“You threw that pen again, didn’t you?”
If Bronwyn hadn’t known the disembodied voice on the other line, hadn’t been friends since the cradle with the disembodied voice, hadn’t poured her heart and pain and hopes and dreams and spent how many countless nights building tents and Barbie Doll houses with the disembodied voice, her cursing would have been worse. Much worse.
“Damn,” she grunted.
Bronwyn Davidson was in a painful position. She re-cradled the phone between her shoulder and left ear, the old-fashioned phone cord stretched taut and the phone itself teetered precariously close to the edge of the nightstand, while the fingers of her right hand stretched into the darkening netherworld of under the hotel bed where the offensive pen – a mocking parting gift from that meandering, faithless, roving, self-serving, career ruining bastard of an ex-husband – lay just beyond the reach of her fingertips. She could feel the clip on it, just barely a hair beyond her grasp.
“No,” she lied, eyes now narrowed in vexation. “I’m stretching.”
“Exercise? You? Somehow, I doubt that!” Ashley’s voice was laced with an infectious humor that had graced her her entire life. Her mother told people the babe was born smiling. “C’mon, girlfriend! You didn’t call me so I can hear you sweat over the phone.”
“I didn’t call you. You called me! Remember? AHA!” There! Bronwyn’s fingertips grazed the edge of the pen and she nudged it towards her, before finally grasping it in her fist.
“I was returning your call, dingleberry! What time is it in Wales?”
“11 P.M. ACK!” Bronwyn pulled her arm out from under the bed, dust and decaying God knows what else flying up with it. Shaking the debris from her arm, she inadvertently flung the pen to the other side of the room, the tubular metal ringing as it ricocheted into the far corner and under the television cabinet. “DAMNITTOHELL!”
Ashley’s laughter was not comforting. “You threw it again, didn’t you?”
“There’s dust in the carpet.” Bronwyn stood up, brushing filth from her already filthy khaki jeans. She now faced the dilemma of retrieving the pen from the other side of the room. For a moment, she contemplated the erstwhile pen and then decided for now, it was safe hiding beneath cheap furniture. A limp hank of dark auburn hair fell in her eyes. “I hate that man!”
“What did Royce do to you now?” On the other side of the line, Ashley sounded as preoccupied and as far away as she really was. Thousands of miles.
“Not Royce.” Not her ex-husband, this very minute. “Alfred!” She blew at the offensive lock of hair, in an attempt of moving it and not putting her fingers in it.
There was a moment of silence. “Is this a new boyfriend?”
“NO!” Bronwyn decided that the pen needed to be retrieved so she could throw it again. She blew again at the hair in her eyes. “Alfred is in charge of the dig and Royce is a complete and total asshat and male chauvinist prick! Alfred is ignoring the situation!” She took a breath and blew again. “And he’s a drunk!” Giving up, she grabbed a nondescript headband from the nightstand and shoved it on her head, effectively removing the hair from her eyes and pulling all of it from her face.
“I thought you were in charge of the dig?”
Bronwyn was ready to throw the phone by this point. Born and raised an archaeologist, by archaeologists, she was learning the hard way that she definitely married not only well beneath her, but also to a scheming, two-timing wretched excuse of a beautiful Adonis face.
“I’m… in charge of the dig, but I’m not in charge of the dig.” Knowing a torrent was about to be unleashed, Ashley kept her silence, the fastest way to make sure her long-time friend unloaded what was eating her alive. “Alfred Llewyllen is in charge of the dig-“
“He used to be a professor at – “
“Yesssssss!” Bronwyn hissed. “In fact, he’s the head of archaeology and antiquities and he was Royce’s mentor in college and if he wasn’t such a flaming lush, I would suspect this entire thing was concocted by the both of them!”
“Alright,” the sound of a toddler crying in the background brought both friends back to a real time. “Now I’m lost. Hang on.” Even though her friend put her hand on the mouthpiece, Bronwyn clearly heard Ashley call to her husband to get the baby some arrowroot cookies and please call a pizza on his cell phone.
She was going to be a little while.
