Revamp: The Director’s cut
Heather Lynch. If that’s your name, forgive what happens to your namesake in Necropolis by Moonlight. I don’t mean anything by it.
Alex opened the lab door and bumped into a warm body coming down the hall.
‘I’m sorry,’ she gasped.
He was taller than she was, which, upon reflection, was no surprise. What caught her off guard was the spark of recognition she felt when she touched him. She stepped back…and stared. Dark hair, black eyes and olive skin. He could have been one of a thousand people in her casual acquaintance. No. Only one man was lean and tempered like fine steel. Jake.
He smiled, unperturbed. ‘No harm done.’ His familiar accent caressed her ears. It was a dash of British, a pinch of Greek and as smooth as polished glass.
‘Why does it always have to be you?’ she asked aloud, before she could stop herself. She knew if she clapped her hands over her mouth, she would only draw more of his attention. Four years had not exactly changed her beyond recognition, although she wished they had. If she were lucky, she would be one of scores of women in his life. He held the distinction of being her first love. Last and only, an evil little voice added in the back of her mind. She vowed to stomp on it if she ever managed to catch it.
‘Pardon?’ Jake paused. His voice dropped to an almost reverant whisper. ‘Casandra.’
Damn. ‘I didn’t expect you to remember.’
‘Not remember? I’m not that much of a lout.’ He smiled again, but it was a wistful expression this time, and it made her look twice. She studied his face. His eyes were not merely dark. They were black with hints of blue and fathomless, like the surface of the sea at night.
‘Are you going to steal my bracelet again?’ She glanced toward the band around her upper arm, before she realized that the gesture was an invitation.
*** This is actually a little more important than it appears. It paralells a scene with Merytamne and a Hellenic thief. She says very nearly the same thing to him on the night he dies. You will not see it until the sequel, though. ***
His hand encircled her arm and urged the cuff down past her wrist. He stroked over the faded, blue design in the middle of the pale stripe. ‘You were a brilliant, impulsive girl when you got that tattoo. What happened?’
*** The tattoo is of the lotus and papyrus (symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt). It was put on her arm by a friend and fellow tomb robber when she was about ten years old. Per the previous scene, that friend is in prison in Cairo, although she has not yet heard what the charges were. She wears an armband or sleeve over the design at all times, because it is a link to her past. You’d already know all this if you had the rest of the story. ***
‘I grew up,’ she shrugged. ‘An impulsive man left me behind.’
‘Every time I see you, we do something impulsive. We’ve had impulsive kisses and impulsive sex. What’s left? An impulsive wedding? Would you even have me?’
She flinched in spite of herself. ‘You can’t do this to me. Not again.’
‘I’ve missed you,’ he whispered.
‘I don’t believe you. I’m the one who woke up alone.’
“You should have stayed. Do you have any idea how long I looked for you?”
Her throat tightened. ‘I don’t want to talk about this.’
He touched her cheek, trailing smooth fingertips down the length of her jaw. “Neither do I.”
She put up her hands, “Οχι.”
*** Οχι Greek lit. No ***
“No.” He stepped back, turning her bracelet over in his hands. “Of course not. I’m sorry.”
*** Notice that he does not give the bracelet back. See above. ***
She let out a breath in a laugh, “So, what have you been doing for the last five years?”
“It’s closer to four years.” He leaned back against the wall. “I have the same job I did then. I was married about a year after I met you, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell you about it the last time I saw you.”
‘You got married?’ Knowing that he was the kind of man who would be unfaithful to his wife was yet another knife in an old wound. That he had used her to do it just gave the blade a sharp twist.
*** Is this clear enough? He met Alex nine years ago (she went home to Cairo without telling him or anyone her name), married Heather eight years ago, divorced six years ago, began writing to Alex again five years ago, and slept with her four years ago. In that order. She mistakes his meaning–thinks that he is saying that he was married when things were serious between them. He corrects her below. ***
He must have seen something of her thoughts, because he added, “She left me two years later, long before you came to Athens for the summer–before we…’ He sighed. ‘Since then, I’ve been working and traveling. This is the first vacation I’ve had in a long time. I decided to come here tonight when I heard that you were on the guest list. What have you been doing?”
