This is where I'm posting excerpts as I'm going along, so keep in mind that everything on this page is Rough Draft. --G
The Angel in the Rock
l'Histoire Secrete des Anges
I looked up from my rampant daydreaming to find Jack Walker picking up my empty glass and replacing it with a full one. "Thanks, Jack," I said, "but I didn't order that."
"I know," he said, "but business is slow this afternoon, and you've been sitting here in the window seat for the last hour and a half with an empty glass. I figure as long as you're going to be window dressing, you might as well be advertising the product."
I grinned at him. "You enroll in a marketing class when I wasn't looking?"
He shrugged. "Hey, man, when you own your own place, you'll see how quick you start taking an interest in how to make money." He nodded at the paper I had strewn across the table. "How's the work going?"
"Slowly," I sighed. I picked up one of them, then scowled and crumpled it in my hand. "It doesn't help that it's for Ravenswood."
Jack shrugged again. "It's just business," he said. "Don't let your personal feelings stand between a paycheck and your wallet."
I tossed the ball of paper onto the table. "Is that another bit of businessman's wisdom?"
"Hell, no," Jack grinned. "That's just plain common sense." The grin faded as he looked past me and out the window, where a young couple was striding purposefully towards the front door. "Hold that thought. Duty calls." The tiny bell over the door sang as Jack headed for the bar. "Welcome to the Time Out CafŽ! What can I get you folks..?"
I looked back down at my notes. It sure seemed to me like he had it made. In the two years since we'd graduated from college together, the owner of this place had offered him a partial ownership of the business, complete with a small apartment over the cafŽ, and now he spent every moment that he wasn't in some night class or tinkering with the Great American Novel tending the bar. I wished I had it that good. The little design studio I'd started was barely getting by, and while I'd had some of my photographs published in the local paper, I had to face reality: in the grand scheme of things, I was going nowhere. I reached out and shuffled a couple of the sheets of paper, uncovering a small stack of 8x10 black and white glossies. I picked up the photographs and flipped through them. A landscape of the cornfields outside of town, a portrait I'd done of one of my old professors, a couple of still lifes of antique cartography equipment... I slipped these to the back of the stack and then stopped at the next picture. It was another portrait, an older, slightly scratched-up shot of a pretty young woman with a heart-shaped face and a sprinkling of freckles across an almost elfin pointed nose. Her bright green eyes looked out at the camera with a laugh barely captured behind them, betraying her lips' attempt at a somber line. I stared at those lips for a long moment, then shrugged myself out of it and set the photographs down on the table. I took a long drink and went back to looking out the window.
An early snow was tumbling lazily from the sky and the traffic doing laps around the city square was sparse, to say the least. It was still too early yet to be thinking too heavily about the holidays, and we were caught in the crook between tourist seasons. All the leaf-lookers were long gone, and the snow wasn't right yet for the skiing season to get underway. So far it had been mostly freezing rain and sleet that was even colder than the usual snowfall, and everywhere you looked you could see the townspeople squirreling themselves away for the winter.
I scanned the streets for any sign of the UPS truck, but there was still no sign of it. While the hills and mountains that surrounded the town made for good skiing, when the snow really made up its mind to fall the delivery trucks wouldn't be able to make their way through. I'd learned after my first lean winter in business here to order my supplies early. I'd had the order delivered to Jack's place so I could sit here in the Time Out and watch for it, but so far the old saying about watched pots was proving itself entirely too true.
There was a clanking over by the bar, accompanied by the rattle and clang of the cash register. I glanced over to see the young couple heading to a corner booth with their glasses and Jack cleaning his hands on his apron. He saw me looking at him and wandered back over.
"Sorry about that," he said.
"Never apologize for doing your job."
"Whatever. Sometimes I envy you, you know?"
"You seem like you have it so easy. You can do your work wherever you want to, whenever you want to, and then you shoot it over the Internet to anywhere in the world from anywhere else in the world. Hell, you could be doing this in Jamaica if you wanted to. Try doing that with a large cup of coffee."
I snorted. "If only. It's nice, but it's not that nice. At least you have set hours. Me, I lie awake in bed at night thinking that I could be working instead of wasting time unconscious."
"Yeah, yeah," Jack grinned and glanced down at the table. His grin disappeared when he saw the photographs lying on the table. I glanced down, saw what he was looking at, and shoved them back under the papers.
He shook his head. "Christ, Pi, it's been what, six years? Let it go already."
"I have. Mostly." I pulled the photographs back out and flipped through them again. "Actually, it's not really about Vicky. It's more the photographs themselves."
