SS senior field agent
Posted - 05/10/2014 : 12:01:33
| The Night of the Voice of Doom
'Tis man himself makes his own god and his own hell.
—Philip James Bailey (1816-1902), English poet
“Professor, I wish you would change your mind.”
Professor Denis Hildebrand Roundtree glanced at the younger man beside him, then followed the gaze of those green eyes as they stared down the platform, to where the two young women were checking off the lists as supplies were unloaded from the train. He smiled.
“Mr. West, my daughters have accompanied me on numerous expeditions over the last twelve or so years. I believe you will find them as competent as any man in the field, if no more so, and certainly no hindrance to progress.”
Jim West brought his gaze around to the husky, middle-aged man with the full graying beard. “Sir, it is not a worry about them being a hindrance, but more of the possible problems we may face. Rockslides, snow…”
“More perils than head hunters in the Amazon, or poisonous snakes in the jungles of Guatemala? The sands of the Sahara? Nonsense, Mr. West. Adelaide and Hildegarde are extremely capable. After their mother passed away when they were mere girls, I could not bear to leave them home alone so I started taking them with me on my expeditions, with the original intent of setting them up in a household in Rio de Janeiro or Cairo or wherever I was. However, I soon found they could accompany me on less arduous treks, which gradually led up to the full-blown expeditions. Of course, for many years that was only when they were not in school. Eventually the lengths of the treks overlapped the school terms.”
Jim watched as the older of the two daughters, Hildegarde, crisply issued instructions to the men unloading the baggage from the car, apparently telling them to now start putting it onto a waiting wagon. From that wagon, the supplies would be packed onto the backs of the mules Artie was currently acquiring from a stable here in Denver.
The assignment was a very unusual one for the two Secret Service agents. No counterfeiters to chase down, no one posing a threat to the national government. Instead, they were to guide this professor of archeology in a search for a fabled “lost temple” high in the Rocky Mountains—a temple that the two agents may have inadvertently encountered several years ago.
The pursuit of three members of a counterfeiting gang had taken them deep into the mountains, into areas never officially explored. The long-ago legendary mountain men who lived and trapped in these areas had related tall tales of a city of stone buried deeply in the rocky cliffs, but those were passed off as mere campfire legends. However, one afternoon as the two agents attempted a shortcut that would allow them to get ahead of the fleeing criminals, they had spotted something quite strange in a deep canyon.
Far below them, against the canyon wall, was a formation that actually resembled a stone building of some type. Around the floor of the canyon were large piles of stone that had no shape at all. Without the time or means to descend and investigate, they had continued their quest of the counterfeiters, successfully capturing the trio and returning them to face justice. Although they had more than once considered looking for the canyon again, the opportunity had not arisen. They had, however, told Colonel James Richmond of the sighting during a casual conversation. At the time he was convinced they had seen rock formations.
Sometime later, within this last year, the colonel had attended a dinner party where he met Professor Roundtree and had mentioned the oddity his agents had spied. He had been surprised by the interest the professor displayed in the story, and even further astonished when Roundtree contacted him later for more information, asking to meet the agents in question. The next time West and Gordon were in Washington City, the meeting took place.
The professor’s daughters were not present at that meeting, or at a subsequent one when Roundtree opened discussions regarding an expedition. He was certain that what they had sighted was associated with the legend of the fabulous riches of “Cibola,” the famed Seven Cities of Gold sought by the Spanish explorer, Coronado. Artemus had pointed out that Cibola was reportedly located in New Mexico or even Kansas, not Colorado, but Roundtree waved that off.
“The mapping skills of the conquistadores were primitive at best. They really had no idea where they were, and it is my long-held theory that the priest, Friar Marcos de Niza, was much further north than the current boundaries of New Mexico Territory. I’ve done a great deal of study on Cibola, gentlemen, and I believe you may have seen its ruins.”
Both agents had protested. What they had seen may have been merely a rock formation. The canyon had been very deep and dim, shaded from the sun by the walls. The professor was unfazed and asked them to draw a map. When Artemus, in particular, demurred, stating his memory of the route they took was blurred, Roundtree, somewhat reluctantly, asked them to accompany him as guides. When again Jim stated they might not be able to find the site, the professor was unconvinced.
“Oh, I’m sure you can. James Richmond told me you keep detailed records of your work. I have no doubt that once you get into the area, it will look familiar.”
From there, the plans grew rapidly, almost too fast for the agents to keep up with. Roundtree even used the acquaintanceship his school’s president had with the President of the United States to obtain the services of the two agents. Grant was not entirely convinced, but saw no harm in allowing his agents to make the trek. West and Gordon had been “excused” from their regular duties to assist Professor Roundtree.
Not until they met the scholar in Denver did they become aware that his two daughters would be accompanying them. Roundtree had already had his assistant, Estes Burton, arrange for pack mules, based on Artie’s recommendation. Artemus had gone with Burton to check on those animals to make sure they would be available to be loaded tomorrow morning on schedule. Apparently, Burton had been with Roundtree for some time and had organized previous expeditions.
While admitting that the prospect of being among those who discovered the fabled “city of gold” was a thrilling prospect, Artemus had expressed reservations to Jim as they traveled west on the Wanderer. Yes, they had the records of that trek through the mountains but it had occurred almost half a dozen years prior, on one of their first jobs together for the department.
“What happens if we can’t find it?” he had wondered. “Of course, the expedition is being paid for by Roundtree, out of his own pocket, so it’s not as though government funds are being wasted, but…”
Jim had not had an answer to that. Roundtree was so persistent, so certain. How would he react if the agents were unable to retrace their steps? Professor Denis Roundtree was a world-renowned expert in archeology. Even Artemus had read one of his books about an Egyptian tomb the scholar had located. Neither liked to think they would be blamed for the failure. Nevertheless, the possibility was real that either they would not be able to find it, or if they did, the ruins would be simply piles of boulders.
Seeing Artemus emerge around the far corner of the building, Jim excused himself and strode toward him. Artie tipped his hat to the two young women as he walked by, and joined Jim a dozen feet beyond. “I take it Papa is determined to take the young ladies with us.”
Jim grimaced. “Can’t talk him out of it. He claims they are experienced. If they slow us up…”
“It’s his fault. At least the mules are lined up. I suggested Felipe Estèves and Burton hired him and his animals. Felipe is the best man I know with mules.” The agents were acquainted with Estèves from previous cases in the Denver area. “Burton apparently has the professor’s complete confidence. He is a pretty hardheaded man, besides. He ran a strong bargain with Felipe, but in the end, it was fair. I made sure of that.”
“Well, this whole thing should be interesting. Can’t wait.”
Artie chuckled at his partner’s wry expression and tone. “It’s going to be different, that’s definite. Presumably we won’t run into Loveless along the way.”
“Don’t count on it!”
“Mr. West, Mr. Gordon?”
Neither had noticed the approach of the elder Roundtree sister, Hildegarde. She was around twenty-four or twenty-five, Jim judged, and attractive, even though she wore gold-rimmed glasses perched on a nicely shaped nose. She reminded him a great deal of Dr. Abigail Pringle, except he was certain that Hildegarde needed her glasses. Like her sister, she had shiny dark hair done up neatly in a bun. Her garb was rather plain, more serviceable than fashionable.
“Miss Roundtree,” Artemus smiled. “Can we help you?”
“I wanted to give you the list of supplies we brought.” She held out a piece of paper. “You are more familiar with the landscape and climate of this area than Father or Estes Burton and perhaps you can assure that we have the proper items—and enough of them.”
Artie accepted the sheet. “I’ll be glad to look it over. Mr. Burton found horses for you, your sister, and your father. He seemed to think they’d be suitable.”
Her nose wrinkled briefly. “I’m sure. Gentlemen.”
Jim watched her rejoin her sister and the two of them then walked to where their father was talking to the stationmaster. “She doesn’t seem to approve of Burton.”
“Or else his taste in horseflesh. Well, James, what say we go find a cold beer and review this list?”
They started toward the exit from the rail yards, but were hailed again, this time by Miss Roundtree’s father. He invited them to dinner that evening at the hotel. “A chance for us to relax and get better acquainted,” he pointed out. The two agents could but agree. Except for the meetings in Washington—which had been very businesslike—they had not really talked to the professor, and certainly not to his daughters.
Nemini fidas, nisi cum quo prius multos modios salis absumpseris.
[Trust no one unless you have eaten much salt with him.]
—De Amicitia (19, 67), Cicero (Marcus Tullius “Tully” Cicero; 106-43 BC) Roman philosopher, statesman, and orator
Professor Roundtree and his two daughters were already seated when Jim and Artie entered the hotel dining room promptly at seven that evening. Roundtree stood up to greet them and point out the chairs opposite his two daughters at the rectangular table, while he occupied the chair at the “head.” Wine had already been ordered and their host filled their glasses from the bottle on the table. Artemus recognized the fine vintage described on the label.
“I suggest,” the professor pronounced, lifting his own glass, “we begin this evening with a toast. To a successful venture!”
They drank and as he lowered his glass, Jim spoke. “I hope you keep in mind, Professor, that Mr. Gordon and I, firstly, cannot guarantee we will be able to find the site again, and secondly, even if ruins do exist, they are probably not Cibola.”
“I know,” Roundtree beamed. “You pointed that out to me at our first meeting. Nonetheless, my research indicates that these ruins could indeed be the lost city of legend. They deserve to be discovered and explored, in any case.”
“You are probably right,” Artie concurred as the waiter stepped up to present menus. “But we have more important matters to deal with now… choosing our meals!”
The two young ladies laughed as they opened their menus. They were not, Jim decided, the type to sit back and allow their father to order for them. Both were garbed far more stylishly than they had been at the rail yard earlier, Hildegarde in soft blue and Adelaide in lavender. The gowns were not overly ornate, but well made and well fitting, probably handmade for them. Adelaide had softened her hairstyle by pulling out a few curls that rested on her forehead, but Hildegarde’s hair was still in the sleek chignon.
After the waiter returned to take their requests, Artemus smiled toward the sisters. “We looked over your supply list, and I have to say, you were thorough. In fact, you probably have enough foodstuffs to feed twice our number!”
The professor spoke up before either of his daughters could. “Oh, I must apologize. I suspect you have not been informed that, indeed, our number will be nearly doubled. Mr. Burton has hired four men to accompany us.”
The two agents looked at each other. “Four?” Jim echoed. “Why?” He had expected one or possibly two more, but four?
“We are going into dangerous country. I felt the added protection was needed for my daughters.”
Artie did not glance at the women, but at the corner of his eye, he saw them similarly exchange a glance. They surely had known about the extra men, but perhaps not their father’s reasoning. “The country is not that perilous,” he said. “No hostile Indians, if that is what you are thinking.”
Roundtree’s smile was patient. “Gentlemen, I have learned over the years to always be prepared. I have entered ‘safe’ areas previously only to encounter bands of thieves, even cannibals. I certainly trust you and Mr. West to do your best, but I will feel better, especially where my daughters are concerned, if our numbers were greater.”
“I understand,” Jim said mildly. “Do you mind if I ask where these extra men were found? Are they men you are acquainted with?”
“I have not met them yet. Mr. Burton is in charge of such things. He is an excellent judge of character. I trust him to bring in exactly the type of men I need.”
Again, Artie caught the professor’s daughters exchanging a surreptitious glance. He recalled their reaction regarding Burton selecting proper horses for them. Could well be the Misses Roundtree are not as confident of Mr. Burton as their father is. He could only wonder why Roundtree never mentioned the need for more men. Because he feared Jim and I would take it upon ourselves to hire them? That did not make a lot of sense. What difference would it make?
Their soups were served and the conversation switched to other subjects. Artemus asked Hildegarde and Adelaide where they attended school, and was not surprised they were students at the same university where their father taught. The unexpected aspect was that neither was studying archeology, their father’s specialty. The elder daughter said her major was animal husbandry, while Adelaide’s was literature. She hoped to become a schoolteacher she said.
Hearing this, Jim wondered if the girls were willing participants in their father’s expeditions. As the dinner progressed, the subject of travel came up and he saw nothing to indicate they had not enjoyed their travels with the professor. They had spent some time in Europe; because the agents had as well the topic was one they could easily chat about.
While they were awaiting the arrival of the dessert, Adelaide, whom Artemus noticed her sister addressed as Addie, looked at him. “Mr. Gordon, is it true that you are betrothed to the actress, Miss Lily Fortune?”
Artie smiled. “I am indeed that fortunate man.”
“She’s such a wonderful actress,” Hildegarde, or Hilde, put in. “And beautiful. We saw her twice on stage, once in Washington, and two years ago when we were in London.”
“I can only agree wholeheartedly,” Artie responded with a big grin.
When the desserts arrived, along with fresh coffee, the conversation turned to the subject of tomorrow’s schedule. The plan was to rise early, pack the mules, and with any luck, be on their way well before noon. The agents had estimated that, with the slowness of the laden mules, the trek to the area they remembered would consume most of a week, if not longer, providing the weather and other factors cooperated.
“You don’t think we can travel any faster than that?” Roundtree inquired, looking at Jim.
Jim shook his head. “I doubt it. Mules will be faster than burros, but they will still each be carrying a heavy load. We don’t want to wear them out before we get halfway there.”
“I suppose not. Well, the ruins have been there this long. I suppose another week won’t matter.”
Plerumque homines non videre possunt, quam quid fatigo magis valent.
[As a rule, men worry more about what they can't see than about what they can.]
—Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC), Roman general, statesman, writer, and orator
“Jim, what do you think about the professor bringing in four more men?”
Jim looked across at his partner, riding alongside him in the darkened streets. “Well… I guess it is his expedition. I wish he would have mentioned it before.”
“Yeah. I would have preferred to hire men we know, and can trust. That’s not saying Burton did not find good men. He did hire Felipe.”
“On your recommendation, and urging.”