Not married. Not a cheating cad. She relaxed. “School. Work. I had just gotten my masters in graphic design with Egyptian art history when I came to see you. After that, I got hooked up with a restoration lab and went back into Egyptology.” She unlocked the lab door and held it open. “If you want to talk, I guess I’d rather do that down here than up there.”
“You still hate parties?” He brushed past her into the small room.
“I still hate talking about private things in public.” She shut the door and made her way to the sink near the head of the room. “Would you like a cup of tea? I have Earl Grey and Egyptian mint. No, wait. The mint is loose and some one stole the tea strainer again.”
“You aren’t nervous about being completely alone with me?”
She plugged in the black plastic kettle with unsteady hands. “Not a bit. I have easy access to at least a half dozen things I could use to kill you on this side of the room alone.”
Something about the way he took that statement without comment struck her as odd. She filled the kettle and reached for two clean coffee mugs. “So, what happened with your wife?”
He peeked at her around the metal shelving unit. A lock of his hair fell forward to brush his forehead. “Work happened to us. She was absorbed by hers and I was by mine. She realized before I did that we weren’t absorbed in each other anymore. She left me for some one else she could ignore, but that relationship only lasted a couple of weeks. I’ve gotten very tired of work since then.”
“So you came here?”
“To find you, yes.”
“Your timing could be better. I’m leaving for Egypt by the middle of the month.” It also could have been worse. He might have shown up last month, while she was still preparing her dissertation.
“You’re scheduled to lecture on a cruise ship,” he nodded. “I have a ticket for that cruise. Some things are easier than you think.”
‘I’m going to be very busy once I get to Egypt. Remember, I will be working for the cruise line.’ She leaned her hip against plumbing cabinet. And I will be crawling the Valley of the Kings with Paul, she added in her head.
‘You won’t be working every minute.’ He reached a hand through the shelves and twisted a lock of her hair around his finger-tip.
‘You don’t want me,’ she said.
‘You still have that boyfriend.’ His hand fell away.
‘No. He’s marrying my roommate.’
*** The “boyfriend” is Professor Robert Donovan, of the fencing scene in Chapter 1. He was more serious about Alex than she was about him and he caused a major problem for her nine years ago, which is why she went to Greece (and ultimately met Jake) to begin with. ***
‘But you have some one,’ he persisted.
‘If I get to forty and I haven’t become the stereotypical strange spinster with seventy-three cats, Jonathan-James says he will marry me.”
“That sounds about as romantic as a murder-suicide pact.”
‘But that’s the way it is.’
‘Then why won’t you see me?’
A nervous laugh bubbled up in her throat. ‘You won’t give up until I tell you the whole truth, will you?’
‘I’ve come a long way. I deserve whatever truth you have for me.’ He ducked around the shelves to the sink.
‘I don’t think you deserve anything. How much do you actually know about me? How much did you bother to learn?’
He quirked an eyebrow at her. ‘I could ask you the same question. What do I do for a living?’
She studied him for a moment. ‘I thought you were a mobster, because of all of the scars, but you’re too pricipled for that. You must be some kind of cop.’
‘I guess you could say that…if you knew absolutely nothing about me.’ He shook his head. ‘Sorry, that was a trick question, but it is the one thing I have to tell you.’ He moved closer, taking up all of the space between cabinets and sink. Her back pressed against the metal doors.
‘I don’t understand.’ He was too close and she had no where she could run.
His hand moved to her jaw and trembled near her throat. ‘You look like you think I’m going to eat you alive.’
Just then she wanted to believe that the sun rose, the river flowed, and those were the only things that should concern her. His lips were warm against hers and soft. It was a brief caress, not at all like any of the others he had given her. He smiled at her and let her go.
