Johnathan Thompson rifled through the memos on his desk in irritation. He hated paperwork, and this morning there seemed to be more than usual. He realized there was a reason for this, there always was. This time it was because he had been gone for over three weeks, so the buildup looked frightening. He separated the messages marked urgent from the others, and dealt with this stack of business first. He phoned those he considered the most important immediately, threw any duplicate messages away, and then moved on to the next stack, which happened to be the mail.
He looked at the pile of envelopes that had been neatly placed off to his right side, by his secretary, and gave a shudder. It looked like the mailman had been overloaded with items marked for him, the whole time he had been gone. Well, he decided, it could have been worse. He bent over to the side, and pulled the wastepaper basket closer, for better access and began. He thought it would probably hold more of the pile than he ended up looking at, because there was always a good percentage of waste in any amount of mail.
He spent the next ten minutes opening envelopes to sort what had been placed in his pile, and he threw away anything that he considered irrelevant. When he was finished he took the greatly reduced stack and resorted it into six smaller ones. He placed notes on the top of five of the six then buzzed for his secretary.
“Miss Lowery, would you step in here for a moment please?”
A tall, well-groomed woman in her early thirties, entered the office with a pencil and notepad, and sat down, dictation ready.
“I want these five stacks taken to the people I have designated them to. Take care of it.”
“Of course sir.” Miss Lowery answered, as she smoothly rose from her seat, to place her pencil and notepad on one of the piles. She then picked up two of the stacks and left the room. As she made her deliveries, he opened his appointment book and went through the notes she had made there.
Outside of one appointment, his secretary had left his day clear, and he silently blessed her. Not paying much attention to the time, or who was to come, he put the book aside and turned to the messages that had not been marked urgent. About halfway through the stack he stopped and swore under his breath.
“Today of all days.” He spoke to himself as he frowned heavily. The names that he had dismissed in this appointment book suddenly connected with his thoughts.
After two months of waiting, extensive correspondence, and cables, the Stanton twins were finally arriving. Johnathan turned back to his appointment book to double-check the names. He was irritated he hadn’t paid closer attention to those names earlier, although not that much time had passed since he had seen them to have made a difference. He walked to the front of the desk, sat against the edge of the desk, and ran his fingers through his hair, tossing his head back as he did.
Johnathan wasn’t ready, no matter how many times he had frequented their mailbox with letters marked urgent over the last several months. His organization had been working on an excavation site in the Amazon Valley over the last ten years. They had unearthed signs of a huge city they had stumbled upon by accident. He remembered how he had considered it a major breakthrough, when he had first heard about it, and knew it would be a definite feather in his cap to have found the site. There had not been many buildings to mark the area as a proper city, but there were indications that one had stood there at one time. There were also marks to show that structures had stood in places, etched in the stone base of the city foundation, as well as signs of their removal. Little else remained to give evidence to their existence.
Johnathan’s secretary interrupted his thoughts as she returned for the last three piles still lying on his desk. He watched her in his partial preoccupation then asked, as she turned to leave his office.
“Miss Lowery, what time are the Stanton twins supposed to be here?”
“Two thirty, didn’t I mark that in your diary, Mr. Thompson?” Miss Lowery asked in concern.
“Probably, just double-checking.” Johnathan watched her, as she nodded and walked towards the door. He then stopped her with an order. “When you are finished distributing those Miss Lowery, I want you to pull the file on the Stanton’s, and all accompanying files. I assume you are familiar with the project?”
“Yes sir.” Miss Lowery replied.
“Good, I will need them as soon as possible. I have to review everything if I am to appear credible.”
He then pushed himself off the edge of the desk to return to his chair, murmuring to himself as he moved. “I hope they are professional enough to show up on time. I need more than luck to make this work.”
His secretary left the office, only to return and hand him the requested information, five minutes later. She placed the files before him and, as he opened the first one, not even looking up, he dismissed her, with a motion of his hand.
Johnathan had spent a lot of effort finding the proper, or what he considered proper, archeologists for the job. In this instance, those he thought right for the job were the Stanton twins, and it had not been easy to find them.
They had made themselves virtually inaccessible to anyone. Johnathan had finally found them in the middle of the African continent, on an archeological expedition with a colleague. The twins had either given up on that person’s theory, or the expedition had run out of money. Either way, they had left and were now back in America, and free to meet with him.
