(a crossover with Indiana Jones)
Jonathan MacKensie put the finishing touches on the test he'd been preparing and stretched comfortably at his desk. His tie askew, shoes kicked off and hair rumpled from hours of work, he looked like he hadn't slept for two days, and that was close to the truth. Grading finals, reading papers and trying to tie up end-of-the-semester business had kept him busy working overtime but with the completion of this last test he would be finished. It would be given the following afternoon and once it was graded and the results recorded he would be free for the whole summer. Then, with luck, he could head back to that dig in New Mexico and finish the work that had been interrupted when Edgar Benedek had sprung yet another scheme on him.
Edgar Benedek. Knock wood. He rapped on the corner of his desk with a wry grin at the silly superstition, half afraid thinking of Benedek would conjure him up. No matter what Benedek came up with, no matter what his department head, Dr. Moorhouse, urged and threatened, nothing would keep him from that dig, nothing at all. He was free of the Unexplained Phenomena department for the whole summer.
He began to stack his reference books, clearing them away from the center of his desk, then he reached for the completed test. He'd enter it on the computer tonight and run off copies in the morning. The test wasn't until one in the afternoon. He planned to sleep as late as possible.
There was a sudden thump against the door as if something heavy had fallen against it, making him jump, startled. It was close to eleven and there should be no one in the building but the security guard. Alarmed, Jonathan watched the door swing open and a large, disreputable cardboard box advance into the room. Levitation? he thought wildly, then, with a sinking heart, he saw Edgar Benedek peering over the top of it, his eyes sparkling with excitement. When Benny was excited, Jonathan knew his own plans had a tendency to go awry. Huffing and puffing like an asthmatic steam engine Benny deposited the box on the middle of the desk, right on top of Jonathan's newly finished test.
"No!" yelped the anthropologist, grasping for it. "Benedek, you idiot! I've been working on that all night."
"Relaxovision, Jack." Benny hoisted up the box long enough for Jonathan to snatch his test from under it, then he dropped it again.
Jonathan looked at the dirt and mildew marks that now covered his work and ground his teeth. "Benedek, you have no sense at all!" he announced as he tried futilely to brush off the paper and restore it to its pristine whiteness.
"No, but I've got a great story, Jon-boy, one that will make even you sit up and take notice. This is great, Jack. It's Pulitzer Prize time. It's unbelievable!" His eyes shone with a fervor that Jonathan had never seen there before; he was literally shaking with excitement. "As soon as I saw what I had, I came straight here."
"Thanks a lot," said Jonathan with one final grimace at the test. Never mind that it was still legible enough to enter into the computer. It was the principle of the thing. He was reluctant to admit his growing curiosity, but Benny's unnatural fervor made him add, "You can tell me about it. I'll be gone by the weekend but maybe I could help you tomorrow morning if it's that important." They both knew it was a major concession but Benny didn't pounce on him the way he usually did when Jonathan gave ground.
"Important?!" Benny echoed. "This story's going to top everything else I've ever done, and it's right up our alley, weird power and all. I'll admit that this isn't your field, it's the one next door. You know your history, buds. You can make sense out of all this—and I know just who we can go to for more information."
Still bouncing with eagerness he opened the box and removed a stack of musty ledgers, notebooks and folders. Jonathan couldn't help noticing that at least half of them wore a faded stencil across their covers that proclaimed in anemic pink, "Classified."
Jonathan's heart sank. "Benedek, are you crazy?" Backing away from the box as if it contained high explosives, he demanded hotly, "What are you trying to prove? Some crazy exposé? That's classified material! You could be in serious trouble and I don't want to be there with you. My dig's waiting in New Mexico, and I'm going there, instead of getting into trouble with you."
"Forget New Mexico, Jack. This is more important than a few moldy old bones."
"Not to an anthropologist."
"To anybody," Benny persisted. "Besides, give me a break! What kind of classified material is stored in an old basement a box like this? Some great way to keep secrets. This is pre-war, Jack. There's probably a statute of limitations," he concluded airily.
"Maybe there isn't. I don't want to know about it, Benedek. I have no desire to spend the rest of my life in a maximum security prison—sharing a cell with you!"
"You won't. When you find out what's in there, you'll insist on being a part of it. You'll be part of the greatest discovery of the century—maybe even the millennium. I know just the person who can help us on it. Ornery old coot, but I think we can get him going on it and he'll be a great help. Reminds me of you, the way you're gonna be in another forty years." He grinned brightly. "Or, knowing you, maybe a lot sooner. Think of it like this, Jonathan," and his use of MacKenzie's full name convinced the anthropologist how serious he was. "We're about to make history."
"What do you mean, we?" Jonathan asked warily, cutting through Benedek's babble. He was used to the reporter's wild enthusiasm but he'd never seen him quite this excited. Benedek wasn't even being flippant about it; he was deadly serious. For once the façade was down and Jonathan was getting a good look at a truly compelling obsession. Though Benedek was always willing to believe wholeheartedly in his otherworldly phenomena and prepared to recruit weird allies from wall feelers to Ghostbusters he was always geared toward the good story. It was a game for him, an exciting and important game to be sure, but a game. This was something more serious. Thinking back on assorted ghosts, vampires and out-of-body experiences Jonathan couldn't help wondering what would have inspired such utter awe in his sometime partner in 'crime'. He had thought he was coming to know Benedek, but the serious side of the other man (Benny without the face he showed the world) always took him by surprise.
"Chill out, buds," Benny said confidently. "This time I know you'll want in on this." He began sorting through the ledgers. "I know you're an anthropologist but what do you know about biblical archaeology?"
"It's not my field," Jonathan said automatically. "I'm primarily involved in early man and pre-man. But I'd know more than the layman and I've got a lot of archaeological training. Why? Are you off to Israel?"
"No. Washington should do it if these books are right." The reporter rifled through the pages of a book full of faded, old fashioned handwriting. "I met this girl last week," he said, seemingly at random, but Jonathan knew his apparent non-sequitur was the lead in to something more important. "Carole Eaton. Whoa! You should see her, Jack. She's got—" he gestured suggestively in front of his chest, one hand still clutching the book. "Out to here." He grinned. "Types two hundred words a minute and she does things with palmistry you couldn't begin to imagine. Magic fingers—magic hands." He sighed rapturously.
"I'd rather not try," Jonathan said dryly. "Don't you know any ordinary girls, Benedek?"
"You are a spoilsport, pal. But never mind her—attributes. It seems her grandfather was in army intelligence during the war and before. He got onto something big—it looks like it was somewhere in the mid-thirties from what I can see here. Never would talk about it. He died in '51 and Carole never met him, but her dad used to say there'd been something really important that only he and a couple of others knew about, and most of them died in the war, so maybe Granddad was the last one who really knew. Files can get lost—"
"Or damaged," Jonathan said sourly, looking pointedly at his test paper.
"Or damaged," agreed Benny cheerfully without a shred of guilt. "And even with all that bureaucratic red tape, things vanish. But granddad kept records—and that's what I've got in here J.J. Proof!"
"Proof of what?" Jonathan wiggled his feet into his shoes and began to do up the loose buttons of his shirt. Maybe he could steer Benny out of here still talking, and manage to get to bed before midnight for a change. He didn't expect Benedek to come right out and tell him—Benny liked to milk his audience as much as possible—and he did now.
"You'll never believe this, Jon-boy."
"Not if I never hear it. Come on, Benedek. I'm tired. You look tired, too. Can't it wait till morning?" When Benny opened his mouth to insist, Jonathan sighed. There was a hint of desperation in his colleague's eyes, a look that was pulling Jonathan in in spite of himself. Benny was good at that. "Just tell me what it is. If it's as good as you say, I promise to listen."
"Well," Benny said, grabbing up another book and looking at Jonathan portentously, "it has to do with the power of God."
Jonathan stared at him. Benedek had never struck him as a particularly religious man—he was too far too irreverent for that. "What are you babbling about, Benedek?" he asked warily.
"We go into a little history here, Jonny. Seems that back in the thirties Hitler started to take a big interest in collecting religious artifacts from around the world. Maybe our buddy Adolf wanted to play around in the occult, maybe he was trying to buy his way into heaven or something. Probably thought it beat indulgences." Benny struck a lecturer's pose as if trying to imitate Jonathan's professorial tones. "He recruited archaeologists from all over the world to track down artifacts."
"I remember reading about that," Jonathan agreed. "The man was certifiable in the first place. He was trying to collect everything he could lay his hands on. Art treasures, you name it. Why not archaeological finds, too? You're not buying into the same occult mumbo jumbo Hitler did, are you?" That was a stupid question. Benny was always buying into some kind of occult hype—and dragging Jonathan after him willy-nilly.
"This is real, buds. Documented. The army got suspicious and started checking it out, especially when Der Führer sent cables involving an American archaeologist named Abner Ravenwood."
"Ravenwood," Jonathan mused, struggling after the memory. "The name's vaguely familiar. I think he was an Egyptologist. I don't remember anything about him other than his name, though. Was he a Nazi?"
"No. He was already dead by then. Hitler wanted an artifact that was supposedly in Ravenwood's possession, something called the Headpiece of the Staff of Ra."
"I've heard of that," Jonathan said, surprised Benny would know about such an obscure artifact. "It was supposed to be used somehow to locate the Ark of the Covenant." He looked at Benedek, saw him grinning a mile wide, and his mouth fell open in rampant disbelief. "You can't possibly mean that these—these records tell you where to find the Ark of the Covenant?!" he cried, snatching the books from Benedek's hands and trying eagerly to decipher the faded writing.
"Not yet," Benedek said, "But there are enough clues in here to get a good start and a first class lead that you might even be able to help track down. So what do you say, Jonathan?" he asked brightly, grinning. "Are you off to the wilds of New Mexico to look for Indian bones or are you with me?"
"Benedek, if this is a scam..."
"Word of honor, Jack." Laughing, Benny parodied crossing his heart in an extravagant gesture. "This is right on the money."
Jonathan felt excitement rise up inside. Benny had done it to him again, and this time, he wanted to go. He couldn't begin to imagine the possibilities that would go with locating the Ark of the Covenant. His partner would probably lead him into some cloak and dagger scheme, full of weird detours and dangerous speculation. Yet for once he didn't want to object. If this was just another of Benny's scams, Jonathan would probably happily wring his neck, but just in case it wasn't a scam, Jonathan had to be part of the team.
"All right, Benedek," he confirmed. "I'm in. And if I find out you're scamming me on this one, you won't live long."
"Threats. I love it when you get macho, Jack."
"So what do we do next?" MacKensie asked. "I'll get Randy to put this test on the computer. It's not for one of her classes." The wheelchair-bound anthro major was his student assistant. "Dr. Moorhouse will probably take the class herself when she hears about this one."
"Yeah, let's put Dr. M to work," Benny said happily. "I love it. Then what do we do next? Come on, J.J. I thought you'd be the one to figure that out, with your academic background and all. What else? We look up Indiana Jones."
Indiana Jones. Jonathan should have expected that one. He'd heard about Indiana Jones all his life, and he had even met the maverick professor once when he was in graduate school and the old man had come to lecture Jonathan's Egyptology class. Come to think of it, he'd made some veiled allusions to the Ark of the Covenant then. Jonathan frowned, wondering if he could dig up his old class notes—which he still had somewhere in his attic—and see if there were any clues there. He knew Dr. Jones was still alive—he must be nearing ninety right now, or at least in his upper eighties, yet he was still pretty active the last Jonathan had heard. There were some rumors going around that Jones was so spry for his age because he'd once drunk from the Holy Grail, but Jonathan didn't believe everything he heard. He didn't mention that to Benny because Benny would have bought into it gleefully and the next thing anyone knew there would be headline stories in the National Register about Biblical 'fountains of youth'.
"Wait a minute, Benedek," Jonathan replied. "What makes you think Dr. Jones knows anything about the Ark of the Covenant?"
"Give me a break, Jack. Everybody knows that. Don't tell me you haven't heard rumors about it."
"Well," conceded Jonathan, "maybe. But I never took it seriously."
"Color me surprised," Benny replied. "You never take anything seriously unless its name ends in 'pithecus'. Think of all you're missing, Jon-boy. Think how lucky you are to have a certified expert like me to expose you to a whole new world."
"Certifiable, more likely," Jonathan retorted. "All right, so there are rumors about Dr. Jones and the Ark, just like there are about him and the Holy Grail."
If Benny had been a pointer, his ears would have come up and his nose would have aligned itself on Jonathan. "Holy Grail?" he asked eagerly. "You're holding out on me, Jack."
"You mean there's a weird rumor I've heard that you haven't?" Jonathan asked in delight. "The story is that he once drank from the Holy Grail. His father was probably the greatest Grail scholar of all time."
"And he got recruited by the Nazis to hunt for it," Benny said promptly.
"If you already know the story, Benedek—"
Benny's eyes widened. "You mean they really did? This is great, Jonny. My story's going to be even better than I thought. But no more holding out on me, buds. We're a team, remember."
"How could I forget," Jonathan said with resignation—but it wasn't very serious resignation. This might even be interesting. "So tell me, Benedek, what do you know about Dr. Jones and the Ark of the Covenant?" he asked as they left the office, Benny clutching his moldy old box and Jonathan the ruin of his test.
