"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying."
-- Woody Allen

 

The Man on the Istanbul Train

 

Chapter One

Stretched out flat on his stomach at the edge of a newly excavated trench, sweat dripping off the end of his nose, Paul Hannah wondered why, of the three worst things on an archaeological dig, he was cursed with two of them. According to an old college professor, the three worst things were a soldier of fortune on an ego trip, a man with an old map he bought in a bazaar, and a backer. Bob Mueller, the dig’s senior director, was the soldier of fortune hot on the trail (Bob thought) of King Croesus’s treasure. Max Sebring was the backer, the money man, but for the first time ever he was actually here and nosing into everything. Surrounded as he was by the rugged hills of southern Turkey, Paul heard a shout from the distance but didn’t look up. He feared it might be a man with a map.

His trowel flicked a pottery sherd out of the virgin soil and it fell to the bottom of the trench. Paul rose to his hands and knees, crouched, and jumped into the hole after it. The triangular sherd, about two centimeters on each side, was Neolithic, he could tell from the heft and the feel of it, but a crimson streak ran across the middle. What the hell? It wasn’t red ochre because he’d found enough of that common iron ore to recognize it in all its many brown, yellow, and red hues. With the hand lens he wore on a string around his neck, he looked more closely. At one of the points, a distinct green, not much larger than a pin head but definitely embedded in the clay itself, gleamed up as if it were laughing at him. Daring him to figure this one out. Verdigris? No way. Has this been buried next to some copper, turning green as it oxidized? If so, where’s the copper? Once again he realized he needed to call Lacy Glass.

Lacy— lovely, willowy, accident-prone, Lacy—was an expert on pigments and how they were used in ancient times. She and Paul had worked together on a tomb in Egypt a couple of years ago. Having started her career as a plant physiologist, she now specialized in both plant and mineral pigments and in their historical use as dyes and paints. He couldn’t ask Max to foot the bill for her to fly here from her college in Virginia, but someone had told him she was working in Istanbul this summer. He could call a mutual friend and get her phone number. It was worth a try.

“Need some help?”

Shit. It was Max. One of the wealthiest men in America, Max’s foundation bankrolled a number of projects like this one, always handing over the required finds to the host country and keeping the rest for the Sebring Museum. This was the first time Max himself had ever been known to muddy his shoes and actually work on a dig. His tent sat unpretentiously among those of the other workers and he showered behind a flimsy curtain with water heated by the sun, just like everyone else. He was a damned nuisance.

Max lowered himself into the trench beside Paul and took the sherd from him. Paul cautioned him not scratch off that little bit of green on the corner. “Interesting. Very interesting. Neolithic?”

They both heard a shout, a female voice. “Phone call for you, Max. From home.”

“From my office?”

“From your house. Woman says she’s your wife’s nurse. She called Bob’s phone because she couldn’t get an answer on yours. She says it’s urgent.”

“Tell Henry to call them back.”

Henry was Max’s secretary/man Friday. He kept up with all the details of his boss’s life from paying his bills to keeping his social calendar. If Max decided to fly to Bangkok in the middle of the night, Henry bought two tickets, packed two bags, and went with him. Paul had watched the pair for the past two weeks and decided that Henry couldn’t possibly have a life of his own.

Paul spotted a golden glint on the packed soil near his right foot and his heart flipped over. Placing his boot lightly over the glow, he called to the girl who had delivered the message to Max and who was now peering into the trench, preparing to jump. “Sierra, take Max to my tent and show him the sherds I showed you last night.” He lifted the sherd from his benefactor’s hand and nudged him away with firm pressure applied to his shoulder.

Sierra gave Paul one of her sexy looks, and he was afraid she was about to make a suggestive but inappropriate comment about what “I showed you last night,” but she didn’t, and obediently led Max away toward Paul’s tent.

Paul shifted his boot, dropped to his knees, and examined the shiny yellow metal. A gold earring. Pure gold from the look of it. The style told him it wasn’t Neolithic and not Hittite, either. This site was Hittite, from about 1500 B.C., but Bob Mueller, a specialist in the Hittite period, had called Paul out to join him after finding Neolithic artifacts underneath the Hittite. This earring was ancient, it was gold, it was finely worked by a skilled artisan, and it most certainly didn’t belong here.

Looking around warily, Paul slipped it into his pocket.


Chapter Two

Lacy Glass’s left arm was stuck in the window of her hotel room. The type of window that tilts inward at the top but no more than twenty degrees, thus insuring guests will neither jump nor accidently fall out, it had allowed her arm to slip through and place her wet samples of newly-dyed silk on the narrow Juliette balcony to dry but not to slip back in. The bulb of her elbow was stuck on the other side and pulling didn’t help. If she pulled any harder she’d break her arm. She couldn’t call for help because she couldn’t reach her cell phone or the hotel phone, and because her attire at the moment consisted of only a pink bra, blue panties and a black comb, dangling like a plastic monkey from her dripping wet hair.

Her cell phone chattered, vibrating against the TV atop the dresser, but Lacy couldn’t reach it. The day’s fourth Muslim call to prayer blasted through the traffic noises below her window. Lacy loved this time of day when she allowed herself to quit work and enjoy the sunset. Nothing quite matched the colors of the dying sun when it bounced off the domes and minarets of old Istanbul. Normally at the fourth call she would leave her microscope and throw the curtains open wide, but under her current circumstances she longed to close them. The plastic wands that guided the curtains on their tracks hung inches out of her reach on both sides, and her body stood in full view of four lanes of traffic, one tram line, and two busy sidewalks down below.

The cell phone tried again. Lacy took a deep breath and considered her options. The cord to her bedside lamp was plugged into an outlet she could just about reach with her toes. She could pull the lamp off the nightstand and use its metal base to break the window glass. But the window’s frame, not the glass, was the real problem. She could use the broken glass to saw off her own arm. She rejected that option as too drastic. A minute later, her room phone rang.

She examined the window frame and found a do-hicky that restricted the angle of tilt but she’d have needed a screwdriver to loosen it. If she could step up higher, she could raise her arm to a wider part of the opening, but she had nothing to step on. Her arm from the elbow down was turning dark. Her suitcase, lying open on the floor, would serve the purpose if she could pull it closer and close its lid with her foot, but stretching as far as her trapped arm would allow left her right foot still a good six inches shy of it.

 

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