Further in the file, he ran across the individual personal portfolios on the twins. He leafed through the paperwork, until he reached their pictures. Brother and sister, as the twins were, could not have looked more different. Both were young and had more than their share of good looks. They were blond, blue eyed and classically formed. Johnathan found he could never quite tire of looking at their photos. Despite their physical attractiveness, there was no denying their talents, which was the first thing he had checked out when he had considered hiring them. Johnathan had talked to many other professionals, who had varying ideas on which were the more brilliant of the couple.
Some claimed Derek was the brain behind the team, others said Darlene was the power behind their fame. No one had denied Darlene, some said it was too close to call. To accentuate their genius, they had been lucky on one of their first discoveries, and the artifacts that had been unearthed by the two young archeologists, had been widely publicized, too much for the twins taste, or so it seemed. They had become, for a while celebrities. It was a way of life neither the brother nor his sister liked. They retreated from civilization and its annoyances, shortly after, to bury themselves in their work amidst the ruins of the past.
Johnathan Thompson considered that no real kind of life for two twenty three year old twins. The hours were long, and the nights were bound to be lonely. Of course, he realized, that to the right kind of temperament, their lives could be filled with more excitement than anything a metropolis might offer.
He skimmed through their files in a half-hearted fashion, as he had reviewed it many times before. The twins had been well conditioned for the type of life they were living. Their father had preceded them in the field of archeology. Their mother was a staunch believer in a thorough education, and she drove her children to attain a high degree of excellence. She was not disappointed with them. Their school marks were exceptional, and they finished their formal education, upon receiving their doctorates from prestigious universities.
As the family bounced from site to site, they all became familiar with the lifestyles and regulations of different countries. Their system worked very well. They found both protections, a release for pending ideas, and new methods of excavating.
It was through collaborating with each other that they managed to achieve better results, which made them more famous and sought after. They moved from job to job, checking out each theory before deciding whether it was worth following upon or not. And the twins were very careful whom they traveled with, not that he blamed them. Of course, he thought his job was one of the most worthwhile of the projects they would be looking at while they were in the States. He only hoped the Stanton’s would share his opinion.
If not, he was prepared to sweeten the pot, to make the venture better looking, although he knew that had never worked with the twins in the past. They had to accept his case though. He had too much to lose. From the moment he had heard about the legend, from the rainforest aboriginals, he had been obsessed with it, and when he had found the first traces of proof that the legend might be true, he almost shouted his delight and surged ahead with even more enthusiasm. When he had reached what he felt was the actual site of the beginning of the legend, his real work began.
The cost of uncovering the city that had been shrouded in mystery had been staggering, as well as the time it had taken, almost ten years. Johnathan knew from experience that if his theory was proven right, that everything he had done to date would have been worth the cost plus. The government would supply several subsidies to complete the exploration, as a starting point, and history would definitely remember the name of Johnathan Thompson. There would be funds not only from the governments, but publishers, movie rights, and the land, to the right person. He knew who to approach for these things, and who to leave alone, and would make them all pay. The Stanton twins would be the greatest instruments he could think of, in guaranteeing his success.
In some way, he hated to use the Stanton’s, especially Derek. Darlene was another matter. He had met her once, and she had embarrassed him, as well as made him look like a fool. He could still remember the smile she had left him with, and in a way, he could only wonder if she had been right to do it. Most women would have slapped his face for issuing the proposition he had tossed at her, but Darlene didn’t condone such violent actions. She had chosen to humiliate him instead. She had looked at him in a condescending manner, before she broke into laughter. It was an effective method of killing an infatuation, much more demeaning than a slap. Unfortunately it was more painful, in his estimation, for he became the laughing stock of all of his friends because of her actions.
It wasn’t as if most of Johnathan’s male acquaintances hadn’t lusted after Darlene Stanton, to no avail, when they had seen her, it was that none of them had done so in public. Now, even to think of her, was to bring her treatment of him back in vivid clarity, as well as what she looked like. She had a perfect figure, and stood five foot six and a half inches. She wasn’t considered tall, but she handled herself like a cross between a panther and a Queen, a combination that many tended to admire. Johnathan, although he could still appreciate her type of beauty, would always associate her with all the depth and warmth of a glacier.