Dr. Henry Jones Jr. was a surprise to Jonathan, who had met him years earlier. He remembered the scar that slashed down the side of his face and the eye patch that concealed whatever damage the injury had done to his eye—something Jones had never talked about though one or two of the students in Jonathan's class had tried to sound him out about it. Jones had been old then, but old and fit. Still, that had been nearly ten years ago, and Jones could only have grown older. Jonathan had expected him to be frail and near helpless—he must be almost 90 now—but there was nothing helpless about the older professor when Benny and Jonathan were shown into his living room, a place adorned with trophies from a lifetime of archaeological digs. Instead he projected energy and life, and his face held traces of the adventurer he had once been, and probably, thought Jonathan, still was. He looked like one of those men who enjoy the privileges of old age, allowing himself to be crotchety and temperamental and expecting to get away with it knowing that people would make allowances for him because he was the doyen of American archaeologists. Jonathan would have liked to spend time prowling around the room, examining the intriguing artifacts so temptingly displayed, but the old man was approaching him with every evidence of delight, holding out his hand to be shaken.
"Jonathan MacKensie," he burst out, tilting his head to one side as he studied the younger professor. His one eye gleamed with bright intelligence. "I remember you. You're the one who tried to insist that—let me see, what was it now. Something about a bicameral brain, was it? Ever get a grant for that?"
Jonathan grimaced as he shook hands with the older man. "Not yet, but I'm promised one, sir. This is an honor."
"Honor? To talk to an old goat like me?" Jones shook his head. "If we're to talk of honors, it's an honor to meet your father's son. I knew old Lenny back in the late 40s. We met shortly after the war. I was doing research in Luxor and he came through with a party of scholars, prepared to . . . "
Jonathan would have dearly loved to hear that story, but he remembered Jones well from the class back in his graduate days and he headed it off reluctantly. Back then, there were always students prepared to indulge him in hopes of sidetracking him for an entire class and postponing the assignment of new homework, though, while it had never been hard to sidetrack him, there was always the moral of the story—Jones always had a reason for the tales he told, and he had one for every occasion known to man—it never made him forget the next day's assignment. After awhile, Jonathan had learned to appreciate the tales, though he suspected many were apocryphal—no one could know so many famous people. Right now, though, there was a purpose to the visit, and Jonathan wasn't prepared to sit through four or five hours of tales.
"Excuse me, Professor Jones, but I'd like you to meet my—er—colleague, Edgar Benedek."
Professor Jones shook hands with Benny. "Indiana Jones," he identified himself. "Benedek, eh? You're old Jordy Kerner's protege, aren't you, boy? I thought so. I've read a few of your tales—cock and bull, all of them, though you've got a way with words—and the soul of a con man." He shook hands with Benny, and MacKensie saw the journalist's surprise at the strength of the old man's grip. Probably due to years of cracking the bullwhip he had carried with him into the field, and which, if the legends were true, he often used as a weapon against grave robbers, sinister spies, dangerous Nazi agents, and anyone else who crossed him.
"I heard about you and Jordy and your adventures in Czechoslovakia in '68," Benny said, flexing his fingers surreptitiously. "Did you really smuggle that countess out of Prague, complete with all her diamonds, just before the Russians would have snatched her?"
"Diamonds and rubies, my boy, all her diamonds and rubies. Jordy had a report that there was going to be a change, some kind of political action, and we compared notes. Countess Magda had a great deal of gypsy blood, and she had ways of knowing the future. She sometimes did a crystal ball act at fashionable parties, half as a joke, but those in the know listened to everything she said. It was a valuable way to pass information without seeming to pass information. Most people refuse to believe that things can be more than they seem. Magda was forty seven then, but she looked ten years younger, and she was at home in any level of society, from royal courts to the poorest of the poor. A good survival knack, that ability to fit in anywhere. It made the escape that much easier, because we had to pose as peasants for part of the journey."
"Wow, this is great!" enthused Benny, totally caught up in the story. "Jordy, too?"
"Jordy, too," Professor Jones replied, his eye twinkling. "With a false beard and a huge false belly, with the diamonds and rubies sewn into it, waddling down the road, scratching and spitting, pretending to be deaf because he didn't speak a word of the language."
Even Jonathan enjoyed the image that arose in his mind at the professor's words. He could see that Benny was anxious to jump in with a million other questions, but Jonathan had resisted hearing his own father's Egyptian adventures, so he jumped in quickly and stopped Jordy's Czechoslovakian ones.
"Professor Jones. We've come to you on an important mission." From the tone of the old man's stories, it sounded like the word 'mission' just might get his attention. "Show him, Benedek," he urged, gesturing at the journals the reporter had brought along, now in a cleaner box. "Benny has a lot of dubious contacts, Professor. One of them led to his finding this."
Benny held out the box. "I think you'll remember this, Dr. Jones. I wasn't sure what I had, but when Carole Eaton gave me these, I took a look through them. See what you think."
"Eaton?" echoed Dr. Jones. "Eaton. Hmmm. I met someone named Eaton once. Now let me see. When was—" A crafty look came into his eye as he identified the name. "A child—grandchild maybe. What do you think you have, Mr. Benedek?"
Benny's expression matched Jones's for craftiness. He shot a hasty, warning glance at Jonathan, who had been about to explain quickly, and the anthropologist fell silent, wondering why Benny felt the need to play games with someone as respected as Henry Jones Jr.
"Abner Ravenwood?" Benny offered tentatively.
"Knew him. I worked with him back when I was a graduate archaeology student. So?" countered Jones.
Benny opened his box and pulled out one of the folders, holding it so Jones could see the 'Top Secret' label on it. "The headpiece of the Staff of Ra?" he prompted. "I think we both know what that signifies, don't we, Prof?"
Jones's face was perfectly expressionless as he thought it over, considering the implications, trying to decide how much Benny actually knew. Then his eye slid over to Jonathan, who knew full well he didn't have a poker face. His excitement must have shown through.
"So you ran to your professor friend for confirmation," Indiana Jones returned. "And he told you—what exactly?"
"Hey, buds, I'm the one with the documents. I'm the one that dug them out, and I've already given you two hints. Don't you think it's time for a little tit for tat here?"
Jones studied Benny as if he were familiar with the species and didn't see much to trust in it, but then he looked at Jonathan again; and a change slid over his face. He rubbed his forehead, considering, then he said, "Mr. Benedek, I wouldn't have trusted you, even if you are Jordy's protege. In fact, I wouldn't trust you because you're Jordy's protege—and because I've read some of your wild articles. You want to get your name in lights so you can do the talk show circuit—fame and glory all at somebody else's expense, all second hand."
Benny opened his mouth to protest hotly, then shut it again. He shot a curious look at Jonathan, then his face closed up and he donned a look of deliberate brightness like the one he'd worn after telling Jonathan about his fiancee's death in the plane crash and then tried to make MacKensie think it all a story dreamed up for the talk shows. "I research every story I write," he said. "That's good stuff, Dr. Jones."
Jonathan felt a sudden urge to defend Benedek from what seemed like an unwarranted attack, but even as he opened his mouth to speak, Jones waved a hand at him to silence him. "Course that was before you teamed up with this one," he said, one finger stabbing toward Jonathan's chest. "Read some of your stuff since you formed your Paranormal Unit at G.I. Never thought Georgetown would go for that, though Juliana could convince most people to do what she wanted without a lot of effort." His face warmed momentarily, making sudden wild speculation flood through Jonathan's mind. Jones was on a first name basis with Dr. Moorhouse? No wonder she'd been so quick to sanction the trip—and maybe this explained that light in her eyes.
"Yeah, we've done some great stuff since then," Benny said hastily, in his most blatant praise-himself voice. "Really great stuff. Of course J.J. here did his share. Usually played the skeptic so I could get to the truth—like any great journalist."
Jones shook his head. "The difference is you only enhance the stories now. Before, you made them up. You really believe in this Ghostbusting nonsense, don't you?"
"And you don't? Come on, Prof—they say you drank from the Holy Grail. Don't tell me you haven't come up with more mystical mumbo jumbo in your life than any five ordinary people."
Jones gave a grin that almost transformed him into the dashing adventurer of his younger days. "Make it ten, and you might come closer," he admitted with a self-deprecating grin that was so nearly convincing Jonathan suspected he had spent years practicing it before a mirror to achieve the right degree of humility. "I did a lot."
"Dr. Jones?" Benny leaned closer, intrigued. "Have you ever thought about writing your memoirs? With the help of a talented journalist, maybe, one who understands all the mystical elements? I could do a dynamite job on it. We'll just draw up a nice fat contract and let the royalties pour in."
Jones shook his head. "You're too late, boy. It's all done, all written down, just waiting for the day they screw the coffin lid closed. All done, every loose end tied up, all but one." He hesitated. "The one you came about. The Ark."
Benny's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "Then there is an Ark?" he asked, grasping several more booklets from his box. You saw it? You—opened it?"
"You can find it?" Jones countered.
"I've got a start right here," Benny replied. "What say we join forces, compare our information. The Ark's too valuable to be stuck away somewhere, where no one can see it. It should be on display in a museum somewhere—and us with a big finder's fee."
Jones frowned. "I wanted to put it in a museum once, but the government stopped me. They took it and put it somewhere safe, or so they said. It must have been safe because I've kept my ear to the ground and I've never heard any evidence of finding it since. No unexplained disappearances that matched what it's capable of. The Ark protects itself. What makes you think it won't protect itself from you, Mr. Journalist, out for what you can get?"
"Because we're doing it for the sake of history," Jonathan burst out, unable to hold back any longer. "If the Ark is as powerful as you say it is, it might even protect itself from those who try to misuse it. It might be safe in a museum, depending on the security system, where archaeologists and Biblical scholars could study it."
"Is this kid idealistic or what?" Benny asked Jones brightly. "I've been all through these papers. As near as I can figure, the Ark was stored in Washington, along with a great many other objects the government didn't want known at the time. Hardly anybody knew it was there. It wasn't labeled, only numbered. The numbers are listed in here, but the exact location of the warehouse isn't. Did you ever try to find it, Dr. Jones?"
"Four times. The first time, Marian and I tried, we wound up in jail, and not just any jail either, but a military stockade. We tried to get lawyers, but no lawyer would touch us. Finally after nearly a month, we were freed. It broke something in her. She gave up on it and that was the last I saw of her." Even after all these years, that separation still bothered him. He made an impatient brushing away gesture with one hand.
"Marian Ravenwood?" Benny asked, proving he'd done his research.
Indy nodded. "She was one of the best."
He looked ready to drift off into another sea of reminiscences, so Jonathan dug back into his graduate techniques. "But didn't the military say why you'd been held, Professor?"
"Pshaw, what could they say? There was a war coming, even then some of us knew it. I knew it. I knew the Nazis wouldn't sit back and be content with bits of Europe when they could try for the whole world. I knew we'd get into the war sometime, but they knew it better than I did. Wouldn't let me tell anyone on the grounds that it was a violation of national security. But I think they wanted to use the Ark against the Nazis. It killed a squad of them once. I saw the beginning of it and heard the rest. When it was safe to look at it again, they were gone, every man of them, and the lid was back on the Ark. When I tried again to find the Ark after the war, there were no traces of it anywhere."
Benny's eyes widened. "Whoa! Great story, Prof. 'ARK ANNIHILATES ARYAN MENACE,'" he quoted, holding his hands up as if to define the headline for his next article. "This is dynamite!"
"This is dangerous, Benedek," exclaimed Jonathan, torn between skepticism and alarm. "I didn't know the Ark could kill people."
"They were Nazis, Jack. The Ark didn't kill the prof, did it? We're the good guys. The Ark knows that."
"The Ark knows that?" Jonathan echoed in rampant disbelief. "Come on, Benedek, the Nazis triggered some kind of hidden defense, a poison gas, perhaps. Dr. Jones was simply far enough away that he was spared."
"A poison gas that evaporates bodies in seconds?" Jones challenged. "Open your mind, MacKensie. I used to tell you that when you were my student. Brilliant but just a shade too conventional. The world's a glorious place, full of marvelous adventures. You miss too many of them when you see everything in black and white."
"I've told him that for years," Benedek agreed, bestowing an approving grin on the elderly man. "For years. But no more. Now that he knows me, he's learning. I've taught him all kinds of good stuff. You're right about him, though. He was the vanilla ice cream type clean through until I got my hands on him. Since then he's been possessed by ghosts and de-haunted a house, and dressed up like a chicken and all sorts of adventures."
"And I'll never forgive you, Benedek," Jonathan snapped, though without the annoyance his voice would have held in the beginning. "Especially for the chicken."
Benny only grinned. "Never mind the chicken, buds. I know you loved it, even if you won't admit it. We're here to find the Ark. Do you think you could take us there, Professor? Between us we just might have enough information to dig it out."
Jones' eye gleamed. "One more big adventure," he said. "And maybe the final chapter to my book. You've got a deal, Mr. Benedek, Dr. MacKensie." He shook his head as if in disbelief. "You two are the most unlikely team I've seen since my old buddy Judge Hardcastle took in that ex-con. But you're both still wet behind the ears. You're going to need my help. When do we leave? I've got to get my gear together."
When Jonathan saw Professor Jones next, the following morning at La Guardia for their flight back to Washington, he could hardly believe his eyes. From the battered Fedora that crowned his head to the scruffy boots on his feet, he looked like he'd stepped directly out of the jungle to join them. Jonathan had a pretty good idea the bullwhip he wore coiled at his belt wouldn't get through airport security, and he was right. Bemoaning its loss, Jones turned it over, making them sign a statement that he could reclaim it when they reached Washington and complaining loudly all the way to the plane about the state of the world today.
"We weren't so fussy in my day," he expounded as the three of them boarded the plane. Jonathan had tightened the reins to keep Benny from buying first class seats, so the three of them sat in a row, the old Professor in the middle. "Of course now there are nasty people like terrorists. We knew how to handle terrorists in my day. I remember once in Brazil..."
