the reception.

“Just meeting you, Dr. Finchem, has been the greatest thrill of my life,” she said.

He felt his resistance melting away.

Twenty minutes after leaving the Red Sox game, he was unlocking the great steel door that led into his lair on the Long Wharf. He turned on the overhead lights in the single massive chamber.

About fifty feet by fifty feet, it had twenty-foot-high ceilings and rough-hewn oak beams that braced the whole expanse. The windows overlooking the harbor were clad with iron shutters.

The first section of the chamber included a fully equipped laboratory with all the assets necessary for both an archaeologist and a pathologist, including a computer lab, printers, cameras, recorders, and flat-screen television monitors.

Astrud was nearly overcome with emotion in the second area of the chamber. It was Barnaby’s Norse library, with documents, diaries, old vellum manuscripts and rune tablets going back twelve centuries. On the wall she saw a hint of his vast collection of Viking swords, tools, shields, and knives.

The final section was his living area, which included an expansive kitchen. Copper pots and pans hung from an iron rack above commercial appliances and granite countertops.

“I like to cook,” he said.

Her eyes wandered away from the kitchen to the nearby elevated sleeping loft, which was constructed from raw timbers and covered with animal pelts and sheepskin rugs.

“A tenth-century Viking sleeping pallet,” said Astrud observantly. “I’ve always wondered if they would have been comfortable while sleeping in the nude. . . . How would you research that, Dr. Finchem?”

They came together on the pallet. Barnaby no longer cared whether his students bedded him for his brains, his fame, his marking pen, or his ability to further their career. At sixty-nine, he still loved the feel and touch of a beautiful woman without having to pay her alimony. He had been down that road more than once.

The only impediment to his anticipated pleasure was buried inside his upper chest. It was an implanted cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, which he had been assured by his doctors would correct most life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias after the last heart attack.

The ICD had never met Astrud.

When they had finished, he turned wearily onto his back and stretched out his six-and-a-half-foot frame. It had been good, very good. He was falling into a deep sleep when the cell phone he had left on the kitchen counter began to ring.

It was a new phone, and he had set the ring tone to the cries of a flock of seagulls, the least obnoxious tone on the list. He had not bothered to set a ring limit before it went to an answering message, and the cawing went on and on. After two minutes of the shrieking cries, the gulls sounded as if they were coming to eat him alive.

No one except Astrud knew the new number, and she was lying insensate next to him in the Viking pallet. But what if she had shared it with someone else? That was the likeliest possibility. What had seemed like such a good decision in the cab was probably going to be a grave mistake, he decided. If she was that indiscreet, he needed to gently but firmly disengage.

When the gulls finally stopped, he realized he was desperately hungry. He had avoided the “Green Monster dog” in the concession stand at the baseball park, and the lovemaking had added to his appetite. In his mind’s eye, he contemplated the array of superb meals he had prepared and were now frozen in the big Viking refrigerator.

One of them was a classic Norse wine stew, savory chunks of venison and imported wild boar slow-cooked in a tureen of Swedish truffles, carrots, and onions. He had found the recipe in a rune parchment from the eleventh century. Heading down to the kitchen, he brought it out to defrost.

When the delicious aroma began to permeate the living area, Astrud descended from the pallet wearing one of his Abercrombie & Fitch flaming red flannel shirts. It ended becomingly at her thighs and set off her naturally flaxen hair. He decided to hold off confronting her about giving out his cell phone number.

After pouring her a glass of Castello Banfi’s 2010 Centine, he removed a loaf of shard bread from the oven and they sat down to enjoy the feast. They were finishing the second bottle of wine when Barnaby broached the noble idea that it might be a good decision for her to find a worthy man no older than her father. A moment later she was clinging to him again like a limpet mine, her sweet mouth on his.

After another session on the sleeping pallet, he knew how a sled dog felt approaching the finish line at the Iditarod. He was finally falling asleep again when the carnivorous seagulls began to shriek again.

