Gus headed left towards the town gate. Somewhat beyond he saw Sundog, leaning against the bridge to the Maureven War Memorial, calmly sipping his soda as he waited for him.
“Professor MacLantis, thank you for coming,” he said, immediately dropping the accent when Gus approached. “Sorry I had to prod like that, but it took you long enough.”
Gus planted himself before the self-confessed spy, arms crossed. “Was that stupid scene really necessary just to get me to talk?”
Sundog shook his head. “Not just to talk,” he said. “I also wanted to warn you about that writer, ‘Nigel.’ Despite his calculated British airs, Buckhorn really is from the Lone Star State. Not much authentic other than his impossibly smooth head, including his first name.”
“Not surprising for a gonzo pop culture writer with a rock star for an ex-wife, is it?”
“Oh, you’ve heard of Cindi, huh?” Sundog said. “She’s another reason to be careful. Very careful. You have absolutely no idea what social circles that woman moves in.”
“Some spy you are,” Gus snorted. “I’m not the MacLantis you should warn.”
“You still don’t believe, Prof?” Sundog asked, pretending to sound hurt. “Allow me to show you something. Walk with me,” he ordered, leaning heavily upon his cane.
They strolled around the fortress-like monument before he spoke again. At the eastern end, he stopped, turning toward the bay where various plaques honoring the heroes of the Liberation were mounted. “Look at this, Prof,” he said, pointing with his stick at one.
“See that? That’s all the public memorial the secret services get: a nameless wreath on a plaque with ten stars. A star for each of the ten men who went in with your father and died – not even their names. They were volunteers, highly-trained, dedicated men; and there’s a reason their names are not known.”
The hippie turned and faced Gus. “Because the war’s still on, Prof, just with different foes. The great game never ends. But now, because of weapons of mass destruction, the dirty work happens entirely in the shadows. That’s what this is about. Let’s go.”
They crossed the empty avenue. The grassy lot before them was full of vehicles, the area beyond now populated with tents of many shapes and sizes leading down toward the great amphitheater. Music from a dozen places swirled amid the noise of laughter and playing children.
“Look at this happy holiday crowd,” Sundog said. “Families, tourists, true believers, tubbers, musicians, and clowns, having a good old time – along with pickpockets, drug dealers, pimps, and thieves.”
“Life’s rich pageantry,” Gus agreed, “all humanity on parade.”
“Sure, like any normal crowd,” Sundog said. “But this motley collection is far from a normal crowd. Here also lurk agents from every major alphabet-soup bureau in the world. Every one of them from America to the Vatican along with secret societies, cults, criminal syndicates, and terrorists looking for the same thing, if just to make sure nobody else finds it first.”
They crossed the parking lot, passing kids fighting each other with foam-rubber swords and a group of mimes holding an impromptu juggling competition.
“You must love it here, Sundog; a spy’s summer holiday.”
“It’s a bit like old home week sometimes,” Sundog said, “but I sure wouldn’t call it a vacation.” They approached the Aquarian Washtub Novelties marquee with tables piled high with T-shirts in front. Behind them stood a large camping tent. “I’ll be blunt, Prof. What it comes to is we’re aware that Doc MacLantis didn’t tell Uncle Sam everything, yet somebody killed him. Put those facts together, and there’s reason to be greatly concerned.”
Sundog greeted a tanned, motherly woman with loose blond curls wearing a bright tie-dyed bra-less sundress. “Hey sweetmeat,” he said, pecking her cheek. “This here is Professor MacLantis. Prof, this is my old lady, Moonbeam. It’s okay; we’ll be in the back, hon.”
Gus smiled, “Hi, pleasure’s mine.”
She nodded, smoothly returning the half-drawn pistol to its holster tucked beneath the table, smiling at a customer. Sundog left the soft drink and bag and led the way inside. The tent’s interior looked comfortably appointed, with cots, coolers, camp chairs and a messy table. But no crackling radios, racks of weapons, code books, maps or sinister spy gear anywhere to be seen.
“Ignoring the remark about my Dad’s death for the moment, how does this concern his mission?” Gus said.
Sundog tossed his stick onto a cot, sat in a camp chair, stretching his stiff leg with a grimace. He motioned for Gus to sit also, and handed him a beer from a cooler.