Bronwyn felt bad what she was doing to her and over the past few months had apologized profusely to her friend. Hard to believe how quickly her life had come to a crashing halt in the last year. If her parents were alive, things might be different, but…
If anyone could be accused of being born with a silver spoon in her mouth, it was Bronwyn. She was born immediately following a dig and taken to her first excavation in Scotland the summer she was four. She was too widely traveled at a young age, immune to the sight and smell of dead bodies thousands of years old and irritating her teachers at no end due to her own worldly travels. The last straw had come when an educator informed her parents at a teacher-parent conference that she was ‘too smart for her own good,’ and Bronwyn asked how that could possibly be? After all, wasn’t she at school to ‘get smart’? And besides, she preferred the word ‘precocious.’ At that point, she was yanked from school and her parents took over her schooling.
What resulted was what a tee shirt her parents bought her that she cherished: Si vos can lego, vos es super erudio or how her now ex-husband referred to her as being the most over-educated human-being in the world and everything she specialized in was trivial.
“Who cares what gutteral language the Picts spoke? How many dead languages do you speak?” Can you go to Lombardi’s and order pasta in that language?’
“Look,” Bronwyn forced herself to breathe, “Royce’s parting shot to me was he would make sure I was never taken seriously in the archaeological world again. He wasn’t about to compete with me and didn’t want to have to ‘socialize with me’ in the same circles, therefore he preferred me out of the way, period.”
“In other words,” Ashley elaborated, “his new girlfriend-“
“- didn’t want to be shadowed and stigmatized by your aura.” Ashley didn’t stop to take a breath. “He married her? Damn! I’m sorry. Is she even old enough to vote?”
Bronwyn picked up the base of the phone and pulled it as far as the cord attached to the wall would allow. She then got on the floor and crawled to the erstwhile television cabinet. “The ink wasn’t even dry on the divorce decree. She was waiting for him in the lobby, and they went straight across the hall to the judge.” She got on the floor and peered under the heavy, cheap piece of furniture. “And yes, but barely. I think her parents are relieved. I would be relieved.”
“Oh God,” Ashley’s voice broke. “I’m so sorry. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Because I was ashamed, because I was horrified that he despised me that much, because I realized right then that he never loved me, that I realized he simply married me for the connections, because I couldn’t believe it…and then wrapped the pen and sent it to me, telling me he signed the divorce papers and his new marriage certificate with it and I could use it to grade papers because that’s all I was good for…
And then the dreams started…
“He’s made his bed.” Both cords were now stretched taut, the coil in the receiver end, straight. She reached under the cabinet, fingers out-stretched. “He’s also kicked me in the teeth. He told everyone I copied his work, rode his coattails-“
“HE DIDN”T! If anything, he rode yours!”
“- I wasn’t to be trusted. He claims he divorced me to save his career. I’ve not been able to find work anywhere until the last minute this summer.” On the other end of the receiver, the voice screeched at decibels not reached by the human voice since Minnie Ripperton. “And it’s turned out to be the equivalent of a high school summer excavation camp!” Bronwyn reached down, cradling the receiver between her knees and inched closer to the television cabinet. Just an inch more…
For a few moments, there was almost silence, save the soft grunting of a woman on the floor, reaching for something to throw and the painful yodelings of her friend thousands of miles over the ocean screaming her frustration out at that which Bronwyn had been feeling for months.
Finally, the errant pen was retrieved and rather than throw it again, the archaeologist returned to the chair next to the small table that the telephone was sitting on. She crossed her legs, returned the receiver to her ear, now that there was no more yelling on the other side, and proceeded to tap the pen on the table, running it down her fingertips, before turning it over to repeat the process.
“Yeah. I’m here.”
Ashley sighed heavily. “Look… how bad is the dig?” Ashley had worked excavations with Bronwyn and her parents as a teen, through college, before marrying a nice, stuffy English professor named George and settling down with a nice, safe, history teaching job in a moderately sized college in a moderate sized college town down in the Midwest of the States. Despite her nice, safe, stuffy academic life, she knew first hand the difference between a ‘good’ dig and a bad one.
Bronwyn tapped the pen, point first, end second, point again… “The university Albert is employed at sponsors summers digs for the local schools.”
Bronwyn was focusing on the pen, the way it slipped through her fingers, almost sensuous in its movement. For not the first time, she noted it was a Cross pen, gold, and not cheap, with Royce’s initials engraved at the end. It was a not so subtle reminder of who gave her her cross to bear. “And there are several different kinds…” she let her voice trail.
