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Chapter 9

In this chapter, archaeologist Nora Kelly pays a visit to the chairman of the Institute at which she teaches. She is on the defensive: others at the Institute have already declined her proposal to mount an expedition that would search for the lost golden city of Quivira--a search in which her own father lost his life years before. But she has other reasons to be nervous. Strange and fearsome beings are hot on her trail--and they will stop at nothing to discover the secret her father left behind.


 

Warning: This novel contains profanity and graphic violence.

 

NORA STOPPED OUTSIDE a closed oaken door labeled Chairman of the Board, Santa Fe Archaeological Institute. Clutching more tightly to the portfolio that now never left her side, she looked carefully down the hall in both directions. She was uncertain whether the nervousness she felt had to do with the events of the night before or with the impending meeting. Had word of her shenanigans at JPL somehow gotten out? No, that was impossible. But maybe this was going to be a dismissal anyway. Why else would Ernest Goddard want to see her? Her head ached from lack of sleep.

All she knew about the Chairman was what she had read, along with the rare newspaper photo and even rarer glimpse of his striking figure around campus. She had heard several explanations for the man’s tremendous wealth, from inheriting a motor oil fortune to discovering a submarine full of Nazi gold—none of which seemed credible.

She took a deep breath and grasped the doorknob firmly. Maybe a dismissal would be a good thing at this point. It would free her to pursue Quivira unhindered. The Institute had already passed judgment on her proposed expedition. But Holroyd had given her the ammunition she needed to take the idea somewhere else. If the Institute wasn’t interested, she knew she would find a place that was.

A small, nervous secretary ushered her through to the reception area to the inner office. The space was as cool and spare as a church, with whitewashed adobe walls and a Mexican tiled floor. Instead of the imposing power desk Nora had expected, there was a huge wooden worktable, badly scuffed and dented. She looked around in surprise; except for a row of pots on the worktable, lined up as if at attention, the room was devoid of ornamentation.

Behind the worktable stood Ernest Goddard, longish white hair haloing his gaunt face, a salt-and-pepper beard below lively blue eyes. One hand held a pencil. A rumpled cotton handkerchief drooped from his shirt pocket. His body was thin and frail, and his gray suit hung loosely on his bony frame. Nora would have thought he was ill, except that his eyes were clear, bright, and full of fire.

"Dr. Kelly," he said, laying down the pencil and coming around the worktable to shake her hand. "So good to meet you at last." His voice was unusual: low, dry, barely higher than a whisper. And yet it carried enormous authority.

"Please call me Nora," she replied guardedly. This cordial reception was the last thing she expected.

"I believe I will," Goddard paused to remove the handkerchief and cough into it with a delicate, almost feminine gesture. "Have a seat. Oh, but before you do, take a look at these ceramics, will you?" He poked the handkerchief back into his pocket.

Nora approached the table. She counted a dozen painted bowls, all peerless examples of ancient pottery from the Mimbres valley of New Mexico. Three were pure geometrics with vibrant rhythms, and two contained abstract insect designs: a stinkbug and a cricket. The rest were covered with anthropomorphics— splendidly precise, geometric human figures. Each pot had a neat hole punched in the bottom.

"They’re magnificent," Nora said.

Goddard seemed about to speak, then turned to cough. A buzzer sounded on the worktable. "Dr. Goddard, Mrs. Henigsbaugh to see you."

"Send her in," Goddard said.

Nora threw him a glance. "Shall I—"

"You stay right here," Goddard said, indicating the chair. "This will only take a minute."

The door opened and a woman of perhaps seventy swept into the room. Immediately, Nora recognized the type: Santa Fe society matron, rich, thin, almost no make-up, in fabulous shape, wearing an exquisite but understated Navajo squash blossom necklace over a silk blouse, with a long velveteen skirt.

"Ernest, how delightful," she said.

"Wonderful to see you, Lily," Goddard replied. He waved a spotted hand at Nora. "This is Dr. Nora Kelly, an assistant professor here at the Institute."

The woman glanced from Nora to the worktable. "Ah, very good. These are the pots I told you about."

Goddard nodded.

"My appraiser says they’re worth five hundred thousand if they’re worth a penny. Extremely rare, he said, and in perfect condition. Harry collected them, you know. He wanted the Institute to have them when he died."

