Read The Mask of Atreus Online

Authors: A. J. Hartley

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #Thrillers, #Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, #Antiquities, #Theft from museums, #Greece, #Museum curators

The Mask of Atreus (10 page)

Which took her back to Schliemann.

"Schliemann?" said Calvin. He had been listening intently, leaning forward, and this was the first thing he had said since she had started. She liked talking about this stuff, and she liked him listening.

"I need to do some reading before I can tell you about him," she said honestly. "Richard was the expert, but he didn't like what I said about him, so he tried not to discuss him much in front of me."

She smiled ruefully.

"Why didn't you like him?" said Calvin. "Did you know him personally?"

Deborah laughed.

"Heinrich Schliemann died long before I was born," she said. "He made some amazing finds, but his methods were pretty shady sometimes. And if I remember rightly, things went missing."

"Artifacts?"

"Artifacts."

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"Listen," said Calvin after a thoughtful pause. "I have to sort through some correspondence upstairs, but maybe we can talk some more tomorrow? Over lunch, perhaps?"

It was a cautious question. He didn't want it to sound overly interested--not in her, at least--or frivolous. Why had he even asked it? To give her someone to talk to, help her take her mind off Richard's death? Probably. It was kindness, she supposed, though she would have preferred that he just wanted to talk about archaeology. Richard would have liked nothing better.

"Sure," she said, managing a smile, but barely aware of him. Her mind was already focused on the books upstairs and what she might learn from them about Heinrich Schliemann. CHAPTER 16

Deborah checked into the Holiday Inn round the corner. By the time she was settled in and had ordered a burger through room service, the stack of books she had borrowed from Richard's study (with Cerniga's permission) had begun to look like a wall. She watched television, shuttling from one show to the next, until her tiredness seemed to have seeped into the very marrow of her bones. She shut it off, lay down, and fell asleep in her clothes.

She spent the following morning going through the books, speed-reading, checking references and, from time to time, reading long sections hungrily. When she finished it was lunchtime, but she had no appetite. She had breakfasted on coffee, and the caffeine was still singing in her veins, telling her she didn't need to eat. Or maybe it wasn't the caffeine so much as her reading that left her so pulsing with energy. At first, the archaeological world had derided Schliemann and his conviction that the Trojan War had really happened, but then he went and discovered Troy in northern Turkey, and suddenly he had everyone's attention. Many were still wary, however, and even his disciples were alarmed by his methods. He was accused of "salting" his finds, of misrepresenting where he had found things, and of collecting them into hoards to prove the ancient poets right and to enlarge his own glory. And then there was the Priam's Treasure episode. Priam, according to Homer, was the king of Troy during the siege by the Greeks. He was the father of Hector, Troilus, and Paris, who had set the whole war in motion by stealing 76

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Helen from Agamemnon's brother, Menelaus. Homer said that Priam's city was rich in gold, but by the end of his excavation, Schliemann hadn't found it. But then, just as digging was being closed down, he stumbled on it personally, parts of it not completely covered by the earth. Among the hoard was an extraordinary collection of jewelry. This remarkable--and to many, dubious--story grew steadily stranger when, after being photographed (with Schliemann's wife, Sophia, wearing the jewelry) the whole find vanished. The Turkish government was furious, convinced that the archaeologist had sneaked the entire cache of treasure out of the country, out of their reach . . .

If one set of artifacts could go missing, why not another?

After his work in Turkey, Schliemann had begun his Mycenaean excavations with a specific goal in mind. According to legend, when Agamemnon, king of the victorious Greeks, returned to Mycenae, he was lured into a bath by his unfaithful wife, Clytemnestra, where, with the assistance of her lover, she killed him. He was buried with great ceremony; Schliemann believed the grave was there for the finding. The Greek government, like everyone else, was skeptical, but they eventually granted him permission to dig. Schliemann, who was convinced that the royal grave was within the uppermost walls of the fortress, dug a shaft just inside the main entrance, convinced he was going not through naturally compacted earth but filler. But after digging down over ten feet, he had found nothing, and it was raining heavily. He started another shaft, then another, then three more, and things started getting interesting.

