Chapter 2

 Michael Crichton

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Kramer, on the other hand, had always enjoyed a special relationship with Doniger. She had begun as an attorney in an outside law firm, doing work for the company. Doniger thought she was smart and classy, so he hired her. She was his girlfriend for the next year, and even though that was long over, he still listened to her. She'd been able to head off several potential disasters over the years.
"For ten years," Gordon said, "we've kept this technology quiet. When you think about it, it's a miracle. Traub was the first incident to get away from us. Fortunately, it ended up in the hands of some doofus cop, and it won't go any further. But if Doniger starts pushing in France, people might start to put things together. We've already got that reporter in Paris chasing us. Bob could blow this wide open."
"I know he's considered all that. That's the second big problem."
"Going public?"
"Yes. Having it all come out."
"He's not worried?"
"Yes, he's worried. But he seems to have a plan to deal with it."
"I hope so," Gordon said. "Because we can't always count on having a doofus cop sifting through our dirty laundry."
Officer James Wauneka came into McKinley Hospital the next morning, looking for Beverly Tsosie. He thought he would check the autopsy results on the old guy who had died. But they told him that Beverly had gone up to the third-floor Imaging Unit. So he went up there.
He found her in a small beige room adjacent to the white scanner. She was talking to Calvin Chee, the MRI technician. He was sitting at the computer console, flicking black-and-white images up, one after another. The images showed five round circles in a row. As Chee ran through the images, the circles got smaller and smaller.
"Calvin," she was saying. "It's impossible. It has to be an artifact."
"You ask me to review the data," he said, "and then you don't believe me? I'm telling you, Bev, it's not an artifact. It's real. Here, look at the other hand."
Chee tapped the keyboard, and now a horizontal oval appeared on the screen, with five pale circles inside it. "Okay? This is the palm of the left hand, seen in a midsection cut." He turned to Wauneka. "Pretty much what you'd see if you put your hand on a butcher block and chopped straight down through it."
"Very nice, Calvin."
"Well, I want everybody to be clear."
He turned back to the screen. "Okay, landmarks. Five round circles are the five palmar bones. These things here are tendons going to the fingers. Remember, the muscles that work the hand are mostly in the forearm. Okay. That little circle is the radial artery, which brings blood to the hand through the wrist. Okay. Now, we move outward from the wrist, in cut sections." The images changed. The oval grew narrower, and one by one, the bones pulled apart, like an amoeba dividing. Now there were four circles. "Okay. Now we're out past the palm, and we see only the fingers. Small arteries within each finger, dividing as we go out, getting smaller, but you can still see them. See, here and here? Okay. Now moving out toward the fingertips, the bones get larger, that's the proximal digit, the knuckle . . . and now . . . watch the arteries, see how they go . . . section by section . . . and now."
Wauneka frowned. "It looks like a glitch. Like something jumped."
"Something did jump," Chee said. "The arterioles are offset. They don't line up. I'll show you again." He went to the previous section, then the next. It was clear  -  the circles of the tiny arteries seemed to hop sideways. "That's why the guy had gangrene in his fingers. He had no circulation because his arterioles didn't line up. It's like a mismatch or something."
Beverly shook her head. "Calvin."
"I'm telling you. And not only that, it's other places in his body, too. Like in the heart. Guy died of massive coronary? No surprise, because the ventricular walls don't line up, either."
"From old scar tissue," she said, shaking her head. "Calvin, come on. He was seventy-one years old. Whatever was wrong with his heart, it worked for more than seventy years. Same with his hands. If this arteriole offset was actually present, his fingers would have dropped off years ago. But they didn't. Anyway, this was a new injury; it got worse while he was in the hospital."
"So what are you going to tell me, the machine is wrong?"
"It has to be. Isn't it true that you can get registration errors from hardware? And there are sometimes bugs in scaling software?"
"I checked the machine, Bev. It's fine."
She shrugged. "Sorry, I'm not buying it. You've got a problem somewhere. Look, if you're so sure you're right, go down to pathology and check the guy out in person."
"I tried," Chee said. "The body was already picked up."
"It was?" Wauneka said. "When?"
"Five o'clock this morning. Somebody from his company."
"Well, that company's way over by Sandia," Wauneka said. "Maybe they're still driving the body - "
"No." Chee shook his head. "Cremated this morning."
"Really? Where?"
"Gallup Mortuary."
"They cremated him here?" Wauneka said.
"I'm telling you," Chee said, "there's definitely something weird about this guy."
Beverly Tsosie crossed her arms over her chest. She looked at the two men. "There's nothing weird," she said. "His company did it that way because they could arrange it all by phone, long-distance. Call the mortuary, they come over and cremate him. Happens all the time, especially when there's no family. Now cut the crap," she said, "and call the repair techs to fix the machine. You have a problem with your MRI  -  and that's all you have."
Jimmy Wauneka wanted to be finished with the Traub case as soon as possible. But back in the ER, he saw a plastic bag filled with the old guy's clothes and personal belongings. There was nothing to do but call ITC again. This time he spoke to another vice president, a Ms. Kramer. Dr. Gordon was in meetings and was unavailable.
"It's about Dr. Traub," he said.
"Oh yes." A sad sigh. "Poor Dr. Traub. Such a nice man."
"His body was cremated today, but we still have some of his personal effects. I don't know what you want us to do with them."
"Dr. Traub doesn't have any living relatives," Ms. Kramer said. "I doubt anybody here would want his clothes, or anything. What effects were you speaking of?"
"Well, there was a diagram in his pocket. It looks like a church, or maybe a monastery."
