Berlin is lost, but the Nazis have not given up hope. As their soldiers battle the Red Army for every inch of the capital, a detachment of Russians search the bunker underneath the Berlin Zoo, where Hitler’s army stored the finest art treasures of the Reich. The bunker is empty by the time Sergeant Kolenko enters it—save for a rusted old trunk that holds nothing but gold knickknacks. Kolenko’s men don’t know it yet, but they have unearthed the treasures of the lost city of Troy.
Decades later, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art receives a letter saying that the treasure will be auctioned off. To get her hands on it, she will have to face off against the CIA, the KGB, and a killer who will do anything for gold.
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About the Author
Fish died February 23, 1981, at his home in Connecticut. Each year at the annual Mystery Writers of America dinner, a memorial award is presented in his name for the best first short story. This is a fitting tribute, as Fish was always eager to assist young writers with their craft.
Read an Excerpt
The Gold of Troy
By Robert L. Fish
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1980 Robert L. Fish
All rights reserved.
As she did every working day, Dr. Ruth McVeigh spent the hour between nine and ten o'clock in the morning, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened to the public, to walk around her newly acquired domain. It was not so much to see that everything was in order—for its nearly six-hundred employees saw to it that it always was—as it was to bask in the heady feeling of achievement, or fulfillment. The vast galleries of the museum with their wealth of rich treasures were the tangible evidence of that. Ruth McVeigh had been the new director of the Metropolitan for two months now, the first woman director in the long history of the museum, and it was more than a sense of power that made her daily inspection trip so rewarding; it was the knowledge that she was fully capable of assuming the responsibility for the vast and complex operation. And that others, in selecting her for the position of director, had recognized that ability.
Ruth McVeigh was a handsome, in fact extremely beautiful, well-built woman in her mid-thirties, whose life had been dedicated to archaeology, learned from her earliest days from her father, the noted archaeologist, James McVeigh. Her childhood had been chiefly spent in exotic and therefore uncomfortable places, with demanding climates and strange tongues. Her earliest schoolhouse had been a shaded bench someplace under an awning, for trees were rare in the places her father and his crews chose to dig; her teacher had been her martyred mother, a woman to whom the arcana of yesterday had come only to mean the suffering of today. And when at last Sarah McVeigh had gone to join the sand that had been her prison for too many years, she left behind a personal failure, for despite her dire warnings and her attempts to teach odium for all things connected with archaeology and excavations, her only child found herself dedicated more and more to the earth and the many things hidden beneath it.
College was a necessary evil, as was graduate school—merely a means of obtaining the degrees vital in these academic years, to advance her in her chosen field. But each day in classroom or library, she felt, was a day stolen from working beside her father in the field. Even her unhappy and soon terminated marriage to one of her professors had been done, consciously or unconsciously, from the desire to wed herself closer to her field by sharing her body with one whose knowledge was greater than her own. It did not work. One of the reasons for the failure of the marriage, other than a surprising lack of passion on the part of her husband, was her early recognition that he was a book scholar, three pages ahead of his class, but many chapters behind her in both perception and experience.
Nor, when her father died—not from any mummy's curse, but from overwork and a lifetime of self-neglect—did her ambition waver. She spent four years in the field, digging in various Luxor sites with several groups financed by various institutions, spent three more as assistant curator for Egyptian antiquities at the Cleveland Museum, three more as curator for Greek and Roman antiquities at the Smithsonian. Now, at thirty-four years of age, Ruth McVeigh had found her niche. She was director of the Metropolitan Museum. Her ambition went no further. She knew she would be satisfied with the job forever, forever content to walk the huge galleried halls quietly glorying in their contents and her relationship to them, before buckling down each day to her desk full of papers. The job kept her more than amply busy, and more than compensated—she often told herself at night in her large empty bed—for the lack of male companionship in her life.
She came down the high-arched corridors, nodding at the guards neatly suited in their blue uniforms, her eyes subconsciously searching for the slightest sign of vandalism from the previous day's guests—there had been nearly thirty-thousand visitors the day before by the time she had left for the day—or any exhibit that seemed the least bit out of place. Or even with the faintest mote of dust upon it. I'm getting to be a crotchety old housekeeper type, she said to herself with a wry smile, and moved into the Egyptian galleries last. They were her favorite. Some of the exhibits there had been brought from their age-old hiding places by her father. Her tour now complete, she walked into the huge rotunda of the main entrance just as the doors were about to be opened to the public. She smiled at the eight receptionists at their octagonal station, and was about to pass on toward her second-floor office, when one of the women there called to her.
She turned. "Yes?"
"There was a package for you, Doctor. It came yesterday, just at closing time. You had already left, and your secretary as well, so I kept it here for you."
