As Christopher and Shama find themselves caught up in the rituals, power plays, and the disintegration of Inca society, Christopher must decide whether to stay in the sixteenth century or return to his family in present time. But is it even possible to return? His choice will determine whether he and Shama live or die.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.13(d)|
By JoAnna Daniels
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Christine Schlichte
All right reserved.
Christopher Giordano descended from a long line of dedicated archaeologists, a fact which would serve him well on his upcoming quest. With six years at Northwestern behind him, he had packed up his books, memories, and a few personal possessions then left Chicago in a blaze of no regrets. With a Master's in Archaeology, he completed the circle, and he intended to finally make some sense out of the unspeakable mystery that had enshrouded his family for three long generations. What really happened in that summer of 1920? Why had his great-grandfather vanished while exploring the ancient ruins of Peru? He had been with an expedition at the time, funded by the National Geographic Society. Christopher questioned why there was never even a trace of him found. Heading for the summer house in New Haven, Connecticut, his quest would begin there.
Christopher had somehow acquired that explorer's gene-that thirst for adventure first perpetrated on the family tree by his great-grandfather, Joseph Bennett. The one lost decades ago, Christopher had been told as a child. But lost where? And how?
This had puzzled him for years, with scant input from his elders. Though he had conducted his own discreet searches through various closets and drawers as he grew from an adolescent into a man, he had never found even a hint of his great-grandfather's experiences, not to mention his extensive research. The answers he sought remained as unreachable as his grandfather, Robert, Joseph's son. At seventy-eight years of age, Robert still declined any discussion regarding his father's so-called abandonment. He had buried that trauma.
Which confused Christopher. He had vivid memories of hours spent playing with his grandfather, or Abuelo, as he often called him. Horsing around on the beach, swimming, wrestling, and always, every day, the language game. Who knew how to say-
"Montaña!" shouted the eight-year old. "I said it first, Grandpa!"
"So you did. I'm getting slow," Robert chuckled with a shake of his head. "Now I wonder how I would say ... corn."
"Chuño!" the boy answered, laughing at his grandpa's vain attempt to beat him to the punch. "More, Abuelo!"
Robert laughed. "Okay then, what if you had just met a new girl or boy. How would you-"
"Hola! Que tal? Me llamo Christopher!" he proclaimed with a flourish, falling over with the giggles onto the sand.
Christopher laughed out loud in his car. Hefting him onto his broad shoulders, his grandfather would then converse with him all the way back to the house, speaking the funniest words, which he made Christopher repeat. And he taught him the Spanish language that way. By the time he was a teenager, Robert was slipping Inca words into the game. Eventually, they were carrying on full-scale conversations in that most ancient of tongues, Quechua.
The secrecy is what occupied Christopher's mind on the long drive home to New Haven. So many little things baffled him. Robert had made his own pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. But when it came to talking about that area or answering any questions about Joseph and the mysterious way he vanished, he had nothing to say.
At the age of twenty-seven, Christopher envisioned a new purpose before him, a quest in the truest sense, a journey of a lifetime. With the top down on his car, a balmy wind played with the generous length of rich, dark brown hair, sweeping it back from his face, revealing a strong brow and the straight line of his jaw. He had a full mouth, whose contours reflected the presence of a dark mood or the ease of a sudden, infectious grin. Contagiously appealing, whatever the case.
Compelled to unlock this mystery, he knew he would get the answers he needed in good time.
He hadn't seen his mother in two years. He had been too busy to leave school, and Diedra did not enjoy travel. His own penchant for travel and adventure lived with him every day. Throughout his college years, he had only subdued it in order to first have the tools he would need for the expedition that promised to open every door that had been previously slammed shut to him. He would not allow Joseph's disappearance to remain in obscurity.
There was vibrant life and a passionate intensity in the deep-set hazel eyes; a patient perseverance behind the sunglasses that rested on the bridge of his straight nose. Full lips remained relaxed as his fingers tapped out the rhythm to a popular jazz tune, though his thoughts remained far removed from the consummate strains of the saxophonist.
He needed answers. If his mother remained reticent, he would turn to his grandfather again. It had been years since they spoke for any length of time, but they had been close once. God only knew why Robert hadn't pursued his father's disappearance more actively.
The sun was just setting, casting a glistening ray of light over Long Island Sound, as Christopher pulled up to the house and parked his car in the driveway. He had so much to discuss with his family, topics they were not, and had never been, receptive to. Would anyone listen?
His gaze encompassed the houses that populated her shores and the small marina further down. The last time he had been there he was just a boy out of high school. It pleased him when his mother had written to say she had sold the old house in Hartford and would be living there year-round. He liked it in New Haven, just as his great-grandfather had. At times, he could still feel his strong presence along these shores and even in the house.