"Do you know why he would have a diagram of a monastery?"
"No, I really couldn't say. To tell the truth, Dr. Traub got a little strange, the last few weeks. He was quite depressed, ever since his wife died. Are you sure it's a monastery?"
"No, I'm not. I don't know what it is. Do you want this diagram back?"
"If you wouldn't mind sending it along."
"And what about this ceramic thing?"
"Ceramic thing?"
"He had a piece of ceramic. It's about an inch square, and it's stamped 'ITC.' "
"Oh. Okay. That's no problem."
"I was wondering what that might be."
"What that might be? It's an ID tag."
"It doesn't look like any ID tag I ever saw."
"It's a new kind. We use them here to get through security doors, and so on."
"You want that back, too?"
"If it's not too much trouble. Tell you what, I'll give you our FedEx number, and you can just stick it in an envelope and drop it off."
Jimmy Wauneka hung up the phone and he thought, Bullshit.
He called Father Grogan, the priest at his local Catholic parish, and told him about the diagram, and the abbreviation at the bottom: mon.ste.mere.
"That would be the Monastery of Sainte-Mre," he said promptly.
"So it is a monastery?"
"Oh absolutely."
"I have no idea. It's not a Spanish name. 'Mre' is French for 'Mother.' Saint Mother means the Virgin Mary. Perhaps it's in Louisiana."
"How would I locate it?" Wauneka said.
"I have a listing of monasteries here someplace. Give me an hour or two to dig it up."
"I'm sorry, Jimmy. I don't see any mystery here."
Carlos Chavez was the assistant chief of police in Gallup, about to retire from the force, and he had been Jimmy Wauneka's adviser from the start. Now he was sitting back with his boots up on his desk, listening to Wauneka with a very skeptical look.
"Well, here's the thing," Wauneka said. "They pick up this guy out by Corazn Canyon, demented and raving, but there's no sunburn, no dehydration, no exposure."
"So he was dumped. His family pushed him out of the car."
"No. No living family."
"Okay, then he drove himself out there."
"Nobody saw a car."
"Who's nobody?"
"The people who picked him up."
Chavez sighed. "Did you go out to Corazn Canyon yourself, and look for a car?"
Wauneka hesitated. "No."
"You took somebody's word for it."
"Yes. I guess I did."
"You guess? Meaning a car could still be out there."
"Maybe. Yeah."
"Okay. So what did you do next?"
"I called his company, ITC."
"And they told you what?"
"They said he was depressed, because his wife had died."
"I don't know," Wauneka said. "Because I called the apartment building where Traub lived. I talked to the building manager. The wife died a year ago."
"So this happened close to the anniversary of her death, right? That's when it usually happens, Jimmy."
"I think I ought to go over and talk to some folks at ITC Research."
"Why? They're two hundred and fifty miles from where this guy was found."
"I know, but - "
"But what? How many times we get some tourist stranded out in the reservations? Three, four times a year? And half the time they're dead, right? Or they die afterward, right?"
"Yes. . . ."
"And it's always one of two reasons. Either they're New Age flakes from Sedona who come to commune with the eagle god and got stuck, their car broke down. Or they're depressed. One or the other. And this guy was depressed."
"So they say. . . ."
"Because his wife died. Hey, I believe it." Carlos sighed. "Some guys are depressed, some guys are overjoyed."
"But there's unanswered questions," Wauneka said. "There's some kind of diagram, and a ceramic chip - "
"Jimmy. There's always unanswered questions." Chavez squinted at him. "What's going on? Are you trying to impress that cute little doctor?"
"What little doctor?"
"You know who I mean."
"Hell no. She thinks there's nothing to all this."
"She's right. Drop it."
"But - "
"Jimmy." Carlos Chavez shook his head. "Listen to me. Drop it."
"I'm serious."
"Okay," Wauneka said. "Okay, I'll drop it."
The next day, the police in Shiprock picked up a bunch of thirteen-year-old kids joyriding in a car with New Mexico plates. The registration in the glove compartment was in the name of Joseph Traub. The kids said they had found the car on the side of the road past Corazn Canyon, with the keys still in it. The kids had been drinking, and the inside of the car was a mess, sticky with spilled beer.
Wauneka didn't bother to drive over and see it.
A day after that, Father Grogan called him back. "I've been checking for you," he said, "and there is no Monastery of Sainte-Mre, anywhere in the world."
"Okay," Wauneka said. "Thanks." It was what he'd been expecting, anyway. Another dead end.
"At one time, there was a monastery of that name in France, but it was burned to the ground in the fourteenth century. It's just a ruin now. In fact, it's being excavated by archaeologists from Yale and the University of Toulouse. But I gather there's not much there."
"Uh-huh. . . ." But then he remembered some of the things the old guy had said, before he died. Some of the nonsense rhymes. "Yale in France, has no chance." Something like that.
"Where is it?" he said.
"Somewhere in southwest France, near the Dordogne River."
"Dordogne? How do you spell that?" Wauneka said.
"The glory of the past is an
So is the glory of the present."
The helicopter thumped through thick gray fog. In the rear seat, Diane Kramer shifted uneasily. Whenever the mist thinned, she saw the treetops of the forest very close beneath her. She said, "Do we have to be so low?"
Sitting in front alongside the pilot, Andre Marek laughed. "Don't worry, it's perfectly safe." But then, Marek didn't look like the sort of man to worry about anything. He was twenty-nine years old, tall, and very strong; muscles rippled beneath his T-shirt. Certainly, you would never think he was an assistant professor of history at Yale. Or second in command of the Dordogne project, which was where they were headed now.