“Bronwyn, I would think this would be a wonderfully easy experience for you. Teaching others-“
“Well, like I said there are several different kinds, ranging from digs for the college student seriously considering a career in archaeology to…” the pen came to a halt, “inexperienced summer camps for wannabe delinquents whose parents are trying to get them out of their hair and out of the house for the day.”
There was a hush.
“Delinquents?” Bronwyn barely heard her.
“Yes. Delinquents. As in useless wastes of oxygen, destined for a career in a body bag. Useless as in that was one wad your daddy should have shot in the washcloth….”
“Oh, really Bronwyn, it can’t be that bad…”
“Bad?” The pen went flying, Bronwyn standing up in order to have a full, unrestrained airflow through her lungs. She didn’t bother to watch where it landed and didn’t really care at that moment. “Most of them have an eye, a talent or a desire, but I had a 16 year old idiot step in a grave today. That grave was the most significant find we found in that village. After digging up foundations and tools and fire pits, we found a honest to God grave with all of the hand-carved gods and Druidic burial finery and that wanker not only stepped in it, he planted his fat assed foot through the corpse’s hand!”
“And laughed about it!” Bronwyn dropped her head in her freehand, the headache that had been threatening for hours, now bursting forth. She spied her discarded knapsack on the table and cradling the phone between her shoulder and ear, began to dig earnestly for the aspirin bottle. “He and his stupid little cronies laughed about it.”
“And what did you do?”
There! She popped the lid and tapped two of the pills into her hand. “I was not at my most diplomatic.” After a quick second thought, she shook out a third. She popped them in her mouth, grimacing at the bitter taste. She sat back down.
“I would imagine not. Hang on-“ This time Ashley didn’t bother to cover the receiver. “George! Keep an ear out for the doorbell, make sure Sydney isn’t playing in the dog bowl or the toilet and wait until you hear what Bronwyn’s students did! Oh, and bring me my briefcase. Thank you, you are such a love what would I do without you-“
Bronwyn rolled her eyes at the obvious endearment. The table was spread with maps, papers, notes from the dig. She reached for the blunt pencil and began to repeat the nervous process of tapping and turning. “I sent them home.” She waited a moment before clarifying. “I sent them home and told them to grow a set before they come back.”
There was the sound of muffled laughter. “You didn’t.”
“I did!” The pencil hit the table with such force, it snapped, leaving a leaded scratch in the surface. Great! Just what I need! Something additional I’ll probably have to pay for. Bronwyn wet her finger and began to rub the spot. “I did and I won’t apologize.”
“I wouldn’t either.” There was a rustling of papers. Obviously darling wonderful perfect George had brought Ashley’s briefcase. “Ah! Here’s what I was looking for…”
“What were you looking for?” Bronwyn’s voice was strained; peeved that she didn’t have 100% of her friend’s attention.
“Have you considered going into academia?”
“Look, I kno-“
“That’s exactly what His Royal I’m so Gorgeous and Well Hung that Every Woman Who Can Smell My Cologne Wants Me Highness wants me to do. Die and go teach!”
“Bronwyn? Will you let me finish?” Ashley took the scant nano second of silence as a ‘yes’… “Right now, Royce has you backed in a corner. He’s the Wonder Boy of British Archaeology and even though he received all of his wonderful ideas from you, he’s The Face. In a year or two, no one will be paying attention to him, he’ll get comfortable and who knows, he might stumble huge and make a mistake-“
“Damn straight, he’ll screw up! He hires for the wrong reasons! He hired that bimbo to be his personal secretary. Her daddy has money! I hired the real workers!”
“- and it will damage his reputation – exactly! Bottom line is you can make a living, do some research on sites and legends, you know how you hate doing that because you’re pressed for time. Use your contacts, your parents contacts, to regroup, re-situated. Find a new starting point, a new area of archaeological expertise. You know, you’ve not taken a break since their plane went down! Take time for yourself. His star will crash and burn and you’ll step up to the plate, refreshed, renewed, and looking better than ever!”
Bronwyn looked down at her more than ample hips. “Are you saying I need to go on a diet?”
There was a painful pause. “Have you gained more weight?”
Bronwyn shrugged. “I might have gone up a dress size… or two…”
“BRONWYN!” Ashley’s outrage was obvious. “You are already a diabetic waiting to happen! It runs in your family!”