“Aren’t you going to answer it?” she asked with that remaining echo of her native Norwegian accent.

“No one aside from you has the number, Astrud,” he said in a less than fatherly baritone.

“I haven’t given it to another soul,” she said, her eyes going liquid.

The ringing stopped again and he waited in the silence for it to resume. Instead, someone began knocking on the steel entrance door. The pounding echoed through the chamber.

“For the love of Thor,” Barnaby growled.

Planning to verbally lash whoever it was standing in the hallway, he climbed off the sleeping pallet and stalked naked to the door. Putting his nose against the glass peephole, he looked out into the shadowy passageway and frowned.

TWO

5 May

The Long Wharf

Boston, Massachusetts

A man with the torso of a sumo wrestler gone to seed was standing in the brick-lined corridor sweating as if he had just run a marathon. His face was drenched, along with the collar of his blue oxford shirt.

The last time Barnaby had seen him was in a hospital room in Rockland, Maine. It was the day after his protégée Alexandra Vaughan had discovered the burial tomb of Leif Eriksson on an island off the coast of Maine. And it was after enough murder and mayhem to last Barnaby for ten lifetimes. Back then, the man in the corridor had been the deputy national security adviser to the president of the United States.

“I know you’re in there, Dr. Finchem,” called out Ira Dusenberry. “Let me in. It’s very important.”

Time had not been kind to him since. He had put on at least thirty pounds, and his blunt, jowly face had the patina of painter’s putty. His brown suit was stretched across his torso like a gigantic sausage casing.

Barnaby suddenly realized that his new cell phone number hadn’t been given out by Astrud. It had been hacked by one of the intelligence minions of the all-knowing Big Brother called Washington. They could find out everything about any American they targeted. It made him angry to be on their radar again.

Barnaby unlocked the door and swung it open. Ira Dusenberry took in the full spectacle of his nakedness and immediately averted his eyes.

“I don’t need to ask how you found this place,” said Barnaby bitterly. “With your untrammeled domestic spying network, you know all our secrets these days, the guilty and the innocent.”

“Not all of them,” said Dusenberry, “and it wasn’t easy. We had to use extraordinary measures.”

He still could not force himself to look at Barnaby.

“Is that really necessary?” he finally demanded, stepping past him into the chamber. Barnaby closed the door and locked it again.

“Only if it irritates a dishonest excuse for a public servant like you,” said Barnaby.

“I am not dishonest,” Dusenberry said indignantly.

“Really . . . ? Last year we made the greatest archaeological discovery since Howard Carter blundered into Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings,” said Barnaby. “We proved that Leif Eriksson got to these shores five hundred years before Columbus and you decided to sit on it in the name of national security.”

“It was a matter of national security,” said Dusenberry, still refusing to look at him.

Walking to the ornately carved oak hall tree next to the steel entrance door, Barnaby grabbed the Moroccan jeleba from his Sahara expedition and wrapped it around himself.

“National security as defined by the Italian-American vote in the last election,” said Barnaby.

Dusenberry didn’t respond.

“Now that the president has won reelection, you should have no concerns about our announcing the discovery.”

“Perhaps that could be arranged,” said Dusenberry with a curt smile, “if you can provide assistance to us on a far more important matter.”

He glanced around the vast expanse of the chamber.

“Are we alone?” he asked.

“You should know,” Barnaby responded, walking back toward the living area.

Astrud emerged from the sleeping loft and came downstairs. She was fully dressed in her Red Sox jersey, shorts, and sneakers, looking even younger than her thirty-one years.

“I think I’ve seen you on television,” she said to Dusenberry.

His eyes betrayed a hint of satisfaction at her recognition of his important role in the White House.

“You’re one of the contestants on that reality fat show, correct?” she said, smiling. “The one about how much weight you can lose without killing yourself?”

Dusenberry didn’t know if she was serious. “If you leave now, young lady, you will probably not be indicted as a threat to the national security of the United States of America.”

“I was leaving anyway,” she said.

