Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Five Hundred and Seventy-eight : Finally inside

CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-EIGHT

They lay against the cool limestone for more than five minutes when Troy began clearing his throat in their ears.

“What?” Alex asked.

“We’re still on a clock here!” Matthew said.

“Trece and White Boy are keeping the neo-Nazis out but only just,” Ben said. “If we cannot get in soon, they will arrive with bulldozers.”

“Got it,” Alex said.

She sat up and an arrow flew across toward her. She dropped back down and it flew over her.

“Can you either find the off switch or how many arrows are left?” Alex asked.

“One,” Raz said.

“Arrow?” Vince asked.

Vince sat up and an arrow started toward him. Like Alex, he lay back down and it went over him. It landed into the soft wall of the room they’d just gotten through.

Seth hopped to his feet. He took a step forward and then another. Nothing happened.

“Pierre?” Alex asked.

“Oui,” he said.

“Are you in the tunnel outside the entrance?” Alex asked in French.

“Oui,” Pierre said.

“Can you knock on the door?” Alex asked. “We’re a little turned around here. We’ve got a piano but there seems to be …”

A knock followed by a pounding fist came from the room to their right.

“Do you see it?” Alex asked.

Seth shook his head. Alex hopped up. She went to Vince and held out her hand.

“Come on,” Alex said. “Let’s find the entrance. We don’t want to let O’Malley get all the bragging rights.”

“Hey!” Seth said, with mock indignation.

Vince grinned. He. Alex. The Fey Team. They never took credit for anything they did and would never take it for this salt tunnel. They’d planned on having Seth and his father lead the publicity. Vince took her hand and then winced.

“Shoulder?” Alex asked.

“It’s almost as if I was hanging over a ten-thousand foot drop,” Vince said with a nod.

She grinned and helped him up. They went forward together.

“We’re in some kind of corridor,” Seth said. “It’s a part of the salt tunnel and oddly empty. There are a few things lying around …”

Seth gestured to a trunk on the floor, a filing cabinet, the piano, and a few old boxes.

“It’s as if they wanted the casual observer to think that they got in the mine but …” Seth finished with a shake of his head.

“This is the third chamber,” Alex said.

“Good thinking,” Seth said, nodding in agreement. “It’s likely. If that’s the case, there should be a door into the salt tunnel. Somewhere …”

Seth waved in front of them.

“It looks solid,” Alex said.

Vince went to the wall on their right. He patted the wall.

“Wood,” Vince said. “Covered to look like a tunnel wall.”

“We need to find the door,” Seth said.

Side by side, they walked slowly, one foot in front of the other, through the corridor.

“Can you knock again?” Alex asked after they’d gone six feet.

The pounding knock came to their right and in front of them by a few feet.

“We’re close,” Seth said. “I’ll go to the wall. Alex, if you will, check the mechanism that shot arrows at us. I’d hate it if it magically reloaded.”

“Sir,” Alex said with a nod. She walked ahead to check out the defense mechanism that had shot arrows at them.

“Vince, you check the other wall,” Seth gestured to the wall behind the bookshelf on their left. “You never know. It could just as easily be our way in.”

“Sir,” Vince said, and went to the wall.

Seth walked to the wall. His hands stroked the surface to see if he could feel anything that might indicate a doorway. He shook his head and stepped to his left. He continued down the wall until he reached a pile of old clothing. He knelt down to clear the clothing out of the way.

“I’ve found the door,” Seth said.

He knelt down to what looked like a pile of rags on the floor. A man’s desiccated body lay on the floor. He held an object in his mummified hands. The man had managed to reach and open the door to the salt mine before he died. His feet were blocked a hidden sliding door from closing.

“Detonator?” Seth asked.

“Looks like it,” Troy said. “Don’t touch it. It’s bound to be radioactive.”

“Roger that,” Seth said. “We’ve found the scientist. He’s blocking the door.”

