Cordelia Stapleton unzipped her full-body dive skin, peeled it off, and flung it on the deck in a sodden black heap. Underneath was a blue tank suit. She could feel the ocean water evaporate instantly from her back, leaving the sensation of dried salt on her shoulder blades. Her dark hair was still wet, splayed like tentacles over her shoulders.
Dripping, she walked over to the bin of towels. She took one and rubbed her limbs vigorously, conscious of the deep tiredness that comes after swimming for hours. She massaged her leg muscles to warm them up. Cordelia was long and lean, and her body was well toned. The ocean currents served as her personal trainer, and the workouts were daily. She tied the towel around her waist into a sarong.
That was a good morning’s work. She had volunteered to be one of the two swimmers to retrieve the submersible. She and another diver had attached the tag line, to pull the Alvin to the stern of the vessel. The crew was now in the process of raising it up to secure it in the hangar.
She was not happy about the manipulators. The check of the robotic arms turned up multiple issues. They would need extensive repair. The whole thing was frustrating; those arms had just been installed two years ago.
“Hey, Delia,” Joel said, coming out on deck. “You have a phone message. The Herodotus Foundation called.”
“Never heard of it,” she said, taking another towel and drying her long hair.
“Well, they heard of you. They said they’ve been e-mailing you about an invitation for the last six months and you never replied,” Joel said, padding over in L.L.Bean flip-flops. His red shorts were faded to pink, and the logo on his shirt read WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION.
Cordelia took the pink message slip, trying not to drip on it: Charles Bonnard, Herodotus Foundation. 377 92 16 4738.
“Where is this? Where is three seven seven?”
“Monaco. Too late to call them back now; they’re nine hours ahead. I’ll remind you tomorrow.”
She didn’t answer. She tried to hand the message back to him, but Joel ignored her and walked away.
“They want you to come to Monaco to accept an award in honor of your great-great-grandfather,” he said.
Cordelia said nothing, staring at the pink message slip again.
“Hey, I had no idea you were related to someone famous. How come you never said anything about it?” Joel challenged.
“Most people haven’t heard of him.”
“What did he do?”
“His name was Elliott Stapleton. He was a polar explorer.”
“Are you kidding me? You are related to that Stapleton. Delia, he was huge, in what . . . the Victorian era?”
“Yes, but he made his most important expedition later, after the turn of the century—in 1906.”
“That is incredible! I had no idea you were related. So I guess the Herodotus Foundation wants you to accept his award. You have to go!”
Joel hoisted himself up to sit on a gear locker but didn’t break his gaze, which was magnified by his thick lenses. His skinny legs dangled down, and his flip-flops fell onto the deck and lay there like dead fish. He was the only man she knew who could spend his life on a ship and still look white and anemic. So typical for him to push his point like this. She ignored him, hosing off her flippers and mask, and setting them up against a gear locker to dry. When she looked back, he was still staring.
“Joel, I can’t go to Monaco. I have too much to do here.”
Cordelia didn’t want to tell him that she had been invited to lecture on the cruise ship the Queen Victoria directly after the award ceremony. The Cunard company had called her only last week, inquiring about her schedule. Cordelia had put them off, unable to decide whether or not to take them up on their offer.
“You have plenty of vacation coming to you,” Joel persisted. “Anyway, we are taking Alvin to the high-bed area for maintenance in another two days.”
“Yes, and I need to be here for that.”
“Don’t be silly, I can supervise that. You should get out of here.” Nothing doing. She was always around for the repairs—both major and minor. The maintenance schedule on Alvin was critical. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s deep submergence vehicle had regular three-month, six-month, and annual maintenance, which was done during the regular operational cycle while the vehicle was in use. But there was a major overhaul and strip-down every five years.
Cordelia always stood by as the engineers went over every bolt, filter, valve, and circuit. The lights were especially important. There was no natural light at the depths the Alvin descended, so the quartz-iodide-and-metal halide lights were critical in lighting up the ocean bed. Alvin couldn’t function without them.
“Joel, you know I want to be here for the overhaul,” she said, finally facing him down.
