Chapter 5 - Uncertain Ground
Melinda watched Victoria hug her great-grandson and his blue blanket then straighten his jacket and tie. Her eyes drifted to Robert, Ruby, and Grandfather as she recalled the last time her family braved the early morning to see Janice and her off at the train station. But this was going to be a much different trip, she repeated to herself.
"You be a good boy and listen to your Mama and Aunt Christine," Victoria said firmly.
"Yes ma'am," JJ said with a smile.
Christine grinned, nudging Mel with an elbow.
At least one of us is excited, Mel thought with a raised eyebrow.
The distance they were going to travel continued to bother Mel, not to mention her closest friends in Athens were now all gone or deceased. Georg, Janice's good friend who was always with her on her digs, had moved to Australia with his wife. And Octavia, the owner of that rundown hotel Janice had lived in, was dead.
Mel sighed sadly recalling that polite letter she received from Octavia's niece, Peppina. The niece, whom she never met, sent her congratulations on her pending nuptials to Michael Hurlbut and sadly informed her of Octavia's unsuccessful struggles with a stroke which finally claimed her life.
"Are you ok, Mel?" Christine asked quietly, squeezing her friend's forearm.
"Fine," Mel said with a small smile. "I just keep thinking how far away Greece is," she admitted with a furrowed brow.
"Don't you worry, Mel," Christine said firmly with a confident smile and started rooting around her purse.
Christine was certainly capable of babysitting, Mel reminded herself. On the several occasions, Christine had looked after him without incident. Well, except for the time she lost JJ down town....
"I'll be prepared for anything!" Christine declared with a grin, triumphantly whipping out a Greek phrase book.
Mel blinked at her friend. Dear Lord....
"You keep those two out of trouble, ok son?" William Jacob Pappas whispered in his great-grandson's ear as he hugged him.
JJ nodded with a grin. "Yes, sir."
"Do you want me to hold onto your blanket while you're gone?" William asked hopefully. JJ frowned, tightening his grip on his blanket. "No thank you, sir."
William looked at Mel, who shrugged. Why his great-grandson needed a security-blanket was beyond the retired Army Colonel, who rolled his eyes.
It's going to be just fine, Mel told herself as she watched her son, now with Ruby and Robert. ‘We'll go, I'll translate the scrolls, they'll see a few sights, we'll come home,' she silently repeated to herself. ‘We'll all come home.'
"Here you go, JJ. For your trip." Ruby held out a bag of her special oatmeal cookies, bringing a big smile to JJ's face.
Robert chuckled as JJ immediately opened up the bag. "Don't you go eatin' them all at once, now."
"I won't, Robert," JJ promised and eagerly pulled out a cookie.
Mel received a hug from her grandfather. "Seems like just yesterday when you left before," he said softly as they watched JJ happily consume a cookie.
"Yes, it does," Mel said stiffly, then cringed, unable to ignore Christine's continued attempts at Greek.
"Yasoooo teychanics...uh teekanies..." Christine mumbled as she attempted to say ‘hello, how are you.'
"What am I thinking? He's too young," Mel suddenly blurted, turning to her grandfather as worry flooded her face. "I'm crazy to think..."
"It'll be good for JJ, Mel," William interrupted with a warm, reassuring smile which helped settle her nerves a bit. "Travel was good for you and did wonders for your brother," William added, gaining a raised eyebrow from his granddaughter.
He had a point. But they were in their thirties at the time, not six. And why did Greece have to be so far away from home? If anything happened....
Mel sighed uneasily as Ruby came up and hugged her.
"Don't you be working all the time. You have some fun too, ya hear?" Ruby told Melinda.
"Yes, ma'am," Mel said, then received a hug from Robert.
"Yassas techoyis, Yassoooas...," Christine tried again, causing JJ to cringe and walk over to her.
Christine looked at him over her book with a warm smile. "Yes, sweetie?"
"Try ‘Miláte Angliká' instead," JJ suggested, surprising Christine, who flipped through her book for a translation. Finding it, her eyes narrowed at the helpful boy.
"Do you speak English...Very funny," Christine said flatly. JJ giggled.
The train whistle blared, startling Mel and prompting the good-byes to end.
Victoria released her granddaughter from a warm hug. "Have fun," she said softly, looking intently in her eyes.
"I think with those two, I won't have any choice," Mel said with a small smile.
"Ok, JJ, we've got to go now," Melinda said, holding her hand out, which her son happily took.
Christine smiled and waved, eagerly climbing up the passenger-car steps to begin her adventure.
The family stood on the platform, cheerfully waving to the travelers as they boarded.
"Don't forget to write!" Victoria called, evoking a smile and nod from her granddaughter as she followed her son.
The well-wishers gasped when JJ's blanket caught on the railing, causing him to fall up the metal steps. Mel quickly caught him, allowing a collective sigh of relief from the group.
"This was a good idea, right dear?" William discreetly asked Victoria as he looked at the train.
Janice's eyebrows furrowed as she looked at one of the seven stones. Scratching her head, she placed it down and picked up another one, inspecting it intently as well. She sighed heavily, not any closer to figuring out what they were telling her. They all had markings on them but they were not Greek or any other language she recognized. And frustratingly, the newest stone, which supposedly completed the set, did not help her get any closer to understanding.
She shook her head and looked at the map of Greece. Perhaps the markings were somehow related to geographical positions. The stones were supposed to guide pilgrims to the Temple. And legend had it that the temple was Greek.
‘Legend had it,' she thought with frustration. It was a fucking needle in a goddamn haystack!
But it existed. And she would find it, she promised, for the boys . . . and herself.
Cataloging the last stone of the set, she neatly drew the markings in her journal, next to the previous six symbols. She stared at the seven marks in her journal and willed them to speak to her with furrowed brows. After many stubbornly silent minutes, she exhaled heavily and returned her attention to the stones, rearranging them in a line, hoping a different order would prompt some insight. Then she rearranged them again. And again.
Ah fuck, she thought and sat back in her chair, rubbing the back of her neck. She was always better at finding things than translating, she considered, prompting a wave of sadness to wash over her.
