Aaron Elkins: Curses!

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Aaron Elkins Curses!
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Aaron Elkins

Chapter 1

I can't understand it,” Julie said, lifting a dog-eared pile of term papers and theses from the chair at the side of the desk. “You are basically a neat and orderly man. You don't throw your socks on the floor. You don't leave your underwear hanging on chairs. You clean up your own-"

"Careful,” Gideon said. “This is going to my head."

Julie looked unsuccessfully around for someplace to deposit the pile. Gideon pointed to the back left corner of his desk, already three inches deep in paper. “Jam it up against the wall so it doesn't slide off."

She did, began to sit down, and winced. From beneath her she extracted a metal nameplate: “Gideon P. Oliver, Professor of Physical Anthropology,” the plastic insert said. She propped it on top of the papers.

"So why,” she continued, “do you live in an office that looks like this?” Her gesture took in the entire cluttered space: the desk, the gray metal file cabinet, the two standing bookcases, the wall-mounted shelves over the desk that he had hung himself, defying university policy. All of it was overflowing with paper and books. Many of the books were open, lying helter-skelter with their spines up and bristling with torn-paper markers.

"It's a pedagogical device. Students get uneasy if professors’ offices don't look the way they do in the movies."

"No,” Julie said, “I think this is the real you. The monster beneath the surface."

"Grr,” Gideon said, and leaned over from his chair to pull her face down and kiss her softly on the lips. For a moment he kept his eyes open, looking up at the smooth, lovely face. Then he closed his own eyes and kissed her some more, moving his lips to nuzzle the velvet of her cheeks, and then her jawline, and then her throat.

"Gideon,” she said, pulling back a few inches, “the door's open. What if one of your students came by?"

"Are you serious? On a Sunday during winter break? No students for miles. No teachers either. Only me, trying to get this damn monograph in shape.” The thought of it effectively broke the spell. He sighed, leaned back in his chair, and slapped the uppermost sheaf of papers on the desk.

"And are you?"

"Getting it in shape? I don't know. I've lost the rhythm or something. It all seems stale. Or I seem stale.” He lifted the top sheet. “'A Reassessment of Middle Pleistocene Hominids,'” he read aloud. “'Taxonomic Reconsiderations Based on Recent Second Interglacial Evidence from Eastern Europe.'” He grimaced. “What do you think, does it grab you?"


"Me neither, and the title's the best part."

They both laughed and Julie squeezed his hand. “Come on, it's your birthday. I'm taking you out for lunch."

"I thought you had to work."

"Olympic National Park can get by without me for a few hours. Why don't we drive into Seattle? We could be there by one."

"I don't think so, Julie. We wouldn't be back till late. I'd really like to finish up this paper and get it out of my hair. Then I can do something else for the next three weeks."

"Like what?"

"Oh, I don't know. Build some bookcases for the study…maybe clean up all those fir cones in back…get the garage straightened out…"

"Oh, poor baby, you really are in the dumps, aren't you? Okay, we'll just go someplace here in Port Angeles. How about a steak at the Bushwacker?"

He shrugged and hauled himself to his feet. “Okay, sure."

"What's wrong, Gideon? Is it just the forty-first birthday blues?"

Yes, he supposed it was. That and the misty gray rain that had been sifting continuously down for nine dismal days and looked as if it wouldn't let up until summer. He was a confirmed lover of rain and fog, but the dreary, dark winters of western Washington were going to take some getting used to.

And then there was the fact that it had been a year and a half since his last dig. A year and a half without the renewing process of hands-on anthropology, a year and a half spent in classroom and office. And no prospect of fieldwork in sight. He felt, he explained to Julie, as if his career were standing still.

"Let me remind you,” she said crisply, “that in that year and a half you've started here at a new school, you've gotten your full professorship, you've solidified your formidable reputation as ‘the Skeleton Detective of America'-"

"Watch out now, don't push your luck."

"-and you've published three papers."

"Four. I know, Julie, that's all true. I guess I need to do some real work, not just paperwork. And I don't mean identifying dismembered skeletons for the FBI."

"Well, couldn't you get in touch with some of your archaeologist friends? Wouldn't they be glad to have you on a dig?"

"If there were some human bones involved, sure. And if some other physical anthropologist wasn't already part of the team.” He shrugged. “I guess that's what I'll do.” And then he'd wait months, years maybe, before anything came to pass. Popular accounts notwithstanding, human skeletal remains didn't turn up on digs very often.

"Fine. Good. Anything else bothering you?"

"Julie, do you know how old Rupert Armstrong LeMoyne is?"

"Ah, now we're getting to it. Who's Rupert Armstrong LeMoyne?"

"The dean of faculty. He's thirty-nine years old. Two years younger than I am."

"Gideon, would you want to be the dean of faculty?"

"Of course not. That's not the point."

"Would you like to be soft, and white, and self-satisfied like Rupert Armstrong LeMoyne?” She pushed him back into his chair, dropped into his lap, and put her arms around his neck.

Gideon submitted happily. Married two years and still his skin tingled when she touched him. “How do you know he's soft, white, and self-satisfied?"

"Come on, with a name like Rupert Armstrong LeMoyne?” She opened the top two buttons of his shirt and slipped her hand inside. “Does Rupert Armstrong LeMoyne have a furry, warm chest?” She kissed the bridge of his nose, flattened when he'd boxed in college. “Does he have a manly and attractive schnozz? Does he have a square, sexy jaw straight out of Superman comics?” That too was kissed, and she looked into his eyes from three inches away, her eyes slightly crossed. “How am I doing? Is this cheering you up?” Her hand was still on his chest, the fingers moving in slow circles.

With his hands on her hips he shifted her, seating her more firmly on his lap, and then stroked her thigh through the twill of her National Park Service trousers. Had he really been sitting there, listless and dispirited, just a few minutes ago? “I don't know if cheering me up is exactly the way to put it,” he said, “but it's doing something. Why don't we forget about lunch and drop over to the house for an hour or two?"

"Tell me,” she persisted, “is Rupert Armstrong LeMoyne the author of the best-known book on comparative early hominid phylogeny?"

"The only book on comparative early hominid phylogeny."

"Don't quibble. Now,” she said, and kissed his nose again, this time on the tip, “did I or did I not just get a pretty good offer on how to pass the next two hours?"

"You bet. And then let's give some thought to going someplace for a few days where it's not raining."

The telephone rang as he began to rise with her still in his arms, and they both sank back into the chair. “This,” Gideon said confidently, “will be a very short call. You answer it. Tell them I'm on my way to an extremely important consultation."

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