The Alton Arsenal

Alain Bontemps    |    Alan’s Extra Room    |    The Rorschach Painting    |    Goodtime Voice-O-Matic    |    The Siege of Calais    |    I Owe My Life to Alan Goodtime    |    The Alton Arsenal    |    The Death of Alan Goodtime    (other stories in the arc)

 

It was the end of spring semester and the beginning of a new grant cycle. I could already tell my research for the fall wasn’t going to be sanctioned by the university. Last year, the same proposal – to excavate a hill in Alton, Illinois looking for a secret cache of Civil-War Era documents and munitions – was denied on the basis that it was too costly. Six months ago, after my department was allocated extra research funds, it was denied because the official Antebellum textual record mentioned no facility in Alton. My criticism that there would not be an easy to follow paper trail leading to a secret storage facility fell on deaf ears. A couple weeks after that last denial, I was approached by a Civil War-obsessed philanthropist who pledged to fund the entire expedition in exchange for having the opportunity to be given a private tour of anything we found. With outside funding, I just needed to be approved by the department. And I could tell by the smug little tomato worm smile on the old bastard across from me that I wasn’t going to get it.

“Unfortunately, Miss Brandt, your research is just not something the University of Illinois can support. It’s too tenuous. We don’t want to get a reputation for being fools.”

The worm refused to call me Doctor. Every time, without fail, it was Miss Brandt. I was used to it. I had also prepared for his too-inside-the-box reasoning. I pulled several photocopied documents from a manila folder and passed them to the worm across his desk. “Actually, we’ve found more evidence that the site exists. This,” I tapped a handwritten letter, “is correspondence between Lincoln and an unknown general referencing an ‘Alton facility’. This-”

The worm interrupted me with a patronizing chortle. “Miss Brandt, I’m sure the ‘Alton facility’ is a reference to the Alton Military Prison or the temporary transfer of the St. Louis Arsenal to Alton. That hardly qualifies as evidence.”

I took a deep breath and tried to ease the tension growing in my chest. “If you look at the date, you’ll see that the letter is in March of 1861, the first month of Lincoln’s term. The Arsenal wasn’t moved to Alton for another month and the prison wasn’t even inspected until December of that year. The facility in the letter has to be something else. But that’s not all.”

I pushed a second copy across the desk. “This is a telegraph from John Pope to George McClellan stating that the Union forces will not prevail against the might of the Rebels without the store in Alton. The response,” I said, gesturing to a third sheet, “is from E. J. Allen, which – I’m sure you know – was an alias for Allan Pinkerton, head of the Union Intelligence Service. It says simply that ‘Alton is a safe to be cracked when we are faced with certain defeat, no sooner. It is not responsible to bring a weapon of that type into the world.’”

The worm sighed and leaned back in his chair, massaging his round stomach. “And what do you suppose you’d find in Alton, Miss Brandt? A nuclear warhead?”

My frustration escaped as a choked laugh. “Of course not. My personal feeling is that it’s some form of flamethrower, though my predictions shouldn’t be the deciding factor here. I have real evidence that shows we need to excavate Hill 27 in Alton.”

“But your predictions are part of the deciding factor, Miss Brandt. Your idea shows that you’re not mature enough to carry out basic research. Flamethrowers were not invented at the time of the Civil War. It was 50 years too early.”

“I know the historical record shows no use of flamethrowers, but the Greeks and Chinese had the capability over 2000 years ago. The Union even contemplated using Greek Fire, but it was deemed inhumane. Is it that much of a stretch to imagine a steam turbine driving flammable liquid from a tube instead of an Athenian bellows?”

Dr. Kimball leaned forward and slapped his palms on the desk. “Yes, Miss Brandth, it is. A flight of fancy. Look, I’m turning your request down for the third time. Do not submit it again. Choose something that suits you better. That will be all.”

My eyes and sinus cavity burned. I had to hold it together. I gathered my photocopies, stuffed them back inside the envelope and walked out the door without a word. Outside, I knew I couldn’t let the insult hang in the air half-flung. I let my anger take over and blinked slowly until my eyes were out of danger of brimming over.