“True. However, I didn’t notice any real reluctance. So far, Burton seems all right to me. Just have to wonder where the professor got the worry about being attacked. That is the only reason I can think of for him believing he needed more men. I almost told him that if the mules were not carrying the extra supplies, they could move faster.”
Jim chuckled. “Right. We are probably being worrywarts, Artie. Only…”
Artie sighed. “I know. Things aren’t always what they appear to be, right?”
Now Jim laughed aloud. “Right. Let’s get to the train, pal. Morning is going to come much too soon.”
In omnibus negotiis prius quam aggrediare, adhibenda est praeparatio diligens est.
[In all matters, before beginning, a diligent preparation should be made.]
—De Officiis (I, 21), Cicero (Marcus Tullius “Tully” Cicero; 106-43 BC) Roman philosopher, statesman, and orator
The golden sun was just edging over the western mountains when the two agents dismounted at the livery stable where the mules were boarded, and where the wagonload of supplies waited. They could see lanterns glowing through the dusty window and the cracks in the door. When they entered, they were bemused and amused to find Hildegarde and Adelaide Roundtree loading the packs onto the mules.
The two young women were wearing split riding skirts, Hilde’s of suede and Addie’s denim. Both had on strong, serviceable boots, and Jim noticed a pair of wide-brimmed hats resting on a nearby feedbox. When Artie asked about Felipe Estèves, Addie led him toward a door near the far side.
“Where’s your father this morning?” Jim asked Hilde. From an open crate, he started passing rashers of bacon to her, which she efficiently stowed in a canvas bag. He was wearing Levis and a blue flannel shirt, knowing, as the sisters did, that the trek into the mountains was a time for robust clothing; Artie was also in Levis, but a brown plaid shirt. Both had packed heavier jackets in their saddlebags.
“He and Burton are meeting with the new men.” She glanced at him. “I suggested that you and Mr. Gordon should be included, but he said that wasn’t necessary.”
“Does your father always hire extra crew in the location he’s investigating?”
“Not always. Only when he suspects difficulty might occur.” Hilde turned to face him. “For one thing, he thinks Indians may attack us for approaching a sacred site.”
Frowning, Jim shook his head. “In the first place, very few Indians live in this part of Colorado anymore. Secondly, I am acquainted with the native tribes and I never heard them speak of a ‘lost city’ or any kind of sacred site in this area. In fact, that’s one of the reasons Mr. Gordon and I are skeptical that what we saw was anything other than either a pile of boulders or some insignificant structure.”
Now Hilde smiled. “We have accompanied Father on a number of expeditions, as you undoubtedly know. More than one was launched in the face of skepticism, only to be quite successful. I have to admit I’m more dubious about this one than any other.”
“How old were you the first time you joined him on a trek?”
“I was twelve, Addie was eight. We went to look for some tombs outside of Luxor, Egypt. We went primarily during the summers those early years because we were in school, but a few times, Father took us during the term and we probably learned much more than we would in a classroom.”
“I don’t doubt that. Why is it neither you nor your sister chose his specialty?” He lifted the completed bundle to the back of the patient mule.
Hilde shook her head as she started to tighten the straps of the pack on the mule. “I really don't know. I have always loved animals, but with our constant travel, it was not… convenient or practical to have a pet. And… I want to have a stable home.”
“Does your father know that?” Jim stepped to help her with the straps.
“He knows about the animal part. He was disappointed when I did not major in archeology but he did not try to talk me out of it. The same with Addie and literature. As you will learn, one of the packs will contain several books that she’ll read on the trek.”
Jim laughed. “She and Artemus will get along fine. Actually, I like to read too, when we have quiet times.”
Jim turned to greet the stocky Mexican man who was striding ahead of Artie and Addie. “Hello, Felipe. It is good to see you! I’m glad you’re going to be with us.”
“¡Sí! This is very exciting, no?”
“Felipe, have you ever heard of the supposed City of Gold here in Colorado?”
“Oh, stories. Just stories. Legends. I never believed they were anything but legends.”
“As Father said, some legends turn out to be true,” Addie pointed out. “I hope this one does. He has invested so much of his time, energy… and money!”
“I guess the only way we’ll find out,” Artie nodded, “is going up there. We…”
He paused at the sound of voices outside the half open door. Professor Roundtree entered, followed by Burton and four other men. Jim glanced at his partner and knew Artie was sharing his thoughts. Three of the men were exactly as expected: obvious gun toughs. The fourth was quite a bit younger, certainly not thirty yet and possibly closer to twenty-five. He was a slender man with ash blond hair and in the dim light of the stable, his eyes appeared dark blue.
“Mr. Gordon, Mr. West, good morning. Looks like we have a beautiful day to get started! Estèves, these men will assist you in loading the supplies. Get to it.” Roundtree jerked his head to the additional men. Three scowled but moved forward to follow Felipe—behind the youngest man who stepped off eagerly.
“Good morning, Professor,” Artie greeted. Burton had lingered and was standing just behind the professor, making no move to help with the work.
Addie put a hand on her father’s arm and spoke quietly and a little anxiously. “Father, those men…”
He patted her hand. “They are exactly what we need for this type of expedition, dear. Isn’t that right, Mr. West?”
Jim hesitated. “It’s entirely up to you, sir. This is your expedition.” He felt, rather than saw, Artie’s glance his way. What else can I say? Roundtree is paying the money. He didn’t ask for my opinion before hiring them.
“Indeed it is,” Roundtree chuckled. “I’m very anxious to get on the way. So let’s all pitch in and get these mules ready to go.”
As often happens in such cases, little problems occurred, such as the strap of a mule’s pack breaking and needing to be replaced, as well as the fact that three of the newly hired men did not know anything about packing a mule. The two young women and the youngest of the quartet employed by Roundtree had to take time to show them, redoing what had been done, or not done.
In listening to conversation as they worked, Artemus learned that the young man’s name was Dan Sellers. He seemed to know quite a bit about animals, even mules, and he discussed the condition of the animals with their owner, Felipe Estèves. Artie could only wonder how he became mixed up with the other three.
Those three, he came to realize, were named Turk, Cates, and Ace. Turk Lorimer was the oldest of them, perhaps forty or more, with a little gray in his thick dark hair and equally thick mustache that shadowed his mouth and hid any smile or scowl the lips might be forming. The size of his jutting belly indicated a fondness of beer. Which he is not going to be getting any of the next couple of weeks!
Alban Cates was younger, in his mid to late thirties, with a pock-scarred face and thinning reddish hair. His body seemed malformed, with very long legs but a short torso. He walked with hunched shoulders and lowered head, causing him to have to “look up” with his eyes. He also seemed to possess a perpetual scowl and responded in monosyllables when spoken to.
Ace Wiley was around the same age as Cates, possibly a year or two younger. He was better looking than either Turk or Cates but, in Artie’s opinion, nowhere near handsome, although he apparently thought he was. His face was long and narrow, chin coming to a point and projecting out somewhat. The complexion was dark but Artie did not think he was of Indian or Latino descent. Of the three, his clothes were the finest, a blue shirt and yellow silk kerchief tied around his long, thin neck. He also wore boots that obviously had been handmade and designed, with silver spurs that jangled. His gun had a pearlescent handle and Artie could see the silver metal that gleamed from the decorated holster and belt.
Thus, the packing consumed more time than expected. Roundtree was annoyed, but he told everyone to go get a midday meal and meet back at the stable in an hour. Jim saw Ace, Turk, and Cates head for the nearest saloon, where no doubt a meal of cold cuts would be available—including alcohol. The professor and his daughters, along with Estes Burton, hailed a hack to return to the hotel restaurant, or some other finer place than existed in this neighborhood.
Jim and Artemus invited Felipe to join them, but he said he would rather go to his home to spend a little more time with his family before leaving. They entered a nearby café, and were just seating themselves when Dan Sellers entered. He did not appear to see them, going toward the counter, but Artie called out. Sellers hesitated then joined them.
“Thank you,” he said, taking a chair.
“Thought you might have gone with your friends,” Artie smiled.
“Well, they aren’t exactly my friends. I never met them before last night.”
“When you were hired?” Jim inquired.
“Yeah. Actually another man who was a friend of theirs had been hired, but he apparently got into trouble with the law and is now in the City Jail. I just happened to be nearby when Mr. Burton came to tell them the professor wanted to see them first thing in the morning. He was pretty annoyed when he found out what happened to the fourth man. I was sitting nearby, listening, and I offered my services. Luckily, I was accepted. I guess they were pretty desperate by that time.” Sellers grinned briefly.
“Work hard to find?”
Sellers glanced at Artie. “Yeah, especially when I don't know how to do anything!” His expression was wry.
The waitress’s arrival to take their orders halted conversation for a few minutes. When she departed, Jim asked, “What are you doing here in Denver, if I’m not being too nosy?”
“No, it’s all right. I’m trying to earn money to get myself home to Pennsylvania. That’s why this job is a godsend—even if I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“Looked to me you know your way around mules.”
“Well, I grew up on a farm in the first place, outside of Harrisburg. I went to college to study to be a veterinarian.”
“What happened?” Artie asked. He thought this young man wanted to talk.
“Well, my father didn’t want me to go to college in the first place. He expected me and my two older brothers to be happy to inherit the farm. I knew a long time ago I didn’t want to be a farmer. Dad’s farm is decent size, but divided between three of us, the parcels aren’t going to be very large. Besides which, I just don’t feel cut out to be a farmer. I always preferred to work with the animals rather than plowing fields. When I decided to go to school, Dad refused to help me. Therefore, it took me longer than four years to graduate, because I had to work to pay for it. But I did graduate.”
“Good for you,” Jim commented, remembering his own interrupted university time. “You didn’t set up practice at home?”
“No. By then Mom was gone and Dad and I just were not getting along. I figured to come west and get started here. However, I didn’t have any equipment and no money to buy anything. I also haven’t found another vet willing to take me in, either. So… well, I wrote Dad and said I was coming home. I didn’t know what to expect but he wrote back saying I was welcome, but times had been hard because of a drought and he didn’t have any money to send me.”
“I’m thinking Professor Roundtree’s pay will help quite a bit,” Artie smiled.
“It will! It ought to get me home at least. Dad also said that the local long-time veterinarian is planning to retire in a couple of years, and he’s willing to take me on, if I get there in a reasonable time.”
The meals were served and the three continued to converse, learning more about Dan’s family and plans. Both liked the young man and were glad to realize he was not the type of men that usually hung out with men like Turk, Cates, and Ace. As their desserts were served, it seemed Dan wanted to talk about something else.
“I surely was surprised to realize the professor’s daughters will be coming along. Miss Hilde said they always go on exploring trips with their father.”
“That’s what we were told,” Artie nodded, pouring cream over his warm apple cobbler. “Very unusual young ladies. They seem very capable. Did you know,” he added idly, “that Miss Hildegard studied animal husbandry?”
The young man’s blue eyes widened. “Is that right?” He looked toward the front window for a long moment, almost as if expecting to see the young woman materialize there. “That’s amazing!”
Finishing the meal, the three returned to the stable. Felipe, with the help of his twelve-year-old son Armando, had the mules in the street, lined up, tethered to each other, and ready to go. He was in the midst of saddling the horses to be used by the members of the expedition. Dan pitched in to assist, as did the two agents, and by the time the professor, his daughters and assistant, as well as the three new employees, returned, it was simply a matter of mounting up.
Jim noticed that Estes Burton moved his bay gelding to the head of the line, in front of the professor and his daughters. He and Artemus rode up to position themselves in front of Burton. Artie glanced around and the foreman merely nodded.
At least it appears that is not going to be a problem. Artie thought about the papers in his saddlebag. He had drawn a rough map of the route that he and Jim believed they followed during that chase. It was quite a while ago.
They had done their best to impress upon Professor Roundtree how high the chances of failure were. The academician had been unperturbed. His own research had convinced him that at least one of the Seven Cities of Cibola had a good chance of being located in this area. The sighting the agents had experienced was the only one that had been reported. He simply knew this was part of the golden city of legend.
Felipe hugged and kissed his son, admonishing him to be a good boy and take care of his mother and sisters. He then mounted his sturdy pinto, taking up the rope that was attached to the lead mule. Jim waved a hand, and touched his heels to the flanks of his shiny black horse. The expedition was off.
For good or ill, Artie mused. Like his partner, he had this sense of something amiss, and like Jim, he did not know what it was. Although the three toughs were not the type of men the agents might have preferred, they had to remember that Roundtree had not done much work in this part of the country. The more exotic locales in the Middle East and South America were his expertise. Certainly, he had heard stories of the “wild Indians” here in the west and wanted to be sure his daughters were protected.
I can’t fault him for that. Nonetheless, he could have consulted with us before made this move. I just have a sense that three of the four men are going to be more trouble than the professor anticipates.
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 05/10/2014 : 12:02:22
| Chapter 2
Men may change their climate, but they cannot change their nature. A man that goes out a fool cannot ride or sail himself into common sense.
—Joseph Addison (1672-1719), English essayist, poet, and statesman
That first day—or half day—of travel passed by without incident. They left Denver, the pace slow primarily due to the laden mules, and traveled toward the peaks that towered over the area. This was the same route West and Gordon had taken when tracking the criminals they wanted to capture years before. They were aware some things could have changed, so periodically one of them rode ahead a few hundred yards to check the terrain and look for something familiar—which was usually not the case.
Already they saw more signs of habitation in this area than had been there before: new side roads, cattle grazing in fields, a distant ranch, or farm home. Several travelers passed going in the opposite direction, looking at the assembly of men, women, and mules with much curiosity. Only one ventured to ask. Artie just told the man it was a “camping trip,” which left the fellow staring with his mouth open at the line up of heavily laden pack animals.
Jim had an opportunity to ask Hildegarde regarding the rather fine horses she and her sister were riding. “They don’t look like such bad choices on Burton’s part,” he commented.
