Saul dangled 120 feet at the end of the cable, cursing. The metal casing of railroad tank cars around him was an eight-foot-wide intestine as he hovered suspended in the island's belly. A static buzzed at his headset.
He scowled at the metal surrounding him. "Larsen there yet?"
His hard fingers felt the rusty patch of metal wall. A copper slime covered his glove. The voice in his headset was tinny and far away. "If he shows up," he said into the microphone hovering near his stubbly chin, "tell him he's fired. And tell him he's the worst damn engineer I've seen in thirty years."
A chunk of rust fell. Far below it dropped into salt water.
He didn't watch the rust fall, nor did he hear the splash it made. "Is Miles back?"
A rumble growled beneath him. Saul put a steadying hand to the wall as he looked down. His headlamp made a spot on the ringed water far below. The shudder grew to a bellow, bringing the water to a churn. The casing ten feet below suddenly squeeze shut, burping water closer to his boot.
Saul knew what it meant, feared what it meant. "Up! Up! Bring me up! Now!"
The noise of the winch was drowned out by screeching metal as the shaft below collapsed. Water rushed in from the buckling seams. It rose to Saul's boots in five seconds. The pinching metal forced it higher.
At the top of that hole in the ground, two workmen pulled a drenched Saul three seconds from a crushing death.
Carlos Sheldon was the most unlikely of curators. To look at him, one would not imagine that this short, balding man commanded half the second floor of the Carnegie Museum of Antiquities in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
When Lauren Gates first began working as Carlos' assistant two years ago she had no idea of the man's authority. Because of his exacting work and undisputed word on ancient manuscripts and illuminations they had traveled the world extensively. But nothing compared to this trip.
She pushed brunette waves out of her face and looked out the plane window at the approaching land mass on the Atlantic seaboard. Nova Scotia was easternmost of New Brunswick, Canada, a province of British and French descendants freckled with minorities of Irish, Scottish, and Indians.
As usual, Carlos had told her little about their trip, leaving her to speculate not only as to their goal, but destination, too. Usually he at least told her that, if nothing else, but this time he had been especially secretive.
Lauren put together what she already knew from the subtle hints Carlos had dropped about the mail he had received the past month. She came up with very little.
All she had to go on this time were a few letters from Rudolph Maddock, Carlos' long time friend who lived somewhere in West Winds or Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. She hadn't read the letters herself, but the envelopes were postmarked from both cities. From what Carlos had said on other occasions she knew that Rudy operated the last manual lighthouse in Mahone Bay.
That was all she knew, and she couldn't imagine why they were going to represent the museum there now. "I give up," she finally said in exasperation.
Carlos didn't even open his eyes, but a small smile twitched at his lips. "Now, Lauren, think," he said in a steady voice. "Remember the newsletter last month? Don't frown; it'll give you wrinkles."
She immediately stopped scowling, green eyes opening wider, refraining from rolling them at his motherly tendencies. "Last month was the May issue," she recalled. "Cooper made assistant director; acquisition of the Lenham Porcelain Collection from England House; Marie Davis had a baby girl; the Sisters of the -"
"No, no." He looked at her with irritation. "Something on a broader scale. Something about two-hundred-years old, but hardly over."
She sighed and looked back down at the cobalt waters out the window. "Does is have anything to do with Rudy Maddock?"
She didn't make the connection. "He runs a lighthouse in Mahone Bay, and the newsletter said nothing about Canada, or Nova Scotia, or... Oh, it did." What had it been? "Oak Island. Is that it, Carlos?"
"And what's on Oak Island?"
She thought for a moment, then laughed. "The Money Pit. Right? Of course."
Carlos' face was unreadable.
"What do you... No. What does Rudy know?" She sat straighter. "Did they find something?"
He smiled broadly. "We're not sure."
"He must have. If you got money out of Stends and Cooper for this trip there must be some gain for the museum." She took his arm. "Does Rudy know what's buried there?"
"Not exactly." He patted her arm. "It could be nothing at all, Lauren, but he's seen enough to convince me, and Stends, to examine his, well, his evidence."
She sat back in her seat. She would get no more out of Carlos until they landed, but not she had something tangible to think about until they landed.
She thought back on what she knew about the find. The Money Pit had been discovered in 1795 by a teen boy named Daniel McGinnis. He and his friends, Anthony Vaughan and John Smith, dug up what appeared to be an old shaft sunk years before. At the time they had dreams of pirate treasure, but that was only one theory to become connected with the pit.
During the initial digging the boys had hit a layer of flagstones at a couple feet and a layer of old logs another 10 feet down. From then on they found oak logs every 10 feet, and at times other foreign materials such as charcoal, putty and coconut fiber were uncovered.
Smith and McGinnis later purchased property on the island, but no treasure was ever recovered. An operation at the turn of the century took the hunt to nearly 100 feet, still with no treasure to show.
There were other excavations later. Sporadic efforts by several operations were made in the nineteenth century to recover whatever lay at the bottom of the Money Pit. Even celebrities like F.D. Roosevelt and Errol Flynn had been drawn to the mysterious pit at one time or another.
Now Carlos and George Stends, director of the museum, had taken a decided interest in the age-old hole in the ground. By the smug look on Carlos' face, Lauren could tell Rudy had definitely made a remarkable discovery of some kind.
Her mind wandered along a very romantic path, envisioning the controversial treasure being the Holy Grail or lost royal jewels. She had read the fantastic stories in some of the questionably legitimate trade magazines about fortune hunters. The one that now came to mind was about a man named Clement or Clemens who claimed only pirate treasure could be at the bottom of the pit.
In the article, which was verified by dubious 'experts', Clemens had stated both Captain William Kidd and the notorious Blackbeard had referred to buried treasures. When she read it she dismissed the pirate theory because the Money Pit was too well engineered for the common lot termed pirate in days of old.