*** In the prior scene, she was speaking with her uncle Hassan on the telephone. When she asked what was going on in Egypt, he told her that the sun rose that morning and the river flowed North. Later, he repeated it to her and said it was the only thing that should concern her. Naturally, it isn’t. ***
‘I came here for you. I followed you from the hall up there, because I had to know it was you. Casandra, some one out there thinks your life is in danger. I want to know why.’
The kettle was just beginning to boil. She could smell the steam. In a moment, she heard the first bubbles pop. She reached past him for a pair of clean coffee cups. ‘Who have you been talking to?’ She was shaking as she poured the water. She spilled a bit over the back of the cups. She set them to cool for a moment before she got the tea bags.
‘No one exactly told me, but some one hired me at considerable expense.’
She didn’t even think. She just hit him. It was not the classic movie, Hollywood starlet slap in the face, either. It was a ball fisted sucker punch to the ribs. He doubled over, red faced and coughing, but still caught her wrist as she passed.
A childhood spent on the streets of Cairo taught her two things: First, don’t let them catch you and second, don’t let them keep you. Not even this man could hold her if she didn’t want him to. She twisted her wrist, out toward his thumb. His grip broke. She kicked him and he stumbled backward into the shelves.
*** Ladies, this really works. I’ve done it more than once myself. ***
‘Casandra,’ he gasped, ‘You have to trust me.’
She paused in the doorway. ‘I don’t have to do anything and the name’s Alex.’ She pelted down the hallway and up the stairs.
‘I can’t make love to an Alex,’ he protested once.
‘If you want me, you’re going to have to.’ Gods, was she ever that stupid?
‘Then I reserve the right to call you Alex only in bed.’ He had been true to his word.
Even with the adrenaline high in her blood, her stomach quivered at the memory. She threw open the door. Her shoes skidded across the fine stone of the entry hall.
Jonathan-James hooked his arm through hers as she passed the temporary bar. His breath smelled like a distillery. ‘Your color is high. You’re breathing hard. I deduce that some one has been kissing you.’
‘That’s not why–‘
‘But some one has been kissing you.’
She groaned, ‘Yes, Mr. Holmes, some one has been kissing me and you’ve been curled up inside a bottle this whole time.’
‘They have this wonderful stuff,’ he beamed. ‘You just have to taste it and taste it.’
‘Zift. I think you’ve done that for me. It isn’t like you. I needed you sober. I have to get out of here. Call security. Something.’
*** I’m not sure about the exact transliteration of Zift. Maybe it’s Djift? It’s supposed to mean “idiot.” ***
‘What happened. Are okay?’
‘Paul was right. I need to get out of here. Now.’
His eyes widened as he scanned her face. ‘We’ll get your coat.’
‘Dr. Alex Tregaron,’ that familliar voice came over the speakers.
Her spine stiffened and she turned. He was standing at the head of the room, a microphone in one hand and a cream colored rose in the other. She suspected that it came from one of the table arrangements. Red and white roses for the upcoming holiday, the departmental secretary had told her.
*** He doesn’t actually give her the rose. ***
‘Him?’ Jonathan-James blinked. ‘He’s the one you were talking to outside of Lord Morgan’s lecture…how many years ago?’
*** This would be how he finds her to write to her. Lord Morgan used to fund Paul’s excavations, at least until this year. Now, why would Jake be attending one of his lectures? ***
‘Why do you remember?’
‘It was the day I realized that I didn’t have a chance,’ he pushed her forward.
‘No,’ she insisted. ‘I have to get out of here.’ The loose, milling crowd of party guests now formed a thick wall behind her. They seemed to encroach closer, passing her from hand to hand up to the clear spot on the floor where he was standing.
*** Not really. ***
He put the microphone down, ‘May I have this dance?’
‘Οχι. La. Ne. Non. Iee chigaimas. How many ways do I have to say it? Shall I scream for security?’