“So does dementia!” she retorted! “What was I supposed to do? Royce left me for Miss Teenaged Bubble headed blonde Cheese whatever her family does and my only friends were the owners of Iggy’s Ice Cream Parlor.”
“I know and don’t feed me that.” She inhaled sharply. “Look, I’ve been really good about eating healthier the last couple of weeks, but it goes on easier than it comes off.”
“I know.” There was a lot of noise over the line. Apparently, the pizza had arrived and Sydney was crawling after George’s rather friendly and patient Chocolate Labrador, Molly. “Believe me, I know. Listen, I hate to cut you off, but I need to go. There are a few positions open here at the college; they would kill to have a well-known archaeologist teaching dead and ancient languages and history. Shoot, I’m sure there are some local digs here-“
“American Indian most likely and they have a complete hairy when you touch something that might look like them.” The tone was bored, rattled off by rote memory. “Remember the mummy in the Colombia River in Washington State? How many years did that body remain on ice while they figured out who he belonged to?” Bronwyn listened for the grinding teeth.
“Whatever! I’m grasping at straws here for you! Regardless, you could probably juggle both without thinking twice. It would keep you busy, keep you sane and you could do what we talked about.”
Yeah, and you could monitor my eating habits and try to find me a sweet, stuffy, but grounded natty math professor, just like you have! Thanks, but no thanks.
“Think about it.”
“But not forever. Like in the next week or two.”
“I love you I gotta go. I’ll email these to you tonight. Call me tomorrow. At the office. Bye.” The sudden sound of the disconnected buzzing only made Bronwyn’s headache worse.
The desire to just crawl in bed was over-powering and Bronwyn stripped down to nothing, before crawling between the cheap sheets of her rented bed.
And prayed the warrior disturbing her dreams would take the night off.
Bronwyn’s migraine fared no better the following day. While her erstwhile poor excuse of a digger and his buddies didn’t show up the next day, her ex husband did.
The dig had shaped out nicely, despite her future criminals and the small group that remained, Bronwyn was rather proud of. It wasn’t unusual for newbies to freak at the site of a dead body, no matter how old. Lucky for her, only Layla behaved squeamishly, so she was happily cataloging other parts of the site. Stakes were being put down in a grid and her young archaeologists were meticulously listing, photographing, and numbering everything. The small site was taken down several feet so the original earthen foundations were well established. The surrounding unexcavated areas had been staked out, spray-painted where borrowed equipment and old aerial photographs showed there could possibly be more.
“I heard you were here.” Royce’s voice came from nowhere. Bronwyn looked up over her shoulder through a curtain of loosed red hair to see his sky-blue eyes raking the dig in the most obscene way possible. “My, how low you have fallen.”
Bronwyn was stretched out on the ground, arms dangling down in the grave Colin had desecrated the day before. He had seriously damaged the body, but the burial artifacts were still intact as well as much of the burial vestments. She gently pulled the leather from the arm, wincing at the crackling and the obvious footprint pressed in the material. She never looked up. “I’m busy. Go away.” She gently pressed a small iron stake in the dirt on the side of the grave in order to tie a strand of twine to it later for graphing.
“What an experienced group you have working with you. They’ve have what? Three? Four weeks under the belt?”
“Seven,” Bronwyn mumbled. “Do you mind? I’m really busy here-“
“What is it you are digging in? Is that a grave?”
“No, it’s your ass,” Bronwyn muttered under her breath. “Look,” she spoke up louder, in order to be heard, “if you’ve just come to gloat, leave already. Don’t you have a site of your own?”
“Is that a footprint?” Royce’s voice could be heard over the digging, carrying in the wind like pollen in spring. “My Gawd, it looks like someone stepped on the body! What kind of show are you running here, Bronny?” He was leaning over his ex wife in order to peer into the grave.
With reflexes Bronwyn didn’t even realized she had, she jumped up, the back of her head connecting solidly with Royce’s nose. Royce staggered backwards, his hands going to the injured appendage, Bronwyn’s hand going to the back of her head. “You don’t call me that!” she yelled. The hand NOT holding the back of her head gestured and stabbed wildly, effectively forcing her ex husband to retreat. “You lost all rights to call me that!” The entire dig came to a halt, every one staring at the battling archaeologists. “Go fuck up your own dig. Leave me and mine alone! Charles!” she jutted her chin at the large, hulking rugby player looking teen gaping nearby, “Escort this asswipe to his car. If he gives you problems,” she raked Royce’s lean form with a jaundiced eye, “carry him in the most uncomfortable way possible.”
