The Columbus Affair: A Novel

The Columbus Affair
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Berry
Map copyright © 2012 by David Lindroth, Inc.

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

B
ALLANTINE
and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

L
IBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION-DATA
Berry, Steve.
The Columbus affair : a novel / Steve Berry.
p.      cm
eISBN: 978-0-345-52653-3
1. Journalists—Fiction. 2. Quests (Expeditions)—Fiction.
3. Treasure troves—Fiction. 4. Columbus, Christopher–Fiction. I. Title.
PS
3602
.E
764
C
65 2012
813’.6—dc23      2012009325

www.ballantinebooks.com

Jacket design: Marc J. Cohen

v3.1

Contents
The Present
 

For 500 years historians have pondered the question:
Who was Christopher Columbus?
The answer is simply another question:
Who do you want him to be?

—ANONYMOUS OBSERVER

PROLOGUE

C
HRISTOPHER
C
OLUMBUS REALIZED THAT THE DECISIVE MOMENT
was approaching. His party had trudged south through the lush forest of this tropical land for the past three days, steadily gaining altitude. Of all the islands he’d discovered since that first landfall in October 1492, this was the fairest his eyes had seen. A narrow plain rimmed its rocky coast. Mountains formed a misted spine, rising gradually from the west and culminating here, in the east, at the tortuous chain of peaks now surrounding him. Most of the earth was porous limestone covered by fertile red soil. An incredible array of plants flourished beneath thick stands of old-growth forest, all nourished by constant, moist winds. The natives who lived here called the place Xaymaca, which he’d learned meant “isle of springs”—apt, for water abounded everywhere. Since Castilian substituted a
J
for
X
, he’d come to call it Jamaica.

“Admiral.”

He stopped and turned to face one of his men.

“It is not far,” de Torres said to him, pointing ahead. “Down the ridge to the flat point, then beyond a clearing.”

Luis had sailed with him on all three previous voyages, including the one in 1492 when they’d first stepped ashore. They understood and trusted each other.

He could not say the same for the six natives who carted the crates. They were heathens. He pointed at two who toted one of the smaller containers and motioned with his hands for them to be careful. He was surprised that after two years the wood was still intact. No
worms had bored through, as they had last year with his ship’s hull. One year he’d spent marooned on this island.

But his captivity was now over.

“You chose well,” he said to de Torres in Spanish.

None of the natives could speak the language. Three more Spaniards accompanied him and Torres, each specially chosen. The locals had been conscripted, bribed with the promise of more hawk’s bells—trinkets, the sound of which seemed to fascinate them—if they would but haul three crates into the mountains.

They’d begun at dawn in a wooded glade adjacent to the north shore, a nearby river pouring sparkling cold water down smooth ledges, forming pool after pool, finally making one last silvery plunge to the sea. A constant chirping of insects and the call of birds had increased in volume, now reaching a boisterous crescendo. The trudge up the wooded slope had taken effort and all of them were winded, their clothes soaked in sweat, grime layering their faces. Now they were headed back down, into a lush valley.

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