A Reputation in Ruins

Collections manager Mark Santiago, the man who has allowed me into this inner sanctum, says that Thomas Bent Jr. donated them to the historical society two years ago. Bent had them at his house for the last 40 years. I am not allowed to photograph them--Bent's stipulation--and I am the first reporter to see them since they arrived here. No one else has asked.

What is the future of the relics?
"The one thing that we'll try to do, if we get a grant or whatever, is to try to have them analyzed by a metallurgist," Santiago explains. "If it's possible to take a sample of the lead and see when it was smelted, then that should end it right there. But even if you did that, it still won't solve the central mystery of why and who."

A grant is something Hardaker, among others, would dearly love to get--quickly. There are plans to widen Silver Bell Road, which would either force renewed excavations or obliterate the site where Roman Jews supposedly dropped their crosses once and for all.

A few minutes later, Santiago has to go photocopy something, and he leaves me alone with the pieces. I try to concentrate on them, see if I can establish some psychic channel with ... an ancient Roman, a Mexican kid, a religious fanatic or hermit, maybe some unknown prankster in history. It's quiet in there, real quiet as 30 pieces of lead stare up at me.

And I don't hear a thing.
No dusty whispers from 15 centuries ago. Not even a 100-year-old smirk.

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