Just then Susan came out on deck and handed Cordelia an oversized mug of lentil soup. Cordelia immediately wrapped her hands around it for warmth and inhaled the fragrant steam. Thank God for Susan; she was always the voice of reason in any discussion. But today Joel sensed that Susan would not favor Cordelia’s argument.
“Susan, back me up here. Delia is telling me that we can’t take care of the overhaul.”
“Of course we can. What’s the big deal?”
“No big deal, I just want to be there when they do it, that’s all,” said Cordelia, starting to feel a bit cornered. What damn business was it of Joel’s whether she went or not?
“Delia, you should go,” Joel insisted.
“Go where?” asked Susan.
“Monaco,” Joel said to Susan. “She’s been invited for an award ceremony two weeks from now.”
“An award? You have to go if they’re giving you an award. Anyway, it’s perfect timing; the overhaul and strip-down will take at least a month.”
“The award isn’t for me. It’s for my great-great-grandfather.”
Cordelia handed the message back to Joel, put her soup mug down on a gear locker, picked up her skin suit, and walked to the railing to wring it out. She squeezed it extra hard, out of frustration with Joel.
“Delia, you’ve been working seven days a week for ten months straight,” said Joel, as he jumped down and reattached his flip-flops to his feet, hopping on one foot and then the other.
“So have you, Joel.”
“I haven’t been invited to Monaco.” Joel looked determined.
“Come on, Delia. You can’t refuse to go if it’s an award for your great-great-grandfather,” Susan added. “Unless there is someone else who can accept it?”
“No . . .” said Cordelia. “I’m the only one left in the family. Except for a distant cousin in England.”
“You really should go. It’s not like Monaco is that hard to get to. You could be back in less than a week.”
“I guess I could check the dates . . .” Cordelia wavered.
“Look,” said Susan, “I know what you’re worrying about. I can take care of the manipulators.”
The clawed pincers on the sub were not extending to their full seventy-four inches. A critical component of the submarine, they were used like hands to deploy instruments and pick up marine samples.
“That one stern thruster is not right either,” Cordelia added. “We can’t turn the way we should.”
“I know. I’ll check all six thrusters. I promise,” said Joel.
“You have to swear to call me if there is anything major.”
“Hey, you can count on it,” Joel agreed, hastily.
“And, Susan, the pumps for the seawater need to be checked; the variable ballast has been sluggish.”
“Right. I’ll check it.”
“It’s decided then,” Joel said, walking away quickly, his flip-flops flapping against his heels. Cordelia glared after him. She wanted to clobber him.
He stopped and turned back. “Oh, I just remembered, you have another message. I forgot to write it down. Your lawyer in New York—Jim Gardiner. He says to call him, it’s urgent.”
For the last hour, John Sinclair had been crouched over a fragment of bone sticking up from the earth. With a small camel-hair brush he flicked away grains of soil.
“Karl, take a look at this,” he shouted over his shoulder. There was no reply.
Sinclair stood and looked around the site. Ephesus was strangely deserted. The silent ruins stretched out for miles in the sunshine, and not a soul was moving among the white chunks of marble. Even the few off-season tourists had left. He glanced at his watch, dustproof, shockproof, and well suited to his work. It was noon.
He spent most of his time in Ephesus on his hands and knees in the dust, breathing it, smelling it, and—truth be told—worshipping the ground of the ancient city. He loved the palpable heat that beat down on his back every day as he worked, baking the soil, warming the ancient marble ruins. Sinclair experienced Ephesus through his senses: the smell of the dust, and the feel of the warm stones beneath his hands. The carvings were as clear to him as if they had been done yesterday. He would trace, like a man reading Braille, the Greek and Latin inscriptions on a wall, or the secret Christian symbols carved into the marble pavement.
In the ancient graveyard he would handle every bone fragment with a deep reverence, because for him these people were real, and this was a living city. When he walked among the crowds of tourists along the ancient streets, he had no problem imagining that he was walking in the Ephesus of Roman times, along a broad marble avenue trod by leather sandals and resounding with a polyglot of archaic languages.