“Are you seeing this?” Alex asked.

“Is that the detonator?” Margaret asked. “In his arms?”

“Looks like it,” Alex said

“He must have died here,” Vince said. He touched the man’s clothing. “Machine gun.”

“He probably got them from his Nazi pursuers on his way here,” Seth said.

“Managed to make it all the way here,” Alex said with a nod.

“And died,” Vince said.

“It’s always the small acts of nameless people that disrupt the powerful and cruel,” Seth said. “The historians want us to believe that the Nazi’s couldn’t have built a nuclear weapon.”

“Low grade uranium,” Vince said.

“Exactly,” Seth said. He nodded to the man. “Even if that is true, this man did not know that. His small act of resistance easily destroyed the Nazi nuclear program and changed the course of the war.”

They stood over the man and stared at his dead body.

“I know that feels disrespectful, but we should leave him here,” Alex said with a nod. “If we move him, we don’t know that we’ll be able to get into the mine again.”

Seth and Vince nodded. Alex held her hand out to Seth. He took her hand. With her help, he stood.

“Oof,” Seth said.

“You okay, sir?” Alex asked.

“Bruised and battered,” Seth said with a grin. “Will make my wife think I was a hero.”

“You’re a hero to me, sir,” Vince said.

Alex grinned her agreement.

“Get moving,” Matthew said. “The UN guy says that he has to get inside the mine to lay claim to it. If he can’t get in …”

“We’re open to all forms of crazies,” Seth said.

“Roger, that,” Alex said.

“I’ll go first,” Vince said.

He stepped through the opening. Alex followed him and Seth stepped in after Alex.

Stunned by what they saw, they stood at the opening of the salt tunnel. The tunnel was about twenty feet wide and more than ten feet tall. The floor was compact dirt. The walls of the tunnel were encrusted with salt crystals.

Crates of paintings were stacked five feet high. Glass covered bookshelves were filled with bound books and ancient scrolls. There were three-ten foot tall marble sculptures and more than one ornate stain glass rosary windows from churches. There were stands filled with swords made from every form of metal and even a few made out of precious stones. There were even walking sticks.

The tunnel started where they were standing. The precious art storage began where they were standing and ended somewhere at least a football field ahead of them in the dark.

“Wow,” Vince said finally.

“It looks like the basement of the Louvre,” Seth said mildly. “British museum.”

Alex opened a filing cabinet.

“These are records of everything that’s here,” Alex said. “What it is, who left it. Even an index of what should be here.”

They stared down the tunnel in disbelieving silence.

There was a pounding knock again. Alex pointed toward a brown wood barnlike door. With Vince’s help, they managed to move the heavy door. Pierre and Ben stepped inside.

“Whoa,” Ben said.

Pierre stared at the tunnel.

“Incredible,” Pierre said.

He gravitated to the swords.

“These are …” Pierre gave a disbelieving shake of his head. “We believed that these were lost to the Nazis.”

“The Nazis wanted them?” Seth asked.

“The Nazis collected historic weapons used in war,” Pierre said. “They stole weapons from my grandfather. When the blades were returned, there were numbers on the side of the swords for the number of ‘pagans killed’ by the blade.”

“How would they know?” Vince asked.

“They wouldn’t,” Pierre said. “I should say that we don’t know, and we are historians for this kind of thing. How could they have known? They couldn’t. Everything Nazi is a fabrication. Is that a surprise?”

“Not to me,” Vince said.

“What are these swords?” Alex asked.

“These five are original crusade swords,” Pierre said, pointing to a set of five swords bound together by degrading rope. He gestured to a spear leaning against the wall. “This spear is said to be the spear that punctured Christ. I … Each blade has a story, a history … They are priceless.”

Overwhelmed by what they found, they stared at the contents of the tunnel in another period of shocked silence. Recovering first, Alex put her hand on Pierre’s arm.