He found a series of graves containing the fragmented remains of multiple bodies. They wore gold diadems piped with copper wire, and with them lay silver vases and obsidian knives. In the fourth shaft grave he found the remains of five bodies all covered with jewels. With them was an astonishing silver bull's head with golden horns, along with bronze swords and golden cups. Most remarkably, three of the bodies wore magnificent golden death masks. 77

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But it wasn't till he returned to the first shaft and took it deeper still that the archaeological world finally ground to a complete halt and all eyes turned in wonder to that ancient Greek hill fortress. In this last grave he made the richest of all his finds: three more bodies, two of them wearing gold masks, and then a third death mask unlike any of the others, larger, more distinctive, more regal.

In a telegram later dismissed as apocryphal, Schliemann reportedly wired an Athenian newspaper and announced with customary hubris that he had "gazed upon the face of Agamemnon."

He hadn't. In fact, the bodies and their accompanying grave goods were three centuries
older
than Agamemnon, if such a person had ever existed. More to the point, some scholars were wary of the spectacular "Agamemnon" mask. It was the wrong shape, they said. The style of the nose didn't match the other pieces. The mustache looked positively nineteenth-century . . . Could Schliemann have graduated from theft and manipulation of the truth to outright forgery?

But as Deborah sat back in her chair, taking it all in, a new possibility was growing in her head. Was it possible that more had been found in the Mycenaean digs than Schliemann had admitted? Was there even a chance that the somewhat unconventional death mask associated (albeit inaccurately) with Agamemnon, which now had pride of place in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, was a fake, and if so, had there been a real one which Schliemann had replaced? Had the real mask been made to "disappear" as Priam's Treasure had disappeared from Troy? Had that mask been in Richard's bedroom only hours before, and if so, how on earth had it gotten there?

Richard could be a little blinded by his boyish hopes, but he was no fool. If he had believed that the room behind the bookcase contained the greatest single collection of Mycenaean artifacts outside Greece, then he must have had evidence to point to its authenticity. Almost certainly that evidence had to do with provenance: where and when the 78

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mask had been found. In archaeological circles, provenance was all. Had Richard been able to trace the piece back to the moment it had first been unearthed? If he did, who else knew?

His killers? Whoever he had been calling in Greece? Was it a coincidence that an elderly Russian who had appeared only days before should die on the same night and less than two blocks away? Could he have known something about these ancient artifacts?

She took the phone book out of the nightstand and placed a call, pen in hand.

"Dekalb County police station," said a female voice.

"Yes," said Deborah, "I'm calling with regard to a Russian who was killed close to the Druid Hills Museum two nights ago."

"And you are?"

"Deborah Miller," she said, suddenly sure they would tell her nothing. "I work at the museum. And," she added on impulse, "I helped identify the body."

It was true. To a point.

"That's Detective Robbins's case, but he's out. Can I take a message?"

"I don't think so," she said. "I was just checking in to see what the status of the case is."

"It's pretty much closed," said the woman on the other end.

"Already? They have a suspect?"

"No," said the policewoman, "and unlikely to get one in the circumstances. I wouldn't expect many leads to develop unless we can match the bullet to a known weapon."

"In the circumstances," Deborah repeated. "What does that mean?"

The woman sighed conspicuously, and Deborah thought she heard the shuffling of papers. When she spoke, she sounded like she was reading.

"Mr. Sergei Voloshinov was not a U.S. citizen. He was a foreign national who had overstayed his visa and was, so far as we can tell, mentally unstable. He was wandering the 79

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streets at night and probably bumped into the wrong people. Simple as that. I don't think there is much for us to do."

"Voloshinov," said Deborah, scribbling on a hotel pad.

"How did you find out his name?"

"He was carrying a stamped envelope. Been living rough for at least a couple of weeks. Russian authorities and next of kin have been contacted, but he'll probably be buried here."

"Next of kin?"