"They’re very nice—"

"I should say they are!" the woman interrupted, patting her impeccable hair. "Now, about their display. I realize, of course, that the Institute doesn’t have a formal museum or anything of that sort. But in light of the value of these pots, obviously you’ll want to create something special. In the Administration Building, I imagine. I’ve spoken to Simmons, my architect, and he’s drawn up plans for something we’re calling the Henigsbaugh Alcove—"

"Lily." Goddard’s whispery voice assumed a very subtle edge of command. "As I was about to say, we’re deeply appreciative of your late husband’s bequest. But I’m afraid we can’t accept it."

There was a silence.

"I beg your pardon?" Mrs. Henigsbaugh asked, her voice suddenly cold.

Goddard waved his handkerchief at the worktable. "These bowls came from graves. We can’t take them."

"What do you mean, from graves? Harry bought the pots from reputable dealers. Didn’t you get the papers I sent along? There’s nothing about graves in them."

"The papers are irrelevant. Our policy is not to accept grave goods. Besides," Goddard added more gently, "these are very beautiful, it’s true, and we’re honored by the gesture. But we have better examples in the collection."

Better examples? thought Nora. She had never seen finer Mimbres bowls, not even in the Smithsonian.

But Mrs. Henigsbaugh was still digesting the grosser insult. "Grave goods! How dare you insinuate they were looted—"

Goddard picked up a bowl and poked one finger through the hole in its bottom. "This pot has been killed."

"Killed?"

"Yes. When the Mimbres buried a pot with their dead, they punched a hole in the bottom to release the spirit of the pot, so it could join the deceased in the underworld. Archaeologists call it killing the pot." He replaced the bowl on the table. "All these pots have been killed. So you see they must have come from graves, no matter what the provenience says."

"You mean you’re going to turn down a half-million-dollar gift, just like that?" the woman cried.

"I’m afraid so. I’ll have them carefully crated and returned to you." He coughed into his handkerchief. "I’m very sorry, Lily."

"I’m sure you are." The woman spun around and left the office abruptly, leaving a faint cloud of expensive perfume in her wake.

In the silence that followed, Goddard settled onto the edge of the table, a thoughtful look on his face. "You’re familiar with Mimbres pottery?" he asked.

"Yes," Nora replied. She still could not believe he had turned down the gift.

"What do you think?"

"Other institutions have killed Mimbres pots in their collections."

"We are not other institutions," Goddard replied in his soft whisper. "These pots were buried by people who respected their dead, and we have an obligation to continue that respect. I doubt Mrs. Henigsbaugh would approve of us digging up her dear departed Harry." He settled into a chair behind the worktable. "I had a visit from Dr. Blakewood the other day, Nora."

She stiffened. This was it, then.

"He mentioned that you were behind in your projects, and that he felt your tenure review might go poorly. Care to tell me about it?"

"There’s nothing to tell," Nora said. "I’ll submit my resignation whenever."

To her surprise, Goddard grinned at this. "Resignation?" he asked. "Why on earth would you want to resign?"

She cleared her throat. "There’s no way, in six months, I’m going to be able to write up the Rio Puerco and Gallegos Divide projects, and—"

She stopped.

"And what?" Goddard asked.

"Do what I need to do," she finished. "So I might as well resign now, and save you the trouble."

"I see." Goddard’s glittering eyes never left hers. "Do what you need to do, you say. Might that be searching for the lost city of Quivira?"

Nora looked sharply at him, and once again the Chairman grinned. "Oh, yes. Blakewood mentioned that, too."

Nora remained silent.

"He also mentioned your sudden absence from the Institute. Did it have something do with this idea of yours, this search for Quivira?"

"I was in California," she replied non-committally.

"I should have thought Quivira was somewhat east of there."

Nora sighed. "What I did was on my own time."

"Did you find Quivira?"

"In a way, yes."

There was a silence in the room. Nora looked at Goddard’s face. The grin was suddenly gone.

"Would you care to explain?"

"No," said Nora.

Goddard’s surprise lasted only for a moment. "Why not?"

"Because this is my project," Nora said truculently.

"I see." Goddard eased himself off the table and leaned toward Nora. "The Institute might be able to help you and your project. Now tell me: what did you find in California?"

Nora moved in her chair, considering. "I have some radar images that show an ancient Anasazi road leading to what I believe is Quivira."

"Do you indeed?" Goddard’s face expressed both astonishment and something else. "And just where did these images come from?"

"I have a contact inside the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He was able to digitally manipulate radar images of the area, canceling out the modern tracks and leaving the ancient road. The course of this road matches the directions my father gave in his letter. It leads straight into the heart of the red rock country mentioned in the early Spanish accounts."

Goddard nodded, his face curiously expectant. "This is extraordinary," he said. "Nora, you’re a woman of many surprises." He placed a hand lightly on her shoulder. "What if we make this search for Quivira our project?"