Royce hand was still over his nose, blood now slowly leaking between his fingers. “Yew don hab tew be tho nahthy.”
“Nasty?” Bronwyn hissed. “You haven’t begun to SEE nasty!”
Royce turned away, glaring at her over his shoulder. “Awrigh, awrigh! Ahm goin!” Suddenly, he turned back, leaning close. “But yew bettah wath yerthelf! Yer pithin ahff tew maneh peepehl!”
“Must I ask Charles to haul you out by the nose?” Teenaged giggling could be heard on the wind. She stared at his retreating back both fists now white-knuckled and clenched by her sides. “Wait, but that would hurt!” she yelled. “You would LIKE THAT!!” Royce shot her a death look over his shoulder, blood visibly dripping. By now, she was bouncing on her toes, her white-knuckled fists punctuating each word by her side. “Hey Royce! Does your new wife know you liked to be spanked? Should I gift-wrap the pink paddle and fuzzy handcuffs? I no longer have any use for them!” By now, her students were guffawing and pointing at the furious archaeologist who couldn’t get his car started fast enough. Finally, it cranked and he backed the car out of the site.
Bronwyn watched, smiling evilly until there was nothing left but dust, before turning back to the gravesite. Her grin dropped from her face immediately. She almost ran into the teen standing guard. She pointed to the opposite side of the grave. “Go over there and lay down. I want to petition off the grave, so we can take pictures and take inventory before we start removing the burial items.”
“Do you really have pink fuzzy handcuffs, Professor Davidson?” He jumped over and positioned himself across from the woman.
“No, Charles.” The boy actually looked disappointed. “They’re purple.” Muffled laughter bubbled up from his chest. Bronwyn pulled a skein of twine from her pocket and began to unroll a goodly length. She resumed her previous position on the ground and began to wrap the twine around the hook of the stake. When she finished, she reached across the grave and handed Charles the twine. “Tie it like this and then cut it with your pocket knife.” She watched as he followed her instructions before motioning him to scoot down to the next set of stakes. “Uhm… what you heard… what I said…”
“Wasn’t nice.” Charles finished for her, never looking up from his work. “No one will blame you.” He tied off the twine and handed the ball to her. “I mean I don’t blame you.” Bronwyn took the roll and proceeded to wrap the hook. “Professor?” Charles was peering closely into the grave. “Did you see this?”
Bronwyn couldn’t see from her angle, so she quickly tied off the tie and maneuvered over to the teen’s side. “Move over.” She waited for him to make room, before settling down next to him. “Oh my God… what is it?” Bronwyn levered herself over the grave, her head now down in the gravesite. Her hair was pooled down in the dirt as she peered closer at the almost hidden object. “Bring me the camera,” she instructed Charles. She heard him get up, particles of dirt and dust disturbed by his rising clattered down in the grave and into Bronwyn’s face and hair.
The 1000-year-old body was fairly well preserved. It was apparent when they unearthed him, the man was an important and beloved figure to the village; a priest or holy man of sorts, dressed in elaborate finery. The entire grave was covered with a heavy, large sewn piece of animal hide, very unusual for the area and time period. Bronwyn had never seen the like and originally noted in her notebook to research to see if other graves in the area had reported any finds similar. Searches so far had yielded nothing. Two days before, with Alfred standing watch, they had gently lifted the hide covering to expose the grave, staking down a heavy tarp at night to keep it protected.
Protected until that idiot stepped in it.
Bronwyn peered closer. One of the holy man’s arms were positioned at his side and tucked under his hand, almost under his lower hip, was what looked to be a decorated pouch made of an indiscernible animal hide. “Also, bring me the cell phone. I need to call Alfred.”
“This is extraordinary, Bronwyn.” Alfred sensed her stiffening at the familiarity and sighed inwardly. He returned his attention to the body and the bag under the man’s hand. “Typically, one only finds this sort of detail with a member of royalty or someone very powerful.” Both professors lay prone on the ground, their heads close together down in the grave, oblivious to the smell of earth that hadn’t been disturbed in centuries. “ Have we dated this village and this grave yet?”
