An archeological escapade through the Etruscan Italian countryside —
An explosion in an Etruscan tomb sends renowned archeologist Montgomery Adams into an Italian hospital, seriously burned and comatose. His daughter, Amanda Oliver, a cultural arts historian and quasi-archeologist, rushes from San Francisco to his bedside. Simultaneously, the mysterious disappearance of Montgomery's assistant and lover, Joanna, brings her brother, lichenologist Trent Winston, to Orvieto. While the police are stalling the investigation, Amanda is chased, threatened, abducted, and framed as she attempts to seek the culprits herself. Stumbling into the complex world of obsessed archeologists, greedy collectors, and murderous tomb robbers, Amanda learns they all seek a priceless, exquisite third Etruscan Sarcophagus of the Married Couple. Someone thinks Amanda knows where it is — and that someone wants her dead.
"Dad, is that you?"
The phone crackled like a gramophone recording from the 20's, static, hissing and grating.
A man's garbled voice said something. A thud hurt my ear. He must have dropped the phone. A moment later, an authoritative, high-pitched voice came on. "Signora Oliver? Venga, Signora! Venga subito!"
A click, then nothing but dial tone. Rawness hit the pit of my stomach. Dread saturated the rest of me.
"You okay, Amanda?" Marcia, my team partner, wheeled her chair in my direction. "Was it that creepy Mr. Tate refusing the deal?"
"No, not him. I think my dad just called."
"Your dad? You never mentioned you had one."
"If it is him, he's in trouble."
Her surprise was understandable. I rarely spoke of family.
"Where does he live?"
"I don't know. He's always on the move. He might be anywhere. I haven't heard from him in a while."
"Remember we've got a high tech system. The last five phone numbers are saved. Want to find out who they were from?"
I didn't and couldn't answer. My mind strayed. It had been four years since I saw my illustrious father, Montgomery Adams, he who won scholarly grants and made huge archeological discoveries. Everything he did was excessively big and intellectual, except acknowledge my contribution to his findings. Even with my art history degree and master's in archeology, he paid minimum wage. Without a Ph.D., I was his flunky, shadowing him on his research, not having enough hours to work on mine, and never having enough money to buy more than scarves to perk up my old dresses. Sick of running around the world with him, I asked for fairness.
"No spunk!" he had yelled at me. "No stamina for hard work."
"You love no one but yourself," I yelled back as I left, knowing if I stayed, he would stifle my attempts to be my own person. Devastated by that argument, there had been no further communication.
Marcia punched numbers on the pad. "Hey, that call was international. It was 390763---oops, lost it. Another incoming call knocked it out."
"Italy. The country code is 39." I shook myself into the present. "What were the next?"
"0-7," she repeated, "but there were four numbers together: 0-7-6-3."
"I don't know what town or city that is." I pushed away from my desk. "Cover for me, will you?"
"Our brochure idea is due at ten on Tuesday. You just said you didn't know."
"I'll find it." I raced to the elevator. Luckily, the Pyramid Building lobby bookcase was filled with Asian and European telephone directories for the CEOs' or rather, for their secretaries' use.
Mid-afternoon, a bored receptionist read a magazine in the empty lobby. I was glad no one else was around for I must have appeared frantic, searching through the directories until I got to the Italian section. Picking out the Milan phonebook, I leafed through the white pages to locate city codes. Orvieto.
Orvieto? I had to get back to writing the brochure copy. Every time I tried to continue where I left off, I couldn't concentrate. I could only look out at San Francisco's white, precariously stacked buildings that glittered like crystal prisms in the afternoon sun, and then at the Bay Bridge, with its string of east bound cars and trucks, miniature from this distance. Daily I coveted this dazzling view from the twenty-third floor as I worked at my desk on inane art proposals for the city, historical projects intended to encourage folks to get culture, mostly schemes that didn't get past the office. Normally I was energized by the view, but its glory faded. I was wasting my time here. Marcia went to the ladies room. I didn't have to face her.
By the time I reached the apartment, I concluded there was no choice. I had to see my father. He hadn't said much, but pain was in his voice, the sound of physical pain. He never would have lifted his index finger to call unless something awful happened. His vanity was that large, not sharing thoughts or feelings unless he was put in the spotlight. Dad, the eminently successful archeologist who had excavated at Xuan, Teotihuacan, Thebes and Pompeii, had humbled himself.
I knew why I had been called. I was next of kin. Keith, my brother, was sailing somewhere in the Tasmanian Sea researching causes of the weather phenomena La Nina.
Dad wouldn't have contacted Keith. After his divorce from Mom, he refused to see his son.
I had to think straight---get plane tickets, remember passport and take a credit card. On hold with the cordless handset, I pulled a carry-on from the closet and dumped the contents of my drawers on the bed.
If I had gobs of money to buy a first class ticket I would, but not on my salary. The travel agent advised, "Amanda, It's peak season. Everyone goes to Italy now. Matt Romero's a great discounter. He'll get you there."
"The fastest, wholesale way to get to Orvieto is to fly San Francisco to London, London to Bologna, and take a train. There's a flight at seven. Want to make it?" Matt asked.
Not direct or convenient but I took it gratefully. I didn't know Matt, but he was one man I wanted to meet. The one I didn't want to see was Wes. Wesley Francis, my live-in companion of one year and three months, was one of the few non-gay men I met in San Francisco. We understood each other and shared all things trivial and significant. Good friends and lovers but when it came to marriage, I dithered. Wes would try to stop me from going if he wasn't at work now. He hated Dad for his treatment of me without ever having met the man.
My professional packing list was always in my suitcase. I threw in my wrinkle-free basic wardrobe, bare necessities, toothpaste, brush, cosmetics and daily contraceptive pills. Whatever else I needed was easy to find in Italy.
This might truly be an emergency. What the hell! I removed the trusty Swiss army knife from my emergency supplies that would set bells ringing at the airport and tossed in the kit. Something was missing, but I couldn't remember what it was.
I scribbled a note:
Wes dear, don't wait up. I've gone to Italy. Be home in a few days.
There wasn't anything else to write. I had no idea where I'd go, what I'd be doing or where I'd be staying. I signed off with:
I put the note on his bed pillow, gathered my luggage, trench coat, and locked the door.