But she had no viable theory to replace that common thought.
They landed at the small Mahone Bay airport and were met by a Captain Maruso who took them by boat, the Second Wind, to Oak Island, unaware of the pair of eyes that watched every move. Lauren thought use of the boat a little odd, considering the causeway that breached the short distance to the island.
At a bend in the eastern shore of the island she could see the brick lighthouse. The island itself wasn't large and wasn't even on most maps of Nova Scotia. Maruso had a map of the bay it was on, issued by a tourism group, but other than that, the island was too small to matter. It was only one of the nearest to the mainland of over 350 scattered in the bay.
Nor did it occur to Lauren Captain Maruso was to be provisional in capacities other than transportation. When they docked the Second Wind down shore from the lighthouse and piled their luggage into a waiting Jeep she realized he, too, was going to play a role in what she was beginning to think of as the Maddock-Sheldon expedition.
On the way from the mainland and to the lighthouse Maruso hadn't mentioned the pit in any personal manner, only commenting how the 200th anniversary of the mysterious hole brought more new business for the summer. Most of these were vendors and concession stands, converted trails for the most part. Nothing permanent.
The house for the lightkeeper was small, but well kept, finished in a dark red brick to match the tower. A small garden was left of the house and even lines of green shoots were visible.
They went in and Carlos made hasty introductions to the lightkeeper as they sat at the tiny kitchen's table. The suitcases were stowed in the sitting room as Rudy kept a lively banter with Carlos over the noise of the drilling from the pit operations on the island.
"The anniversary this year has led to a riotous attraction," Rudy said with a thick French accent. He bustled around the room, wedging his potbellied-self between the backs of chairs and the walnut hutch behind him. "But that won't concern us. Tea for everyone? That's why I agreed to enlist Captain Maruso."
Lauren looked to the man across from her. He smiled.
"Transportation is essential," Rudy added. "So is silence. Already Clemens is suspicious."
Lauren was about to ask for details on Clemens, wondering if he was the same man who had written the article a few years ago, when she took a sip of her tea. It was more than the heat that scorched her throat.
Maruso chuckled. "Watch out for Rudy. He spikes everything."
She gave her tea a suspicious look. "Thanks."
Rudy closed the curtains over the small windows.
"Where is it?" Carlos wanted to know.
"Safe." Rudy smiled in a taunting manner. "First let me tell you how I got it." He sat down in the remaining chair. "My nephew Phil is quite an auction-goer and he got it in Sussex at the Brielle's estate sale about six months ago. The Brielles were once a prominent British family until late in the eighteenth century. They lost credibility with the throne in 1780 or so when their foremost member of the Royal Navy, Admiral Claude Brielle, somehow lost or stole a payroll destined for the troops in Virginia during the American Revolution. According to the family's accepted history, Admiral Brielle claims to have been attacked by privateers and the bankroll stolen."
"How much?" Carlos asked.
"A little over two million pounds." Rudy smiled. "No one believed Brielle's story for several reasons. According to habit, privateers take everything of value when they attack, and Brielle's ship, the Lady Grey, had silver flatware aboard when she returned to Britain. Another oddity is the ship's log placed the vessel off the coast of what is now Black Island Sounds, New York, at the time of the attack." He sat back, shaking head. "The Lady Grey was to take troops and the payroll to Virginia and never should have been that far north. She departed in September of 1776 and returned in 1777.
"Brielle tried to blame the tardiness on the privateer incident and getting lost," he said, downing half his tea in a gulp. "Also on board was a man from the Royal British Engineers. His name was Stuart and he was sort of an unofficial observer or advisor from Parliament that Brielle was supposed to drop off with troops in Virginia. Unfortunately, he was killed in the fight with the privateers."
"Conveniently," Carlos added.
Lauren watched the three men looked at each other for several long moments as if a conspiratorial note had suddenly been passed among them that skipped her.
"You have the ship's log?" she asked. She couldn't wait for Carlos to elaborate.
"No," both Carlos and Rudy said in unison.
"We have Brielle's personal account of the war," Rudy admitted modestly. "A journal written in his own hand."
She smiled a little. "Really?"
"Debatable now is not the authenticity of the diary - to us," Rudy continued as he stood and filled everyone's cup with tea again, "but if Brielle did indeed bury anything on Oak Island. The time frame is right, and so is the amount of money missing. As for the opportunity, motive, and resources, Brielle had them all. Two million pounds can foster greed in anyone, especially a man halfway across the world, carrying government money. The Lady Grey had a crew of ninety - more than enough to carry out an operation like the Money Pit. Stuart could have supplied the technology. Maybe he even got a split from Brielle at a later date."
Lauren was still skeptical. "But what makes you think the journal has anything to do with the pit? Is it mentioned?"
"I can't read it; that's why Carlos is here," Rudy said with no real regret as he sat down again. "In 1803, a stone was found in the pit with a coded inscription. It was deciphered by a computer cryptologist as reading Forty feet below two million pounds are buried. That's where the amount two million comes from. The journal uses a similar code in several places."
Rudy stood and found a paper in the sitting room secretary and returned. He put it on the table before Carlos. A series of dots, slashes, triangles, and squares formed two lines.
"That's a copy of the original inscription. The rock itself has long since disappeared." Rudy leaned over his tea, adding an extra shot of brandy from a bottle beside the centerpiece of ketchup and hot sauce. "Brielle had an interest in history, mainly that of his own family, and had an affection for the Old English and French dialects. The ship's log was written in Modern English, but his personal diary is entirely in old text."
Lauren looked to Carlos. She resented being the odd man out in this venture, especially when a stranger like Maruso knew more than she did.
Time for that issue later, she decided.
by Jen Rekka