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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Defending Helen - No. 168

Carla typed the final line of her speech, her fingers blurring over the keys.  Drumming upon on her desk's blotter, she skimmed the summary paragraphs.  Her argument, substantiating the artifact’s lineage and suspected inspiration, concluded with easy prose.  She heard herself droning in her thoughts as she would in a few short moments from the auditorium’s podium.  Wincing, she reread the site information and tie she made to the first palace on that location.

"They're going to question the leap of logic," she said to the screen, and the claim facing her without a corresponding footnote.

Plucking the top volume, she sped through the stack of textbooks at her right.  She thumped one after the other onto the floor, barely missing her chair's casters.  When she dropped the last book, she pushed away from her desk, spilling the collection at her heels over chipped tiles.

Standing, she headed to the file cabinets lining the wall like metallic Doric columns.  She followed her finger along the front face of the first tower, and scowled at the labels.  "Do you know where Adam put the Iona files?"

Harvey's keyboard clacking, and the thumping bass from his headphones, replied.

Swiveling, Carla knocked on the workroom's central table, rattling the brushes and boxes of pottery shards.

Harvey looked up with a jolt, and popped his left ear-pip free.  "Huh?"

"The Iona files?"

He passed his droopy-eyed gaze over the cabinets.  "Try the last one."

"But that's for Heraklion, from three years ago."

"Maybe, but I think Adam put all of the Greek stuff together when he was reorganizing."

Carla rolled her eyes, and stormed to the indicated cabinet.  Yanking open the top drawer, she flipped through the tabs on the hanging files.  Each jewel-toned rectangle contained a tiny slip with a letter, and combination of numbers separated by hyphens and periods.

"What's with the colors?"

Harvey's typing stopped again.  "Huh?"

Carla glared over her shoulder.  "The colors?"

"Oh, Adam said something about each one representing the site's age, or maybe the type of artifact."  Harvey shrugged, shifting his battered tee-shirt upon his boney shoulders, and inserted his ear-pip.  He glanced at his laptop’s monitor, and then to the tray beside him.  Adjusting his glasses with one gloved hand, he brought a magnifier close and hefted the next piece to be cataloged into his palm.

With a growl, Carla wheeled back to the cabinet.

"H better be for Heraklion," she said to the folders.  "Which means I for Iona."

Sifting through the first drawer revealed none with the appropriate letter.  She shut the drawer, and investigated the second.  B's, more H's, P's and M's stared back.  The cabinet rocked as she slammed the drawer shut.  Hitching up her suit's knee-length skirt, she crouched, reaching eye level with the last drawer.  She drew a deep breath.

"You better be in here," she said, giving the metal face a warning glare.

In the back, she found tabs with I's, and then began reading the numbers.  The assortment didn't ascend or descend in any particular pattern, nor did the digits suggest any corresponding dates, whether from the site's origin or modern day excavation.

"Oh, come on," said Carla.  She plucked the first file, and opened the cover.  The usual paperwork, with notes on the artifacts found in the roped-off square foot excavation area, filled the manila file.  Observing the location, she glanced at the tab.

"Who organizes by site and region?"  Grinding her teeth, Carla parsed through her memory, dredging up the column of numbered dig sites no doubt on another obscurely filed paper somewhere in their collection.

The workroom’s door opened, and a pair of loafers slapped the tile, breaking her concentration.  Director Johnson's musty cologne irritated her nose but Carla prevented herself from sneezing as the needed number hovered at the edge of her thoughts.

Johnson, however, released a cough heavy with impatience, and his suit rustled as he clasped his hands behind his back.  "Doctor Peliaposa?  Are you ready?"

"Almost,” said Carla but the nearly grasped digit skittered out of reach.  She glowered at the cabinet.  “I'm trying to complete a last footnote."

"You know the whole auditorium will be waiting."

"I realize.  But if I don't find the corresponding evidence, the Committee is going to ask for it, either that, or some skeptic from the crowd."

"I'm certain you can deal with any of the audience’s or panel's questions."

"Just give me one more minute."

His sigh rolled across the room like an irritated tidal wave.  "Just one."

Carla closed her eyes, and ignored Johnson's hovering presence.  Raking through her wearied thoughts, she sifted through images of the Aegean coastline, shoulder-high pits of earth, and countless shards of pottery and chipped brick.  She tallied the squares until reaching the one where the head of the golden statuette broke the surface.

Even in her memory, the mid-day sun gleamed on the artifact, and her heart began palpitating with the same adrenaline-fueled rush.  Her fingers burned, recalling the hours of delicate brushing exposing the female face and figure.

"89-22.3," she whispered.

Opening her eyes, Carla spied the file containing the same set of numbers.  Rising, she streaked toward her computer, while flipping through the pages.  She tugged out the corresponding sheet on the statuette, and towered over her keyboard.  A click of the mouse inserted a note at the bottom of her speech, and her fingers flew, adding the location, date, material type and test results denoted in the file.

Racing steps stumbled to a halt by the door, but Carla kept her eyes on the screen.

"Director,” said a breathless young woman, “they're about to wrap up."

"I understand," said Johnson.  "Doctor?"

"Saving, now," said Carla, clicking on the corresponding icon.

“Tell them we’re on our way,” said Johnson.

“All right.”  The young woman sprinted down the hall.

"I'm going to go make your introduction,” said Johnson.  “I don't want to have to sing and dance."

Carla looked over her monitor, and grinned in the face of his mustachioed glare.  "You won't."

"No, I'll leave that to you."

Her smile faded, and an all too familiar wave of nausea roiled her stomach.  "I'm right.  It is Helen of Troy."

"I know," said Johnson, his ball-point gaze softening.  "But I'm not who you have to convince."  With a final nod, he strode from the workroom, the opaque glass making him a blurry silhouette as he walked away.

Carla grimaced, and glanced down as her computer beeped.  Unplugging her thumb-drive, she cupped the piece of technology in her now sweaty palm.

“I’m right,” she whispered.  She straightened her shoulders, and adjusted the hem of her suit coat before rounding her desk, and crossing the room.

"Give ‘em hell, Doc," said Harvey.

Carla glanced over her shoulder, where Harvey’s gaze remained on his work, earphones lodged.   She gave him a grateful nod. "Thanks, I will."

Seizing the door knob, she began a brisk march through the door, bent on those waiting to hear, and then undoubtedly challenge, the discovery of her lifetime.

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