"Not so loud," cautioned MacKensie in alarm, making shushing gestures with his hands. "They'll arrest you."
"Me? Do I look like a terrorist?" Indy shook his head sadly. "It's all a lot of nonsense. Back in my day, we dealt with people like that. We didn't hold their hands and baby them and give them concessions. We did something. A lot of the time, I did it. I remember once in Beirut in '47..." He shook his head and turned his attention back to the complaint. "But we live in boring times. All the adventure gone—though it needn't be. You two are just what I needed. Did I tell you about the time I went to Venice to track down my father?"
"Yes, Dr. Jones," said Jonathan quickly, though from his vague, ten year old memories that had been one of the better stories, even if it had ended unbelievably. "The Nazis had him. At least we won't run into them today."
"You never know, buds," Benny cried with glee. "What about the Neo- Nazis? They're a nasty bunch."
"Pansies, the lot of them," Jones declared. "But we'll watch out for them anyway. If we're followed I'll know. Let me see those books again, Benedek."
None of them had noticed the man at La Guardia watching Indy, his eyes narrowing in surprise as the old professor raised his fuss. He was a very ordinary looking man in his mid fifties, perhaps, whose hair had once been fair but now had begun to degrade into a dirty, yellowish gray. He had a broad forehead and very pale blue eyes, and it was possible that, in his youth, he'd been handsome, but then again, perhaps not. At the sight of Indy hotly protesting the loss of his whip, something dangerous flashed on his face for an instant, turning it from a bland, ordinary face into one of obsession, an expression he masked immediately. He followed Jones and his two companions through the detector, as far as their gate, where he noted the name of the flight and its destination. Washington, D.C. Interesting. Could it be? After all this time? Perhaps it was nothing of the sort, but it was a chance he couldn't ignore, not after so much time. Jones was old now. There wouldn't be many more chances.
He headed for the nearest pay telephone and began feeding money into it. When someone answered at the other end, he spoke quickly in accentless English, but with a faint something about the words to suggest English had not been his native tongue.
"Karl? This is Stephan. I am at La Guardia. You will not believe whom I have just seen. Jones. Doctor Indiana Jones, complete with whip and fedora. And get this, Karl. He is going to Washington. Yes, to Washington. His flight number is American Airlines flight 1039. Have someone meet that plane." He named the arrival time. "Ask them to identify Jones' two companions. Follow him. This could be interesting. It may finally be the time. He may be going for the Ark." There was a pause and he continued impatiently, "Yes, I know I'm obsessed, but would you pass up the chance to get it. We know if it still exists it's probably in Washington. We know Jones hasn't been there for ten years, not since before his retirement. If you fail this time, there may not be another."
They spent the return flight studying Major Eaton's books, diaries and letters, trying to find something that would tell them the exact location of the Ark. Jones was certain it was still in Washington, though Jonathan wondered if anyone who had guessed what was sealed away might have removed it for study. He wasn't quite prepared to believe the Ark could make whole squads of Nazis vanish in minutes, but if it had made a lab of scientists vanish, security would be tighter than ever. Not particularly keen on the idea of vanishing himself, Jonathan studied the letters carefully, looking for any clues that might explain where the Ark had been hidden.
"It's probably a government warehouse," Benny said excitedly. "Whoa, this is great. All we need to do is get hold of some old telephone books or maps of the Washington area from the 30s and get some addresses."
"And then we stroll up to the door and say, 'Good morning, we'd like you to give us a top secret classified government object?'" Jonathan demanded in disbelief. "We'll probably be arrested."
"After all this time, Jonny? It's probably declassified and they'll be glad to get it off their hands." Benedek grinned. "Besides, I've got a few contacts in high places, and some of them owe me favors."
"Blackmail? I should have expected that of you, Benedek."
Benny grinned, buffing his fingernails against his jacket. "It's what I'm good at, Jack. It's what I'm good at."
"This can't be the place, Benedek," Jonathan said four hours later. It hadn't been difficult to locate old records which gave the address of the possible warehouse where the Ark had once been stored. Though it wasn't listed in the current telephone directory, the three of them had gone to investigate the site, Benny and Jones bubbling over with enthusiasm and plotting the daring ways they would sneak into the place or the scams they would use to get around the current guards. Now they stood at the address they'd found, staring in disbelief. In 1936, a government warehouse had stood on this site. In 1987, it was the location of a Condominium complex.
"Wrong, buds. This was the place—fifty years ago. We've got a long way to go to find the current location."
"For all we know, the Government discovered the properties of the Ark," Jones remarked. "It may have been moved to a safer place when this one was pulled down."
"So where do we go next?" Jonathan asked. It looked like a dead end to him. He shouldn't have expected anything less. Irritation ran through him, irritation at himself for buying into another of Benny's wild plans. He should have known it wouldn't amount to anything. He should be back at Georgetown giving that final test.
"Back to your place, J.J." Benny grinned as if he understood Jonathan's annoyance and had expected it. "Then I start calling in favors." He started back toward the car. "Come on, buds, you didn't think it would be the first place we looked, did you?"
"I didn't think it would be anyplace you could find," Jonathan responded tartly. "So what do we do. Check telephone books and city directories for each of the last fifty years?"
"No way," Benny replied. "I've got people to do that kind of research for me. Delegate, Jon-boy. Delegate. Back to your place. I want to make some phone calls." He headed back to the car, just as a blue sedan pulled to a stop behind their car and two men got out. They hesitated beside the car, then walked up to the main entrance of the condo complex without sparing a look at the three who hesitated there.
"They're following us," Jones said in an undertone. "When we get moving, watch for that car. Get the license plate number, Benedek."
Jonathan opened his mouth to protest. The two men were probably ordinary people here on business, insurance men or tax collectors or something. Yet he glanced uneasily over his shoulder as they climbed into the car, and he saw the two men paused on the steps, one of them staring after them. The other man touched his arm and they entered, but something about the look had bothered Jonathan.
"Come on," he protested uneasily. "How could somebody be following us? How could they even know to do it?"
"Maybe they bugged the Prof's apartment," Benny said brightly as he put the car into traffic, his eyes on the rear view mirror.
Even Jones shook his head at that. "Not very likely, son. If they were after the Ark, they would have started fifty years ago, and nobody's got the time and resources for that, not just to keep me under surveillance on the off chance I'd try to find the Ark again. Besides, I haven't been followed everywhere. I would have known. No, this is new. Could someone want either of you?"
"Of course not," replied Jonathan automatically. "Why would anyone want to follow me. With Benedek it's hard to tell. Though some of his more scurrilous stories—"
"Hey, yeah," Benny replied, looking delighted by the idea. "They're out to get me." He shook his head. "On the other hand, when's the last time you were in Washington, Dr. Jones?"
He and Indy exchanged a considering look, and Jonathan groaned. This was going to be a lot harder than he had expected.
"Favors, fine," Jonathan said a couple of hours later. "But I don't want to set a new record for my long distance telephone bills, Benedek. Don't you know anyone in the actual D.C. area who might be able to help us?"
The remains of a huge carry out lunch was spread on his living room table, and stacks of books and reference materials were piled everywhere, though that wasn't unusual. Generally the books were heavy research volumes on Ramapithecus and the like, but now they were tomes on biblical archaeology and a series of maps of the Washington area with adjacent areas, old phone books, and piles of legal pads scribbled full of notes. It was the middle of the afternoon, and Benny had been telephoning everyone who might have information, careful to give no indication of what he was seeking. "Why should my experts live here, just because you do, Jon-boy? And I'd just as soon keep the locals out of it because there are a lot of weirdos out there who might pick up the scent," he concluded. "And if those boys at the condo were really on our tail, we don't want to encourage them. They might have guns."
"Guns," scoffed Jonathan. He couldn't see this turning into a great cloak and dagger adventure, not after so long. It was an artifact they were seeking, not espionage documents or the British Crown Jewels.
"The boy is right," Indy agreed with Benny. "The Nazis wanted it badly back then. They won't have stopped."
"You said all the Nazis with Belloq were killed by the Ark," Jonathan objected. He was not entirely sure he believed that part of the story, that all the soldiers Belloq had brought along in his attempt to open the Ark had mysteriously vanished. Indy was convinced they were dead, and he and Marian Ravenwood had encountered no trace of them as they had escaped with the Ark. Jonathan suspected some of them had fled, but that meant believing the Ark had super powers that had manifested on that remote island. Yet Indy and Marian had escaped and brought the Ark back to Washington. Jonathan wasn't sure what had really happened, but those Nazis would be old men if they were alive now. It seemed ridiculous to suspect a bunch of creaky old Nazis were pursuing them from wheelchairs and walkers, and the two men at the condo had probably been in their fifties, too young to have served in the Second World War.
"They looked at the Ark," Indy explained. "My studies had always shown me that it was dangerous to look upon its mysteries. There are some things not meant to be seen by the eyes of man."
"Then we'd better get Benedek a blindfold when we find it," MacKensie replied. "He won't be able to resist it otherwise." Knowing Benny, they'd have to tie him down as well as blindfold him or he'd go the way of all those soldiers back in 1936.
"Hey," said Benny. "Those guys were pretty violently anti-Jewish. Maybe the Ark will consider me one of the good guys."
"Maybe," said Jones, "but that doesn't mean you can look at the Ark. Belloq believed. He even researched the rituals—and he still died."
"Yeah, but he wasn't Jewish," Benny objected, looking hopeful. Then he shook his head. "We check the legends before we do anything. This isn't a tinker toy. It's really dangerous."
"Just so you realize that, Benedek," Jonathan retorted. Benedek was always rushing into danger—but he usually rushed with full information. He might be gung ho for the sake of a story, but he wouldn't take too many risks this time—or so Jonathan hoped.
The ringing of the phone interrupted them and Jonathan answered it only to pass it over to Benny. "It's your friend from the Smithsonian," he remarked. "He sounds excited."
"Great. Yo, Bucky," Benny cried into the phone. "What did you get, buddy?"
He was silent a long time, only interjecting the odd comment like, "They took them where?" and, "Back here?" then he snapped his fingers and pointed to a legal pad. Jones passed it to him, and Benny started scribbling. "Yeah," he said. "Got it. Right. I owe you big time for this one. No, not big enough for an intro to Mona, but almost. Wait until you see your Christmas present." He gloated over his notes for a second. "Yeah, thanks, Bucky. You'll read all about it in the Register. Maybe this time you'll read about it in the New York Times. And see it on CNN. I'm on a roll." Hanging up, he spun around, grinning a mile wide. "I think we've got it," he chanted, rather like Henry Higgins and Col. Pickering when Eliza Doolittle had finally mastered proper diction.
Indy's eye lit up. "Do you know where it is?" he demanded eagerly.
"Well, we've got three possibilities," Benny replied. "Bucky checked old records. There was a government warehouse there, all right, but they moved it during the Second World War. They put the items into three different warehouses, in three different states. The really large items were placed in a warehouse in Pittsburgh, the small things were secreted in Denver. Bucky things they were stored at the Mint, but he can't verify it. The rest of the things wound up in Cincinnati." He shook his head. "So what size was this ark of yours, Prof?"
Indy demonstrated with his hands, and Benedek narrowed his eyes, considering. "Cincinnati," he decided.
"Benedek, if you're planning to drag us off to Ohio..." Jonathan began hotly.
"Relaxovision, J.J. After the war they brought the stuff from Ohio back. Some of it is even at the Smithsonian. Bucky says he can check for the case we want, but he doesn't think it's there. He's seen the list of items that came from Ohio. All those cases have been opened. Some of them are on display. A few were considered top secret at the time but have been declassified since then. They were big stuff in the 40s but they got left behind in time. They aren't a threat to anybody any more."
"The Ark is," said Indy positively. "Is it still classified?"
"Well, we don't know," Benny replied. "The rest of it is stored in a couple of warehouses. One of them is military, the other isn't. As things stand, getting into the military one is not right up there in the list of possibilities. I can swing it, but it will mean calling in a lot of favors. The other one is a little easier. I vote we try it first."
"Just so long as our interest doesn't alert someone to our actions." Indy got up and moved over to the window, standing at the edge of the curtain and peering out. "That Buick is parked out there," he remarked. "I told you we were being followed."
"What? It can't be," objected Jonathan. They hadn't done anything to warrant pursuit. He joined Indy and followed the old man's pointing finger. "It looks like the same car all right, but there are a lot of Buicks that color around. It doesn't mean anything."
"I hate to break it to you, buds," Benny commented, standing directly in the window and ogling the car, "but there are a couple of characters sitting in there. I can't tell if it's the same two or not, but I think they're watching us."
"But who are they? Why would they follow us?" Jonathan demanded, still not quite believing anything so absurd as surveillance. "Did you make some gangster mad by dallying with his wife?"
"Dallying?" Benny echoed, charmed by the word. "What do you think, Prof? Dallying? Does this guy move with the times or what? Nobody's after me, Jonny boy, not even for bad journalism. It's got to be the Ark."
"So how do they know about it?" Jonathan persisted. "It's ludicrous." He noticed the car starting up, and it drove past his house with neither of the car's occupants so much as glancing in their direction. "See! You're wrong. It's just a coincidence."
"I've known a lot of coincidences in my time, Jonathan," Indy said, shaking his head, "but this feels like more than that. I don't know how they picked us up, there are people who want the Ark, and I've got a gut feeling those guys were part of them. I hate those guys."
"Who?" Jonathan blurted.
MacKenzie shook his head. "You keep talking about Nazis," he said. "But I don't buy it. Not after all this time. It's either a coincidence or something else entirely." And neither Benedek or Jones could get him to change his mind.
