You like that piece, huh? Yeah, me, too. Real art, that is. There's a story about it, too. Hell of a story. Maybe tell you sometime ... Now? Take a while, you got time? Well, why not, then. Story I haven't told in ... Lord, I don't know how many years now. I'm over seventy, you know, coming down the home stretch now, haven't told it in ... well, it was back in the 'fifties when it happened, and after I told it a few times I sort of gave up and I haven't said much to anybody since then.
Grab a beer, then. OK, get me one anyhow, and whatever you want, it's in the icebox over there. This'll take a little time.
Ready now? Well, it all started with a girl. I was third year college and I was all in l-o-o-v-e just like any horny twenty-one-year-old and there it was, summer break looming up and her going out on field work for her damn major. Paleontology, that was—that's like archaeology, except a lot older. Anyhow, all I could think of was keep getting in her pants, and there were volunteer jobs doing the scut work, and what with one thing and another I found myself volunteering. For the whole damn summer, or so I thought.
Ever been on a paleontological dig? Sounds glamorous as hell, doesn't it, King Tut and all that, gold and jewels and stuff that's older than Jesus? And this was Montana, land of my fathers so to speak. Yeah, I'm Sioux—well, mostly anyhow, enough that they'd count me if I wanted to be counted. I don't, my parents brought me up whiteye and I've stayed that way. Still, I thought it'd be pretty neat to walk the hills my ancestors walked and dig in the ground where they lived. Kind of romantic sounding.
Tell you, it ain't like that. Not a damn bit. Not even if you're one of the big shots, let alone a dumb-ass volunteer who wouldn't know an artifact from a bear's ass. Just sweat and muscle and the hot sun all damn day when it's clear and wet and nasty when it's raining and dirty all the time. Took me about three days to figure out this wasn't how I wanted to spend a whole summer. Except the girl—Veronica was her name or something like that, can't really remember now—she was really hot to trot and once in a while we could get a little time to ourselves, and, well, I stuck to it. See, she was pretty happy about me being willing to do the grunt stuff just to be around her, and for maybe about three weeks it wasn't all that bad.
The piece? Well, I'm getting to that. Told you it was a long story.
OK, every day I'd dig for a while and then make collections of rocks and stuff, anything at all oddball or even a little unusual that came out of the pit, and load them in baskets to take over to folks like Jasmine who knew how to look at them right, or drag Jasmine— Veronica? I don't know, maybe it was that, maybe something else. Jasmine, Veronica, who cares now, no idea what happened to her, maybe even dead by now. Call her Miss X if you want. Anyhow, she or somebody else would come over to where I was digging and brushing all the dirt off each layer and look and shake their heads and move on. Same with the basketloads. Three weeks, I hadn't found a single thing they wanted to look at twice. Not one thing. Some of the others, they'd done it before and told me if I got just one thing all summer I'd be lucky. One bone, one fossil, anything. Told me some sites, they were "rich," they said, something coming up almost every day. This one, though ... I can see why they used us volunteers, they sure as hell couldn't pay wages for empty hands.
Then there was the one day...
It was maybe four, five o'clock; these days I can't remember so well, I just know it was late and I was ready to quit for the day and just turning another shovel or two, and all of a sudden there it was. Pretty much like you see it right there. Oh, dirty and all, of course, really dirty, I mean it was buried in dirt so what else would you expect, but they'd given us these little brushes and when I pried it out of the ground I brushed off a bunch of the dirt and there it was. Only thing I've really done since is wash it off in plain old water and put it on my mantel.
I knew right off it was something more than usual, of course. I mean, I was a college kid, not just some farmer. They say if you put a million chimpanzees in front of a million keyboards for a million years, one of those chimps would sure enough sooner or later type out the entire text of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Well, a million times a million times a million is ... well, a lot bigger number than I care to think about, and it would take at least that much odds before old Ma Nature managed to erode a rock into this kind of thing, and if that's what happened I could've played the numbers—they call it lottery now that government made it legal and took the big cut, but it was just the numbers then—I could've played forever and still not use up my luck. So I knew this was special.
Sure, I should have put it in the basket. Hell, forget the basket, I was supposed to pick it up like some relic of the biggest saint you ever heard of, of Jesus himself, and take it straight to the head honcho, the prof who was masterminding this dig. But he was short and fat and bald and ugly and an all-around asshole anyway, and Yvette was— OK, I told you I forgot the name. Anyhow, she was one helluva lot cuter and sexier, and I wanted her to see it first. Showing off, you know. So I stuck it one side and kept it, and when quitting time came I took it with me to her tent all ready to be told how great I was for finding it and giving her first look.
Oh, I got told, all right. But not right at first. What she did was look at it, and then look at me, then look at it again, then look back at me, kept going back and forth like that for maybe two, three minutes. Then she handed it back to me.