“Let’s get to work,” Alex said.

~~~~~~~~

Monday morning — 11:22 a.m.

Denver, Colorado

“Then …” Nash said.

He was following Maresol through the house. They’d arrived at Seth O’Malley’s home about twenty minutes ago. Maresol helped Sandy get back into bed. Nash and Teddy were waiting for her when she left Sandy’s room.

“Oh man, you should have seen it,” Teddy said. “There spikes in the wall and then gas and …”

“Little kids that had been killed,” Nash said. “And a long drop. Mr. Vince almost feel in, but Seth and Ms. Alex saved him.”

“I think Mr. Vince hurt his arm pretty bad,” Teddy said.

Nash nodded.

“Then Seth took an arrow,” Nash said, his hand went to his chest.

“What?” Near the kitchen, Maresol stopped walking and turned to Nash.

“He’s okay,” Nadia said from the counter in the kitchen. “It hit his body armor.”

Maresol shook her head and went into the kitchen.

“Breakfast or lunch?” Maresol asked.

“Breakfast!” Teddy and Nash said.

“Where’s Noelle?” Teddy asked.

“She went on an art outing with Mike,” Maresol answered Teddy’s question. Turning to Nadia, she said, “Is breakfast okay with you?”

“Of course,” Nadia said.

Maresol gave Nadia a nod and went to the refrigerator. She was holding a carton of eggs and some vegetables when she turned around.

“Did they ever get there?” Maresol asked.

“Um hm.” Nash made guttural sounds while he drank his milk.

“It was truly incredible,” Nadia said. “I’ve never … I mean, I’ve been in every museum in Europe but this … We were all so blown away by what was there that we all just sat and stared. I don’t think anyone said a word for at least a half-hour.”

“And then it was just like, ‘Wow,’” Teddy said. “How did you know about the lawyers?”

“I just figured it would be helpful to have some representation there,” Nadia said. “I didn’t expect to capture the immediate attention of modern Nazis!”

Teddy and Nash gave vigorous nods.

“What lawyers?” Maresol asked from her position at the stove.

“We had the UN there to make a determination if the mine was a UN heritage site,” Nadia said.

“To keep it out of the hands of the Polish government,” Maresol said.

“That’s exactly right,” Nadia said.

“I thought Sandy had clear rights of ownership,” Maresol said.

“To own the land,” Nadia said. “The diary. Whenever you talk about the ground or anything under the top soil, your rights are iffy. For example, in Denver, you can own a house, but not own the mineral rights to your property. This house, for example, it’s likely that you don’t have mineral rights. They usually belong to the city. The city can then auction off the mineral rights to your property and suddenly the oil company is slant mining under your house.”

Maresol shook her head.

“It’s a little crazy,” Maresol said.

“Exactly,” Nadia said. “Sandy owns the land and the mineral rights. That was a key in transferring the land to her. Because the title to the land was to an original owner dating back over a century, the mineral rights were still attached to the land. But as soon as we got there, the government of Poland was saying that they owned the mineral rights.”

“So Ian says …” Nash started. Realizing he cut Nadia off, he flushed, “Sorry. Go ahead.”

Nadia smiled at him.

“You remember who Ian is?” Nadia asked Maresol.

“The very handsome President of your family company?” Maresol asked. “He and his husband were in Arizona with everyone.”

“That’s Ian,” Nadia said with a smile. “So this official gets in the face of the man from the UN heritage and says that they have revoked this property’s mineral rights.”

Nadia nodded to Nash.

“So Ian says,” Nash starts with the same enthusiasm. “He gets all prim and says, ‘If you do this you can be sure of two things — we will no longer do business in Poland. Not any. We will end every contract, close every factory, and remove all of our funding for other companies in Poland. Further, we will make absolutely certain that there is not a person on the planet that doesn’t know that the Government of Poland decided to screw the ancestors of the people they murdered out of the possessions that were painstakingly preserved by people on their way to their deaths.’ The guy from Poland just gawked at him. And then …”