The woman reached under the counter of her station and came up with a flat package roughly five inches square and an inch or so in depth, handing it over. Ruth McVeigh took it, noting that the package had been carefully wrapped in brown paper, bound tightly with twine, and closed by two red seals. Her name appeared to have been machine printed, rather than handwritten or typed. Someone seems to have gone to a lot of trouble, she thought, and turned the package over. There was nothing on the back. She looked up, frowning.
"Did you happen to notice who left this for me?"
The woman looked a bit nonplussed. She shrugged.
"You know how it is at closing, Doctor. Everyone seems to be around here at once, asking questions, wanting folders, or programs. I—" She paused to think. "All I can remember is a hand reaching through the crowd and laying the package down in front of me. When I got a chance I called your office and nobody answered, so I just put it away and held it for you for today. Why? Is it important?"
Ruth McVeigh smiled. "No, of course not. I was just curious." And any archaeologist who is not curious, she said to herself, ought to be in another profession. Still, sealing a simple package with sealing wax?
"I could ask the guards if they saw anything—" the receptionist said tentatively.
"No, that's all right." At closing time, Ruth knew, the guards' attention was on arms and packages, not on clothing or faces. She smiled again to convince the woman no harm had been done. "Thank you."
She walked along the corridor leading toward the staircase that led to her office, considering the package as she went. Behind her the museum was beginning to fill with the sounds of another busy day. The strange package, she noticed, was very light, and the outer wrapping appeared to have been carefully glued shut. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble, indeed. Could it be that the contents were so fragile—a rare manuscript, perhaps, a bit of ancient parchment—that prolonged contact with air could damage them? Or that the contents were so valuable that this extreme care in packaging was warranted? But valuable contents simply laid upon a desk with no message, and no address other than just a simple name? The detective in Ruth McVeigh wondered if possibly the watermark of the paper, or an analysis of the sealing wax could give some clue as to the identity of the sender. Then she smiled to herself. You've been reading too many mystery stories, my girl! she told herself sternly. Undoubtedly the contents of the package would resolve that problem.
Still, it was doubtful that the package contained anything intended for the museum. Such mail and packages were normally properly addressed and delivered to the museum's mail room, not to the reception desk. And as for personal mail for her, or any unexpected gift, what could the occasion be? This was April and her birthday was in September, and what other occasion was there for a gift? Or from whom? Most of her friends were off in distant places around the globe, busy with their small hammers, scoops, and brushes. Many had not had a chance even to hear of her new position. And she knew she had not ordered anything from any store, and if she had she would have had it delivered to her home, not her place of work. Besides, no store she knew went in for sealing wax on the corners of their packages.
Of course, it was a puzzle easily enough resolved, and all her prior detective reasoning had probably been wasted. In all probability it was a new sales gimmick, offering her a free copy of a new woman's magazine for a lifetime subscription or a Florida condominium at a reasonable price at her advanced age. She smiled at the thought as she reached her office. She nodded to Marge, her secretary, and went inside. She sat at her desk, pushed aside the pile of incoming mail awaiting her attention, studied the exterior of the package a few more seconds, and then reached for her letter opener, inserting it carefully at one corner, prying the wax seal loose. One would think I was opening a mummy's tomb, she thought with an inner grin. The grin faded. Or a letter bomb. It was a disturbing thought and she put it away, instead slitting the paper neatly and folding it back. There was an inner wrapping which she removed with equal care; too many years of being taught to open all things with circumspection prevented her from tearing or even wrinkling the wrappings. She removed the cover.
Inside was another box. For a moment she wondered if possibly one of her practical-joking acquaintances had gone to all this trouble just to send her one of those sets of nesting boxes that ended up containing something quite minute and utterly useless. It would fit in with the type of mentality that would go to the trouble of machine printing her name and sealing the box with paraffin wax. With a sigh she removed the cover of the inner box, but inside, rather than any more boxes, was a translucent envelope through which she could see photographs, and on top of them, clipped to the envelope, was a letter. So at least it was no practical joke, she thought with a touch of relief, and then smiled; it also was no letter bomb. She took the envelope from the box and then noticed one further thing at the bottom of the package, in one corner. It was wrapped in cotton-batting and appeared lumpy. She picked away the cotton and stared at the small ring that was enclosed. With a frown she picked up the letter and read it.
When she was done she stared at the ring for a moment, a deep frown on her face. Then she reached for the telephone, pressing the button for her secretary.
"Marge, would you ask Dr. Keller to come in? And ask Jed Martin to come along, too."