"Harry," she says, "let's go for a walk, OK?" Well, that sounded pretty good to me, even though she said it kind of flat. See, she was sharing the tent with some other girls, and besides the tents were a little crowded together and, being they were tents, you could hear from one to the next one pretty clear. Carmen was— yeah, yeah. Anyhow, she could get kind of loud when, you know, things got warmed up, and I figured, well, you can probably guess what I figured. Thought she wanted to get alone and give me something really special.
Boy, was I wrong!
We got a pretty good ways from the camp before she spoke again. Couple times I thought we were far enough—hell, that was as far as we'd gone a couple times before—but she wouldn't even slow down, just kept going on with me keeping up. Then suddenly she turned to me. On me, more like.
"Harry," she said—oh, I remember every word of this, haven't ever been able to lose it. It was her face mainly, she was looking at me like something crawled out from under a rock. "Harry, I don't want to take any chance of anybody hearing, you'd be out of here in a minute if anyone else knew about this. But don't ever—I mean ever—do this kind of thing again, or anything like it."
All I could say was "huh?" or "what?" or something like that. Had no idea what she was talking about.
"Stop it, Harry," she goes on. "You're probably bored and frustrated by not finding anything yet, but this is out of bounds. You can't just fake things. I know you're mainly here for me, and I'm making allowances, but I thought you at least took it seriously. It really is serious, you know, learning about the past, you can't just make a joke of it like this."
"Joke?" I said, kind of stupidly, I guess.
She shook her head real sharply. "Don't. Just don't. Now take that thing back wherever you got it and we'll forget the whole business, okay? But don't ever do anything like that again." And she just turned around and walked off, leaving me standing there in the bush with my mouth open and the piece still in my hand.
Oh, sure, I guess you could say that makes this primitive art, all right. Real primitive. But we know about a lot of primitive art, don't we? I mean, the cave paintings at Altamira and Lascaux and some of those other places are pretty spectacular, aren't they? So what the hell?
Anyhow, I was more than a little pissed that Miranda had made me out a liar right off the bat, didn't even give me a chance to say anything. They say hell has no fury like a woman scorned, but a guy who's called a liar when he isn't comes in a pretty good second. And when you're in your third year of college you think you know everything worth knowing anyhow. It took me about ten seconds to decide I was damn well going to show her. And there was a good way to do it right at hand, I thought: I'd take it to old fat-and-ugly himself. And I did.
He was in his own tent when I got back, but I'd worked up enough of a mad that I just barged in. As soon as I did, though, I realized that wasn't the best way to approach anybody, let alone somebody who thought as much of himself as this one seemed to do. I would've backed right out if I could have, but he looked up from whatever he was doing as soon as I came in and there I was with something in my hand. So I tried to make the best of it by coming on real respectful.
"Uh, sir?" I said, a little timid. "Sir, I found something today, I mean in the dig, and..."
I cut off because it was pretty obvious he didn't have a clue who I was. "Er, I'm Harry Whitehorse, one of the volunteers," I told him. "I guess you don't recognize me."
"The Indian," he said. "Native American. I have seen you. You are working well. You have something for me?"
I just handed it to him.
He looked it over. I'll give it to him, he really looked. Ran his fingers over it carefully, turned it all angles, gave it a good going-over for maybe a minute.
"Beautiful," he said at last. "Really elegant work. Your own, or someone else?"
"Um, no, sir, you don't understand," I told him. "Like I said, I just found it—"
He didn't let me finish. "You found it?" he said, sort of amazed sounding. "Someone simply left it here? How remarkable. A piece like this, it would sell very well in a gallery, it is lovely. Highly unusual for someone to just lose it."
"No, sir, nobody lost it," I said. "I mean, I found it where I was digging. It's the first thing I've found, and I thought I should bring it to you."
He looked at me, and his face started to turn kind of sour, a lot like the way Antonia had looked at me. "You found it," he said in a flat kind of tone of voice. "Where you were digging. In the dig?"
"Yes, sir," I said.
"You are joking?" he asked me. "Or someone is playing the joke on you?"
"No, sir, there's no joke, it was really there," I said.
"The ground where you found this, it was broken up?" he asked.
Well, it wasn't, in fact it was really solid. The piece, it was right under a rock that seemed like it had been there since longer than I can think, and there were rocks all around and underneath, too. Kind of like a box of embedded rocks, and it was right in the middle. I told him all that, and told him I was ready to swear to it. Nobody'd planted this for me to find, I told him, it was really there.
He just looked at me some more, for what seemed like a real long time. "You swear to all of this?" he said at last.
I told him I did. "It's honest-to-God part of the dig," I said. "I thought you ought to know."
And I'll be damned if it didn't go just the way Callistra told me it would. "Then you are the joker," he said. "You bring this to me—to me," he said, "and you tell me this is for true, this is 'part of the dig, ' it could not have been planted by someone else because how you found it, and you expect me to believe? You have worked in paleontology before? No, you have not. I am to make a fool of myself showing this... kitsch ... off? I think not. You will leave here today. No, tomorrow, it is too late for today. But early. Before breakfast. I will find a jeep and a driver. Thank you, your services are no longer required."