I flung the door back open. “What do you mean, ‘suits me better?’”

“Agricultural practices of the Mound Builders. Something where you aren’t trying to play detective and wear pants, Miss Brandt. Something you can wrap your head around.”

I smiled. “I’ll bring you up on harassment charges for that, you misogynist piece of shit.”

“Do that, Miss Brandt. Do that, and I’ll tell the board the only reason you got this job was because you spread your legs for your former mentor like a common whore. Was it worth it to let him cum on your face for a job in your home town?”

“Fuck you.”

“I’d love to, but I guess I’m not your type; a married man with a weak heart who would die beneath your wet quim.”

I left, slamming Kimball’s door and half-hoping the frosted glass window would shatter. It didn’t.

I went home immediately. I had no classes to teach. There was work to be done, but it wouldn’t be done well if I had stayed. I went to the gym and tried to run the anger out of my body, but I kept replaying the night Julian died in my mind.

Kimball was right, we were in Julian’s office making love. Kimball was also right about Julian being married, but his wife didn’t understand him and she hadn’t for some time. She worked at a bakery and didn’t have the innate lust for knowledge that Julian did. That I do. Julian’s wife couldn’t comprehend what drove us to work far beyond quitting time some nights, searching for an answer that brought all the disparate historical documents in line. She would never feel the elation that Julian and I felt when we uncovered an artifact in a dig. That’s how we first bonded; as colleagues. I was his graduate student, he my mentor. And then something changed. We wanted to stay together, though he didn’t want to leave his wife until his kids were out of college. When I graduated and started my job search, he used his position as head of the department to fight for keeping me. It’s an unusual move to become a tenure-track faculty at your alma mater, but most of the other professors on the board thought my research was promising.

And then Julian died. I thought he came when he pulsed, convulsed slightly. When he stayed still, I knew something was wrong. I screamed, ran from the room to find a phone. Kimball, in the neighboring office rushed out in response to my scream. I told him Julian was hurt and needed an ambulance and rushed off to my own office to find a phone. I didn’t realize my skirt was still hiked up until I was making the call. The thought of Kimball seeing me naked, vulnerable, and still slick from being with Julian disgusted me. I imagined him licking his fat lips and gagged.

After I called an ambulance, I went back to Julian. I pulled up his underwear and pants, buckled his belt. I started CPR. I got his heart pumping again and the EMTs kept him stable until he got to the hospital, but there was too much cardiovascular damage. He died. The official cause of death was heart attack and that’s all the doctors reported to Julian’s family. Nothing about how it happened. I suppose there was no reason to ruin the family’s memories with a meaningless fact. The only person in the department who found out about Julian and I that day was Kimball and it seemed like he wasn’t talking. I figured out later it was so he could try to blackmail me into sleeping with him. When I didn’t, he blackballed me. I wasn’t allowed to sit on my committees, I got the worst teaching times, my parking spot was the one nixed first, and my research never got funded. He wanted to give me hell.

I cried when I got home. Cried for days. I knew I needed to call my backer and tell him it was over, but I couldn’t bear to pick up the phone.

On Saturday, I did. “Hi, Mr. Goodtime, it’s Dr. Brandt from the university. I’m afraid I have some bad news. Our research wasn’t approved by the department. We’ll have to try to find a new-”

“Wait a second,” Goodtime interrupted, “I had a two hour meeting with someone named… Kimball on Friday. He said you passed the research over to him because you thought he had more experience.”

I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to curse Kimball. I wanted to kill the bastard. I had been cheated out of something I’d been working on for almost two years.

“I’m guessing that’s not true, though?” Goodtime asked into the silence.

“No.”

Goodtime either coughed or laughed, I couldn’t tell which. “Well, Dr. Kimball is decidedly not the person with whom I wish to work. I can’t trust a man with ethics like that. He’d probably screw me out of my tour. He also… can’t be very smart. He had to know you would call to tell me the bad news.”