Hilde laughed. “That’s because Addie and I asked Mr. Estèves to help us exchange them. Mr. Burton does this all the time. In Egypt, when we rode camels, he chose the oldest, most docile mounts for us—even though both Addie and I are excellent riders of horses, mules, camels, elephants… whatever! Burton considers himself our guardian angel.”
By evening, they came upon a relatively level spot near a rushing stream, and although light remained, both Jim and Artemus felt it was a good place to stop for the night. They could see by Professor Roundtree’s expression that he did not exactly agree; he wanted to push ahead as long as any daylight remained. Nonetheless, he did not object.
They got their first real glimpse at how experienced and efficient the Roundtree daughters were in situations like this. They knew which mule carried what they needed, and were soon erecting their tent. Another was put up for the professor. The remainder of the party was expected to sleep in the open in their blankets.
Quite a bit of suitable firewood was found near the site and a fire was soon burning brightly. Hilde and Addie, having constructed their quarters, set about preparing the meal, and Artie quickly stepped forward to assist. He had not been aware that the young ladies would draw this duty. Addie told him, when he asked, that they had from the time they were quite young. Their father always trusted them more than he did any natives in the foreign lands where they had worked previously.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” Dan Sellers said, as he helped Jim and Felipe to loosen the packs from the mules. “The professor should have hired a camp cook.”
“I wish I would have thought to ask,” Jim admitted. “I’m afraid it didn’t occur to me. I know Felipe can cook. Perhaps he can help along the way. I know Mr. Gordon will. He enjoys cooking. However, I doubt he would want to prepare every meal on this trek.”
“Looks like Turk, Ace, and Cates don’t intend to lend a hand.”
“I noticed.” The three were sitting on a fallen log at the edge of the clearing, smoking cigarettes. “I may speak to Professor Roundtree. It’s not only more fair, but matters will move more smoothly and rapidly if everyone pitches in.” Even Burton and Roundtree were helping, carrying items from the packs to the two tents.
“I got the idea that the professor is in a hurry too.”
Jim smiled. “Yeah. He should know, however, that in unknown territory it is best to take advantage of good stopping sites. We don't know what’s ahead, and we might not find as good a place as this.”
“Do you think there is really a city of gold up there?”
Jim shook his head. “I personally doubt it very much. My memory of what Artie and I saw that day has faded, but I know we speculated that it looked like adobe or stone buildings at the bottom of the canyon. We also wondered if it could be the debris from a large avalanche. We did not have time to investigate, and our route back to Denver after capturing the men we were chasing was entirely different.”
“You never came back to check?”
“Nope. As you will see, it’s a long, hard trek up there. Or it was, and I doubt if things have changed much. Difficult for two men on horseback, and it’s going to be worse for this number, plus the pack mules.”
Dan grinned as he swung the last of the packs to the side. “I’m not sure I would have been able to resist!”
“You know what? I don't think it ever occurred to us that it might be a lost city, filled with treasure. We just mentioned the sighting to our superior as a way of describing the length our route, and why it consumed almost a week to catch up with the men we were after. For whatever reason, it remained in the colonel’s mind and he eventually mentioned it casually to Professor Roundtree. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.”
“Well, I sure hope there is some kind treasure to be found. The professor said we would get one tenth of a percent of whatever it is worth. If it is a million bucks of jewels, that would be ten thousand bucks. I’d be very happy with that!”
“I think most would,” Jim replied. He could not help but cast a glance at the trio lounging on the log. Would they?
Even as he looked their way, Ace Wiley got to his feet, tossing his cigarette aside, and ambled toward where Jim and Dan Sellers were working. “So you’re West,” he drawled.
Jim worked on the buckle of another pack. “That’s my name.”
“Heard a lot about you.” Wiley had a distinct southern accent, probably Deep South, Jim judged, maybe Mississippi. “Heard you were pretty good with your gun. How about a contest?”
Jim did not look at the man. “I don’t play games with my weapons.”
“That right? Or are you worried you might be showed up?”
Jim now threw Ace Wiley a scathing glance, just as Artie called out “Come and get it.”
“He’s looking for trouble,” Dan Sellers said in a low tone as he walked alongside Jim toward the camp.
“I’m not. But he’ll get it if he pushes too far.” Jim did not look back but he was certain that Ace had remained rooted for long seconds before he too headed in. That’s all we need, a troublemaker. Maybe I can talk to Burton and put a lid on it before it gets out of hand.
Difficulté monte derrière et galope avec lui.
[Trouble rides behind and gallops with him.]
—Epitre (V, 44), Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux (1636-1711), French poet, critic, and satirist
Roundtree insisted that all be in their blankets at full dark, stating that they would also be up at first light. He did not lie. He was calling others awake just as the sun peeped over the eastern hills; all except his daughters and West and Gordon. Those four were already starting breakfast and dismantling the girls’ tent when the professor stepped out of his quarters. Felipe Estèves awakened promptly and began to take care of the stock, tethered to a rope tied between trees off to the side of the camp.
Burton and Sellers roused quickly and immediately set to work helping Jim take down the professor’s tent and repacking the mules’ burdens. However, Cates, Wiley, and Lorimer just rolled over and ignored the summons. Roundtree did not appear to notice immediately, so Jim went over to where the three had their blankets thrown.
“Hey, get up, boys! You’re going to miss breakfast.”
“Go to hell,” Ace muttered.
Jim nudged that particular pile of blankets with his boot toe. “You’re not being paid to sleep.”
Ace rolled over then, throwing his blanket back, his hand coming up with his pistol in it. Or at least part way with his pistol, because James West’s hand was already filled with his weapon.
“Boys,” Jim said quietly, “you don’t want to be fired on the first day of work, do you? You’ll miss some great coffee as well.” Holstering his gun, he turned and started walking toward the campfire. Hearing a sound, he spun…
Just in time to throw up his arm to ward off the fist that Ace was swinging toward the back of his head. Jim used his other hand to drive a hard fist into Wiley’s midriff, sending him staggering back to sit hard on his blankets again, bent over, gasping for breath. After a moment, however, he was ready to climb to his feet.
Roundtree strode over as soon as he saw the altercation begin. “That’s enough!” he snapped, glaring at Ace Wiley. “Don’t forget what I told you! Now there is work to be done. All of you are expected to assist!” With that, he spun and went back to the campfire.
Although Artie did not hear everything that had been said, he saw the scene, and he was ready if the other two joined the fray. However, nothing happened after the professor’s admonition. Scowling, the three men got to their feet and rolled up their blankets. They then went off into the woods for a short while before coming back to claim a tin cup filled with steaming brew. All three glared at Jim, who pointedly ignored them as he ate his breakfast of fried potatoes and eggs, along with bacon.
“Enjoy the eggs, folks,” Artie called as he served them out on tin plates. “We have enough for three or four days and then it’ll just be potatoes and bacon for breakfast. And coffee, of course. Must have coffee, right, James?”
“Absolutely, Artemus,” Jim grinned, holding up his cup. “The nectar of life.”
“I will say,” Professor Roundtree put in, “that this is as fine a coffee as I’ve had even from a first class restaurant.”
“That’s because I made it,” Artie smirked, winking at nearby Addie. He had spent some time explaining his technique to her as he prepared this morning’s coffee.
Wiley, Lorimer, and Cates filled their plates and went to sit together on the fallen log. Ace spent the time either glaring at Jim, or smirking and laughing aloud after saying something in a low voice to his companions. Artie noticed that Cates did not appear to particularly enjoy whatever his friend was saying—and Artie was sure the words were derogatory towards Jim—possibly because Cates was aware that James West could be a formidable opponent. He did not want to tangle with the agent.
“West,” Burton spoke up, “how many miles do you think we’ll make today?”
Jim shook his head. “That’s impossible to say at this point. On horseback, Mr. Gordon and I traversed the entire distance in about two and a half days. I suspect for this party twice, or even thrice, that length of time will be needed to reach the canyon. Perhaps after the end of the day, when we see just how well we do, I could give you a better answer.”
Roundtree gazed toward the snow-capped rocky peaks visible above them to the west. “So near yet so far.”
“I’m afraid so, sir,” Jim smiled. “We can’t be sure we will not encounter rain. We may even run into some leftover snow at higher altitudes.”
“Snow!” Hilde exclaimed, eyes widening behind her spectacles. “It’s the middle of June!”
“These are the Rockies,” Artie told her. “Some of the highest peaks are never without snow. In areas that are protected from the sun, the snow is slow to melt even in the summer.”
“Depending on the amount of the remaining snow,” Jim put in, “detours may be required.”
“I reckon he’s stretching it out to build up his pay,” Ace grumbled loud enough for all to hear.
“That’s not likely,” the professor replied with some sharpness in his tone. “Mr. Gordon and Mr. West are not being paid by me.”
That shut Ace down for the moment. All mounted up to continue the climb up the mountain once the meal was over and the packing finished. Some dark clouds appeared on the horizon, but did not come their way, for which all the members of the party were pleased.
“We’re making good time,” Artie commented as they led the party through some rock formations. “Better than I thought we would.”
“So far,” Jim nodded.
“I know,” Artie sighed, “the worst is yet to come.” He remembered too well the ruggedness of the terrain above them. That had been just the two of them. Maneuvering with this party was going to be far more arduous. “Not only the landscape, but I get the feeling that Cates, Wiley, and Lorimer are going to give us trouble.”
“Kind of got that feeling myself this morning. I’m not sure if the professor can control them. I plan to speak to Burton when the opportunity arises. Whether he can do anything….”
Artie took a quick look back at the trailing party. “I know what you mean. We might have to do some controlling ourselves.”
Suspicion is not less an enemy to virtue than to happiness; he that is already corrupt is naturally suspicious, and he that becomes suspicious will quickly become corrupt.
—Samuel Johnson (aka Dr. Johnson; 1709-1784), British author and lexicographer
The subsequent two days were relatively quiet. The trio of toughs, led by Ace Wiley, attempted to rile Jim into a fight, but he ignored them—which, as he was aware, undoubtedly caused them to be more determined to cause trouble. He had a few words with Burton, who was unsure he could do anything, but said he would speak to the professor. Jim did notice the professor talking to the three during a midday stop, and hoped that Roundtree was telling them to behave themselves.
The mystery remained as to why the professor hired such men. If the fourth had not gotten into trouble the day before departure, one more of the same ilk would have been on the trek. As it was, Dan Sellers was a completely different story. He was cheerful, eager to help, and more than willing to assist Miss Hildegarde Roundtree at any time. Jim thought she appreciated the help very much.
Felipe Estèves also noticed the potential problems. He spoke quietly to Artie on the morning of the second day as they saddled the horses. “Why did el profesor hire such men?”
“Apparently he feared attack by Indians or renegades or some such. We assured him from the very beginning that that would not be the case. He didn’t tell us he was hiring extra men until after the fact.”
Felipe shook his head. “I am afraid they cause very much trouble before it is all over. Perhaps if a treasure is found, they will try to take it.”
“That occurred to me,” Artie nodded. “We’ll just have to keep a close eye on them.”
At the noontime pause on the third day, the only site available was a rocky area with no trees and only a few scrubby bushes. Jim set out to find some firewood further off, and Dan Sellers joined him. A stand of pines was about five hundred yards away where they picked up some dry branches and cut down a couple of the smaller trees. A few small patches of snow remained in deeply shaded areas.
“The higher we go, the more difficult it’s going to be to find trees,” Jim stated. “We can tie up some of this along with the packs.” He had brought along a large piece of tarpaulin, which he spread out and they piled the wood on the middle of it. The tarp was then folded over and secured with pieces of rawhide, so that it could be pulled along without losing its cargo.
Dan took the first turn to pull it, but after a few feet, he paused. “Mr. West, I think there’s something I need to tell you.”
“What’s that?” Jim gazed at the younger man’s concerned expression.
“I’ve been pondering over this, and it makes no sense to me. Perhaps you’ll figure it out.”
“Go ahead,” Jim urged, puzzled.
“The morning we left, the professor had us meet him in a restaurant down the way from the stable. I didn’t think much of it at first, figured he wanted to get to know us. While we were eating breakfast, he told us all that on the trek up the mountain, we were to obey you and Mr. Gordon. However, once we reach the ‘lost city,’ we listen only to him. He really stressed the instructions.”
Jim frowned. “That is a little odd. So you are to take orders only from the professor in the canyon?”
“Him and Mr. Burton. I didn’t have the nerve at the time to ask why.”
“I understand. Thanks for telling me. Please don’t mention it to the professor’s daughters.”
“No, of course not. In fact, the professor said not to mention these orders to anyone else. I don't know if he meant his daughters. They may already know.” Sellers’ expression became unhappy with the idea that either daughter, perhaps especially the elder, might be in on some sort of plot.
“That’s possible. Nonetheless, I think we should keep quiet about it. I’ll pass it on to my partner to see if he has any ideas.”
Jim did that a while after they broke camp and were riding toward the summit again. He caught Artie’s eye and urged Blackjack to move at a slightly faster pace. Without questioning, Artie did the same with his chestnut mare, and when they had put enough distance between themselves and the following parties, Jim relayed Sellers’ information. While doing so, he pointed off into the distance a couple of times. Artie cooperated by nodding and making gestures of his own.
“That is strange,” he concurred, twisting in the saddle to look behind, as though checking landmarks. “I can see the professor giving the orders regarding any exploration and excavation at the site. I wouldn’t dream of doing that without his instruction. But all orders?”
“That’s the impression Dan got. Roundtree was very firm about it, and apparently Burton made a point of it too.”
“I can’t imagine what he’s thinking. Maybe we’ll find out sooner than expected. See that cliff face over there?” They had rounded some boulders so that the view widened to encompass some high peaks.
“Yeah. I remember it too.” The weathered rocks had a design that almost resembled a mustached countenance. “As I recall, we saw it a day or so before we found the canyon.”
“I have a feeling we had best not mention it to the professor. He may insist on an all-night march!”
