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Maria Wolf, the sister sitting immediately to Karl's left, leaned over and whispered, "Why must you subject us to this terrible ordeal?"

April 4, 2001

A few seconds before the houselights dimmed, a party of one man and four women flowed unobtrusively into the remaining empty box and sat in the maroon velvet chairs. Unseen outside the curtains, two bodyguards stood alert and fashionably dressed in tuxedos. Every eye in the opera house, every pair of binoculars, every pair of opera glasses automatically turned and focused on the people entering the box.

"An unknown ancient civilization wiped out by a great catastrophe. If I didn't know better, Admiral, I'd say you were talking about Atlantis."

Sandecker didn't immediately reply. Pitt swore that he could almost hear the wheels turning inside the admiral's head eight thousand miles away. Finally, Sandecker spoke slowly "Atlantis." He repeated the name as if it were holy. "Strange as it sounds, you may be closer to the mark than you think."

"We should have waited until Heidi returned from Antarctica."

Every seat in the house was occupied sixty seconds before the overture to the opera The Coronation of Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi, except for the preeminent box on the right side of the stage. That was still empty. Poppea had been the Roman emperor Nero's mistress during the glory of Rome, yet the singers wore costumes from the seventeenth century, and to rub salt in the wounds, all the male parts were sung by women. To some opera lovers, it is a genuine masterpiece, to others it is a four-hour drone.

"We should have waited until Heidi returned from Antarctica."

Construction began in 1890, and no expense was spared. Completed when Puccini reigned supreme in 1908, the Teatro Colon opera house stands sidewalk to sidewalk on one entire block of the city. A spellbinding blend of French art deco, Italian Renaissance, and Greek classic, its stage has felt the feet of Pavlova and Nijinsky. Toscanini conducted from its podium, and every major singer from Caruso to Callas has performed there.

All four women turned from the opera and looked at him with controlled trepidation. "Can you tell us what it is?" asked Geli.

When Karl and his four sisters showed up on opening nights at the opera, it was a major gossip event. The overture ended and the curtains pulled open and the audience reluctantly turned their attention from the stunning and resplendent brother and sisters sitting in the premier box and gazed at the singers on the stage.

Wolf patted Geli's hand. "I'll make it up to her when La Traviata opens next week."

"Archaeologists won't be overjoyed to rewrite the book on prehistoric civilizations."

Premier opera houses throughout the world are judged by singers and musicians for their acoustics, the quality of sound that carries from the stage to the box seats and then to the gallery far up in the stratosphere. To the opera lovers who buy the tickets, they are ranked and admired more for their elegance and flamboyance. Some are noted for their baroqueness, others for pompousness, a few for trappings and festoons. But none can hold a candle to the unmatched grandiloquence of the Teatro Colon on the Avenida 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires.

Wolf patted Geli's hand. "I'll make it up to her when La Traviata opens next week."

Buenos Aires, Argentina

When he turned and spoke to his siblings, he smiled, flashing brilliantly white teeth framed by a friendly mouth that found it impossible to turn down in a grimace. The eyes, though, showed no warmth. They stared as if they belonged to a panther gazing over the grasslands in search of prey.

"I agree," whispered Geli, the sister on Wolf's right. "She's the only one who would have enjoyed this awful bore."

Buenos Aires, Argentina

"I haven't sat through a course in ancient history since Annapolis," said Sandecker, "but as I recall, I was taught the same lesson."

"I agree," whispered Geli, the sister on Wolf's right. "She's the only one who would have enjoyed this awful bore."

They ignored the stares of the audience, who were torn between observing the elusive Wolf family and the singing and acting on stage. The curtain for Act III had just risen when one of the bodyguards entered from the rear hall and whispered in Wolf's ear. He stiffened in his chair, the smile vanished, and his facial expression turned grave. He leaned over and spoke softly. "My dear sisters, an emergency has come up. I must go. You stay. I've reserved a private room at the Plaza Grill for a little after-show dinner. You go ahead, and I'll catch up later."

"Archaeologists won't be overjoyed to rewrite the book on prehistoric civilizations."

Every seat in the house was occupied sixty seconds before the overture to the opera The Coronation of Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi, except for the preeminent box on the right side of the stage. That was still empty. Poppea had been the Roman emperor Nero's mistress during the glory of Rome, yet the singers wore costumes from the seventeenth century, and to rub salt in the wounds, all the male parts were sung by women. To some opera lovers, it is a genuine masterpiece, to others it is a four-hour drone.

Maria Wolf, the sister sitting immediately to Karl's left, leaned over and whispered, "Why must you subject us to this terrible ordeal?"

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