“Listen, Mr. Goodtime, I know this mess isn’t what you had in mind when you donated to the project. If you’d like to work with a different university, maybe UM, I would understand.”

“Nonsense, Dr. Brandt! Your dedication to this project is awe-inspiring. In fact, I was going to attempt to convince Kimball to bring you back onto the project when I thought you were selling yourself short. Now we just need to get him to back down.”

“That might be harder than you think. He’s a stubborn man.”

“Oh, yes, I could tell,” Goodtime said, the smile on his face audible. “He was pushing me for more funds at our meeting. I laid out the same budget I showed you, but there always seemed to be some unforeseen cost. I’m sure I’ll think of something. This project will get back to our hands.”


It was over a week before I heard from Goodtime again. I was in my office, reading through a carbon dating analysis of a wooden handle found at Cahokia when Kimball’s secretary told me he wanted to see me. I was afraid this was the end of my academic career at Southern Illinois University. I planned what I would say to Kimball – tried to figure out what insults would hurt him most – on the short walk down the hall. To my surprise, he was smiling when I walked in. He looked me over from head to toe with that disgusting leer that I had almost grown used to, then turned back to the man sitting across from him.

“Miss Brandt! This is Alan Goodtime, though I suppose you know that already. He informed me of the unfortunate misunderstanding we’ve all had. Please, sit.” Kimball gestured to a chair next to Goodtime with a blubbery forearm.

“What we’ve worked out, Miss Brandt,” Kimball continued, “is that I will be the lead archaeologist on the project. We’ve expanded our search site beyond Hill 27 to include the site of the old prison and a Union dock of which there is physical evidence, but not textual. You’ll be managing a small team.”

“You’ll be managing Hill 27,” Goodtime said, still smiling at Kimball.

“Of course. Miss Brandt will manage Hill 27.”

“And on that happy note, how about we celebrate with a cigar?” asked Goodtime, producing a small box of cigars from inside his grey suit.

“Good God!” Kimball exclaimed. “Are those red dot Cohiba toros?”

Goodtime simply crinkled his aquiline features into a calm smile as an answer.

“That box must have cost $75!”

“Considerably more, Dr. Kimball,” Goodtime said. “These have been barrel aged to bring out the sweetness without making them heavier. But it’s a joyous occasion, so I splurged.”

Goodtime offered the box to me and I quickly declined. My father had died of lung cancer in his forties. Since then, neither I nor my brother touched tobacco products. Kimball grabbed his greedily with clumsy sausage fingers. Goodtime followed Kimball out onto the terrace, but I noticed he left the box of cigars on Kimball’s desk without taking one for himself.

I could hear Kimball hacking in his office for the rest of the day. I assumed the asshole had been merely playing along with Goodtime to gladhand him and inhaled the cigar smoke. The next day, though, Kimball called in sick. It was a wonderful day at work.

The next time I saw Kimball he looked thinner, though not exactly in a healthy way. Though still stretching the average waistline, his clothes hung on him like a beggar and his eyes were sunken deep into twin shadowy pits. His cough didn’t seem to ease on his day off. In fact, though he started habitually sucking cough drops, it seemed to get deeper and more phlegmy.

Goodtime stopped in to check on the progress of getting the proper authorization to start the dig and asked if there was anything he could do to speed the process along. He pulled another box of cigars from his pocket, offered one to me – which I declined – and left the box on Kimball’s desk.

Kimball’s clothes continued to dwarf his slimming body. For whatever reason, he hadn’t yet bought a wardrobe that fit. I passed him walking up the short, almost useless flight of stairs that led into our department two weeks before the dig was slated to begin. He had paused on the second step and leaned on the railing, puffing like a marathon runner. I didn’t want to stare, but it looked like blood flecked out of his mouth and dotted his wrinkled lips with each exhalation. By our lunchtime meeting, Kimball looked visibly ill; his skin was a greenish yellow and, instead of his usual two italian club sandwiches, he ate a few saltine crackers. I should have recognized the symptoms. I had seen them before.