The blue sedan didn't leave the neighborhood entirely. It simply drove around the corner and parked beside another car, and the man from La Guardia got out of it and slid into the already open back seat of the Buick, accepting a pair of gloves from the driver who gestured to him not to touch anything until they were in place. Cloak and dagger stuff. "What have you learned?" he demanded.
"Easy, Stephan." The speaker sat behind the wheel, a dark haired, hard-faced man of Stephan's age, who looked like he would be at home with a terrorist weapon in his hands. "I have learned what we need to know," he replied. "I have identified Jones's allies."
"Well done, Karl. Who are they? Government agents? Spies? Criminals?"
"The one who lives around the corner is a professor of anthropology at Georgetown Institute," explained the man beside Karl. "His name is Dr. Jonathan MacKensie. I have learned he is part of an Unexplained Phenomena department at the Institute, and part of his job is to investigate UFOs and Bigfoot sightings and the like. Maybe Jones thought the Ark might fall into these categories. It is, of course ideal for our purposes because quite often such reports are greeted with skepticism. Georgetown does not go public with their supposed finds in any case, and would most likely want the Ark for their museum section. MacKensie should present no real threat to us."
"And the other man?" demanded Stephan.
"There is where the problem comes in," said Karl. "His name is Edgar Benedek."
"I know that name from somewhere," Stephan mused. "Where have I heard it. What have you got, Max?"
The man in the passenger seat grinned. "This is interesting. Benedek is something of a public figure. He is a reporter for the National Register, one of those supermarket rags. He writes outrageous stuff about Elvis living on the moon, and he churns out books like, Europe on Five Ghosts a Day. It's all trash, but he has a big following, people who will swear by whatever he writes. His books hit the best seller list."
"So it would be dangerous to interfere with him?" Stephan asked in disappointment.
"You are too conventional, too unwilling to dare for our goal, Stephan," cut in Karl. "It would be much too dangerous not to interfere with him. Once a headline appears on the cover of the National Register, it's all out in the open. We can't let that headline appear."
"So what do we do?" Stephan's resolve hardened. "I won't let our purpose go unserved after so many years. I'd almost given up hope, especially when Jones retired and stopped chasing around the world. I thought he'd given up and we'd never find the Ark."
"You should have done what I said years ago, Stephan," Karl said coolly. "Kill Jones. Then we'd have the satisfaction of revenge."
"Revenge without the Ark is incomplete revenge," said Stephan and Max in chorus. They'd had this argument many times before. Killing Jones would have been easy, almost too easy. It wouldn't pay—it wouldn't make up for the wrong that had been done to them so long ago. Jones would be dead, but he would be dead with the knowledge that the Ark was safe in its hiding place, and they had all agreed to let Jones alone as long as he didn't go for the Ark.
At first, it had been easy. Stephan had moved into Jones's apartment building years ago. He had passed himself off to the super as a fan of the dashing archaeologist and asked to be told whenever Jones took off for parts unknown. For years, their small group had watched Jones from a distance. Once he'd moved to Washington for six months which had gathered the group in a frenzy of excitement, but it had turned out all Jones did was teach for a semester at the Georgetown Institute. Though he was watched quite carefully during that period, he never tried for the Ark, and he returned peaceably to New York when the semester was over.
Stephan had seen Jones often over the years and had even achieved the point of speaking to him in passing in the elevator or at the mailbox, but never more than a nod of the head or a, "Good morning." He didn't know if Jones would recognize him now or not. New Yorkers were not well known for recognizing their neighbors, and would probably fail to do so out of context. He might think Stephan looked familiar, but unless something drew Stephan to his attention, he probably wouldn't pick him out in a crowd, and he didn't know Karl and Max. He might have seen them years ago when they were tailing him here before, but no one could be expected to remember that, least of all a man in his eighties. People that age tended to forget all sorts of things. No, they wouldn't be recognized, as long as Stephan stayed in the background.
"So what do you want us to do?" Max demanded. "Besides getting Benedek out of the way, that is?"
"We'll start with that," insisted Karl. "If Jones knows someone is after him he might try to get the Ark quickly. We can follow him."
"You'll kill Benedek?" Stephan stomped down on his misgivings. He didn't like gratuitous killing. Killing Jones, when the time came, would be different, but they had no grudge against Benedek. Still, it might be necessary if they were to find the Ark and achieve their vengeance against Jones.
"It's easier now than it ever was," Karl said in the tones of one who often killed with impunity. He had always been the hardest of them, even when they were children, and had they not been united in a common purpose, Stephan would have wanted no part of him. But Karl shared their objective, and it was useful to have a hard man on the team. Max, his younger brother, could sometimes restrain him, but Max wanted revenge, too.
"Easy to kill someone?" Stephan asked. "Without being caught?"
"We make it a drive-by shooting," Karl replied. "It happens all the time any more. This car is stolen. We grabbed it at the airport. Its owner got out of it with suitcases. He won't be back in time to report it missing. We drive by, blast Benedek, then we ditch the car as soon as we can. We haven't left a fingerprint anywhere. No one will tie it to us."
"So when do we do it?" asked Max.
"Trade places with me. You drive. We do it as soon as they leave the house." They reversed places and Karl took a box from the floor by his feet and drew out a gun. Stephan recognized it as a Desert Eagle, an Israeli weapon. He found that ironic indeed.
"Look, they're coming out," said Max, slowly reversing the car until he could see the front door of MacKensie's house. "One try, Karl. If you miss him, we can't stop to try again. We'll have to get him later. If we want it to seem a drive-by shooting, we can only shoot as we pass. No stopping. I don't want any of us recognized. Jones might recognize Stephan."
"One shot is enough," Karl said dismissively. "Go!"
Max cranked the wheel and started down MacKensie's street, picking up speed as he went, while Karl steadied the weapon and braced himself for the shot.
"It's getting late. Maybe we should wait until tomorrow," Jonathan protested. "The warehouse might be closed for the night."
"If it is, we come back. We still haven't heard back from Marcy about that license plate anyway," Benny replied. "We'll swing by and if we can get in, we'll look for the Ark. If not, we'll do it tomorrow. Besides, I want something more substantial than pizza. Know any good restaurants, J.J. or only some of those fast food carry out places? Georgetown can spring for big bucks. Dr. M. would pay for her old buddy, Dr. Jones."
Jonathan winced. Knowing Benny, he'd find the most expensive place in town and buy the most expensive champagne and charge it all to the institute. Maybe Dr. Moorhouse wouldn't blow a gasket if it was for Dr. Jones, but Jonathan wasn't willing to place any bets on that score. He wasn't sure Dr. Moorhouse's fondness for Dr. Jones would outweigh her dislike for Edgar Benedek or her reluctance to spend department money frivolously.
"Come on, buds," Benedek argued persuasively, grabbing Jonathan's wrist and dragging him to his feet. "This is the one you wanted to be in on. This is your great adventure. Or is it the threat of Nazis lurking outside? Come on, Dr. J. Let's go out hunting for excitement. The Ark. Think of it."
"I'm coming," Jonathan replied. "Don't worry, Benedek. You couldn't get rid of me now."
Jones chuckled to himself. "What a team the two of you are. You remind me of the time right after the Great War. I'd been discharged from the Belgian army and had been serving as a translator at the Peace Conference, but it had concluded. I'd said my farewells to my friend Ned—you'd know him as Lawrence of Arabia—"
Predictably Benny cried, "Wow! Lawrence of Arabia!" Jonathan knew that look on his face. The first chance he had, Benny meant to sit down with Indy and pump him for information about Lawrence and about anything else he could throw in to make it a good story.
"I met him in Egypt when I was a boy," Indy continued smoothly, "while visiting the Pyramids with my tutor, Miss Seymour. But that was another story. What I started to say was that I returning to the States where I hoped to go to college in Chicago to begin my studies of archaeology. My father met me at the station in Princeton, and I knew that look on his face. My father was a remarkable man but he had never been happy with my enlistment. He had great plans for my future, and they didn't include the possibility of dying in the trenches." He followed the two younger men out onto Jonathan's steps, looking automatically up and down the street for the blue Buick and, not seeing it, returned to the story. "I had encountered two returning servicemen on the train, a Captain Melvin Cramer from Dayton, Ohio and a Jack Wayne from somewhere out in Iowa. They were..."
Benny was lapping it up, always ready to listen to another of Jones's adventures, though Jonathan couldn't see how this one had anything to do with the situation at hand. With a sigh, he followed them down the stairs. Benny bounced out ahead, his attention totally fixed on Dr. Jones as he stepped into the street to get behind the wheel of the car. He had just dug a hand into his pocket for the keys when Jonathan saw the blue Buick swing around the corner and bear down on them like a juggernaut. Nazis or no, Jonathan had to believe the car's occupants had it in for them, but that thought flashed through his head, leaving belief in its wake so quickly that he scarcely recognized it. Instead he saw the man leaning out the passenger side of the car, a gun in his hand and he knew without having to think about it that both his companions were too caught up in the tale Dr. Jones was telling to notice on time. Indy might have the experience to deal with such a crisis but he was in his eighties and his reflexes weren't fast enough. For Jonathan, time seemed to slow way down, long enough for him to recognize the fact that the gun wasn't aimed, as he'd expected, at Dr. Jones, but directly at Edgar Benedek.
"BENEDEK!" yelled Jonathan as he started running. He had time for just three giant strides before the gun could spit out its first shot, diving for Benedek in a flying tackle. He caught him about the shoulders instead of the legs, trying to bear him to the ground and shield him, just as Benny turned in response to the yell. The gun spat as they were falling and Jonathan felt something hot and fiery sear across his upper right arm. Then they crashed to the street in a tangle of arms and legs with Jones yelling in the background as he hurried to join them.
"Cowards!" the old man yelled after the disappearing car, an unexpected gun in his hand. He took careful aim and fired after the Buick, but if he hit the car, it didn't slow its progress. Jonathan's last view of the vehicle was that of it disappearing around a corner two blocks away in a squeal of burning rubber.
"Whoa! Heroics!" gasped Benny breathlessly. "Way to go, Jon-Jon! For this you get the gold medal—right after I sign you up at Weight Watchers. You weigh a ton, buds. You want to get off now? I could start to wonder about you. Come on, Jack, you're hardly my idea of a dream date."
Jonathan heard all of that perfectly clearly, but his mind was fuzzed around the edges and answering his friend's usual patter took more effort than he could muster. The street blurred momentarily before it steadied and he closed his eyes quickly before it turned upside down. His arm throbbed fiercely and he felt a sticky wetness in his sleeve. He had been shot! He was bleeding!
Someone reached for him and touched his shoulder. It wasn't Benedek's touch. Funny he would know that, even with his eyes closed. He felt himself smiling, though he couldn't have explained why. Not that anything made much sense right now. "Dr. MacKensie, you've been shot," said Indiana Jones somewhere over his head. "Try not to move until I see how bad it is."
"SHOT!" bellowed Benny, heaving himself up as if he'd received an electric shock and trying to wiggle out from under Jonathan without jarring him too much. "What do you mean, shot?! That's crazy! He's not shot, he's just clumsy. He's always falling all over his own feet. No wonder, they're so big..." His voice trailed off and he said in a much softer tone, "Jonathan?" Was that a quiver in his speech? "Come on, Jonathan, talk to me. How bad is it? Open your eyes. Give me a sign here." Jonathan didn't remember hearing that much pure stark terror and genuine worry in his friend's voice before, and it cut through the fog enough to enable him to speak.
"Relax, Benedek. I'm not hurt." When he opened his eyes he saw that Benedek had eased free of his pinning weight and knelt at his side staring down at him with wide, shocked eyes while Indy settled him onto his back, looked up at the gathering crowd—where had they come from—and commanded, "Someone call 911 right now!" Footsteps retreated in the distance in obedience to the command.
"Not hurt? Not hurt!" Benedek's face was white, but his eyes heated up at that comment. "You're bleeding. They shot you! You complete idiot!" he bellowed furiously and unexpectedly, drawing back and glaring at Jonathan as if it were all his fault. "What kind of a stupid stunt was that supposed to be?! Are you crazy?!"
The last thing Jonathan had expected was to be attacked for his attempted rescue. "He was shooting at you, Benedek," he explained reasonably. "What was I supposed to do, let him do it?"
"So what's wrong with yelling, 'Duck!'" Benny chided him, his face still hot with tension. "I can't take you anyplace. You aren't fit to be out without a keeper! If you ever do anything so stupid again—" He bolted to his feet and spun on the crowd. "Go on, back up. Get out of here, you bunch of ghouls. Give him air." When they retreated in alarm at the fury in Benny's words, the journalist nodded as if satisfied and produced a notebook and pencil from his pocket. "Okay, who saw anything? Come on, I'm a reporter. You can get your names in the paper." His voice still rang with anger, and Jonathan blinked up at him in blank surprise. He wasn't quite clearheaded enough to reason it out, though he was pretty sure it was only shock. He could flex his fingers without even more than a faint jar of pain. It wasn't a serious injury.
"Come on, sit up, son," Indy urged. "I'll help you. Let's get your jacket off and have a look at that arm. If I'm any judge—and I ought to be: I've been shot before—you've only got a flesh wound. Shock's about the main problem in a case like this. We clean you up, stick a few band aids on, let you have a quiet evening and tomorrow you'll be raring to go."
