Home > Cross of Goa Chapter 1 & 2

   

Cross of Goa

Prologue

Jasmine slid her knife into the scabbard. Blood from the security guard coated her hands and saturated her sleeves. She removed her jacket to reveal the werewolf tattoo on her slim right bicep. With no one near she risked a cell phone call.

‘Carlos, are they both here?’
‘Only Anobe, I followed them after they left the Heart of Darkness night club. Narong dropped Anobe near the temple rear causeway then drove off,’ Carlos replied. ‘The golden cross must be here; he’s carrying a metal detector and wearing night vision goggles.’

Jasmine checked around the ancient city of stone for any other temple guards. Most security monitored only the perimeter to protect the stone heads and stolen figurines from black market profiteers. Sandalwood incense wafted from a golden Buddha festooned with garlands.

‘Where are you now?’ she queried as she donned her night vision goggles. The acoustics amplified the sound of squabbling monkeys which echoed along the secluded hollow chambers.
‘I’m still following Anobe west at the end of the Gallery of the Gods. I’ll wait for you near the Garuda statue.’

Jasmine followed the stone hallway of a thousand Buddhas past chiselled dragons, celestial maidens, griffins and unicorns. In the eerie green light, the vaulted rock ceiling felt claustrophobic. The damp mildew smell of moss-coated stone walls accosted her nostrils.
Carlos stepped from behind the Garuda armed with his trademark machete and a holstered Ruger pistol. With n nose or upper lip, and exposed tobacco-stained teeth, his leprosy-afflicted features looked even more gruesome in the poor light.

‘Jasmine, wait here a minute. Anobe is still heading across the western causeway toward the main entrance.’ 

They descended a steep stone staircase between stone lion sentinels guarding the temple entrance. A team of hired Cambodian thugs emerged from the gloom and followed them.

As they waited, Jasmine turned at the squealing of overhead bats. The moon illuminated pearlescent clouds and relieved the intense darkness. The silhouettes of enormous pagodas towered above; giant lotus buds carved in stone. The quiet evening was disturbed by distant
restless elephants. 

Carlos signalled and they all hurried across the causeway crouching below the ancient bridge railing. They quietly descended the entrance steps flanked by two giant Nagas, stone fans of seven-headed cobras silhouetted by moonlit clouds. An eerie luminous mist hovered above the
stagnant waters of the nearby moat.

They saw Anobe scanning the turf near the staircase.

He was vulnerable now, with goggles on and headset muffling all sounds but the whine of his metal detector. 

Carlos and Jasmine quickly led their team in to seize him. 

Two of their recruits grabbed Anobe by the arms and pinned him against a tree.

Carlos unfolded a multitool to access the pliers.

‘Anobe, you must be anxious to reveal details of Valdez’s search for the cross.’ He smirked as his assistant firmly grasped Anobe’s left hand. ‘If this fails to enlighten me then you will dance with the devil.’

Anobe squirmed. He knew about the horrors of the Devil’s Dance. ‘You know Valdez’s policy; he only informs each cell member on a need-to-know basis. I only know my duties for tonight.’

‘So the cross must be buried here in the temple complex?’ Jasmine demanded.

Anobe shrugged, but then collapsed as he felt the crushing pain in his finger. ‘No, it has been cast into four major parts.’

Jasmine frowned. ‘Why?’

As Carlos squeezed, Anobe writhed in pain, his screams muffled by a firm hand. Carlos backed off and let Anobe speak.

‘The complete Cross of Goa weighed over a ton; impractical to cast such a large icon in a primitive foundry. 

We think the broken-down parts weigh less than 200 kilos each.’

Carlos nodded. ‘So what is this relic Valdez is concealing in India?’

‘I’m not aware that he’s concealing anything?’

‘Maybe this will help you remember.’ Carlos stuffed a cloth firmly in his victim’s mouth then sliced off another of Anobe’s fingers.

Anobe struggled violently, gasping in pain. ‘He has the lower stipe.’

Jasmine frowned. ‘What?’

Anobe trembled. ‘The vertical part of the sacred cross is called the stipe.’

‘And he has the lower part of this stipe only?’ Carlos probed clamping another finger.

