Such a tragedy will not occur here, he thought. It was our people’s heritage! We should be the ones to profit from our past!
Gil’s hand strayed to the bulge in his vest. It was one of the many gifts from the leftist guerrillas in the mountains who had helped Gil in this venture. Gil patted the grenade in his pocket.
It was meant to erase their tracks after the raid on the tomb, but if these pelotudo American scientists tried to interfere… well, there were always quicker ways to die than by a knife’s blade.
Maggie O’Donnel despised Latin. Not a simple distaste for the dead language, but a heartfelt loathing. Educated in strict Catholic schools in Belfast, she had been forced to study years of Latin, and even after repeated raps across her knuckles from sadistic nuns, none of it had sunk in. She stared now at the charcoal tracings of the door’s inscription spread across the table in the main tent.
Sam had a magnifying lens fixed over one of the filigreed etchings from the top band. A lantern swung over his head. He was the best epigrapher of the group of students, skilled at deciphering ancient languages. “I think this says Nos Christi defenete, but I wouldn’t stake my eyeteeth on it.”
The journalist, Norman Fields, hung over Sam’s shoulder, his camera ready on his hip.
“And what does that bloody mean?” Maggie asked sourly, feeling useless, unable to contribute to the translation. Ralph Isaacson, who was just as weak in his Latin skills, at least knew how to cook. He was outside the tent struggling to light the campstove and get dinner started.
Ever since the professor had left, the team had struggled to efficiently clear the ruins and catalog as much as possible. Each had their assigned duties. Every evening, Ralph did the cooking, leaving cleanup to Norman and Sam, while Maggie and Philip tediously entered the day’s reports into the computer log.
Sam interrupted her reverie. He scrunched up his nose as he tried to read the writing. “I think it says ‘Christ preserve them,’ or ‘Christ protect them,’ ” he said. “Something like that.”
Philip Sykes, the senior grad student, lay sprawled on a cot, a cold rag across his eyes. His irritation at being left out of the discovery still clearly rankled him. “Wrong,” he said bitingly, not moving from where he lay. “It translates, Christ protect us. Not them.” He followed his assessment with a disdainful noise.
Maggie sighed. It was no wonder Philip knew Latin so well. Just another reason to hate the dead language. He was forever a font of trivial knowledge, ready at any instance to correct the other students’ errors. But where he excelled in facts, he lagged in on-site experience—hence, the team was burdened with him now. He needed to clock dig hours before he could earn his Ph.D. After that, Maggie suspected the wanker would never leave the ivy halls of Harvard, his alma mater, where his deceased father’s chair in archaeology surely awaited him. The Ivy League was still one big boys’ club. And Philip, son of an esteemed colleague, had a key.
Stretching her shoulders, she moved closer to Sam. A yawn escaped her before she could stop it. It had been a long day topped by fervid activity: photographing the door, getting a plaster cast of the bands, charcoal etching the writing, logging and documenting everything.
Sam gave her a small smile and shifted aside the etching of the middle band. It contained only the single crucifix carved into the metallic hematite. No other writing. Sam lowered his magnifying glass on the third and final onionskin tracing. “Lots of writing on this one. But the script is much smaller and isn’t as well preserved,” he said. “I can only make out part of it.”
“Well then, what can you read?” Maggie asked, sinking into a folding chair near the table. A seed of a headache had started to grow behind her right temple.
“Give me a few minutes.” Sam cocked his head to the side as he squinted through his lens. His Stetson, usually tilted on his head, rested on the table beside him. Professor Conklin had insisted on a bit of common courtesy out here in the jungle. When inside the tents, hats had to come off, and Sam still maintained the protocol, even though his uncle was not present. Sam had been raised well, Maggie thought with a small hidden grin. She stared at the professor’s nephew. Sam’s dusky blond hair still lay plastered in place from the Stetson’s imprint.
Maggie resisted the urge to reach over and tousle his hair back to a loose mop. “So what do you think, Sam? Do you truly think the Spanish conquistadors etched these bands?”
“Who else? The conquistadors must have searched this pyramid and left their mark.” Sam raised his head, a deep frown on his face. “And if the Spanish were here, we can kiss good-bye any chance to find the tomb intact. We can only hope the conquistadors left us a few scraps to confirm Doc’s theory.”
“But according to the texts, the Spanish never discovered any cities in this region. There is no mention of the conquistadors ever reaching their thieving hands this far from Cuzco.”