‘Fuck fuck fuck fuck...' she chanted with great frustration, stopping when she heard someone outside the tent.
"Am I interrupting?" Greta asked uneasily, hesitantly poking her head in the work tent.
"If you are coming here to yell at me, yes," Janice said bluntly, picking up the stone with a symbol that looked like a mountain, or perhaps it was an arrow.
"I'm not here to yell, Janice."
"We'll see how long that lasts," Janice muttered absently, and for the hundredth time, eyed the back side of the stone which was smooth and without markings.
"Look, I am just . . . oh never mind," Greta blurted with irritation. "I'll guess I'll figure out what's going on -eventually," Greta said tightly and started to leave.
"What? Greta, wait. Figure out what?"
"What you are doing. What you are planning. What you are hoping for," she said with great frustration.
"I'm looking for the Temple of Truth so I can find out about Faith and the boys' relatives," Janice said with confusion. She had clearly told everyone in the camp that already.
"I KNOW that, Janice, and you said you needed these stones to find it somehow..."
"Then why the third degree?" Janice asked curiously.
"You are placing a lot of fa . . . uh, I'm just concerned you are getting the boy's hopes up about finding their family. What if you don't find this temple? You've already spent over two years looking for it."
"I've spent over two years getting these stones so I could start my search," Janice corrected her through gritted teeth.
"So how many more years of our lives are you going to spend looking for it?"
"As many as it takes until I find it," Janice blurted angrily. "You know, no one is forcing you to stay, Greta," she added coldly, turning to the table to continue inspecting her stones.
Greta cringed, then took an uneasy breath.
"How can you be so sure this mythical temple even exists?" Greta persisted.
Janice's eyes narrowed. "I have a feeling."
"You have a feeling," Greta said flatly.
"You see, this is why I can't talk to you. You don't understand!"
"I don't understand because you won't talk to me!"
"For Christ's sake, Greta, what about the Xena scrolls! And the goddamned ambrosia! Those things were supposedly nothing more than myths too. How can you possibly stand there and ... Ah FUCK," Janice blurted with exasperation and threw her arms up in the air. "If you are not going to have FAITH, sweetheart, just leave."
The pain in Greta's eyes caused immediate regret. Exhaling the last of her angry steam, Janice tried to explain.
"I know this temple exists, Greta," Janice softly offered with conviction. "I've heard about it growing up. I've read texts that refer to it. And I feel it . . . in here," Janice said, pointing to her heart, hoping she would understand.
"I'm surprised you feel anything in there, Janice," Greta said bitterly and stormed out of the tent.
Janice sighed, staring at the swaying tent flap a long moment before her head dropped.
"So am I."
On a hill overlooking the small camp, a man lay with his binoculars. He sighed, watching the same things he had for a couple of days now . . . the camp dwellers, coming and going, sitting around the camp fire, eating, talking, laughing, arguing, doing chores, and retiring to their tents at night.
He cracked his stiff neck and continued his observations, really hoping they would break camp soon, so he could finally see some action and some of that money Mr. Filo promised.
Scanning over the tents, he watched that uptight blond emerge from the largest tent, march past that intimidating tall man, the truck, and right into a smaller tent which she shared with Dr. Muló.
He watched the very tall man. ‘Ivan,' he recalled from that barroom meeting. He sighed heavily when Ivan shook his head as he hunched over and disappeared into his tent. Looking for something else of interest to observe, he pointed his binoculars to the road.
The man noticed with interest that the other, shorter man and two boys were
walking towards the camp from the road with their arms full of supplies. His
eyebrows furrowed curiously.
Chapter 6 - Evening Routine
Melinda carried her sleeping son into the hotel suite as Christine followed. The long trip wore him out, she concluded with a smile as she gently placed him on the bed. He moaned groggily and rolled on his side, snuggling his blue blanket.
The crisply uniformed bellhop brought the luggage in as Christine frantically flipped through her book.
"Oh oh...Efcharistó!" Christine finally said triumphantly, causing the bellhop to grin at the bubbly American.
"Shhh!" Mel said, pulling the shoes off her oblivious child.
"Sorry . . . " Christine said with a cringe, then noticed the bellhop patiently waiting for a tip. Some things were international, Christine considered with amusement as she pulled out a bill from her purse and eyed Mel, who nodded.
Before handing it over, she flipped through her book. "Ah...Eeneh meh toh serveess?" She coyly asked the handsome man if service came with that.
"Christine!" Mel snapped with embarrassment.
The bellhop grinned at the American as he took the bill. "That can be arranged," he said in English.
"Oh my," Christine said with a pleased grin, fanning herself with the small book.
Oh Lord, Mel rolled her eyes.
After a few hours with no progress, Janice shook her head with irritation and retired to her tent for the evening.
Finding Greta laying down, facing the tent wall, Janice sat carefully on her own cot, which creaked slightly. As she quietly took off her boots, she eyed the still woman, wondering if she was asleep.
"Greta?" Janice called softly.
"What?" Greta answered tightly, unmoving.
"I'm sorry," Janice said sincerely.
Greta rolled on her back and stared at the tent ceiling with a heavy sigh, having heard that before. And each time Janice meant it. But that didn't change the fact they continued to fight and Janice continued to single-mindedly continue her quest, oblivious to the doubts and concerns of the others in her camp. Oblivious to her.
"For what it's worth, I . . . " Janice said softly, then paused cringing at how the words would sound.
Greta turned and softly encouraged her. "You what?"
"I want you to be happy," Janice said sincerely.
Greta sighed and looked up at the tent ceiling. "I want you to be happy too," Greta said with a sad laugh.
She heard Janice get up from her cot. Turning, Greta curiously watched the archaeologist pull up a chair and sit by her cot.
"I know you are not happy here," Janice said as Greta sat up.
"Janice, location has nothing to do with it."
"I know," Janice said with an understanding sigh.
"You do?" She said hesitantly, daring to hope.
"You are not practicing medicine like you were meant to."
"I'm not," Greta said flatly, amazed at the archaeologist's incredible ‘insight.'
"Of course not. You were meant to do more than the occasional doctoring you're doing. This camp life is just not giving you the challenge you need."