‘Yes,’ Anobe panicked, ‘we are still searching for the other three major parts, the upper stipe and two patibulums.’

‘Patibulums?’ Jasmine queried as she checked the time; it would soon be dawn.

‘The horizontal crossbeam of the sacred cross,’ Anobe explained, ‘now divided as two separate arms.’

Carlos struggled with the strange English words. ‘So where are these patibulums?’

‘One is thought to be in Africa and the other in South America.’

Jasmine pondered the new clues. ‘So only the upper stipe is buried here somewhere?’

‘We think so but as you saw, we have been unsuccessful with our scans so far.’

‘Where is it supposed to be?’

Somewhere near a Naga of a seven-headed cobra and the steps of a causeway, so four possible sites here.’

‘We need more information.’ Jasmine sneered. 

‘That’s all I know, I started here, planning to scan the other three sites as I retreated back to the rear gate.’

Carlos shook his head. ‘I want more details of an exact position and you need to tell me where Valdez keeps the first part of the cross. We know it’s in India, either Mumbai or Goa; all you have to do is give me an address.’

Anobe groaned. ‘I think it’s Goa, but all contract staff are blindfolded in transit and then must reside on premises.’

Jasmine interrupted. ‘I know Valdez gets clues from an ancient will; what else did it reveal?’
At the mention of the cryptic document, Anobe hesitated too long. ‘I don’t know anything about it.’

Time was now critical; the security shift change was imminent and thousands of Cambodia tourists would soon arrive at Angkor Wat. The eastern sky brightened as Carlos persisted with the brutal interrogation and torture. 

He decided to expedite using the Devil’s Dance but waited so any screams would be muffled by the dawn wildlife cacophony.

Carlos donned a butcher’s glove, savouring the gruesome ritual. The blade-resistant steel mesh would protect his hand as he gripped the machete blade.

Thenearby tree would suffice to carry out the Devil’s Dance.

Carlos pulled Anobe’s belt then looped a rope around the tree in readiness.

Jasmine could not tolerate Carlos’s vicious practices and left, but even the morning calls of jungle bird, howling monkeys and trumpeting elephants could not disguise the screams from Anobe as he attempted to scramble away still tethered by his own organs.


CHAPTER 1

Jan’s finger poised above the delete key.

‘Dave, have you checked the emails this morning?’ She realised that with a simple touch, technology could alter history.

‘No, why?’ Dave Stark sipped his coffee outside on their terrace, high above Fairfax harbour. Port Moresby, capital of the island nation of Papua New Guinea, was a ninety-minute flight from Cairns in northern Australia.

‘An email highlighted as spam, with the title Cross of Goa.’

Dave sat up a little straighter. ‘Who from?’ They had wasted eight years and almost a million dollars of AvMar’s profits searching for the fabled bejewelled cross rumoured to be over a ton of solid gold.

‘A Claude Valdez from Goa.’

Dave opened his iPad and read the message. ‘I have the cross. It is incomplete so perhaps a combined search effort would be more rewarding? If you are interested, four air tickets are attached for you, partner and spouses.

Reply affirmative this day for more information. Regards,
Claude Valdez.’

‘Sounds like a scam, Dave, email address India,’ Jan cautioned.

But Dave had already checked the attachment and was amazed to find four first-class air tickets to Goa. Every detail for himself, Jan, Fang and Tiana were correct. ‘Wow,
this guy is serious.’

Jan’s sun-streaked auburn hair cascaded over him as she peered over his shoulder. She was still sceptical. ‘That reservation date is two weeks from today. This is too good to be true; I still think it’s a scam.’

Dave’s rugged face showed signs of recent stress and over-exposure to the sun. He hesitated and his blue eyes turned to her. ‘So what do you think?’

‘Why not Google Claude Valdez – Goa and see what we get?’ Jan suggested.

Multiple sites populated the screen and Dave clicked on Wikipedia. ‘Claude Rodriguez Valdez’ and began reading aloud. ‘Multi-billionaire property developer, tax haven recluse and heir to the worldwide Valdez Hotel chain. Of Portuguese and Indian descent…’

‘This is genuine!’ Jan stared incredulous at the screen, ‘print it out so we can check the details.’