Sinclair realized his passion for the ancient city bordered on the irrational. If he were a superstitious man he would attribute his obsession to the power of ancient ghosts. If he had a strong belief in reincarnation, he might conclude he was influenced by the memory of a past life. If he were a religious man, he would say God was calling him. But Sinclair was neither superstitious nor very religious; he liked to think of himself as a man of science.
Sinclair wiped his forehead, streaking a smear across his temple. His dark hair was coated with dust. The intense blue eyes swept around the archaeological site. No sign of Karl. He sat down, leaning against a warm marble slab, and closed his eyes to the Turkish sun. There wasn’t a sound.
He drowsed, and his mind roamed freely: first he reviewed his find of the day, a new femur, and the utter thrill of lifting it out of the ancient soil. As he relaxed, he recovered the sense-memory of a pair of beautifully curved buttocks cupped in his hands, and the way he could slide two of his fingers between them as he pulled the woman’s body toward him. Then he felt her beautiful legs as they wound around his back, her head tilted, goading him, her eyes half shut with desire.
The shrill pierce of a cell phone sounded. Without opening his eyes, he worked it out of the pocket of his cargo shorts and flipped it open.
A voice on the other end began speaking at a rapid pace. The pitch was feminine. He listened for a moment in silence, and his eyes finally opened and focused on the distance.
“Sure, I can work it out.”
The woman’s voice continued.
He answered. “I was planning on coming at the end of the week for the award ceremony, but I can come today if you need me.”
He consulted his watch. “I’ll get a flight this afternoon.”
The BMW R1200GSA Adventure was parked under the tree where he left it this morning. He put his notebook in the Zega side pannier, climbed on, and started the engine. The sound of the bike roared over the silence of Ephesus. Sinclair swerved sharply out of the dirt parking lot onto the macadam and followed the road uphill through an olive grove. As he left the dig, he scanned his cherished site. Random bits of marble stuck up from the grass like giant teeth, irregular and gleaming white. Only about 15 percent of Ephesus had been excavated, and the remnants of marble scattered around the fields were hints of more treasure to come.
Sinclair pushed the bike faster, and the wind cooled his face. He loved this ride. The road climbed steadily up into the arid hills for several miles. Across the landscape there was nothing but scrubby vegetation, mostly silver-leafed olive trees and narthex, a plant used in ancient Ephesus as a torch to light early church gatherings.
At the summit of the mountain, Sinclair pulled into the courtyard of a modest stone house and cut the engine. No other vehicles were in the yard. He walked to the door, unlocked it, and pushed it open. Inside, the single room was nearly empty: a neatly made bed, armoire, writing desk, and a couch by the window. He punched the sound system on the desk as he walked past, and the Baroque melody of Arcangelo Corelli’s La Follia filled the air. As he walked to the shower, he stripped naked, his uncovered flesh gleaming white in contrast to his deep tan. Throwing his clothes in a bin, he stepped into the shower and let the hot needles of the water sluice away the dust. He had to bend his knees to rinse his hair.
Sinclair stood at an impressive six feet four inches; his legs hinted of some extreme form of exercise; the muscles of his thighs were striated. An obvious guess would put him as a triathlete or competitive cyclist. But a closer look would reveal one thigh was slightly thicker, the telltale mark of a champion fencer. His broad shoulders had some bulk, but he carried no spare weight.
He finished his shower and walked to the phone naked, a towel thrown over his shoulder, dialed, and waited for the beep.
“Karl, it’s Sinclair. Sorry, but I have to leave for Monaco this afternoon. I’ll be back in a couple of days to help with the new quadrant. I think I just found a very nice femur there. Take a look and let me know what you think.”
The second call was to Charles Bonnard. Voice mail again.
“Charles, I’m heading to Monaco a few days early. If you’re still in Capri, don’t worry. There’s no rush; we can still meet at the end of the week if that works for you.”
He dialed again, and this time someone answered.
“Malik, it’s John Sinclair. Can you come pick me up right away? I need to get to the airport.”