*** Respectively, Greek, Arabic, Czech, French, and Japanese. Lit. No ***
‘Alex, please.’ She wished, just then, that she had never asked him to use the name. It brought back a wave of uncomfortable memories. ‘I never said what I was being paid for. You have good instincts for danger, but this time you’re wrong. If some one out there wants you dead, there is also some one who wants you to live. I happen to agree with that person, so I accepted the money and the information I needed to find you. I would have come without it, but it would have taken time that you can’t afford.’
She looked over her shoulder. Now that the party guests had done their romantic duty, they went about their business of dancing, chatting, and eating light snacks. Perhaps they always had and it was her own anxiety that made the space between the clumps of relaxed people contract into an impenetrible barrier.
Jonathan-James stood off to the side, conversing with Dr. Melbourne, her graduate advisor. Hiram pointed in her direction a couple of times, so she had no doubt about what they were saying.
‘What do I need to do to convince you?’
‘You can’t. If I decide to trust you, and I’m wrong…’ She looked away.
He hesitated, took a breath. ‘Heather Lynch was my ex-wife. You know the name?’
She shivered. Everyone knew the name. Children cast her as the monster around camp fires, but the truth was worse than any school-yard fiction. Heather Lynch was a British intelligence agent murdered in a bombing in Belfast. In any sane society, it would have ended there. Instead, the trial was the most sensationalized in all of history. It was the first one where the dead woman testified against her own killers.
*** Yes, it is what it sounds like. She was dead and she testified in court against her killers. ***
‘She died that night. They called me at about three in the morning. You were sleeping. I left a note for you. I thought I would be gone a day or two at the most. I didn’t know all of the details.’
She glanced back in his direction. His eyes clouded with deep, coal smoke.
‘They wanted me to talk to her; ask her questions. She had remarried, but it was less than a month before. He wasn’t…in the business and he didn’t know her the way I did. He didn’t know her enemies. We were still friends. We were always friends. Can you imagine what that was like? Watching some one you cared for suffer that way?’ His voice grew rough. ‘And, I never, in the entire time I knew her, had what I had in one night with you. I am the last man who will ever hurt you.’
She tried to say something, but her breath came out in a huff. She blinked, half afraid that there were tears in her eyes. After a minute, the muscles in her throat calmed, but her voice had a quiver that she didn’t care for. ‘Good story. Great story-teller. Can you prove it?’
He fished in his pocket and came up with a small, hard object. It was worn thin, many times dented. It dangled on a rough chain like something from the props department of a fantasy movie.
*** Shameless (and meaningless) allusion to Lord of the Rings. ***
‘I thought I might have to convince you somehow, so I brought this.’ He shrugged just one shoulder, holding the other stiff as though it hurt him to move it.
She turned the ring over in the light. The engraving, smoothed by the passage of time, read JASK+HLK and a date in -11-, eight years ago. ‘Yours?’
‘I wore it for two years and a day.’
She slipped the chain around her neck.
‘What are you doing?’
She couldn’t breath, with him so close. ‘If I find out that you’re lying, I’m going to pitch this in the nearest volcano and save the world. I have to go.’
*** Second shameless allusion to Lord of the Rings. There’s not a thing magical about this ring, although I would be lying if I said there was nothing at all about it. It just isn’t that important to anything other than atmosphere. ***
His brows drew together and knotted into a scowl. ‘Not alone.’
‘I brought Jonathan-James here. His bike is at my house. I won’t be alone.’ As she spoke she scanned the room for her friend.
‘Watch out for yourself.’ He pressed a plastic card into her hand. It was from a downtown hotel. The address and phone number were printed in green letters on one side. ‘I’m in room two eleven. If you find you have the pressing urge to tell me anything, come see me. If I’m not in, wait for me in the room.’
*** Thus proving that the writer is a child of the 1970s. Actually, he doesn’t really mean it that way. He wants her to be able to get into his room in the event of an emergency. ***
From anyone else, the offer would have been a cheap ploy. Her fingers curled around the key and she nodded. ‘If I have anything to say…’
‘I wasn’t making a joke earlier, when I asked if you would have me.’ This time he was the one who walked away.