As the printer whirred, Dave immediately drafted a reply but kept it brief, unwilling to reveal too much. ‘Hello Claude, this is intriguing, and yes, we’re interested. More details please. Regards, Dave Stark.’ He paused before sending.

 Their company AvMar, Aviation and Marine Charter and Salvage was doing fine. Another profitable venture had left them comfortably well off. He turned to Jan. ‘Have Fang and Tiana finished that barge salvage in Cairns?’

Jan managed all AvMar’s contracts and shuffled through a diary. ‘Just about, due back this weekend.’ ‘What about Carl and Messina?’ Dave stood up, stretching his tall slim frame.

‘Nothing much going for them at the moment,’ Jan replied. ‘They’re due to start hauling parts by helicopter out to the oil rig on Friday but it’s only a 10-day contract.

I told Carl I could fly the chopper for the last two days to give him a break so it can all be rearranged if required.’

Dave thought briefly as he gazed down at their 15-metre yacht, Lahara, swinging gently at its mooring. It was the only thing they owned except for a stable of apartments in Sydney. This upmarket fully furnished apartment was leased as was all the aircraft in their charter fleet. Jake
and Zeke could manage their wharf facility below while they were gone. Dave made his decision, took another sip of coffee then hit send.

A response was almost immediate. ‘I perceive you have done much seek and search for the cross and especially for the stolen hoard of General Yamashita. I would like to access your database and in return trust you with access to mine. I would expect you to supply all manpower for a six-month period initially. I have unlimited funding for a prolonged search and would cover costs of all expedition equipment, travel, accommodation, boats and aircraft.’

By now Jan was reading over his shoulder.

 ‘I have but one proviso, if the remainder of the cross and the Golden Bell of the Inquisition are found; I reserve the right to keep them and place the cross back in the original nave at the Chapel of the Holy Ghost in Se Cathedral, Goa. I can contract your labour costs to the extent of US$2500 per day plus all expenses. I will reward you financially with 10% of the value of anything recovered.’

Dave had heard of the Golden Bell of the Inquisition before. He thought about the thousands of valuables pilfered by Yamashita during the Second World War. It may have all been traded via the huge demand for black-market antiquities.

‘Ten per cent?’ Jan queried, wrinkling her brow. ‘How much is the cross worth now?’

‘In today’s market?’ Dave paused, ‘Tiana estimated the weight of solid gold between 1000-1500 kilos. She said intrinsic value is over US$30 million, so our cut would be three mil.’

‘But the heritage value is estimated at ten times that,’ Jan countered.

‘True, and now I realise that maybe that’s why we never found the Cross of Goa; this guy had it all along, though incomplete, whatever that means?’ Dave agreed, emailing their response. ‘Hi Claude, we are very busy here with many lucrative ongoing contracts. If the offer was adjusted to US$3000 per day and 20% of the market valuation of finds we would be pleased to data share.

Regards, Dave Stark.’

Ten minutes later, Claude Valdez responded. ‘Agreed, except at 15% of market valuation of finds?’

‘See you in Goa.’ Dave replied.

‘Looking forward to working with you. My staff will greet you at Dabolina International.’
Dave called his Port Moresby manager. ‘Jake, me, Fang and the girls have to head to India in a fortnight on a contract. I’ll leave you in charge here and get Zeke over from Madang to help. Carl and Messina will also be with you after we’re gone but only for a few days before they join us.’

Jan smiled, ‘you realise with Fang and Tiana along, there might be problems; this contract will be way out of Fang’s comfort zone? He won’t just rock the boat, he might overturn it?’
Fang was the most resourceful salvage man in the South Pacific, a rough diamond balanced only by a chip on each shoulder. More comfortable in third world frontier society, Fang could be a foulmouthed and obnoxious maverick. ‘We need him along so let’s deal with that as the occasion arises.’

After an overnight in Singapore, they arrived in Goa at 1400 hours. Both Dave and Chris wore casual pants and short-sleeve shirts and carried jackets. Both were tanned from their vigorous outdoor lifestyle. As salvage crew, they were used to travelling light. This expedited their transit through Goa customs. The alien team caught many glances in an eclectic environment of saris, hijabs, turbans and chador, sprinkled among designer jeans, colourful beach sarongs and kaftans.