"That's easy for you to say," complained Jonathan as Jones helped him out of his coat—a painful process that he bore stoically, biting his bottom lip at a particularly unpleasant part—and rolled up his shirtsleeve, cutting away the seam at the edge of the cuff and tearing the fabric apart to expose the wound. Jonathan peered at it blurrily, relieved to see it wasn't deep. The bullet had traced a shallow line about three inches long and it was bleeding sluggishly. He grimaced at the sight of his own blood. It was messy and it had ruined one of his favorite shirts, but Jones was right. It was only a flesh wound.
Benny was still working the crowd, his back to them, his shoulders tight. Jonathan looked from him to Jones and back again. "I couldn't just yell," he defended himself quietly, feeling a surge of overwhelming relief to see Benny on his feet alive and well, when he could have been lying in a puddle of his own blood right now. "He might not have moved in time. I couldn't take that risk."
"You did the right thing," Indy said, clasping Jonathan's shoulder reassuringly. "But you scared your friend, getting shot in his place. You scared him so bad he didn't have a smart remark. I don't know him very well yet, but I know the type. He's flippant because it's easier than letting the man inside come out and be vulnerable. Give him a little space. I know the feeling. When I was in the trenches..."
Jonathan groaned. Bad enough he was wounded by some lunatic who was trying to kill Benedek. Now he had to listen to another story of the Great War!
At the groan, Benedek whirled around, pinned Jonathan with his eyes while he assessed the situation. When he realized it was Jones's tale rather than his wound that had caused the groan, he drew his mouth in a tight line, turned abruptly back to the gathered people and started scribbling fiercely in his notebook.
"You see," Indy said with a hint of a smile. He lifted his eye and studied the street. "Here come the police. I think, Dr. MacKensie, this had best be considered one of those drive-by shooting incidents. The police will want to know what happened, but Benedek was the one in the street. He would have been the easiest target." He pressed his folded handkerchief against the wound. "Stopping the bleeding is the most important thing." Using his other hand, he felt Jonathan's forehead and took his pulse. "You're lucky, son. The wound's slight. You'll be fine. You let the paramedics take you in and fix you up. I honestly doubt you'll be admitted to the hospital, but they'll urge you to have an early night. I know about this kind of thing. I've seen a lot worse than this, and not just in war."
"You've seen men shot?" Jonathan asked.
Indy's eye narrowed and a strange look passed over his face, one Jonathan had never seen there. "I saw my own father shot in 1938," he said quietly. "It was a fatal wound. We were too far from doctors and hospitals. There was no hope of getting him to treatment."
"But..." Jonathan gaped up at him, realizing he was being distracted. "But your father didn't die in 1938," he objected. "I remember Dr. Moorhouse talking about him once. He lived to be 105 years old and died in his chair with a book in his lap." Jonathan had remembered the story so clearly because it seemed the best way to go, old and fulfilled and still seeking knowledge.
"True, young man," Indy replied. "But it almost didn't happen that way. It was 1938—and there were Nazis there, too. They haunted me for years, Nazis. It was an American traitor who shot my father. His name was Walter Donovan..."
In spite of the fact that this story had caught Jonathan's interest more than the earlier ones had—he suspected it was a part of the Grail story he had never heard before—his eyes didn't linger on the old man's face. Instead he sought out Benedek, who was waving a police car over. A paramedic van screeched to a halt behind it and everything grew even more chaotic than before. The three of them were questioned, Benny deflecting the worst of it when he said that a neighbor had reported some guys hanging out on the corner. Jonathan received temporary treatment and was loaded into the back of the van, and only then did Benny come bounding over to join them.
"I'll ride with him to the hospital," he said in the tones of someone who doesn't mean to be contradicted. The paramedics gave way, and Benny finally took out his car keys and flipped them to Indy. "Follow us in," he instructed. "Then I'll drive us all back."
Once the ambulance door was shut beside him, Benedek took out his notebook and paged through it. "Nobody saw anything, buds," he complained. "People are blind and stupid ninety per cent of the time." He still looked angry, but his voice had softened.
"They were shooting at you, Benedek," Jonathan pointed out, raising his voice a little to be heard over the siren. "Not at Dr. Jones and not at me. That gun was aimed right at you. Who have you offended? If they're not after the Ark, then you did something to make them mad at you. I should have known it wasn't Nazis. What kind of lunatic trouble are you in this time?" By the time he finished, his own voice had heated up with anger. "If I got shot because you were fooling around with some gangster's wife..."
Benny flinched. "I swear to you, Jack, word of honor. I don't know of anybody who's mad enough at me to want to shoot me." He dropped his eyes, unwilling to meet Jonathan's gaze. "Besides," he added, gathering his wits about him, "I don't fool around with gangster's wives. Where did you get that idea, JJ? You don't watch late movies, only PBS. Maybe I am corrupting you. It's about time."
Jonathan heaved a sigh. Bad enough he had to be shot, without all these other complications filtering in. "Come on, Benedek, it was hardly your fault some lunatic decided to take pot shots at you. But it wasn't a drive-by shooting." He looked at the paramedic sitting opposite Benny and fell silent. That could wait. It would have to. He heaved a sigh and shifted position because his arm still throbbed. "The worst thing about it all," he concluded wryly, determined to distract both the paramedic and Benny, "is that now I might never get to hear about the time Indy's father got shot by a traitor in 1938."
He closed his eyes on the intrigued gleam in Benedek's eyes and dozed the rest of the way to the hospital.
Jonathan lay dozing on his living room couch, his arm only a little sore, and then only when he moved it or bumped it against a pillow. The hospital had confirmed Indy's diagnosis, that it was a simple flesh wound, and after treating him for shock, cleaning and bandaging the wound, they had sent him home with instructions to spend the evening lying down. By the time they were ready to leave, he felt much better and he'd been able to walk to the car under his own steam, though Benny hovered at his side, grabbing his arm to steady him.
"I'm not a cripple, Benedek."
"No, but—" Benny began with much less than his usual spirit.
Jones cut him off. "Let him help you, Jonathan. You look better, but you don't look well. We'll put you to bed when we get back to your house."
"Maybe we should try to find a safe house," Benny said brightly. "After all, they know where Jonathan lives."
"They'll hardly come back now," Jones replied. "The neighborhood is alerted and the police will be more active there. I told them it might be a good idea for them to check the neighborhood periodically in case it was a deliberate attempt. They didn't believe it might be, but a drive-by shooting in your neighborhood is unlikely, so they'll probably add extra patrols tonight. If we're under surveillance, they won't try anything again until we're away from the house."
"That's a nice theory, Prof," objected Benny. "But I'm gonna sit up tonight and watch for them."
"Wrong, young man. We'll share the watch. You may be a hotshot journalist, Benny, but I don't think you're used to this kind of game."
"More than you think," Benny had insisted.
"Well, you can tell me all about it over dinner." Jones smiled. "I think you need a good meal, Jonathan. If we go for the Ark tomorrow, you'll need all your strength for that."
Just the thought of finding the Ark sent strength flowing through Jonathan's veins, and he sat up a little straighter. A part of him relished the excitement of the chase, as if he were a real part of one of Jones's dashing adventures back in the 1930s, and he smiled at the idea.
"Whoa! Check it out," Benny cried gleefully, peering at Jonathan. "Just give him a fedora and a bullwhip. Adventures 'R Us."
Jonathan had declined going to bed once he got home, insisting instead that he'd stretch out on the couch and help with the plans for the following day. They'd talked about the shooting then, trying to make sense of it, to decide if it had anything to do with the Ark. Benny's friend had telephoned shortly after they finished eating to report on the license plate.
"It belongs to a Georgetown businessman," he had explained. "I contacted his office and he left this morning for a sales trip to Boston."
"So they probably took his car at the airport," Benny had mused, when he explained what he'd learned. "That means they were already at the airport for some reason. They couldn't have known I was coming here, could they?"
"How could they have known Dr. Jones was coming here?" Jonathan argued without opening his eyes. "He says he hasn't been under surveillance. He picked up on those guys right away, so I think he'd know if someone was following him."
"There's a reason, son. We simply haven't figured it out yet," Jones replied. "There's always an answer, and it makes sense when all the facts come together."
"Yeah, and we don't have all the facts." Benny brightened. "That's my job, getting the story. If they're after the Ark, they should have been aiming at the Prof. Instead they shot at me."
"Well, maybe they thought you were the biggest threat," Jones mused. "After all, I'm an old man. They probably aren't afraid of me. Jonathan's a professor. Not much of a threat on the face of it, even if his father won the Nobel Prize. But you, Benny, you're a journalist, and moreover, you're an outspoken journalist. You hit the talk show circuit. You don't keep quiet about anything. Maybe they thought you'd go on the Tonight Show and talk about the Ark."
"I would, too," Benny replied. "Carson would love me. The ratings would go through the roof. Letterman, too. This is gonna be great."
"If you live long enough," Jonathan said sourly. "Don't forget, Benny, they were trying to kill you."
"I know. That's gonna make the story even better." Benny's face glowed with excitement. "I can hardly wait. We'll all go on together."
"Shall I wear my sling?" Jonathan asked tartly in an attempt to dampen their growing enthusiasm. "Will that add to the overall effect?"
Benny shot him one hotly betrayed look as if the last thing he'd wanted to be reminded of was Jonathan's wound. "Well, we've gotta find the Ark first anyway," he said. "We won't have anything worth saying until then."
"Oh, don't worry. I might be recovered by the time we appear, but I can pretend I'm still wounded." Jonathan didn't know why he was snapping at Benedek, but it was ludicrous to make all these plans before they found the Ark and someone had to remind him of that.
Benny glared at him. "You want your moment in the sun, too, Jonny?" he retorted. "Win the sympathy vote? The wounded hero? Catch a little glory to make up for not winning your own Nobel?"
Jonathan winced. That was way out of line even for Benny at his most outrageous, but he might have pushed him to it. He wasn't sure why the two of them were snapping at each other like this, but Benny's words hurt.
Before he could blurt out an ill-advised reply, Dr. Jones interrupted with a soothing gesture. "Calm down, you two. Maybe you're not as used to flying bullets as I am, but you've been in danger before. I've heard about your exploits. Juliana writes to me, and she tends to complain about the more outrageous parts. Someday when you two are old and grey and probably still getting on each other's nerves, you can bore your students about your glory days the way some people think I do. Right now, the important thing is we're on the trail of the Ark. No one is dead, and no one is even badly hurt. Jonathan, you close your eyes. If you won't go to bed yet, take a nap, and Benny and I will try to make sense out of all this. Let me see Eaton's journals again and those classified papers. We'll look through them and see if there's anything in it we missed. Like maybe who the 'top men' he said would be studying it were."
Jonathan closed his eyes, but his bad mood hadn't gone away, and he said under his breath, "It's probably better for the world for the Ark to stay lost. There's always someone out there who'll want it so they can use its power. Ghadaffi, the Russians, somebody. At least it's safe wherever it is."
He could feel their eyes on him but he didn't look at them. Dr. Jones was the one who answered, and his voice was measured and thoughtful. "I considered that, son," he said levelly. "But there's a flaw in your reasoning. Simply because the Ark hasn't been found doesn't mean it won't be. At least we're scientists and we can make sure there are appropriate safeguards in whatever museum winds up with it. I'd rather do that, take the risks, than endanger some innocent who finds it and opens it without knowing what he's doing. Wouldn't you?"
He lay quietly thinking about it, and after a minute, Dr. Jones gave a faint sigh, gathered Benny up and moved him across the room. For a long time, there was silence, punctuated by the sound of turning pages. Benedek didn't even shatter it with wild exclamations about his findings or read pertinent bits aloud. Jonathan didn't sleep, but he felt himself slowly relaxing, and he concentrated for a moment on his injured arm. Though it stung a little, and it would probably hurt to move it, he didn't feel too bad. He'd been lucky. They all had.
"Is he asleep?" Benny's voice was subdued.
Jonathan concentrated on slow, deep breaths to make them believe he was sleeping. He had a lot to think about anyway. He wasn't sure he was ready for further conversation, and he was tired.
"I think so," Jones replied. "Let him rest. Even if it's not a serious wound, it's still a shock. Your friend is a very civilized man, and civilized men aren't accustomed to people taking pot shots at them. You and I, we're more prone to walk the wild side, each in our own different ways. I'm sure you've been shot at before."
"More than once, and so has he," Benny replied. He was silent a minute, and Jonathan could almost imagine the warring emotions battling it out on his friend's face. He could hear the conflict in Benedek's voice.
Jones filled the void. "I know your type," he said thoughtfully. "I've been from one end of the world to another. I've lived in different countries and I speak more languages than you could count. I've learned a lot about human nature along the road, and I know where you're coming from. You jumped all over your friend when he saved your life this afternoon, as if you were blaming him for being shot."
"He could have been killed," Benny replied hotly. Then his voice softened and turned self-condemning. "I had a—a feeling this would be dangerous. I should have taken more care."
"So you're responsible for the shooting, are you?" Jonathan could imagine Jones shaking his head in disapproval of that assumption, though he didn't pick up on the fact that Benny might have felt some kind of premonition the way he had when his fiancee was killed in the plane crash. Benny had tried to distract Jonathan after that revelation and Jonathan had been furious, but after the fact he'd realized Benny had meant every word. He'd misdirected Jonathan, as he'd done from time to time since, when Jonathan was getting too close. It was why he'd lost his temper after the shooting, too, Jonathan realized. He concentrated all the harder on the conversation.
"None of us expected anything more than being followed and Jonathan didn't really believe that," Indy continued. "We did what we could. Be lucky he noticed that car. You owe him your life."
"Stupid heroics," Benny grumbled.
"You're angry because it's safe to be mad, safer than worrying, safer than caring," Indy told him. "You believe you won't be hurt if you don't get close. But I know how much you care about your friend. It's pretty obvious to me, even though I'm an outsider. What's the harm in admitting it?"