"A daughter in Moscow. Alexandra."

"What about the letter? Was the translator able to get anything from that?"

"Wait," she said, searching. "Translator . . . translator. OK." She began to read directly from the file she was apparently consulting, her voice automatic and a trifle bored.

"Translator David Barrons reported that the letter was badly damaged, with only a few words surviving definitively. Part of one sentence read, 'I am more sure than ever that the remains never reached Mary,' though that last word is hard to read and may be incomplete. The letter appears to be at least twenty years old."

She paused.

"That's the lot," she said. "You can call back, but Detective Robbins probably won't be able to tell you anything new. Now, if you don't mind . . ."

"I am more sure than ever that the remains never reached
Mary . . ."

Deborah found herself turning the phrase over in her mind. Could the
remains
be archaeological? Could they include a Mycenaean death mask? Could this enigmatic Russian have been pursuing them when he fell afoul of whoever took them from the secret room in Richard's bedroom?

CHAPTER 17

Deborah returned to the museum conscious that she still had nothing more than speculations, but they excited her, and she wanted to share them with Cerniga, with Calvin Bowers even, it didn't really matter who. A Mycenaean death mask unknown to the world, smuggled out of Greece by Schliemann a century ago and pursued by a lone Russian to Atlanta, Georgia! It was extraordinary. It was almost enough to keep her mind from Richard's death, and sharing her thoughts with the police would be her contribution: a way to pay homage to Richard and unravel his murder. Who knew, maybe the mask he had died for would be rediscovered. She could think of no more fitting monument to his memory.

But one thing had to be done first. She hadn't eaten all morning and was suddenly ravenous. Remembering that there was food left over from the party, she went downstairs to the kitchen at the back of the building. Tonya, mercifully, was nowhere to be seen.

She uncovered the trays in the fridge and picked over the food, sniffing cautiously. She tried the pate and found it as unappetizing as she had two nights before. That reminded her. She unhooked the phone from the far wall and dialed the caterers. Rambling her half thoughts to Cerniga (with Keene smirking darkly in the background) would have to wait a moment.

"Taste of Elegance," said a voice, "Can I help you?"

"This is Deborah Miller from the Druid Hills Museum,"

she said. "Can I speak to Elaine, please?"

There was a pause by way of answer, a crackle as the phone was handed off, and a new voice, slick and prim, came on the line.

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"This is Elaine Shotridge."

Deborah began listing her grievances. She had dealt with Shotridge before and knew that polite delicacy would get her nowhere. For a moment it was like nothing had happened. This was just another business call. Richard would be working in his office upstairs, waiting gleefully to hear about Deborah's run-in with Elaine Shotridge, the tyrant queen of Atlanta catering.

"In our defense," said Shotridge, "the fridge space was not what we had expected."

"Fridge space does not account for why your people didn't clean up after themselves or why we ran out of red wine."

"We'll be glad to make a deduction from the bill that takes those things into account," said Shotridge. "Say, ten percent?"

"Let's say fifteen," said Deborah. "I wasn't blown away by the canape selection."

"Miss Miller," said Shotridge, cooling rapidly, "I have no objection to factoring actual errors into the invoice, but mere matters of taste don't justify an attempt at price gouging. I resent the implication that our canapes are anything but the finest, handmade . . ."

This was the point that she should tell the woman that Richard was dead and that haggling over a few plates of blue cheese tartlets did not rank very highly on her priority list, but she just couldn't. She was functioning adequately for the moment, something she wouldn't be able to do if she started talking about Richard's death. She fell back on the sarcasm she had tried to avoid.

"I resent paying thirty bucks a plate for ham-wrapped melon balls that taste like sheep's eyes in shoe leather," she said, "so let's leave the claims to haute cuisine out of this, shall we?"

"Mr. Dixon's Greek friends praised me personally for the cheese in my feta and spinach pastries," Shotridge huffed.

"Wait a minute," said Deborah, refocusing. "Mr. Dixon's Greek friends? What Greek friends?"

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