Chris ‘Fang’ Mitchell had sandy hair and a face etched with scars and shaded by stubble. Not as tall as Dave, he was stocky but not muscle-bound.

‘This place looks like ground zero for fuckwits; I hope this guy ain’t another fringe lunatic with a FOMO complex.’

Jan disagreed. ‘He’s a billionaire; I doubt he has a fear of missing out on anything.’ Jan had a cover girl face and curvaceous form which filled out her snug jeans. A gold set fiery opal and chain pendant complemented her red blouse and gold sandals.

Money wise Tiana controlled AvMar’s finances and as an accountant had a fierce reputation of chasing down debt. ‘Just be cool, Fang, it’s hard enough getting believers, let alone a rich financial backer.’ Her waist-length raven hair had a satin sheen. She was blessed with Thai caramel skin, high cheekbones and almond eyes. Tiana wore sprayed on jeans and, being petite, insisted on wearing stilettos.

Outside the airport, the aroma of nutmeg, cinnamon and other exotic spices greeted them as a large islander in an immaculate suit approached, carrying a small signboard – ‘AvMar’.

Clearly, the stately chauffer had been shown photos of the group to identify them. ‘Hello Mister Stark, my name is Michael Donovan, welcome to Goa.’

‘Thank you, Michael, cabin baggage only so we’re ready to go,’ Dave replied, shook hands and introduced his team.

As the driver opened the doors of the stretched black Bentley limousine, Dave noticed Michael had pierced ears but also a pierced nasal septum. The bulk near his left armpit betrayed the fact that he was packing a pistol. The trailing ends of elaborate neck tattoos protruded above his shirt collar.

As the Bentley whisked them through the outskirts of busy Vasco Da Gama then onto a highway, Dave sensed Fang’s quiet discomfort. ‘You okay?’

‘Yeah, I just don’t think we need this Indian guy; he’s probably another Teflon tight ass that speaks fluent fuckwit.’

‘He’s offering us a very lucrative contract,’ Dave replied, as the cool blast of the Bentley’s air-conditioning tempered the fierce Goan humidity.

Fang settled back into white leather. ‘I reckon one more extended search and we mighta’ found Yamashita’s treasure and even the Cross of Goa.’

Tiana joined in ‘But this Valdez states he has part of the Cross. The 15% share of all we recover is hard to refuse, with all expenses paid as well.’

‘I’d still prefer 100% than peanuts from a blow-in asshole that sits in the rear with a beer.’
‘Just do me a favour and tone it down?’ Dave requested, ‘I don’t want to risk losing Valdez’s cooperation.

Our search had stagnated. We need to change strategy, and resisting change is like holding your breath; if you succeed, you die.’

Fang shook his head. ‘I still think this is a waste of fuckin’ time.’

Tiana tried another tack. ‘Look at it this way. If we don’t find anything then we’ve lost nothing and been well paid anyway. In effect, it’s free research for us funded by Valdez. His focus is on the cross; he doesn’t seem interested in Yamashita’s treasure anyway.’

They passed through a wrought iron security gate near the top of a hill to be met by stunning beach and sea views below. Claude’s two-storey white-arched Indo-Portuguese mansion came into view behind a tangled riot of colourful bougainvillea. They exited into tropical heat and the odour of fresh cut turf.

Claude Valdez eagerly awaited them. He was a small skinny man, whose shorts and long white socks looked much too big for him. ‘Welcome Mr and Mrs Stark.’ He shook hands with both Dave and Jan then turned to Fang, ‘and Mr and Mrs Mitchell. I pray this venture will not waste your time and we all benefit from this arrangement.’

His English was precise with an Indian inflexion. ‘You’re fuckin’ payin’,’ Fang swore gruffly after the eight-hour flight. He hated city life, often commenting he feared ending up with a barcode on his backside.