"Are you saying I should leave?" Greta blurted uneasily.
"You should do what's best for you, Greta. I just don't want you to think you have to stay, out of loyalty or . . . " Janice paused, realizing she somehow hit another nerve when Greta's eyebrows furrowed. "...some thing," she finished uneasily.
"So tell me, Janice, what would you have me do? Apply to a local hospital for a position? I'm sure they would just jump at the chance of hiring an ex-Nazi. I do have a unique resume and unusual experience. Can I count on a letter of reference from you?" the former concentration camp doctor responded heatedly.
"For Christ's sake Greta, I know it won't be easy. But you have a gift. And before anyone is going to give you a chance to share that gift, you've got to believe in yourself. You've got to let go of the past to move forward," Janice lectured with conviction.
"Move forward?" Greta said in disbelief.
Janice nodded emphatically.
"Excellent advice, Janice. I'm amazed you aren't taking it yourself!" Greta snapped with annoyance.
"NO!!!" A chilling voice screamed out in the night.
"Daniel . . . " Greta gasped with concern as Janice bolted from her chair.
The women and Ivan quickly joined Lee, who retreated from the boys' tent, holding his bleeding forearm.
"Put the knife down," Lee said calmly, though he was nervous. He had woken Daniel from nightmares before but he had never seen the boy sleepwalk, let alone wield a weapon.
Janice looked at Lee's wounded arm then his face with worry. When he shook his head and returned his gaze to the boy, she exhaled with relief that his injury was not bad.
"Get back you Bastards, get back!" Daniel called out brandishing a knife at the mouth of his tent, tears streaming down his face.
"No Daniel," Paul called out to his brother. "That's Lee!"
"They're going to take us away," Daniel said frantically. "Don't you see? They're going to take us away!"
Greta cringed, but remained silent as she quietly retreated to avoid aggravating Daniel further. She had learned the heartbreaking lesson that she was not the one to rouse the boys from their nightmares. No matter how much they had grown to genuinely care for each other over the years, during the night, in the uncertain haze of dreams, she would be nothing more than a frightening Nazi doctor.
"No we won't, Daniel, put the knife down," Ivan added calmly.
"Daniel, you are in Greece," Janice said firmly, taking a step closer to the frightened boy.
"Get back," he said, looking around the dark camp and pointing the knife at the menacing shadow which continued to slowly approach him.
"Daniel, put the goddamn knife down now, before someone gets really hurt!" Janice ordered the young man, who cringed and looked uncertain.
"Back off," he said hesitantly at the dark form which took another step towards him.
"That's it! You have another book report. And it won't be as easy as Moby fucking Dick, oh no! And if you don't put the goddamn knife down right now, you'll have to recite it in front of the entire camp!"
Daniel froze and looked at her with confusion. "Muló?" he asked as she easily took the weapon from him.
"Yeah," Janice said with relief and pulled him in for a hug.
"I don't want to leave," he said and started to sob.
"I know. And I swear to you, if anybody tries to take you or your brother away, it'll be over my goddamn body," Janice vowed as she held him and rubbed his back.
Her eyebrows furrowed. "Hey, you know cursing is bad, right?" she whispered into his ear.
Daniel nodded as he held onto her tightly.
The man on the hill lowered his binoculars as he yawned. At least the commotion was something different, he shook his head and looked at his watch, wondering when his relief would arrive.
Lifting the binoculars back to his eyes he continued his observations of Dr. Muló, who led the boys back into their tent. He panned over to watch that uptight blond go to help tend to the injured man's arm as the tall man, Ivan, paused, thoughtfully surveying the camp and returned to his tent.
In the warm glow of the lantern, Janice quietly watched the young boys return to their cots.
She recalled the first year of their freedom, when she routinely tucked the boys in for the evening. She found simple and much-needed comfort in that ‘chore' as she struggled with the search for her daughter that grew more and more discouraging as days became weeks, and weeks became months. And she thought the boys appreciated the nightly ritual too, until one night, when they surprised her with an announcement that she didn't have to do it anymore.
Her head told her they were just growing up and wanted to be independent. But her heart still ached at the loss.
Occasionally though, she would have an excuse to tuck them in, like tonight, when all of them needed that basic contact.
Janice knelt by Paul's cot and pulled up his blanket. "You ok?" She asked as she absently brushed the hair off his forehead. Paul nodded yes and yawned, causing her to smile and squeeze his shoulder.
"Night Muló," Paul said and closed his sleepy eyes as she got up.
"Goodnight, Paul," she said warmly, and went to Daniel, who couldn't meet her eyes.
"It's all right now, Daniel," she said softly as she knelt down and pulled his blanket up.
"I hurt Lee," Daniel said in a tight voice, finally looking at her with pain in his eyes.
"Yes, you did," Janice said and gently held his forearm. "But Greta is looking after him. He'll be fine," she continued in a confident voice that helped ease his conscience a bit.
"But I hurt..."
"Daniel, it was an accident. We all know that," Janice interrupted. He looked in her eyes, finding acceptance in them. As he always did.
"Of course, we'll all be a bit more cautious from now on when we try to wake you from a nightmare," she added with a small smile and absently caressed his forearm with her thumb.
When he grimaced and nodded, she let out a small, relieved breath.
"Try to get some rest, ok? We have a busy day tomorrow, starting with a long walk into the city tomorrow morning."
"We're going into the city?" Paul asked, his eyes now wide open with interest.
"Yep. Gotta get you guys books for those book reports," Janice said, provoking a moan from Daniel.
"Hey! I wasn't the one who . . . " Paul started to complain.
"Paul," Janice interrupted. "I thought you were the one who liked reading?" she challenged him, provoking a chuckle from Daniel.
"Shut up, moron," Paul snarled at his brother.
"Jesus Christ! That's ENOUGH!" Janice barked, causing the boys to cringe.
"Yes, Muló," the boys said weakly.
"Go to sleep," Janice ordered them and walked out of the tent, shaking her head.
Chapter 7 - A Trip into Town
The sun was barely up but Janice easily woke, eager for the day to begin with the boys. She smiled as she got up and quickly began dressing.