Nora paused. "I’m not sure I understand."

Goddard withdrew his hand, stood up, and walked slowly around the room, looking away from her. "What if the Institute were to fund this expedition of yours, roll back your tenure review? How would that sound?"

Nora gazed at the man’s narrow back, absorbing what he had just said. "That would sound unlikely, if you don’t mind my saying so," she answered.

Goddard began to laugh, only to be cut short by a series of coughs. He returned to the worktable. "Blakewood told me about your theories, about your father’s letter. Some of the things he said were less than generous. But it happens that I, too, have long wondered about Quivira. No less than three early Spanish explorers in the Southwest heard these stories about a fabulous golden city." He looked up at her. "There’s never been a question in my mind that Quivira existed. The question was always exactly where."

He circled the table and came to rest on its corner once more. "I knew your father, Nora. If he said he found evidence for this lost city, I’d believe him."

Nora bit her lip against the unexpected well of emotion.

"I have the means to put the Institute squarely behind your expedition. But I need to see the evidence first. The letter and the data. If what you say is true, we’ll back you."

Nora placed a hand on her portfolio. She could hardly believe the turnaround. And yet, she had seen too many young archaeologists lose credit to their older, more powerful colleagues. "You said this would be our project. I’d still like to keep it my project, if you don’t mind."

"Well, perhaps I do mind. If I’m going to fund this expedition—through the Institute, of course—I would like control, particularly over the personnel."

"Who did you envision leading the expedition?" she asked.

There was the slightest of pauses while Goddard steadily met her gaze. "You would, of course. Aaron Black would go along as the geochronologist, and Enrique Aragon as the medical doctor and paleopathologist."

Nora sat back, surprised with the rapidity with which his mind worked. Not only was he thinking ahead to the expedition, but he was already peopling it with the best scientists in their fields. "If you can get them," she said.

"Oh, I’m reasonably sure I can get them. I know them both very well. And the discovery of Quivira would be a watershed in Southwestern archaeology. It’s the kind of gamble an archaeologist can’t resist. And since I can’t go along myself—" he waved his handkerchief in explanation— "I’d want to send my daughter in my stead. She got her undergraduate degree from Smith, just took her Ph.D. at Princeton in American archaeology, and she’s anxious to do some fieldwork. She’s young, and perhaps a little impetuous, but she has one of the finest archaeological minds I’ve ever encountered. And she’s highly skilled at field photography."

Nora frowned. Smith, she thought to herself. "I’m not sure that’s a good idea," she said. "It might muddy the chain of command. And this is going to be a difficult trip, particularly for a..." she paused. "A sorority girl."

"My daughter must go along," said Goddard quietly. "And she is no ‘sorority girl,’ as you shall discover." An odd, mirthless smile flashed briefly across his lips before disappearing.

Nora looked at the old man, realizing the point was non-negotiable. Quickly, she considered her options. She could take the information she had, sell the ranch, and head into the desert with people of her own choosing, gambling that she could find Quivira before her money ran out. Or she could take her data to another institution, where it would probably be a year or two before they could organize and fund an trip. Or she could share her discovery with a sympathetic backer uniquely qualified to outfit a professional expedition, leading the top archaeologists in the country. The price of admission was taking the backer’s daughter along for the ride. No contest there, she thought.

"All right," she smiled. "But I’ve got a condition of my own. I need to take the JPL technician who assisted me along as a remote imaging specialist."

"I’m sorry, but I’d like to reserve the personnel decisions."

Nora hesitated a moment. "It was the price of getting the data," she said at last.

There was a silence. "Can you vouch for his credentials?"

"Yes. He’s young, but he’s got a lot of experience." Nora was surprised at Goddard’s ability to take a challenge, parry, and come to a decision. She found herself beginning to like him.

"I also think we have to keep this confidential," she continued. "The expedition has to be assembled very quickly and very secretly."

Goddard looked at her speculatively. "May I ask why?"

"Because..." Nora stopped. The real answer was because I think I’m being shadowed by mysterious figures who will stop at nothing to find the location of Quivira. But she couldn’t say that to Goddard; he’d think her crazy, or worse, and rescind his offer in an instant. Any hint of a problem would complicate, maybe even wreck, the expedition. "Because this information is very sensitive. Think what would happen if pothunters learned about it and tried to loot the site before we could reach it. And on a practical matter, we have to move fast. The flash flood season will be on us soon."

After a moment, Goddard nodded slowly. "Now let’s see what you’ve got."

