Ten years ago, a chance meeting at the Lighthouse Café in Redondo Beach led Sam Fargo and Remi Longstreet on the adventure of a lifetime, hunting the legendary riches stolen from the Persian King Croesus in 546 B.C. But they weren't the only ones. Someone else is after the gold, and he's willing to kill anyone who gets in his way.
When Sam and Remi run afoul of a criminal drug-running operation, their hopes of finding the treasure are dashed. But with Sam's ingenuity and Remi's determination, they survive their confrontation with the drug runners, and manage to send one of the key players to prison. Though the cache of gold is never found, life goes on. Sam and Remi marry--and years later return to Greece to find the one treasure that got away.
Time becomes their enemy when the kingpin they helped send to prison over a decade ago is released--and he has two goals in mind. Find the legendary hoard of King Croesus, and kill Sam and Remi Fargo. The Fargos know that as long as this gold is out there, no one is safe. They return to Greece for a final showdown--and one last chance to find that elusive treasure.
Release date: May 26, 2020
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Print pages: 416
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Wrath of Poseidon
Sardis, Persian Empire,
The steep Acropolis of Sardis loomed against the night sky, while, far-below at the city’s edge, flames consumed the reed-thatched buildings. General Mazares, dispatched by King Cyrus II of Persia the moment he’d learned of the revolt, had ridden through the night, leading a unit of armed heavy cavalry. According to the imperial messenger, the Ionian mercenaries were set to spark the revolt at dawn.
Apparently, they’d gotten an early start.
“Fools,” Artaban, his lieutenant, called out over the sound of hooves as the horses neared the gates. A wooden building exploded near the gold-refining works. “Do they not realize that Cyrus will crush them?”
“There is nothing left to crush,” Mazares shouted. “I’m surprised that there’s anything left to burn.”
It was the second time they’d marched upon Sardis. The first was when King Cyrus’ army had broken the siege of the wealthy Lydian capital, captured its king, Croesus, then plundered his vast treasury. If not for this revolt, Mazares would be accompanying the bulk of Croesus’s treasure back to Ekbatana.
“The quicker we quell this rebellion, the sooner we get home.” He eyed the flames, swirling from several structures just outside the gates.
As they neared the inferno, Mazares realized the purpose of the fires. He and his horsemen were almost blinded. Waiting for them the insurgents, with their backs to the blaze, had the advantage. Within moments, Cyrus’s cavalry was attacked by a shadow army of soldiers armed with spears, axes, and swords.
Dividing his men into two flanks, Mazares led the left; Artaban led the right. The deafening clash of metal rang through the night as his horsemen, blinded by the flames, battled the unseen enemy. Mazares thrust at an armed silhouette. His blade struck something solid. The rebel’s shield. Shouting, Mazares ordered his right flank to close in, while Artaban did the same with the left, sweeping in behind the rebels, who suddenly found themselves sandwiched between both flanks. Spurring his horse to rear, Mazares blocked the thrust of a spear, and drove his blade into his opponent’s chest, piercing through the man’s inadequate armor.
Pulling his sword free, he wheeled his mount to the right, then swung at the next man, felling him as well.
Within minutes, it was over. The insurrectionists fled. The flames of the wooden structures, no longer being fed, began to die, as a smoky dawn in the eastern sky burned along with the embers of the failed revolt.
Mazares surveyed the scattering of bodies—none of them his men. The speed with which they put down the insurrection troubled him as he met up with his second in command. “Tell me, Artaban. Does it not seem suspiciously convenient that the fire was confined to the outer wall? And that the skirmishers dissipated, almost the moment we rode in?”
“And why wouldn’t they?” Artaban nodded back at their troops who were awaiting further orders. “If you were a group of outnumbered mercenaries and you beheld Cyrus’ immortal cavalry charging…?”
Immortal, they were not. But the ease with which they won this so-called battle would certainly add to their legend.
It did not, however, lessen Mazares’ concern.
It was something more than the desertion of the city gates. His unease grew as he led a contingent of horsemen into the city.
“A trap?” asked Artaban.