Bronwyn sneezed, the dust tickling her nose. “Between 1000 to 1200 A.D. thereabouts. Later part, I’m inclined to think.” She sneezed again. “I’d like to completely excavate and do a carbon dating.”
Alfred Llewyllen was the stereotypical aging professor. Tall and skeletal lean, his slept-in looking, rumbled clothing hung on him with a ratty abandon only a life-long bachelor who lived in his study could only achieve. Even down in a grave with a rotting body, Bronwyn could smell old pipe tobacco and Ball’s Whiskey on his clothing. The few white hairs on his head, stood out at odd angles, and Bronwyn heard her budding archaeologists whispering on more than one occasion musing if the old man actually slept in his clothes or if he ever bathed.
She sneezed a third time.
Alfred looked up over his shoulder to the gorilla standing over him, trying to peer down in hole. “Do you mind? I can’t see.” He was oblivious to the teen’s fleeting furious look. ‘Look here. Go to – Bronwyn, where do you keep your masks? –“ There was murmuring from below the earth, “Right, go to Dr. Davidson’s backpack and bring back an air filter mask. It’s quite dusty down here.” He watched the teen amble off before returning his attention to the grave. “I say, Bronwyn, I don’t know how you put up with-“
“You assigned them to me, remember?” Bronwyn’s tone was not so gentle. “Their parents paid for the summer internship. And watch how you talk to them, especially that one.” Eyes as brown as the dirt they were laying in raked the elderly professor with derision. “He’s the best one I have and smarter than a whip. Don’t let the packaging fool you. He could make a name for himself with the right backing.” It was quiet while they waited. Finally, an air filter mask lowered itself out of appearing thin air and she put it to her face. “Thank you, Charles.” She turned back to Alfred, hissing, “I plan to make sure he gets it, if he’s interested.”
“You always had a good eye.” Alfred murmured, causing her to jerk in surprise. “Except once. And that one, I’m sorry for.” The aging professor pulled himself up and dusted his hands and clothing off. “I need to contact the powers that be to have the body exhumed from the grave. As well as your…” and with this, his bloodshot eyes disparagingly raked over the young students, searching for the right words. They didn’t come out. “… motley crew-“ gasps of outrage, “-have done, we will need professionals to exhume the body. This has become a much more important find than any at the university anticipated.” There was angry chittering between the students.
Bronwyn was picking herself from the earth, oblivious to the dirt ground into her jeans. The filter mask was hastily stuffed in her back pocket and two of her students, including the gorilla, were nattering in her ear. She was nodding in agreement. “Alfred, as little as you seem to think of them, they’ve come a long way in the past weeks and I would like them to help as much as possible if they are inclined.” There were murmurs of agreement from the gallery.
Ah. She was going to fight for the little mudruts. Good. Alfred had been afraid that the divorce might have destroyed that indomitable spirit and fire he recalled so vividly. He hoped the experience would make her stronger and she was going to need that strength to draw from before it was over. “Quite right, quite right.” The art of sounding distracted and bored was just that: an art, one he practiced for years. “We can discuss that.” He looked up at the students. “Would you like that?” There were enthusiastic nods of agreement. “Very good, then.” He looked up at the sky and squinted at the not yet setting sun. “I think I will get a room here at the inn, make some phone calls. Professor Davidson, if you would be so kind as to close up the shop a bit early for the evening, I would be most pleased to take you to dinner to discuss things.”
Alfred chose a restaurant he was familiar with in Pemberton, a larger town about 30 minutes from the small hamlet where Bronwyn’s dig was located. Alfred stated on the pretense the food was superior to the home fare at the cheap motel where she and now he were staying, but Bronwyn suspected it was away from the locals, away from the families of her students, who would listen in. gossip, and pry. It also was home of a rugby stadium and she suspected the old man rather enjoyed the rough sport.
And it was early. There were a few shops nearby and the female in Bronwyn itched to get out. There was a turquoise peasant type dress in the window across the street that just might be a fun and colorful addition to her meager, khaki colored wardrobe. If she could sit through this dinner with Alfred and get it over quickly-
“I always liked you.” Alfred’s voice cut through her reverie and brought her back to the present. “Always thought you were the brightest student to cross my path.”
“What?” Bronwyn blinked.