The three hirelings had been quiet; Jim assumed that the professor had indeed warned them. He could not help but wonder what would happen when they reached the canyon, when his own instructions were to be disregarded. That evening, after the supper was finished, Jim went to check on his black horse; Blackjack had picked up a stone in a shoe earlier that day. Felipe had taken care of it but Jim wanted to be sure all was well.
He did not realize that Hilde Roundtree followed him to the remuda until she spoke his name quietly as he picked up the front hoof of the horse. “Hello, Miss Roundtree. Something the matter?”
“How is your horse?”
“I think we got the stone out before it did much damage. He doesn’t seem to be sore now.” He dropped the hoof and turned to face her.
She took a deep breath and let it out. “Mr. West, I’m worried about my father.”
“Is he not well?”
“Oh, not anything like that. He has always been a very healthy, active man. But… I overheard him talking to Burton. I… I didn’t like what I heard.”
Jim hesitated a long moment as she stared off into the darkening skies, then realized she needed prompting. Or wanted it. “What were they talking about?”
“Father told Burton that he would do anything to keep the government from getting its hands on the treasure.”
Jim’s brows rose. “What makes him think the government would be after it?”
“I don't know. The only thing I can think of is because you and Mr. Gordon are here. I know Father originally asked for a map to be drawn.”
“Yes. Nevertheless, we did not feel we could draw one that would be sufficient. As you no doubt have noticed, there are no road signs or many other landmarks.” Beyond that we saw a couple days ago.
“I just don't know, Mr. West, and it worries me that he would feel that way. When he discovered relics in other countries, government officials were often present and indeed, they confiscated certain items. Father always said it was their right. He had drawings and photographs made. Those relics were primarily household items, like pots and beads. I know he thinks he is going to find an incredible treasure of jewels and gold here.”
“I honestly doubt it, Hilde.”
“Well, so do I! Addie and I tried to talk him out of this trip. He became obsessed about it. I believe he realizes his career is approaching the end. Although he is healthy now, he is nearly sixty. He wants this one big… consummation to his career.”
“As do many men. Try not to worry about it too much. I think Mr. Gordon and I can reassure him, when and if the time comes. We have no instructions to do anything other than to guide your father to the site.” Jim came close to repeating Dan’s tale, but opted against it, for the same reason as he gave Dan before. No use to worry the daughters any further, especially now that Hilde was fretting about what she overheard.
“One more thing, Mr. West,” Hilde said, putting her hand on his arm. “Please don’t say anything to Addie. She worships Father, and to even consider such a thing would break her heart.”
“You have my word,” Jim replied.
Professor Roundtree saw them emerge from the remuda and frowned. The frown deepened as Hilde went to sit on a rock alongside Dan Sellers. Addie was talking to Artemus as they stowed away the utensils used for the evening meal. Jim was about to go over to them when Professor Roundtree called his name and walked toward him.
“Mr. West, what do you think now? How much longer?”
“I think we’ll be able to give you a better answer tomorrow, sir. Artemus and I have seen a couple of landmarks that we think we recognize, but we are not one hundred percent certain. It’s been a long time since we were in this part of the country.”
“I understand. But do you think, two or three days?”
“I believe that’s a good estimate.”
Roundtree smiled broadly. “Excellent. Then the real work begins. Oh, I wish to ask you a favor, Mr. West.”
“Please keep your eye on my elder daughter. I really do not trust that young man, Sellers. I would never have hired him if we had not been strapped for time.”
Jim kept a straight face. “I’ll do my best.” He wanted to tell the professor that he had a lot more to worry about than his daughter’s relationship with what appeared to be a perfectly respectable young man. He was cognizant, however, that Roundtree would not listen to any warnings about the three other men at this time.
He wanted to inform Artie about this latest development, but the opportunity did not arise for the remainder of that evening. Someone was always nearby, and he could not come up with a reason to call his partner aside.
So it was the following morning as the party set out when, as before, they were able to draw a little ahead, Jim repeated Hilde’s words. “By the way, she asked that we not mention this to Addie.”
Artie smiled slightly and shook his head. “Funny, because Addie mentioned something similar to me this morning when we were preparing breakfast. She said her father seemed not to be able to talk about anything but the treasure, and how wealthy he was going to be. The professor told her that once this expedition ended, they would all go to Europe and live like royalty. When she tried to dampen his enthusiasm with reality, he grew angry, saying that he was taking steps to ensure that the government did not confiscate the treasure.”
“It seems the daughters know their father well. Artie, why does he think we’re here to confiscate anything he finds?”
“I have no idea. I doubt that Colonel Richmond said anything to him about such a thing. Remember when he asked if we could just draw a map instead of guiding him?”
“I was thinking about that earlier. Perhaps our reluctance to do so heightened his suspicions.”
“We can only hope that once we get into the canyon—provided the treasure exists—we can allay his fears.”
“I have to think the reason he hired Cates, Wiley, and Lorimer was to ensure that we would not grab his treasure.”
“Yeah. It’s no fun thinking about having to deal with them.”
“I agree. I… Artie, look there!” Jim pointed toward a tall tree on a nearby rise, almost the only vegetation on that spot.
“The lightning tree!”
The tree had been hit by a bolt of lightning some time in the distant past, splitting it almost down the middle, creating two trees, so to speak. Some of the wood was dead, but a majority had survived the strike.
“That’s astonishing!” Professor Roundtree exclaimed, riding up alongside them. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“It is astonishing,” Artie agreed, “and I doubt you’ll find another example in the Rockies. At least not close by, which makes it doubly important. Jim and I saw this tree six years ago.”
Roundtree’s eyes widened. “How close are we!”
“I’d say we’ll hit the canyon tomorrow,” Jim replied. He knew what was coming next.
“We can ride all night…!”
Artie shook his head firmly. “No, professor, I’m sorry. The miles ahead of us are the roughest of all. Much too dangerous to traverse in the darkness.”
They could read Roundtree’s mind. He wanted to protest, to say that he was in charge of this expedition, to command them to lead on through the night. However, no doubt he had also faced similar situations at other locations, thus he knew they were probably telling the truth.
“We can get an extra early start in the morning, Professor,” Jim assured him. “If everything is as we remember, we’ll reach the canyon by sometime tomorrow afternoon. Remember, we could run into problems of various kinds, including downed trees or new gullies.”
“Of course, once we arrive, getting down to the floor is another story, as we’ve told you,” Artie added. “We did not see the mouth of the canyon, and the walls are a sheer five or six hundred foot drop.”
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 05/10/2014 : 12:03:12
| Chapter 3
Oft expectation fails, and most oft there
Where most it promises; and oft it hits
Where hope is coldest and despair most fits.
—All's Well That Ends Well (Helena at II, i), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist and poet
The professor was up before dawn, and Artie suspected he had slept little. Within minutes everyone else was roused, even Cates, Lorimer, and Wiley, in their case primarily because of the din the archeologist raised, yelling that they needed to eat and get packed. Their destination was just around the corner!
Not exactly around the corner, Jim reflected. He remembered how difficult the “short cut” they had chosen became. It could be worse now, and might not even exist. They had traveled along the rim of the canyon, and by now, some of that could have collapsed. In certain areas, they had felt it necessary to detour away from the rim because it did not look safe, or found their route blocked by stones or heavy, prickly brush.
“Are we really that close?” Addie asked Artie as they packed away the breakfast gear.
“I think so. As best as I remember, in any case. We could be forgetting something. I hope not, because I think your father might suffer apoplexy if a further delay occurs.”
The professor was everywhere in camp, urging the party members to haste and efficiency. He wanted to mount up and be on the way. Artie was not sure haste and efficiency could work simultaneously. Felipe Estèves, as was his habit, was being very careful with the mule packs. No mishaps had occurred thus far, which was probably due to Felipe’s caution and attention to detail. That was one reason why he had an excellent reputation as a mule handler. Nonetheless, Roundtree was prodding him to hurry, which Felipe wisely ignored.
“I hope he finds something,” Addie sighed. “Even if it’s just some small item. He’s going to be so disappointed if not.”
“I just don't know what is going to be found, Addie. Quite possibly your father is completely correct, and the site is a ‘lost city,” whether it is Cibola or not. It obviously has been abandoned for a long, long time, perhaps a couple of centuries. We have to find a way into the canyon. I don’t remember seeing anything that resembled an opening. It may be a depression without an opening!”
Finally—and not nearly soon enough as far as Professor Roundtree was concerned—the party was mounted up and ready to head for the canyon. The next problem was keeping the pace at a safe level. The professor urged speed, but both agents, as well as Roundtree’s daughters, urged prudence. Again, the two agent guides took turns riding ahead to check the terrain. The ground was rockier than any they have traversed thus far on the ascent, plus it was necessary to weave among large boulders and masses of scrub brush, as well as to watch for narrow crevices and shallow depressions that could injure a horse or mule.
The temperatures had grown progressively lower as they ascended to the higher altitudes, necessitating wearing the heavier coats and gloves all had brought along. Therefore, the massive mound of snow that the shade of a large boulder had prevented the sun from melting was not entirely unexpected. Consisting primarily of rock hard ice, it could not be ridden over or broken up easily. The party had to hold up while Jim rode on ahead to find a route around it. In the meanwhile, the professor paced restlessly, staring at the “iceberg” as though he could melt it with his anger.
Jim returned after close to an hour and soberly reported that the only open route for them would likely consume two or three hours, as opposed to the half hour or so that would have been required had the snow blockade not been encountered. Roundtree fumed, but appeared to realize they could not do otherwise.
As it happened, Hilde had to speak to her father to demand they pause for a quick midday meal, and to allow the animals to rest during the detour. When Jim had signaled for a halt, Professor Roundtree had urged his horse forward to demand the trek continue. At that time, Hilde hurried her pony up to join them and sided with Jim and Artemus.
“Father, the canyon and whatever we are going to find there are not going to go anywhere. If the horses and mules are injured in any manner, we may have difficulty getting back down the mountain.” She did not mention the treasure he hoped the mules would be carrying on the return trip, but it was implicit in her words.
Roundtree appeared to take a deep breath to calm himself. “Yes, of course. Nonetheless, let us not linger. I would like to reach the canyon before full dark.”
Look, and you will find it—what is unsought will go undetected.
—Sophocles (c. 496-406 BC), Greek tragic poet
The sun had lowered to just above the highest peak to the west when Jim stood in his stirrups and waved back to the party. “The rim is just ahead! Felipe, hold the mules!”
While the wrangler halted his animals, everyone else rushed ahead. Jim quickly positioned himself a distance from the edge to be able to stop anyone who might get too close. Professor Roundtree dismounted a few feet back, taking the time to pull a telescope from his saddlebag, and hurried forward to where Jim was standing.
“It’s in the shadow right now, sir,” Jim said, “but you can see what we thought might be buildings.” He pointed to the darkened western end of the canyon.
Roundtree lifted the spyglass to his eye. “It’s too dark…” he murmured. “ It might be a pile of rocks…”
Those words surprised Artie, standing nearby. He had expected the professor to see what he wanted to see—a manmade building. As Jim stated, the high walls of the canyon put that end deeply in shadow.
“Where is the canyon entrance?” Roundtree asked.
Jim shook his head. “We never found it, but it is likely down that way.” He gestured toward the east. “Sir, why don’t you and the others set up camp here? I’ll take a ride down that way while we still have a little light and see what I can find. Then we can get an early start in the morning.”
Before Roundtree could respond, Estes Burton stepped up. “That’s a good idea, Professor. I’ll ride with Mr. West.”
The professor was reluctant, but even in his eagerness he saw the wisdom in the plan. As they rode off along the rim, Jim realized this was the first time he had been alone with Burton throughout the entire trek. “How long have you worked with the professor?” he asked after they were well away from the others.
“Close to a dozen years now. I was hired on to help with a trek down in Brazil, when the man in charge became ill. He eventually passed away. I was the only one with any real experience so the professor called on me. I’ve been on every expedition since then.”
“Then you know the family pretty well.”
“Yeah. The girls are almost like sisters to me. Or nieces. I know I fuss over them too much, but sometimes Professor Roundtree gets so involved in his work he kind of forgets to look after them, especially when they were younger.” He flashed a grin. “I know they get annoyed with me now but I can’t help it.”
“They seem like fine young women.”
“Oh, they are! I like to think I had a hand in that.” Burton shot a glance at the man riding beside him. “I don’t suppose you have a romantic interest in either of them.”
“None at all. Besides, I think Dan Sellers has a foot in the door there where Hilde is concerned.”
“Yeah. The professor isn’t happy about that. I’ve talked to Sellers and I think he’s a fine fellow.”
“He told me he’s going back east to his family and plans to be a veterinarian there.”
“And that would be fine with Hilde. She loves animals. Always has.”
“I suppose they have to work it out themselves.”
“Yeah.” Burton fell silent. Both men peered over the edge of the canyon, seeking that elusive entrance.
One had to exist, Jim mused, especially if the structure at the western end was manmade. Of course, they could have let themselves down over the side with ropes. That seems unlikely.
They had just ridden around a curved portion of the rim when Burton pointed. “Look there!”
Jim saw it too. A massive pile of rocks that blocked what had apparently been the open end of the canyon. From a distance, it had appeared as part of the canyon wall. Up closer, it was only about half the height of the canyon. Nonetheless, it barricaded the entrance effectively.
They dismounted and walked over to a point directly overlooking the barrier. “Must have been an avalanche,” Burton murmured.
“I wonder.” Jim leaned over and studied the scene. “I’m thinking it was constructed on purpose.”
“You might be right. Which could mean that Professor Roundtree’s theory could be correct.”
“Did you have doubts?”
“Yeah, I did. He has been fixated on these Seven Cities of Cibola for a long, long while, ever since a time in Peru when he talked to an old fellow who swore his ancestors had been part of Coronado’s expedition. The legend of the treasure was passed down in his family. The professor believed him. We made a couple of short expeditions into New Mexico and Arizona, which caused him to be more certain the lost city—or cities—was further north, rather than to just realize they might be simply a legend.”