He pushed away from the desk as Nora reached into her portfolio and removed a thirty-by-sixty-minute USGS topo. "The target area is this triangle just to the west of the Kaiparowits Plateau, here. As you can see, it contains dozens of canyon systems that all eventually drain into Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon, to the south and east. The closest human settlement is a small Nankoweap Indian encampment sixty miles to the north."

Then she handed Goddard a sheet of paper: a U.S.G.S. 7.5 minute topographic map, onto which Holroyd had overprinted in red the final image from his computer, properly scaled. "This is an image taken from last week’s Shuttle overflight, digitally enhanced. The faint, broken black line across it is the ancient Anasazi road."

Goddard took the sheet into his thin pale hands. "Extraordinary," he murmured. "Last week’s flight?" Again he looked at Nora, a curious admiration in his eyes.

"The dotted line shows a reconstruction of my father’s route through this country, following what he thought to be that road. When we extrapolated the road from the Shuttle radar image onto this map, it matched my father’s route. The road seems to lead northwestward from Betatakin Ruin, through this maze of canyons, and over this huge ridge which my father labeled the ‘Devil’s Backbone.’ It then appears to lead into a narrow slot canyon, ending up in this tiny, hidden canyon, here. It’s somewhere in this canyon that we hope to find the city."

Goddard shook his head. "Amazing," he breathed. "But Nora, all the ancient Anasazi roads we know about, Chaco and the rest, run in absolutely straight lines. This road winds around like a broken spring."

"I thought of that, too," Nora said. "Everyone’s always thought Chaco Canyon was the center of Anasazi culture, the fourteen Great Houses of Chaco with Pueblo Bonito at their hub. But look at this."

She pulled out another map, showing the entire Colorado Plateau and San Juan Basin. In the lower right-hand corner, an archaeological site diagram of Chaco Canyon had been overlaid, showing the huge ruin at Pueblo Bonito surrounded by a circle of outlying communities. A heavy red line had been drawn from Pueblo Bonito, through the circle, through a half dozen other major ruins, and running arrow-straight to the upper left hand corner of the map, terminating in an X.

"That X marks the presumed spot of Quivira," Nora said quietly. "All these years we’ve believed that Chaco itself was the destination of the Anasazi roads. But what if Chaco wasn’t the destination? What if, instead, it was the collecting point for a ritual journey to Quivira, the city of priests?"

Goddard shook his head slowly. "This is fascinating. There’s more than enough evidence here to justify an expedition. Have you given any thought to how you might get in there? Helicopters, for example?"

Nora shook her head. "That was my first thought. But this isn’t a typical remote site. Those canyons are too narrow and most are a thousand feet deep. There are high winds, beetling rimrock, and no flat areas to land. I’ve studied the maps carefully, and there’s no place within fifty miles to safely land a helicopter. Jeeps are obviously out of the question. So we’ll have to use horses. They’re cheap and can pack a lot of gear."

Goddard grunted as he stared at the map. "Sounds good. But I’m not sure I see a route in, even on horseback. All these canyons box up at their sources. Even if you used this Indian settlement far to the north as your jumping-off point, it would be one hell of a ride just to get to the village. And then, waterless country for the next sixty miles. Lake Powell blocks access to the south." He looked up. "Unless you..."

"Exactly. We float the expedition up the lake. I’ve already called the Wahweap Marina in Page, and they have a seventy-foot barge that will do the job. If we started at Wahweap, floated the horses up to the head of Serpentine Canyon, and rode in from there, we could be at Quivira in three or four days."

Goddard broke into a smile. "Nora, this is inspired. Let’s make it happen."

"There’s one other thing," Nora said, replacing the maps in her portfolio without looking up. "My brother needs a job. He’ll do anything, really, and I know with the right supervision he’d be great at sorting and cataloging the Rio Puerco and Gallegos Divide material."

"We have a rule against nepotism—" Goddard began, then stopped as Nora, despite herself, began to smile. The old man looked at her steadily, and for a moment Nora thought he would erupt in anger. But then his face cleared. "Nora, you are your father’s daughter," he said. "You don’t trust anybody, and you’re a damn good negotiator. Any other demands? You’d better present them now, or forever hold your peace."

"No, that covers it."

Silently, Goddard extended his hand.

 


THUNDERHEAD is copyright © 1999 by Lincoln Child and Splendide Mendax, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this text, or any portion thereof, in any form.
THUNDERHEAD is available in paperback from Grand Central Publishing, www.HachetteBookGroup.com.


© 2019 Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child