A groggy Greta moaned as she watched the energetic woman button up her shirt. "You disgust me," she grumbled, amusing Janice, who finished buckling her belt and sat on her cot.
"You know, you should stop beating around the bush, Greta - just tell me how you really feel," Janice said with a smirk as she put her boots on.
Greta looked at her thoughtfully.
"Muló?" Paul called from just outside her tent entrance.
Janice looked at Greta with surprise that the boys were already up without any of the normally needed encouragement.
"Come in," Janice said.
"Muló? We wanted to talk to you about the trip into town," Paul said uneasily, glancing at his brother, who nodded.
"You are not trying to get out of going to get more books are you?" Janice challenged them evenly.
"No! Uh, we were just wondering . . . " Paul continued uneasily, making Daniel grimace with annoyance and finish for him.
"We are men now, Muló. We don't see a need for a babysitter to get our books!" Daniel blurted.
"I see," Janice said neutrally, glancing to the ground with disappointment. She had planned that they would also go to the museums, and tour the city's sites, like they usually did on their trips into town. She had thought they enjoyed discussing things they saw, like she did. They were very sharp kids. But now, she wondered if they had ever really enjoyed it.
"Actually, it will also give you more time to figure out those stones . . . " Paul interjected quickly. Daniel looked at him uncomfortably.
"Yeah, it would," Janice acknowledged reluctantly, knowing their future was in her hands. And she owed it to them to succeed. She scratched the back of her head. "You'd still be going into town with Lee?"
"Yes, we would be going in with him," Paul said.
"And you'll be back before dark?" Janice asked.
"Yes," the boys quickly responded with anticipation.
Janice sighed. "All right."
The twins looked at each other and smiled at their victory as they quickly turned to leave.
"So what are you ‘men' going to do for money?" She called out with a raised eyebrow, placing her hands on her hips.
They abruptly stopped.
"The library is free," Daniel announced.
"But lunch isn't, stupid," Paul said, glaring at his brother, and held out his hand towards Janice.
Janice rolled her eyes and grabbed her wallet. Pulling out the money, she paused and eyed them. "What three things do you need to remember?"
The boys looked at each other and sighed before answering in unison "Keep our eyes open. Use our heads. And be prepared to pay the price if we screw up."
Janice nodded with satisfaction as she handed over the money.
"Thanks!" They said and rushed out of the tent.
Janice stared at the tent flap a moment and sighed. "I didn't expect that," she said, her eyes dropping.
"They are growing up, Janice," Greta reminded her softly as she got up.
"Yeah," Janice said reluctantly, sitting on her cot, feeling a little lost.
She glanced at Greta, who changed out of her night shirt, exposing the creamy flesh of her slender back. Janice politely looked away, but her gaze drifted back to Greta, who after fastening her bra, slipped on a blouse. The doctor turned slightly, enabling Janice to watch as the doctor's fingers reached the buttons over her ample . . . .
The suddenly uneasy archaeologist averted her eyes from the beautiful woman.
After clearing her throat, looking at her boots, then inspecting her nails, Janice had an idea.
"You interested in going for a walk?" Janice asked uneasily, getting a surprised look from Greta at the unusual offer. "It's a beautiful day and it might be nice to spend some..."
"I can't," Greta quickly interjected as she put her slacks on. "I know it's easy to forget because it's so occasional, but I've got some doctoring to do," she informed Janice crisply as she buckled her belt and went to her black bag.
"Greta, I'm sorry if I've offended you," Janice said with a heavy sigh.
Greta inventoried her bag, ignoring her. Janice sighed again.
"You need any help?" Janice asked hopefully, wanting a break from those perplexing stones.
Greta closed her bag. "No thank you, Doctor Covington. I think I can manage these menial medical chores without your help. Besides, I wouldn't dream of coming between you and your stones," she said and left their tent.
For the second time that morning, Janice was left behind.
"Ah . . . fuck."
After paying the cab driver, Melinda turned and looked up at the impressive building.
She recalled the last time she ascended the steps to the Department of Archaeology, when she was determined to get that most unpleasant Dr. Maveros to admit her part in framing Janice for stealing Greek Treasury gold. And the inexperienced Southerner did just that, clearing Janice of all charges, Mel recalled with a satisfied smile.
Back then, before they had become lovers, Melinda treasured their friendship. Janice brought out the best in her and a strength Mel never knew she had, along with a fierce protective streak, much to Janice's displeasure, since it had put Mel in danger.
But it was all worth it, Mel believed. Every single moment, she considered as her emotions stirred, threatening to bring tears. Taking a deep breath, she pushed her glasses up, tucked her purse under her arm, and ascended the stairs.
Thankfully, the circumstances were much better this time. And now, she was ‘Doctor' Pappas, a respected translator of ancient texts, she considered as she entered the familiar office with a confidence she did not have all those years ago. A confidence she would never have achieved without Janice Covington, she believed as unexpectedly strong emotions welled up again.
Melinda cleared her throat with furrowed brows, determined not to let her memories embarrass her in public.
The secretary looked up with surprise at the obviously irritated woman. "I'm sorry, have you been waiting long?" The young woman asked nervously.
"No, I just got here," Mel said warmly. "I'm Dr. Pappas. I'm here ..."
"Oh you're Dr. Pappas!" The secretary interrupted, startled by the revelation. "I'll let Dr. Hendros know you are here right away!" She said quickly and picked up her receiver. "Doctor, Dr. Pappas is here . . . yes, sir," she said and looked up to the visiting academic.
"Please go back, he's eager to meet you. I'm really sorry I kept you waiting, I didn't mean to...."
"What's your name?" Mel asked, surprised at how the color drained from the woman's face.
"Nitsa . . . ?" She said uneasily.
"Nitsa. That's a pretty name," Mel said with a friendly smile. "Please, call me Melinda," she added, holding her hand out, surprising the young woman, who shook it uncertainly.
"Uh, ok. Melinda," she said hesitantly and received a pleased smile from the beautiful woman. It's a shame she has to wear those glasses, she considered as she watched the otherwise stunning woman leave.
