"What happened, anyway?" "Simple. I fell in."
County archaeologist Steve Saunders desperately wants his latest dig to be a success. Too many people think he’s too young for the job, and besides, the chance to track down the town’s missing priory is too good to miss.
But the dig seems to be jinxed. The weather’s awful, the clients want the land back to build an apartment block, and the clients' representative tries every dodgy trick in the book. On top of that there’s a strange, unfriendly atmosphere about the place. Could that be why the priory disappeared so thoroughly? And what’s the link to the unusual stairs Steve’s assistant Jon finds in the cloister trench?
Throughout everything, Jon proves to be an invaluable support. But when he tries a trick of his own, he sets off a chain of events that lead to a result nobody, least of all Steve, expects.
I was on my knees in the garderobe trench teasing out a medieval bead with the very tip of my trowel when my mobile phone went off, drilling thirty decibels of Beethoven’s Fifth straight down my ear. I jumped so hard I nearly scratched the bead. Yanking the phone off my belt I prodded the ‘reply’ button and held it to my ear—the one I hadn’t just been deafened in. ‛Steve Saunders here.’
‛Steve, it’s Jonathan. Sorry to disturb you but some bloke from Spragges has just turned up and he’s insisting on speaking to you.’READ MORE
Jon Eaton’s my second in command, and a whizz at spotting medieval walls amongst a ragged heap of stones in a pit. He’s also kind and intelligent and I’ve been quietly in love with him for years, which just goes to show what a hopeless, romantic idiot I am because I’ve known that’s not the way his cookie crumbles for almost all of that time. I also know from experience that he’s less convincing as a diplomat. I hoped to God he’d waited until the visitor was out of earshot before making the call, but knowing Jon I couldn’t be sure. This could get interesting.
‛On my way.’ I hauled myself, grunting, to my feet. Not that I’m in bad shape—I go jogging at least twice a week—but you try kneeling in a damp hole for three hours and see what it does to your legs. I glanced at the bead. It seemed a shame to put it back, but if this was who I thought it was, I couldn’t make him wait. ‛Looks like you’re going to have to stay there for a while. Don’t go rolling off, now.’ And I placed it carefully back in the exact hollow I’d just picked it out of, chucked my trowel down next to it, and vaulted out of the trench.
The interruption was frustrating. One bead might not sound like much but it made my fingers twitch. A necklace seemed unlikely in a priory, but a rosary was very much possible. I was itching to get back down there and find the rest of it; stopping now was like abandoning half a dinosaur bone sticking out of a cliff. Added to that this was the first dry day we’d had in weeks. The summer had been a washout with one storm after another rolling in from the coast. And judging by both the forecast and the state of the sky, tomorrow it could be hammering down again.
Still, any representative of the Spragges was as close to royalty as it gets, at least as far as the site was concerned. They owned the land we were digging on, and although they didn’t employ me directly they were still our clients, ultimately. I wondered who they’d sent. There was a chap I’d met early on, a couple of times, and spoken to since then on the phone. Paul Merchant, their Land and Acquisitions Director, or some such long and wordy title. The couple of times I’d seen him I’d liked what I’d seen. He was smart, good-looking, shorter than me—not that difficult—with the extra drive and determination small men often have. He also had the most amazing bright blue eyes I’d ever seen. Quite the killer combination, and in the absence of possibilities with Jon I’d been quite smitten with him. His manner was cool, though, and after a series of increasingly tetchy phone conversations I was changing my mind. Less Land and Acquisitions Director, more jumped up middle manager. But I’d told myself I would keep an open mind. So if he was indeed here, I’d better go and be nice to him.COLLAPSE