Alfred sighed. Conversation with women always made him nervous. He talked to dead bodies with more ease. He cleared his throat uneasily. “I left a message with the Royal Antiquities Department. He called me back before I met up with you here. They have agreed to allow a team from the university to oversea the exhumation and I’ve contacted a few people I think will work patiently with your charges.”
Salads arrived and the two waited until the waiter completed his methodical round of peppering and refilling.
“I had to pull quite a few strings to allow that.”
Bronwyn speared a cherry tomato. “I realize that,” she admitted reluctantly. “and I appreciate it.” Alfred watched as she inspected the round fruit before the tomato disappeared into her mouth. He cleared his throat in the uncomfortable silence. “Professor Llewyllen, I realize they appear to be a…a…” she stumbled over her words, “… a…”
Bronwyn colored at that, tamped down anger evident. “They are anything but.”
“You’ve complained vigorously to me about the serious lack of quality in the recent past,” Alfred replied drolly. For all intents and purposes, all of his attention and his entire life rested on the oil and vinegar drenched lettuce impaled on his salad fork.
“Yes, I know, but it was a select few that made it difficult.” Bronwyn was aware that her voice tended to carry and so her whisper made it difficult for the elderly professor to hear.
“The one who stepped in the grave and his friends.” Bronwyn nodded morosely. “Pity that. Nasty business that one and it’s not over, I guarantee.”
“I rather suspect such.”
Alfred chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “Tell me about the ones left.”
Bronwyn set her fork down. “Charles, the one you barked at for blocking your sun, has an amazing eye and notices small things out of place. He was the one who suspected there was something different around the area where the gravesite is was found and he was also the one who noticed the unusual pouch tucked under the body.” Bronwyn smiled in retrospect. “He decided a more recent at an angle aerial look would help, so he took his camera and climbed a tree.”
Bronwyn rambled on, oblivious that Alfred and set his fork down, his attention completely riveted to her story. “His father is a logger and he showed up the next morning with a tree strap. He was up with the camera before I could holler at him to come down. We put the chip in my laptop and…” she stopped suddenly, embarrassed by her own enthusiasm. “Moire is an artist. She sketches layouts, landscape and she’s fast. Layla has the most delicate hand with a brush and digging out areas-“ she stopped suddenly. “You didn’t bring me to dinner to listen to me wax eloquently about my charges.”
Alfred wiped his mouth and nodded to the hovering waiter to remove their salad plates. “No, I did not, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.” He laid his napkin to the side. “You are as excited about this dig as you were when you were 12 and in Mynyw with your parents.” Bronwyn’s jaw dropped. “You might not remember me, but I remember you! I had more hair then.”
“They were digging in Ceredigion… no… Brycheiniog. We took a boat, rather than fly that year… there was a party-“
“Yes!” Alfred was delighted she remembered, “The hostess was most put out your esteemed parents brought their runny-nosed brat to her stuffy, boring party, but you were delightful! I rather think the old biddy was jealous.” They waited for dinner to be set before them. “Her husband paid more attention to you that night than he had her in years!”
Bronwyn grinned. “She was stupid. She didn’t know the difference between Branwen and Gwenllian.”
“No,” Alfred chuckled. “She wouldn’t know the difference between a woman who grieved herself to death over the destruction of two countries over her rescue and a woman who was put to death for leading an army on behalf of her people. She wouldn’t know and she didn’t care.” He smirked for a moment. “She was a ruddy bloody arse of a woman. Bronwyn,” he went from a jovial tone to a more serious one, “you were fiery then. I prayed you retained that fire after all this… unpleasantness and it appears you have. That is a good thing.”
Bronwyn squashed her softer feelings. She didn’t remember him, but she remembered the over-dressed, over-made-up self-absorbed woman. “Alfred. Stop beating around the bush. What do you want? I’m certain it wasn’t to reminisce about a rather forgettable party hosted by a preening peacock!”
“You are right, of course.” Alfred smiled ruefully. “I don’t know where to begin.”
Alfred’s eyes fell, very ashamed. “No. I’ll not start there, but you need to understand I’m not your enemy.”
