Chapter 16a


Oak Island, Nova Scotia, November 1, 8 AM


The car carried the party across a causeway and onto Oak Island.  There was activity on the island but no tourist facilities at the time, only the concerto of wind in the trees and waves upon rock.  After a bit of asking around, they managed to get in touch with a foreman, who met them in a heated construction shed.


“I suppose you are here to ask about the treasure,” the foreman began.


“That, and the circumstances of burying it,” Jon clarified.  “Who do you think it is?”


“Of course we should know that when we get to it.  But the most common idea is it was pirates.  It could have been any of a number.  People have suggested Kidd, Blackbeard and Morgan.  There are problems with all of them.  Kidd honestly thought he was a privateer and didn’t knowingly engage in piracy. He took a few prizes, althought nothing on the order of what we suspect here.  He had a chance to burry his treasure at one time when he knew he had problems, but he didn’t have the time to do the sort of engineering this would have taken.  He’s a popular guess because Edgar Allen Poe featured him in his story, ‘The Gold Bug.’


“As for Morgan, he found royal favor; in fact he was made governor of Jamaica.  He had every reason to recover whatever treasure he had as well as the time and resources.  Besides, there is no evidence he ever came this far north.  It’s not a coastline for a beginner and not weather for beginners.


Blackbeard was marauding along the coast of Virginia and the Carolinas.  And he was a pirate in the strictest sense.  He would have had the resources, perhaps, to do it.  And his operations weren’t nearly as far away as the others.  But he was a headlong sort of guy.  Civil engineering wouldn’t have been his style.”


“What about the Templars?” asked Ivan.


“Wrong hemisphere, sorry.  No record they ever had any substantial interest on this side of the Atlantic.”


“So who?” Ivan asked.


“I frankly don’t know.  All we really have is a jolly deep hole in the ground, a lot of wild rumors and a really bad flooding problem.  Treasure seems to be the only bet, because there wouldn’t be any other reason to be doing serious digging in this remote a place.”


 “We were told they had found a stone when they first dug down,” said Jon. 


“Ah, yes.  ‘THE STONE.’  There was a legend about a stone that was supposed to tell you how to get the treasure out.  The shaft flooded, of course.  Deep holes will.  But the people doing the digging were so excited that they decided the place had been booby trapped.”


Jon observed, “That’s a lot of water to put in a booby trap.”


“The thought was that the pirates had dug tunnels to bring in sea water.  The water is salt and seems to go with the tides.  But a natural underground channel might do the same thing.”


“Wouldn’t have that been a problem the first time?”


“Yes.  That makes it a bit of a mystery.  But of course the whole thing is mysterious.  The builders put down layers of timber every ten feet.  I have no idea what that was supposed to accomplish.  It’s as if they thought they were building a pyramid or something.  The pyramid builders put relieving chambers over vaults because they could never have built a ceiling that could have supported the weight of the stone above.”


“To protect a mechanism then.  Some sort of contraption to control the flooding?” Jon wanted to know.


“Maybe.  But we don’t have a contraption that needed protecting.  Anyway the stone, if it ever existed, hasn’t been seen for fifty years.  There aren’t any pictures of it, which doesn’t wash if it was on public display as some claim.  Somebody would have brought in a flash camera, and then we could look at it.  Myself I doubt there ever was a stone.”


“Either way, it wouldn’t do you much good if it was supposed to give directions for opening a flood gate that has been destroyed,” Ivan said.


“Precisely, Mr. Ivan.”


“So what is your plan, if you can tell us?” asked Tracy.


“No secret in general.  We have to complete a good hydrologic study of the island.  We have to find out why the water is doing what it is.  If the tunnels exist, they can be plugged from the sea side.  That would be a bit of work, but a lot easier than working down a deep hole.  A half dozen people have died going after the gold or whatever it is.  If we can seal it off from the sea, everything will be a lot more predictable.”


“Many thanks,” said Jon.  “I don’t suppose you can give us a tour of the place.”


“No, I can’t do that.  It’s a construction site, so it would not be legal unless you were authorized.  And it’s dangerous under any circumstances.  And of course there is the security risk.  This is treasure we are talking about, and stupid, violent people could give us more headaches than we have.”


“You must be just about down for the season,” said Hapgood.


“Right.  It’s getting too cold to work, and a big storm could turn up any time.  It’s not cost effective to lease heavy machinery to sit around in a snowdrift.”


