Authors: Dana Cameron
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths
AN EMMA FIELDING MYSTERY
I GRIPPED THE PHONE RECEIVER A LITTLE MORE TIGHTLY and…
WHATEVER IT IS, I TOLD MYSELF FIRMLY, IT HAS nothing…
GETTING OUT OF THE CAR, I HEARD RAISED VOICES fifty…
I GRABBED THE FLASHLIGHT FROM THE TOP OF MY nightstand,…
“TCH, TCH, ANDREW. THAT’S A BIT COLD, EVEN FOR you,…
I AWOKE WITH A JOLT THE NEXT MORNING. I GLANCED…
“ACTUALLY,” I SAID WITH SOME ASPERITY, “I CAN say why…
WE SAT THERE AT THE TOP OF THE BELL TOWER,…
I WAS RELIEVED TO WAKE UP THE NEXT MORNING, ONCE…
BY LUNCHTIME, HOWEVER, IT WAS AS IF NOTHING AT all…
THE SCENE THAT MET ME UPON ENTERING THE PRINCE of…
I WOKE UP THE NEXT MORNING IN A SWIRL OF…
AS IT TURNED OUT, THE OTHERS MADE IT BACK TO…
PLEASED AS I WAS WHEN IAN THE BARTENDER AGAIN recognized…
IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN MY AWARENESS OF THOSE TWITCHING curtains…
A COUPLE OF HOURS AFTER ANDREW LEFT, JANE Greg, and…
THE TAPE WAS CHEAP AND THE MACHINE THAT HAD been…
JANE SEIZED GREG BY THE SHOULDERS. “WHAT DO YOU mean…
MORAG WALKED ME OUT, ON HER WAY DOWN TO THE…
IN SPITE OF THE DIVERSION OF BEING ABLE TO THINK…
I PICKED MY WAY OVER TO THE WALL NEXT TO…
A FEW HOURS LATER, AT NEARLY SEVEN O’CLOCK, I found…
“SO, WE’RE ON FOR TONIGHT?” MY BEST FRIEND Marty’s voice…
GRIPPED THE PHONE RECEIVER A LITTLE MORE TIGHTLY
and tried, without much luck, to block out the airport noise around me. “You’re sure there wasn’t a message? Nothing?”
Because I love Brian more than anything on earth and none of this was even remotely his fault, I tried my best to be patient, but I was exhausted, I was short-tempered, and I smelled like I’d been cleaning up after the circus. It was June, but I couldn’t plead working as a field archaeologist to excuse these shortcomings just at the moment.
My husband’s voice was a torment; familiar and comforting, but 3,000 miles away. “Emma, I checked the machine; there was nothing there. Did you try calling Jane?”
“Yeah, a dozen times. No one’s answering. I tried the university but they couldn’t help me. Brian, they were supposed to be here almost two hours ago!” I wrapped the phone cable around my hand, worried and fresh out of ideas.
“Are you going to be okay? I can’t think of what else to do and I’m already late—”
“No, it’s fine, you get to your meeting. Thanks for checking, Brian.”
“You call me when you get settled. I don’t care what time it is.”
And even though there was nothing else that he could do, Brian still tried to reassure me. “Look, when I met Jane at the conference last year, she reminded me of you, okay? So I get the impression if she’s not on time, there’s a good reason for it. She didn’t forget you, it’s just traffic or the car or something unavoidable.”
“I know, I’ll sort something out. I just hate it when things don’t go properly—”
“I know you do. I love you, Em.”
“I love you, Brian. Take care, bye.”
“Bye. Call me.”
“I will; get to your meeting.”
“Okay, I love you, bye.”
I hung up reluctantly and was forced to come back to the grimy reality of London’s Heathrow Airport. The place radiated unhygienic overuse—every surface was covered in fingerprints and smears, and the tang of disinfectant lingered impotently under the smells of the foodcourt and the persistent crush of human bodies—but I couldn’t tell whether my own state of transatlantic grittiness and sleep deprivation was making the impression worse. People of every nation and color crowded past me at the exit gate for international flights. All of them seemed to be finding their rides, I thought resentfully. The noise of the airport was jarring: Announcements in several languages, including ubiquitous BBC-trained recordings in English, boomed over the loudspeaker, vying with the crowds of people who were greeting, kissing, arguing, crying, and parting. Weaving through the mass of humanity, battery-powered carts hauling luggage and more fragile passengers cruised by me, beeping insistently. Even the little squeaks of herds of identically wheeled black suitcases amplified my steadily growing despair.
I stood irresolutely, wondering what the hell to do next,
for no matter what Brian promised, I knew that Jane and Greg weren’t going to show. I had to find my own way to the site.