I was getting ready for bed when I got a call from Kimball’s secretary. She was obviously in tears; her voice broke several times as she spoke. “Dr. Brandt, I have bad news. Dr. Kimball,” she broke off and I could hear muffled sobs, “fell into a coma at his home and died this evening.”

“He died?” This was unexpected. I hated the man, but death always hit me hard. Maybe it was dealing with my father and Julian in such rapid succession.

“They said he died from multiple organ failure. I don’t understand it, Emily. He was healthy! …aside from the obvious. They said it stemmed from untreated lung cancer that must have been in his system for 18 months. He didn’t have lung cancer. We would have known.” I could hear her throat bobble as she tried to hold in another round of sobs.

Lung cancer. Of course. His symptoms were the same as my father’s, but came much more quickly. Impossibly fast. And Miriam was right; Kimball was healthy other than his weight problem. I hadn’t heard him cough a single time until Goodtime brought the celebratory cigars. Maybe it was something to do with them. I had to warn Goodtime. The rest of the conversation with Miriam passed in a blur as I responded robotically to Miriam’s greif. As I hung up I decided I would take her to lunch. She was a nice lady.

The next morning I dialed Goodtime’s cell as I drove to work.

“Dr. Brandt! Good to hear from you.”

“You have to stop smoking those cigars!”

“Thank you for the concern, but I don’t smoke. Is this about Dr. Kimball? I heard the news last night.”

“It is. I think there must have been a problem with that tobacco. The autopsy showed he had had lung cancer for 18 months, but that’s impossible; he would have shown symptoms before then.”

Goodtime was silent for a moment before he spoke. “Well, Dr. Brandt, I do confess that the tobacco isn’t exactly the blend that should come in a Cohiba. I mixed in some Mediterranean tobacco oil for flavor. I sell them quite often. And give them as gifts to my friends. They all report that the taste is enhanced. Sweeter. None of them have experienced any ill effects, though. No more than smoking an untreated cigar, I suspect.”

“It just doesn’t make sense,” I said.

“Death rarely makes sense, Emily. I have seen more than my share. Good people have died and the nefarious have carried on for decades. I’ve known men to smoke from their teens into their 90s and die of nothing more than old age. I’ve seen snuff tobacco eat away a man’s upper palate in his first year of casual use. There is no reason to death, it simply is. Not a reason our minds can comprehend, anyway. If anything, Emily, take solace in the fact that his cancer progressed so quickly he didn’t have to suffer much.”

That was a good point. Toward the end, my father was in constant pain. Pain that couldn’t be sated by any drug. I felt the reason behind my suspicion fall away like mud drying in the sun.

“Also, Dr. Brandt,” Goodtime prodded into my thoughts. “The agreement I made with Kimball states that you are the secondary project supervisor for our dig. I suppose you’re the main, now. Your department will also need a new chairperson. After my donation, I’d imagine any recommendation from me will be given significant weight. You’re too young, but who would you support? Who shares our wide-eyed wonder about discovery and the unknown?”

“Barbara Winston,” I said, feeling dazed. I was lead of the project. The expanded project. Could I handle that? And also… Goodtime had said we’d get the project back. Was it possible that he planned for this? Did he know about Kimball’s condition?

“Splendid. I’ll make the call. Now, Dr. Brandt, I’m sorry to cut our conversation short but I have to go to California for a few days. When I get back, I suspect we’ll be digging!” He chuckled. “And please, Dr. Brandt, don’t doubt your abilities. You are the right person for this job.” The phone clicked as the line died.


“We hit metal!” a tall undergrad called, his small gardening trowel twirling in his hand.

I rushed over to Hill 27 from the tent under which I had been filling out paperwork. The Illinois State Historical Society and several Native groups wanted updates on everything we found and I was preparing the first round of reports. So far, we had found nothing of interest. Some carved shells that may have been Native coins which were practically a dime a dozen, a Union belt buckle by the dock. That was it. Nothing on the outskirts of Hill 27, not even anything to indicate the hill itself was artificial, like we believed. I prayed the metal wasn’t a false alarm.