Nitsa didn't hear the phone until the second ring. "Oh!" She blurted and finally answered the phone. "Dr. Hendros' office...."
Melinda knocked on the office door, which was quickly answered by a distinguished, grey-haired man.
"Dr. Pappas!" He said, genuinely pleased. "Come in, come in," he said eagerly.
"Dr. Hendros," she said as she held out her hand, which he vigorously shook with both of his.
"Is there anything I can get you? Tea, coffee . . . something a bit stronger, perhaps?" He grinned.
"No thank you, just the scrolls," she said with a smile.
"There's no wasting time with you, is there?" He said with a chuckle.
"Well, not when I know exactly what I want," Melinda admitted.
"I wouldn't dare keep you waiting then! The scrolls are in the archives at the library. I'll walk with you," he said pleasantly, motioning politely to the door.
"I am very interested in hearing how you obtained these scrolls, Dr. Hendros," Melinda said, pushing up her glasses as they approached the secretary's desk.
"It was quite fortuitous for us, I'll tell you. When artifacts are ‘found' by uh, well, non-academics . . . ," he said and cleared his throat, causing Mel's eyebrow to rise with interest. "...we usually lose out to private collectors and the world never gets to share in the treasures of history," he added shaking his troubled head.
"Well, I am very pleased you won this particular battle with the black market," Mel said sincerely, then sighed and added softly. "I didn't think I would ever get the opportunity to translate another Gabrielle scroll."
"I'm surprised you didn't continue searching for them. Wasn't Dr. Covington convinced there were many more out there just waiting to be found?"
Mel's eyes dropped briefly. "Yes, she had many sites in mind. But after she died, I . . . didn't know where to begin," Mel said uneasily. A polite smile appeared on her face.
Dr. Hendros nodded and smiled, then glanced at his secretary.
Melinda exhaled heavily and pushed her glasses up.
"Nitsa, I'm going to take Dr. Pappas to the archives. I'll be back shortly."
"Yes, Dr. Hendros," the young woman responded brightly. "Nice meeting you Dr. Pappas, uh, Melinda," she added, mesmerized by the older woman's striking eyes, even beneath those unflattering spectacles.
"Likewise, Nitsa," Mel said and left for the library with the older man, oblivious to the young woman's continuing gaze.
The third ring startled the secretary, who, with a sigh, picked up the receiver.
"Dr. Hendros' office."
Standing on a corner, somewhere in Athens, Christine studied her small travel guide. She looked up at the road signs with funny looking letters, then down at the map in her guide book. A heavy sigh escaped as her brow furrowed.
"Are you lost?" JJ finally asked, looking up at his aunt.
"No," Christine responded firmly. "I just don't know where we are," she explained reasonably.
"That's lost," JJ countered simply, shifted his blanket under his arm and looked around the bustling streets with great interest.
"All right, Mr. Smarty Pants, here" she handed the boy the travel guide. JJ looked at it blankly, then up at her.
"I thought you might be getting hungry so I was looking for the Hercules café," she said with a thin smile, surprised when he nodded and started to look through the pages.
"You want to go to the Hercules café??" A man who overheard her stopped and asked.
Christine smiled brightly at the English-speaking man.
"Yes, do you know where it is? I would be much obliged for directions," she said sweetly to the handsome man.
"I know where it is, but you really don't want to go there," he warned.
"It's a tourist trap - way over priced. I work at the café across the street, which may not be much to look at but it's got great food and a better price. I can take you there if you'd like?" He offered warmly, smiling at the pretty woman.
"Yes, please! That sounds perfect!" Christine said happily, walking with the handsome Godsend, who abruptly stopped after a few steps.
She looked at him curiously.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" The man asked with a chuckle, looking back at the corner, where an irritated boy with a blanket stood, still holding her guidebook.
"Oh," she said with embarrassment. "Uh, JJ?" Christine asked, putting her hand out. JJ exhaled heavily and ran to her side, taking her hand.
"Wait a minute," she said and stopped, getting curious looks from Lee and JJ.
"Shouldn't we be introduced before I follow you . . . to god-knows-where?" she said coyly.
"Oh, yes, I'm sorry. I'm Lee Grossman," he said as held his hand out.
"I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. Grossman. I'm Christine Whitherspoon," she took his hand and slowly shook it.
"Please, call me Lee."
"All right, Lee, but only if you call me Christine," she said, getting a smile from the man, whose hand she still possessed.
"I can't begin to tell you much I appreciate your coming to my rescue. I'm afraid I haven't mastered Greek yet. I ..."
"I'm JJ!" JJ interrupted, tired of being ignored.
Christine glanced down with narrow eyes. "Yes, this polite little dear is JJ."
Lee chuckled. "Do you like Baklava, JJ?" Lee asked, getting a smile and a nod. "Well, the Plebeian Café just happens to have the best," he said proudly. "Are you ready?" He asked, politely offering his arm.
"I'm always ready," Christine responded and took his arm.
Daniel yawned as he and his brother walked into the library.
"Back so soon?" The librarian asked with an easy smile for the boys.
"Hi Miss Agnew," Paul said happily, pulling out their books from a beat-up saddlebag and returning them to her. "We've got another assignment," Paul said with a weary sigh, making the young woman grin.
"Where's Dr. Muló?" She asked curiously, looking around them for the intriguing woman who had asked her to give library cards to the young boys, even though they did not attend the University.
The new librarian was reluctant at first, though the very amiable and persistent Dr. Muló had very convincing reasons, like the University's library was much better than the public one . . . with a far better looking staff. But when the young librarian happened to see those blue numbers tattooed on the twins' arms, she suddenly agreed. She never regretted bending the rules for the boys and found she looked forward to seeing them and Dr. Muló almost every week.
"Uh, she stayed home," Paul said uneasily, glancing at his brother.
"Oh, that's too bad," Miss Agnew said with a frown. "Well, good hunting," she said warmly as she turned to help a student, who came up to the desk.
The twins headed to the usual stacks and glanced over the titles. Daniel rolled his eyes, already bored. "This is hell," Daniel exhaled, annoying his brother, who was eagerly looking at the titles.
