Monthly Archives: October 2011

Game On, Game Over – release date October 8th!


By the third day John was fully integrated into the closed society of the archaeological site and the personnel working on it. They were a gregarious bunch, passionate about what they were doing, but capable of amusement at their own expense. All the lecturers were over forty years old, and their relationships with the much younger students were governed by mutual respect and liking. The Tajik locals running the catering, laundry, and site security were friendly, proud of their past, and appreciative of the interest their culture and history fired in foreigners. All in all, the whole, mismatched conglomerate worked together with cheerful tolerance and good humor. But the third day also brought Brent Babcock.


John was with Anahita in her trench, an exploratory cut along an inside wall of the caravanserai where some scroll ends and clay tablets had already been found. She was speculating optimistically about further finds when a voice laden with a harsh New York twang cut through her lightly accented English like a blunt saw. John peered over the edge of the trench and saw a man in his late forties, short, stocky, with thinning hair in a buzz cut, and the face of a pugnacious leprechaun. He was talking animatedly with Mike, hands waving to emphasize his points.


“Who the hell?” John muttered. But he’d lingered aboveground too long. Mike gestured to him—desperately, if he was any judge—and reluctantly he climbed out of the trench.


“John, this is Brent Babcock,” Mike said as soon as he joined the two men. Babcock barely topped John’s shoulder and John was a lean six feet tall. Mike’s solid six-five dwarfed them both. “Mr Babcock, Doctor John Jones, my Assistant Director. John, Mr Babcock’s a reporter—”


“Journalist,” Babcock interrupted, sticking out his hand. John took it. “Hi. I’m writing a series of articles on the Silk Roads, and gathering material for a book.” Their handshake was brief, Babcock’s grip strong to the point of discomfort. John managed to resist the impulse to tighten his own grip in response to the power play.


“You’ve chosen a fascinating subject,” he said mildly.


“Yeah, I know. This was the Lost Road of Ishkoshim, right?” The capital letters were obvious, the title of the book and a TV documentary probably already scripted in the man’s mind.


“Um, it wasn’t actually lost,” Mike said. “This spur of it was simply abandoned after the quake in the eleventh century. The spring and cisterns were—”


“Yeah, I get it. Like I said before I want to hear your take on it, some of the background history to the dig. Take some photos as well.”


Mike frowned thoughtfully. “I’ll have to clear it with the higher-ups first,” he answered. “But I don’t expect it’ll be much of a problem. We’re not exactly rewriting the history books here, and though the finds have been interesting, it’s not in the same category as Tutankhamun’s tomb. I’ll contact them and let you know.”


“Okay. I’m not on a tight schedule. I can afford to spend some time on this. I got a photographer in tow. I’d like him to have a look around, get an impression of the site while you’re getting the go-ahead from your bosses.” As if the result was a foregone conclusion.


“I don’t see a problem,” Mike said. “On the strict understanding no pictures are taken until sanctioned, and while either of you are on site, you’re accompanied by one of my people at all times.”


“I can live with that. You got a deal, Mike.” Babcock’s hand shot out again. “Call me Brent.”


“I’ll leave you with Doctor Jones,” Mike said, shaking his hand and wincing slightly. His brief sidelong glance at John was apologetic. “He’ll be your liaison.”


It wasn’t what John wanted to hear. But it was a logical choice. Liaising was part of his job description as far as the site was concerned, but if the man and his photographer were going to be underfoot for an unspecified period of time, they might adversely affect his covert mission. While a journalist wouldn’t be as easily removed from the scene as an archaeologist, it was certainly doable—and would be done if or when necessary.


Babcock talked at John for over half an hour, and it was as well John was skilled in keeping his thoughts and emotions from showing on his features. His usual friendly mask remained unshaken despite the journalist’s belligerent arrogance, but there was no doubt Babcock was good at what he did. His grasp of the history and trade dynamics of the Roads was excellent. The man was intelligent and articulate—borderline too articulate—and thoroughly unlikeable.


That night John lulled himself to sleep imagining various devious and intricate plans for the permanent removal of Brent Babcock.


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