Nash nodded to Nadia. She smiled at him and Teddy took over the story.

“This guy from …” Teddy glanced at Nadia.

“The Monument Men Foundation,” Nadia said.

“Them,” Teddy said with a nod. “He came with someone from Israel. They started saying a bunch of stuff that none of us could follow. I mean, Nadia and Colin speak Polish and they couldn’t keep up. It was like the MMA battle of words. Ka-pow! Fast Polish. Ka-pow! Fast Polish back. It was …”

“Intense,” Nash said.

“Freakin’ amazing,” Teddy finished.

“All the while, Trece and White Boy and a bunch of big guys are standing around like ‘You’re not getting in here no matter what you think,’” Nash said with a laugh.

“It was pretty wild,” Nadia said.

“What did the man from the Polish government say?” Maresol asked.

“What could he say?” Nadia asked. “He was out maneuvered. For now.”

“For now?” Teddy asked.

“We must work fast and efficiently,” Nadia said. “They are already cataloging the art first. By daylight tomorrow morning, they will start shipping the art to Geneva. We will use our shipping networks to facilitate the movement. If, and that’s a big if, the Polish government work fast, they might be able to stop our third or fourth shipment.”

“Our hope is to have all of it out of there by the time they get around to doing something foolish,” Nash said.

“Seth said that he thought there might be military contractors there,” Maresol said.

“Yeah, Alex said those guys showed up,” Teddy said. “Trece and the team are there until the mine is cleared. The UN guy wants everything out of the mine before they designate the site.”

“Why?” Maresol asked.

“No reason,” Nadia said. She took a long drink of coffee before adding, “None at all. We need to get everything appraised and checked. There are extensive records so it shouldn’t be hard. It will take some time.”

“Days?” Maresol asked.

“Years,” Nadia said. “After that, the UN might set up a little museum or …”

Nadia shrugged.

“Will all of it go back to other people?” Maresol asked. “Does Sandy get to keep any of it?”

“We asked the same thing,” Nash said.

“And?” Maresol asked.

“The truth is that Sandy owns everything,” Nadia said. “She has the right to keep everything. She’s chosen to see if she can get the art back to heirs. And …”

Nadia shrugged.

“It’s likely that there are no living relatives to receive the art,” Teddy said. “Jews in Poland were hit the hardest. Entire families were wiped out.”

“So we’ll see,” Nadia said. “I’m sure that museums will bid on the paintings.”

“One painting is hanging in a museum!” Nash said with a laugh. “The guy from Israel said that the painting in the museum was likely a fake.”

“Sound like a big mess,” Maresol said.

“I’m happy to stick with the project for as long as it takes,” Nadia said. “That means it will get to an end, but no time soon. We have to expect that the Government of Poland will try to get this art back, if only for tax purposes.”

Maresol nodded. She turned around and set plates of eggs and pancakes down in front of Nadia, Teddy, and Nash. The boys ate as if they’d never eaten before. Nadia was more sedate.

“For all of the wins today, the thing that sticks with me is the dead children,” Nadia said. “The Nazi’s chased the scientist through the tunnel to get the detonator. That much is clear.”

“How so?” Maresol asked.

“From the dead Nazi’s along the way,” Nash said.

Her mouth full, Nadia nodded.

“After they failed — failed to stop the scientist, failed to make it through the challenges, failed to survive the tunnel or even find the hoard of treasures — they came back to murder the children,” Nadia said. “It … I …”

She sighed. They focused on eating for a while.

“I think I know what the Nazi’s did,” Nadia said. She gestured to her head. “I am an Emergency Room doctor. I know what people do to each other. And then …”

Nadia shook her head.

“I grew up in New York City. How can I possibly comprehend these people?” Nadia asked. “Every time I hit some depth of the Nazi depravity, it only goes lower. These people were monsters. Period.”

They ate the rest of their breakfast in silence.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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