Dave winced but held his rebuke. ‘Mister Valdez; your surname is Portuguese?’ Valdez had researched AvMar and knew of Fang’s abrasive reputation but also legendary salvage skills. He
chose to ignore Fang’s oath. ‘Yes, but please call me Claude, though Indian born I am a direct descendant of the first Portuguese colonisers.’ He barely reached Fang’s shoulders and except for black sun spots on his dark-skinned temples, looked younger than his online images. His thin straight greying hair was brushed back from a wrinkled face with deep dark eye sockets. Claude smiled as he noticed both women wore crucifixes. ‘Jose will show you to your rooms
and after you have refreshed yourselves we can gather in the western terrace for some refreshments and familiarisation.’ ‘Sounds good,’ Jan smiled, ‘we all need to freshen up.’

The opulence at the rear of the open plan mansion had nothing in common with the traditional Portuguese colonial façade out front. Floor to ceiling glass offered an unobstructed view over an infinity edge pool across the Arabian Sea. The gentle sea breeze wafted the scent of star
jasmine and frangipani.

‘Michael, Jose, you can serve when all the guests arrive,’ Claude ordered. He had an infatuation with gold, the Corinthian styling featuring gilded doors, mirrors, fluted columns and stair rails.
Honouring local tradition, Dave presented Claude with a gift from PNG. The fearsome ebony Wuvulu battle axe featured blades embedded with real shark’s teeth.

Later, as Jan and Tiana descended the gilded staircase, coffee, tea and a large variety of pastries were served on a long table, gilded silk featured beneath the glass top. Jan was tall, lightly tanned and elegant in a slinky black dress, gold trimmed at neck and hem. A matching gold mesh belt nipped her slender waist.

Tiana followed wearing a turquoise skirt, diamond pendant earrings and ever-present stilettos.
Claude’s pet Persian cat jumped onto his lap as Fang sat nearby. ‘You like cats Mr Mitchell?’ he smiled.

‘Yeah, but I couldn’t eat a whole one.’ Fang sniggered.

It was a deliberate provocation and he waited for a reaction.

Dave often stated that Fang had been placed on Earth to ruffle feathers and rattle cages. He headed off a potential confrontation. ‘So where do we start Mister Valdez?’ He enquired as his AvMar team settled into renaissance goldframed lounges.

Claude looked offended by the childish humour but recovered. ‘Let’s start with some history, the legend of the Cross of Goa.’

Jan admired the two-metre gilded crystal chandelier reflecting perfectly on the gold-flecked marble floor.

‘The myth?’ she smiled sarcastically, flashing her alluring brandy brown eyes.

Dave interrupted. ‘Two of our technical team, Carl and Messina, are still busy on a salvage.’ He held up a small digital recorder. ‘Okay if we record a copy for them?’

Claude hesitated. ‘I have printed data sheets for your team but that’s fine, shut it off if I signal.’ ‘No problem.’ ‘Before it was annexed by India in 1961, Goa was a Portuguese colony for 450 years,’ Claude commenced. ‘One of the first establishments after 1510 was the Goa foundry. They minted quality gold, silver and copper coins from the amassed wealth generated by this vast Portuguese empire from Mozambique in Africa to Malacca in Indonesia. Goa is still the wealthiest place in India and was once called the “Rome of the Orient”.’

Tiana interrupted, having heard of the fortunes brought out of South America. ‘But the Spanish Conquistadors ruled most of the world back then?’

‘True, but the Spanish and Portuguese agreed to divide the world up into exploration zones for occupation.’

‘So what was the difference between them?’ Fang insisted, mind on money.

Claude hesitated. ‘This might be over-generalising but the Spanish were the deep explorers looking for gold and bringing the word of God. The Portuguese were merchants and often did not penetrate beyond established coastal frontiers, choosing instead to set up trade stores, spice plantations and cathedrals in their newly conquered lands.’

‘After the Portuguese victory over the Muslims here they built numerous cathedrals in the mid-1500s. After the consecration of the Se Cathedral here around 1650, the clergy commissioned the foundry to produce a gold

Crux Gemmata, modelled on the Cross of Lothair in Aachen Cathedral, Germany. This grandiose masterpiece was to consume some of the embarrassingly huge bullion stocks in Goa so it was required to be four times larger than the Cross of Lothair.’

Fang scratched at his sandy beard. ‘A lot of blood, sweat and beers went into our research. We know most of this already and wasted more money on this Cross than an epileptic at an auction.’ In truth he had left online research to Dave, Jan and Tiana. Fang’s law stated that www stood for wimps, wankers and wannabees. Claude ignored the rude interruption and continued.

