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Authors: Robert Masello

The Einstein Prophecy

BOOK: The Einstein Prophecy
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The Romanov Cross

The Medusa Amulet

Blood and Ice



Private Demons

Black Horizon

The Spirit Wood



Robert’s Rules of Writing

Writer Tells All

A Friend in the Business

Fallen Angels and Spirits of the Dark

Raising Hell: A Concise History of the Black Arts

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Text copyright © 2015 Robert Masello

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by 47North, Seattle

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and 47North are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.

ISBN-13: 9781477829400

ISBN-10: 1477829407

Cover design by Kerrie Robertson

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014920842



















































“I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth—rocks.”


—Albert Einstein, in an interview with Alfred Werner for Liberal Judaism (1949)




AUGUST 4, 1944

A boy, blond-haired, about twelve years old, clambered to the top of a pile of ruins, feeling his way over broken bricks and burnt timbers and shattered glass. His brown shirt was in rags, and his laceless shoes threatened to fall off at any second. But he moved with the agility of a mountain goat, nimbly making his way to the top of the rubble, where he stretched out one thin arm to claim his prize and wave it overhead in triumph.

Other boys, younger and less courageous—or foolhardy—watched from the cratered pavement of the street as the boy draped the strip of gleaming tinfoil around his neck and started down again.

“They’ll salvage anything,” Private Teddy Toussaint observed from the driver’s seat of the jeep. “When I was a kid, we collected bottle caps.”

“Baseball cards for me, but that was another time.” That time, Lieutenant Lucas Athan thought, seemed a thousand years ago and a million miles away.

“Yep, you can sure say that again,” Toussaint drawled, “and back then nobody was taking potshots at me.” From his front pocket, he removed a packet of Red Man chewing tobacco and gnawed off a hunk. “Lieutenant?” he said, extending the wet stub.

“No thanks.” Lucas watched the boy hop back onto the street and hold out the tinfoil for his friends’ inspection. The kid reminded him of his boyhood friend Paulie, showing off an arrowhead he’d unearthed on a school field trip. Above, dozens of other ribbons hung from the tops of bombed-out houses and barren trees. The foil had been dropped like confetti by German planes to confound Allied radio transmissions. The Nazis were nothing if not ingenious, and even here, on ground that they had for the moment deserted, they’d left behind an occasional booby trap, or a lone gunman perched in an abandoned clock tower.

Toussaint contended that a good chaw of tobacco sharpened his senses, and he’d proved it the day before by taking out a sniper lurking in the choir stall of a church they were inspecting. One shot and the Kraut had tumbled over the railing. “Won the Baton Rouge turkey shoot three years running,” he’d crowed.

As part of a clandestine advance guard, their route was perilously unprotected. Lucas was glad to have Toussaint watching his back. Soldiering was in the private’s blood, but it wasn’t in Lucas’s. He’d been diverted from the infantry into the CRC, the Cultural Recovery Commission, a minuscule cadre of experts in art and architecture, recruited and dispatched to find, preserve, and protect the treasures that the Nazis had looted so far in their conquest of Europe.

In private life, the CRC’s conscripts had been museum curators, art dealers, or professors, like Lucas, but before them lay an immense undertaking. The German army had already stripped Italy, France, Belgium, Poland, and the Netherlands of nearly two million valuable paintings, statues, and other objets d’art—and its appetite appeared to be unsatisfied still. Its booty was hidden away in secret depositories until it could be installed in the Führer’s museum once the war was won—an outcome that the Nazis had never believed to be in doubt.

Until the Normandy invasion.

Even two months later, though, the Allied forces were fighting grimly, and at huge cost, to reclaim the ground lost at the beginning of the war. The fierce battle over a little town called Saint-Lô, in northwestern France, had taken weeks and resulted in eleven thousand casualties. The area where Lucas and Private Toussaint were traveling was far beyond the front, and dangerous in the extreme. Alsace-Lorraine had been evacuated of its citizens by the Reich in 1939, annexed to Germany the following year, and repopulated only with Alsatians of German descent. Strasbourg’s famed Romanesque Revival synagogue, with its domed ceiling fifty-four meters high, had been reduced to cinders by the regime.