“Whatever the blockage means, it’s going to cause difficulty getting into the canyon. No way we can get the horses or the mules over that pile of rocks. It will be a struggle for humans.”
“I agree. Perhaps we can carry a couple of days’ supplies down to the floor. That would at least give us time to investigate and see if it is worth further effort.”
“Let’s hope the professor sees it that way.”
They walked back to their horses and mounted up. As they started toward the camp, Burton spoke. “West, I should tell you… when you and Gordon are in the valley, watch yourselves.”
“Any particular reason?”
“I owe too much to Professor Roundtree to say any more. But just watch yourselves.”
As Burton predicted, the professor scoffed at the idea that they could not take the horses and mules into the canyon, despite their description of how the entrance was stopped up. However, after viewing the situation the following morning, even he had to concur with West and Burton. Possibly the rocks could be moved, but it would be laborious and take much time; they had not brought dynamite on the trek. Although both agents had small amounts of explosive putty with them, it would not be nearly strong enough to make a dent.
Roundtree wanted to descend into the canyon immediately, nonetheless, and finally agreed that Burton would go with him while the others unloaded the mules. The decision was made that Felipe Estèves would remain with the horses and mules in a makeshift corral created with ropes. Mountain lions or wolves had not bothered them thus far on the trek, but now that the animals would be stationary for a long period, that could be a problem. Others could take turns spending time with the animals and supplies to relieve Felipe if the stay turned out to be a long one.
Not unexpectedly, Cates, Turk, and Ace balked at carrying supplies, but in this case, the professor spoke sharply to them. Regardless of the true purpose for which he had hired them, Roundtree was not going to allow their recalcitrance to slow his advance on the pile of rubble he was certain held the treasure of kings. Consequently, everyone loaded up as much as they could carry on their backs or in their arms, the supplies that would suffice for at least two days on the canyon floor. If a reason was discovered to remain longer, they could fetch more from the mule packs.
Only when they were carefully making their way down the rocky slope did Jim get a chance to pass on Burton’s warning to his partner. “What did he mean?” Artie asked. “More of the business of the trio taking orders only from Roundtree?”
“I don't know. I guess so. Biggest question is: how far is Roundtree going to go to keep his treasure—providing he finds anything.”
“We need to find some way to assure him our job was only to lead him here, not to confiscate anything he finds.”
Jim cast a wry glance at his partner. “Do you think he’d believe us?”
Artie sighed. “I doubt it. Addie and Hilde are both concerned about his obsession with this place. I am not sure he would even listen to them. He hasn’t so far, for the most part. They didn’t want him to make this trip.”
“Yeah, I know. Well, pal, we could go back and stay with Felipe for the duration.”
Artemus took a quick look at his friend’s face. “Uh-huh. I know you’re as willing to do that as I am!”
Inside the canyon, Hilde Roundtree had chosen a level patch of ground near a small spring for their campground, about a hundred yards from the pile of stones at the far western end, and near other mounds scattered about the canyon. At least “mounds” were what they appeared to be to Artemus as he stared about after putting his burden on the ground. He could see the professor and Burton standing in front of the primary ruins—or avalanche rubble—with Roundtree talking in an animated manner, waving his hands.
The smaller mounds definitely had large enough blocks of rubble to be recognized as portions of adobe slabs; some larger rocks bore traces of a lighter substance that could be mortar. Artie looked at them for a long moment, then turned his attention back to the professor down by the ruins.
Yet, that could be a door, he decided, noticing a rectangular dark spot in front of where the two men were located. The left side of the edifice seemed to have a flat roof, as well. The other end was more irregular, as though partially collapsed. Huh! I’m trying to convince myself it’s actually a building! Was it?
He lifted his gaze to the canyon walls above the supposed edifice. The walls did not look particularly stable. Artie surmised that over time portions had fallen onto what was below. Could be a large slab of rock collapsed some of it. Perhaps even created it, if it turned out to be merely a pile of stone.
The three hired men were now sprawled on the small grassy plot near the spring, apparently uninterested in going closer to the stones nor in helping set up camp. Jim looked toward Artie, saw his interest and started walking. Artie fell in beside him. Whatever Roundtree and Burton were discussing ceased as they neared.
“What do you think, professor?” Artie asked. “Is it really a manmade structure?” He could see now that the dark rectangle looked even more like a door purposely created by the arrangement of the stones. Cobwebs and the debris that had caught in them over time obscured what was beyond.
“Of course it is,” Roundtree replied shortly. “I’m going inside.”
Burton shook his head. “I’ve been trying to convince the professor we should wait until we investigate a little further. The place might be ready to collapse…”
“Nonsense,” the professor cut in. “It has stood for over three hundred years. It’s not going to fall now.”
“Some of it apparently did,” Jim said, gesturing toward the other side.
“Perhaps. It is also possible that area is accessible once I am inside. Burton, why didn’t you bring the lantern as I asked?”
Estes Burton sighed deeply. “Very well. I’ll go get one. Or rather two, because I’m going in with you.” He turned and strode back toward the camp.
“I’ll help him,” Artie murmured, following Burton.
Jim remained where he was. “It will be a wonderful find if indeed you locate treasure inside: A coup for you and your school.”
Roundtree eyed him narrowly. “And the government?”
Jim frowned and shook his head. “The government has nothing to do with it, as far as I know.”
Roundtree made a disgusted noise of disbelief and walked closer to the “doorway.” Jim followed. Roundtree did not enter, but stood peering into the darkness. No other apertures appeared to be inside the room, if that was what it was, for no illumination was visible. Other than what light fell through the doorway, the interior was pitch dark.
“There could be snakes in there, sir,” Jim said quietly.
The professor did not look back at him, continuing to gaze into the darkness. However, he did not attempt to enter, and moments later, Artie and Burton returned, each carrying two lanterns. They were quickly lit, and Roundtree did not wait for anyone, stepping through the door. Jim quickly moved up beside him, taking his arm to stop him.
Thankfully, Roundtree did not argue. For a long moment, all four men stood still and silent. The only sounds were their breathing and the sigh of the breeze on the exterior. Jim nodded. “I think if any rattlesnakes were in here, our entrance and the lantern light would have disturbed them.”
The professor lifted his lamp high, and the other three emulated him. No doubt remained that humans constructed this, Artie decided as he stared around. The floor was smooth, with stones fitted tightly together, almost no space in between them. The walls and ceiling were the same. Signs were evident that wood had at one time supported the ceiling, but the organic matter had mostly wasted away over time. The ceiling looked solid, however.
“Master craftsmen erected this,” Artie murmured.
“The Spanish,” Roundtree returned. “The Conquistadores.”
Artie had no argument for that, although he knew that some native Indian tribes were capable of similar work. Would they have created this, however? Why? The Indians that were known to inhabit this part of the country were originally hunters and gatherers before acquiring horses. They moved with the climate and the crops. The horse did not become part of their lifestyle until after the arrival of the Spanish.
Burton had moved toward the far side of the room. “This looks like an altar, professor.” He was standing in front of what appeared to be a table of stone, backed up against that wall. Niches were cut into the wall above and around it.
Roundtree joined him. “You may well be right, Estes. I will need to do further examination. First, I want to see if there are any more entrances that could be covered by overgrowth or fallen rocks.”
Jim, Artemus, and Burton followed the older man out of the room. He walked along the front of the structure, studying the rock walls, occasionally touching them. Jim looked out toward the camp, noticing that Cates, Lorimer, and Wiley were watching the two young women who were setting up their tent, displaying no interest in the happenings at the ruins. Sellers was nearby, his gaze on the three men.
I wonder if the professor—or Burton—gave them stern warnings about bothering Hilde and Addie. Although I have noted them eyeing the girls from time to time, they have not caused any trouble so far.
“Here,” Roundtree said. “Estes, help me move this.” He was pulling at some dry brush that draped far down over the outside wall.
Artemus was near so he stepped over along with Burton and between the two of them, pulled the dry and rotting vegetation away to reveal another door. This one opened into a corridor that extended well under the roof, but seemed to lead nowhere except to the rear wall. Again, the professor inspected the walls, holding his lantern close.
“Do you think there are hidden doors, sir?” Jim asked.
“It’s not unusual. This could actually be a tomb of some sort. It’s going to take a great deal of work and inspection to discover.”
“It certainly seems a reason would exist for such a corridor,” Artemus mused, running his hand over a cobweb-covered section, pulling some of the dried webs away. “Professor, look at this.”
Roundtree hurried to where Artie was holding his lantern close to the wall. Some figures were carved into the stone. “Well, well…” the professor murmured.
“Can you read it?” Burton asked.
“Perhaps. With a little more time.” He turned and strode toward the exit.
Jim and Artemus exchanged glances then followed Burton who had immediately trailed after his employer. Outside in the bright sunshine, they found Hilde and Addie striding toward the temple.
“What have you found, Father?” Addie called.
“Nothing,” he replied shortly, turning to proceed along the brush covered area, pushing the vegetation aside. “Burton, help me here. I know there are more passageways.”
“Yes, sir.” The assistant began to emulate the professor and soon found another entryway, this one much wider than the previous one. The corridor was broader too, and along it were indentations that Roundtree quickly pronounced as “cells” probably used by the friars as their sleeping quarters. Each one had a stone bench on one wall, carved out of the wall.
Jim peered into one cell about halfway along the corridor, and immediately called Roundtree’s attention to what he saw. On the stone bench in this one were bone fragments, along with what were probably badly decayed remnants of cloth which powdered upon touch. For a long moment, the group stared silently at the remains.
Someone died here, Artie mused. Died here alone. Animals no doubt carried off some of the bones. Not likely he was an Indian. An Indian would have been wearing leather garments of some sort. These were cloth… looks like wool.
“How very sad,” Addie murmured as her father turned to move on down the passage and others followed.
“Who do you think he was?” Hilde asked, looking at Artie and Jim.
Jim could only shake his head, but Artie replied, “It’s possible he was left behind to guard the place… for some unknown reason. On the other hand, perhaps he was too ill to travel when whoever constructed this building departed. We will likely never know. Perhaps before we leave, we can give the poor fellow a proper burial.” Nonetheless, the bones appeared to indicate the presence of Catholic clergymen, monks, and friars who would have worn robes of heavy wool.
The far end of this hall was not a dead end as another passage turned right, leading to a large, windowless room filled with broken rocks and wood fragments that apparently had once been benches and tables. One side of the room had a collapsed wall, revealing the earth behind it. This was the area viewed from the outside that appeared to have been crushed by falling rock.
“This may have been an assembly room,” Roundtree mused aloud. “Perhaps a dining room as well.”
“Why the lack of windows?” Artie wondered. “They could have cut them there in the front.”
“Perhaps they were doing things they didn’t want anyone to see,” Hilde put in. She had not seen the room with the stone altar; however, Artie knew that in her travels with her father she had learned about traditions of ancient societies.
Addie had been looking around the dimly lit room. “If there is a treasure, where would they hide it?”
Her father spun around and for one minute, Jim thought he was going to spew some angry words toward his younger daughter. He seemed to catch himself, and shook his head slightly. “Therein lies the problem, Adelaide. We have a lot of work to do. It could be under the floor, in the walls… It could even be out on the grounds somewhere, although I doubt it.”
“Or they carried it with them when they abandoned this place,” Hilde said sharply. “We don’t even know if this was one of the Seven Cities, do we.” She looked at her father.
Again, he appeared to want to refute her harshly, but again he merely shook his head. “No, that is absolutely true. Nonetheless, we have a great deal of work to do. Mr. West, Mr. Gordon, I want to thank you for your expert job of leading us here. Now I expect you’ll want to relax and let us do the labors.”
“Not at all,” Artie smiled. “We’re here to help in any way we can, Professor. Jim has a little experience in archeology from his college days, and I have read some. Just tell us what to do, what to look for.”
Roundtree was surprised. “You studied archeology, Mr. West?”
“I took a class,” Jim admitted, “primarily because the teacher was a very good friend of mine. Nevertheless, it was very interesting. I’m not sure where it would have led had the war not interrupted my college days.”
“Indeed. Indeed.” Roundtree turned away, lifting his lantern as he headed for the doorway that would lead them to the exit.
Artie wondered what he had seen in the professor’s face. Astonishment, that was certain. Concern? No doubt, he thought he had a couple of dumb clucks leading him up the mountain. Why should it make a difference if we have a little knowledge in his field? One would think he would welcome some assistance… unless of course he does indeed believe that we are here to claim any treasure for the government.
The exterior sunlight was glaringly bright. Jim lifted his arm to shade his eyes while they adjusted. He saw that the three hired men were still lolling in the grass, while Dan Sellers was building a fire. As he and Artie walked toward the campfire, Jim asked, “Were you able to read any of that drawing on the wall?”
“Only a little. Appeared to me to be some kind of warning. I don't know what against. I’ll try to look later, if the professor allows it.”
“I know. I’m half expecting him to forbid us to enter the ruins.”
“I think we need to fashion some torches,” the professor said, as he came up to the camp. “Sconces are in the walls. That would make it easier to work.”
“I’ll see to it, Professor,” Burton responded quickly.
“I’ll help you,” Artie offered. “The pitch from the pine trees should work.”
“Don’t be too long,” Hilde called after the two men. “Lunch is going to be ready soon.”
After climbing over the heap of rocks that blocked the entrance, they walked to the campsite, where Felipe Estèves greeted them warmly, but with some surprise. “I didn’t expect to see anyone until tomorrow.”
Artie explained their mission then asked, “How has it been out here?”
A cloud drifted through Felipe’s dark eyes. “Well, no wolves or cougars.”
Artie’s brows lifted. “But?”
The hostler sighed. “Well, señor, I have been telling myself I’m crazy. But something was out there.”
“Out where?” Burton asked.
Felipe gestured toward the wooded area beyond the makeshift corral. “There. I felt it at first. So did the animals. They were… very nervous.”