"You know what Muló says, knowledge is power."
"Yeah. Yeah. But I'd rather be out in town looking at stuff with Muló than stuck in here. I wish we didn't insist on coming here alone," Daniel complained, fingering the spines of some books with a grimace.
"Look, if we can't do simple chores, like getting our own books, she might not want us around anymore," Paul reasoned quietly, looking at a few college students busy writing at the large desks in the center area, hoping to join their ranks someday.
"What makes you think she wants us around now? She's so eager to hand us over to some relative we don't have . . . ," Daniel argued quietly, glaring at the curious students that stared as they passed behind them.
"She wants us around! She hasn't put us in an orphanage," Paul countered in a hushed tone.
"That's because we lied to her. What will happen when she finds that temple and finds out we don't have any more relatives left?" Daniel argued.
"The temple is a myth . . . " Paul repeated Greta's words uneasily, not entirely convinced himself.
"Right. What about those stones?" Daniel argued. "You know she's gonna find it, and then we'll be looking at an orphanage, if we're lucky," he said ominously.
"She wouldn't put us in an orphanage," Paul insisted.
"No, she'll probably kill us for lying to her," Daniel said.
"She would not," Paul said with irritation.
"Dead," Daniel persisted.
"She would not."
"Six feet under."
"She would not!"
"Here you are," Lee said, happily serving his two new customers and friends their baklava.
"That looks good enough to eat!" Christine joked, grinning at the waiter, who chuckled.
"It is, thank you very much," Lee said proudly.
"You made it?" She asked with surprise.
"Yep. I'm trying to be a chef . . . right now I have double duty," he said with a grimace, motioning to his white apron. "But someday, I'll have my own restaurant," he said with infectious enthusiasm.
Christine smiled broadly.
"Excuse me for a second?" Lee asked politely as more customers came into the café and waited to be seated.
"Certainly, but hurry back!" She said, watching Lee leave.
JJ shook his head at his Aunt and started in on his baklava. His eyes widened with surprise. "Mmmmmm!"
"So, it meets with your approval, Master JJ?" Christine asked with amusement at his enthusiastic nod and attack of the treat.
Lee chuckled when he came back and noticed JJ's empty plate and happy smile. "Whoa, where'd it go?"
"You give him good food, he's a friend for life," Christine informed Lee. JJ rolled his eyes and adjusted his blanket on his lap.
"Would your son like some more?"
JJ's eyebrows furrowed.
"Wha...? Oh...JJ is my best friend's son," Christine quickly
"Really?" Lee said. "So you're alone?" He blurted then cringed and quickly continued "I mean, uh, single?"
His interest immensely pleased the Southern lady, who found his awkwardness incredibly charming.
"I am very single," she answered with a broad smile.
"Oh," Lee said, delighted.
JJ sighed heavily and sipped his milk.
Chapter 8 - Discoveries
After a day with the scrolls that seemed to just fly by, Melinda carefully returned them to the archive shelves.
She had confirmed they were indeed Gabrielle's. And she had started translating a truly fantastic tale about her ancestors and Beowulf, fully expecting this story would cause a great uproar in the academic community. The thought brought a small grin to the translator's face. No different than usual.
The day with the scrolls was like a breath of fresh air, bringing her a joy of discovery she hadn't felt in a very long time. But it was time to leave them for now. She wanted to get back to the hotel and spend time with JJ. And she was very curious as to how he and Christine fared their first day exploring the city without her.
As Melinda left the archives and walked down the hall, she heard a loud commotion in the main library. With concern and great curiosity, she picked up her pace, heading towards the disturbance. Arriving at the main room, she abruptly stopped, stunned by the disaster before her.
Three rows of tall book shelves had been toppled over. Hundreds of books were scattered all about, looking like the result of an explosion.
Weaving her way through a crowd of cheering students, Melinda found the cause of the cheering . . . and the mess. She saw two boys wrestling on the floor, threatening even more damage, and a frantic Miss Agnew pleading for them to stop. Mel's eyebrows furrowed.
"She would not!"
"Pushing up daisies!"
"Yeeeoooow!!!" The boys cried out in pain as they were pulled onto their feet by their ears.
Their eyes widened at the imposing woman towering over them.
"Be nice," Dr. Pappas commanded evenly in a tone that demanded compliance, along with the unnerving blue glare.
When they numbly nodded, Melinda released their ears.
The irritated blue gaze fell on the student spectators. They groaned with disappointment and reluctantly disbanded to return to their less exciting studies.
As the disheveled boys rubbed their sore ears, they looked at each other, the fallen shelves, and books scattered on the floor, then back at the very unamused, tall woman.
With a sinking feeling, even Paul now considered that if the tall woman didn't kill them, Muló would.
The car bucked and protested all the way to the camp.
"You know you really didn't have to rent a car and drive me back," Lee kept saying to Christine, who had mastered the stick shift about as well as she had Greek.
JJ held his blanket tightly as he bounced in the back seat and looked out the window with great interest, fully enjoying the unexpected trip into the countryside.
"Don't be ridiculous, Lee. It's the least I could do for you saving us from the Hercules café," she said, smiling broadly.
"I don't think stealing customers from them earned all this, but I am grateful. It's a long walk," he said sincerely, with a warm smile. "Thank you."
"You're most welcome," Christine said, expertly shifting from third to first.
After chaperoning the cleanup effort, Melinda marched the boys to the back office in the archives. Making a quick call to the hotel to explain to Christine she would be back late, she found Christine wasn't back yet and left a message.
Hanging up the phone with an irritated sigh, she pinched the bridge of her nose, then focused on the twins fidgeting nervously across the desk from her. She exhaled heavily and glared at them, causing the boys to cringe and look at their feet.
She had learned from the librarian that they had survived the Nazi camps, but their parents didn't. Though having incredible sympathy for their hard lives, she couldn't excuse their horrible behavior.
Knowing they would likely lose their unique library privilege if the university officially got involved, Miss Agnew and Melinda had planned on just turning them over to their guardian for the unpleasant chore of punishing them. That was, until they panicked and pleaded for her not to. They seemed to be truly fearful of their guardian, which greatly disturbed her.