"This mist will clear in a minute," Marek said, speaking with just a trace of his native Dutch accent. Kramer knew all about him: a graduate of Utrecht, Marek was one of the new breed of "experimental" historians, who set out to re-create parts of the past, to experience it firsthand and understand it better. Marek was a fanatic about it; he had learned medieval dress, language and customs in detail; supposedly, he even knew how to joust. Looking at him, she could believe it.
She said, "I'm surprised Professor Johnston didn't come with us." Kramer had really expected to deal with Johnston himself. She was, after all, a high-level executive from the company that funded their research. Protocol required that Johnston himself give the tour. And she had planned to start working on him in the helicopter.
"Unfortunately, Professor Johnston had a prior appointment."
"With Fran?ois Bellin, the minister of antiquities. He's coming down from Paris."
"I see." Kramer felt better. Obviously, Johnston must first deal with authorities. The Dordogne project was entirely dependent on good relations with the French government. She said, "Is there a problem?"
"I doubt it. They're old friends. Ah, here we go."
The helicopter burst through the fog into morning sunlight. The stone farmhouses cast long shadows.
As they passed over one farm, the geese in the barnyard flapped, and a woman in an apron shook her fist at them.
"She's not happy about us," Marek said, pointing with his massive muscular arm.
Sitting in the seat behind him, Kramer put on her sunglasses and said, "Well, it is six o'clock in the morning. Why did we go so early?"
"For the light," Marek said. "Early shadows reveal contours, crop marks, all that." He pointed down past his feet. Three heavy yellow housings were clamped to the front struts of the helicopter. "Right now we're carrying stereo terrain mappers, infrared, UV, and side-scan radar."
Kramer pointed out the rear window, toward a six-foot-long silver tube that dangled beneath the helicopter at the rear. "And what's that?"
"Proton magnetometer."
"Uh-huh. And it does what?"
"Looks for magnetic anomalies in the ground below us that could indicate buried walls, or ceramics, or metal."
"Any equipment you'd like that you don't have?"
Marek smiled. "No, Ms. Kramer. We've gotten everything we asked for, thank you."
The helicopter had been skimming over the rolling contours of dense forest. But now she saw outcrops of gray rock, cliff faces that cut across the landscape. Marek was giving what struck her as a practiced guided tour, talking almost continuously.
"Those limestone cliffs are the remains of an ancient beach," he said. "Millions of years ago, this part of France was covered by a sea. When the sea receded, it left behind a beach. Compressed over eons, the beach became limestone. It's very soft stone. The cliffs are honeycombed with caves."
Kramer could indeed see many caves, dark openings in the rock. "There're a lot of them," she said.
Marek nodded. "This part of southern France is one of the most continuously inhabited places on the planet. Human beings have lived here for at least four hundred thousand years. There is a continuous record from Neanderthal man right up to the present."
Kramer nodded impatiently. "And where is the project?" she said.
"Coming up."
The forest ended in scattered farms, open fields. Now they were heading toward a village atop a hill; she saw a cluster of stone houses, narrow roads, and the stone tower of a castle rising into the sky.
"That's Beynac," Marek said, his back to her. "And here comes our Doppler signal." Kramer heard electronic beeps in her headphones, coming faster and faster.
"Stand by," the pilot said.
Marek flicked on his equipment. A half dozen lights glowed green.
"Okay," the pilot said. "Starting first transect. Three . . . two . . . one."
The rolling forested hills fell away in a sheer cliff, and Diane Kramer saw the valley of the Dordogne spread out beneath them.
The Dordogne River twisted in loops like a brown snake in the valley it had cut hundreds of thousands of years before. Even at this early hour, there were kayakers paddling along it.
"In medieval times the Dordogne was the military frontier," Marek said. "This side of the river was French and the other side was English. Fighting went back and forth. Directly beneath us is Beynac, a French stronghold."
Kramer looked down on a picturesque tourist town with quaint stone buildings and dark stone roofs. The narrow, twisting streets were empty of tourists. The town of Beynac was built against the cliff face, rising from the river up to the walls of an old castle.
"And over there," Marek said, pointing across the river, "you see the opposing town of Castelnaud. An English stronghold."
High on a far hill, Kramer saw a second castle, this one built entirely of yellow stone. The castle was small but beautifully restored, its three circular towers rising gracefully into the air, connected by high walls. It, too, had a quaint tourist town built around its base.
She said, "But this isn't our project. . . ."
"No," Marek said. "I'm just showing you the general layout in this region. All along the Dordogne, you find these paired, opposing castles. Our project also involves a pair of opposing castles, but it's a few miles downstream from here. We'll go there now."
The helicopter banked, heading west over rolling hills. They left the tourist area behind; Kramer was pleased to see the land beneath her was mostly forest. They passed a small town called Envaux near the river, and then climbed up into the hills again. As they came over one rise, she suddenly saw an open expanse of cleared green field. In the center of the field were the remains of ruined stone houses, walls set at odd angles to one another. This had clearly once been a town, its houses located beneath the walls of a castle. But the walls were just a line of rubble, and nearly nothing of the castle remained; she saw only the bases of two round towers and bits of broken wall connecting them. Here and there, white tents had been pitched among the ruins. She saw several dozen people working there.
"All this was owned by a goat farmer, until three years ago," Marek said. "The French had mostly forgotten about these ruins, which were overgrown by forest. We've been clearing it away, and doing some rebuilding. What you see was once the famous English stronghold of Castelgard."
"This is Castelgard?" Kramer sighed. So little remained. A few standing walls to indicate the town. And of the castle itself, almost nothing.
"I thought there would be more," she said.