I picked up my bag, thanking heaven that I’m as macha as I am about traveling with only one suitcase, a carryon backpack, and my purse, and wondered for the umpteenth time where the deuce my erstwhile friends Jane and Greg were. I walked toward the customer service desk again, trying to imagine that there’d be a message there for me
, but I was halted in my tracks by a familiar voice calling me.
I was thoroughly confused: it wasn’t Jane’s and it was American, although noticeably deep, precise, and cultured. I noticed a look of intense relief spread across the face of the woman behind the customer service desk as I turned away from her.
“Emma! I’m over here!”
My jaw dropped when I realized who the booming voice belonged to. Professor Dora Sarkes-Robinson is a colleague of mine from Caldwell College; she was in the Art History Department, just a few buildings over from my office in the Anthropology Department.
“Dora? What are you doing here? I thought you said you wouldn’t be in England until—”
“I wasn’t supposed to be here until August, but Addingham called and
me to come and save them, and then in practically the same instant, Pooter called—”
I vaguely knew that Addingham was a prestigious study tour for students of the fine arts and material culture, but I hadn’t a clue about who—or what—Pooter might be.
“—And said to stop by and look at his pictures and so things just simply
together at the last minute and here I am. You’re looking disreputable, Emma—”
I tuned out a moment, as used to Dora interrupting me as I was used to her blunt criticism. Neither meant a thing for long because Dora inevitably had more important things to think about. She and I shared a passion for our respective work, but there any similarity ended. Dora’s built along gen
erous lines that would make Caravaggio drool, while I flog myself mentally if I don’t run five miles three times a week. She moves through social situations like a triumphant queen, but outside of academic circles, I always feel more like an observer than a participant. Dora’s broad face is as dark as the skin of a hazelnut and her hair was woven into a thousand fine braids that formed a veritable crown, while my own auburn hair and pale skin immediately reveal that my heritage is sunk in the damp, cold peat of northern Europe. Dora, it was clear, had not traveled to London in the veal pens of coach class, and her stunning wine-colored Italian dress—I knew it was Italian only because everything she wore was Italian—looked as fresh as it had been the day the couturier had bestowed it upon her. My twin set and black jeans, which had looked so tidy and practical when I’d left Massachusetts, now looked, well, disreputable.
“—And so, no one’s ever
convinced by the so-called slacker chic,” Dora finished, all out of breath. “Where are you headed?”
I was tired enough to be annoyed. She and I had compared our summer schedules only a couple of weeks ago and Dora never forgot anything. “I’m supposed to be heading for Marchester, but I haven’t got a clue how to get there. My ride is about two hours late—”
“It’s not coming then,” Dora concluded. She seized the handle of her wheeled tan patterned suitcase, one that even I could identify as expensive, and began to walk toward the exit. “I’ve a car; come with me.”
“As if that settles it,” I muttered under my breath, but I guess it really did settle it; I didn’t have any other choice. I hurried after Dora. “Don’t we need to pick up your luggage?”
She didn’t bother to look back. “Don’t be foolish, Emma.”
I was impressed that Dora could fit everything she’d need into that one large case: I wouldn’t have thought her capable of traveling light, not with her wardrobe. I struggled to get
the strap of my suitcase, weighted down with lots of books, over my shoulder and caught up with Dora at the door that led to the outside. “The rental places are over that way,” I said with a nod of my head.
Dora favored me with a raised, finely shaped eyebrow that echoed the sentiment of her last words and proceeded out the door.
I had just enough time to register the smells of diesel fuel and wet pavement outside—it had started to rain—and the rush of red double-decker buses and tiny cars whizzing past me in the wrong direction, when we heard a gruff voice call out.
“Professor! Over ’ere!”
I turned out of habit—nearly everyone I know, me included, has the first name “Professor”—but the call was, of course, for Dora. A tall, powerfully built man in a plain white shirt and black trousers raised an enormous hairy hand. His other hand was in his pocket jingling loose change—even that clanked in unfamiliar notes, I thought ruefully: I really was far from home. The hair on his head was brown, thinning, and unkempt, brushed toward his brow. His head was almost oblong, with a large mashed nose that didn’t quite seem to sit square in the center of his ruddy face and dark eyes that were set back a bit under his brow, almost as if they were leery of revealing too much.
I’d hate to see the other guy, I thought when I realized his nose had been broken several times, and then followed Dora over to the man, who stood next to a sleek dark blue car.
“Ah, Palmer, excellent,” she said, handing him her suitcase. “No problems, I trust?”
“Not in the least,” Palmer responded. He effortlessly swung the heavy bag into the trunk of the car, which was almost filled to bursting with suitcases that matched the one Dora handed him.
Aha. This explained much: There was enough luggage to move an army; it should be just enough to get Dora through a month or so.
“Palmer, this is Dr. Emma Fielding, a dear friend of mine, who’ll be joining us.”
“Very good, Professor.” Palmer extended a hand and I almost shook it before I realized that he was reaching for my suitcase.