Finally, she broke the uneasy silence.
"You do realize, you two jeopardized Miss Agnew's job today with your little . . . display," Mel said crisply.
The boys looked at each other with surprise then the imposing woman with concern.
"She had given you a wonderful privilege. And what do you do? You show her your thanks by your boorish behavior in a place of learning, potentially damaging valuable books," Mel continued scolding them, causing their heads to further drop in shame.
Good, Melinda thought. They should be ashamed. There was hope for them, she considered and continued.
"Do you know how extremely fortunate you were that you didn't damage the books? And if a professor had witnessed your behavior, you would surely have lost your privilege. I am certain...."
Daniel looked up curiously. "Then what are you?"
"Excuse me?" Mel asked, amazed at his audacity to interrupt.
"Daniel," Paul hissed with warning, knowing they didn't need any more trouble.
"If no professors saw us and Miss Agnew called you Dr. Pappas, then why are you here?"
Mel's eyebrow rose.
"It's a library, stupid," Paul snapped at his brother. "Perhaps she wanted to read a book?"
"She's already a doctor, you idiot," Daniel argued.
"Just because she has a doctorate, doesn't mean she's never going to read a book again, you jerk."
Mel looked blankly between the two, amazed at their seemingly limitless capacity for aggravating each other . . . and those around them.
"Don't call me a jerk, you moron. And how do you know she was here to read a book? If I were a doctor,...."
"You a doctor?!? With how stupid you sound?"
Mel rubbed her temples, unsuccessful in making the throbbing go away.
"No, you shut up."
Mel looked at her purse with hope, then frowned, remembering she didn't have any aspirin with her.
"No YOU shut up."
Mel closed her eyes as she pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed heavily.
"No YOU make me!"
She really hated to yell.
"No YOU make me!"
But sometimes, it just had to be done.
"Will you two be QUIET!!" Mel roared with great frustration.
The boys froze under the cold glare.
Mel cleared her throat and spoke in a calm tone. "I had hoped we could resolve this unfortunate situation, but obviously I was wrong. It's up to your guardian to deal with you."
"No!" The boys responded with genuine panic, startling her.
"Please, we'll do anything!" Paul blurted.
"We'll stack more books."
"We'll clean floors."
"Just don't tell her," Daniel pleaded.
"You make her sound like a . . . ," Mel said, then paused as a disturbing thought came to her. "She wouldn't hurt you, would she?" Mel's eyes narrowed angrily.
"No!" The boys gasped with concern.
"She saved us from the Nazis!" Paul said with amazement anyone would actually think Muló would hurt them.
"And she's taken good care of us ever since!" Daniel added.
"She didn't have to," Paul blurted.
"But she did!" Daniel said.
"She's taken really good care of us," Paul added.
"Really!" Daniel said.
"Then why do you fear her so much?" Mel asked simply, wanting to understand, wanting to help.
"We're not afraid of her," Paul said uneasily. "Well, we are, but, not of her hurting us . . . we just . . . we just," he continued, rambling.
"We just don't want to be sent to an orphanage," Daniel admitted.
Mel felt incredible sympathy and surprising anger.
"If she is really is as good to you as you say she is, don't you think that sending you off to an orphanage would be a bit extreme for a punishment?" Mel questioned them, carefully searching their faces.
The boys looked at each other uneasily, not comfortable in saying any more.
"It's complicated," Daniel finally said. Paul nodded his head in agreement.
Melinda looked at the boys with frustration and decided she was going to have a long talk with this ‘guardian.'
In the work tent, Ivan and Janice stared at the stones.
"I know the answer is here, staring me in the goddamn face, but I just can't figure it out!" Janice growled, looking at Ivan with frustration.
He smiled warmly at his friend. "You will," Ivan said with confidence.
"I'm glad you have faith, Ivan," she said with a small smile for her friend.
"Answers will come, Muló. Do not worry."
"But when? When the boys are fifty?" She shook her head and sighed heavily. "Ah Christ, maybe Greta is right. How long am I going to drag the boys around . . . " Janice said, pausing when she heard a car.
"Now who the hell is that?" Janice barked with irritation, looking at Ivan.
"I'll find out," Ivan said. "You figure out those stones," he ordered, causing Janice to roll her eyes then shake her head with a smile.
"Wait a second," Lee said, jumping out of the car. He darted to the driver's side to open the door. "Well, this is it," Lee said uncomfortably as he opened the door and politely held out his hand for Christine.
She smiled and took his hand, looking around the camp with great interest.
"As you can probably tell, I'm not exactly rich," Lee offered with an uneasy chuckle, still holding her hand as he looked into her eyes.
"Perhaps not with money, Lee. But a good man is worth far more than his possessions," she said honestly, making him blush slightly.
"That's good to hear, since I don't have many of those . . . " Lee joked.
As the adults chatted, JJ got out of the car with his blue blanket. He looked at the two adults, who were completely absorbed in each other. Shaking his head with a sigh, he focused curiously on the camp.
He walked in front of a beat-up truck, drawing his hand over the bent and dirty bumper. He stopped, noticing the license plate was crooked and dented. As he was gently tracing his fingers over the numbers, the license plate fell off and hit the ground in a puff of dirt by his feet. His eyes widened with panic, darting around nervously before he picked it up and gingerly placed it on top of the bumper.
Deciding it best to leave the truck, JJ clenched his blanket tightly and quickly proceeded towards the center of the camp, which was encircled by four tents.
At the very center of camp was a ring of rocks surrounding bits of charred wood and ash. He smiled, imagining them telling stories by the fire. He loved it when he would curl up with Mama in front of their fireplace as she told him stories about Xena and Gabrielle. He picked up a heavy rock and awkwardly inspected it, then placed it back down with a thud.
Hearing someone, JJ looked over to the largest tent and gasped. Emerging from the tent was the tallest man JJ had ever seen. He was even taller than Mama!
Ivan was surprised to find a dark-haired boy with a blue blanket in the middle of their camp.
"Hello," Ivan said warmly to the stunned child, whose mouth gaped open as his head tilted way, way, way up to look at the tall man's face.