What made Lucas’s mission, precarious by any standards, all the more puzzling was that his orders hadn’t come directly from the CRC, but from their superiors at the Office of Strategic Services. The mission’s objective had to be of vital importance.

Folded inside the envelope jammed in the inside pocket of his combat jacket was a crude map to the local iron mine, where a sizable cache of stolen artifacts was reputedly hidden. The envelope also contained a grainy photo of the highest-priority item—an ossuary, or sarcophagus, that had been looted by Rommel’s Afrika Korps from the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo. Lucas had no idea why this particular casket was of such value to the war effort, but because of his background in classical art and statuary, he’d been the natural choice for this task.

“Lieutenant,” Toussaint said, stepping out of the jeep, “it looks like the welcome wagon is on its way.” Toussaint held his M1 carbine firmly in his hands, though he kept the muzzle down as an old man, waving a white handkerchief tied to a broom, stumbled toward them.

Ich bin der Buergermeister
,” the old man said—I am the mayor—before asking if they spoke German.

Lucas answered him haltingly, grateful for the crash course given by army intelligence before his posting, “
Ja ich kann das.”
—Yes, I can—before adding that he was a Lieutenant with the United States Ninth Army.

The old man nodded. “The German soldiers are gone,” he said, waving one arm at the demolished stores and houses of the town as if to prove it. “They moved out two days ago. Only civilians are left.”

Lucas would have liked to take him at his word, but he knew enough to keep his guard up. Treachery was as much a part of war as bullets were. He’d learned that lesson early, when a young enemy soldier he’d tried to pull from under a crushing pile of rubble had used his dying breath to swipe at him with a broken bayonet.

“I’m looking for the iron mine,” Lucas said.

A wary look crossed the mayor’s face.

“Can you take me to it?” He hoped his tone was less a question than an order.

The mayor paused, leaning now on the broomstick, and said, “You won’t hurt the people there?”

It wasn’t uncommon for abandoned mines to become bomb shelters. “I’m looking for stolen artworks,” he explained. “That’s all.”

The mayor studied his face, as if searching for some sign of malign intent, then sighed. Turning, he gestured for the Americans to follow him. They left the jeep in the road—it wasn’t likely any other traffic would be coming through soon—and followed the mayor down the shelled-out street, through the bomb craters and the broken stones, with Toussaint scanning every empty door or window. Led by the blond boy in the ragged brown shirt, some of the children, still gathering up their own bits of foil, trailed along behind.

Lucas felt like the Pied Piper of Hamelin—a town only a few hundred miles from there—leading the pack of children into the dark wood that surrounded the village. Spruce and elm trees towered overhead, their upper boughs festooned like Christmas trees with bits of foil. The ground was matted with a slick layer of decaying leaves and mossy logs, and the air temperature had dropped by ten degrees. What little sun penetrated the overcast sky was nearly eclipsed by the canopy of tree branches. He took his flashlight from his belt and used it to help illuminate the path.

“Can’t say that I like this all that much,” Toussaint said, his rifle raised now and at the ready. “Feels like a trap to me.”

It didn’t feel all that safe to Lucas, either, but what choice did he have? He had his orders, and his commanding officer had made it plain that he wasn’t to come back empty-handed.

Using his broom to help clear the brush, the elderly mayor brought them to a rusty rail line, now half buried in the earth. They followed it for a quarter mile, until the trees began to thin out, exposing a massive pair of steel doors, like the portal to some grand cathedral, improbably embedded in the slope of a hill. Now it felt even more like a fairy tale, but not a happy one—more like one of those dark Teutonic tales that this ragtag bunch of kids trailing him through the woods had most likely been raised on. The mayor clanged the broom handle three times on the metal doors, then paused and knocked three times again.

Lucas heard him mutter something to someone on the other side—it sounded like he’d simply said, “It’s me, open up”—and a second later he could hear the sound of heavy iron bars sliding to one side. With the screech of unoiled pulleys, wheels, and chains, the doors slowly opened outward, revealing a smoothly hewn and vaulted tunnel into which the rusty tracks descended.

A man bundled in a beaver coat stood there, mouth agape at the sight of Lucas and Toussaint, whose rifle was pointed right at him.