"What do you mean?"
"I feel like I'm stuck here, Jack," I said. "I mean, you've got your cafe, and Michael's got his book... What have I done?"
"Don't be ridiculous. You've got your own business Ð"
"Which is failing fast."
"ÑAnd you have more talent than you know what to do with. Besides, this place only stays in business because Starbucks is all the way on the other side of town, and Michael's the laughingstock of even the pulp magazines. I'd say you're doing all right." He looked at me. "Look, what do you really want to be doing?"
I looked at him. "In the best of all possible worlds?"
"Sure. In the best of all possible worlds."
"In the best of all possible worlds, I could get my work shown in New York."
"Why New York?"
"Dude, that's where all the big galleries are, where all the people who actually buy this stuff are. That's where a man makes a name for himself, where a career gets started..."
"There or Los Angeles."
I laughed. "Nah. I hate L.A. Too much silicone, not enough brain cells."
"There is that," he said. "So that's really why you're down? You haven't had your work displayed anywhere lately?"
"I don't know. It's probably also some seasonal affectional disorder or something." I looked out the window again, this time at the hedge maze in the center of the town square. A small gang of elementary school kids was leaning up against the shrubbery, looking like a pack of pre-adolescent James Deans. "Look at that. See those kids? They know what's up. They've got the same feeling in their bones that I've got in mine. It's just restlessness, you know? Halloween's just over, it's too early for Thanksgiving, and in spite of all the hoopla that the malls are trying to drum up, no one's in the mood yet for Christmas." I sighed again. "Everyone's just waiting, you know? Battening down the hatches for a long winter, hurrying up and waiting. But nothing ever happens."
Jack smiled wryly. "Well, I wouldn't say nothing, exactly..."
I glanced at him. "Do you know something I don't know?"
Jack glanced over at the couple in the corner, who were utterly absorbed in their conversation, then leaned closer to me. "You know that new bookstore Ravenswood's building outside of town?"
"Of course I do," I said, frowning. "My uncle won't shut up about how it's going to run him out of business."
Jack nodded. "Well, you heard that they halted construction for a few days last week, right?"
"Yeah." I grinned. "Don't tell me they ran into a dead-end or something."
"Well, something like that..." Jack looked out the window again to check for any incoming customers, but the coast was clear. "Some of the workers from the site come in for coffee in the morning, and I overheard them talking about how one of their guys found something buried there."
I leaned forward. "What? What did he find?"
His eyes gleamed. "A skeleton."
"Holy cow..." I whistled. "Was it, you know, recent?"
Jack shook his head. "No, that's the most interesting part. Apparently the reason they closed the place down was so they could get some archaeology professors up to take a look at it."
"You mean criminology professors."
"Did I say criminology? Dude, I called a buddy of mine at the college to get the inside take on this. They've got Warner, Carroll and Liebermann all out there for this one."
"You're kidding. Liebermann? I thought they only dug him up for ceremonies."
"Nope, he was there. I heard they had to wheel him up in a wheelchair and a respirator, but he was there. Whatever they found was old, man. Old and important."
"You haven't heard the weirdest part yet. Liebermann made some phone calls, and some guy from Harvard's flying in this afternoon to take a look at it. And this guy's supposed to be from the religion department."
"The religion department?" I frowned. "Have you told Michael yet?"
"Nope. Haven't seen him. Besides, I thought you might enjoy the privilege."
"Cool... Thanks, Jack. That really does brighten my afternoon." I leaned back in my seat and thought for a second. "You don't have a name to go with the Harvard prof, do you?"
"Hm. I wonder if it's anyone he knows."
"I don't know. This guy's gotta be important, if it's a friend of Liebermann's. Michael was only a sophomore when he left there, wasn't he?"
"Uh... He came in at the beginning of our Junior year, so that sounds right." I stood and began collecting my notes.
He pointed at my glass. "You want me to put that in a cup to go?"
"Sure. And why don't you get me one of Michael's regulars, too." I chuckled. "God knows when the last time was that he ate."
"I'll throw a bagel in a bag for him, too. When I started writing my novel, I didn't come out of my room for four days. My uncle had to do that whole flat-food-under-the-door trick to keep me going."
He held up three fingers. "Scout's honor," he said, and went back to work at the espresso machine, which hissed loudly as he pulled the shots. "So what's he working on now?"
"Well, last I heard he was writing something about the Knights Templar or something like that. You know, real Turin Shroud, Dead Sea Scrolls kind of stuff."
