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I. DEATH AT DISCOVERY RANCH


Sunday, 15 October 1967

“We’re back, just seconds away from the big moment,” the young reporter says in a breathless rush, “broadcast live around the world to millions of homes by satellite! I’m Jerry Riverdale, here with the discoverer of the vault behind us. We’re beneath the cathedral of Bellegraal in Southern France with war hero Doctor James MacLantis. Doc, tell the viewers again: what do you hope to find in there?” he asks, holding out the microphone.

Doc MacLantis’ smile is wide, white teeth and yellow mustache bright against his even tan in the floodlights. The lights burn fiendishly hot, and the acoustics of this airless underground chamber do not allow fans, but Doc looks as cool and confident in his usual crisp khaki shorts and shirt with ascot as ever.

“That’s what’s so exciting, Jerry, I’m pretty confident of what we’ll find, but I just don’t know. Archeology’s like a detective story: no matter how sure you are, you must wait until you get down to the very bottom.

“But,” he says, holding up a finger, “ever since a stray bomb first exposed the top of these doors, I felt they might lead somewhere important, so I marked them.” He points to his initials in chalk next to a heart carved into the stone over the door, the huge TV camera swinging up to catch it. “See that ancient symbol? It often means the heart’s desire is within – a traditional sign of a treasure chamber. I believe it refers to the fabulous lost treasure of the Templars, perhaps even the Holy Tub itself, its priceless reliquary, and crates of gold.”

“You think the Maundy Grail, as it’s also called, has been concealed here ever since it disappeared in 1307? That it’s still there now?”

“Yes I certainly do, Jerry, and on this very day, exactly six hundred and sixty years since it vanished, I am convinced we will find it again.”

“Treasure, too?”

“Little of the gold and silver the Knights Templar had collected on their last, fatal tour has ever been found.” Doc points to the brick arch. “The vaulting is classic Roman, typical of an underground temple to the god Mithras once worshipped by the legions. This has been here a very long time indeed.

“These ancient sanctuaries had holes made in their roofs to pour bull’s blood over new initiates in their gory baptism rite,” he continues. “But such rooms could hold dozens of members at one time, so there should be plenty of space for a huge amount of treasure.

“I think the relic and the treasure were secretly lowered through that hatch in the ceiling while the Templars were besieged in the cathedral’s South Transept above.” He shrugs. “I can’t prove it because that hole is now covered by their Tomb. If, as many believe, the Vision of the Holy Tub that appears there is a kind of haunting, perhaps it signals where the real one is concealed.”

“Why should anything still be there after all this time?” Jerry asks.

“Simple,” Doc explains. He turns back to the massive oak door. “Like I said, I marked the entrance when I found it. See how high my initials are up there? At that time, the entrance was still blocked by a massive heap of rubble that the bomb shifted. Nobody even knew that door existed before then. That pile had hidden it for hundreds of years. Only in the last few days has it been all cleared away. Yet there are fresh ax marks on the wooden planks; someone’s recently tried to get in. That’s why we’ve got to act now.”

“I’m being told we’re finally ready,” the announcer says, cupping his ear.

“Okay,” Doc grins, rubbing his hands together. “Let’s make history!

“Remove the bar!” he shouts. Workers in white coveralls scurry in and together lift the heavy square beam from the door, and carry it off. Doc plants himself in front of the opening, legs wide, and grabs the handles on either side. Technicians lined up alongside to help, and the camera dollies in tight.

“One, two, three, open!” they yell. The door refuses to budge.

“Again!” Doc orders. Jerry and several others join in with crowbars. “One, two, three, heave!” Dust puffs out of the gap between the wooden barriers as the door squeaks in indignation. “Once more, boys, all together now.”

The portal opens with a deep groan, revealing a high wall of dirt. For a brief moment the sand holds together and then collapses, burying Doc and the crew. Dust fills the chamber obscuring everything but the sound of coughing.

The laughter that follows for over thirty years marks the end of Doc’s media career like a tombstone. Yet evidence is found during the Vault’s excavation which indicates that the Holy Tub had indeed been there at some point. Late in life and looking towards his legacy, Doc MacLantis takes to the airwaves again, but it would prove impossible to escape his past.


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“Scholars whose sole experiences of strata are crooked piles of books can hardly appreciate the judicious use of properly trained clairvoyants and dynamite in fieldwork.”

Doc MacLantis,
Journal of Expeditionary Archeology,
Fall 1958

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