She turned and looked up at Barnaby.

“I’ll see you later,” she said, taking her purse and closing the steel door behind her.

“In addition to all your other sins,” said Barnaby, “you may have ruptured one of the great romantic relationships of this century.”

“I need your help,” said Dusenberry. “The president needs your help.”

“I don’t do mental counseling,” said Barnaby.

Dusenberry ignored the barb and said, “Look, I’m sorry about this. I was planning to meet you at Fenway Park, but you were thrown out of the game before I could get there.”

Barnaby had already noticed the brown mustard stains on his shirt and tie.

“How many monster dogs did you eat?” he asked.

Dusenberry’s face revealed the accuracy of his guess. In fact, he had consumed three of the eighteen-inchers with sauerkraut and mustard, flushing them down with drafts of ice-cold lager. Gluttony was his only sin, he kept assuring himself.

“Can we sit down?” he asked, turning away from Barnaby to loosen his trousers while he headed for the nearest club chair in Barnaby’s library next to the open kitchen.

Barnaby sank into the leather couch across from him.

“Have you ever heard of Peking Man?” said Dusenberry.

“He was once the most valuable man on earth,” said Barnaby.

“Was?” asked Dusenberry.

“He disappeared.”

“Precisely. You already know about him.”

“Every archaeologist knows about him,” said Barnaby. “His disappearance was probably the biggest disaster in the history of the fossil record of human evolution.”

“We need to find it . . . him,” said Dusenberry. “It’s a matter of the highest national security.”

“It always is to you,” said Barnaby.

“He isn’t just a priceless fossil,” said Dusenberry. “Have you ever heard of Falun Gong?”

“There are few things I haven’t heard of in this world, but that is one of them.”

“Falun Gong is a contemporary Chinese moral philosophy in the qigong tradition. It is based on truth, compassion, and tolerance.”

“The Tibetans tried that and look where it got them,” said Barnaby. “Good luck in China.”

“Actually, Falun Gong was founded by a Chinese trumpet player named Li Hongzhi in 1992, and the religion took off like a comet. His followers call him the living Buddha. He now lives in Arizona.”

“A trumpet player,” repeated Barnaby.

“Yes, from humble origins, we might say, as was the carpenter from Galilee,” said Dusenberry. “Of course, he has to live here now or he would be rotting in a Chinese prison. Their government is bent on eradicating it. They have used every means to crush it. We have reports of thousands of atrocities, including the torture, murder, and even organ harvesting of its followers. A million of the followers have been forced into reeducation camps like the ones set up under Mao during the great purge.”

“How does Peking Man fit into it?”

“There is a new offshoot of the movement and it has spread like wildfire. It is predicated on the belief of its holy men that Peking Man, the first known human being to stand erect and use tools, was in truth the original man, the anointed deity who started the human race.”

“God himself,” said Barnaby.

“Precisely,” said Dusenberry. “And as with Falun Gong, the Chinese government is stamping this sect out wherever it gathers traction.”

Dusenberry removed a creased photograph from his breast pocket and handed it to Barnaby. The edges were moist with sweat.

“Meet the Chinese oligarch Zhou Shen Wui,” said Dusenberry.

A benevolent Oriental face beamed up at Barnaby from the photograph, cherubic in its wholesome roundness. He was bald except for a fringe of hair and had thick eyebrows below his broad forehead. The man’s eyes were large and knowing, his lips curled into a beatific smile.

“Zhou was chosen by the Chinese politburo to stop the spread of this new branch of the movement. Over the years, he has built an impressive record of chicanery, even on Chinese standards,” said Dusenberry. “When he isn’t hacking into our top secret military programs or stealing intellectual property from American corporations, he rides around the remote hinterlands of China in a fortified train with a palace guard of two hundred trained ninja warriors. I’m talking executioners and torturers. Wherever they find the faith beginning to flourish, and it is mostly in the rural hinterlands, they go there to wipe them out.”

“They were Japanese,” said Barnaby.

“Who?”