“Project Molehill wasn’t just to help the Resistance in general,” Sundog said. “Doc MacLantis and his team were specifically tasked with discovering how close the Nazis were to finding the Most Holy Footbath and to prevent them. But they weren’t sent in to hoax one, either.”
“That’s a relief. What happened?”
“The Nazis captured a Resistance man and learned when the team would arrive. Hit them hard, soon as they landed. But Captain MacLantis and the mission leader, Major Chuck Morris, fought their way out, contacted the surviving local leaders of the Resistance, and began work.”
“The Germans were thorough,” Sundog said. He unlocked a trunk and retrieved a folder covered with government classification stickers and warnings. “The Nazis were interested in the Jesus Pot since Otto Rahn came sniffing around here in the Thirties. Just look at the effort they put into it,” he said, opening the folder.
“They’d have dug up half of Haute Maureven if it weren’t for Molehill. Instead, our guys tricked the Germans in digging the wrong half.”
He spread some black and white photos of a dig with SS officers standing around, others taken inside caverns, and shots of briefing tables covered with maps and ancient artifacts.
“The purpose of Molehill wasn’t to fake the Holy Tub, just where to find it. With the help of a local expert you’re doubtless familiar with by the name of Fran�oise No�l and a forger named Demorven, they sent the Nazis on a deadly snipe hunt across the region.” He shuffled through the papers.
“They had the SS following a faked map which lured the Ahnenerbe pothunters into traps and ambushes so successfully the Germans quit halfway through the list. However, the Nazis left plenty of land mines and booby traps of their own, likely from sheer spite. Here’s a picture of the map.” He handed a glossy print to Gus. “And one of the other side.”
“I’ve seen this!” Gus said in surprise. He squinted. “Or something much like it. Twice now, in fact. This looks a little different from either version. One was drawn by Dad. It had a skull where a heart pierced by lightning is on this and the other one.”
“The other one? Oh yes, I read of your little caper at the Studiorum. Your father tried something similar on his own, didn’t he, trying to get the same volume without any authorization. Unlike you, he didn’t succeed, but the incident had repercussions.”
“Damn,” Gus said. “Okay, I did borrow the Beauregarde Manuscript to copy but I did not steal the parchment. An accomplice betrayed me.”
“Ah, another conveniently unfortunate event,” Sundog said with a smile. “You do have a way with them. Don’t worry, Professor. Cooperate with us, and it will disappear from your permanent record. But – aside from the appalling lack of tradecraft – you’ve shown a certain resourcefulness which could be useful to your country. Do let me continue. Where was I?
“Ah yes, we believe the circle is a rendition of the medallion at the end of the Rose Line. But Tobias labeled it like a map, possibly to the Maundy Grail.”
“So that’s where my folks got the idea the roundel is a map.”
“I imagine so. From what you say, it sounds like your father was trying to recall the details. On the fake map we made, our guys changed labels to lead the Nazi pothunters into traps and dead ends, most ancient, some brand new, which the Germans methodically fell for time and again. But on the rear, we left the unaltered verse from Tobias, which seems to be the key.”
Gus looked at the picture, and read aloud the translation beneath it. “ ‘In Maureven’s shrine at dawn’s first ray, piercing deep on the longest day, behind the wall of light unbroken, rests the truth of forgiveness given.’ ” He bit his lip and thought. “ ‘In Maureven’s shrine’ could mean several places, starting with Horrig’s Chapel.”
“Actually on the lure it was marked as a ‘Miners Shrine,’ but there are several in the area. Whichever it is, it could be significant: we believe it’s one of Heronimo’s original set-ups, one never entered by pothunters. Do you know which one?”
Gus shook his head. “ ‘The wall of light’ strikes a bell, but I’ll have to think. But how do you know it’s not the real deal?”
“We don’t, but your father dismissed it at the time. He reported there were old mining symbols signifying danger all over, but nothing that meant ‘paydirt’, as he put it.”
“That sounds like Dad. But if the site only held traps, why would he stay interested? You think he lied?”
“We’re not sure; just that he didn’t tell us everything,” Sundog said after a sip of beer. “Poking around long after the War got him banned from the University. But the irony is that his attempt eased any suspicions Washington had that he’d been holding out. They let the matter rest, especially after the Vault fiasco, and paid no further attention until his murder. But that suggests Doc knew exactly where to find the Holy Tub. At least, somebody thinks so, and that’s why they killed him.”