“Who are they?” the gatekeeper blurted out. “Why have you brought them here?”

“They only want the art.”

“The art is for the Führer! We will be held responsible if it’s gone.”

“Let me be the judge of that, Emil.”

Emil scowled. “Fine. Then let it be on your head.”

The mayor turned to Lucas and angled his head toward the tunnel. “Come—I will show you.”

With the old man leading the way, they skirted past the glowering Emil and started down the tunnel. The air grew cold and clammy, and the only light was provided by weak electric bulbs, strung along a ceiling wire. A generator thrummed somewhere in the shadows. It took Lucas at least a minute or two before he realized that he was passing dozens of people, huddled against the walls, silent, clinging to each other in fear. He turned his flashlight on a white-haired couple who fell to their knees on a threadbare blanket, crossing themselves.

!” he heard in whispers and gasps, passing up and down the tunnel.

“What the hell?” Toussaint said. “Do they think we’re gonna shoot ’em?”

“Probably,” Lucas replied. Why wouldn’t they? The horrors of the war never ended. He had seen things that he could never have imagined: captured resistance fighters strung up in trees; whole towns herded into barns that had then been set ablaze. These people huddled here undoubtedly believed that the Allies were capable of the same atrocities that the Nazis had committed. One day, he thought, they would learn the truth, and hang their heads in shame.

He kept his eyes straight ahead, following the mayor deeper and deeper into the mine. They passed an alcove where several ore trucks were shunted off on a separate track. No people were around; wooden crates and boxes lined both sides of the tunnel. Most had writing on their sides—Lucas could read the names of the museums and cathedrals and private collections from which their contents had been looted—along with cardboard tags identifying where they were supposed to go next. Leave it to the Germans, he thought, to be organized even when it came to grand theft. On many of the tags, he caught sight of the word Carinhall—Hermann Göring’s grand chalet in the Schorfheide Forest, outside Berlin. It was satisfying to know that this art would never get there.

But so far he had seen nothing that resembled the ossuary he had been dispatched to find. He clutched the old man’s elbow—it felt like a knob of petrified wood—stopping him, then Lucas dug the photo out of his inside pocket.

“Have you seen anything like this?”

The mayor studied the photo, labeled, in reference to the image of a bearded shepherd faintly chiseled on the ossuary’s lid,
Der Hirte

“It’s a stone box,” Lucas said in German, as he held out his arms to indicate that it might be five or six feet long and a few feet high.

The old man didn’t raise his head for several seconds, and Lucas could sense the debate going on inside him.

“You recognize it, don’t you?”

He didn’t answer.

Lucas repeated the question.

“Is there a problem, Lieutenant?” Toussaint asked, spitting a jet of tobacco juice into the dirt. He raised the barrel of his carbine. “You want me to throw the fear of God into him?”

Lucas shook his head and with one hand nudged the rifle barrel to one side. “Show me where it is,” he told the mayor.

The old man took a filthy red rag from his pocket and wiped his lips. Then, nodding resignedly, he turned back down the mine. The air grew even colder and the tunnel darker as they continued their descent. The stony walls were scratched and scraped by decades of pickaxes and dynamite charges, and the floor was increasingly sloped and uneven. Even the light bulbs were more distantly spaced, so that by the time they came to a bend in the tunnel, Lucas felt as if he were about to turn the corner into Hell itself.

For a moment he thought he had. A vast empty space, black as coal, opened before him. Even his flashlight beam failed to penetrate the inky depths. The old man was suddenly gone, and before Lucas could even think to alert Toussaint, he heard a lever being pulled and saw a shower of blue sparks. He jumped back, instinctively pulling his sidearm from its holster, but before he could fire—and at what?—a bank of overhead lights came on, blinding him.

When his eyes adjusted to the sudden glare, he saw the old man leaning against the wall, the lever still in his hand. In front of them lay a vast chamber, lit like a railroad yard and just as big, its ceiling so high it could barely be seen. There were dozens of crisscrossing tracks, hobbled wheelbarrows, and dilapidated conveyor belts.

BOOK: The Einstein Prophecy
10.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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