Warren Murphy: Fool's Gold

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    Fool's Gold
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It's a routine archaeological find, on a routine archaeological dig-until the strange inscription on a buried plaque is translated. Then all at once the entire world is prospecting for gold-a whole mountain of it-hidden centuries before by an ancient Latin American people. The U.S. is determined to stake a claim because that much gold, in the wrong hands, could destroy the free world's economy. But nothing's panning out, and the only person who can decipher the clues to the gold's location might not live long enough to complete the task. It seems everyone's trying to kill her... There's only one CURE for gold fever-Remo and Chiun. But unless they strike it rich, this gold rush is bound to be a bust, and the free market along with it. Unfortunately, our heroes' luck is about played out...

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DESTROYER 52: FOOL'S GOLD

Copyright (c) 1983 by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy

FOOL'S GOLD

One

She did not expect to see death. She had enough problems with heights. She asked the guide if the ropes were steady, and if he would be steady at the other end.

"Lady," said the guide, "I got hands of steel and a spine of platinum."

"What does a spine of platinum mean?"

"It means don't worry, lady, you ain't gonna fall."

Dr. Terri Pomfret looked up toward the top of the cave. Without a flashlight, she couldn't even see the top of the arched cavern.

Some visiting British spelunkers had crawled up there a month ago while exploring these caves of Albemarle County in North Carolina. They had been going along the ceiling, driving spike after spike, when they came across it. It was a plaque, some kind of metal, chiseled into the stone. They had made a hasty, sloppy rubbing of the stone. No one could identify the writing until it got to Terri Pomfret's office at the university.

"Of course it's Hamidian," she had said.

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"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Look at the letters. The formations. Perfect. Perfect ancient Hamidian."

"Then you can read it?"

"This is a bad impression," Terri had said. "I can barely see it."

"If you saw the original, you could read it?"

"Certainly."

"It's at the top of one of the deep Albemarle caves."

"Shit," said Dr. Pomfret.

"Is that negative?" asked her department head.

"What it is is that I hate two things in the world. Going under the ground and going high."

"You're the only one who can do it. And don't worry, Terri, nobody as pretty as you is going to be allowed to fall."

So because of her fear of heights, her guide had strung a rope down from the spikes the British spelunkers had left in the ceiling, and attached a pulley to it. All she would have to do would be to go straight up to the plaque, pulled up by a rope. No climbing along the roof of the cave.

"It's safe, lady," the guide said.

"All right," said Terri. The flashlight was sweaty in her hands and her voice felt weak. Her pencil and paper were strapped to her belt in a little canvas bag. She was 32 years old, with cream-white skin and raven hair and a face that could have been used for a magazine cover, but she preferred to use her mind for her work, not her body.

And now her body was being lifted up to the top of the cave and her breath was stopped as she

3

was thinking, I will not think about falling to the bottom of the cave. Definitely not. I will not think about falling.

Falling, she thought. She wondered if the silica sand at the bottom of the cave would soften a fall. The guide's light seemed very far below. She wondered if she released her bladder, what would happen. Then she reminded herself not to breathe.

Then the roof of the cave was up there at her belly and she saw the plaque and she said to herself, "This is not English." And then she said to herself, "Of course not, you beanbag, it's Hamidian. That's why you are here."

The plaque seemed to be chiseled in some rough Hamidian script; as she touched it, she felt that it was metal, but it had been covered with some kind of paint or stain.

She propped her flashlight, like a telephone receiver, between her cheek and shoulder and felt the plaque with both hands. It had the normal Hamidian greeting. It was from one trader to an* other. Even if she had not seen the markings, she would have suspected Hamidian, because they were the only tribe in the history of South and Central America that had been great traders, and they left themselves messages, such as this one, in many of the spots their ships had visited all over the world. A message at the top of a cave. A message mounted on a stone ceiling 75 feet beneath the ground, discovered only by exact coordinates. That was how they hid their supplies and treasures for each other.

And there they were at the top of the cave, the coordinates. Four inscriptions down and there were

4

guidelines for other Hamidians. She had always been sure the ancient tribe had been to America, too, and here was the proof. She estimated it had occurred several hundred years before Columbus.

But then the Hamidians had died out, apparently killed off by the Spanish when they came to loot the Americas of all their gold. No one had ever found the Hamidian treasures.

She adjusted the flashlight.

A mountain? They were storing a mountain? Why would the Hamidians store a mountain? Why would they want to protect a mountain?

She got the next word. It was confusing. It meant valuable. It could also mean coin in some contexts. It was a very common word for the Hamidians. Would they exaggerate? In poetry, yes. In a message to their fellow Hamidian traders, no. They were very literal and precise.

Therefore, there was an entire mountain made of coins, thought Terri. Her back hurt. She wondered why her back hurt. Oh, yes. She was hoisted up here at the top of the cave and the rope was biting into her back.

Mountain of coins. She remembered one of the first Hamidian poems she had ever translated. That word was in it. A mountain of pure coins. The sun glowed like a mountain of pure coins.

No. The sun glowed like a mountain of gold. Gold. An entire mountain of pure gold.

And she was falling.

"You damned idiot," she screamed. "Hold that rope. I'm getting the coordinates."

The rope jumped again and she kicked, feeling a sway, seeing the plaque go farther away from her

5

before she had the coordinates. She was swinging and the coordinates were up there getting farther and farther away and then she realized the rope was sinking through the piton and she was swinging wide like a pendulum, falling, in longer and longer arcs.

She felt her back would break where the rope held her, the flashlight went flying, the notepad went flying, and then she hit a wall at the far end of a swing. But it was not a hard hit, more like being bumped by a big man. It must have been at the outer reach of the arc, just before she came back. And she bumped again, and at the lowest point of the arc she brushed the ground with her legs, and that diminished the force of her fall, leaving her in the soft silica dust with the coils of rope coming down after her.

It took a few moments to get her breath. She felt her legs and her arms. No severe pain. Nothing was broken. A sharp yellow light about fifty feet from her illuminated a patch on the cave wall. The guide had not only dropped her, he had dropped his flashlight.

"Butterfingers," she said angrily. "Idiot, goddam butterfingers." He didn't answer. She had to get up herself and walk over to the flashlight herself and pick up the flashlight herself and then look around for the butterfingered moron.

The flashlight was warm and moist and sticky. She couldn't see what the liquid was and she didn't really care to. She wanted to find the butterfingered clown who had let her drop. She shone the flashlight around the cave.

"Shmuck," she said. "All right. Have you run

6

away? Is that what you did, butterfmgers?" She was almost crying, she was so angry. How could he do this to her? Him and his spine of platinum. Really.

She felt something beneath her foot in the soft silica sand, something like a small tube. Had but-terfingers dropped that too?

She pointed the flashlight at the ground. And then she realized why her guide had butterfingers. She was looking at them. His fingers had all been cut off. And so had an arm, and the head was looking at her with that stupid open-pupiled gaze of the dead.

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