“The ninja warriors or shinobi were in feudal Japan, not in China.”

Dusenberry ignored him. “The Chinese government is now searching for the Peking Man. Their worst fear is that if he is found and introduced to the Chinese masses as a deity, the religious conversions among the lower economic classes will be uncontrollable. If the movement is embraced by the masses, especially the rural peasant class, it would only take a small percentage of them rebelling to completely overrun the Chinese military. In spite of the size of their army, the peasant population vastly outnumbers it.”

“And what does your crack team of advisers believe?”

“We believe it would be good to find Peking Man and present him to his followers.”

“And give the ruling clique in China something to focus on besides destroying us.”

“Precisely,” repeated Dusenberry. “We have had an informant in Zhou’s entourage. His malevolent son, Li, is in charge of a paramilitary team that is dedicated to finding him.”

“This informant should give you whatever you need to know.”

“He disappeared from sight a month ago. Presumably he is dead.”

“So why me?” asked Barnaby as Dusenberry continued massaging his bloated stomach.

“A number of leads about the disappearance of Peking Man have surfaced over the years,” said Dusenberry. “We set up a Washington interagency task force to explore them three years ago, but as usual, they can’t even agree on how to cooperate. We’re dead in the water.”

“My field is Norse archaeology. I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

“You have extensive contacts and good relationships among the leading archaeologists in every field. You also proved your ability to decipher an ancient mystery in the unfortunate Valhalla saga.”

Without confirming it, Barnaby was intrigued. He felt the hairs rising on the back of his neck. Forgetting for a moment about the bloodletting in China, Peking Man was the greatest archaeological discovery in history concerning the evolution of man.

“I might add that the president has authorized me to say that if you are successful in this, he is prepared to remove the security restrictions on the Leif Eriksson discovery.”

“I would need help,” said Barnaby.

“Anything you need,” said Dusenberry. “The whole task force is available to you.”

“It doesn’t sound like they know how to get out of their own way.”

“A little leadership would go a long way,” cooed Dusenberry. “What about Dr. Vaughan and General Macaulay? The last time I saw them with you, they seemed bound together like Siamese twins. They could be very helpful again.”

“They are no longer conjoined,” said Barnaby. “Leave them to me.”

“Then we have a deal,” said Dusenberry, raising the lid on the tureen of Norse wine stew that was still sitting on the granite countertop. “This smells delicious. Do you mind if I help myself?”

THREE

7 May

Kehlsteinhaus

oder Eagle’s Nest

Obersalzberg, Germany

“It is not here,” said Jurgen Ritter, his eyes squinting from the snow-brilliant late-afternoon sun streaming through the big plate-glass picture windows of the Führer’s conference room. Another foot of snow had fallen during the last hours, and the piercing light glancing off the summit of the Sonntagshorn forced Jurgen to look away from the windows.

“On what basis do you state this?” asked the Swedish archaeologist Sven Nordgren, tapping his iPad Mini to retrieve his latest text messages.

“I vud feel it inside me if it vas here,” said the German Jurgen, the expedition team’s expert on pulse induction metal detection.

“How very scientific,” said Nordgren with a facetious grin.

Even though it was early spring, the raw afternoon wind on the Kehlstein was gusting at forty miles an hour and the loud shrieks echoed through the dimly lit passageways like a succession of anguished moans.

Nordgren had built a raging fire in the fireplace that dominated one wall of the conference room. It was still rimmed with the red marble and bronze tiles that had been a gift to Hitler from Mussolini. The flames barely warmed the room.

“I alvays feel dese things inside me,” insisted Jurgen in his fractured English. “You haff no head in your brain.”

The expedition leader, Dr. Alexandra “Lexy” Vaughan, moved to head off the confrontation between two key members of her six-person team.

“Let’s go back over the tunnel data one more time,” said Lexy, gazing down at the snow-covered valley of Berchtesgaden below Hitler’s mountain redoubt before moving to the fireplace to warm herself.