Benny didn't immediately reply, then he said, "I've got a lot of friends. Hand picked, every one. Each and every one of them unique. But I didn't pick Jonathan. We got together by accident and at first we stuck together because we could use each other. I wanted to be affiliated with Georgetown because it would look good on my book jackets, and he wanted somebody with an in on the world of the occult and psychic and all this paranormal stuff he doesn't quite believe in, so he could get through the assignments Dr. M gives him and get back to his real work on Australopithecus or Ramapithecus or whichever pithecus it is this week. I kept telling myself that was all it was, just mutual need—and he kept surprising me. He risked his life—he risked getting shot once before to save me when we were in a plane crash and wound up trapped by the inmates of a loony bin. He walked right in between me and a gun and talked the guy out of it. The guy believed he was Wyatt Earp and he thought I was one of the Clantons, and Jonny didn't even hesitate. Besides which, I was a little bunged up and he kept hauling me out of trouble when I would've gone down for the count. Nobody ever did anything like that for me before."
"So this time is different because he actually got shot?" Indy prompted as if he wanted to make it clear for himself, but Jonathan realized he already had a very good idea exactly what was going on here.
"He could have yelled," Benny burst out fiercely. It sounded like he got up and started pacing the floor, his voice approaching and retreating. "I can duck. I've got great reflexes, Prof. Like a cat on my feet. No, he has to be the hero, but that's what he is. I'm not a hero. I'm quick-witted and fast-talking and I can run the best cons this side of—well, of my old man. But Jonathan was born to be a hero. He might not know it. He might think he's only a college professor but he's got the heart of a Robin Hood and the honor that goes with it. Chivalry is his middle name. He does what's right because it's right, not for gain, not for a fast buck, not for the glory, but because it's the only way he sees it." He made sure his voice was low as if afraid Jonathan would wake up and hear him, but Jonathan kept very silent. He would never dare mention this to Benedek, but he didn't want to miss a word of it. "He might not know all the moves, but his heart's pure gold all through," continued Benny in the same earnest voice. "I never understood why he stuck with me, but—damn it, Prof, I think he actually likes me. He cried at my funeral—"
"Your what?" Jones exploded, his reaction masking Jonathan's involuntary jump. "I'm starting to think you have a lot of great stories, son. Your funeral?"
"Ssh. Don't wake him up. I had to be dead once, for the sake of a story, and we threw an elaborate funeral to make it look convincing. Jonny didn't know I wasn't really dead. He believed I'd been killed. He came there—he even brought Dr. Moorhouse. Everybody around was partying, boozing, Boom Boom did one of the best strips she ever did—I've got the video tapes to prove it. And Jack came to say goodbye—and he cried." Benny sounded like he was wincing. "He cried for me. Best guy I never knew and he does that. Now, today, he risks his life to save mine."
"Because you're his friend, Benny. Turn the tables. Suppose they were shooting at him? I bet you dollars to doughnuts you'd have taken the shot to save him. You wouldn't even have to think about it."
"That's different," mumbled Benny uncomfortably.
"You'd risk yourself for him. Grant him the same right. That's what friends do, my boy. If you love your friend, allow him to love you. Blow off steam afterwards if you have to—which was what both of you were doing just now. He'd been afraid for you and you'd been afraid for him. Now you blew off steam. Let it go, but don't forget how fortunate the both of you are. If you're lucky to get a friend like that, you hang on for all you're worth. I remember when I was a boy in Egypt, traveling with my parents and Miss Seymour, and I met an Egyptian boy in Cairo. He was a bit older than I was but we became friends. We practiced speaking each other's languages, and he showed me many interesting places that would have shocked my father if he'd known I had gone there. Even after my father's world tour took us away from Egypt, I knew that boy was my friend and that I could call on him and he could call on me."
"Did you ever see him again?" Benny asked, sounding like he was very grateful for a change of subject.
"Many times," Indy replied, as Jonathan struggled to stifle a giveaway yawn. He was almost asleep after all, and he let himself drift away as Jones continued in tones of fond reminiscence. "His name was Sallah..."
"Is this the place?" Jonathan demanded in disbelief. "It can't be."
The three of them stood outside a disreputable looking building in a disreputable neighborhood that didn't appear to have any security around it at all. If the Ark was here it had been at the whim of thieves for a long time, but maybe the warehouse's very decrepit state provided its own kind of safeguards. Who would ever believe anything valuable might be stored here?
"Assuming the Ark is even here." Indy stood beside their car, looking at the rundown warehouse. "The more valuable artifacts might have found their way to safer locations. It might be secreted in a lab somewhere, while scientists research it."
"Maybe, but this is great," Benny exulted. He was acting a lot more naturally this morning, helped, probably, by Jonathan's return to health. His arm was still sore if he touched it, but the sling protected it and as long as he didn't forget and try to use it, he felt just fine. No lingering weakness, no trace of vertigo. He'd eaten a hearty breakfast, and he found himself on top of the world. Danger! What was that when he'd already faced it and come out on top? He told himself it was probably relief—the crisis was over (well, the first crisis, anyway), he'd survived it, and he was ready for anything. Robin Hood MacKensie, out to save the world.
Shaking his head at his fanciful train of thought, Jonathan looked over at Benny, who had bounced back remarkably well. He was as outrageous as usual this morning, and if he was occasionally and absurdly solicitous of Jonathan at odd moments, that was bearable. Of course if Jonathan found out Benny had been even partly conscious in his coffin, a silent witness to Jonathan's mourning, he would probably break every bone in the man's body. It had to be the video tape. Jonathan wondered if he could sneak into Benny's apartment and steal before Benny thought of selling copies as a money-making venture.
"No blue Buicks," he observed neutrally.
"Of course not," Indy replied. "The car might be reported missing by now. They'll have either returned it where they got it and taken another or they dumped it somewhere. We don't know what car they'll have today, but we'll know they haven't given up." He touched the whip at his belt and patted at his side. Lifting the flap of his leather jacket, he displayed a hand gun in a holster attached to his belt. "I'm ready for them."
"You can't use that!" Jonathan exploded. "This isn't the thirties, Dr. Jones."
"I'd rather have it than not, especially if the bad guys have guns," Indy replied. "I didn't see any cars following us this morning, but the traffic was heavy. I could have missed it. We have to assume we were followed, even if we weren't. We can't lower our guard. Once we get in there, they could sneak up on us and take us out one at a time. I want you both to be on your toes. I'm afraid I might be a little out of practice."
"Come on, Prof, you're still top of your form," Benny lauded him. "So let's go see a man about an Ark." He started toward the building, pushing back his shirt sleeves as if girding for battle. Jonathan grinned wryly at Dr. Jones and followed.
"This is crazy, Karl," Stephan remarked. "Yesterday was too dangerous. Now you want to kill all three of them? We'll be in trouble."
"You want to stop now?" Karl objected coldly. The three of them sat in their newly stolen car a block from the warehouse. They had maintained a careful distance in following their enemies, and Max, who was driving, claimed to be certain they hadn't been seen. The trip had led them to a run-down warehouse in a seedy district, the last place Stephan would have expected to find something as important and valuable as the Ark. Whether Jones expected to find it here or not was what mattered, though. After all these years, the Ark could well have been misplaced. If had been discovered openly, the word would be out. There would have been newspaper articles, stories in magazines and probably Geraldo would have done an Ark-opening program on network television. All the hoopla would have been impossible to miss, especially for three men who checked news reports and library files regularly for just such a thing.
"I didn't finish yesterday," Karl continued. "MacKensie interfered. Benedek isn't dead. Besides once we find the Ark, we'll kill them all and take it. This is the moment we've planned for all our lives. That's what our fathers died for. Are you backing out now because you're afraid when it comes right down to it? This is the moment we've lived for all our lives!"
"Our grudge is against Jones, Karl," Max objected. "Not these other two. They weren't even born when Jones found the Ark."
"They're working with him," Karl replied. He glared at the others. "What did you believe, that we would take the Ark without harm except to Jones? I have always been prepared for this. Jones had allies in the past. Why wouldn't he have them now?"
Max grimaced. "You may be my brother, Karl, but I don't like the idea of killing the innocent. These two might be helping Jones, but they didn't kill our father or Stephan's. I won't stop you killing Jones—he deserves to die. He survived when they died, and he stole the Ark."
"His government stole it from him," Karl replied. "You may not be prepared for that, but I am. This warehouse may look undefended, but that could be a cover-up. There could be armed troops in there. If you think I'm not going in armed, you're both wrong. I'll do the killing. I wouldn't want to soil your lily-white hands."
"We're with you, Karl," his brother insisted. "Perhaps, after all this time, it simply seems too real. I find myself wondering why I am here and not home with Mary, enjoying the visits of our grandchildren."
Stephan wondered that himself. He, too, had married, and had grown children, and his Elizabeth didn't know anything about the Ark. She knew he had business that sometimes took him away from home, but nothing of the Ark. She didn't know that he, Max and Karl had come to the United States under false papers, that they were not really Austrians but Germans, though nowadays that would not matter as much as it had shortly after the war. They had been on their quest all their lives, it seemed, since their fathers' friend had returned from his near miss with the Ark. Their fathers and the rest of their squad had marched away with what was reported to be the Ark of the Covenant, a Frenchman and an American prisoner named Indiana Jones. When they didn't return, more men were sent out, and they found nothing beyond ruined equipment, scorched and burned. Of the Ark, the American, even the Frenchman who had accompanied them and the American woman, there was no sign. Of course the three of them had been little more than toddlers then, babies who knew nothing more than that their fathers had died mysteriously. It took them a long time to find out more, and even then they never exactly how Jones had killed their fathers and escaped with the Ark. With boyish intensity they had sworn a solemn vow that they would find their fathers' killer and steal the Ark from him before they killed him. After the war, they managed to assume false identities, come to America and begin their pursuit. Karl's intensity still lingered, but even though Stephan had believed himself as committed as his lifelong friend, he found himself thinking more and more of Elizabeth and wondering how he could face her again when Jones was dead. Max, of course, was loyal to his brother, but there was a wariness in his eyes that showed he felt this had gone beyond the quest he'd always considered it. Max was an idealist. Now he looked like reality had hit him in the face and he didn't know what to do about it.
Yet it was too late to back down now. Stephan heaved an inaudible sigh. "Maybe we can discredit them instead of killing them," he said. "Look, they're going in. We'll discuss this when the time comes."
"After them," Karl urged, but there was none of Max's eager excitement at finding that 'the game was afoot' and none of Stephan's relief that it would finally be over in the older man's face. Karl had given himself to the quest wholeheartedly and in the process he had given away his humanity. Stephan realized with shock that if it were not for the oath they had all sworn, he would have avoided Karl like the plague.
But it was too late for regrets now. Heaving a sigh, he stepped out of the car and fell into step with Max. The two of them exchanged uneasy glances, but when Karl gestured them forward, they obeyed. It was too late to back out now.
"Do you think anybody's in there?" Benny asked. There was a buzzer beside the door, and he pushed it automatically, his face full of concentration. MacKensie realized he was planning his story to con whoever came to the door.
No one did, though. Long moments passed and their summons was ignored. They shared a doubtful look. If the Ark were actually in this place, it seemed unlikely it would remain unguarded. Probably that meant this was a wild goose chase. Jonathan shrugged and started to turn away, only to halt when Benny took a narrow wire out of a small, flat case in his pocket and applied it to the lock. "Stand right there, Jack," he urged. "I don't want anybody to see what I'm doing."
"What you're doing!" Jonathan echoed. "You're picking the lock! Are you insane, Benedek?"
"We won't steal anything, son," Indy pointed out reassuringly. "The Ark never belonged to the government in the first place, and if it's here, they've as good as told us it isn't important to them now." He leaned forward to watch Benny at work. "You look like you're good at that," he observed. "I remember when I first learned to pick a lock..."
They were off again, comparing reminiscences, Benny chortling about the Deathtones, a combination music group and gang he'd once belonged to and Indy describing his days as a spy in World War I. Jonathan glanced around nervously, certain they'd all be arrested. He could see the headlines now. "Georgetown Professor Caught Breaking and Entering." This could be the end of his career.
"Got it," chortled Benny. "Nothing but the best. I haven't lost my touch. Come on, J.J. We're about to find the ark."
What they found was a dusty passage with several offices branching off it. At the end of the hall, they could see the actual body of the warehouse with crates and boxes stacked high. Indy led the way to the doorway and they stood there, staring in disbelief. The place was huge and there were crates everywhere, with no gradation for size. Little boxes were stacked on big ones, and big ones on a series of little ones. Dim light filtered into the room from windows near the ceiling, and dust motes danced in the shafts of sunlight. It looked like no one had been here for years.
"Oh, great, where do we start?" Jonathan groaned.
"We've got the number of the crate they boxed the Ark in," Indy reminded him. "It's 9906753. It's labeled 'Top Secret' and probably something like 'property of Army Intelligence'."
"You can't mean we have to go around and read the number on every box the right shape," Jonathan moaned. "We'll be here until Christmas. Someone has to check this place. They'll find us."
"We don't live in the stone age, son," Indy corrected. He'd retreated from the doorway and now stood at one of the offices they'd passed. "We'll look it up on the computer."
"Computer?" Benny echoed in delight. "Way to go, Prof. A man of the eighties. Come on, Jack, don't be a dinosaur. We'll cross reference the numbers and they'll tell us just which row the Ark is in. None of this running around like a chicken with its head cut off."