"Eventually, there will be. Castelgard was a large town in its day, with a very imposing castle," Marek said. "But it'll be several years before it's restored."
Kramer was wondering how she would explain this to Doniger. The Dordogne project was not as far advanced as Doniger had imagined it to be. It would be extremely difficult to begin major reconstruction while the site was still so fragmented. And she was certain Professor Johnston would resist any suggestion to begin.
Marek was saying, "We've set up our headquarters in that farm over there." He pointed to a farmhouse with several stone buildings, not far from the ruins. A green tent stood beside one building. "Want to circle Castelgard for another look?"
"No," Kramer said, trying to keep the disappointment out of her voice. "Let's move on."
"Okay, then, we'll go to the mill."
The helicopter turned, heading north toward the river. The land sloped downward, then flattened along the banks of the Dordogne. They crossed the river, broad and dark brown, and came to a heavily wooded island near the far shore. Between the island and the northern shore was a narrower, rushing stream perhaps fifteen feet wide. And here she saw ruins of another structure  -  so ruined, in fact, that it was hard to tell what it once had been. "And this?" she said, looking down. "What's this?"
"That's the water mill. There was once a bridge over the river, with water wheels beneath. They used water power to grind grain, and to pump big bellows for making steel."
"Nothing's been rebuilt here at all," Kramer said. She sighed.
"No," Marek said. "But we've been studying it. Chris Hughes, one of our graduate students, has investigated it quite extensively. That's Chris down there now, with the Professor."
Kramer saw a compact, dark-haired young man, standing beside the tall, imposing figure she recognized as Professor Johnston. Neither man looked up at the helicopter passing overhead; they were focused on their work.
Now the helicopter left the river behind, and moved on to the flat land to the east. They passed over a complex of low rectangular walls, visible as dark lines in the slanting morning light. Kramer guessed that the walls were no more than a few inches high. But it clearly outlined what looked like a small town.
"And this? Another town?"
"Just about. That's the Monastery of Sainte-Mre," Marek said. "One of the wealthiest and most powerful monasteries in France. It was burned to the ground in the fourteenth century."
"Lot of digging down there," Kramer said.
"Yes, it's our most important site."
As they flew by, she could see the big square pits they had dug down to the catacombs beneath the monastery. Kramer knew the team devoted a great deal of attention here because they hoped to find more buried caches of monastic documents; they had already discovered quite a few.
The helicopter swung away, and approached the limestone cliffs on the French side, and a small town. The helicopter rose up to the top of the cliffs.
"We come to the fourth and final site," Marek said. "The fortress above the town of Bezenac. In the Middle Ages it was called La Roque. Although it's on the French side of the river, it was actually built by the English, who were intent on maintaining a permanent foothold in French territory. As you see, it's quite extensive."
And it was: a huge military complex on top of the hill, with two sets of concentric walls, one inside the other, spread out over fifty acres. She gave a little sigh of relief. The fortress of La Roque was in better condition than the other sites of the project, and it had more standing walls. It was easier to see what it once had been.
But it was also crawling with tourists.
"You let the tourists in?" she asked in dismay.
"Not really our decision," Marek said. "As you know, this is a new site, and the French government wanted it opened to the public. But of course we'll close it again when we begin reconstruction."
"And when will that be?"
"Oh . . . between two and five years from now."
She said nothing. The helicopter circled and rose higher.
"So," Marek said, "we've come to the end. From up here you can see the entire project: the fortress of La Roque, the monastery in the flats, the mill, and across the river, the fortress of Castelgard. Want to see it again?"
"No," Diane Kramer said. "We can go back. I've seen enough."
Edward Johnston, Regius Professor of History at Yale, squinted as the helicopter thumped by overhead. It was heading south, toward Domme, where there was a landing field. Johnston glanced at his watch and said, "Let's continue, Chris."
"Okay," Chris Hughes said. He turned back to the computer mounted on the tripod in front of them, attached the GPS, and flicked the power button. "It'll take me a minute to set up."
Christopher Stewart Hughes was one of Johnston's graduate students. The Professor  -  he was invariably known by that name  -  had five graduate students working on the site, as well as two dozen undergraduates who had become enamored of him during his introductory Western Civilization class.
It was easy, Chris thought, to become enamored of Edward Johnston. Although well past sixty, Johnston was broad-shouldered and fit; he moved quickly, giving the impression of vigor and energy. Tanned, with dark eyes and sardonic manner, he often seemed more like Mephistopheles than a history professor.
Yet he dressed the part of a typical college professor: even here in the field, he wore a button-down shirt and tie every day. His only concession to field work were his jeans and hiking boots.
What made Johnston so beloved by his students was the way he involved himself in their lives: he fed them at his house once a week; he looked after them; if any of them had a problem with studies, or finances, or family back home, he was always ready to help solve the difficulty, without ever seeming to do anything at all.
Chris carefully unpacked the metal case at his feet, removing first a transparent liquid crystal screen, which he mounted vertically, fitting it into brackets above the computer. Then he restarted the computer, so that it would recognize the screen.
"It'll just be a few seconds now," he said. "The GPS is calibrating."
Johnston just nodded patiently, and smiled.
Chris was a graduate student in the history of science  -  a bitterly controversial field  -  but he neatly sidestepped the disputes by focusing not on modern science, but on medieval science and technology. Thus he was becoming expert in techniques of metallurgy, the manufacture of armor, three-field crop rotation, the chemistry of tanning, and a dozen other subjects from the period. He had decided to do his doctoral dissertation on the technology of medieval mills  -  a fascinating, much-neglected area.