Sam merely pointed to the table laden with Latin etchings. “There’s the proof. We can at least walk away with that. The conquistadors that arrived here must never have made it back to their battalions at Cuzco. The natives must have killed them before they could make it down out of the mountains. The discovery of this city died with them.”
“So maybe they didn’t get a chance to loot this tomb,” Maggie insisted.
Maggie knew her words did little to convince anyone. She, too, knew that if the conquistadors had the time to etch the bands, then they had more than enough time to raid the temple. She didn’t know what else to say, so she simply slumped in her seat.
Sam spoke up. “Okay. This is the best I’m able to pick out of this mess. Domine sospitate something something hoc sepulcrum caelo relinquemeus. Then a few lines I couldn’t make out at all, followed by ne peturbetur at the end. That’s it.”
“And what does that mean?” Maggie asked.
Sam shrugged and gave her one of his wise-ass smiles. “Do I look like a Roman?”
“Oh my God!” Philip exclaimed, drawing Maggie and Sam’s attention. He bolted upright. The rag dropped from his face to his lap.
“What?” Sam lowered his magnifying lens.
“The last part translates, We leave this tomb to Heaven. May it never be disturbed.”
Ralph suddenly pushed through into the tent, his hands full with four mugs. “Who wants coffee?” He paused when he saw them all frozen with eyes wide. “What happened?”
Sam was the first one able to speak. “How about we break out the champagne instead? Toast a few ol’ conquistadors for protecting our investment here.”
“What?” Ralph asked, his face scrunched with confusion.
Philip spoke next, his voice edged with reserved excitement. “Mr. Isaacson, our tomb may still be intact!”
“How do you—?”
Maggie picked up one of the onionskin tracing sheets. She held it toward him. “By Jesus, you gotta love Latin.”
Sam could barely contain his excitement as he waited for his computer to connect to the university’s internet site via the satellite hookup. He sat in the communication tent with the other students gathered around behind him. The tent was weathertight and insulated against the elements, protecting the delicate equipment from the eternal mists of the jungle heights.
Sam checked his watch for the hundredth time. Two minutes shy of ten o’clock, the time each evening when Sam or Philip updated the professor on their progress on the dig. That night, though, was the first time the team had exciting news for his uncle. Sam jabbed hurriedly at the keys as the connection was made. He initiated the video feed. The small camera fixed to the top of the monitor blinked on its red eye. The video satellite link had been a gift from the National Geographic Society. “Smile everyone,” Sam muttered as he finished calling up his uncle’s internet address.
The computer whirred through its connections and a small flittering picture of Henry appeared in the upper right hand corner. Sam tapped a few keys and the picture filled the entire screen. The video feed was jittery. When his uncle waved a hand in greeting, his fingers stuttered across his face.
Sam pulled the microphone closer. “Hi, Doc.”
His uncle smiled. “I see everyone is with you tonight. You must have something for me.”
Sam’s face ached from the wide grin still plastered to his lips, but he wasn’t going to give up the team’s prize that easily. “First give us the lowdown about the mummy. You said yesterday that the CT was scheduled for this morning. How’d it go?” Sam regretted his question as soon as he saw his uncle’s face cloud over. Even from three thousand miles away, Sam could tell the old man didn’t have good news. Sam’s smile faded away. “What happened?” he asked more soberly.
Henry shook his head, again it was a jittering movement, but the words flowed smoothly through the receiver. “We were correct in judging the mummy as non-Inca,” he began, “but unfortunately, it was European.”
“What?” Sam’s shock was shared by the others.
Henry held up a wavering hand. “As near as I can tell, he was a Dominican priest, probably a friar.”
Maggie leaned toward the microphone. “And the Incas mummified one of their hated enemies—a priest of a foreign god?”
“I know. Strange. I plan to do a little research here and see if I can trace this friar’s history before returning. It’s not what I wanted to prove, but it is still intriguing.”
“Especially in the light of our discovery here,” Sam added.
“What do you mean?” Henry asked.
Sam explained about their discovery of the sealed door and the Latin inscriptions.
Henry was nodding by the end of Sam’s description. “So the conquistadors truly did find the village. Damn.” Henry slowly took off his glasses and rubbed at the small indentations on his nose. His next words seemed more like he was thinking aloud. “But what happened here five hundred years ago? The answer must lie behind that door.”