Roy Boulting, the Oxford-trained archaeologist who specialized in pre-Flatejarbok Norse manuscripts, brought over the five-foot-square architectural diagrams from the engineering company that had supervised construction of the Eagle’s Nest in 1937. Unrolling the design plan for the tunnel system that had been bored into the granite mountain, he spread it out across the end of the conference table.

The first tunnel led from the roadway at the base of the mountain to the ornate elevator that had carried the Führer and his guests to the summit. Four hundred eighteen feet long, the tunnel was large enough for a man to stand erect for the long walk to the elevator.

“I haff scanned every centimeter of the tunnel floor, side valls, and ceiling,” said Jurgen, “and dere is no air pocket or thing metallic.”

“Maybe your pulsating detector doesn’t feel it inside,” said Nordgren.

“You are clot,” said Jurgen.

For the next three hours, they again examined the detailed construction plans, placing special emphasis on sections of the tunnel that housed electrical wiring, ventilation pipes, and exhaust filters, and then comparing them to Jurgen’s readings from his PI detector. Taking only an hour to eat a cold supper, the team worked until nearly midnight before Lexy decided they needed to rest for the night.

They were three days into the search for a fourteenth-century calfskin parchment that had been stolen along with dozens of other rare Norse artifacts from the national museum in Trondheim after the Germans invaded Norway in 1940. Many in the Nazi hierarchy had admired all things Norse and held their race in reverential awe.

The parchment contained firsthand accounts of the sagas of two Norse expeditions across Canada in 1362 and 1374. Lexy was convinced that the accounts would finally prove her thesis that the Norsemen had established settlements in Minnesota more than a hundred years before Columbus sighted Hispaniola in the Bahamas.

Although she would never have revealed it to her expedition team, she actually agreed with Jurgen about the value of following one’s instincts in the discovery of new archaeological finds. She had used her own instinctual gift on numerous occasions, including the discovery of Leif Eriksson’s burial tomb off the coast of Maine.

Unlike with Jurgen, her own inner light was telling her that the ancient Norse manuscript was in fact very close, buried with other archaeological treasures deep inside Hitler’s aerie.

Time was running out to prove it. Six months earlier, the charitable trust that operated the Eagle’s Nest as a tour site had considered her request to search for the missing historical trove, reviewed her supporting evidence, and granted permission for the search during the same four-day window when other repair and maintenance requirements were already scheduled.

It had been a long, circuitous journey that had brought her to the windswept Kehlsteinhaus. She had found the initial clues to the possible resting place of the Norse treasures in the postwar trial documents of a German Gestapo officer who had commanded the police unit that had stolen them in Trondheim. Upon receiving the death sentence after the war for murdering a hundred French hostages in 1944, he attempted to save his life by writing a letter to the trial judge offering to provide details to the location of important art treasures that had been secreted in the “Bavarian Redoubt,” the birthplace of Nazism and the place where Allied war commanders believed Hitler would make a last stand. He was hanged without revealing the information.

Lexy’s search had eventually led her to a war diary she found in the Schutzstaffel (SS) archives captured by the U.S. Army in 1945. To her knowledge, the diary had never been cataloged by the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, and no one else had ever seen or reviewed it.

The diary had been kept by a Waffen SS officer named Kurt von Seitzler. In late 1944, he had commanded the security guard battalion at the Berghof, Adolph Hitler’s Bavarian retreat in Berchtesgaden. A number of entries in the diary had led her here.

“We have only tomorrow to find our answer, if there is one,” said Lexy to the others as they broke up to go to their rooms. “Let’s gather back here first thing in the morning.”

“May I join you?” whispered Jurgen as she picked up her transcript of the von Seitzler diary and headed back to her cot in the Eva Braun Room.

“I need to study this,” she said as she went past. “And I must ask you to review your detection readings again before we meet in the morning.”

When she realized he was following her, she turned to face him.

“I vership you, Alexandra,” he whispered. “I drim of you. You are so beautiful.”

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews