It was not until about a year and a half after the events in Borneo that my research into this Drake character really got anywhere. Having wasted countless hours Googling and searching all the databases at work (not strictly legally) for the most elusive man in history (hours which could have been more gainfully employed on actual coursework) I was able to see the newly published field report from the excavations in Borneo. Although the funding had been cut in light of our ‘discoveries’ it still had to be written up, in case other unfortunate archaeologists wanted to explore the mess.
The field report talked of numerous small finds; oil lamps, brooches and figurines, for example that had originated in the area in and around Nepal from the time of Kublai Khan. The number of bodies, and, crucially the number of boats (individually identified by a section of their hulls) strongly suggested that this was the lost fleet of Marco Polo.
The paperwork found in the huts, while largely disintegrated, had enough clues left to suppose that whoever had been there believed this too. Some of the surviving texts were copied from Marco Polo’s journals and referenced the Cintamani Stone and Shambhala, or Shangri-La. This, surely, was what Drake was after. The mere fact that the site had been so brutally torn apart certainly lent weight to the idea that it had been an area of particular archaeological interest.
The two finds that were deemed to be the most important were the wooden box that I had seen being carried out and the skeleton that had been holding it. The skeleton was an unnamed man, presumably one of the sailors. What was interesting about him, and all the other bodies that were too numerous to store at the University, was the state of his teeth.
They were black.
That he still had teeth was quite remarkable; sailors weren’t known for their easy access to dental care. There was not enough money to run full tests on the cause of the blackness but it couldn’t have simply been tooth decay, as they would have fallen out. This man had been found in such a position that suggested he had been clutching the wooden box at the time of his death, probably right until Drake pulled it from him. The remaining fabric covering his bones was slightly less faded around his chest area.
The box had been dusted for prints, much as the police do at any scene of a crime, and initial fears were proved to be well founded. The prints found matched those found at other sites of archaeological interest, but did not match the prints of any of the archaeologists that had worked on them. From what I could understand, the underworld of art theft and looting was well known but nigh on impossible to eradicate. So the professors and even the police might be able to say that a particular person was responsible for so much loss and destruction, but finding him? That was a different matter.
On the plus side, I got some leads.
According to the site report, the fingerprints found matched those found at at least three other locations; firstly the Maritime Museum in Cartagena, Colombia, which had lost two artefacts from an exhibition about Sir Francis Drake back in 1991 and secondly from the scene of an unspecified crime in Peru approximately ten months later.
At the appearance of the name ‘Sir Francis Drake’ my head buzzed as if I were high on something. How many people do you know with the surname Drake? Maybe you know one or two… I don’t. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a really good reason for Nathan to have been there. Now I was getting somewhere.
But where to go next? A crime in South America that took place nearly two decades before didn’t sound like an easy lead to follow. So I went with the third lead; a report of a break in at a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Bear with me.
The state of the ruined archaeological site was not an accident. Someone; Drake, had been shooting at people, who had, presumably (unless their scattered guns were movie props) been shooting back. Somebody else was interested in Marco Polo and the Cintamani Stone. Interested enough to take an army there. Although hunted and latterly long thought dead by NATO, one investigative journalist believed and proved that the rather unpleasant war criminal, Zoran Lazarevic, was anything but.
Elena Fisher, now a foreign correspondent for a US news network, built her career on exposing Lazarevic’s not deadness. Her work showed how he was not only interested in the Cintamani Stone (one has to pay ones army somehow, right?) but also operating in Borneo merely three months after the aforementioned break in.
But by all accounts nothing had been stolen, but a temporary exhibition about the life and times of Marco Polo had been utterly trashed. Imagine, then, my delight when I received confirmation from some very dodgy sources that the man that had been apprehended was indeed Nathan Drake.
I needed to talk to someone directly about this. I booked myself on a flight to Istanbul and before even checking into a hotel I made my way to the museum. Bold as you like I sauntered up to the nearest guard and said;
“Is there anyone I can talk to about… Nathan Drake?”
I hoped desperately this guy knew what the hell I was on about. In order to help out I began rummaging through my hand luggage for a pamphlet I had been carrying about Marco Polo, but when I looked up the guard was yelling to one of his colleagues.
The man was laughing his head off, which seemed surprising.
Turning around I saw another guard walk towards us with a big grin on his face.
“Do you know Nathan Drake?” I asked.
“Know him?” he responded with a beautiful Turkish accent. “He pulled me off the museum roof! Fell all the way down into the sea! Gave me the fright of my life, of course, but that is the closest I’ll ever come to real flying. My name is Onur. What do you want to know, darling?”
His eagerness to share his experiences blindsided me, and for a moment I struggled to say anything.
“What was he like?” I blurted out.
“Like? I have no idea! I didn’t see a lot of him on the way down. Sorry; are you from the police? You’re a bit late, aren’t you? And they already caught him.”
“No,” I began to explain. “I’m researching him. For my… er… thesis.” He didn’t have to know that my chances of completing the academic year were lower than the UK winning the Eurovision Song Contest.
“Can you tell me what happened?” I continued.
“He must’ve been clinging to the edge of the roof below me ‘cos his hand reached up, grabbed me by the chest and I fell.”