Johnathan Thompson hesitated meeting Darlene again. He could imagine her cold eyes looking down at him with contempt, and he knew he would just hate it. He remembered feeling as if she could see right through him. His only reason for not calling off the whole thing right now was because her professional word could either make or break him. That and the fact that her brother, Derek, was nothing like her.
Johnathan gave a hint of a smile, as he considered Derek and shook his head. Derek, from the picture he had on file, could have posed for the picture of a roguish pirate, albeit a very blond one. He glanced at his watch, from habit, and noticed he had lots of time yet before the meeting, and he began to drift off into another bout of thought that he couldn’t afford to take. He had barely three hours to become familiar with a file he hadn’t looked at in over a year. He shook his head, to rid it of his daydreams and raked his fingers through his hair once more, before settling down to work in earnest.
At two thirty promptly, the Stanton twins were escorted into Johnathan Thompson’s private office, as soon as they arrived. Darlene, he was quick to note, didn’t act the same as he remembered. He wondered what the difference was for a moment, then dismissed it.
Derek made the introductions, and Johnathan smiled as he confessed.
“I have had the pleasure of meeting your charming sister before.”
Darlene smiled in return, although she remained silent as she studied him. She had no recollection of Johnathan Thompson whatsoever, and because of things she had learned in the past about situations like this, she decided to make it clear.
“I hope you are not offended, Mr. Thompson, if I say I have no memory of you whatsoever. I meet so many people in my line of business it would be almost impossible to do so.”
“Quite and I understand. I have the same problem with my own work. A person can’t be expected to remember everyone.” Johnathan spoke to hide his relief and nervousness.
Darlene raised an eyebrow and Johnathan stopped talking, sensing that he had already said too much on the matter. All things considered, it was probably to the good that she hadn’t remember him. It might have proved very embarrassing otherwise. He cleared his throat and changed the subject.
“Perhaps I should explain the matter I have been writing about.”
He stalled as he continued to stare at Darlene then fumbled, spilling the papers on the floor, which he was quick to retrieve. By the time he had pulled himself back together again, he could tell Darlene was annoyed with him.
Darlene smiled, showing picture perfect teeth, along with a degree of control and urged him on. “Please proceed, Mr. Thompson.”
Derek, from his vantage point at the door, seemed to be trying desperately to hide his amusement. It was evident Mr. Thompson was trying to impress Darlene and, if this was the case, he was going about it wrong. He should have just have admitted his lack of experience at the beginning of the interview. Darlene would have respected him for it because of the honesty involved, if nothing else. It was obvious that Johnathan, was trying to cover for something he had done in the past, and making himself look like a klutz, which was doing irreparable harm.
Johnathan noted Derek’s demeanor and frowned, which added in his frustration. He didn’t want to appear angry, not as he knew he must be, “Mr. Stanton, would you please be seated? This may take quite some time.” He was aware of how he must look, and it irritated him to no end.
Derek gave him a slow lazy smile, then answered. “Thank you, however, I am quite comfortable the way I am.”
For the first time, Johnathan took notice of Darlene’s brother. Derek stood five foot eleven, and was very powerfully built. Unlike his sibling, Derek didn’t hide behind a cloak of ice to hide the impact of his personality. Here, Johnathan concluded, was a man whose cool demeanor portrayed the practiced manner of a playboy. And Johnathan could only wonder at the reports he had gotten from the detectives he had hired. There had been no reports of any wild actions on either of the twins. Despite that, it was easy to see where most women would find this man quite irresistible.
Darlene cleared her throat to catch Mr. Thompson’s attention, and to get the reason for the meeting back into the forefront. The ploy worked and he pulled some maps out of one of his files to spread them out onto the desk between them. He then pointed at the place on the map as he began.
“This is the spot.” He watched as the twins turned their attention to studying the maps and exchanged a few astonished and questioning looks.
Derek was the first to break the silence. “The site is very hard to get at, isn’t it?”
“Remembering where your last job site was, I can hardly see where that would be a deterrent.” Johnathan rebounded.
Derek tossed him a wry grin and replied. “All too true. Such places are usually not only interesting, but safe. So tell me, Johnathan, just what progress have you made to date?”
That was the question he had waited for. That it had been asked so soon gave him confidence. They were interested, truly interested! He decided to push them in at the deep end of the project right away. He felt it might be the only chance he had to hold their attention. Now, he was in his element, and he began to act in a more normal fashion.