Jonathan grimaced at that image. The Ark was dangerous, after all. He didn't want to think about such things as headless chickens. Reluctantly he followed the other two into the nearest office, where Benny plopped himself into the chair in front of the computer and switched it on. "We could get arrested for this," he pointed out. "Breaking into warehouses and breaking into computers."
"Where's your spirit of adventure, my boy?" Indy demanded without looking up from the screen. I remember the time your dad and I met in Luxor. We heard about a lost tomb in the Valley of the Kings and his party was all set to go charging around hunting, all of them such amateurs they didn't know that even then, the Valley had been tracked and measured so thoroughly especially after Carter found King Tut's tomb that the unlikelihood of another lost tomb..."
"I'm getting something," Benny cut in excitedly.
Jonathan surged forward to join them, and saw that Benny had called up a screen with long lists of numbers. Apparently he hadn't needed a password to get into the system. On the other hand, there was no corresponding list to match the numbers to explain what the contents of each crate was.
"How do we know we've got the right one?" he asked.
"Either it's not in the computer or it's protected," Benny replied. "See, Jack, there's a list here of each numbered crate, some with a second set of numbers, and this column here with the single digits and letters probably indicates a pattern in the layout of the room. I'm trying to pull up a grid map and pinpoint the starting point, so we can go from there." He typed a few commands. One of them blanked the screen. Jonathan groaned.
But a moment later, a new layout came up, a floor plan of the warehouse. Benny promptly snapped on the printer and hit a button on the computer keyboard. The printer whirred and a moment later, Benny had a map. He tore the page free. "See, guys. One genuine layout. Now let's go back and I'll track it down. This is almost too easy."
"I don't like the sound of that, Benedek," Jonathan retorted. "Every time it gets too easy, some nasty surprise is waiting around the next corner."
"Relaxovision, buds. I'll have it in a minute." He keyed a couple of buttons and the screen shifted, highlighting a row of numbers. "Bingo," he exulted. "Here it is. Row C, corridor 1." He and Indy bent their heads over the map and two fingers stabbed for the spot at the same instant. "Got it!" Benny shut down the computer and they started for the main warehouse, the map clutched in Benny's hand.
"It's fortunate it's Saturday," Indy remarked as they paused in the doorway, surveying the collected contents of the warehouse. "Someone works here. That office was too tidy to be abandoned for long."
"Yeah, and that computer's state of the art," Benny replied. "What we've got here is a nine to five job, Monday through Friday. I thought of that when we got here and saw there weren't any cars in that little lot. I bet there's a night watchman, and somebody probably checks in periodically on weekends. We've gotta find the Ark quick."
"Once we make sure the Ark is really in the box," said Indy, "we'll take it to Juliana's museum, and she can set up a team of experts to study it." He heaved a sigh. "I wish Marcus could have seen this."
"Marcus?" prompted Benny.
"Marcus Brody. He was a lifelong friend of my father's—and mine. He ran the museum where I thought the Ark would be placed originally. It was to him that Major Eaton came to recruit me to find it." He looked like he was ready to start another reminiscence, and while Jonathan would have liked to hear how it all began, he would prefer to hear it when they were safely out here. He started down the right corridor, and the other two fell in behind him.
When they reached the assigned resting place of the Ark, they stopped, staring in dismay because there seemed to be no order, no organization, to the system. Crates of all sizes balanced each other, and some of the rows were three and four levels deep. A hasty scan proved the Ark was not easily accessible in the front row.
"Oh, no," Jonathan groaned. "Now we have to haul boxes and crates around?"
"What's the matter, Jack, you've never heard of fork lifts?" Benny demanded with a grin, heading for one that was parked at the end of the aisle. "It so happens I know how to drive one."
"Part of your misspent youth, no doubt," Jonathan returned.
Benny paused and flashed a brilliant grin at him. "You're just envious, buds," he said and climbed on board the vehicle. A moment later it had roared to life.
"While he plays with his toys, let's see if we can decide where he should start digging," Indy told Jonathan. "We don't want to move every crate in the place. Let's apply some logic to the problem. Your friend's enthusiasm might one day get him into trouble."
"Why wait until 'one day'," Jonathan replied, smiling. "It already has more than once."
"I think we might try here," Indy replied. "Those cases over there are all too small and the ones behind them aren't really much bigger." He gestured Benny in the direction he'd chosen then he and Jonathan retreated to watch the journalist's less than polished movements with the forklift. By the time he worked the lifters under the first crate, he'd bumped into the row behind him and sent some of the smaller crates tumbling. Jonathan had frozen at the first clatter, afraid a guard who might have been dozing in the back premises would fail to sleep through such a racket. He strained his ears, listening for a threat.
"Listen! Did you hear something?"
"I heard enough racket for any ten forklifts," Indy replied, but he paused, assuming a listening attitude, his face full of concentration. "No, I don't hear anything, son," he replied. "But my hearing's not quite as good as it once was. You listen hard. I have a feeling—"
"Benedek, he's got a feeling," Jonathan said in alarm. Indy had felt they were being followed before, and they had been. As a result, he was prepared to respect the old man's experience.
"Yeah, well, I've got one too," Benny replied. "A feeling we're about to hit pay dirt. Stand back, gang, and watch the Benedek magic." He threw the forklift into reverse, barely missing the tumbled cartons, and withdrew the crate he'd hooked. The ones on either side of it quivered, nearly toppling, but Benny managed to keep a straight path and they didn't slide backward.
"Presto, chango," Benny exulted. "The quickness of the hand deceives the eye." Setting the crate aside, he turned the vehicle and plowed forward again, diving into the same place like an earth mover eating away at a pile of dirt. Jonathan edged closer, pulled in by the excited delight in Benny's voice. He sounded as awed with his discovery as he had the first night in Jonathan's office, and when he backed up again, another crate balanced on the lifters. "I found it, I found it," Benny exulted. "I've got it. Here it is, Prof. Wow! This is incredible."
Jonathan and Indy practically trampled each other in their eagerness to reach the Ark as Benny placed it in the aisle and backed the forklift out of the way. They stood staring at it, a huge wooden crate, the hinged lid not only locked by nailed down. It was the right box, all right. It read in faded stenciling, "TOP SECRET. Army Intel. 9906753." Indy produced a notebook from his pocket and checked the numbers to be sure they were right, his face agleam with excitement that took years away, and his good eye shone with excitement. "It's the Ark at last. When I think of how long I've sought it—I wish Belloq could see me now."
Bounding down from the forklift, Benny only paused long enough to snatch up a crowbar before he bore down on the crate. He hesitated only a second over whether he should give the honor to Dr. Jones, then, probably deciding he was younger and could do it faster, he applied the crowbar and went to work. Jonathan and Indy leaned forward, unable to hold back their excitement.
The top of the crate resisted Benny's manipulations at first, and he threw his whole weight into it, talking a mile a minute. "This is gonna be so great! Wait till Jordy reads the story I write about this! I bet there'll even be a Pulitzer Prize in it for me. Dr. M. won't be able to put me down after this, Jon-boy. I bet my expense account will pass with flying colors every single—it's coming. Stand back, men, give me elbow room." He levered furiously, and, with a protesting screech of rusty nails, the lid started to lift. As one, Indy and Jonathan grabbed the edge, Jonathan removing his arm from the sling to do so, and the three of them forced it back, lifted it free and set it aside. Then they turned back to the crate.
It wasn't even dusty. Glowing softly with a golden aura, the Ark of the Covenant sat in its wooden prison, angels with spread wings facing away from each other on the ornate lid. It seemed to hum with mysterious power, and Indy said hastily, "Don't touch it."
"It's alive," Benny breathed. "Can't you feel it, guys?"
"It's a transmitter between us and God," Indy's voice held both reverence and memories. "Belloq never understood that completely, though he was convinced he did. He thought it was just another artifact, and believed he could control it. He'd researched it and found a ritual that he believed would allow him to open it with impunity. He was too confident and he paid the price."
"What happened to him?" Benny's eyes had never left the Ark.
"I don't know what happened to any of them, but it must have been terrible. Marian and I heard them screaming. I knew it was something we weren't meant to look upon. Belloq had opened the Ark but he thought at first that it was empty. One of the Germans reached inside and took out a handful of sand and let it drift away between his fingers. He thought it had all been meaningless, but I knew better. It was never meaningless. But it was too dangerous to be tampered with like that. It killed Belloq and all the men who were with him, and only Marian and I survived."
"Just by closing your eyes?" Benny asked. He stretched out a cautious finger and touched the Ark, jerking away immediately as if he'd been scorched or shocked, his eyes widening. "Whoa! Check it out! Still going! Nothing outlasts the Energizer. It just keeps going—"
"You will step away from the Ark!"
The unexpected voice made all three of them jump, and Indy's hand went for the whip at his belt, but before he could snatch it free, one of the three men who stood facing them darted forward and grabbed his hand, twisting it roughly behind his back while a second man discovered and removed his gun. The old man cried out in pain, and though he struggled, he could not free himself. He might have handled this crisis once, but he was too old for battle any more.
Jonathan stood perfectly still, glaring at the man with the weapon, knowing it was this man who had shot him. He had managed to overlook the pain in his arm, even when he'd helped pry open the crate, but now he remembered it all too well.
The three enemies were hardly what he had expected. For one thing, they were probably all in their middle to late fifties. The one holding the gun had cold, hard eyes, but the other two looked like ordinary men who had stepped into crime entirely by accident. One of them looked a lot like the gunman except that he had more humanity in his eyes, and the other man was blond fading to gray, with traces of a middle-age spread around the waistline. Except for the gunman they didn't look like Nazis. They hardly looked like criminals, except for the gunman.
Benny tensed, facing them with defiance and anger. "You're the one who shot my buddy yesterday," he accused hotly. "I should warn you, I've got friends in the Mob. I'm a very bad man to cross."
"You're a reporter," the blond man said apologetically. "Karl thought you were the most dangerous."
"No names, you damned fool," snapped 'Karl', gesturing with the gun. "And no talking. We came for the Ark, and once we have it, Dr. Jones will die."
Indy looked at him with curiosity and not a shred of fear. "If I'm going to die, you might tell me why," he prompted. "I'm an old man, I've had a good life, and if I have to go now, at least don't make me go wondering what this is all about. You want the Ark. How did you know I was looking for it? I haven't done any tracking in years. That was my mistake. I forgot how much easier it would be to trace it in the computer age. But here you are, and you know what we're after."
"Well, we hoped it was the Ark," the gray/blond man explained hastily. Indy's brow puckered and his eye focused on him, as if trying to identify him. "We didn't know for sure. But I saw you at the airport, with your whip and leather jacket and I knew you were going after something. After all this time, I hoped it was the Ark. So I had Karl and—I had my friends meet your plane and took a later one." His voice was almost apologetic.
"I know you," Indy said abruptly as the memory clicked. "You live in my building. You're the one who showed my grandson how to make a kite. We never met, but I've seen you at the mailbox. What's all this about, son? Why are you after the Ark and why do you want me dead?"
Benny caught Jonathan's eyes, his face contorting as if attempting to convey a private message. Looking in the direction Benny indicated, Jonathan saw the crowbar, within inches of his hand. Benny must have wanted him to grab it and knock Karl's gun away. Jonathan shook his head fractionally. The other two might look nearly harmless, but Karl wasn't harmless. Karl had already tried to kill Benedek, and he probably wouldn't hesitate to shoot any of them if they tried anything. He lifted his hand that reposed in the sling in a tiny gesture of waiting and nodded fractionally in Karl's direction. He hoped Benny would wait and let him choose the moment.
"We want you dead," the third man spoke for the first time, "because you killed our fathers. You took the Ark and killed our fathers and we want to take it back and get revenge."
"Who were your fathers?" Indy asked. "I've been forced to kill a lot of men in my life. I'm not proud of most of it, but I'm not ashamed of it either. It was never done for spite or malice, but in time of war or for self-defense. If you have a grudge, you'll never be satisfied if you kill me without telling me all about it." He didn't try to signal Jonathan and Benny, but Jonathan realized he would stall as long as possible.
"You didn't know them," the blond insisted. "They were in the squadron that went with the Frenchman to open the Ark. Their best friend wasn't on duty then. He stayed behind at the sub pens. When none of them returned, a squad was detached to investigate. They found ruined equipment, but no bodies, no Ark—and no Dr. Jones. They also found a boat was stolen so you could escape."
"I didn't kill any of those men," Jones said quickly. "They died of their own greed, every one of them. It was the Ark that killed them. They tampered with something they didn't understand. Belloq was overconfident, convinced he could beat me, because he'd beaten me before. This time, he lost, but he didn't lose to me. He lost to the power of the Ark. Look at it." He made an abrupt gesture toward the Ark and all three men turned their eyes toward it involuntarily.
Jonathan's fingers closed around the end of the crowbar.
Karl turned back immediately but Jonathan's makeshift weapon was shielded from the gunman by Indy's body. The anthropologist tightened his grip and braced himself, biding his time.
"Listen to it," Benny added, jumping in. "Whatever power it's got, it hasn't worn out while it's been locked up. If you touch it, you'll be messing with the power of God. You want it for greed and revenge, and the Ark will know. It killed the soldiers but it didn't kill the Prof here, because he didn't covet it for power or acquisitiveness or anger. He wanted it for science, for knowledge. The Ark can tell the difference."
"Tell me something I can believe," snarled Karl angrily. "Here's what I think happened. I think he and the Frenchman were in cahoots. I think they schemed up a plan and used the Ark to kill the German soldiers. Then they got away. Maybe they fought and Jones wound up with the Ark, or maybe the American Government took over. I never heard of Belloq again, so maybe Jones is right and he died, too. But Jones walked away without a scratch and we grew up without fathers."