“Well you have been really helpful,” said Hapgood.


A man came in wearing heavy construction clothes.  “Chief, there are a lot of strangers poking around the perimeter of the dig.  What should we do?”


“Call security.”  Then he spoke to his guests.  “Sorry, I’ll have to take care of this.”


“We’ll get out of your hair,” said Jon. 


“Aren’t you going to have the police block the causeway?” asked Ivan. 


“Right,” said the foreman.  He made a phone call.  Then he turned to them.   “Well the five of you aren’t going anywhere soon.  Come with me.”


They went out and followed the foreman up a muddy, rock strewn road.  James gave an arm to Hapgood, who was making heavy work of it.  They got to the site.  Several shafts were guarded by rope and flag barriers.  There were workers standing ready and a couple of security men with pistols.


“Spread out,” said the foreman.  “Sweep this place.”


It was not in the job description of most of the men, but they formed a skirmish line with the security men on the outside.  They came to the end of the clearing and entered the light forest, stripped of leaves. 


“I want somebody right down at the water,” shouted the foreman.  A security man and a construction worker went down and started picking their way along the bank.  “Where were they?”  Someone indicated that left would be a good direction.  The long line of men swept the woods as far as the shore.  The foreman and the five moved along the edge of the clearing. 


Presently warning shots were fired.  The skirmish line took cover behind trees.  Ivan said, “Automatics.  It’s got to be Turelli’s men.”


“You know these people?” asked the foreman.


“Not really.  But look.  You have them flanked.  Bring this end of the line forward, and see if they’ll run for it.”


The foreman boggled but then ordered his men to move.  They bent the line in a long arc until they crested the hill and could see water below.  Out in the distance they saw the causeway with police cars flashing to their assistance. 


“All right, we’ve got them,” said Ivan.  “Get somebody forward far enough to see if they come between us and the water.”


The foreman gestured and two men cautiously began to work their way toward the water’s edge to look for the intruders coming past.  The police cars wailed up to the construction cabin below, and then uniformed men ran up to join them.


“They’ve got guns, officer.  But we think we have them pinned down to this wedge.”  The police reinforced the line.  They started to move again.  At this point there was the thunder of an enormous engine cranking up and a sleek cigarette boat roared out of a hidden cove and onto the bay.  The police radioed for help, but the cigarette boat was already clearing the headland and turning up its full power on open water. 


“How the devil did they get in without us hearing that?” asked the foreman.


“Came in at night under electric power,” said Ivan.  “Must be specially modified for it and still had to be towed within range.” 


The foreman said, “Now I don’t know who you are or what you’re up to.  And frankly I don’t care.  But you obviously know a lot more about whoever is breaking the law here than the rest of us do.  I think the police are going to have a few questions.”


From where they stood the offshore racing boat was moving eastward past Tancook Island with its cabbage barns and lighthouse.  Otherwise the gray sea, the gray sky and the wet rocks looked as they must have looked when Saint Brendan and Saint Malo ventured into the bay in their little leather boat after crossing the Atlantic during the sixth century AD.


The few questions took the rest of the day.  The five told the truth.  The police made a number of phone calls and found that their story checked out.  Everyone the police reached remembered and verified details.  At last the officer in charge told them that there were no charges.  They were free to go, but the New York police were very curious and requested they come by for a few questions.  Obviously there was no chance anyone would move against Turelli without something more substantial to go on.  It was dark by the time they left the police station.


The five checked into a local inn and made their way to the bar before getting supper.  They sat around a table in a grim mood.  Ivan took it worst, bitterly disappointed to have come up with nothing.  Jon, too, felt very badly.  It had seemed at times that they had been making progress, but there was nothing.  Tracy was less affected.  She was in it for the sport, but they had lost despite enormous effort and risk.  Hapgood was somber.  James was sympathetic but not terribly dashed.  He was only there to help his friend Hapgood.  It was Hapgood who first shook himself out of the grip of despair and decided to lighten the mood.


Ivan, it was your mother who was part Cossack, is that right?”




“Did she ever show you any dances.  I mean I don’t dance.  But under the circumstances I think a little dancing might be in order.”


“I’m not in the mood.”


“Well would you do it as a favor?  Maybe you could show a few steps to Tracy here.”


The big man heaved himself up and walked to the juke box.  As it happened, “Saber Dance” was listed.  He placed a coin and listened for a bit, getting the rhythm down.  Tracy got up and started to hop around in time.  Then Ivan suddenly whirled, stooped and leapt.  He emitted a startling cry and the dance was on.