It wasn’t. By the time I made it to the hill, the dig team had uncovered the top edge of a heavy, metal door and a stone roof. As the dirt was moved away from the entrance, we saw that the hill had been built atop a stonework bunker that sat halfway below the level of the land. This close to the Mississippi, it was possible that the bunker would be partially underwater when we opened it. Opening the door, however, proved to be a more difficult task than it would seem. Buried in moist dirt for 150 years, it had rusted. The door was made of heavy enough steel that the latch and hinges hadn’t rusted away completely, but they had rusted enough to be frozen. We would have to burn through them with an acetylene torch. Before we could do that, however, we needed to measure and photographically record the entrance.

I called Goodtime that night to invite him to the site when we opened the bunker two days later. I also called the university film school to see if they could send some graduate students to record the event. Some of the other project managers got in touch with local news and the mayor of Alton. It was going to be a big day.

When it came, it seemed the public didn’t have the perception as our team. The mayro was busy. Two local news crews showed up so their weatherman could do an on-site broadcast. Upon seeing each other, one news crew headed back to St. Louis. The film school had sent a single student – an undergraduate working on an honors project. At least Goodtime showed up and seemed as excited as I was.

The torch made easy, though time-consuming work of the steel. A crew of workmen hired from a construction firm cut the door and lifted it out of the dig site. When we invited them to stay to see what was inside the bunker, they declined – only after the foreman asked again if they could take the steel door for scrap.

From the outside, we could tell that the bunker wasn’t wet from the nearby river. There must have been a natural stone bank underground that kept the soil somewhat drier below. The three project managers, Goodtime, and I went in first, lighting our way with headlamps. The bunker was empty or, rather, almost empty. The word FLAMMABLE had been painted around the room. A spartan wooden desk that looked as though its legs might break if a deep breath fell upon it sat in one corner, two sheets of paper atop it.

Three of the walls and the ceiling of the bunker were stonework, typical for Civil War-era buildings. The floor and the fourth wall, however, were stone. The existence of a natural stone wall suggested Hill 27 had existed in the natural landscape and the Union army dug it away and built the bunker quickly to conceal that anything new had been added to the site. The stone was smooth and looked as though it had been tooled to remove the natural jaggedness. In the center of the wall was a large drawing: a reptilian creature with a humanoid face and a long tail.

“A Piasa dragon,” said Goodtime in an awed voice. He must have been following my headlamp.

“No,” said one of the project managers who was investigating the painting work on one of the flammable warnings. “A Piasa bird has wings, like the one on the cliffs of the Mississippi. Here, I’ll pull it up on my phone.”

“He’s right, Todd,” I said. “The original Piasa had no wings. That was an invention of a European ethnographer around the time of American independence. This is what we’ve seen on walls and jugs at Cahokia. Good eye, Mr. Goodtime.”

Goodtime smiled. “Indeed. I apologize for leaving the party so soon, but I think I need a little fresh air.”

As Goodtime climbed out of the pit, I made my way to the desk, keeping a hand on my shirt to prevent contact with the table as I looked at the documents. Each was a letter addressed to Lt. Col. Arthur Dolan. The first was from Abraham Lincoln, ordering Dolan to destroy the Alton Arsenal as it ‘served no purpose in a peaceful time and should not exist to tempt men.’ It was dated two days before Lincoln’s assassination. The other letter was from Andrew Johnson, dated four days after the first, belaying Lincoln’s orders and asking that the Arsenal be sent to Fort Schuyler in New York. It wasn’t as good as finding the Arsenal still in tact, but it proved that there was a secret Arsenal stored in Alton during the Civil War. I was elated.

Over the next few days, we worked to preserve the letters and the desk, though my team deemed the desk as lost to rot. The Civil War specialists investigated the site for a full day before declaring the nearly empty bunker safe for the next team. With the sun hanging low in the west, I made the decision to send everyone home and let the Native American specialists have the site the next day.

I was finishing off my first bottle of celebratory wine when I got the call from Goodtime that changed my life.

