Kathy Bennett was smiling when the Kia made the turn off Fox Street left onto East Woodrow Avenue. For two hours she and John Parker had been getting to know each other better. Or so he thought.
Kathy disliked deceiving him the way she had. But she had gotten the information she needed. And the twenty seven year old had enjoyed herself on the drive over the mountains. It had made her feel that she wasn’t alone and things would be okay.
John had taken I-26 north to Johnson City where he’d driven through the part of the city where the State University was. Then they’d taken a left and headed for Jonesborough. While Johnson City had seemed like a big city Jonesborough seemed more like a small town. It was the kind of place she’d like to raise a family. In fact John’s grandmother lived here, which was why he had chosen Bailey University.
Choosing a college so you could live with their grandmother made sense to Kathy. The only grandmother she had known had lived in Nebraska. But between Hawaii, Panama and Virginia, there hadn’t been much time to visit the Midwest. She had died while Kathy was in her last year at George Washington University. During the drive to Jonesborough she realized it would have been special to live with her grandmother during college.
During the trip she’d learned lots of other things about John Parker. He was warm and friendly after you got to know him. The shaved head, goatee and big muscular frame were intimidating at first. But he was a really nice guy. In fact she got the feeling he might be too nice a guy.
But the wounds in her soul were still hemorrhaging. Kathy knew the attraction she felt for her driver was just the warm and fuzzies. She’d met his family. They’d had a quality conversation and he had really listened to her. Even more, he’d shared with her. The years she’d spent in the field helped her push aside these emotions and focus on the job at hand.
As they reach the end of East Woodrow Kathy realized it was a dead end. She jerked herself back to reality as they made a right hand turn up a narrow gravel lane. John Parker grinned as he said. “And this is my alma mater, which is locally referred to as ‘the Old Bailey.’” He shifted into a lower gear and drove up the steep drive. After a moment they passed through a crumbling brick gate and the drive became a decayed cobblestone. He added. It was a long drive around a steep hill. Very old trees clustered on either side of the drive, blocking out all light. Kathy felt like she was back in the deepest parts of Transylvania. Finally they reach an open wrought iron gate in a stone wall. They drove through it and back in time. John parked the Kia and looked across at her.
“Welcome to Bailey University.”
The University felt big and old. Four stone buildings surrounded the small cobbled courtyard filled with fog. Which was weird, since there had been no fog down the hill in town. Since Jonesborough was the oldest city in the state the town was a living museum. But this place looked even older.
He parked under a dim gaslight and they got out. Now this place reminded her of Jack the Ripper’s London. The reputation Chuck had described was well warranted. As she joined him behind the car she said. “I’ve heard of this place before.”
John was surprised. “Really?”
She nodded. “I’ve heard it has an impressive biochemistry and physics department.”
He nodded. “Yeah, it does, although I don’t see how you would’ve heard of it. We’ve never had a sports team and only a couple hundred students.”
Now they were at the heavy wooden door. Kathy was glad he didn’t ask where she’d heard of Bailey University. That was actually quite classified.
The door knocker was huge and heavy. He knocked twice then they waited. Finally after a rattling of keys the door swung open. The attractive thirty something woman who answered it was the last person Kathy would have expected. Fair white skin contrasted against think black hair pulled back in a pony tail. She wore a Marvel Comics t-shirt was pulled on over a denim capris and sneakers. She grinned at Kathy‘s companion.
“John Parker! Why what brings you out on a night like this? Hurry in before you catch your death out there.”
She gave him a hug, then held him at arm’s length to look at him. As Kathy watched she felt a trickle of unease creep over her. Okay so she was jealous. Well no wonder. Four hours ago she’d been betrayed. Of course she’d be jealous right now. The woman grinned at John. “You look good.”
He smiled back. “Well, you look good too.”
As Kathy stepped over the threshold a noise caused her to turn. She saw two huge shape in the fog. She turned to the other two. “There’s something out there!”
The woman smiled. “Oh, those are just our watchdogs. This time of night we let them roam Bailey Hill. Usually we don’t get any guests this late.”
She closed the door and the sound echoed up the stone passageway. Kathy stared as she laid a huge bar across it, locked three locks, then slid a bolt across the frame. What kind of watchdogs did they have? As the woman turned back around she saw the younger woman looking and just grinned mischievously. For some reason this made Kathy dislike her even more.
Now John finally made introductions. “Andrea, this is Anne Rutgers, the assistant to Dr. Don Braun. Anne, this is Andrea Litz, my photographer. She and I are on an assignment and we need to see Dr. Braun.”
‘Andrea’ frowned. “How?”
Kathy repeated her question. “How do you know we need to see Dr. Braun?”