“It must have been a wolf or cat,” Artie put in.
Estèves shook his head. “I felt like… something was watching me. And then I saw… something.”
“What do you mean?” Burton peered at the hostler.
“Well, someone… something… moved out there. I don't know. Like a shadow, yet… it looked like a monk in a robe.”
“Probably just the shadows of the branches, don’t you think?” Artie tried to sound encouraging.
Felipe smiled. “Yes, I am sure. Yes.” Shadows remained in his dark eyes.
“Do you want someone to stand guard with you?” Burton asked.
Estèves displayed chagrin then. “No. No, no. I am fine. I am being silly, like a child. You know, the wind in the trees. That will make horses nervous.”
Felipe helped them cut branches then wrap the ends in some rags on which they smeared as much pinesap as they could. Then with each toting an armful, Artie and Burton returned to the camp where the midday meal was ready. Artie noticed that Roundtree’s daughters were still trying to talk him out of his notion regarding treasure inside the structure.
“Father,” Addie pointed out, “you’ve explored the entire interior and seen nothing to indicate this was anything other than possibly a rough-built mission to convert Indians to Catholicism. Perhaps abandoned, or nearly so, with only the one monk left behind… to die alone.”
“I’ve barely started, Adelaide. Walking through is not an inspection. We just got here. Why be so anxious to leave?”
“Why be so anxious to waste time and money?” Hilde spoke rather sharply. “Father, you have absolutely no proof.”
“I have instinct, my dear. My instincts have been right many times. You cannot deny that.”
“No,” Hilde sighed. “I can’t. But Father, as Addie said, you’ve inspected the interior and found nothing to indicate a hidden treasure…”
“And as I said, we have barely started. The lanterns did not provide enough light.”
“Professor,” Artie interjected as he stepped to the fire to spoon more fried potatoes onto his tin plate, “one thing you should keep in mind with the torches, especially in that interior room…”
“Yes, yes, of course I’m aware that they will use up the oxygen. I have used torches in windowless areas before. We will be cautious. Burton! Have you finished? I want to get busy. You other four, come with us. More eyes.”
Sellers rose promptly, putting his nearly empty plate aside, but the other three were more reluctant, climbing to their feet and not ready to head for the temple until the first three were nearly at the edifice. Jim exchanged a glance with his partner. Why in the devil did Roundtree hire this bunch? The only one worth his salt is young Sellers. To be sure, both Sellers and the two young women had indicated that the professor wanted the extra men for some kind of protection against the government, represented by the two agents. Which also makes no sense. Where did he get that idea?
Whence and what are thou, execrable shape?
—Paradise Lost (bk. II, l. 681), John Milton (1608-1674), English poet, scholar, writer, and patriot
Artemus started helping the girls to clean up the midday meal. Seeing he was not needed—and that it was not a chore he enjoyed—Jim strolled toward the ruins. Pausing outside, he could hear voices from the area of the room that appeared to contain the altar, so he stepped into the corridor where the individual cells had been cut, picking up a bulls-eye lantern and lighting it.
Earlier, with the others carrying lamps, the passageway had not appeared so dark and close as it did now. He opened the lantern’s lens to its widest aperture and walked slowly, pausing at the indentation where the ancient bones and cloth fragments lay on the bench. Artie was right. They needed to give this poor soul a proper burying before leaving the canyon.
He moved on down to the end of the corridor, flashing the light in each cell, on the walls and floor. He almost wished he would find something that would indicate it had once been an opening, a spot that could be dug out to find… whatever. Just something to convince the professor that this trek was in vain. Absolutely no indications existed that this place had been the home of Coronado’s Cibola. Even the hieroglyphs on the wall were by American natives, not Spanish.
Jim paused to study those markings again, and he had to concur with Artie’s conclusion. Although he could not completely translate them, the figures were very similar to ones they had seen many times elsewhere in the western part of the country. He agreed with his partner that some sort of warning was included, but the figures scratched into the wall were not familiar to him. Maybe Artie can get a closer look to see if he can decipher them. The translation might…
Jim’s thoughts halted as something in the periphery of his vision caught his attention. Something in the depth of the now darkened corridor. He swung his head around and stared, slowly lowering and turning the lantern so that the beam was directed down the passage.
A man… or a figure at least… stood in the passage, approximately where the skeleton reposed. Jim knew it was not one of the party. No one had gone in ahead of or after his entrance. The figure appeared to be wearing a hooded robe, tied at the waist with a rope. The face was not visible. In fact, it occurred to Jim to wonder how he was seeing this… this man… as the depths of the corridor were pitch black. The lantern’s beam did not reach that far.
He realized just how undefined the margins of the figure were. They almost seemed to fade into the darkness. When one arm lifted, Jim was now aware that he sensed, rather than clearly saw, the finger pointing toward him. The sudden voice seemed to fill the passageway, and indeed saturate his senses, as though it was coming from inside his own skull.
“Deja este luga... la muerte te encontrará aquí ...”
Then it was gone. Simply gone. Jim stood frozen for interminable seconds, staring into the darkness. He then elevated the lantern to guide his steps in the pitch blackness before he started walking toward the spot where the figure had appeared: right outside the cell with the skeletal remains as he had surmised. What did that mean? Anything? Where did it go? The cells were empty; the passageway terminated at the far wall.
Taking a deep breath, he turned and walked steadily toward the exit. Stepping out into the sunlight, he blinked, then realized two men were standing nearby.
“Are you all right, Mr. West?” Professor Roundtree asked, staring at him. The man with him was Ace who seemed more amused that concerned
“Uh, yes. I’m fine. I, um, tripped on the uneven floor. Kind of shook myself up.” He smiled weakly, then noticed that the professor seemed a little pale himself. “Are you all right, sir?”
“Yes, yes. I’m afraid Mr. Gordon was correct. The torches polluted the interior air quite rapidly, making it unbreathable. I’ve sent Turk and Cates for the sledgehammers we left with the mules. We’ll knock out a window for some ventilation.”
Jim nodded, then walked out toward the camp, his mind momentarily off the apparition he had seen. Odd that the professor is willing to destroy a portion of the building. Robey always insisted that everything should remain in place. He shook his head slightly. Robey never became obsessed with finding a treasure. Or if he did, his intentions were entirely different. He wanted to locate and investigates sites of antiquity, the relics that would help interpret history.
Artie was at the camp drinking coffee, but the two young woman and Dan Sellers were also present, so Jim did not attempt to tell his partner about what occurred. He poured a cup of coffee for himself and sat down, not noticing how Artie peered at him.
Something happened, Artie decided. He also discerned that whatever had occurred, Jim did not want to talk about it just now, possibly because of others present. Had he had an altercation with Roundtree? He certainly would not want to talk about that in front of the professor’s daughters.
Hearing sounds behind him, Artie looked around to see Turk and Cates coming down over the rock slide, each carrying a hefty sledgehammer. Shortly before the two of them had strode by the camp, not pausing to explain their mission. I have no doubt what the hammers are for. Quite probably initially to open a window in that back room. Roundtree might even decide to simply knock the whole place down in his search for the treasure.
As if reading his thoughts, Addie spoke up as she carried a couple of cans of tomatoes from the crate in which they had been stored. “Father must be getting impatient. He gets that way.”
“Usually though,” Hilde added, “he controls himself. I’m afraid that this archeological dig is much different from any others. He has no compunctions against destroying the structure.”
Dan put a couple of sticks on the fire. “I’m no archeologist, but that doesn’t sound to me to be a good way to work.”
“It happens though,” Artie pointed out. “In a seeker’s haste to be the first one to find some extraordinary relic, marvelous walls have been knocked down in sites in the Middle East and Europe. I guess this site doesn’t really have the value those did, but it is still ancient. I would like to talk to the local Indians about it. Surely they’ve been here. In fact, that bit of writing on the wall indicates they have.”
“You said it was a warning of some kind,” Addie said, looking at him. She had a large kettle now. They planned to make soup for this evening’s meal.
“That’s what it appeared to be after a rather quick perusal. I want to go back and look at it again, but I also want your father’s permission. He’s been rather preoccupied today.”
Hilde laughed then. “He does get that way. One time in Peru, Addie fell and fractured her wrist. I went to Father while he was excavating an important ruin, told him the whole story, including that Burton and I were taking Addie into the nearest town to find a doctor. When we returned he was furious with us for going off without telling him anything!”
Artie chuckled over the incident. In his peripheral vision, he saw that his partner was staring into the fire, holding his tin cup in two hands. Had he even take a swallow of the coffee, let alone heard Hilde’s story? What was on his mind? I have to get us separate from the group so he can tell me.
Artie awakened, wondering what had disturbed him, then noticed that his partner had left his bedroll a few feet away. Turning his head, he saw Jim walking toward the ruins. Artie sat up and waited a few moments to see if anyone else had been disturbed. All were quiet—if one could consider Ace’s stentorian snores quiet. No wonder Cates always insisted Wiley move farthest away from the campfire; he must have had experience with Ace previously.
Throwing his blanket back, Artie quickly pulled on his boots and grabbed his jacket. He climbed to his feet and followed Jim, finding him standing just beyond the high bushes that grew in front of the door leading into the room with what appeared to be a sacrificial altar. Jim turned, expecting him.
“What’s up, Jim?” Artie spoke quietly.
“Deja este luga... la muerte te encontrará aquí ...”
“What?” To have his partner speak Spanish to him like that was startling.
“Deja este luga... la muerte te encontrará aqui...” Jim repeated. “What does it mean?”
“Umm… leave this place or death will find you here. Where did you hear it?”
“That’s what I thought,” Jim muttered, staring toward the ruins.
“Jim, why are you asking about this? Where did you hear it?”
For a long, frustrating moment, Artie thought his partner was not going to respond. Finally, Jim sighed. “In the passageway with the cells, where we found the bones. He… it… was standing there.”
Jim shook his head. “I don't know. Maybe the owner of those bones. He was… just there. Wearing a robe with a hood. I could not see a face. That’s what he said.” He stared at the ground.
Now Artie took a turn at a long silence, gazing at his partner in the moonlight, half wanting to believe that Jim was playing a joke. He knew that that was not the case this time. “That could be what Felipe saw.”
Jim’s head came up. “Felipe?”
“When Burton and I went out there to get the torches, Felipe said he saw something in the trees outside the camp. He said it almost looked like a monk in robes. We pooh-poohed it of course, and he agreed it was probably shadows. I don't know. Did you tell the professor?”
“No. I’m sure he would think I was crazy.” Jim was not surprised that Artie was accepting the story, but he was relieved, nonetheless. Hearing of Felipe’s experience was also liberating. I was not hallucinating!
Artie had to concur with that. Although Denis Roundtree may have encountered unusual events in his world travels, meeting a ghost was not likely among them. Over their careers, the agents had come across numerous unexplainable phenomena, not the least of which were those created by Miguelito Loveless. They had learned to keep their minds and senses open.
“I wonder what this ‘Deja este lugar ... la muerte te encontrará aquí ...’ connotes.”
“Sounds like a threat to me,” Jim replied. “Perhaps a promise.”
“The biggest threat here are those guns Roundtree hired as far as I’m concerned. We are lucky that a twist of fate caused Dan Sellers to join the trek, or it would be four to two instead of three to two.”
Jim lifted a brow. “You mean you wouldn’t like those odds?” He grinned.
“I always prefer the better odds, James. We should get back to bed. I suspect the professor wouldn’t be happy if he thought we were prowling around the ruins without him.”
Suspicions among thoughts are like bats amongst birds, they ever fly to twilight; they are to be repressed, or, at least, well guarded, for they cloud the mind.
—Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English philosopher, statesman, and writer
In the morning, Roundtree was impatient to get back to the temple, barely wanting to eat his breakfast as his daughters insisted. He hastily consumed most of the food on his plate then called to Burton to follow him to the ruins. The loyal assistant, although not quite finished with his meal, put his plate aside and followed. Roundtree also ordered Cates, Wiley, and Lorimer to come as soon as they were finished eating as well. Those three took their time.
Hilde let out an exasperated sigh as soon as that trio was out of earshot. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Father made a huge mistake in hiring those men, regardless of his motive.”
“Too late to do anything about it now,” Dan said. “I hope your father has come to realize that Mr. West and Mr. Gordon are not here to confiscate his treasure. If anything is found.”
“I doubt very much that he is convinced.” Artie shook his head. “It seems nothing anyone can say alters his mind. I just would like to know where he got the idea in the first place.”
“He never worried about government interference elsewhere,” Addie put in. “I mean, it was kind of expected in some places. They sent people out to watch the work. I think, somehow, somewhere during the trip west, he got the idea. If he does find anything worthwhile, at least he’ll learn he was worried for nothing.”
“I think it is just part of his preoccupation,” Hilde commented. “Once he made up his mind to find this ‘treasure,’ he started obsessing about someone stealing it from him. I know he was initially quite upset that you couldn’t draw a map for him, Mr. Gordon.”
Artie shook his head. “I’m sure that he understands now why a map was not feasible. We knew the general direction, but not much else.”
“I’m going to go out and see if Felipe needs anything,” Jim said, buckling on his gun belt as he rose and started toward the entrance of the canyon.
Estes Burton was walking swiftly toward them as Jim paused to look around. “Mr. West, the professor would like to see you.”
Artie put the pan down he had been preparing to wash. “What does he want?”
“Not you, Mr. Gordon. Only Mr. West. The professor said that you and Sellers should go get more supplies from the camp. He thinks we’re going to be here more than a couple of days. He said perhaps Addie and Hilde should go with you.”
Jim glanced at Artie, who simply shrugged. “We’ll go as soon as we clean up here,” Artie said.
Jim thought Burton was going to say something further, but he just nodded and headed back toward the ruins, and after a moment’s hesitation, Jim followed him.