She replaced the telephone and leaned back in her chair, staring at the letter. Then she opened the envelope and removed the photographs, studying them intently. Could it be that, after all, she was still being the victim of a practical joke? Or of a bomb of a different type? Well, this day, at least, had not started off in its usual manner, and she had a feeling that many of her days would be changed as a result of the strange package; a feeling similar to the one you got when you dug carefully into the earth and encountered the resistance of something and knew, just knew, it was not a stone, but something that could lead to an exciting discovery—although this package with its letter most probably was just a stone. She looked up at a rap on the door; a moment later it opened to admit Dr. Robert Keller and Jed Martin.
Dr. Keller was the director in charge of special projects. He was a large, handsome man in his late forties whose rumpled clothes looked as if they had been slept in. He sat down, crossed his heavy legs carelessly, dug a pipe from one pocket and a sack of tobacco from another, and began filling his pipe with slow, methodical movements while he waited for the subject of the meeting to be broached. Jed Martin, in sharp contrast, was wearing a neat, spotless laboratory jacket over a conservative vest. Jed Martin was the curator of Greek and Roman antiquities. He was thin almost to a point of emaciation, and dapper to the point of being a dandy. He also chose a chair, looking almost as if he would have liked to dust it before offering it to the seat of his neatly pressed trousers. Ruth McVeigh looked at both men appreciatively. Although completely different in temperament as well as appearance, both men shared one faculty; they were both excellent in their fields.
Keller finished tamping his pipe and carefully set a lit kitchen match to the bowl, puffing slowly, his steady gray eyes watching Ruth McVeigh as he waited. Jed Martin, however, was not the type to wait.
"Well, what is it, Ruth?" he asked impatiently, and glanced at his wristwatch in a rather pointed manner. "I've a million things to attend to."
"You may have one more," Dr. McVeigh said quietly, and picked up the letter. "I want to read you both something. This came inside of a package that was delivered last night, after I left for the day. Together with some photographs I'll show you later. I just got it this morning. Let me read it to you."
Jed Martin shrugged and sat back, his small birdlike eyes watching Ruth almost suspiciously, as if she might be using the letter merely as an excuse to waste more of his precious time. Still, he knew that the new director seldom wasted words and never wasted time, neither her own or anyone else's. Bob Keller's expression didn't change in the least. He puffed steadily and watched Ruth McVeigh, liking what he saw.
"This is what the letter says," Ruth began, and glanced down. She paused to look up a moment. "There is no salutation, and no date. And, for reasons I'm sure you'll understand when you've heard the letter, there is, of course, no signature." Her eyes went down again as she began to read.
"The enclosed ring is from the collection of gold objects discovered at Hissarlik in the Troad in Turkey by Heinrich Schliemann and his wife, Sophie, in early June of 1873. The entire collection, consisting of approximately nine thousand separate items, and with a net weight of approximately 8,600 drams, will be held for auction to selected bidders of whom you are one, beginning October 1, 1979. Instructions for submitting bids will be furnished before September 1, 1979. Bids will be secret, as will the identity of the winner.
"The photographs attached will prove the authenticity of the statements made herein. Further proof can be obtained by examination of the enclosed specimen taken from the actual collection.
"No opening bid below fifteen million dollars will be considered."
Ruth McVeigh put down the letter and looked at the two men across the desk from her. No muscle moved on Robert Keller's phlegmatic face, but his eyes looked interested, and momentarily he had stopped puffing on his pipe. Martin, on the other hand, was staring at the director incredulously; he had come to the edge of his chair and was perched there, almost birdlike.
"What absolute and utter rot!" he said, and snorted. "Let me see that!" He took the letter Ruth handed him and read it again, quickly, before tossing it back disdainfully. "The Schliemann treasure! It's been in the hands of the Russians for donkey's years! Everyone knows that!" He picked up the photographs, leafed through them quickly, and tossed them beside the letter, sneering. "Someone got hold of Schliemann's book, simply had some duplicate pieces made up that look like the objects Schliemann had pictures of—probably made them out of tin and painted them with dime-store gold paint—and then took photos of his fakes. With an up-to-date calendar alongside to show the pictures were taken recently. And they expect to get away with it?" He reached over and fished the ring from the box. "And this—" For the first time he hesitated a moment and then frowned. "Well, I expect he did read up enough on the subject to know the rings that Schliemann found were made from gold wire, not from the solid slabs of the stuff in those days ..."
"You'll still check the ring for authenticity?" Dr. McVeigh's tone made it an order, not a request.
"Oh, of course," Martin said. "We'll check it for age, for purity of gold content, for the rare earths that were found in the gold of that day, and everything else. We'll have it done in our own laboratory, and we'll send it out for further checks if we have any doubts as to its—well, its un-authenticity, I should say." He snorted again, eyeing the small ring malevolently, as if it threatened him somehow. "The Schliemann treasure! Really!"
Excerpted from The Gold of Troy by Robert L. Fish. Copyright © 1980 Robert L. Fish. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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