And his particular interest was, of course, the mill of Sainte-Mre.
Johnston waited calmly.
Chris had been an undergraduate, in his junior year, when his parents were killed in an automobile accident. Chris, an only child, was devastated; he thought he would drop out of school. Johnston moved the young student into his house for three months, and served as a substitute father for many years afterward, advising him on everything from settling his parents' estate to problems with his girlfriends. And there had been a lot of problems with girlfriends.
In the aftermath of his parents' death, Chris had gotten involved with many women. The subsequent complexity of his life  -  dirty looks in a seminar from a jilted lover; frantic midnight calls to his room because of a missed period, while he was in bed with someone else; clandestine hotel-room meetings with an associate professor of philosophy who was in the midst of a nasty divorce  -  all this became a familiar texture to his life. Inevitably his grades suffered, and then Johnston took him aside, spending several evenings talking things through with him.
But Chris wasn't inclined to listen; soon after, he was named in the divorce. Only the Professor's personal intervention prevented him from being expelled from Yale. Chris's response to this sudden jeopardy was to bury himself in his studies; his grades swiftly improved; he eventually graduated fifth in his class. But in the process he became conservative. Now, at twenty-four, he tended toward fussiness, and stomach trouble. He was reckless only with women.
"Finally," Chris said. "It's coming up."
The liquid crystal display showed an outline in bright green. Through the transparent display, they could see the ruins of the mill, with the green outline superimposed. This was the latest method for modeling archaeological structures. Formerly, they had relied on ordinary architectural models, made of white foamcore, cut and assembled by hand. But the technique was slow, and modifications were difficult.
These days, all models were made in the computer. The models could be quickly assembled, and easily revised. In addition, they allowed this method for looking at models in the field. The computer was fed mapped coordinates from the ruin; using the GPS-fixed tripod position, the image that came up on the screen was in exact perspective.
They watched the green outline fill in, making solid forms. It showed a substantial covered bridge, built of stone, with three water wheels beneath it. "Chris," Johnston said, "you've made it fortified." He sounded pleased.
"I know it's a risk . . . ," he said.
"No, no," the Professor said, "I think it makes sense."
There were references in the literature to fortified mills, and certainly there were records of innumerable battles over mills and mill rights. But few fortified mills were actually known: one in Buerge and another recently discovered near Montauban, in the next valley. Most medieval historians believed such fortified mill buildings were rare.
"The column bases at the water's edge are very large," Chris said. "Like everything else around here, once the mill was abandoned, the local people used it as a quarry. They took away the stones to build their own houses. But the rocks in the column bases were left behind, because they were simply too large to move. To me, that implies a massive bridge. Probably fortified."
"You may be right," Johnston said. "And I think - "
The radio clipped to his waist crackled. "Chris? Is the Professor with you? The minister is on-site."
Johnston looked across the monastery excavation, toward the dirt road that ran along the edge of the river. A green Land Rover with white lettering on the side panels was racing toward them, raising a large plume of dust. "Yes indeed," he said. "That will be Fran?ois. Always in a rush."
"Edouard! Edouard!" Fran?ois Bellin grabbed the Professor by the shoulders, and kissed him on both cheeks. Bellin was a large, balding, exuberant man. He spoke rapid French. "My dear friend, it is always too long. You are well?"
"I am, Fran?ois," Johnston said, taking a step back from this effusiveness. Whenever Bellin was excessively friendly, it meant there was a problem ahead. "And you, Fran?ois?" Johnston said. "How does it go?"
"The same, the same. But at my age, that suffices." He looked around the site, then placed his hand on Johnston's shoulder in a conspiratorial way. "Edouard, I must ask you a favor. I have a small difficulty."
"You know this reporter, from L'Express - "
"No," Johnston said. "Absolutely not."
"But Edouard - "
"I already talked to her on the phone. She's one of those conspiracy people. Capitalism is bad, all corporations are evil - "
"Yes, yes, Edouard, what you say is true." He leaned closer. "But she sleeps with the minister of culture."
"That doesn't narrow the field much," Johnston said.
"Edouard, please. People are starting to listen to her. She can cause trouble. For me. For you. For this project."
Johnston sighed.
"You know there is a sentiment here that Americans destroy all culture, having none of their own. There is trouble with movies and music. And there has been discussion of banning Americans from working on French cultural sites. Hmm?"
Johnston said, "This is old news."
"And your own sponsor, ITC, has asked you to speak to her."
"They have?"
"Yes. A Ms. Kramer requested you speak to her."
Johnston sighed again.
"It will only take a few minutes of your time, I promise you," Bellin said, waving to the Land Rover. "She is in the car."
Johnston said, "You brought her personally?"
"Edouard, I am trying to tell you," Bellin said. "It is necessary to take this woman seriously. Her name is Louise Delvert."
As she climbed out of the car, Chris saw a woman in her mid-forties, slender and dark, her face handsome, with strong features. She was stylish in the way of certain mature European women, conveying a sophisticated, understated sexuality. She appeared dressed for an expedition, in khaki shirt and pants, straps around her neck for camera, video and tape recorder. She carried her notepad in her hand as she strode toward them, all business.
But as she came closer, she slowed down.
Delvert extended her hand. "Professor Johnston," she said, in unaccented English. Her smile was genuine and warm. "I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your taking the time to see me."
"Not at all," Johnston said, taking her hand in his. "You have come a long way, Miss Delvert. I am pleased to help you in any way I can."
Johnston continued to hold her hand. She continued to smile at him. This went on for ten seconds more, while she said that he was too kind and he said on the contrary, it was the very least he could do for her.
They walked through the monastery excavations, a tight little group: the Professor and Miss Delvert in the front, Bellin and Chris following behind, not too close, but still trying to hear the discussion. Bellin wore a quiet, satisfied smile; it occurred to Chris that there was more than one way to deal with a troublesome culture minister.
As for the Professor, his wife had been dead for many years, and although there were rumors, Chris had never seen him with another woman. He was fascinated to watch him now. Johnston did not change his manner; he simply gave the reporter his undivided attention. He conveyed the impression that there was nothing in the world more important than she was. And Chris had a feeling that Delvert's questions were much less contentious than she had planned.
"As you know, Professor," she said, "for some time now, my newspaper has been working on a story about the American company ITC."
"Yes, I'm aware of that."
"Am I correct that ITC sponsors this site?"
"Yes, they do."
She said, "We have been told they contribute a million dollars a year."
"That's about right."
They walked on for a moment. She seemed to be trying to frame her next question carefully.
"There are some at the newspaper," she said, "who think that's a great deal of money to spend on medieval archaeology."
"Well, you can tell them at the newspaper," Johnston said, "that it's not. In fact, it's average for a large site like this. ITC gives us two hundred and fifty in direct costs, a hundred and a quarter in indirect costs paid to the university, another eighty in scholarships, stipends, and travel and living expenses, and fifty for laboratory and archiving costs."
"But surely there is much more than that," she said, playing with her hair with her pen, and blinking rapidly. Chris thought, She's batting her eyes at him. He'd never seen a woman do that. You had to be French to pull it off.
The Professor appeared not to notice. "Yes, there is certainly more," he said, "but it doesn't go to us. The rest is reconstruction costs for the site itself. That is separately accounted, since as you know, reconstruction costs are shared with the French government."
"Of course," she said. "So the half million dollars your own team spends is in your view quite usual?"
"Well, we can ask Fran?ois," Johnston said. "But there are twenty-seven archaeological sites being worked in this corner of France. They range from the Paleolithic dig that the University of Zurich is doing with Carnegie-Mellon, to the Roman castrum, the fort, that the University of Bordeaux is doing with Oxford. The average annual cost of these projects is about half a million dollars a year."
"I did not know that." She was staring into his eyes, openly admiring. Too openly, Chris thought. It suddenly occurred to him that he might have misjudged what was happening. This might simply be her way of getting a story.
Johnston glanced back at Bellin, who was walking behind him. "Fran?ois? What would you say?"
"I believe you know what you are doing  -  I mean, saying," Bellin said. "Funding varies from four to six hundred thousand U.S. Scandinavians, Germans and Americans cost more. Paleolithic costs more. But yes, half a million could be an average number."
Miss Delvert remained focused on Johnston: "And for your funding, Professor Johnston, how much contact are you required to have with ITC?"
"Almost none."
"Almost none? Truly?"
"Their president, Robert Doniger, came out two years ago. He's a history buff, and he was very enthusiastic, like a kid. And ITC sends a vice president about once a month. One is here right now. But by and large, they leave us alone."
"And what do you know about ITC itself?"
Johnston shrugged. "They do research in quantum physics. They make components used in MRIs, medical devices, and so forth. And they are developing several quantum-based dating techniques, to precisely date any artifact. We're helping with that."
"I see. And these techniques, they work?"
"We have prototype devices in our farmhouse office. So far they've proven too delicate for field work. They're always breaking down."
"But this is why ITC funds you  -  to test their equipment?"
"No," Johnston said. "It's the other way around. ITC is making dating equipment for the same reason ITC funds us  -  because Bob Doniger is enthusiastic about history. We're his hobby."
"An expensive hobby."
"Not for him," Johnston said. "He's a billionaire. He bought a Gutenberg Bible for twenty-three million. He bought the Rouen Tapestry at auction for seventeen million. Our project's just small change."
"Perhaps so. But Mr. Doniger is also a tough businessman."
"Do you really think he supports you out of personal interest?" Her tone was light, almost teasing.
Johnston looked directly at her. "You never know, Miss Delvert, what someone's reasons are."
Chris thought, He's suspicious, too.
Delvert seemed to sense it as well, and she immediately reverted to a more businesslike manner. "Of course, yes. But I ask this for a reason. Isn't it true that you do not own the results of your research? Anything you find, anything you discover, is owned by ITC."
"Yes, that's correct."
"This doesn't bother you?"
"If I worked for Microsoft, Bill Gates would own the results of my research. Anything I found and discovered, Bill Gates would own."
"Yes. But this is hardly the same."
"Why not? ITC is a technical company, and Doniger set up this fund the way technical companies do such things. The arrangement doesn't bother me. We have the right to publish our findings  -  they even pay for publication."
"After they approve them."
"Yes. We send our reports to them first. But they have never commented."
"So you see no greater ITC plan behind all this?" she asked.
Johnston said, "Do you?"
"I don't know," she said. "That is why I am asking you. Because of course there are some extremely puzzling aspects to the behavior of ITC as a company."
"What aspects?"
"For example," she said, "they are one of the world's largest consumers of xenon."
"Xenon? You mean the gas?"
"Yes. It is used in lasers and electron tubes."
Johnston shrugged. "They can have all the xenon gas they want. I can't see how it concerns me."
"What about their interest in exotic metals? ITC recently purchased a Nigerian company to assure their supply of niobium."
"Niobium." Johnston shook his head. "What's niobium?"
"It is a metal similar to titanium."
"What's it used for?"
"Superconducting magnets, and nuclear reactors."
"And you wonder what ITC is using it for?" Johnston shook his head again. "You'd have to ask them, Miss Delvert."
"I did. They said it was for 'research in advanced magnetics.' "
"There you are. Any reason not to believe them?"
"No," she said. "But as you said yourself, ITC is a research company. They employ two hundred physicists at their main facility, a place called Black Rock, in New Mexico. It is clearly and unquestionably a high-technology company."
"Yes. . . ."
"So I wonder: Why would a high-technology company want so much land?"
"ITC has purchased large land parcels in remote locations around the world: the mountains of Sumatra, northern Cambodia, southeast Pakistan, the jungles of central Guatemala, the highlands of Peru."
Johnston frowned. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. They have made acquisitions in Europe, as well. West of Rome, five hundred hectares. In Germany near Heidelberg, seven hundred hectares. In France, a thousand hectares in the limestone hills above the River Lot. And finally, right here."
"Yes. Using British and Swedish holding companies, they have very quietly acquired five hundred hectares, all around your site. It is mostly forest and farmland, at the moment."
"Holding companies?" he said.
"That makes it very difficult to trace. Whatever ITC is doing, it clearly requires secrecy. But why would this company fund your research, and also buy the land all around the site?"
"I have no idea," Johnston said. "Especially since ITC doesn't own the site itself. You'll recall they gave the entire area  -  Castelgard, Sainte-Mre and La Roque  -  to the French government last year."
"Of course. For a tax exemption."
"But still, ITC does not own the site. Why should they buy land around it?"
"I will be happy to show you everything I have."
"Perhaps," Johnston said, "you should."
"My research is just in the car."
They started together toward the Land Rover. Watching them go, Bellin clucked his tongue. "Ah, dear, dear. It is so difficult to trust these days."
Chris was about to answer in his bad French when his radio clicked. "Chris?" It was David Stern, the project technologist. "Chris, is the Professor with you? Ask him if he knows somebody named James Wauneka."
Chris pressed the button on his radio. "The Professor's busy right now. What's it about?"
"He's some guy in Gallup. He's called twice. Wants to send us a picture of our monastery that he says he found in the desert."
"What? In the desert?"
"He might be a little cracked. He claims he's a cop, and he keeps babbling on about some dead ITC employee."
"Have him send it to our e-mail address," Chris said. "You take a look at it."
He clicked the radio off. Bellin was looking at his watch, clucking again, then looking at the car, where Johnston and Delvert were standing, their heads almost touching as they pored over papers. "I have appointments," he said mournfully. "Who knows how long this will take?"
"I think," Chris said, "perhaps not long."
Twenty minutes later, Bellin was driving off with Miss Delvert at his side, and Chris was standing with the Professor, waving good-bye. "I think that went rather well," Johnston said.
"What'd she show you?"
"Some land-purchase records, for the area around here. But it's not persuasive. Four parcels were bought by a German investment group about which little is known. Two parcels were bought by a British attorney who claims he's going to retire here; another by a Dutch banker for his grown daughter; and so on."
"The British and the Dutch have been buying land in the Perigord for years," Chris said. "It's nothing new."
"Exactly. She has some idea that all the purchases could be traced to ITC. But it's pretty tenuous. You have to be a believer."
The car was gone. They turned and walked toward the river. The sun was higher in the sky now, and it was getting warm.
Cautiously, Chris said, "Charming woman."
"I think," Johnston said, "that she works too hard at her job."
They got into the rowboat tied up at the river's edge, and Chris rowed them across to Castelgard.
They left the rowboat behind, and began climbing toward the top of Castelgard hill. They saw the first sign of castle walls. On this side, all that remained of the walls were grassy embankments that ended in long scars of exposed, crumbled rock. After six hundred years, it almost looked like a natural feature. But it was in fact the remains of a wall.
"You know," the Professor said, "what she really doesn't like is corporate sponsorship. But archaeological research has always depended on outside benefactors. A hundred years ago, the benefactors were all individuals: Carnegie, Peabody, Stanford. But these days wealth is corporate, so Nippon TV finances the Sistine Chapel, British Telecom finances York, Philips Electronics finances the Toulouse castrum, and ITC finances us."
"Speak of the devil," Chris said. As they came over the hill, they saw the dark form of Diane Kramer, standing with Andre Marek.
The Professor sighed. "This day is completely wasted. How long is she going to be here?"
"Her plane is at Bergerac. She's scheduled to leave this afternoon at three."
"I'm sorry about that woman," Diane Kramer said, when Johnston came up to join her. "She's annoying everybody, but we've been unable to do anything about her."
"Bellin said you wanted me to talk to her."
"We want everybody to talk to her," Kramer said. "We're doing everything we can to show her there are no secrets."
"She seemed mostly concerned," Johnston said, "that ITC was making land purchases in this area."
"Land purchases? ITC?" Kramer laughed. "I haven't heard that one before. Did she ask you about niobium and nuclear reactors?"
"As a matter of fact, she did. She said you'd bought a company in Nigeria, to assure your supply."
"Nigeria," Kramer repeated, shaking her head. "Oh dear. Our niobium comes from Canada. Niobium's not exactly a rare metal, you know. It sells for seventy-five dollars a pound." She shook her head. "We offered to give her a tour of our facility, interview with our president, bring a photographer, her own experts, whatever she wants. But no. It's modern journalism: don't let the facts get in your way."
Kramer turned, and gestured to the ruins of Castelgard all around them. "Anyway," she said. "I've taken Dr. Marek's excellent tour, in the helicopter and on foot. It's evident you're doing absolutely spectacular work. Progress is good, the work's of extremely high academic quality, recordkeeping is first rate, your people are happy, the site is managed well. Just fabulous. I couldn't be happier. But Dr. Marek tells me he is going to be late for his  -  what is it?"
"My broadsword lesson," Marek said.
"His broadsword lesson. Yes. I think he should certainly do that. It doesn't sound like something you can change, like a piano lesson. In the meantime, shall we walk the site together?"
"Of course," Johnston said.
Chris's radio beeped. A voice said, "Chris? It's Sophie for you."
"I'll call her back."
"No, no," Kramer said. "You go ahead. I'll speak to the Professor alone."
Johnston said quickly, "I usually have Chris with me, to take notes."
"I don't think we'll need notes today."
"All right. Fine." He turned to Chris. "But give me your radio, in case."
"No problem," Chris said. He unclipped the radio from his belt and handed it to Johnston. As Johnston took it in his hand, he clearly flicked on the voice-activation switch. Then he slipped it on his belt.
"Thanks," Johnston said. "Now, you better go call Sophie. You know she doesn't like to be kept waiting."
"Right," Chris said.
As Johnston and Kramer began to walk through the ruins, he sprinted across the field toward the stone farmhouse that served as the project office.
Just beyond the crumbling walls of Castelgard town, the team had bought a dilapidated stone storehouse and had rebuilt the roof, and repaired the stonework. Here they housed all their electronics, lab equipment and archival computers. Unprocessed records and artifacts were spread out on the ground beneath a broad green tent adjacent to the farmhouse.
Chris went into the storehouse, which was one large room that they had divided into two. To the left, Elsie Kastner, the team's linguist and graphology expert, sat in her own room, hunched over parchment documents. Chris ignored her and went straight ahead to the room crammed with electronic equipment. There David Stern, the thin and bespectacled technical expert on the project, was talking on a telephone.
"Well," Stern was saying, "you'll have to scan your document at a fairly high resolution, and send it to us. Do you have a scanner there?"
Hastily, Chris rummaged through the equipment on the field table, looking for a spare radio. He didn't see one; all the charger boxes were empty.
"The police department doesn't have a scanner?" Stern was saying, surprised. "Oh, you're not at the  -  well, why don't you go there and use the police scanner?"
Chris tapped Stern on the shoulder. He mouthed, Radio.
Stern nodded and unclipped his own radio from his belt. "Well yes, the hospital scanner would be fine. Maybe they will have someone who can help you. We need twelve-eighty by ten-twenty-four, saved as a JPEG file. Then you transmit that to us. . . ."
Chris ran outside, flicking through the channels on the radio as he went.
From the storehouse door, he could look down over the entire site. He saw Johnston and Kramer walking along the edge of the plateau overlooking the monastery. She had a notebook open and was showing him something on paper.
And then he found them on channel eight.
" - ignificant acceleration in the pace of research," she was saying.
And the Professor said, "What?"
Professor Johnston looked over his wire-frame spectacles at the woman standing before him. "That's impossible," he said.
She took a deep breath. "Perhaps I haven't explained it very well. You are already doing some reconstruction. What Bob would like to do," she said, "is to enlarge that to be a full program of reconstruction."
"Yes. And that's impossible."
"Tell me why."
"Because we don't know enough, that's why," Johnston said angrily. "Look: the only reconstruction we've done so far has been for safety. We've rebuilt walls so they don't fall on our researchers. But we're not ready to actually begin rebuilding the site itself."
"But surely a part," she said. "I mean, look at the monastery over there. You could certainly rebuild the church, and the cloister beside it, and the refectory, and - "
"What?" Johnston said. "The refectory?" The refectory was the dining room where the monks took their meals. Johnston pointed down at the site, where low walls and crisscrossing trenches made a confusing pattern. "Who said the refectory was next to the cloister?"
"Well, I - "
"You see? This is exactly my point," Johnston said. "We still aren't sure where the refectory is yet. It's only just recently that we've started to think it might be next to the cloister, but we aren't sure."
She said irritably, "Professor, academic study can go on indefinitely, but in the real world of results - "
"I'm all for results," Johnston said. "But the whole point of a dig like this is that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past. A hundred years ago, an architect named Viollet-le-Duc rebuilt monuments all over France. Some he did well. But when he didn't have enough information, he just made it up. The buildings were just his fantasy."
"I understand you want to be accurate - "
"If I knew ITC wanted Disneyland, I'd never have agreed."
"We don't want Disneyland."
"If you rebuild now, that's what you'll get, Ms. Kramer. You'll get a fantasy. Medieval Land."
"No," she said. "I can assure you in the strongest possible terms. We do not want a fantasy. We want an historically accurate reconstruction of the site."
"But it can't be done."
"We believe it can."
"With all due respect, Professor, you're being overcautious. You know more than you think you do. For example, the town of Castelgard, beneath the castle itself. That could certainly be rebuilt."
"I suppose . . . Part of it could, yes."
"And that's all we're asking. Just to rebuild a part."
David Stern wandered out of the storehouse, to find Chris listening with the radio pressed to his ear. "Eavesdropping, Chris?"
"Shhh," Chris said. "This is important."
Stern shrugged his shoulders. He always felt a little detached from the enthusiasms of the graduate students around him. The others were historians, but Stern was trained as a physicist, and he tended to see things differently. He just couldn't get very excited about finding another medieval hearth, or a few bones from a burial site. In any case, Stern had only taken this job  -  which required him to run the electronic equipment, do various chemical analyses, carbon dating, and so on  -  to be near his girlfriend, who was attending summer school in Toulouse. He had been intrigued by the idea of quantum dating, but so far the equipment had failed to work.