“Well, you’re here aren’t you? It’s a long way from home for both of you. No one comes to Bailey University unless they’re seeking something.”
‘Andrea’ frowned and dropped in behind the other two as they made their way up the stone stairs. It was a medieval scene, with literal torches flickering in the chilly air. She half listened as they chatted about college and the past fifteen years. Wow, Anne did look good to have been here fifteen years.
Kathy’s intuition told her something was off about…well, everything. The school was in the wrong place. This woman was in the wrong place. It was just… off. Something wasn’t right here. She knew she couldn’t always trust her feelings, but her intuition was something else entirely.
At the top of the stairs they turned left and followed another torch lit hallway to another huge wooden door. Kathy braced herself. She wouldn’t have been surprised to see a wizened old man huddled over a big black pot surrounded by tomes filled with alchemical lore.
Anne knocked and waited. John turned to her. “Don’t you just love the atmosphere?” Kathy nodded and he went on. “Right now we’re in the Jones College of Chemistry. This guy– the head of the College—taught all my science classes.”
Then Anne opened the door and they entered the laboratory. A bald man in a white lab coat stood over a table staring at ancient books propped open. Three flat panel monitors hung from the ceiling and an image of the periodical table was projected on the wall. 3D depictions of atoms hung in space with various chemical data scrolling beside them.
The man looked at them and the corners of his graying goatee turned up in a smile. “John Parker, how are you! I was so glad when I heard you were coming.” He placed his arm around the reporter and led him to a samovir in the corner. Like most of the things here it was very old but in immaculate, dust free condition. As a smiling Anne she watched the two Kathy asked. “How did he know we were coming?”
Anne smiled and tapped her ear. “Footsteps. The doctor has quite a knack for identifying footsteps. The stone hallway has incredible echoes.”
Still unconvinced ‘Andrea’ just nodded. Anne smiled at her. “Relax Miss Litz. We’ll help you and John find what you’re looking for. You’ll be on your way in no time at all.”
Kathy caught up with John, walking past glowing tubes, whirling centrifuges and sizzling electrical equipment. Now she knew why it had been Chuck had been sent up here. According to the rumor she’d heard he’d been sent to learn about an experiment in seeing through walls. Now she believed it.
Dr. Braun was on a ladder pulling thick books from a shelf as he talked to John. “The Maya were geniuses. Their calendars are still unrivaled for accuracy and precision.” Then he found the one he was looking for and climbed down. It was a very old book. But it had been taken care of through the years and was in great shape.
The others gathered around the table as he laid it out and turned through pages filled with facsimiles of Mayan codices. Interestingly, Kathy was familiar with these since her boyfriend in college had been an archeology major. Mike had planned to study MesoAmerican culture and she’d helped him prepare his thesis. Mayan codices were folding books made from tree bark. They were written in hieroglyphics and illustrated with pictures. Very few remain since the Spanish burned most to root out native religion. If she remembered there were only three in existence.
Whichever these came from, they were in great shape. Dr. Braun went through them pointing out various meteorological data that Kathy hadn‘t recalled seeing. Of course that was sometime back. Now he sounded like an enthusiastic lecturer. “And this is a record of the transits of the moons of Jupiter, we believe. And the next…” Some more page flipping. “Is a record of the moon of Pluto.”
Kathy shook her head. “But Pluto wasn’t discovered until about a hundred years ago.” John looked at her curiously and she shrugged. “Jeopardy.”
Dr. Braun nodded. “Exactly. And we didn’t even begin making the correlations until thirty years ago. This may not be a record of Pluto’s moon but it does correspond perfectly with it.”
“We don’t know. Just like we don’t the significance of the Mayan calendar ending next year.” He closed the huge volume then opened another. “We know the Maya vanished suddenly, at least without much archaeological record of why or even when.”
John nodded. “Right, some experts believe it was low crop yields or maybe deforestation.”
Dr. Braun flipped through this next tome and smiled. “That is what has been theorized but only by those who don’t know the truth.” He opened it to a page and laid the book open. The pages were filled with sketches of empty Mayan villages. Across from it were black and white photographs of other archaeological sites. “What isn’t told is that these disappearances went on for at least a hundred years. The Maya did vanish, just over an extended period of time. And often under mysterious circumstances.”
Kathy shook her head. She didn’t like this guy. And she really didn’t like Miss Rutgers. But he was still talking. “You are on to a very deep, ancient mystery and I believe you will walk away satisfied.” He turned to ‘Andrea.’ “And you also Miss… Litz.”
He took several newer books and shoved them into a leather satchel. “Take this with you John. You’ll need to read them to understand what you’re getting into. And you’ll also find a reference in there for a colleague of mine in that part of the world. Meet him down there and see what you can find out.”