“Damn Royce!” Alfred’s voice rose and the low-grade noise in the entire restaurant came to a halt as every eye turned to the twosome. “Damn him and damn him again! Royce is a prick and not worth your energy!” he hissed. “He is a lazy arse who rode on the backs of those who were mesmerized by his face.” Alfred’s own face was a bright shade of red. “He is indolent, careless, undisciplined… don’t get me wrong,” his fork raised, stabbing itself in Bronwyn’s face causing her to lean back in alarm. “He is bright and knows his history, but he has no work ethic. He’s never had to have one, never been forced to have one. He won’t know where to begin to start.” He attacked his food with vigor.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Alfred didn’t look up. “Because I thought surely you saw through him,” he muttered petulantly, chewing on his lamb. “It didn’t dawn on me you were hurting.”
“Hurting?” Bronwyn was incredulous. “I wasn’t hurting, I was grieving!” She held both eating utensils in each white-knuckled hand, propped on the table. “I was grieving!” She looked down at her untouched plate, as if at a loss where to begin; the meat or the vegetable. “I was alone… bereft…” she whispered.
Alfred jerked, as if stabbed. “It didn’t dawn on me until it was too late you were missing your family, trying to fill a void. Bronwyn, I’m not changing the subject, but your parents specialty was ancient Britain and Ireland. Where on earth were they going that their plane would go down in the Himalayas?”
Bronwyn made a great show of removing the bones in her fish. “Yeti,” she inhaled.
“What? Did you say-”
“The Yeti!” she hissed. “My mother was fascinated with the Yeti and Father promised her for years they would spend a year searching the Himalayas and spending time with the natives.” She took a bite and still bit into a bone. She spit it into her fingers. “Mother had been researching for years, making notes and copies. In fact, I have a copy of her notes back at Little Cymru,” referring to her family’s estate in Kentucky. “There are copies of everything, actually.”
“Your parents were chasing the Abominable Snowman?”
Bronwyn shrugged. “Mother preferred the term ‘Yeti.’” She smiled fondly. “They planned that trip for years. Their first one without me since I was knee-high.” She laid her eating utensils down gently, her interest in her fish waning. “It was to have been like a second honeymoon. They were so devoted to each other.”
“They definitely had something very special.” Alfred nervously cleared his throat.. “Bronwyn, as I said before, I’m not your enemy.”
“So, you said.”
“I realize my previous connection with Royce might make you uncomfortable,” he continued on, “but I know him for what he is.” He leaned forward. “I’m pushing to have as much done on this little dig as quickly as possible, with as much work done with your young students, in order to show its importance as an historical site, as well your competence as a prominent archaeologist, as well as your guts and forbearance with inexperienced scholars. You need to know that Royce’s dig isn’t coming up with much and his patience is diminishing.”
Bronwyn motioned to have her plate removed and turned her cup over for coffee. “I’m not interested in Royce’s dig.”
“You should be.” Alfred motioned for tea. “Considering many things, you very well should be. It is near the coast, close to Llanelli. “
Bronwyn was stirring milk into her coffee. Her eyes never rose, her concentration on the swirls the milk made in her cup. “I never understood the Brits hatred of a nice cup of coffee,” she murmured. Finally her eyes rose. “Llanelli would be possible launch point for Madoc.”
“I never understood you Yanks love of coffee.” Alfred jovially retorted. “I know you have an interest in Madoc.”
Bronwyn snorted derisively. “That’s an understatement.”
Alfred smiled an almost evil smile. He had her. “You and your Madoc are kin to your mother and her Yeti. I feel sorry for your father.”
“Living with the Davidson women and their crazy legends. Abominable snowmen and wandering seafarers. ”
Bronwyn snorted with humor, this time. “Crazy legends or not, I’m still not interested in Royce’s dig.”
“You should be.”
Bronwyn’s eyes narrowed. “That’s the second time you’ve said that. Why should I be so interested in a dig site that is yielding nothing?”
Alfred set down his now empty teacup and lifted a finger. “One, because aerial photographs and old writings say there should be something there. Two,” a second finger raised, “because Royce bent over and went out of his way to make sure he was awarded that site, rather than you. And three…”
A third finger pointed up, laying with the previous two digits. “Three, because Royce has begun to make inquiries to have you removed from your dig. He made the comment to the fellows at the university that you are incompetent and he would like to take over.”
“Seems a valuable artifact was damaged on your watch.”
Sorry for the delay – I spent the better part of yesterday in the ER – stomach virus. I lost 8 pounds in 24 hours. Not fun at all!