Sinclair listened and then continued.
“It’s not a scheduled flight; I need a charter. Can you arrange it? Yes, for Monaco. Thanks, Malik, I’ll be waiting.”
Then he walked to the armoire and pulled it open. Nothing in the modest room would have given a hint of what lay inside: six immaculately tailored Italian suits, crisply ironed English-made shirts, dozens of silk socks, a rainbow of exquisite ties, and two rows of custom-made shoes. Sinclair pulled on a pair of Egyptian-cotton boxers and started to dress. Five minutes later he was tying his tie. When he heard the van rumbling up the hill, he scooped up his keys and tossed them into an earthenware bowl over the sink and walked out onto the terrace. If all went well, Sinclair would be in Monaco by evening.
Charles Bonnard looked away from the majestic view of the sea and saw the light blinking on his cell phone. He retrieved it from the stone parapet and sat down in the alcove. After looking at the water, his eyes had to adjust to the shade. It took a moment to register the number of the missed call.
John Sinclair’s international cell number—that was odd. They weren’t supposed to talk until the end of the week. He pressed the voice-mail retrieve button and listened.
“Charles, I’m heading to Monaco a few days early . . .”
Sinclair was going back to Monaco already? There could only be one reason: a five-foot-eleven, 118-pound bundle of destruction named Shari. What stunt could she be pulling now? Poor guy. Sinclair sure knew how to pick them—each one worse than the last.
Charles sighed and walked back into his house. He had better go meet Sinclair. But he really didn’t want to go back to Monaco and leave this little piece of paradise.
Villa San Angelo was built high into the hills of Capri and stood apart from the mayhem of the fashionable and famous down below. While the glitterati enjoyed their international watering holes in town, above them on the hillside Charles gloried in monastic isolation. Three hundred meters above the sea, his villa claimed the spectacular views that had been enjoyed by the ancient Romans when they built upon this spot. Charles had planted the Mediterranean garden out back. With his own hands, he had unearthed bits of Roman artifacts buried in the soil. Those marble fragments now held places of honor on the walls of the villa.
He walked into his bedroom to pack. The Villa San Angelo’s beautiful whitewashed rooms had the pure décor of a monastery. It dated back to the late nineteenth century. When he first bought the house, the locals had repeated the legend of an angel who had been seen sitting on the cliff side looking out to sea. It was his favorite place in the world, and the parapet was built on that spot, with a glorious view of the Bay of Naples.
He sighed. It was always hard to leave. He finished putting a few things in a duffel and looked around the room one last time before closing the door. In the town square, Charles just managed to catch the local bus down to the harbor. He took a seat for the death-defying ride along the cliffs and considered his plans. He had better get to Monaco as soon as possible. He had a strong suspicion it wasn’t going to be pretty.
The bus had nearly reached the village below when he remembered Brindy’s luncheon tomorrow. He’d have to make a quick stop to apologize. The contessa Giorgiana Brindisi wasn’t going to like it that he was not coming to her little party. And she would be furious when she found out the reason he couldn’t come—it was because of John Sinclair.
John Sinclair leaned over the balustrade of the Hotel Metropole. It was a gorgeous day. The breeze was blowing, the megayachts were bowing to one another in the marina, and the sunlight was sprinkling the sea with diamonds. At 1 p.m., Sinclair was still in his robe and unshaven. His head was pounding from a massive hangover, and the sunlight was searing his corneas.
God damn it, Shari. He remembered how she had looked last night. The breathtaking beauty of her as she walked into the terrace restaurant. Her white silk dress flowing around her magnificent body. She was ethereal. Golden hair was piled on top of her head, wound around with silver ribbons like an ancient Greek deity. He had become accustomed to her beauty. But last night he had been staggered.
What a fool. He had been kidding himself for months. Actually, he should have known it wouldn’t work out a year ago, when she turned up at the dig wearing those ridiculous shoes. Shari had teetered on four-inch heels along the ancient marble street, trailed by paparazzi. It had been a surprise visit. He had been supervising the excavation with Karl and Fabian. The three of them had been thunderstruck when she turned up. Fifteen screaming photographers kept shouting, “Look this way, Shari!!!! Look this way!!”
