The Secret Passageway

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Chapter 5

The walk from Dr. Harper’s office to the popular pub, Lachmont’s, was short, and Josh walked with the professor in silence, not knowing what to even say. Apparently, whatever was on the items he had found in the crate at the end of the passageway in his cellar seemed to possibly be tied into the story of Father Crespi. The day was sunny and pleasant, and students filled the quad outside the history building. Some were reading quietly under the shade of tall, leafy trees, some were napping between classes, and some were hurling frisbees across the wide expanse of green that made up the open area between the university buildings.

As Josh walked, he vaguely remembered such past times when he had been a student here himself, but today all those kids—and Josh was now seeing them as kids—could have just as well been outfitted in outlandish safari animal heads for all he knew. He was still in a fog from what he had been let in on and everything around him was a blur of colors and a din of competing voices. He walked into the pub as Harper held the door for him and looked up as a thin, weakly-bearded guy behind the bar nodded a hello to Dr. Harper as he continued his work cleaning glasses.

“My table in the back open, Jerry?” Harper asked as he caught up to where Josh was standing.

“You bet, Doc…can I bring you anything?” the bartender replied with a smile.

“Couple pints of whatever dark draft is good today.”

“Sure…coming right up.”

Harper motioned with his arm and Josh walked back through the dimly lit pub, not even feeling his feet on the floor anymore as he went. The booth that the professor had indicated was well-removed from the front of the room and Josh slid onto the hard wood bench as Harper took a seat across from him. Josh was slowly feeling his normal senses recovering and he ran his hands through his hair and then over his face as Jerry appeared with their beers.

“Anything else, Doc?”

“Just some privacy, Jerry? Maybe steer anyone else away from us, OK?”

“Do my best, Doc…give me a shout if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Jerry.”

“Looks like a regular place for you.” Josh said as he picked up his mug.

“It is. Despite its proximity to campus, it stays pretty quiet until after dark. I love the atmosphere and Jerry and I have become good friends. I drop by a few times a week to just unwind and read.”

They clinked glasses and each took a healthy swig. Josh was still a bit unsettled by all that he had heard and was now considering. All he had hoped to walk into upon leaving Pragmore was a quiet place to paint and draw and regain some semblance of a regular, stress-free life. That simple goal now seemed unlikely.

“You OK, Josh?”

“I’m not so sure, Doc…have I stumbled into a hornet’s nest here?”

“I wish I could say no…but that may be a distinct possibility.”

“Then I guess you had better fill me in some more. I could tell by your expression back in the office that whatever was on what I brought you made you blanch. Please don’t tell me I have uncovered some secret conduit to the long-lost treasures of Father Crispi.”

Harper just remained quiet and took another long drink. He looked directly into Josh’s face, but he was not smiling.

“Oh, fuck me….” Josh replied as he leaned toward the table and grasped his head in his hands, his fingers pushing his hair back severely from his forehead. “OK, Doc…let’s have it.”

Harper set his mug, now just about a quarter full, on the table between them, and began.

“As you already know from my story, many people, some legitimate historians wanting to preserve the artifacts from the so-called Crespi Collection, as well as less reputable treasure hunters looking to profit from the late Father’s collection, have perished at the hands of various tribal groups in Ecuador. The indigenous people there did not differentiate between what the very disparate motives of those who came looking might have been.”

“Understandable…what with language barriers and all I guess.”

“Partly. As you know, we as a race have never had a very good reputation among indigenous people. I hardly need to numerate the instances where native people have been robbed of their valuables or even basic dignity as human beings.”

Josh just nodded as he thought over all the stories he knew of that validated this.

“Finally, it was seen as a lost cause to continue looking for the origin of the underground caves or tunnels or whatever that had housed the artifacts from which Father Crespi was gifted his collection. All those efforts were at best turning up nothing, and at worst leaving behind a trail of dead bodies. All that was tangible was what the good Father had set up in Cuenca as a museum.”

“But the bulk were destroyed, right?”

“Correct. At least that is the story. However, the real mystery that has lingered for all this time is what exactly Father Crespi manage to salvage and where exactly he hid them away.”

“What about the Vatican?”

“Hard to say, but no one in Rome would ever admit to having accepted any of the items from Father Crespi.”

“I hate to even think this, Doc, but are you insinuating that what I found might lead to whatever Father Crespi was able to save?”

Again, Harper just looked at Josh but said nothing.

“Do the names William and Helen Masterson mean anything to you, Josh?”

Josh suddenly felt all the blood drain from his face and it was like he could not breathe.

“Unfortunately, Doc…yeah. They were the owners of my house before me. They built the place sometime in the 1920’s and lived there until they died. Sometime in the late 1990’s from what I was told. Are you telling me the Mastersons are tied up in this as well?”

“Can you stomach yet another story from your old professor, Josh?”

“Are you kidding? If you can connect all these dots for me now, I am wide open.”

“Hey, Jerry….” Harper shouted across the still sparsely filled pub.

The bartender looked their way and Harper held up two fingers.

“This will take some time, Josh, and you may need another pint once you hear it all as well.”

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