"A bit of a step away from ghosts and goblins, isn't it?"
"Not that far, I suppose."
Jack rummaged around under the bar and came up with a bottle. I caught a whiff of the whiskey as he poured a liberal dollop into the cup, then poured the shots of espresso in after it. "So what about you?" I asked.
"What about me?"
"How's your novel coming along?"
"Oh, you know how it is," he said with a grin. He fixed a lid to the top of the cup and mimicked smoking a joint the size of a cigar. "Doing research every weekend."
I laughed. "You know, Michael hates it when you do that. He's got a good half-dozen fans in his room, all pointed at the door, that he flips on high every time he catches even a whiff of it."
Jack shook his head and pointed to the cup. "It's amazing, you know? He's probably putting his own body through more hell with all that crap than I am with the good stuff, and yet he comes down on me like the Spanish Inquisition."
I fished my wallet out of my coat pocket, produced a ten-dollar bill and dropped it on the counter as Jack handed me the bag. "You can put the rest in your tip jar."
Jack laughed as the register chimed and clattered. "I want to know how Michael reacts when you tell him about the guy from Harvard," he said. "Every facial twitch, every clenched muscle in his jaw..." The bells over the front door chimed again. "Oops. I'll catch you later."
"Later," I said, and headed for the back door. The five o'clock crowd was starting to trickle in, and while it was certainly good business for Jack, my yuppie tolerance was a little too low for that kind of crowd. Luckily, the steps up to both Michael's apartment and Jack's were right beside the back door. I passed the first yuppie couple in their stall, and thought I detected a slight lull in their conversation as they stared at me on the way by. It was all right. I'm used to it.
Yeah, my name is Pi, Pi St. John. Like 3.14 et cetera, et cetera. My parents are both math teachers at Beckett University, right here in Beckett, Ohio, and they thought it would be cute to name their kids after mathematical symbols. Ha ha. Luckily for my kid sister, that idea wore off soon after having everyone repeat my name incredulously every time they started bragging to someone about their newborn baby son.
Of course, that's not why the yuppies were staring at me Ð it's not like I go around with my name silk-screened onto all my clothes. They were most likely staring at me because I'm so tall (I'm 6'7), or maybe because I still haven't lost the bulk from the boxer's physique I managed to gain in high school. I would have been a perfect candidate for an HJ in Nazi Germany if I weren't so careful to screw around with that very stereotype: I wear my hair floppy and dyed a platinum blonde that's almost white, and my typical wardrobe consists of rock band T-shirts, denim overalls full of art supplies, and Goodwill suitcoats that have been patched up so many times with so many different materials that I picked up the nickname of Raggedy Andy back at college. That didn't last long, though. Like I said, I still have my boxer's physique. Besides, with a name like Pi, who needs to come up with anything more ridiculous?
Anyway, I shrugged off their stares. Like I said, I'm used to standing out in a crowd. I just kept on walking, and I'd made it to the back door and was just reaching for the handle when the handle jerked and the door swung in so quickly I didn't have time to react. It was a big door, a heavy wooden door, the kind of door that when it strikes you full force in the chest it causes you to stumble backwards and probably even tumble to the floor. Furthermore, if you happen to be holding a cup of coffee in your hand when such a door were to strike you in such a manner, said coffee would probably be knocked free of said hand, the lid would most likely be knocked off said cup, and you would almost certainly find yourself being covered in scalding hot coffee as you're tumbling to said floor. Which, of course, would lead you to swear in ways that would make a boatload of sailors blush.
All of these things, of course, followed through in a wonderfully predictable manner.
"Oh my God," the young woman behind the door was saying as I was swearing on the floor, shaking hot coffee from my fingertips and brushing it off my chest. "I'm so sorry..."
I turned my attention to the big black stain that was spreading across the front of my T-shirt. I plucked at the fabric, peeling the hot, wet cloth away from my skin, and drew a swift breath in through my teeth. The young woman, meanwhile, had dropped her handbag and was now kneeling on the floor, fumbling around in it blindly.
"I know I have some tissues in here somewhere," she said. "Let me... Oh, I am so sorry...!"
"It's okay," I said through gritted teeth, trying to force a smile. "I was just on my way to see a friend who lives upstairs. It's no big deal. I can be changed into a dry shirt in thirty seconds..."
But she was oblivious to anything I was saying, and had instead resorted to swearing in French as she began to empty the contents of her handbag onto the floor. I sighed, reached out and laid my fingers gently on her arm. She looked up at me, startled. Which was the first time I got a good look at her face.
It was Vicky.