“I fear something else, entirely.” He raised his hand. His men halted in the agora, looking down the empty streets on all sides. Before his departure from Sardis, King Cyrus had appointed a satrap to govern the newly conquered city in his stead. “Tabalus’ guard could easily have quelled the insurrection as small as it was. So why have we not seen any of his guard on the streets?”
“Perhaps the satrap is part of it?”
“Let us hope not. Magos, take charge. If there is any evidence that the rebels are regrouping, end it. Artaban, bring back one of those rebels. Alive.”
“And where will you be?” Artaban asked.
“I intend to find out whether the king’s trust in Tabalus has been misplaced.”
As his officers took off in opposite directions, Mazares and a handful of his horsemen rode to the acropolis, only to discover the palace guards, sprawled on their backs in front of the great carved cedar doors, both standing wide open.
“Dead,” Mazares said. “Find Tabalus.” He strode past the guards, down the long hall into the throne room. A few minutes later, two officers returned, escorting the frightened governor between them.
Dressed in night clothes, Tabalus, attempting to regain his magisterial dignity, scrambled onto the throne. “Well met, General Mazares. I prayed that you would arrive in time,” he said.
“Who is behind all this?”
“I cannot say. My spies were thwarted at every turn, one even impaled. I managed to get a messenger out moments before the rebels besieged the Acropolis.”
One of Mazares’ men nodded. “The satrap speaks the truth. “We found him bound to his bed, and his chamber door barred from the outside. The rest of the palace staff were shut up in the Scroll Room.”
“None of this makes sense.” Mazares paced across the polished marble floor, trying to fit the pieces together, certain there must be something they were all overlooking. An answer of sorts finally came when Artaban returned, dragging one of the rebels into the palace. He threw him to the ground at the base of the dais. “Tell your satrap what took place here tonight.”
The man, groveling on hands and knees, lifted his head, swallowing past a lump in his throat as he looked at the disheveled governor. “We were paid—generously—to burn what was left of the buildings near the city gates.”
Mazares noted the soot on the man’s face and clothing. “Who paid you?”
“I know them not.”
Artaban drew his knife and held it to the rebel’s neck.
“I swear,” he said, his eyes beseeching. “The one thing I can tell you—they were not from Sardis. They were not even Lydian.”
“How do you know?” Mazares asked.
“One had a boar’s head tattooed on his upper arm.”
“A boar’s head?” Mazares asked. “Are you certain?”
The man nodded.
Samian pirates. The marauding Samian ships were notorious, not only for their red ocher hulls and scarlet sails, but also for their boar’s-head prows. “What would Samians be doing in Lydia?”
If anything, Tabalus appeared even more shaken. “I fear I may know something about that. But it is best said in private.”
Mazares nodded. The guards removed the rebel, leaving Mazares and Artaban alone with the satrap.
“Two nights ago,” the governor said, “one of my spies informed me that he saw Pactyes meeting with a few Samians.”
Pactyes, a Lydian, was the newly-appointed Overseer of the Imperial Mint and Gold Refineries, a position bestowed upon him by King Cyrus. Although Mazares had counseled the king against such an appointment, Cyrus insisted that a Lydian figurehead was necessary to prevent the newly-conquered Lydians from revolting once the Persian army left. “You’re certain of what you saw?”
“I am. I even conducted a surprise inspection at the mint, yesterday morning, but I found nothing amiss.”
Mazares and Artaban exchanged glances. One of the rebel fires was near the mint.
“Get dressed! Order your grooms to ready your horse,” Mazares said.
“For what purpose?” Tabalus asked, descending the throne.
“To confront Pactyes.”
“He will only deny everything, as he did with me.”
“Then we shall determine what is truth and what is not,” Mazares said, a feeling of dread coursed through his veins. “To the Royal Mint.”
Less than ten minutes later, Mazares and his men, along with Tabalus, rode down from the acropolis and out of the razed city to confront Pactyes.
In all his years commanding King Cyrus’s cavalry, Mazares had never seen anything to match the wealth found in King Croesus’ treasury, and he was amazed once again by the vast quantities of gold as he and his men entered to inspect the mint.
Just as Tabalus said, all seemed in order—except for the fact that Pactyes was not at his post.
“Why set the fires and raise a sham revolt?” Artaban asked.