"Hello, son," a middle-aged woman called out.
Christopher spun around to see his mother waving at him from the patio door. "Mom!" he shouted. He walked across the yard and took his mother in a warm embrace. "It's great to see you." He squeezed her tighter then pulled away, letting his hands rest on her arms.
She looked as young as ever with her chestnut-brown hair pulled back off her face, eyes bright. The ocean air agreed with her.
"Come in and see what I've done with the place," Diedra said, encircling his arm as she led him through the kitchen and into the living area.
At a glance, his eyes took in the relaxed layout of the room. It looked out onto shimmering water. Very beachside. His mother always had a flair for interior design.
"Sit down, Christopher." She motioned him to the couch and took a seat beside him.
"Well ..." she sighed with a glowing smile, stroking his arm, "It's been six long years; now you're done. And your thesis was well received?"
"Yes." He smiled with her, reveling in the sound of it.
"What are your plans, son?"
It was only he and his mother now. He had no siblings, and his father had been killed in a car accident during his second year at school. The funeral marked the last time Christopher had taken part in a family reunion-and the onset of his mother's reclusive behavior.
At that moment his grandmother, Helen, came into the room. "Hello, young man!"
Christopher smiled, stood and gave her a gentle hug. She had grown fragile.
"Did I congratulate you on your graduation?"
"Yes, you did. Thank you, Grandma. Where's grandpa?"
"He's out walking. You know how he loves the beach," the older woman said.
"Your grandparents came by knowing you'd be arriving today."
"I'm glad you did. Still living in the old place on First Street?"
"Yes, we are," Helen laughed. "Almost fifty years now!"
Christopher was shaking his head. Couldn't imagine living in one place that long.
"You were telling us about your plans, dear."
Yes, my plans ...
He had no intention of getting bogged down with some boring desk job or even a Professorship. He had had something much more important on his mind for too many years. It's the reason he had gone into archaeology in the first place.
"I'm not certain yet. I've been throwing a few ideas around," he began. Broaching the subject of his great-grandfather posed a dilemma. Neither of the women would like what he had in mind. But it had to come out at any rate. May as well just say it. "I want to look into Grandfather Joseph's disappearance. I have the credentials now, and I-"
"Ah, no child!" his grandmother responded without any hesitation. "Let it go! How do you young people say, Get a life! That investigation was exhausted decades ago."
"So it was investigated? What did they find, Grandmother?"
"Nothing! They found nothing and they finally concluded that he had been murdered, then dragged away."
"How could they conclude that? Did they ever find his body?"
"Son," Diedra spoke up, "what is the point of reopening that tragic occurrence?"
"I know there's more to it, Mom. Murder is too simple. Who would have murdered him? Machu Picchu was deserted in 1920. There were a few farmers nearby working the terraces for their crops, but those people were not into violence."
"What are you saying, son?"
"I'm saying I don't buy it. There's another explanation, and I want to figure it out."
"All the information on that fateful day is as dead and buried as he is," his grandmother stated, adamant. She did not want him following in his great-grandfather's footsteps-not if it meant a similar tragedy.
"His body was never found. Doesn't anyone want to know what really happened?" Christopher asked pointedly, angered by their complacence.
"Your grandfather accepted his death a long time ago. To stir all that up again could kill him. Did you think of that?" The wrinkled skin on her face quivered, eyes blazed.
He should have known she would respond that way, and gently, Christopher reached out to her. "Grandma, I understand where you're coming from, I do, but in all fairness to grandpa, you could be mistaken."
"Mistaken about what?" The gravelly voice boomed from the doorway.
"Grandpa!" Christopher stood and gave his mentor a hearty hug in greeting. They were about the same size, and the older man was still strong, in spite of his years. Christopher received a crushing bear hug in return.
"How are you, Chris, my boy? Christ, you're looking fit," he said with a tight squeeze on his shoulder. The sun and wind had deepened the younger man's coloring on the drive home from Illinois. He looked as though he had been on a dig.
"I am, and I'm glad you're here. I feel outnumbered," he joked. It transformed the mood.
The women laughed and the older man took a seat. He looked at his grandson. "Tell me what it is your grandmother's mistaken about, not that I'll agree with you," he added with a wink.
Let the debate begin ... and as succinctly as possible.
Christopher came directly to the point. "We've been talking about your father, Joseph," he said. "I intend to find out what really happened to him."
"Do you think that's wise, son?" Robert asked him.
"Yes! The report's too simple. My gut tells me there's much more to it."
His grandfather was listening.
This was good. Christopher filled in the silence.
"Aren't you even the slightest bit curious to know the truth? I know you had to live your whole life without him, but that's even more reason to want to know ... why."
