Captain Driver brought the freshmen ROTC class to the obstacle course and made them come to attention while he walked slowly up and down the ranks looking for one to pick on. Of the twenty-four young men, two were sophomore transfers. Of the five young women, one was a sophomore, Jessica.
Emily stood to the side, proud of her three stripes. Lieutenant Jack Brinkman, a senior stood beside her with the stop watch and roster. Emily understood why Captain Driver selected Brinkman from the senior class. The two thought a lot alike. Neither appreciated women in the military. Captain Driver was learning, though, under Emily’s careful hand. Even a year ago, a woman as company sergeant for the freshman class would have been unthinkable, and Emily was only a sophomore besides. Company Sergeant was always a junior, next in line for the lieutenant’s position.
Captain Driver stopped in front of the women. Emily was glad to see that none of them flinched. They made quite a collection. Greta’s family was German. Beside her was the Jew, Hilde Sussman. Diane was all American, complete with freckles. Beside her was Natasha Simpson, an African-American young woman determined to be the best of the lot.
“Sophomore.” Driver picked on Jessica, but Emily was not worried. Jessica easily mastered the summer course, and she was in excellent shape. Jessica’s only problem was she knew she was in excellent shape.
“Ready,” Brinkman drew it out. “Go.”
Jessica went off like a rabbit. She climbed the eight feet of the vault like she was climbing a simple ladder and got down the ropes on the other side without a flaw. She was quick. Emily smiled. Most of the boys would have a hard time matching her. She did the ropes, the tunnel, the tires, the swing over the proverbial mud pit with hardly a pause and without falling. When she crossed the finish line, she came back to attention. Emily’s smile broadened. Most of the freshmen would end up bent over, gasping for breath.
“Decent time,” Brinkman praised her while Captain Driver peeked over Brinkman’s shoulder.
“Very good, back in line,” Captain Driver announced the time and said, “She has set a high bar. I expect the rest of you to reach or surpass that bar. But first, I want to show you how it should be done. Hudson!”
“Sir, yes sir,” Emily said. She was afraid this was going to happen and prepared herself. When Brinkman was ready, he said “Go” without warning. Emily went, but she did not climb the vault. She leapt, grabbed one handhold with her right hand and yanked herself up. She put her left hand on the top of the vault and flipped over to the other side where she landed without even touching the ropes. And she landed running. She did the whole course that way, and when she finished, Lieutenant Brinkman looked at the stop watch and only had one thing to say.
“That is one reason she has stripes,” Captain Driver grinned as he spoke quietly to his lieutenant. “I also wouldn’t piss her off if I were you.” He turned back to the company and got them started.
When the class was over, Jessica and Emily had an appointment with Mindy in the library. The other girls wanted to tag along. Greta and Hilde brought up the rear. They were fast becoming friends. Natasha wanted to pace Jessica, whom she obviously looked up to. The freshmen had accepted Jessica as their natural leader, not just because she was a sophomore, but because she set a high standard in all the work to which they could aspire. Emily understood. They were all a little afraid of Emily.
She explained everything about the war and saving the treasures from Europe and the Far East. She explained about the library annex, that housed everything but was now closed up. At the start of the cold war they dug sub basements below the library, the science building and Gorgon Hall, and they were once all connected by tunnels which were now closed off with concrete. Then she told about the work done in the sixties. The sub-basement below the library was now sealed and kept at a certain temperature and humidity level. They also used special light bulbs that would not yellow or damage the scrolls and parchment in any way. At last they got on the elevator and Mindy used her key to take them down.
Diane’s words summed up everyone’s feelings when the elevator doors opened. “National Treasure.”
Mindy’s tour in the actual basement did not take very long. It was designed that way, not the least for the people that were down there working. Emily paid some attention, but mostly felt uncomfortable. She felt especially antsy when they came to a roped off area filled with tiled flooring and sculptures. One tiled artwork scaled a slab that fit into the wall and Emily had to ask why.
“That is a thousand-year-old floor from a Moorish Mosque in Granada, Spain that was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.”
“Why is it on the wall if it’s a floor?” Natasha asked.
“So no one will step on it,” Mindy answered with a roll of her eyes.
“Someone has been stepping all over there,” Jessica pointed.
“What? Where? No one is supposed to go over there.”