Sinclair was disgusted with himself. He had always been annoyed by the headlines: “Beauty and the Geek,” “Supermodel Digs Archaeologist.” He had lied to himself about it. Told himself it wasn’t all that bad. He had ignored the telltale signs the whole time.
At first she had seemed to like the way he lived. She even tried to read his archaeological articles and academic papers. After all, she wasn’t stupid. He was flattered. So he had made the effort to adjust to her world. Gradually he had become used to the idea of her celebrity. He had come to enjoy going out with her, spending time on a friend’s yacht or lounging by the pool and having lunch in one of the lavish Côte d’Azur villas. Her friends were silly and amusing. It was always perfectly pleasant, and a great diversion—even if he sometimes felt he didn’t always get the jokes, or didn’t seem to enjoy them as much as the others did.
Sinclair turned toward the beautiful coastline. The view was lost on him. He was consumed with introspection—trying to be realistic, and honest with himself.
He leaned on the railing of the balcony to ease his back. Come to think of it, being with Shari hadn’t been all that great lately. They had been irritable with each other. Not always, but plenty of times. And she did demand a lot. Of course, the sex was incredible. He could put up with a lot to keep that going. He closed his eyes, remembering her lithe body under his, her gold hair splayed all over the pillow.
But last night had been the last straw. What an awful scene. Never in his life had he fought in public like that. He had lost all control. And God knows she did too. Sinclair winced at the thought of it.
He could see where he had made his big mistake. It was thinking he was in love with her and would eventually marry her. He had believed she was going to tell him good news when she had called yesterday.
“I have something very important to tell you,” she had breathed over the phone in that tiny little voice. He had been in the middle of the dig, but he had left immediately at her call. No questions asked.
He actually thought that when he got to Monaco she would tell him she was expecting his child. He had spun quite a pretty picture as he sat on the plane from Turkey. Sinclair shook his head in disgust. He had even been hoping for a boy.
Well, that conversation had turned into a disaster. Oh, she had a new baby all right, but the Brazilian Formula One driver wasn’t quite what Sinclair had in mind.
The Explorer's Code
Cordelia Stapleton receives an invitation to accept an award on behalf of her great-great-grandfather, a famous Victorian polar explorer, she has no idea her life is about to change dramatically. John Sinclair—a dashing, wealthy archaeologist and philanthropist—presents Cordelia with the award at the glamorous Oceanographic Institute Ball in Monaco. He also gives her a journal that her greatgreat- grandfather wrote in 1908. An orphan with very few family belongings, Cordelia is amazingly touched to have this precious heirloom. Once the journal is in her possession, Cordelia learns that she is heir to the land on which the Global Seed Vault in Norway sits. The valuable deed for this land, or at least a clue to its whereabouts, may be hidden in the journal.
When the journal disappears from Cordelia’s stateroom on the Queen Victoria and Cordelia receives threatening e-mails, it becomes clear that she is in danger. John Sinclair comes to Cordelia’s aid, helping her search for the missing journal and land deed, and capturing her heart. As they race to find the deed, Cordelia and Sinclair encounter a team of British virologists trying to decode the genome of the 1918 influenza pandemic, but unearthing infected tissue samples may prove more lethal than curative. Cordelia and Sinclair sail through the Mediterranean from Monaco to an archaeological site in Ephesus, Turkey. They travel to a beautiful old Parisian home and a lavish estate in the British countryside. Their search culminates in the high Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, not far from the North Pole. Behind them every step of the way are a consortium of Russian underworld criminals, religious fanatics from Texas, a sinister botanist, and a sexy American spy, all hunting for the deed, all pursuing Cordelia.
The Explorer’s Code is a satisfying blend of historical detail, fast-paced action, scientific discovery, and the thrill of exploration that informs as well as entertains. The breathtaking ending in the high Arctic is as chilling as a polar breeze.
- Scribner |
- 368 pages |
- ISBN 9781439197196 |
- June 2011