“Whatever made Father suddenly decide that?” Addie wondered aloud. “He didn’t say anything yesterday or this morning.” She had pulled her glasses off and was cleaning them with the tail of her shirt.
“Perhaps he meant to this morning,” Dan offered, “but he was really wrapped up in getting back into the ruins.”
“That’s true,” Hilde concurred. “I’m wondering what he wants with Mr. West.”
“Let’s go get those supplies,” Artie said. “We can find out when we get back.”
Jim followed Burton down the narrow corridor into the formerly very dark, windowless room. The sledgehammers had done their work, knocking out a portion of the outer wall to allow in some light and air. The opening was about two feet wide and three feet high. Professor Roundtree was on his hands and knees with a bulls-eye lantern, inspecting the floor—no doubt looking for an anomaly that might indicate a trapdoor or perhaps stones placed later than the original construction.
“You wished to see me, Professor?” Jim asked as Roundtree looked up. The three goons were lazing against the far wall. Even with the new opening, the room reeked of the burning pine resin from the torches held in the sconces on the walls.
Roundtree climbed to his feet. “Yes, Mr. West, I did. I want to know what you found yesterday.”
“When you emerged from the passageway, you were very… excited. Shaken. You found the treasure, didn’t you? Or at least an obvious sign as to where it is hidden.”
Jim shook his head slowly. Of all things, he had not expected this! “No, sir. I did not locate the treasure. Or anything remotely concerning a treasure, if it exists.”
Burton had moved off to one side, his expression very unhappy. He had known, Jim realized, the reason for Roundtree’s summons, and did not agree with it. Jim was aware of movement among the other three men, but he did not take his eyes off the professor.
“You’re lying, Mr. West. I know why you and Mr. Gordon were sent on this mission. The government wants to steal my treasure from me!”
“No. That is not true. We have told you over and over, our only reason to accompany you was to lead you to this canyon. If you prefer, Mr. Gordon and I will leave immediately. We have no further business here—except to assist you in any way we can.”
Roundtree moved toward him slowly, his eyes narrowed and gleaming. “Liar! You found something yesterday! I demand to know what it was!”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Suddenly aware that someone was behind him, Jim started to whirl around. However, he had misread the movements of the three, thinking all three were directly at his back. As it turned out, Cates and Turk were behind him, but Ace was off to one side, and when Jim began to turn, Ace grabbed his right arm and shoved him directly into the grip of his two comrades.
One of them produced a short length of rawhide and bound Jim’s wrists behind his back, as Roundtree watched with a grim, angry expression. This was planned! With the other two still grasping his arms, Ace stepped around in front and slammed a fist hard into Jim’s midriff.
“I owe you that,” Wiley snarled. “Big time!”
Gasping for air and in pain, Jim doubled over. If the two men had not been holding his arms, he would have gone to his knees.
“Now, Mr. West,” Roundtree’s voice came to him through a fog. “I want the truth. Where is the treasure?”
“Professor,” Burton spoke from off to the side, face and tone anxious, “you mustn’t do this!”
The professor ignored him. “West, I am prepared to take very strong measures to force you to tell me the truth. The Cibola treasure belongs to me! I’ve been seeking it far too long.”
Jim took a painful breath. “I… did not… find your… treasure. It was… something else…”
“Then tell me what that ‘something else’ was,” Roundtree commanded sarcastically. He did not for one minute believe West.
Able to straighten his body now, though still held firmly by the two and in too much pain to breathe without effort, while Ace now held a pistol pointed at him, Jim gazed directly at Roundtree. “I saw a ghost.”
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 05/10/2014 : 12:03:52
| Chapter 4
To fear the worst, oft cures the worst.
— Cressida, in Troilus and Cressida, act 3, sc. 2, William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist and poet
Artie picked up two bags of flour and carried them to the stack of supplies that was accumulating near Felipe’s tent. There he paused and stared for a long moment at the cache. “I just don’t get it.”
“Get what, Mr. Gordon?” He had forgotten Estèves who stood nearby.
“Oh. Talking to myself. It’s just strange that the professor would send Burton out for Jim, and tell the rest of us to get more supplies. We have enough on hand for at least another day, if not two. I also keep remembering how he was watching Jim last night.”
Dan Sellers put down the coffee he had procured from a pack. “I noticed that too. Any idea why?”
“I’m not sure. It might relate to something Jim told me later last night, which I can’t reveal to you right now. Felipe, have you seen anything else in the woods?”
“No, Señor Gordon. I did think I heard someone speaking in Spanish in the night, but I guess it was my imagination.” Felipe grinned. “Unless the mules and horses were talking to each other.”
Hilde had come up. “What’s this about? Mr. Gordon?”
Artie held out his hands in a helpless gesture. “I don't know, Hilde. It is just a feeling, a hunch. Something is not right. I’m going to have to go back to the ruins. You can stay here…”
“Oh no!” Addie cried, trotting over. “Father has not been himself these last few days. I’m worried about him… about what he might do.”
Hilde looked around at her companions. “What are we waiting for?”
“That is a bald-faced lie and a very bad one, West,” Roundtree raged, shaking a fist in Jim’s face.
Jim was still being securely held by Cates and Turk, as if they believed he could break free and do damage even with his hands bound behind his back. “It is the truth, Professor. As you noted, I was very disturbed when I came out of the passage. The reason is because I encountered that specter, especially after hearing the warning.”
“Leave or die,” Cates mocked. “Sounds like West wants us to go so him and Gordon can come back to get the treasure.”
“My thoughts exactly,” the professor grated.
“Professor,” Burton stepped closer. “I told you that I thought I saw…”
Roundtree cut him off with a chop of his hand. “Not now, Burton. You were seeing shadows. West is lying. Did you tell him about your supposed ghost?”
“No sir, I didn’t. I swear.” Burton put a hand on his employer’s arm. “Please, sir, before it’s too late…”
Roundtree shook him off. “All right. Mr. West is a clever man.” He looked at Jim again. “You will tell me what you found, Mr. West. As you no doubt are aware, my three men have no reason to like you. Save yourself some pain and just tell me.”
“Professor, I did not find anything. If I had, I would have come to you. Why can’t you believe that?”
“Because I know you are after my treasure! My treasure! I’m not turning it over to the government.”
“I have no instructions to seize your treasure, nor has Mr. Gordon.”
“And you saw a ghost,” Ace mocked.
Jim did not reply. Roundtree was not going to believe him. He has gone around the bend with this. Maybe the reality of finding this so-called temple, seeing it is nothing like what he expected, has affected him. Perhaps Roundtree had thought he would find gold laminated walls, jewel-encrusted relics, and similar valuable items in plain sight. From what Jim knew about tombs in the Middle East, that sometimes happened. All they had found here was the skeleton and dark dusty corridors and rooms.
He was sure Artie would come to the ruins as soon as he finished getting the supplies. He would be curious to see why Roundtree summoned Jim. The question was, would Artie feel any need for haste? What would occur in the meanwhile? The mere fact that Roundtree stood by and allowed his hired men to assault the agent did not bode well.
“Mr. West, I insist on hearing the truth. What did you find yesterday? Where is the treasure?” Roundtree moved closer to Jim, head forward, eyes glittering in the illumination from lanterns and torches.
“Professor, I told you the truth. I did not find any sign of your treasure. I did experience a... a vision. I thought I heard and saw a ghost.”
“Who said get out or die,” Turk sneered, and abruptly slammed his fist into Jim’s side, just under the ribs. Jim gasped in surprise and pain. “Got something more to say, West?”
“No,” Jim grated between his teeth. “I… told you the truth.”
“Professor!” Burton expostulated. “You have to stop this! Mr. West is a government agent!”
“Don’t worry,” Cates sneered, “West ain’t gonna be carrying no tales. Not his partner, either.”
With that, Estes Burton whirled and ran from the room, his footsteps echoing down the passage. “Should I go get him, professor?” Ace asked.
Roundtree shook his head. “He’s a good worker and a loyal man, although a bit weak in the knees. He will not cause me any trouble. Mr. West apparently needs some convincing.”
Artie saw Burton running toward them as they descended the interior side of the rocky debris that blocked the canyon entrance. He speeded his own movements and was on the canyon floor when Burton reached them.
“What’s wrong?” Artie asked, but Burton was talking rapidly almost before he got the question out.
“You must come! The professor has gone mad! He and his men are beating Mr. West to make him tell the location of the treasure.”
“What? Jim doesn’t know…”
“That’s what he told them! He said he saw a ghost. The professor won’t believe him.”
Sellers and the two girls came up alongside Artie. Hilde grabbed his arm. “We have to go to him,” she exhorted urgently. “Father has lost his mind!”
Avarice, where it has full dominion, excludes every other passion.
—Rt. Hon. William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), English statesman and author
Jim sagged in the grip of the two men, his head spinning, body aching from the blows he had received from Ace. Warm blood dripped down his chin from his cut lip. He tried to lift his head to respond to the professor’s angry questions, but he could not seem to do it.
“Where’s the treasure!” Roundtree demanded. He grabbed Jim’s chin and forced his head up. “It’ll get worse, West. Just tell me where you saw the treasure!”
“No… treasure. Ghost… of monk…”
For the first time, the academician struck a blow himself as he released his grip on Jim’s chin and slapped him across the mouth. “Lies! More lies! Tell me the truth!”
“Father, stop!” Hilde screamed as she raced into the room. “Stop!” She grabbed her father’s arm.
Roundtree shook her off. “Go away, Hildegarde. I am doing what must be done. Mr. West knows where the treasure is.”
Artie and Addie were the next to reach the room, with Dan Sellers on their heels. Artie pulled his gun as he entered. “Let him go!” When everyone froze and gaped at him, he repeated the command more forcefully. “Let him go!”
Cates and Turk stepped back, releasing Jim, who started to sink to his knees. Sellers hurried over to grasp him around the back, pulling him to his feet; Addie rushed to take his other arm as they began drawing him toward Artie. Sellers pulled out a pocketknife and cut the bonds.
Roundtree’s face was livid with rage. “What are you doing? He has to tell me the location of the treasure!”
“I’ve told you over and over,” Jim grated, able to stand straighter now, though still thankful for the support of Sellers and Addie. His head was still buzzing slightly. “I did not find any treasure. There is no treasure!”
“You’re a liar,” the professor snarled. “I know about the government. You want to steal it from me!”
Artie had holstered his pistol. He glanced beyond Roundtree where the three henchmen stood closer to the far wall. “I think you have more to worry about from your ‘friends’ there than you do from the government.”
Roundtree glanced back toward the trio then turned to Artie again. “These men are loyal to me. I know that you and Mr. West are here to confiscate whatever I find.”
“Father!” Hilde cried, going to him again. “That’s not true. You have no proof of that. I don’t understand why you keep thinking that way.”
His gaze was icy on his daughter. “I can see you have turned traitor.”
She gasped. “Father! No! I just do not want to see any trouble. If you harm the government agents, you’ll be arrested.”
Roundtree’s smile was tight. “Not if no one is left to tell tales.”
Now Addie rushed up to stand alongside her sister, reaching out to grasp her father’s hand. “Father, please stop this! Please! This doesn’t sound like you at all!”
“No? For over thirty years, I have excavated ruins and found great treasures that were claimed by the university, or museums, or the country of origin. I have nothing to show for it!”
“You have your name, Father,” Hilde said softly, tears beginning to well in her eyes. “Everyone knows that Denis Roundtree is a great archeologist.”
He pulled back from them, glaring. “That’s not enough!” he roared, and signaled to the three men, all of which pulled their weapons suddenly. Roundtree then turned a cold gaze to the startled agents. “Now, Mr. West, will you tell me where the treasure is or do I have to have your friend Gordon shot down before your eyes?”
“No, Father!” Hilde screamed, reaching for him. “No!”
Nearby, Addie stood like a statue, stunned, her face ashen.
Roundtree backed away. “Move over there, Hildegarde. You and Adelaide. Stand with Sellers and Burton. None of you will be hurt if Mr. West cooperates.”
“Listen to me, Professor Roundtree,” Jim spoke in a steady voice now, his body still aching although his head was clearing. “I did not find any treasure.”
Burton had moved forward to take the hands of each of the daughters to draw them back, where Hilde went into Sellers’ arms, while Burton held Addie. Fear was on their faces as they watched the scenario play out.
“Believe him, professor,” Artie put in strongly. “If he had found anything, you would have been the first to be notified.” He could see as he spoke that the words were having no affect on the archeologist. Roundtree was too far-gone now. How long this obsession had been growing, Artie had no idea, but he suspected it had been quite some time. Now the frustration of finding nothing had drawn him to the cracking point.
“It is here!” Roundtree thundered. “West, tell me, or your partner dies!”
Jim opened his mouth to respond, knowing whatever he said would be futile, but before he got any words out, a sound filled the chamber. A loud sound that at first seemed indiscernible, simply a roar. However, the din receded, and words became distinguishable.
“¡Todos tienen que salir de este lugar ... la muerte encontrará todos ustedes aquí ...! ¡Todos tienen que salir de este lugar ... la muerte encontrará todos ustedes aquí ...!”
Every person froze, including Roundtree. Artie did steal a glance at Jim and saw that he recognized the voice as well as the words. Then, as the phrase was repeated over and over, a shadow began to appear on the wall against the ruined portion of the structure. The shadow grew and darkened until a shape was discernable, a tall man in a hooded robe.
A bony hand, barely visible in the gloom, emerged from one sleeve as the arm raised, moving in a half circle and pointing to every person in the room. “¡Todos tienen que salir de este lugar ... la muerte encontrará todos ustedes aquí ...!” Just as abruptly as the sound and the specter had appeared, all vanished.
Someone was cursing softly. Jim realized it was the man known as Ace, whose swarthy complexion was now shades lighter. “What was that?” Addie asked in a hoarse whisper.
“That was what Jim has been trying to convince your father about,” Artie replied sharply. “Do you believe him now, Professor?” He too was taken aback but knew he had to strike while everyone was shaken.