Mazares turned back to the brass-bound coffers of coins in the treasury, opened the lid of one. The gold Lion’s Heads of Croesids gleamed despite the half-light.
He picked up a coin, feeling the weight of it in his hand—alarmed when he realized it was far too heavy to be solid gold. He scraped the coin on a nearby touchstone, the gold plating scraping off, revealing a center of lead. He tossed the coin, then plunged both hands deep into the chest, through the golden surface, and came up with handfuls of lead tokens.
He ordered his men to open every chest in the Royal Mint. Each had the same layer of gold Lydian Croesids on the top, the coins all lead-filled. And beneath, nothing but lead. Lead coins stamped with Samian Boar’s Heads.
Pactyes had fooled them all.
He turned to Artaban. “Ready the cavalry. We ride for the coast. If fortune smiles upon us, we’ll get there before Pactyes flees with the gold.”
Mazares dumped a handful of lead-filled gold coins in Tabalus’ hand. “Find me enough gold for smelting,” he ordered as he strode out. “When I find Pactyes, I intend to force open his mouth and pour molten gold down his throat.”
The long shadows of the rising sun cast a trembling fear in the two boys as they pushed their small boat into the Aegean Sea. If all went well they’d be back in two days’ time.
Xanthos, fifteen, with a final glance back to make sure they hadn’t been seen, held the boat steady for his ten-year-old brother, Agathos. “Hurry.”
Xanthos took up the oars. Only when the small craft was far enough from shore, did he think of his mother and her heartbreak when she found them missing. It had only been a few months since their father had disappeared at sea. He murmured a prayer to Zephyr, then raised the sail. It snapped, then billowed, the west wind blowing them out into the deep waters as the dawn-washed sky turned blue.
The sun had almost finished its course by the time the boys caught sight of the forbidden island. It was a monumental pyramid rising out of the sea, with three long sharp rocky pinnacles reaching to the heavens. Silhouetted against the setting sun, they resembled gigantic spires.
Both boys stared in awe. They’d reached it. Poseidon’s Trident.
“Do you think it’s true?” asked Agathos. “Will Poseidon really hear us?”
“I hope so.” Xanthos lowered the sail, took the oars, and rowed toward a breach in the rocks, which concealed a small inlet.
“But where’s his ear? I don’t see any cave. How do we talk to him?”
The cave, they’d been told, was somewhere on the north side of Poseidon’s Trident, and reached only by boat. It was a good thing, too, since setting foot on the sacred island was forbidden. “We’ll have to look in the morning. It’s too dark, now.”
When they reached the shallows, Xanthos dragged at the stone-filled net attached to a rope and pitched it over the side to anchor the small vessel near the shore. They ate their supper of olives and cheese, drank from a flagon of water, then settled down for the night, allowing the gentle water to sway them to sleep.
Xanthos awoke to a sudden tilt of their boat and a vice-like grip on his shoulder. A fierce, bronzed face stared directly into his eyes. Before he had time to realize what was happening, two men were hauling him and his brother out of the little boat and into the shallow water. Agathos dug in his heels, his screams piercing as he cried, “No! No! No!”
“By all the gods,” came a voice from somewhere on the beach, “silence that shrieking harpy.”
One of the men raised his hand to strike the small child. Xanthos darted forward, tried to stop him, and was struck instead. “He’s afraid,” Xanthos said, ignoring the pain in his jaw. “It’s forbidden to set foot on the island.”
“Is it?” The burly man picked up Agathos then tossed him onto the gravel in front of the tallest and fiercest of the group.
He looked down at the boy, his dark eyes narrowing. “You’re very small for such a loud harpy.”
Agathos stilled, his eyes widening as the bare-chested man took a step forward, the morning sun hitting the tattoo of an angry boar’s head on his shoulder, and the deep scar on his forehead. Someone had branded him with the letter D, signifying that he was, at least at one time, a slave. “What’re you staring at?” the tattooed man said. His heavily accented Greek frightened the boys even more knowing he must be from the island of Samos.