“Dr. Brandt, it just came to me that I noticed something odd at the dig site today.”

“Oh,” I was drunk and it took me a second to remember that he had even been inside with us for a short time. “What was it?”

“I think it would be best if I showed you.”

Was this his way of asking me on a date? He wasn’t bad looking, but there was something strange about him. An electricity in the air when he was around, but not in the way that typically signifies attraction. More like actual electricity; a feeling of unnatural power. It made me slightly uneasy.

“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, Mr. Goodtime. I’m not in a state fit to drive.”

“I’ll pick you up, then. I think you’ll want me to when you know what I saw.”

“Why don’t you tell me, then?”

“A second doorway. It had been mortared over, but it was in the stone near the Piasa.”

He was right. I was interested. But it made no sense; I had looked the entire room over and my trained eyes had spotted nothing. “Mr. Goodtime, I didn’t see any evidence of that. Is this just wishful thinking because we didn’t find anything physical? The letters we recovered are a huge find.”

“Dr. Brandt, I’m certain of this. Would you kick yourself if I was right and you missed out on finding it before tomorrow?”

He knew me too well. “Fine,” I said, and gave my address.

We entered the dig site and set up several halogen lights at the stone wall. I could make out the Piasa again, the drawing preserved perfectly in the bunker. I scanned the wall slowly, finding nothing out of place. I cast an annoyed glance at Goodtime, who was standing with his hands behind his back and a slight smile on his lips.

“Can’t see it?” he asked.

“Goodtime, there’s nothing here. There’s no way a patch job could hold up perfectly for over a century.”

He walked to the Piasa bird, then traced his pinky along a thin, straight line that ran upward from the stone floor. It looked more like a crack than anything else. He was deluding himself, hoping he could find a relic like Indiana Jones and be featured in the news. I told him as much.

With a powerful kick, he fractured the stone.

“Stop!” I yelled, worried that he had already done damage to something important, something irreplaceable. I rushed to the Piasa drawing to make sure cracks hadn’t spidered up to it when Goodtime kicked again.

A second shout caught in my throat as his second blow had broken through the stone into another room.

“My god,” the words escaped my mouth without my awareness.

Goodtime grasped the top of the low hole he had made and pulled another chunk away, opening the passage enough for us to both duck through. He disappeared inside.

I followed and nearly fainted at what I found on the other side. The small stone room contained hundreds, maybe thousands, of drawings. Some were in the typical Cahokian style, others looking decidedly more European. One wall was filled hard-lined characters that looked like Nordic runes. Another wall depicted figures in the style of the Hastings Tapestry. But, as awe-inspiring as those drawings were, the most mind-boggling sight sat in the dead center of the room. A stone-hewn coffin with a small, beige tree growing around it.

The coffin was shaped roughly like a canoe that flattened into a rectangle at the lid. There were more runic carvings on the coffin, though they were difficult to make out from the coverage of tree roots. The strange, finger-like roots seemed to hold the coffin in a strong grip the extended, not from the ground, but from the wrist of the tree trunk. The short tree sprouted into a mass of thin twigs that looked like veins in a bloodshot eye. The crimson leaves hanging on the branches only enhanced that image.

“What can this be?” I asked myself, again the words escaping on their own.

“This wall recounts the legend of Yggdrasil, the world tree. It tells of the Norns, the keepers of the tree and authors of fate, who answer to none but Odin, himself. It also describes that anything taking direct power from the World Tree is white as eggshell. Most of that must be parable, corrupted in a centuries-old game of Telephone. Grey seems to be the true color.”

“What-”

“And this wall,” Goodtime interrupted, “alludes to Merlyn’s meeting with the Lady of the Lake, also supposed to be a Fate like the Norns. The Native drawings here are of the Piasa dragon and a couple other local legends. You’d be more familiar with them than I.”

“How are you familiar with any of it? I mean, forgive my stereotyping, but you seemed like a rich guy with extra money to spend on your interests, not someone who can read ancient runes without the aid of a translation guide.”

“I have walked many miles, Emily. Lived countless lives.”