"Will knowing why bring him back?" Robert questioned in his low voice.
Christopher watched him stand and walk about the room, pondering the unexpected question.
"I'm too old to rake up the past. I've done my share of excavating ancient ruins," Robert said, his tone bordering on the philosophical. "It's been seventy-two years, son!" His gaze swerved to the younger man.
"I'm not asking you to. This is something I have to do, Grandfather. I've spent years thinking about this. I want to know the truth. I want to trace his last moments at Machu Picchu ... no matter where it takes me," he stated, his face flushed with intensity.
"Oh, Chris." Robert was shaking his head. How could he divert him from this course? "Do you know where this could lead you?"
"I'd like to know."
"You could find something you don't want to find."
"Is that why you gave up searching? Afraid of what you might find?"
"I was a boy!" Robert reminded him. "By the time I'd grown into a man, I had accepted it. I hardly even knew him. But I trusted the authorities. I believed what they told us."
Having walked right up to his grandfather, Christopher looked deeply into those wise, aged eyes, not letting up. "They were wrong! You know they were. You taught me to speak Quechua. Why did you do that if you didn't have some theory of your own?" When there was no response, he pressed his point. "Maybe you thought I'd be able to solve this mystery for you if I spoke the language. Is that why you held on to it all those years? Talk to me Grandpa!"
The older man sat down again and let his shoulders relax back into the soft leather recliner. Had time finally caught up with him?
"Who knows why our subconscious drives us the way it does ... or where it does?" he uttered, as though suddenly resigned. "Maybe you're right, Chris. Maybe I was preparing you. I don't know." He crossed his legs, rested his hands in his lap and looked over at his wife. She was watching him, worried. Both she and Diedra had kept their own counsel while the two men came to some understanding. "Oh, don't look so concerned, Helen," Robert said. "The boy's right. Something should have been done in the twenties, for Christ's sake!"
Hearing the suppressed passion beneath those words, Christopher leaned forward in his chair, elbows on his knees. "I take that to mean you don't mind if I pursue this."
"You'll do what you have to do. I can't stop you. But where will you start?"
The younger man sat back in his chair again and exhaled. "If only I had something tangible to go on! There has to be more on his expedition-a journal, some cataloguing of his short time at the site. Something. Anything! We archaeologists document everything."
Robert let his eyes move again to his wife, who held his troubled gaze, wordless. For a brief span of several moments, the room was uncomfortably still. Christopher stood up.
"Think, Grandpa! Do you know if anything else was ever found when they searched the area at Machu Picchu? Any other effects? Any clues?"
Robert continued the silent communication with his wife, the only other person in the world he had confided in.
"Maybe it's time you told him," Helen conceded with a sigh.
Diedra's face betrayed her own confusion.
The older man put his hand to his head, thinking hard. When he looked up, his face revealed the strain of his long-guarded secret. "There is more, son. All in the old trunk at the house ... up in the attic." He was shaking his head. "But I haven't been up there in nearly fifty years!"
Christopher's voice deserted him, and he stared at his grandfather, the words he wanted to speak lodged thick and incredulous on the walls of his throat. Had he heard correctly?
A deafening silence halted any further conversation for a few astounded moments.
"A trunk?" he finally whispered, staggered.
With a little nod of his head, Robert's smile emerged ever so slowly.
Chapter TwoChristopher awoke before dawn. There was no way he could sleep even one minute longer. Slipping on some clothes, he moved quietly through the house and into the kitchen. He prepared a pot of coffee. Ten minutes later, he pulled a jacket on over a shirt that hugged the firm, broad lines of his chest and shoulders, filled his car mug with strong coffee, and left by the back door.
It was a short drive to First Street. Christopher parked in front of the old, brick house that still evidenced meticulous care and attention, and he waited. It didn't look like anyone inside was up yet, and he didn't want to awaken them. He would sip his coffee for a while. He had plenty to think about.
The truth was, a million possibilities crowded his mind. What would he find in the old, forgotten trunk? His great-grandfather's notes and the true purpose of his expedition to Peru? he hoped. Maybe some of his last-minute discoveries. A little insight into the nature of his demise would be nice. He even pondered the notion that he, himself, could soon be leaving for Machu Picchu.
Christopher laughed. Getting a little ahead of yourself there, aren't you? He had the habit of looking too far ahead, aiming for some distant place in the future rather than staying in the moment. The Sagittarius in him, his mother always said. Maybe she was right.
Don't expect too much ... in fact, don't expect anything. That old trunk could be moth-eaten and full of dust. What had Grandpa said, fifty years? "Jesus," he muttered.
Excerpted from The Gateway by JoAnna Daniels Copyright © 2010 by Christine Schlichte. Excerpted by permission.
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