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I. DEATH AT DISCOVERY RANCH


Chapter 2

Friday, 27 August 2004

In the television studio, the screen faded to white. The house lights brightened to scattered light applause from the studio audience. They revealed Doc MacLantis and his three offspring sitting onstage along a long sofa between their hosts.

The Clan MacLantis were making their first TV appearance in many years. Skip wore a crisp silk tailored suit; Gus academic and frumpy in an old, fuzzy, brownish sack with leather patches on the elbows, and Allie, chic in a snug, severe black dress with modest silver jewelry and round thin-framed glasses, her auburn hair tied back.

Their father sat at ease in his trademark costume of pressed khaki shorts and military-style shirt, complete with yellow cravat and matching knee socks. Doc smiled in forced confidence with a determined set to his grin while his children cowered beside him.

“Most impressive,” the blonde, impeccably-coifed hostess exclaimed as she finished applauding. “Wow. If you can keep that level of energy, you should have a hit on your hands. Isn’t that so, Bruce, folks?” The sign flashed and the audience applauded.

“Thanks.” Doc’s smile was broad by a pure effort of will. “We’re looking forward to the new series, although not everything will be as funny as that.”

The male host, Bruce, nodded. “So ‘America’s First Family of Archeological Adventurers,’ as your press kit puts it, is continuing its big comeback with the second season of your new show, MacLantis Mysteries, starting production. That’s an impressive achievement, but why? You’ve been retired for decades now. Why return to TV after all this time?” He leaned forward, hands together like he was in fact interested.

“Not many shows can make a comeback after an absence of thirty years,” Doc began. “The three best reasons how and why are here. This will be the legacy for my children – and maybe theirs – to build upon.”

“I see.” Bruce turned to Gus. “Doctor MacLantis, you’re a professional archeologist. Do you prefer TV to your academic career?”

Gus straightened. “Excuse me, there’s one ‘Doc MacLantis,’ and that’s my Dad here; I’m content to be called ‘Professor’ even without tenure. I love both. TV’s exciting, but unfortunately too many intellectuals discount it as a teaching tool.”

“Skip, you’ve had a successful career as a climber and photographer, shooting award-winning across the world. What’s it like to work with your father again?”

The eldest son wore a smile almost as forced as his father’s. “It’s more fun now than it was then. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed being in front of the lens.”

“Is that why you made your sister carry the camera?” the blonde demanded.

“Now Betty,” Bruce began, but Allie laughed. “I’d like to see him try. No, I begged Dad to let me do it.”

“That’s correct,” Doc said, pride in his voice. “They’ve all jumped in, despite their own careers. That’s one reason I’m so glad to be doing this again. And I still want to inspire people. Interest them in the wonders which surround us.”

“Will they all be cautionary tales? Because wasn’t the clip about what not to do?” Bruce asked, flashing white teeth.

“Well, we do have a lot of experience with that,” Gus said.

Bruce jumped at the opening. “It’s true, isn’t it, Doc, despite terrific discoveries, it hasn’t always worked, has it? Your most famous stunts were also often the most controversial.”

The studio lights dimmed as well-known march music swelled. The monitors flashed a quick montage of shots of an exploding pyramid, a much younger Doc struggling in a pile of sand, and ending with a circle of people holding hands in a round, windowless chamber.

When the lights rose again, Doc’s grin was wider and Gus sank lower. “It’s been an interesting ride,” Doc MacLantis conceded. “But if by ‘stunts,’ you mean my use of ‘intuitive archeology,’ we’ve often had excellent results. For instance, I was right: most experts now concede the Maundy Grail was in the Vault at one time just as predicted.”

“Dad isn’t the only one to utilize clairvoyance,” Allie said suddenly.

“True,” Gus agreed. “Many noted archeologists relied on it: Bligh Bond, Norman Emerson, the great Le Plong–”

“But you’ve seen some spectacular failures, haven’t you, Doc?”

Doc tossed it off with a shrug. “My experiments may have disappointed me once or twice. Explosives are tricky, and I’m not very intuitive; that’s why I use professionals now. But to educate through entertainment, I can’t be afraid to take chances,” he said. “If one ‘stunt’ doesn’t work, people are more interested in how the next one will go. I hope folks will tune in, appreciate the marvels this amazing world of ours holds, and maybe even learn something.”

“What about you, Allie?” Betty asked. “How do you feel –”

“Doing psychic readings for my Dad?” Allie finished. “I knew you would ask that. Truly, though, I just feel what I feel. But I don’t do it for money, to sell artwork at my gallery, or for entertainment. I was raised to believe that my ‘intuition’ is not for public amusement or private greed, but a power to be explored responsibly, for science.”

“We do try to have fun, but this is serious work,” Gus said. “It’s not just for laughs. There are ancient mysteries right here. Lost mines, ghost stories, strange disappearances, even a holy hole which makes healing dirt.”

“Enough for several more seasons of zany fun,” Skip added dryly. “That’s great,” Betty interrupted. “But what everybody wants to know is: when are you going after the Holy Grail again?”

“It’s the ‘Maundy’ Grail,” Gus said with a weary sigh, but Doc dismissed it with a wave of his hand.

“Oh, the good old Jesus Pot,” Doc said lightly, but did not smile. “Nope, I’m done with it, thanks. I’ve no desire to look for the Sacred Footbath any more. And my sincere hope is that these three never get involved in that useless quest which has only produced tragedy.”

“Your former colleague, Raimondo Fatamorgana, now an outspoken skeptic, has written another book highly critical of you,” Bruce said with care. “Yet you not long ago are quoted as saying, ‘Fear conceals the Maundy Grail; from the lunatics who ignore the historical reality and the maniacs who scoff at its fabled powers.’ You’ve never been the doubter he is, but those strong words disappointed and angered a lot of fans. Anything to add or change?”

“I don’t want to get into that again,” Doc’s smile vanished. “I wasn’t criticizing the fans. But there are a few people who are insanely obsessed with the Maundy Grail, and if it weren’t for them, whoever’s hiding the Holy Tub would have no reason to do so. Raimondo and I have our personal differences, but I do agree with him there’s a lot of nonsense surrounding it. I’m sorry for whatever part I’ve unintentionally played in fostering it.” “Ever consider writing a book of your own?” Betty broke in, “Why not tell your side?”

“Funny you should mention it,” Doc admitted, “but yes, I have.” He paused and sighed. “This feud has indeed gone on long enough. Now that the kids are grown, perhaps it’s time to set the record straight. Yes, Betty, I am indeed writing my memoirs and in fact, I have contacted the Maestro already in hopes of a meeting. I hope to have more to say in the near future.”

The kids’ mouths gaped while the audience applauded. “Oh this is great news,” Betty enthused. “What an interesting life you’ve led as a spy, a war hero, the rediscoverer of the ‘dragon bones’; as a showman and television pioneer. No doubt the book will be riveting – and I hope it will include the story of your quest for the Holy Grail. Thanks for announcing it here, Doc.”

“My pleasure,” Doc said, trying to smile. “Thanks for having us.”

“We hope you’ll come back to share it with us,” Bruce said. “But that’s all the time we have now. Bruce and Betty Live will be back...”

 


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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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