Tracy, not to be upstaged, was able to pick it up.  For three cycles of the recording, they danced like there was no tomorrow.  The other patrons pulled the furniture away, concerned because Ivan was jumping over so many chairs.  There were dives and kicks and rolls, there were headlong dashes and there was the Cossack trademark, the flying one legged deep knee bend, arms folded, and one leg straight out.  Somebody turned the music up to full shriek.


At last Ivan stopped, returned to the table and sat down.  He buried his face in his hands.  Tracy perched on her chair, looking not a little pleased with her own performance. 


James clapped and grinned.  The other customers acknowledged a good show.


This time it was Jon’s turn to try to break the mood.


Ivan,” he said.  “Now I hear that Cossacks can drink.  And I hear that Seminoles can’t.”


“Can but don’t.  With other Indians it’s can but shouldn’t.”

“Well I’m talking to the Cossack.  I think I can drink more than you can.  What do you think?”


“I say it’s no contest,” said Hapgood.  Ivan will turn you into a pickled oyster before he turns a hair.  It’s just size.  Think of something else.”


“All right,” said Jon.  “I’ll take Tracy as an assistant.  We’ll work one glass, Ivan works the other.”


Ivan was good enough sport and rash enough to accept the pointless contest.  They got the waiter to bring a bottle of whiskey and stand by with another.  Hapgood would pace them to reduce the chance they give themselves alcohol poisoning.  It was Canadian whiskey, austere and smoky tasting.  The bottle started shuttling back and forth.


They hadn’t finished the third round before the waiter came over.  “With all respect, why are you drinking so much?” he wanted to know.


“We went out to the island,” said Jon.


“And you came back disappointed.  Everybody comes away disappointed.  It’s the thing about that treasure.  It takes but it never gives.  Plenty of people have died, so you can consider yourselves luckier than average.”


“At least we thought we might find out about the stone,” complained Tracy.  “Just to get a look at it.  Turns out there never was such a thing.”


The waiter lowered his voice.  “My mother used to tell me that her grandmother had seen it on display for the tourists.  It was taken down and vanished a long time ago.  No pictures.  Nobody around here was going to waste money taking pictures of a stone they could go look at any time.”


“How big was it?” asked Jon.  “Did she say?”


“Not as big a as a tombstone.  You could lift it.”


“How big would that be?”


The waiter indicated a size of about eighteen inches by one foot.  “And how big were the letters?” Jon asked again.


Tombstone size,” he indicated about one letter to an inch.  “But it wasn’t letters.  It was just marks.”


“Like a drawing?”


“No.  There were a few lines.  Nothing you could recognize.  Most of the marks were all lined up like letters.  Like it was some sort of code.  Nothing else.”  He left.  It sounded like a story he told all the tourists so everyone could have the sense that they had learned something secret.


The bottle went another round.


“You know what it is,” said Tracy.  “Greedy people.  Greedy people owned it or stole it, and they couldn’t make out what it was.  So somebody buried it in his back yard.  And then he died without telling anybody where it was.  So now even if somebody finds it, he won’t know.  Everybody loses.  And it’s all because somebody wanted it all for himself.  Must have been a man.”


The drinking trial continued at a leisurely pace.  After a time Jon spoke.  He was beginning to show signs of not keeping the pace.  His eyes were dull and his voice slurred.  “I’ll tell you sumthin else.  It wasn’t no directions for opening no floodgate.”  He pulled himself up straighter to make his announcement.  “I’m an engineer.  And any engineer wants to describe somethin he makes a drawing.  A real good drawing.  And if you can’t tell what it is, it’s not a real good drawing.  And whoever dug all the way down there was a good engineer; even today he’s hard to follow his work.  He put it in.  They can’t get it out.  So it wasn’t no engineer did that stone.”  He slumped again.


The others in the room, who had enjoyed the dancing, now had gathered to watch the contest.  They gazed in silence as the glasses filled and drained.  Suddenly Ivan was on his feet, hurling his glass into the fireplace.  Whiskey exploded in a ball of fire.  Somebody said something in French.


“Did you hear what you just said?” thundered Ivan.


The barkeep said, “He said foul.  That glass doesn’t count.  You’ll have to start it over.”


Ivan ignored him.  “That’s why they killed him.”


The silence was palpable.  “Killed whom?” Hapgood inquired mildly.


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