Onur’s affable manner and sparkling eyes didn’t stop me feeling that it wasn’t entirely appropriate for him to demonstrate this by clasping the front of my tshirt. A small pace backwards and he let go. This was clearly a story he’d told a thousand times and would gladly tell a thousand more times if he could find enough people to listen.
“I landed in the water, swam to the side and climbed out.”
I waited a moment. Apparently he believed this was all I wanted to hear.
“Do you know anything else? I mean about the whole break in?”
“Oh yes!” he exclaimed, glad to have another attentive listener. “Goodness. It was the talk of the staff room for weeks!”
With the enthusiasm of a chipmunk on speed, he continued his tale. “It happened at night,” he continued. “They came from the sea; must’ve bought a boat in. Anyway…”
“Hold on. ‘They’?”
“Yes. Three of them. Impossible to do it on your own. Anyway they got in via the sewer. I’m not all that keen on being a security guard but you won’t ever find me wading through shit for a living. Two of them came up in the boiler room downstairs. Funny thing is sometime previously (I’m not sure when) one of these guys had already broken in. Same prints. I think it might have even been Drake. We’d added an alarm system on that entrance. It didn’t help at all as they simply disabled it… We really need to rethink our security strategy… So they got in, knocked out any guards they came across, scrambled over roofs… They damaged the guttering on one so we know they went that way.
“Then finally the third member of the team switched the lights off to the temporary exhibition hall and they broke in.”
“I understand they didn’t take anything. Is that right?”
“Yes. Nothing was stolen. But they made a mess. The guy we caught; the guy you are asking about, we think he must have been set up by his pal.”
“Interesting. Why do you say that?”
“Because there was one object which was an oil lamp which had clearly been smashed on the floor. Deliberately. I assume there was something inside. Don’t ask me what or how they knew but that was obviously the target. But the rest of the place was smashed to bits. It was different. We found a load of bullets but Drake wasn’t carrying a gun. The only explanation we could come up with was that his friend shot the place up to activate the alarms and then did a runner leaving his mate behind. Serves him right if you ask me. It would have been nice to catch the other guy though.”
To be finally talking to someone with first hand experience of Nathan Drake made my extremities tingle. I wanted to stay and talk to Onur all day.
“Can I see the hall that it happened in?”
“Of course but I can’t take you, love. Can’t leave my post but it is through these doors, past the Alexander sarcophagus, over the courtyard and under the arch. You can’t miss it.”
I bid him adieu and set off in the direction he’d indicated. Although robbers could have made off with an entire cabinet of flint knapped tools while we’d been talking I didn’t want to press him about accompanying me.
I’ve been around many museums in my life and this one was beautiful. The outside had been brought inside by way of planters in the central aisles and the exhibition spaces were punctuated with courtyards that overflowed with foliage. The overall effect meant that at any given time one was not immediately aware of whether they were outside or in.
I paused for a moment by the sarcophagus that Onur had mentioned; for Alexander the Great even Nathan Drake could wait. Onur’s directions were perfect; no doubt the product of having been asked umpteen times for goodness knows how many years. I entered the temporary exhibition space and took a deep breath, marvelling at the structure. Octagonal in shape and with a ceiling high above the displays below were basked in the warm glow of the Turkish summer sunlight. A plaque on the wall with a dedication translated into four different languages gave thanks to the fundraisers that had worked hard to buy new cabinets for this hall. It was dated March 2010. I felt a pang of guilt as it was clearly the havoc wreaked by Drake and his backstabbing friend that had made the refurbishment necessary. And here I was oddly fascinated by the whole sorry event.
Suddenly downcast, with that simultaneously heavy and hollow ache in my stomach I turned and returned to Onur.
Again his grin began at one ear and didn’t stop until it reached the other. I didn’t have the heart to tell him my mood had been flipped.
“It’s a nice room, huh?”
“Yes it is,” I said with a smile. “I saw the plaque on the wall.”
“There wasn’t much left of the displays. The whole place was shot to pieces in the attempted escape. We have some good-hearted friends who were only too keen to put things right. Although we had to close the Marco Polo exhibit we were able to reopen within a matter of days, with other objects, of course.”
His perma grin became a lopsided smile, he stood a full two inches taller, and my heart broke just a little bit more. Either I needed to find a reason to like Drake, or I needed to give up my search. Having come this far I didn’t want to back out now. This was not enough to blame for the death of my academic career. And I needed to blame something.
I asked Onur if he knew what happened to Drake following the carnage and desecration in the temporary exhibition space. Assuming the guy that pulled him off a roof in Turkey was the one whose fingerprints appeared all over an artefact found in Borneo a few months later, clearly his arrest didn’t slow him down for long. Onur almost certainly didn’t want to know that particular detail, so I merely asked him about the arrest.
Drake was caught, having believed he had evaded the law by finding a way back to the sewers and out into the street. However the Istanbul police are apparently familiar with the sewer system in their city and were waiting for him with standard issue rifles. Several of the arresting officers allegedly reported wanting to take a photo of his look of utter dismay at his misfortune.
Without any more ado Drake was carted off to jail and left to rot.
(to be continued)
(I don’t claim to own the original story. Sony and Naughty Dog have that honour.)