The boy looked down, edging his way toward Xanthos, who recognized the lot for what they were. Pirates. Their father—before he was lost at sea—had warned Xanthos about the men who sailed the Aegean in a red ship, plundering and enslaving all they came across. “Please. If you let us go, we won’t tell a soul we saw you here.”
“To be sure,” one of the men said, grabbing Xanthos by the scruff of his neck. “Pactyas will want to see the fish we’ve caught before we put them on a spit and roast them.”
With a roar of laughter, the pirates frog-marched them across the beach toward a serpentine path that wound its way up to the top of the island and the pinnacles of rock, to Poseidon’s Trident.
They reached the peak and stumbled out onto a plateau. The boys looked down to the east side of the island where the Samian corsair lay at anchor, its scarlet sails furled. The evil eye on its boar’s head prow stared out as a warning to others. Xanthos, seeing the rows of oars lining both sides of the red ship, all manned by slaves, reached for his brother’s trembling hand. Even he was not big or strong enough to survive that fate.
He turned his gaze from the red ship to the center of the plateau, where several men—some of them clearly Lydian foreigners—were looking down into a dark cavity at the base of the centermost pinnacle rock of Poseidon’s Trident. One, wearing a purple tunic of shimmering silk that barely concealed his protruding chest and belly, seemed to be directing two Samians using a wooden hoist and pulley to lower an amphora into a cavern. He looked squarely at them. “What have we here, Drakon?”
The man with the boar’s head tattoo said, “Lampros tells me they were sleeping in a boat in the small cove.”
The exquisitely dressed foreigner approached, looking them over, then focused on Xanthos. “What are you doing on this island?”
Xanthos, who’d never seen anyone wearing silken trousers, wondered if the man was sent there by the gods to punish them for trespassing on sacred land.
“Speak up!” the tattooed man ordered. “The honorable Pactyas asked what you are doing here?”
“Fishing.” Even as Xanthos said it, he knew how absurd it sounded. They’d been sleeping long past sunup. True fishermen would’ve been on their way home by then. “But we were blown off course last night,” he added, hoping that would account for their presence.
The foreigner turned his gaze on Agathos. “And what say you?”
Agathos, near tears, looked at Xanthos then back. “I—I just wanted to whisper in Poseidon’s ear. To send our father home.”
“Whisper in Poseidon’s ear?” Pactyas looked to Drakon for clarification.
He nodded toward the cliff’s edge. “A shallow cave in the rocks at sea level. Some of the islanders believe if they whisper into it, Poseidon will hear their prayers.”
Pactyas scrutinized him for several long seconds then turned back to the boys. “Perhaps Poseidon would be appeased by a sacrifice?” He nodded to one of the Lydians. “Kill them.”
Xanthos tried to throw himself over Agathos to protect him, but one of Pactyas’ men caught him and grabbed the back of his tunic, then drew a long knife, pressing the blade against the boy’s neck.
Drakon’s hand shot out, catching the Lydian by his wrist. “The island is sacred.”
“Pactyas is the only one I answer to.” He raised his knife.
Heart pounding, Xanthos held his breath, waiting for the deathblow. Drakon knocked Xanthos to the ground, drew his xiphos from the scabbard under his left shoulder, and brought it crashing down on the pirate’s neck.
The man in the shimmering robes halted in his tracks, his piggish eyes taking in first the dead man then Drakon. “You dare defy my order?”
“To prevent the wrath of Poseidon?” Drakon said. “Yes.”
“And yet you killed Alyattes on sacred ground. What difference will two more bodies make? Three if we count yours.”
“I will not let you desecrate sacred ground.” Drakon held his short sword at the ready, then sidestepped so that he stood between the boys and Pactyas.
“Who would be so simple to believe the island is sacred?”
“You might. Considering that the Persian Cyrus has placed a bounty on your head. You may well need all the help that Poseidon can give.”
“Korax,” Pactyas said. “Kill him as well.”
The mercenaries looked at each other, then split into two factions, those with Drakon, those with Korax. Xanthos, realizing that they’d been momentarily forgotten, looked for a way out. The path to the boat was blocked by the pirates. The only other way down was over the cliff, far too steep for either of them to live. Then he spied the mouth of the cave, giving him hope that they might hide there. Signaling to his brother, he pointed.
