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

Karl Wolf was a very wealthy and powerful man. The chief executive officer of a vast family-owned financial empire that stretched from China through India and across Europe over the Atlantic, and from Canada and the United States into Mexico and South America, he was stupendously rich. His personal wealth was estimated at well over a hundred billion dollars. His vast conglomerate, engaged in a multitude of scientific and high-technology programs, was known throughout the business world as Destiny Enterprises Limited. Unlike his siblings, Karl was unmarried.

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

"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."

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.

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.

The women were dazzlingly beautiful, not simply pretty or exotic, but shimmering beauties in the classical sense. Their matching flaxen blond hair was coiffed in long ringlets below their bare shoulders, with tightly woven braids running across a center part on top. They sat regally, delicate hands demurely laid on their laps, staring down at the orchestra pit through uniform blue-gray eyes that gleamed with the intensity of moonlight on a raven's wing. The facial features were enhanced with high cheekbones and a tanned complexion that might have come from skiing in the Andes or sunbathing on a yacht anchored off Bahia Blanca. Any one of them could have easily passed for twenty-five, although they were all thirty-five. It took no imagination to believe they were sisters-- in fact, they were four of a brood of sextuplets. Enough of their body proportions could be discerned through their dresses to show that they were trim and fit from arduous exercise.

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.

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."

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.

The horseshoe interior is decorated on a grand scale that boggles the eye. Incredibly intricate brass molding on the upper railings, sweeping tiers with velveted chairs and gold brocaded curtains, spanned by ceilings filled with masterworks of art. On dazzling opening nights, the society elite of Argentina sweep through the foyer with its Italian marble and beautiful stained-glass dome up the magnificent stairways through the glitter to their luxuriously appointed seats.

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."

Wolf turned to Maria and smiled. "Because, dear sister, if we didn't display the family on different occasions, the government and the public might begin to think of us as a gigantic conspiracy wrapped in an enigma. It's best to make an appearance occasionally to let them know we're not extraterrestrial aliens bent on secretly controlling the country."

Wolf and others of his family easily could have slipped into the new Argentine celebrity society. He was sophisticated, confident, and prosperous, and yet he and the other members of his family lived frugally, considering their vast fortune. But the Wolf family dynasty, consisting of, incredibly, over two hundred members, was seldom seen at fashionable restaurants or high-society functions. The Wolf women almost never made their presence known in the exclusive stores and boutiques around Buenos Aires. Except for Karl, who made a show of openness, the family remained low-profile and reclusive, and was a great mystery to Argentineans. There were no friendships with outsiders. No one, not even celebrities and high government officials, had ever cracked the Wolf family shell. The men who married the women in the family seemed to have come from nowhere and had no history. Strangely, they all took up the family name. Everyone, from the newest born to the most recently wed, carried the name of Wolf, whether male or female. They were a fraternal elite.

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

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."

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."

April 4, 2001

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."

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.

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

TWENTY-FIRST-CENTURY ARK

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.

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