Ivan sighed, used to that response when he met people, especially children.
"Ivan! I want you to meet someone!" Lee called out happily, waving him over.
He looked down at the still frozen boy with an uneasy smile before he joined Lee and his pretty new friend.
JJ continued to stare at the tall man with amazement, until he was distracted by the angry growl rumbling from the tent.
"God Damnit!" Janice barked, clearing the infuriating stones off the table and onto the ground with an angry sweep of her arm.
After a shocked gasp, JJ blurted "Cursing is bad!"
Janice's head snapped towards the wide-eyed, dark-haired boy at the tent opening.
"So I've been told," she acknowledged evenly as she crossed her arms over her chest. "Who are you?" Janice asked gruffly, assuming he was with another lost American tourist.
The boy kept silent and looked to the ground.
Janice sighed, not meaning to scare him.
"Sorry," she said softly, noticing him continue to stare at the ground. "Something wrong?" She asked, still not provoking a response. "Cat got your...?"
"Mama told me never to talk to strangers," he blurted, looking up at her with his disturbingly blue eyes.
"But it's ok to scold strangers for cursing?" Janice countered, seeing the boy shift uneasily and tighten his grip on his blanket.
"Why were you cursing?" the boy asked, and glanced at the stones on the ground with interest.
"I thought you were not supposed to talk to me?" Janice countered with amusement, causing the boy to sigh with frustration.
"If you tell me who you are, you won't really be a stranger," he countered, causing the archaeologist to chuckle at his logic.
"I see . . . well, I'm Janice," she finally offered and waited for his name.
"Why were you cursing, Janice?"
"Oh no. You're still a stranger to me, and I don't know if I should be talking to you," she said, withholding a laugh when his brow furrowed with displeasure.
He remained stubbornly silent.
"Ok. Have it your way, Sport," Janice said with a shrug, sitting down and ignoring him as she looked through her journal.
When the boys' entered Dr. Pappas' hotel suite, their mouths dropped.
"Are you rich?" Daniel asked, but Melinda was too preoccupied to respond, noticing with concern that Christine and JJ didn't appear to be back yet.
"That's rude!" Paul hissed quietly, jabbing his brother in the ribs with an elbow.
"Ow! You wanted to ask the same thing," Daniel said defensively. "I just did! Look at this place!"
"Christine? JJ?" Mel called out uneasily, inspecting each room. Confirming they were not there, her face filled with worry.
"Is everything ok?" Daniel asked.
"I'm sure it is." Mel attempted a smile.
"You expected them back, didn't you?" Daniel noted. "Where were they?" He asked.
"Just in Athens," Mel said, still working on her smile.
"We can help you look for them," Paul said confidently. "And Muló will help too. She is really good at finding missing people."
"Yeah, she's found lots of family members of camp survivors. How hard can a couple of tourists be?" Daniel said with an easy shrug, gaining a nod of agreement from his brother.
Melinda finally smiled. They really were good kids, she concluded. And it sounded like Dr. Muló had set a good example for them. She was greatly relieved at that thought, and to hear the genuine enthusiasm for their guardian instead of fear.
"There's no need to panic yet, boys. My friend is a bit absentminded at times. She probably just lost track of time."
"Well, just let us know if you need help," Paul offered, getting a nod from his brother.
"I will, thank you. It is getting late, we should get you back to camp before dark," Mel said.
"Be prepared to pay the price if you screw up . . . " Daniel muttered.
"What was that?" Mel asked curiously. The words were vaguely familiar.
"Be prepared to pay the price if you screw up," Daniel repeated wearily, anticipating the worst.
"That's what Muló tells us," Paul explained to the tall woman, then looked at his brother, prompting the full mantra.
"Use your head, keep your eyes open, and be prepared to pay the price if you screw up," the boys chanted as he headed out of the room.
Mel smiled uneasily, recalling exactly where she had heard those words before.
"We'll be finding out what kind of price we'll have to pay soon enough," Paul sighed heavily with a shrug, following his brother out the door.
"My guess is another book report," Daniel groaned.
Approving of the constructive punishment, Mel smiled broadly as she closed the door, up until the boys abruptly stopped, glanced at their empty hands, and blurted in unison....
"I'm JJ," he finally relented with a heavy sigh. Janice withheld a grin. "Now, why were you cursing, Janice?" The persistent boy asked again.
"Well, JJ, I'm having trouble understanding what the stones are telling me," Janice honestly answered the boy, who picked up one from the ground and looked at it.
"They talk to you?!?" he asked with amazement and put the stone down, then picked up another one.
"No," Janice said with a chuckle. "But I wish they did," Janice admitted with a sigh, curiously observing the boy's fascination with the stones and their markings.
"What's this? A letter?" He held up the stone pointing to the character that looked like a mountain, or possibly an arrow.
"I don't know and that's the problem," Janice admitted as she watched the boy with the blue blanket carefully put the stone down then pick up another one for inspection.
"What do you want them to tell you?" He asked, surprising Janice. The boy was genuinely interested and asked good questions which she didn't mind answering.
"Where to find the Temple of Truth. They are called the stones of passage and they are supposed to be the key to finding the Temple of Truth," she said and sighed heavily at her lack of success so far.
"And why do you want to go to the Temple of Truth?"
Janice smiled at the amazingly inquisitive youth, who inspected the last stone.
"I am looking for ans . . . " she started to explain but paused curiously when he placed the final stone with its symbol face up, amongst the other stones he had arranged in a circle around himself.
"Ugh oh . . . " the boy said as he looked up at Janice.
After a bright flash, the boy was gone.
"Oh Shit!" she blurted, immediately jumping into the circle of
stones after him.
"Dear Lord, what was that?!?" Christine blurted, startled by the two bright flashes from the tent. "JJ? JJ?!? Where are you!?!" She called out, frantically looking around for the boy.
"Muló!" Ivan gasped and ran to the tent, followed by Lee and Christine.
They halted, seeing the ring of stones on the floor of the empty tent. Concerned looks passed between the men.
"What are they?!?" Christine demanded.
"I guess they really are the stones of passage," Lee said thoughtfully.
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