As he and Agathos edged toward it, Korax lunged. Drakon blocked him, the boar on his shoulder bristling with the movement of his muscles. The two men circled each other, each feinting, testing each other’s mettle. Korax attacked again, his sword clashing with Drakon’s. Drakon moved in, but Korax shifted, deflected the blow then swung his sword against Drakon’s upper arm. The silver blade sliced open the tattooed boar’s head. The Lydians cheered. Drakon glanced at the blood dripping down his arm then charged as did the men behind him. Swords clashed, the metal ringing.
Xanthos peered in the cavern, grateful to see that it wasn’t the almost vertical drop that he’d feared. It angled down. As the shouts and screams of those fighting echoed into the cave as Xanthos helped Agathos over the edge. They started to climb down when the earth shook so hard, Xanthos fell back against his brother.
The fighting stopped as the men looked around, fear and confusion on their faces. “Poseidon!” one of them yelled.
As if in answer, a low rumble emanated from deep within the cave. Frightened, the brothers clung to each other, the earth coming alive beneath them. The walls convulsed and Agathos lost his brother’s hand, sliding downward in a hail of gravel. “Xanthos!”
Xanthos reached for his younger brother as the earth thundered around them. But when the sunlight beaming into the cave quickly disappeared, he looked up to see one of the towering spires of Poseidon’s Trident toppling forward. He scrambled down to his brother, holding tight as the giant rock crashed against the cave’s mouth, the echo deafening, the dark near absolute but for a sliver of light high over their heads. As the boys slid to the bottom of the cave, landing on the pirates’ bounty of chests, rock and dust rained down. They could barely breathe as the air turned to dust.
They clung to each other, their heartbeats pounding in their chests. Slowly silence, then above them, someone shouted, “A ship! A black ship!”
“The Persians.” Drakon roared and gave a deep belly laugh. “Perhaps you should have heeded my warning about angering Poseidon. Take him.”
“Let go of me,” Pactyas called out. “What are you doing?”
“Since the gold is lost, we’ll collect the bounty.”
“It’s not lost. It’s all in the amphorae down there. You saw them!”
“And Poseidon took them with his very own trident. You’ll not find a man amongst us that would dare go against such a powerful god, even if we had a way to lift that stone. To the ship, men.”
Pactyas’ pleas faded, the pirates dragging him away. Soon, again, the only sound was that of Xanthos and Agathos breathing.
“Hear me, Poseidon,” Agathos whispered. “Please get us home.”
“Quiet,” Xanthos said. He moved to his hands and knees then lowered his head to the floor, listening. “Do you hear that?”
“Water. I think it’s the sea.”
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
“I hope this is worth a twenty-two hundred-dollar bottle of wine.”
“For Pete’s sake, Sam. Not only did he agree to see us, he invited us to dinner. And he did send a car.”
“Gourmand or no gourmand,” Sam muttered.
“You’re mumbling, Sam.”
Sam Fargo glanced over at the bottle of 2000 Mouton Rothschild, Paulliac that Remi, his auburn-haired wife, cradled in her arm. The two sat in the back of a sleek, black 1936 Packard Sedan.
“You know what Rube said. If we wanted the man’s help, we needed to bring a nice bottle. And we do want his help.”
Sam eyed the driver then lowered his voice. “Pretty sure Rube’s definition of nice and yours are two different things.”
The Packard suddenly veered toward the freeway offramp at the last second. Sam looked up, realizing they were still miles from their destination. “Something wrong?”
The driver was focused on the rearview mirror, not watching Sam, but the road behind them. “Sorry about that. A car’s been following us ever since we left your hotel. It may be nothing, but old habits die hard.”
“Old habits?” asked Remi.
“Let’s just say that Mr. Perlmutter has an unusual set of friends, which has given me a bit of practice over the years when driving them around.”
St. Julien Perlmutter, the soon-to-be-recipient of Sam’s beloved bottle of wine, had been recommended by their mutual friend, Ruben Haywood, a CIA agent. Perlmutter was a world authority on maritime history and had an extensive library known to be coveted by the Smithsonian. He often helped other government agencies with sensitive cases. That would, undoubtedly, explain his driver’s cautious nature.