‘Goa had already fallen once to the Muslims, and by 1720 was again under threat and blockaded by the Dutch. The clerics decided to ship a mass of wealth from Goa back to Portugal. This included the prized cross so bright they called it the Fiery Cross of Goa.’

‘In April 1721 near Reunion Island, this treasure-laden Portuguese Ship, Virgen Del Cabo, was attacked by pirates, including Frenchman Olivier Le Vasseuer. This is the last time anyone saw the Cross and other treasures.  The rest is rumour, legend and maybe myth as you said. Most of the crew were marooned on a remote island only to die of the bloody flux.’

Jan recoiled. ‘What’s that?’

‘Amoebic dysentery.’

‘We’ve seen many supposed images of this jewelled crucifix.’ Fang stated. ‘What does it actually look like?’

‘First, it is not a Crucifix,’ Claude stated indignantly as a devout Catholic. ‘It does not depict the Crucifixion; it is a vacant cross showing us the resurrection and that Christ has risen.’ He paused before continuing. ‘The original description of the fabled Cross is of being solid
gold encrusted with rubies, sapphires, amethyst, topaz and, quote, “emeralds the size of quail eggs”. Rough dimensions were two metres tall, one and a half wide with a single large diamond at its heart.’

‘We calculated these figures,’ Tiana interrupted grappling with credibility. ‘With that mass of gold, the weight would be over a ton. You’d need thirty men to lift that.’

‘Correct, but all will be revealed,’ Claude smiled.

‘Now Mister Stark, I believe you may have some new data to share?’

There was a brief silence broken only by the sound of trickling water from a nearby Tuscan urn fountain.

‘This is all very well Mister Valdez,’ Dave feigned finality, ‘but we are aware of all this.’

Jan added support. ‘We came a long way to see the cross. We need more information and proof you have it before we compromise our research.’

Claude paused and considered his options. ‘Very well, Tiana mentioned that the Cross of Goa would be too heavy to lift. You are correct, for portability the cross has been cast in four major components plus a centre capstone and key.’

Jan now looked interested and sat up; this was feasible new information. ‘What is the capstone and key?’

‘The capstone is a solid gold square plate with tapered flanges. This locks the four arms together and is also studded with gemstones. At its heart is a 100-carat clear cut diamond – The Soul of Heaven – said to be larger than a duck egg. The capstone has a thread in back where the golden key and shaft pass through from the rear to lock the assembled cross together.’

Fang recalled this description; his pale blue eyes glanced at Dave then suspiciously back at Claude. ‘And you have most of this?’

‘I have the largest section; you will see it shortly depending on results.’ Claude replied evasively. ‘I tried to track down Yamashita’s treasure in the hope it may include the Cross of Goa but have had poor results. I selected your AvMar team as you are the world’s acknowledged authority on Yamashita.’ He paused. ‘Now, again what have you got for me?’

Jan was clearly impressed. This explained a lot, tallied with research and made sense. ‘We haven’t found much but clues often reveal the Cross of Goa may have also been looted by Yamashita.’

Dave opened his briefcase and shuffled through some files. ‘We interviewed hundreds of Japanese and Filipino veterans of World War 2 who are still alive, often at great expense. One witness was forced during the war to box up many of Yamashita’s stolen treasures on Luzon. After what you just revealed, I will detail the list of what this Filipino described.’ He selected a typed document from his briefcase. ‘Over a thousand gold bars, more than fifty solid gold Buddhas over a yard high. A black elephant statue, strapped with a gem-studded gold carriage and large red eyes.’

An excited Claude cut him off. ‘The Ebony Elephant!

It also has ivory tusks and rubies as eyes.’

‘You know about this?’ Jan probed.

‘Yes, it was a 17th century gift to the Bishop of Macau from the Vatican. It once stood on a pedestal in the vestry of the Church of Assisi.’

Dave continued. ‘A pocket-sized elongated gold or bronze plate with round ends embossed with Chinese characters.’

Tiana interrupted to explain. ‘Claude, this is thought to be the Imperial Permit also known as the Golden Paiza, a priceless ancient passport presented to Marco Polo by Kublai Khan.’
Claude smiled and shook his head. ‘Tell me more about this Yamashita and his loot.’

‘General Tomoyuki Yamashita was nicknamed “The Tiger of Malaya”. After the Japanese conquests, he ransacked over a trillion US dollars of treasures throughout Asia. This included looting of churches, museums, temples and banks.’

‘Where did Yamashita get this nickname?’

‘He borrowed a phrase from an ancient Sultan,’ Jan revealed, ‘better to live a day as a tiger than a 1000 as a sheep.’

Claude was enthralled. ‘And what else did the Filipino mention?’

Jan continued. ‘Lots of gem-studded gold jewellery and rare gold coins. A glass coiled snake with green eyes…’

‘The emerald-eyed Crystal Cobra. This is unbelievable, what else?’

Dave smiled. He had an ace up his sleeve but deliberately withheld the best til last. ‘A square gold plate with gems, and at its centre a diamond the size of an egg.’

Claude leapt from his chair. ‘The Capstone! Is the rest of the cross mentioned there?’

‘No mention of anything like the Cross of Goa,’ Dave continued, ‘but a threaded gold shaft mounted to the back of a two-foot jewelled cross.’

‘The Keyshaft,’ Claude almost shouted. ‘The smaller end cross was used to rotate the shaft. So what do we know, where are these priceless treasures?’

‘This is where the trail goes cold,’ Dave declared and handed Claude an old document sealed in a plastic sleeve, ‘but we do have this.’

Claude frowned. ‘I can’t read it, strange symbols?’ ‘It’s a 2000 year-old Japanese dialect called Kunji,’ Jan explained. ‘This encoded map deliberately contains no topographical lines, so we went to the expense to have it translated. It turns out only specially selected elite could read it.’

‘And where did it lead?’

Fang now realised Claude’s offer had merit and wasn’t a wild goose chase. His attitude mellowed as he joined in.

‘We know for a fact that Yamashita had all previously mentioned treasures loaded onto a Kawanishi flying boat.

It was the largest four-engine aircraft the Japanese had at that time. We think two of these flying boats left the Philippines together and a lot of their cargo may have been munitions, but it also may have been up to 40 tons of treasure? The translation further revealed coded instructions to the pilots as to a precise bearing and distance.’

‘To where?’
Dave took over. ‘We calculated this out to be somewhere along the north coast of New Guinea. The valuable cargo was to be handed over to a General Adachi at a destination designated
only as Harbour A. Adachi had further instructions for the concealment but that’s where we run out of clues.’

‘And Yamashita was hanged at war’s end by the allies for war crimes?’ Claude ventured.

‘Correct.’

‘Your team’s research is excellent,’ Claude congratulated them. ‘It seems I have chosen wisely.’
‘Thanks.’ Dave considered Claude’s comments. ‘You said you chose wisely; who else did you consider for this?’

Claude hesitated. ‘Clearwater Recoveries based in Capetown.’

Fang couldn’t help laughing out loud. ‘They’re a bunch of assholes.’

Claude looked offended. ‘I have found that out much to my ongoing regret. They ripped me off and stole a lot of my data.’

Fang felt empathy. ‘Only you can deal with that; you dump in the shower, only you can stomp it through the grill.’

‘How eloquent Mr Mitchell, another pearl of wisdom,’ Claude responded sarcastically. ‘I heard Clearwater have employed some ex-military types to assist with their search.’

With new revelations on his mind, a frustrated Claude ordered Jose to serve the buffet dinner. ‘And Jose, check if Mister Mitchell is familiar with cutlery for dining.’ He smirked, then turned on the haunting melody of a sitar as background music.

After their meal, Jan noticed Dave outside leaning on the frameless pool fence admiring the magnificent view. ‘Stunning isn’t it?’ she whispered. The setting sun had reduced offshore ships to featureless black silhouettes floating on a glittering gilded sea, indicative of what may lay beneath.

‘Absolutely,’ Dave pondered. ‘Countless generations fought and died down there; Roman galleys, armadas of Portuguese caravels, squadrons of Spanish galleons, Arab dhows and British brigantines. Imagine the priceless treasures in those sunken ships.’

Claude signalled. ‘David, can we have your team inside now? I am going to show you something you have been waiting to see.’ Claude led them to a side lounge then walked to a floor to ceiling bookcase containing rare collector editions of the Bible. He pivoted the spines of selected Bibles and the bookcase unlatched to reveal a hidden annexe. ‘Follow me and please, no recording.’

The intrigued group followed into a darkened room with walls covered in ancient maps. ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’

Claude called clearly and an aural code recognition system activated. A steel cage at the end of the room rose slowly, revealing a floodlit golden post studded with gemstones including yellow and blue turquoises the size of grapes.

‘You are now free to approach,’ Claude offered.

Fang grunted with undisguised disappointment. ‘Is that all you’ve got?’

‘Yes, the lower stipe only.’

‘I thought it was larger,’ Jan speculated, noting it looked less than shoulder height.

‘All part of the legend, but when complete it was over three metres when mounted on its bronze pedestal.’

Tiana admired the sparkling jewels, including Princess cut, marquis cut and rare triangular trillion cut pale blue sapphires. ‘Those are real emeralds and rubies.’ She reached toward stamp-sized baguette emeralds and red rubies large as cherries studded upon the golden relic.
‘Don’t touch it, or the cage above will drop!’ Claude warned and continued. ‘Yes, for security all the gemstones were mounted from the inside of the lock shrouds to prevent theft.’

‘Lock shroud?’ Tiana frowned.

‘Yes, this is brilliantly constructed by the ancient Goa foundry. They usually only cast coins; the largest castings were 400-ounce gold ingots, around 12 kilograms.’

An intense violet blue gemstone caught Tiana’s attention. ‘Unbelievable! This is a rare blue Tanzanite! They can only be found near Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.’

Fang snickered. ‘So each of the four pieces of the cross was then covered with these huge golden condoms studded with priceless gems?’

Claude turned on him, clearly offended. ‘Clearly your IQ matches your shoe size Mr Mitchell. Intellectual pit bull that you are, have you no respect for such ingenious jewellers? Look at the perfection these artisans have achieved with this historic icon.’

Jan broke the tense standoff. ‘So the Cross of Goa has four gold arm assemblies, three of which are still missing?’

‘Precisely, this part, the lower stipe, weighs over 300 kilos. There is an upper stipe and the horizontal arms are termed patibulum; each would weigh around 200 kilos.

We are also still missing the golden square capstone and key shaft which pinch it all firmly together. Your research has now revealed these may be part of Yamashita’s missing
hoard.’

Claude could see jet lag was catching up with his guests. It was nearly a five-hour time change, a very long day. ‘I understand you don’t like cats Mister Mitchell, but will you need a litter tray tonight?’ Claude smirked, targeting Fang with his own offensive sarcasm.
Jan smiled trying to supress a belly laugh but Fang grinned at the comeback; maybe Claude was okay and deserved more respect.

Tiana chuckled. ‘It’s okay Mister Valdez, he’s been house trained.’

‘Just in case, there’s an off-leash area out back,’ Claude said, then turned to his other visitors. ‘Let’s sleep on it; tomorrow we visit Se Cathedral to see the home of our beloved cross.’
Dave and Jan retired to their upstairs room content with the evening’s progress. Their room was large and decorated with Indian artefacts among others of Portuguese origin. A large overhead rattan fan stirred the humid air and billowed the chiffon shears at the windows. Jan
rose and moved to the balcony shutters, then slowly slid the stacker doors aside. As the light of a full moon cascaded into the room it also sprinkled the Arabian Sea with sparkling gems.
Their large bed was lined with the best Egyptian cotton and they were high above the worst of the humidity.

A gentle sea breeze carried a lingering aromatic scent of distant Indian herbs.

As Jan turned away from the balcony, Dave savoured her Giorgio fragrance, and caressed her, and she revelled in the feel of his strong arms around her. With no foreseeable problems and no other contesters, they both thought this Valdez job would be a breeze.

An approaching fluorescent thunderhead towered over a silver thread horizon. It flickered silently with inner malevolence, a warning of an approaching violent monsoon.

 

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