“The benefit of an inherited fortune, I’m guessing?”

Goodtime laughed. “Something like that.”

We both stood in the small room, taking in the sight. I imagined this was how Howard Carter felt when he and his financial backer Lord Carnarvon found the tomb of King Tut. Emotional though it was for me, Goodtime had tears in his eyes.

I hated to break the childlike, innocent wonder that hung in the room, but I had a duty to protect the site. “I’d better call someone to come down and help me log this.”

“No,” Goodtime said, a crackling intensity flashing through his voice and lighting his eyes in a way that made my stomach climb into my throat.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Brandt,” he said, calming himself. “This is what I’ve been looking for. It cannot leave my possession. Too many people have… Too much has happened to lose it now.”

“Too many people what?” I asked.

And then it clicked. Kimball. Goodtime had to get rid of Kimball so he could find this room. He needed someone in place who could be manipulated by the promise of an exciting discovery. Someone who wasn’t as pig-headed and skeptical as Kimball.

“You killed Kimball,” I accused. “Were those cigars laced with uranium?”

“Nothing so crude.”

“And what would’ve happened if I took one when you offered? Collateral damage?”

“I know about your father, Emily. I spoke with your brother after what happened to his daughter and those other girls. I knew you’d never touch the things, same as me.”

“You spoke to him?”

“Yes. I suggested he call you so he would have someone strong to lean on during his time of need. As he did when your father passed.”

My brother and I stopped talking after Dad died. We weren’t mad at each other, we just got busy. Or maybe the memories were too painful. He called me when his daughter went missing. I kept him sane until she was found.

“I guess I owe you for that, but you’re still a murderer.”

“You don’t know everything about Kimball, Emily. Did you know he’s paid off two undergraduates to stay quiet about sexual advances? Makes you wonder how many went unreported, doesn’t it? Students will do a lot for good grades. Did you know he was brought up on rape charges when he was a graduate student at Vasser? The case never went to trial.”

I couldn’t say anything Goodtime was telling me came as a shock. It confirmed that there was nothing wrong with me, though. He hadn’t singled me out.

“I’m not sure you’re the one who gets to decide his punishment,” I said.

“And yet I did.”

Goodtime wiped the straggling tears from under his eyes and smoothed his grey blazer.

“One goal of archaeology is repatriation, is it not?” he asked.

“It is.”

“Dr. Brandt, this necropolis belongs to me. It is a member of my family entombed in that box and I wish to conduct a proper burial.”

“And you’ll kill me if I refuse.”

“I won’t. I won’t even try to stop you physically. Verbally is a different matter. If you alert the police to what I’ve done, I won’t run. I’ve been moving for too long. I need to rest. I need to stop. One way or another, Alton is the end of my journey.”

My mind was already made up, but I decided to let Goodtime sweat. He chose the right person to lead the dig; I couldn’t back away from a mystery. I had a feeling that if I called the police and had Goodtime removed from the digsite, he would take answers to a lot of questions to his grave. He may have taken a life, but he saved two. Maybe three. My brother and his wife weren’t coping well when they got in contact with me. I helped them stay rational. I wasn’t doing well, either. Julian hadn’t been gone long and I was feeling a pull to join him. The call brought me out of my funk. Maybe it balanced out.

“Fine. I’ll help you. But only if I get to know what’s going on here.”

“I will tell you as much as I know myself, that much I promise.”

I pulled out my cell phone to dial the project managers. “I’ll make some calls and tell everyone the dig is halted because of a legal dispute over land and artifact ownership. It’s a common problem. And, I suppose, true.”

Goodtime nodded. “We’ll need someone trustworthy with physical strength to help us move the coffin. I’ll call a young friend of mine.”

 

Alain Bontemps    |    Alan’s Extra Room    |    The Rorschach Painting    |    Goodtime Voice-O-Matic    |    The Siege of Calais    |    I Owe My Life to Alan Goodtime    |    The Alton Arsenal    |    The Death of Alan Goodtime    (other stories in the arc)

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