Since caution was a trait Sam also shared, he craned around, squinting against the glare of headlights coming from the surface street they’d just turned onto. If they were being followed, the man’s maneuver had worked—the freeway offramp was empty. Relaxing, Sam leaned back in his seat, not too worried. Not only were they in good hands, he doubted anyone knew that he and Remi were in DC.
With the coast clear, they returned to the freeway, the remainder of their drive uneventful. Twenty minutes later, they turned onto a brick road flanked with massive oaks, the moonlight shining between the branches, casting long shadows on the drive. The car continued past the manor, then stopped in front of the renovated carriage house, which was equally impressive in size.
Once out of the car, the driver said, “Nice to see you again, sir.”
“Good to see you too, Frank. How old are the kids now?”
“Graduated college. Both. Phyllis and me, we’re empty-nesters.”
Sam smiled, saluted then took the bottle from Remi.
“I swear we never go anywhere that you don’t know someone from your days at DARPA.”
“How did you know?”
“The salute,” Remi said rolling her eyes.
Sam linked her arm through his and the two strolled up the walkway. A weathered brass door knocker in the shape of a ship’s anchor adorned the heavy wood door, which opened wide the moment they set foot on the porch.
To say that the St. Julien Perlmutter cut an imposing figure would be an understatement. His curly gray hair and beard gave his crimson face a distinguished look, reminiscent of Holbein’s iconic portrait of King Henry VIII, but with a longer beard. Perlmutter wore a paisley robe trimmed at the collar, cuffs and belt with gold brocade, burgundy silk bottoms with matching gold piping at the side seams and the hem, and burgundy loafer slippers with gold crowns embroidered on the top. He stood a couple of inches taller than Sam—six-foot-four—and weighed nearly four hundred pounds. He carried that weight like a regal redwood, solid and straight. His blue eyes, filled with intelligence and wit, were as welcoming as his words. “Mr. and Mrs. Fargo. I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to finally meet the both of you.”
“Please, call me Sam.” They shook, Perlmutter’s grip strong and sure. “My wife, Remi.”
“The enchanting Mrs. Fargo.” The older man took her slender fingers in his, kissed the back of her hand, then led her into the house. “I’m honored to make your acquaintance.”
Once inside, Sam handed him the bottle. “And wine. I hope it will complement dinner.”
He read the Rothschild label, his brows rising. “An excellent choice. This will pair nicely with the Chateaubriand. A classic recipe, one of my favorites.” Waiving them in, he led them through a maze of halls to a sitting room stuffed to the gills with books and papers. The far wall was lined with book shelves filled with models, relics and books. At one end was a fireplace with a perfectly banked fire and at the opposite a well-appointed bar. In front of the fire was a sofa and two end chairs, a Queen Anne’s chair and a gentleman’s club chair all set around a coffee table large enough for appetizers and three champagne flutes. “Please, have a seat while I decant this lovely bottle of wine.”
Sam walked Remi to the Queen Anne’s chair then seated himself.
At the bar, Perlmutter lit a candle and set a glass next to it. After removing the cork, he slowly poured a small amount into the glass, sniffed and took some wine into his mouth and savored the taste. He raised the glass to the light and looking though the deep ruby liquid said, “What a full breadth of flavor, rich and ripe with beautiful tannins. And a long finish. After it has time to breathe it will be the perfect accompaniment to dinner. A beautiful choice. My deepest gratitude.”
He slowly poured the remainder of the bottle into a decanter holding it over the candle making sure no sediment would pass from the bottle. Then he reached below, opened the wine fridge, brought out a 2008 bottle of Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill Brut champagne and joined Sam and Remi at the fire. Settling himself in the sofa he said, “While we wait for the dinner please let’s talk about the reason you’re here. Ruben mentioned that this all began shortly after the two of you met at the Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach?” His blue eyes twinkled as he looked over at Sam. “Love at first sight, was it?”
“I’m still trying to deny it. But, there’s never been anyone like Remi. She’s had my heart from the beginning.”
“Sam, you could have fooled me.” Remi’s green eyes lit up as she smiled.
Sam cleared his throat. “You see. It wasn&rs
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