The wind was a steady roar, shaking the trees and blowing rain into their faces. Alec held the Victorian carriage light high. Tommy dug in the earth under its unsteady flicker.
But Martin Bullock’s corpse was not there. Instead, three feet below the surface, his shovel hit metal. It was a trap door, rusty with age. Tommy lifted it up with both hands.
Alec lowered the carriage lamp, revealing an iron ladder bolted to the cement wall of a shaft. They climbed down the ladder slowly into a dank darkness. At the bottom, they stood upon an ancient timber floor.
The carriage lamp cast grotesque shadows on the walls of the vast cavern they found themselves inside. The walls were cold, damp rock, and the air was dead.
Wooden crates were piled, high and haphazardly, all around. Beneath a slight rock overhang, there were four caskets made of black metal and arranged in a line. They were small, like children’s coffins. Alec swung the lamp towards them.
DO NOT OPEN
“Don’t,” Alec warned.
But too late.
The body bag was oily to Tommy’s touch. The zip moved smoothly down, revealing a face that had the complexion of a sodden tea towel. Saucer-shaped eyes with blank triangle pupils stared sightlessly up at him. There were no ears; only an incision for a nose and a lipless mouth that was open in a grimace of pain, showing rows of tiny, sharp teeth.
“Zip it back up, for God’s sake.”
Alec stepped deeper into the cavern with the lamp and came to a row of padlocked filing cabinets. A cardboard box had been carelessly left out on top of one. It was stamped:
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
DO NOT REMOVE
In it there was a stack of manila envelopes.
BETHESDA NAVAL HOSPITAL
KENNEDY AUTOPSY PHOTOGRAPHS
“Alec! Over here! What’s this?”
It was a coffin glittering with gems, almost painful for the eye to behold. There was an inscription on the lid.
WIFE OF JESUS
LOVING MOTHER OF SARAH AND BILL
Alec’s voice was breathless.
“It’s the Holy Grail. Open it. There’ll be a gold cup. Grab it and let’s get out of here.”
Tommy put his fingers to the heavy slab and pushed. It shifted with a loud, grating noise, an inch and then another.
Suddenly, he stopped and looked at Alec.
“Are you smoking?”
Alec sniffed the air.
A figure was watching them. The tip of his cigarette glowed as he inhaled, and a dry cough wracked his chest. He wore a suit and was well groomed, although dusty.
He had a dignified face, a little puffy; a trimmed mustache. His hair was parted neatly on the left and slicked down. In his hand, he held a length of piping carefully bound with masking tape. Some bloody hairs were stuck to it. He approached them.
“Good evening. May I help you?”
“No, we’re all right thanks.”
“You shouldn’t really open that, you know.”
“Who are you?”
“The name’s Bingham. Call me John. Or Lord Lucan, if you want to stand on ceremony. I’m sort of, well, I suppose you’d call me the Guardian of the Grail. Does your nanny know where you boys are at this time of night?”
The ringing of a telephone penetrated deep into Tommy’s brain, like a nail being hammered through his skull, waking him up just as Lord Lucan’s clammy hand grabbed his hair.