Chapter 12 gets us back to Armenia and the effort to locate the Holy Lance. As always, comments are welcome.
Just west of highway M3 which links Echmiadzin, Armenia, with the town of Shahumyan to the north, is an ambitious construction site that will, according to the plans submitted by the developer/general contractor, Sonsrock Construction, Ltd., house a massive discount home furnishings store, a food court with a collection of American fast food franchises, an American Express office, and space for three more as yet unsigned retail shops. The foundation for the building is complete, and the steel frame of the three-story building is beginning to take shape. Within the chain link fence that surrounds the construction site, and just to the west of the main building foundation, is a small, rocky rise that will be transformed via aggressive terracing and landscaping into a park-like setting for use by shoppers and local residents. After much back and forth between the developer and the urban development office of the governor of Armavir, the marz, or region, in which Echmiadzin is located, the developer begrudgingly agreed to provide the engineered “green space” on the small hill as a condition for approval of its commercial project.
On a hot, mid-week, mid-afternoon, the site hums with activity typical for a complex construction project. The focus of the project at the moment is the steel frame which will support the three-story structure. Welders are securing an i-beam recently lifted into place by the vertical crane that dominates the site and the skyline for many kilometers. More than two dozen workers, all wearing yellow hardhats emblazoned with “Sonsrock” on each side, go about a variety of tasks from moving construction materials either by forklift or wheelbarrow, to preparing the existing structure for insertion of the next i-beam, to mapping out the floorplan for the ground level, to positioning plumbing and electrical elements specifically designed to each of the project’s tenant’s specifications or use requirements. A water truck sprays those areas of the site under heaviest use to mitigate the dust which is a constant byproduct of the activity at the site. The construction site is all business.
Anatoly Raznochenko, the superintendent overseeing every aspect of the project, stands just outside of the site’s office housed in an air-conditionedtrailer. A civil engineer by trade, Raznochenko moved to the more generalized, and more financially rewarding, position of project manager at the relatively young age of 35. When he came across Sonsrock’s solicitation for applications in a Russian trade magazine nearly two years ago, he jumped at the chance. After a series of grueling interviews that seemed focused as much on his politics as his technical skills, he was brought on board. What he did not know then was that the entire project, as expensive as any in this region since the collapse of communism, would serve as a front for a clandestine archeological dig.
Raznochenko, wearing blue jeans, a dusty white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and the same hard hat worn by all others on site, stands next to a makeshift plywood table supported by two sawhorses. His shirt is soaked with sweat. He pulls a red, blue, and white handkerchief out of his back pocket and wipes his brow. After returning the handkerchief to his pocket he grabs a set of blueprints sitting on the table and rolls them out flat. An aging construction worker stands to Raznochenko’s left.
“Show me,” he shouts to the construction worker to be heard above the din.
The worker reviews the blueprints carefully before pointing to a spot just beyond the westernmost wall of the planned structure. Raznochenko pats him on the back.
“Keep digging, but be careful. We must be close,” he shouts.
The construction worker nods and returns to work.
As Raznochenko is rolling up the blueprints, his cell phone rings. He pulls it out of his back pocket with his right hand, recognizes the number, swipes the screen with his left hand to answer it, puts it to his right ear, and puts a finger in his other ear.
“Go ahead,” he shouts above the noise.
“The DNA tests are in,” Fyodor Stolypin informs him.
“And?” is Raznochenko’s brief response.
“Success!” Stolypin reports.
Raznochenko ends the call, and puts his phone back in his pocket. He quickly finishes rolling up the blueprints, tucks them under his arm, and heads for the trailer. He walks up the trailer’s wooden temporary stairs leading to its only door and enters. His young assistant, Anna Michaelova, sits at a keyboard, making time entries into a spreadsheet. She stops and looks up at Raznochenko as he closes the door behind him.
“We are no more than a week away if the sonar data is accurate.”
“What good will it be?” she asks sarcastically.
“It’s the last piece. Stolypin called.” He pauses to gather his thoughts about the momentous news.
“It’s him. The DNA test confirmed it. There is no doubt, it’s him. A direct descendant of Peter the Great.”
Anna’s eyes open wide as she involuntarily takes in a deep breath.
“My God! Can it be true?”
Raznochenko nods silently. She stands up and goes over to him. The enormity of Stolypin’s news is almost overwhelming. One search, nearly a century old, is complete. Another search, reaching back nearly a millennia, seems certain to end within a week. Raznochenko, usually unflappable, even stoic, is embarrassed by his inability to stop the tears of joy from flowing down his cheeks.