“Oh, I’ve got it, thanks,” I said, and wrestled my bag off my shoulder.
“Thank you, ma’am. It’s not necessary.” With that, Palmer took the bag away quite firmly, and as if it weighed no more than an empty pillowcase, placed it into the trunk with as much care as if he was arranging a shawl around the knees of his elderly mother. My black rip-stop nylon suitcase, with its many pockets and straps and technical design, of which I was so proud, looked ratty and juvenile compared to the orthogonal order of Dora’s designer luggage. He slammed the trunk, and it was then that I recognized that I would be riding in a Bentley.
Holy snappers, I thought, as Palmer got the door for me. Dora slid in after me, and arranged herself comfortably. Palmer settled into the driver’s seat on the right hand side of the car and soon we pulled away from the curb and began to navigate the gray maze of roads that led away from the airport.
“And how is Pooter? In the pink, I hope,” Dora inquired of Palmer.
“His lordship is quite well, thank you, and looking forward to your visit.”
Lord Pooter? I frowned; it simply wasn’t possible. I ran my hand along the sleek leather of the seat; it was shockingly soft to the touch. The car moved silently and smoothly through traffic, and it wasn’t until I noticed the speedometer showed around 120 kph that I realized how fast we were going. Nearly 70 miles an hour and nary a creak. I thought about my aging Honda Civic and Brian’s pickup truck and decided that any comparisons were meaningless.
“And the dogs?”
“Quite well, thank you. Roxy had her pups last week. All five of the little hounds lived.”
“Lovely. Things in town?”
“Much the same as usual. Although his lordship’s been quite interested to observe the ongoing battle between some of the townsfolk and a developer who’s eager to build a new supermarket on the banks—”
It was then that I began to doze. I couldn’t help it, I was worn out with travel and worry about having been abandoned by Jane, and the interior of the car blocked out every sound save for Dora’s conversation with the chauffeur. Occasionally, I rose near enough to the surface of wakefulness to catch snatches of Palmer’s gossip.
“—Been gone missing for almost a week now—”
“—Complicated by the ever-so-uneasy relations between her and the, whatdoyoucallit, New Agers—”
I jerked fully awake, I couldn’t say how much later, to the smell of smoke and a persistent crackling. Whipping my head back and forth in an effort to identify the source of the smoke, it took me a few seconds to remember where I was and what was happening. Palmer was smoking a cigar and Dora was just beginning to prepare her own.
“Welcome back, Emma. Everything catching all right up there, Palmer?”
“Yes, Professor, and I’m much obliged to you for the treat.”
Dora sighed, leaned back, and pulled another cigar from her purse humidor. I barely suppressed an onrush of panic. She wasn’t going to fill the back of this car, this masterpiece, with her foul cigar smoke?
Of course she was; she’d already bought Palmer’s complicity in the matter. Rather than ask me if I minded, Dora offered me one of the enormous cigars. I shook my head and resigned myself to the fact that she was in charge now.
Her ritual had a hypnotic effect on me, who had always been an observer rather than a participant of this…well,
there was no other word for it than
. The removal of the crinkly plastic, the examination and casual discard of the band. Dora dragged the
Romeo y Julieta
beneath her nose, sniffing carefully. Then after rolling it between her fingers, listening attentively for the sound of overdried leaves and hearing none, there was a flash of gold as she cut into the rounded business end with a wicked looking utensil made for the purpose. Quickly drawing each end into her mouth, slightly dampening the wrapper, she finally lit up. The first inhale was a prayer, she closed her eyes; the exhale was the answer.
Grazie a Dio!
That’s better.” She took another long drag and sighed with contentment. “The first step in overcoming the rigors of travel, Emma, is reclaiming the simple pleasures of one’s everyday life. Are you sure you won’t join me?”
“No thanks.” Among other things, the simple pleasures of my day didn’t include commandeering someone else’s chauffeured Bentley. I looked around the car pointedly and frowned at her.
Dora sighed, this time as if in pain for me. “It is the little things, Emma, that make a life. Take Pooter, for instance. He’s going to be delighted to meet you. When he finds out what your name is, he’s going to simply squeal with glee, I assure you.”
“I’m sure he won’t be so rude,” I said dryly. My name has been a sore spot between me and Dora since the first time we met.
“An archaeologist named Emma Fielding? I tell you, I don’t know what your parents were thinking! It’s too wonderful. One naturally is led to assume that you have an artist sister named Vita Brevis and a sociological cousin named Norma Loquendi.”
“I do puns; it’s not
good.” But always on the lookout to connect the local money with the local scholars, I offered, “You should bring Poo—” I simply couldn’t bring myself to say it—“er, his lordship to the site sometime, Dora. I’d be
happy to show you both around. The dig at the abbey is going to be really interesting this year, from what I hear.”