“We have unearthed a city of extreme proportions, and a pyramid about twice the size of the great Pyramid of Egypt. It was buried beneath a soft pumice, and is beautifully preserved.”
A puzzled expression puckered Darlene’s brow, and Derek showed signs of being in deep thought. As far as Johnathan was concerned, their expressions were very telling. He knew through experience that he had captured their full attention, and that was important to his sales pitch. He relaxed, sitting back and, with subtle hand gestures, carried on.
“How the pyramid, city or pumice rock got there we have no idea. We will leave that up to you to determine. We flew the equipment we considered necessary in, to uncover the city, then vacated it when we were finished. The city has taken us ten years to unearth, more or less. How far we have succeeded is anyone’s guess. Any questions?”
It was then that Darlene gave Johnathan the first indication that she had been listening, and not just studying the map. “What type of equipment did you use in your excavation?”
“Trucks, loaders and hand tools. You do understand that we were unable to get anything really large there.” Johnathan answered.
“What type of damage was done, resulting from the use of this type of equipment?” Darlene asked.
“None that we could see.” Johnathan admitted.
“You are sure you have uncovered the whole of the city?” Darlene continued to question.
“We are sure. There is a swamp that surrounds the whole island. The quicksand that makes up ninety percent of the surrounding area is hundreds of feet deep in places. There are no ways to get there by land.”
Darlene raised her eyebrows at this piece of information then carried on. “What state are the buildings in?”
“We believe perfect. We had them swept out and experts were hired to dig them completely out of the rocks. The buildings were made of substantially harder material than what covered them.”
Darlene nodded, and Derek took over the questioning. “How did you come across this place?”
“Through local legend and folklore. There was even a weird sort of map they had made up to go with their story. We decided it was worth looking into and following up.”
“Relay the legend, please. Sometimes these things hold more behind them than just a location.” Darlene requested.
Johnathan began, wasting no time. “They say there was a city of great wealth and power hidden in a land of no return. The lights of the city could be seen for miles at night, and they said that to look upon the city dwellers was taboo. Everyone within the area lived in fear of the noises that were heard coming from the great city. One day, a great boom sounded that shook the ground, and rocked the great river. The sounds that used to scare them ceased after that and the lights from the city were seen no more.”
“And what you found was a city covered with soft rock?” Derek summarized, before adding. “How did you know this was the right place?”
“All the pieces of the puzzle fit.” Johnathan had no other explanation for it. How did you explain a gut feeling?
“How about the city. Is it complete, or has some of it disintegrated over the years?” Darlene wondered.
“Most of the buildings are missing, and by that I mean they are not there at all, not one sign of them. The grounds show where they once stood; yet there is no proof that the structures existed otherwise. We tried to make a road through the quicksand, using the pumice as a temporary base but we only got about a hundred or so yards out of the city.” Johnathan admitted.
“What forms of transportation remain?” Derek asked.
“We left a few jeeps behind and some fuel to run them with. Other than that, we have flown everything out of the area that we took in. That, by the way, includes the tools.” Johnathan informed them.
“You didn’t leave anything behind to confuse us I hope?” Derek teased.
“No. I thought the find itself was enough for that. Now is there anything that you can think of that you might need?” Johnathan asked.
“Not yet. First we will want to inspect the site.” Darlene admitted.
“And what will be your fee?” Johnathan wanted to know, he had heard they were expensive, now he wanted to know just how much of what he had been told about them was true.
“That depends what we find when we get there. Don’t worry, you will get our bill.” Darlene assured Johnathan.
Johnathan could have jumped for joy he was so happy. They were going to take the job. Just the news that they were going to consider it was enough to make him a rich man, and the cost no longer worried him. He smiled and pressed on.
“So when do you want to go?”
“As soon as you are ready.” Derek replied.
“I should have everything prepared for you by next week. Should we say Tuesday at three in the afternoon?”
“Fine, we will be ready.” Derek promised.
Darlene got up as her brother accepted the job, and within a few moments they were out of the office, and headed back to their apartments. Johnathan Thompson breathed a deep sigh of relief and got back to his work. As far as he was concerned, the worst was over, although the commitments from the twins were tentative. He was, however, positive, that when they saw the place, there would be no turning back for either of them. The site was steeped in mystery, and he was sure they would feel the same way about it that he did.