Emily moved Jessica forward so they could finish the tour, but her intuition was acting up. As an elect, she knew that was something she had to pay attention to. Something was not right in that room, but then she got that same feeling all over the basement and finally decided that some of the antiquities probably should have stayed buried.
When they got back to the Library main floor, a strange sight awaited them. Morgan Granger, Emily’s freshman biology teacher was there looking more luscious and appealing than any woman ought to look. Every eye in the room was on her, but she did not appear to notice. Her eyes darted around like she was trying to grab hold of something familiar. The woman looked very tired and confused.
They watched as two women came in the front door and headed straight for her. They each took an elbow to escort her out of the building. “Time to go home,” one said.
“Home?” Ms Granger mouthed the word but hardly made a sound.
“There are people waiting,” the other woman spoke and Ms Granger struggled, but only for a second. At last glimpse it appeared that Ms Granger was ready to cry.
“Looks like someone has overindulged in Hilde’s juice,” Jessica said.
“Endocrine juice full of adrenaline, growth hormone and other secretions. Made herself attractive,” Emily explained for the other girls. “It was experimental stuff that caused us all sorts of problems last year.”
“A little too attractive,” Mindy pointed at the room. The women were calming down, but the men looked like they were having a hard time of it.
“We may have to do something,” Jessica said.
“I was hoping we wouldn’t.” Emily was honest.
In New York City, Anna Lee heard something downstairs in her antique shop. She flicked on the light beside her bed and stepped to the window. She did not notice anything outside under the streetlight, but in New York, it could be almost anything. She heard it again. That was definitely in the shop.
Anna dressed quickly and called Detective Tomlinson of the NYPD, but she knew it would likely be a good ten minutes before a car could respond. She grabbed the staff she left by her bed. On second thought, she pulled the knife out of the bed table drawer and slipped it in her belt. With staff in hand, she opened the hatch. It was an old fire pole she put in so she could quickly slide down to the shop below, if necessary.
She landed without a sound in the dark corner and listened because there was nothing to see. She had a lot of antiques in the shop, many of which were breakable, and this was her third robbery since Christmas. Amend that. The first one was a vampire so that really did not count.
“Where is it?” A man spoke from behind the front counter and another answered.
“Quiet. The witch will hear you.”
Something broke in the back room. It sounded like a piece of pottery, and Anna knew there were at least three of them. She walked slowly to the counter, and then spoke in her best customer service voice.
“Can I help you find something?”
Both men stopped and stared at her, and she whacked both hard with one sweep of her staff. She leapt the counter and pummeled the two of them. At once, there were police lights on the street and the man in the back room came barreling out. He collided with Anna. She went sprawling to the floor, not being a big woman, but her knife flew and caught that man in the back. He fell and stopped moving.
A gun went off. The men she had beaten senseless apparently retained enough sense to pull their weapons, and Anna had to scurry behind a suit of samurai armor. The police outside returned fire. Anna’s storefront window shattered. She screamed. One officer caught a bullet in the arm. One of the men inside was shot and fell to the ground. When two more police cars came roaring up, the man who was still standing did something Anna never expected. He put his gun to his head and blew his own brains all over her antiques. Then it was over.
Anna managed to get the light on, and held up the identification Tomlinson had gotten her. She was a consultant to the special department, and the police respected her badge. They got an ambulance for the man she had knifed. He might live. The other two were dead.
“So no idea what they were after,” Anna concluded.
“He said one thing when he was still kind of out of it. Did we get the scroll? But that was it. Mean anything?”
“Maybe,” Anna looked worried. “I’ll have to think on it.” She walked off, and Tomlinson let her go. He learned long ago that Anna shared what she shared when she was good and ready, and not before.
Three hours later, the man mysteriously died in the hospital. The doctors had said he would live, but this did not exactly surprise Anna. She knew the thieves were looking for something in particular and this was no ordinary robbery. In fact, there was nothing to connect these three men from Russia, Germany and Macedonia but one small tattoo on the upper left arm. She almost missed it. It was small and nothing fancy to make it stand out—just a circle with three squiggly lines coming out of the top. It looked like a three legged octopus diving for the deep, but it made her intuition tingle. She photographed all three tattoos and faxed them to Miriam at the FBI. No telling when she might get an answer.