For a long moment, Artie thought Roundtree was not going to answer. The professor was staring at the spot the specter had appeared. He glanced around. “Yes, I do believe him. I also believe I know where the treasure is hidden.”
“Father!” Hilde hurried back to her father, grasping his arm. “Please. Let’s just give up and go home. I am frightened of what that… that spirit said. It was a dire warning.”
“Nonsense, child. Within moments, we will be very wealthy. Cates! Turk! Bring those sledgehammers over here.”
Artie looked at Jim and stepped over beside him. “Now what?” When Jim just shook his head, Artie asked, “Are you okay?”
“I’ve been better. But I’m fine.”
Hilde slowly went back to stand with her sister, Burton, and Dan Sellers. All of them just watched as Roundtree gave instructions to the two men with the hammers. Artie was amazed as he heard Roundtree say that he believed the phantom was protecting the very spot where the treasure was hidden. Thus he told them to smash in the wall just behind where the ghost had appeared.
“Do you think he’s right?” Dan murmured.
Artie could only shake his head helplessly and watch. The hammers rose and fell. Because the wall seemed quite thick, he was just beginning to believe the professor’s judgment had been wrong when abruptly a large portion of the barrier fell away. Roundtree’s scream of triumph echoed through the chamber.
“There it is! There it is!”
He shouldered past Cates and Turk, reaching through the wall and bringing his hand back filled with gold chains, some of them dangling jewel-encrusted pendants. Almost immediately, Ace, Turk, and Cates shoved their way in, then all four men were scrambling to pull the valuables through the hole.
Jim turned to Artie and was about to make a comment, when he heard a new sound, a growing roar different from the one when the monk appeared. An instant later, he felt the ground begin to tremble under his boot soles. “Earthquake!” he snapped.
Artie had felt it as well, and saw that Burton, Sellers, and the two young women noticed. “Let’s get out of here!” he shouted.
“Father!” Addie cried. “We have to get out!” The tremors were becoming stronger with each passing second. Plaster and dust were already falling from the ceiling. The whole structure was vibrating.
Her father paid her no mind, reaching into the hole to retrieve piece after piece of the hidden treasure to stuff inside his shirt, as were the other three men. They seemed completely unaware of what was occurring around them. Addie started toward them, but Burton grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the aperture that had been smashed through the front wall. Sellers did the same with Hilde.
Jim ran forward. “Professor Roundtree! Professor! The place is going to collapse!” He had trouble keeping his balance, and leaned a hand against a near wall, only to find it was undulating under his palm. Instead, he grabbed Roundtree’s arm. The older man swung about with fury in his expression.
“Go away! You won’t stop me now!”
Artie hurried to Jim. “Come on, partner. It’s going to collapse at any moment!”
Even as he spoke, a massive section of the ceiling abruptly fell, weighted by rocks falling from the canyon wall above—and drove the four men at the treasure trove to the floor. More pieces were coming down, as were portions of the wall. Jim knew Artie was right. He could just see the very still form of Roundtree under the rubble. He turned and followed Artie out through the hole.
The other four had sought safety in the middle of the canyon, away from the walls, where rubble was tumbling down. Upon reaching them, Artie turned to look. Boulders were hurtling down from the canyon wall above the structure, as they probably once had before when the one side was collapsed.
“Mr. West!” Addie grabbed his arm. “Father…”
Jim took her hand. “I’m sorry. We tried. The ceiling was falling. He was killed instantly.” He did not know that for certain, but it seemed likely. He was unsure about the other three and was glad no one asked.
Addie turned then and buried her face in Burton’s chest; Hilde was crying, leaning her head on Dan’s shoulder as he held her close. “He went mad,” she said in a choked voice. “I saw it coming a long time ago. But I hoped… I hoped he would regain his reason.”
“He was a brilliant man,” Estes Burton spoke softly. “A good man. Until he started believing he was being cheated. He became obsessed with the story of Cibola. No one could convince him… and perhaps in the end, he was right.”
“Treasure was certainly hidden there,” Artie concurred. “Whether it was Cibola or not, we may never know.”
The tremors had ceased, but rocks still rolled down from the canyon walls. The structure was completely collapsed and buried under tons of rubble. Dust rose like smoke above it as well as at the base of the canyon walls all around.
“We’d better go see if Felipe is all right,” Jim murmured.
All agreed and they walked to the far end of the canyon. Right away, it was apparent that the quake had shifted the pile of rocks; it was now lower. They climbed over and rushed to the camp. Estèves hurried to meet them, obviously having been worried about their safety. Jim tersely told him that the other four men had been trapped in the building, not mentioning all that had occurred.
“You were hit by rocks too, Mr. West?” Felipe studied Jim’s face.
“Something like that. The horses?”
Estèves threw out his hands. “They ran. I could not stop them.”
“We’ll get them back.” Jim strode to the area where the corral had been set up; the ropes were all on the ground now, unable to withstand the weight of the panicked horses and mules. He put his fingers to his lips and whistled loudly. An instant later, the answering call of a horse was heard. Blackjack came trotting back, tossing his head as if to say, “I was just out for some exercise. I wasn’t frightened. Not me!”
Mesa was not far behind, as were two mules. For the next hour, everyone’s mind was occupied with hunting for the missing pack animals. Being well trained, the mules came when they heard human voices. A couple were still skittish, but soon calmed down once they were within the newly created corral where extra food was put out.
Jim, Artie, Burton, and Dan insisted the two women stay with Felipe while they returned to the canyon to bring out the tents and supplies. Artie thought Hilde and Addie would protest, but they did not. Could be they don’t want to see those ruins ever again, he surmised. He did not blame them; however, once the four men were inside the canyon, they went straight to the ruins.
All knew it was fruitless, but all felt it was necessary. Within seconds, their beliefs were confirmed. As they had witnessed, tons of rock and rubble had buried the men inside—as well as the treasure. Along with the rocks that tumbled from above, the ceiling and walls had collapsed. Little remained to indicate that a building had ever stood there.
“What a waste,” Sellers muttered as they walked back to start dismantling the camp. “Hilde has told me of the professor’s accomplishments. He was very respected in his field.”
Burton sighed. “Unfortunately, men like Professor Roundtree are not paid very well. The glory goes to the university, and so does most of the money. I have seen it wear on him over time. As Hilde said, this had been coming for a while now. If only he had never heard of Cibola…” He sighed again. “Likely it would have been something else.”
Jim looked at Artie as they reached the camp, then spoke. “If the girls agree, there is no need to tell anyone exactly what happened. Only that the professor and his helpers were caught by the earthquake.”
“Probably shouldn’t mention the treasure either,” Burton said. “It would cause a stampede here.”
Artie nodded. “It’s possible that someone with a lot of dynamite and men could dig it out. Nevertheless, the old monk may still be here, protecting his property. Doing his duty.”
“What do you mean, doing his duty?” Dan inquired, starting to take down the professor’s tent.
“I suspect he was left behind to look after things, probably with the promise that whoever he was with—Coronado or someone else—would return for him. Obviously, they did not. Not for him, nor for the treasure. We’ll probably never know why.”
Listen to the Water-Mill:
Through the live-long day
How the clicking of its wheel
Wears the hours away!
Languidly the Autumn wind
Stirs the forest leaves,
From the field the reapers sing
Binding up their sheaves:
And a proverb haunts my mind
As a spell is cast,
“The mill cannot grind
With the water that is past.”
—Lesson of the Water-Mill, Sarah Doudney (1843-1926), English novelist
Hildegarde and Adelaide Roundtree decided they did want to return to the canyon the following morning. They had talked together in their tent, and wanted to say goodbye to their father. The four men accompanied them, but stood back as the young women walked up to the ruins to stand hand in hand.
With their backs to him, Artie could not discern whether they spoke aloud to the destroyed temple or to each other, but he thought they were each having a silent commemoration. They no doubt were saying their own prayers for their father, the man they had loved all their life, who had suddenly, it seemed, altered in personality and ambitions.
The trek back down the mountain began as a slow and somber one, but after a couple of days, Hilde and Addie seemed able to smile. Jim thought that Burton was a big assistance there. He had been a surrogate uncle, or even father, to them for many years. Burton spent time riding alongside them, talking quietly. No doubt they realized that while they had lost their father, Estes Burton had lost an employer, and more importantly, a friend. Burton had been with Denis Roundtree through many ordeals, even perils, as the professor searched for and excavated ruins around the globe. Their father was gone, but their “uncle” was still with them.
As well, Hilde had Dan Sellers. The bond between the pair was growing minute by minute. The attraction had been almost instantaneous, but perhaps the presence of her father had deterred too much closeness. Now they talked together in the evenings, walking a short way from camp for some privacy.
By the time they reached Denver, they had the entire story down pat regarding how the four men died. Jim’s bruises had healed enough so that they were barely noticeable and certain explainable by a simple fall, which is what Jim told a newspaper reporter who came to get information regarding the death of a famous archeologist. The tremor had been felt in Denver, although not nearly so strongly, so the story that he had been knocked down by the quake was accepted.
Once their initial report reached Washington, the agents were ordered to return as soon as possible. The colonel also suggested they might provide accommodations for the Roundtree sisters—something Jim and Artemus had already thought of and offered, along with transportation for Dan Sellers, who was trying to get to his Pennsylvania home.
“It’ll be cramped,” Artie told them, “but faster and more private than a regular train.”
Dan had to have a little more persuasion, but a look from Hilde was the tipping point. He thanked the agents for the offer and accepted. All the gear that had been brought from the east was packed up and sent by a regular train. Jim had the sense that the girls really did not want to see it again. Burton would take care of its disposal at the university. He also had been invited to share the Wanderer but declined. He wanted to stop off and visit family in Missouri.
“I need time to figure out what I’m going to do next.”
Addie later confided to the agents that Estes Burton had been receiving offers from other archeologists for many years. His reputation was excellent. She had no doubt that Burton would now accept one of those offers. Regardless, she and her sister made Burton promise to keep in touch with them.
The trip east on the Wanderer was calm and actually somewhat relaxing. Artie was surprised to find out that Hilde and Addie knew how to play poker, so that became a favored pastime as the train rumbled east, especially in the evenings. Dan also played, but soon found out his expertise was far below that of the sisters, who explained they had often played the game while on treks with their father.
Upon reaching Washington, the girls were escorted to their family home on the outskirts, where a sister of their late mother was waiting to help them. Their father had had no siblings. Dan stayed at the Roundtree home for two days before boarding another train for Harrisburg. Although Jim and Artie were not present during that time, they had no doubt that Hilde Roundtree had not seen the last of Dan Sellers.
Three short days later, the Wanderer was heading west again, having received an assignment to look into the robbery of a payroll train that had also contained federal bonds. In a sense, it was a relief to get back to their “normal” routine.
“You know, Artie, I think you may have been right.”
Artie looked up from the book he had been reading. Jim was at the table, playing solitaire. “What? About what?”
“When you said we might be successful if we started a marriage agency.” [See The Night of the Dangerous Eyes.]
“The idea that you shot down by saying I should worry what would happen if the couples were unhappy years later and would blame me.”
“What made you change your mind?”
“Hildegarde and Dan. You know they are going to get married eventually. So we brought another couple together.”
“James,” Artie expelled an exasperated sigh. “We did not bring them together, any more than we brought Lyle and Lonie together.”
“Sure we did.”
“Jim, we didn’t. How can you say we did?”
“Because we were escorting the professor.”
“But we didn’t hire Dan. We also had nothing to do with Hilde being with the party.”
“Artie, the entire thing would not have happened if we had not agreed to lead Roundtree to the canyon.”
Now Artie rolled his eyes. “Okay. Okay. So do you want to retire from the Secret Service and start a matchmaking agency?”
“Of course not.”
“Look at it this way. Every match that was made was because of something we did as part of our job as agents. How would we find these people and bring them together if we didn’t have our Secret Service assignments?”
“We can’t do both!”
“Why not? You can make up a little brochure that we hand out when we first start a job, informing people that many others who cooperated with us found the love of their lives. We could ask a small fee…”
Jim looked up, his expression bland. “What?”
Jim’s lips twitched. “If you say so. It was your idea in the first place and I thought you’d be happy that I was concurring.”
“What do you want for dinner tonight?”
Now Jim was slightly taken aback by the sudden change of subject. “Well… I don't know. Chicken?”
“Good. I’m fixing steak.”
“Then why did you ask?”
“Don’t ever let it be said I never gave you a choice.” He closed his book, stood up, and with a haughty lift of his head, marched toward the galley.
Jim watched the door swing shut then burst into laughter. A moment later, Artie stuck his head through the galley door.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, pal, nothing. I’m just happy we are back to ‘normal’.”
Now Artie’s mouth twitched but he controlled it. “I’m not sure I would call it ‘normal,’ James. I don’t usually get the best of you.”
“The best of me! You didn’t!”
“Oh yes I did. Remember? You said you wanted chicken and I said I was serving steak.” He could not stop the grin now.
Jim’s grin matched. “What would you do if I said I changed my mind and wanted steak?”
“Well, I’d be stuck, because that’s all we have in the cooler at the moment. So you get steak whether you want it or not.”
Jim was laughing again now. “But I want it!”
Artie leaned his arm against the doorjamb, burying his face in his shirtsleeve, his shoulders shaking. Several minutes elapsed before either could speak. “How about fried potatoes and bacon for supper?”
Jim knew this could go on for a while. It had previous times. For some reason it was a debate that both enjoyed. “I’ll tell you what. Ask Orrin how far we are from the next town. If we can pull in there, I’ll treat us all in whatever restaurant the town has.”
Artie’s gaze narrowed. “What if the town doesn’t have a restaurant that suits my educated palate?”
In itinere comes congruum pro vehiculo est.
[An agreeable companion on a journey is as good as a carriage.]
—Maxims, Syrus (Publilius Syrus; c. 1st century BC), Roman (Syrian-born) mimographer
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros