Nearly five centuries ago a fleet of boats landed mysteriously on an island in an inland sea. There, an ancient Andean people hid a golden hoard greater than that of any pharaoh, then they and their treasure vanished into history—until now.
In 1998, in the Andes Mountains of Peru, Dirk Pitt dives into an ancient sacrificial pool, saving two American archaeologists from certain drowning. But his death-defying rescue is only the beginning, as it draws the intrepid Pitt into a vortex of darkness and danger, corruption and betrayal. A sinister crime syndicate has traced the long-lost treasure—worth almost a billion dollars—from the Andes to the banks of a hidden underground river flowing beneath a Mexican desert. Driven by burning greed and a ruthless bloodlust, the syndicate is racing to seize the golden prize...and to terminate the one man who can stop them.
About the Author
Date of Birth:July 15, 1931
Place of Birth:Aurora, Illinois
Education:Pasadena City College; Ph.D., Maritime College, State University of New York, 1997
Read an Excerpt
October 10, 2005
Andes Mountains of Peru
The skeleton reclined in the sediment of the deep pool as if resting on a soft mattress, the cold unwinking eye sockets of the skull staring upward through the liquid gloom toward the surface 36 meters (120 feet) away. One arm was held in an upright position, the bony fingers of the hand as if beckoning the unwary.
From the bottom of the pool to the sun above, the water gradually lightened from a dismal gray-brown to a pea-soup green from the pond scum that flourished under the tropical heat. The circular rim stretched 30 meters (98 feet) across and the sheer walls dropped 15 meters (49 feet) to the water. Once in, there was no way a human or animal could escape without help from above.
The place was more than a sacred well where men, women, and children had been thrown alive into the dark waters as sacrifices during times of drought and harsh storms. Ancient legends and myths called it a house of evil gods where strange and unspeakable events occurred. There were also tales of rare artifacts, handcrafted and sculpted, along with jade, gold, and precious that were said to have been cast into the pool to appease the evil gods who were ad weather. In 1964 two divers entered the depths of the sinkhole and never returned. No attempt had been made to recover their bodies.
A great deal of unresolved controversy had surrounded the sacred pool since then, and now archaeologists had finally gathered to dive and retrieve artifacts from its enigmatic depths. The ancient site was located on a western slope beneath a high ridge of the Peruvian Andes near a great ruined city. The nearby stone structures had been part of a vast confederation of city-states, known as the Chachapoyas, that was conquered by the renowned Inca empire around A.D. 1480.
As she stared down at the stagnant water through big, wide, hazel eyes under raised dark brows, Dr. Shannon Kelsey was too excited to feel the cold touch of fear. Her hair was straight and soft blond and tied in a ponytail by a red bandanna, and the skin that showed on her face, arms, and legs was richly tanned.
Dr. Kelsey had enjoyed a ten-year fascination with the Chachapoyan cultures. To work where an enigmatic and obscure people had flourished and died was a dream made possible by a grant from the Archaeology Department of Arizona State University.
"Useless to carry a video camera unless the visibility opens up below the first two meters," said Miles Rodgers, the photographer who was filming the project.
"Then shoot stills," Shannon said firmly. "I want every dive recorded whether we can see past our noses or not."
Rodgers was an old pro at underwater photography. He was in demand by all the major science and travel publications to shoot below-the-sea photos of fish and coral reefs. His extraordinary pictures of World War II shipwrecks in the South Pacific and ancient submerged seaports throughout the Mediterranean had won him numerous awards and the respect of his peers.
A tall, slender man in his sixties, with a silver gray beard that covered half his face, held up Shannon's air tank so she could slip her arms through the straps of the backpack. "I wish you'd put a hold on this until we've finished constructing the dive raft."...Shannon smiled at her colleague, Dr. Steve Miller from the University of Pennsylvania. "That's two days away. By doing a preliminary survey now we can get a head start."
d"Then at least wait for the rest of the dive team to arrive from the university. If you and Miles get into trouble, we have no backup."
"Not to worry," Shannon said. "Miles and I will only do a bounce dive to test depth and water conditions. We won't run our dive time past thirty minutes."
Shannon spit into her face mask, smearing the saliva around the inside of the lens to keep it from misting. Next she rinsed the mask from a canteen of water. After adjusting her buoyancy compensator and cinching her weight belt, she and Rodgers made a final check of each other's equipment. Satisfied everything was in place and their digital dive computers properly programmed, Shannon smiled at Miller.
"See you soon, Doc!"
The anthropologist looped under their arms a wide strap that was attached to long nylon lines, gripped tightly by a team of ten Peruvian graduate students of the university's archaeology program, who had volunteered to join the project. "Lower away, kids," Miller ordered.
Hand over hand the lines were paid out as the divers began their descent into the ominous pool below. Shannon and Rodgers extended their legs and used the tips of their dive fins as bumpers to keep from scraping against the rough limestone walls. They could clearly see the coating of slime covering the surface of the water. The aroma of decay and stagnation was overwhelming. To Shannon the thrill of the unknown abruptly changed to a feeling of deep apprehension.
When they were within 1 meter (about 3 feet) of the surface, they both inserted their air regulator mouthpieces between their teeth and signaled to the anxious faces staring from above. Then Shannon and Miles slipped out of their harnesses and dropped out of sight into the odious slime.
Miller nervously paced the rim of the sinkhole, glancing at his watch every other minute while the students peered in fascination at the green slime below. Fifteen minutes passed with no sign of the divers. Suddenly, the exhaust bubbles from their air regulators disappeared.
Frantically Miller ran along the edge of the well. Had they found a cave and entered it? He waited ten minutes, then ran over to a nearby tent and rushed inside. Almost feverishly he picked up a portable radio and began hailing the project's headquarters and supply unit in the small town of Chachapoyas, 90 kilometers (56 miles) to the south. The voice of Juan Chaco, inspector general of Peruvian archaeology and director of the Museo de la Nación in Lima, answered almost immediately.
"Juan here. That you, Doc? What can I do for you?"
"Dr. Kelsey and Miles Rodgers insisted on making a preliminary dive into the sacrificial well," replied Miller. "I think we may have an emergency."
"They went into that cesspool without waiting for the dive team from the university?" Chaco asked in a strangely indifferent tone.
"I tried to talk them out of it."
"When did they enter the water?"
Miller checked his watch again. "Twenty-seven minutes ago."
"How long did they plan to stay down?"
"They planned to resurface after thirty minutes."
"It's still early." Chaco sighed. "So what"s the problem?"
"We've seen no sign of their air bubbles for the last ten minutes."
Chaco caught his breath, closed his eyes for a second. "Doesn't sound good, my friend. This is not what we planned."
"Can you send the dive team ahead by helicopter?" asked Miller.
"Not possible," Chaco replied helplessly. "They're still in transit from Miami. Their plane isn't scheduled to land in Lima for another four hours."
"We can't afford government meddling. Certainly not now. Can you arrange to have a dive rescue team rushed to the sinkhole?"
"The nearest naval facility is at Trujillo. I'll alert the base commander and go from there."
"Good luck to you, Juan. I'll stand by the radio at this end."
"Keep me informed of any new developments."
"I will, I promise you," Miller said grimly.
In Chachapoyas, Chaco pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his face. He was a man of order. Unforeseen obstacles or problems irritated him. If the two stupid Americans drowned themselves, there would be a govemment inquiry. Despite Chaco's influence, the Peruvian news media were bound to make an overblown incident out of it. The consequences might very well prove to be nothing less than disastrous.
"All we need now," he muttered to himself, "are two dead archaeologists in the pool."
Then with shaking hands he gripped the radio transmitter and began sending out an urgent call for help.
Copyright © 1994 by Clive Cussler