"You mean this is all for revenge, because your fathers were killed?" Indy asked. "You're not Nazis? This isn't part of a Neo-Nazi movement?"
The blond and his friend exchanged blank looks. "Do we look like Nazis?" Karl's brother demanded. "We are not Nazis. Our fathers were not Nazis. They were soldiers doing their duty. We vowed to avenge them because they didn't die in war. We could have lived with that. They were murdered, and as soon as we were old enough to understand we swore a solemn oath that we'd get revenge. Nazis? My God, I'm in the PTA. Do I look like a Nazi?"
"The PTA?" Benny echoed in disbelief. "Whoa, comic opera time. Come on, guys, Indy didn't kill your fathers. The Ark did the job. Don't mess with it. I can see your hearts aren't really in this. We found the Ark. But it's too dangerous to fight over."
"It is our right. Our fathers died for it," Karl snapped.
"Your friend is obsessive," Indy told the other two men. "He'll get you killed if you stick with him."
"He's my brother," the one cried. "I don't like the idea of killing anyone, but he's my brother. You understand loyalty, all of you. You—" he stabbed a finger toward Jonathan—"you were willing to risk death to save your friend. How much more would I risk for my brother?"
"Look at your brother," Jonathan insisted. "He's a killer, but you're not. Dr. Jones didn't set out to kill your fathers. He only went to get the Ark away from Belloq because Hitler wanted it. He wanted it to expand the Third Reich so he could control the whole world. So Dr. Jones went after it to stop him. You say you're not Nazis, that your fathers weren't, either. You have to approve of those motives."
"Enough," snapped Karl. "No more bleating about honor and causes and excuses. Open the Ark. I want to see what my father died for. Open it right now!"
"You can't open it," Jones cried. "Men died when it was opened last time. I knew enough not to look, but I can still hear their screams when they died. I won't risk anyone else's life for that. I won't open it."
The gun swung around and leveled at Benny. "Open it or I'll kill him," he snarled. "I want to see it, and I want to see it now. It doesn't matter to me when you die, now or later. If it's later, you might have a chance. If it's now, it's all over."
Jonathan curled his fingers around the crowbar. He had to move soon or it would all be over. But the gun in Karl's hand was steady as a rock and it was leveled at Benny's heart. He didn't dare risk it.
"Move!" bellowed Karl, his voice fierce with anger. "Open it or die!"
"Go ahead, Benny," Indy urged. "Open it."
"Are you mad?" Jonathan cried. "If you open it, you'll die."
"Remember what I told you," Indy said meaningfully. "I didn't die before. I won't die now."
"Got it," Benny replied. "Okay, Prof, if you say so. Come on, let's make history."
"Benedek, you're insane!" Jonathan called. They couldn't open the Ark! He remembered Jones's story about the Ark and Belloq and everyone dying, but his scientist's soul was full of curiosity, too. He wanted to know, even though he realized he couldn't look at the results of it.
"Come on, J.J. We have to do it," Benny replied. "Don't look at it, buds. It's not safe."
"That's right, gentlemen," Indy said as he and Benny reached into the case and grasped the lid of the Ark. "If you look at it, it will kill you."
"He's trying to scare you," Karl snapped. "Open it. We'll find the tablets, the original Ten Commandments. We can write our own ticket for that. What do you think is going to come out of there? Ghosts? Lasers? We're not superstitious children. We're not primitives. He's lying to you. He's been lying all along."
"I'm not lying." Jones squeezed his one eye shut. "Close your eyes, Benny," he urged. "You too, Jonathan. I don't want to be responsible for the two of you."
"Hey, we got ourselves into this. We'll be fine," Benny replied, but he shut his eyes obediently the minute his hands closed on the lid.
Jonathan couldn't help staring a moment longer, wondering if one little peek would hurt him. Jones had seen the Ark open and had seen spirits emerge from it. While Jonathan wasn't sure he believed that part —Benny had lapped it up like a kitten with a big bowl of cream—his scientific curiosity was so strong he almost ignored Indy's warning so he could see it for himself, but he was pretty sure if he didn't take the precautions, Benedek would kill him.
The lid lifted with a faint squeak of metal on metal. Jonathan leaned closer, his ears straining for any trace of danger, any wailing of powerful entities, any lancing of fires, any form of attack. It was silent, then Karl gave a cry of rage. "It's empty. Damn you, it's empty."
"Belloq thought that too," Indy replied. "Listen to me, the three of you. Don't let a fifty year old obsession end your lives. Go home. Go back to your wives and families—and the PTA. Don't die for a cause that ended years ago on another continent. You've made lives for yourselves. Don't throw them away. Close your eyes. Don't look at it. That's what saved Marian and me. We didn't look at it."
"What if he's right, Karl?" cried Karl's brother.
"Don't buy his lies. He's trying to save himself and his friends," spat Karl. "I ought to shoot him right now. This is all a trick, a trap. He's probably got police and government agents outside. Maybe the CIA. I say we shoot him and grab the Ark and—what's that?"
Jonathan had heard it even as Karl spoke, a steady thrumming of power, that built to a high-pitched beat of energy. Karl screamed, "Look! It's wonderful! He tried to keep it from us!"
"Goddamn it, you fools, DON'T LOOK!" Indy bellowed.
"Karl?" faltered Karl's brother. "Karl, what is it? Oh, God, what is it?"
"Don't look, buds!" Benny yelled. He groped sideways, grabbing for Jonathan. His fingers found the injured arm, and Jonathan gave a cry of pain and yelled, "Benedek, you cretin!"
"Damn it, Jonny," Benny shouted back, "will you just shut up." He felt his way up MacKensie's shoulder to his face and slapped his palm across Jonathan's eyes. "Don't look," he cried, as a fierce wind beat against them with hurricane force, threatening to knock them both off their feet.
Feeling its fury, Jonathan grabbed Benny by the shoulders and clung to him for balance, hoping the two of them could keep their footing. He could feel Benny's body quivering with nervous tension as he braced himself against the fury of the storm that wailed through the building. Benny grabbed Jonathan's good arm with the hand that wasn't slapped across Jonathan's eyes and held tight. "Dr. Jones?" he yelled. "Are you all right?"
A scream of sheer agony lanced through Jonathan's ears, so full of torment that Jonathan almost opened his eyes to investigate it. "Don't look, Jonathan!" Benny yelled in his ear. "Don't look!"
"KARL!" Anguish filled Karl's brother's voice. "Karl, what's happening."
"Don't look, Max!" screamed the third man. "He's right, don't look. Oh, God, I wish I were home with my grandkids. Close your eyes, Max!"
The screaming went on for another four or five seconds, then it chopped off abruptly, though other yells and cries filled the air. Jonathan realized blankly that some of them were his own. The wind kept buffeting them, shrieking around them, whipping their hair about and making it hard to breathe. Jonathan felt a hand grip his shoulder and Dr. Jones's voice lifted above the storm. "Don't look, either of you. Hang on. Don't look."
Jonathan could hardly keep track of the passing time. It could have been moments, or it might have been hours before he felt the gale begin to subside, ebbing away to a zephyr that brushed against his cheek like a mere caress. With a whoosh, the room's air pressure shifted, making his ears pop, and something crashed down into place, the lid of the Ark slamming shut again.
"Now you can look," Indy said and Benny lifted his palm away from Jonathan's eyes. The anthropologist blinked a couple of times and stared at Benny, whose eyes were wide with disbelief. He backed out of Jonathan's grip and spun around, surveying the room.
Other than dust motes which danced in the sunlight more fiercely than before and shreds of paper that had been flung up into the maelstrom and were only now fluttering down like huge fat snowflakes, there seemed to be little damage. A few of the nearer crates had charred markings on them, but there was no fire, no structural damage. The Ark had sealed itself up again without destroying them.
"Karl?" The whimpering voice came from the other side of the Ark. The crate that had held it had shattered, the boards lying spread around it as if a giant hand had reached down from above and flattened it. A wary movement beyond the Ark made Jonathan grab up the crowbar again and hold it menacingly while Indy unhooked the whip from his belt.
"Karl?" Max raised his head, looking around cautiously. "Stephan? Oh, God, where's Karl."
The third man, Stephan, emerged cautiously from the nearest aisle. His face was dead white. "Oh, god, it's true," he breathed. "It was the Ark. Max—Max are you—"
Max turned a devastated face upon his lifelong friend. "Karl's gone," he breathed in a voice that quivered with tears. "The Ark knew. It sensed his hate. It killed him. It—it swallowed him." He blundered toward Stephan and the grey-blond man wrapped his arms around his friend and held him. "Jones was right," Max whispered. "The Ark shouldn't be trifled with."
"You two are very lucky men," Indy told them. "It didn't sense malice from you. Probably it felt your confusion and ambivalence. Karl had no ambivalence. He meant only ill."
Max shot him a fiercely miserable glare, but he subsided when Stephan said quietly, "He is right."
"You bet he's right," Benedek said quickly. "You guys have wasted more than half your lives on this revenge. Give it up and go home to your families. We'll take the Ark and make sure it's safe. You know now that the Prof here didn't off your fathers, so let it go."
Stephan nodded. "We will do so. Come, Max."
"But what will I tell people about Karl?" Max asked as his friend led him away.
"Tell them he's gone somewhere and won't be coming back," Stephan replied. "He has no wife to mourn him. Let him go. At least he died believing he had accomplished his goal. That must count for something."
"That one will bounce back," Indy said when the two were out of earshot. "The other—well, Stephan will have to help him. Now, I suggest we get the Ark out of here in case we set off any alarms."
"So what do we do with it now?" Jonathan asked some five hours later. The Ark had been re-crated and transferred to Georgetown's museum in the back of a pickup truck Benny had borrowed while the others re-boxed the Ark. No one had responded to fire alarms or police summons, which suggested the fierce wind and sound effects had been contained within the warehouse. Benny had wielded his forklift again and returned the crate that had blocked the Ark, so no superficial scan would reveal its absence. Probably if anyone ever did check, they'd believe it had been moved long ago or that someone had hit the wrong key and assigned it to an incorrect aisle. Indy said its absence might not be noticed for years, if ever. He and Benny had been as jubilant as schoolboys on an unexpected vacation over the whole process.
Now the Ark was here, sneaked in when no one was looking. The three of them stood over it, and only Jonathan was frowning. "We can't leave it here," he said. "We can't even tell Dr. Moorhouse about it. There'd be too much temptation. We know it can kill its enemies because we saw it happen—well, heard it happen. But there are people who won't believe—"
"Whoa! Check it out!" Benny grinned at Jonathan. "Are my ears deceiving me? Did the boy wonder actually admit a belief in the occult? This is a first. I better call Jordy and tell him to hold the first page. 'MacKensie Believes.' That's a headline that will rock the world of academe. This is great."
"Don't be ridiculous, Benedek," Jonathan returned, hiding a smile. "That's no headline, or only your own personal one. And if it comes to that, I was perfectly capable of keeping my eyes closed without you acting as a human blindfold."
Benny shook a finger at him. "No way, buds. I know you. This is too close to your own field for you to ignore. You would have risked everything for one quick peep—and then I'd have had to train a new professor someplace. Look how hard it's been to whip you into shape."
"Benedek..." growled Jonathan threateningly, then he broke into a reluctant smile. "Maybe you're right. I had to really fight not to keep watching—"
"I thought so," crowed Benny triumphantly. "Now we're even. You knock me out of the way of a bullet and I keep you from being sizzled into nothing by the Ark. Teamwork! I love it!"
"I wasn't keeping score," Jonathan replied, smiling at Benny with genuine warmth. He'd heard what Benny wasn't saying, and Benny must have known it for after a hasty return of the smile he avoided Jonathan's eyes and spun back to the Ark.
"So what do we do with it now, Prof?" he demanded of Indy.
"The important thing is to keep people from opening it by accident," Indy replied. "Nobody but Juliana knows what we were looking for, am I right?"
Jonathan nodded. "No, we thought it should be a secret and so did she."
"Good. I can handle Juliana." Indy looked like he'd enjoy the task. "So that brings us to the next step. This place might be ideal for studying dusty old bones and ancient manuscripts, but what we need now is high tech. I remember back in the 70s when I came upon—" He censored himself this time. "But that's another story. Right now what we want is perfectly obvious. I'm surprised you haven't suggested it, Benny, because they're friends of yours. Think about it. We need scientists. We also need scientists who aren't intimidated by the occult. We need scientists with equipment designed to measure the energy the Ark produces and to find a way to render it safe. I can only think of one team in the whole country able to manage that."
Jonathan had watched Benny as Indy listed his requirements and he'd known the moment Benny had identified Indy's mystery rescue team. Benny's face lit up like a child's who has inherited a candy story and a toy store on the same day. "I love it," he crowed. "It's perfect. Jon- boy, have I got a new adventure for you. Seal this place up as best you can. I've got a phone call to make."
He headed for the door, pausing long enough to give the two professors a thumbs' up gesture, whistling a tune that sounded familiar to Jonathan, though he couldn't immediately identify it.
"Benedek!" he called after his friend. "Who're you gonna call?"
"Bingo!" shouted Benny as the door banged shut behind him.
Jonathan groaned as he turned to Indy. "Is he serious?" he asked, knowing full well both of them were.
Indy grinned broadly, his eye twinkling with mischief. "We both are," he said. "They ain't afraid of no ghosts." He winked at Jonathan and added in the mock-sincere tones of a snake oil salesman, "Trust me."
Things had just gotten a whole lot worse.
© Sheila Paulson. The contents of this page may not be copied or reproduced without the author's express written permission.
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