|Publisher:||Steeple Hill Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
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The Heart's Treasure
By Catherine Palmer
Steeple HillCopyright © 2007 Catherine Palmer
All right reserved.
Kitt Tucker brushed away the powdery brown dust and stared down at the skull. Two gold front teeth, still in place, glittered in the brilliant New Mexico sunshine. She rocked back on her heels and stared at the earthen sides of the unmarked grave. Two gold front teeth…a memory long hidden slipped from the recesses of her mind and struggled forward. She flipped her long brown braid behind her shoulder and leaned over the skull again.
"Dr. Tucker." The voice startled Kitt from her concentration, and she shaded her eyes as she looked up from the sixfoot–deep pit to find the portly Dr. Dean standing over her.
"Dr. Tucker, he's back."
Frowning, Kitt rose and placed one foot in the step she had carved in the side of the pit, which let her stand high enough to survey the old cemetery site. The summer archaeology students were hard at work in the afternoon light, excavating graves and taking out remains that soon would be reinterred in another cemetery—one safely distant from the dam that would flood this area.
"I had to run him out of my tent. He was fiddling with the skeletal material. He's over by number fifteen now." Dr. Dean, self–appointed watchdog for the crew, nodded in the direction of the numbered grave of a small child.
"I'll ask him to leave," Kitt murmured.
Thegrizzled old man standing in the cemetery had proven to be harmless—though somewhat of an annoyance—since his first appearance at the project site nearly three weeks before. Kitt climbed out of the grave, walked over to him and gently touched his arm.
"Eh?" The intruder glanced at her, his watery blue eyes distant. "What's the matter, young 'un?"
"Sir, I'm afraid you'll have to leave the site. I've told you before, we cannot allow unauthorized people on the project."
Kitt shook her head. How many times had she gone over this? A young intern listened as he worked quietly in the grave beside them. Somehow, she had to make the elderly fellow understand.
"This is sensitive work…even dangerous. Diseases may be living in the soil. We're all vaccinated." Kitt paused.
"Some viruses can survive hundreds of years in skeletal remains."
The old man gave her a long look. "Even more important," she went on, "the cemetery dates back only to the late 1800s. People in this county have relatives buried here. We're trying to conduct our work in a respectful manner."
"Respect for the dead."
"That's right, sir. We're not allowing the press or anyone else on–site until the project is complete."
The man took off his brown felt hat and looked away. The afternoon sun had sent a rivulet of perspiration down his cheek. Kitt watched it meander into a crease and then slip beneath his worn, yellowed collar.
"Twilight is coming," he said at last. His gnarled fingers twisted the brim of his hat. "Twilight is coming, and I'll be here to see it."
She opened her mouth to object, then she noticed that a tear had escaped the old man's eye. He brushed it away with the side of his finger and put his hat on his head. Kitt cleared her throat.
"It's not long until dusk." She shifted from one foot to the other, unsure whether the man had been talking about the time of day. "I'm sorry, but you do have to leave. The rules are set by the Bureau of Reclamation, and I—"
"I'll stay." He looked at her so matter–of–factly that she realized it was useless to argue. he'd always gone away before, but he seemed too harmless to be a threat to the project.
"Listen, sir—what's your name?"
"They call me Hod." The old man grinned, knowing he had won. "I'll sit under that cottonwood. You'll never know I'm here."
Kitt nodded in resignation. "You can stay today, Hod. But I can't permit you to come back again. If you do, I'll have to—"
"Oh, I'll be back. I'm here to watch the twilight."
Kitt glanced at the student, who had continued working, silent but curious. He winked and tapped his temple. "Guess he's coming back."
Without responding, Kitt turned on her heel and headed back to the grave where she had been working. She could see Dr. Dean watching, and she knew she should come up with a good reason for letting the outsider remain. She had directed a number of similar projects for the Bureau—and she always felt it important to present a professional operation to visiting professors and government officials. After all, she had worked her way into the bureau's top archaeologist position with her no–nonsense attitude and levelheaded dedication.
"Looks like he's here to stay," the anthropologist said with a smile as Kitt approached. "There's always someone loitering around an excavation. Curious children, nosy neighbors, pesky reporters."
She sighed in relief. Dr. Dean had been at the site from the start, but unlike many of his stuffy predecessors, he had proven to be a warm and enjoyable addition to her crew. "His name is Hod, and he rambles a little. He's awfully old."
"Maybe he's got a friend buried here."
"A friend? He couldn't be that old."
The professor chuckled. "Nineties, I'd say. Maybe a hundred. Remember—I'm the physical anthropologist. I'm trained to analyze things like that."
"I suppose we could ask him." Kitt knelt at the lip of the grave pit again. She could see a few rib bones protruding from the dirt. The skull stared vacantly at her. Two gold front teeth. How odd, she thought. Most of the people buried in the cemetery had been impoverished pioneers. The dig had uncovered nothing of value—a few unmatched buttons, a scrap of denim, a wedding band.
"By the way, I took a phone message for you."
She looked up in surprise. In her growing curiosity about the skeleton, she had forgotten the professor's presence. "A message?"
"In my tent."
Sighing, Kitt stood and brushed off the knees of her jeans. What now? she wondered as she followed Dr. Dean. If it weren't some old codger who wouldn't leave, it had to be a broken camera lens or a hailstorm or a new government form to fill out.
Under the large, yellow nylon awning, the professor examined the skeletal remains in order to determine age, cause of death, sex and various other information. Kitt walked into the shaded area and swept the folded message from a card table. Flipping open the note she scanned it as he opened a crate containing yellowed bones.
"Great." Kitt stuffed the note into her back pocket.
"Problems?" Dr. Dean looked up. He held a skull in one hand and a set of calipers in the other.
"I forgot about a meeting." Kitt brushed a wisp of brown hair from her cheek. "A guy named Burton—an Affiliated Press reporter from Albuquerque—is passing through and wants an interview. I agreed, as long as he stays off–site. He's waiting at my motel."
"So take off. These skeletons aren't going anywhere, you know. At least we hope not."
Kitt grinned in spite of her annoyance. She wouldn't have time to change clothes or prepare what she wanted to say. More frustrating, she would have to leave the grave she had begun investigating. The strange skull flashed through her mind again and she lifted her chin.
"I'm afraid Mr. Burton is just going to have to wait a few minutes for his interview," she announced. "I have a more important date—and he's been waiting nearly a hundred years for me."
Dr. Dean chuckled as she set off again into the relentless sunshine. Glancing at her watch, she gave herself twenty minutes to complete a cursory examination. She would have to leave the detail work for a student. Project rules prohibited leaving graves open overnight.
Climbing into the pit again, she picked up her small brush and dusted the skeleton. Soon she had finished cleaning the skull and started on the shoulders. She brushed a filmy layer of dust from the skeleton's scapula and noticed a small protrusion. Taking an old toothbrush and a chopstick—her favorite tools—from her back pocket, Kitt cleaned debris until she could clearly see a knife tip. From the look of the bone, which had calcified around the metal, the man had lived for several years with the blade embedded in his shoulder.
Her curiosity mounting, Kitt carefully worked her way down the remainder of the skeleton. Nothing else unusual turned up, and she was about to climb out of the grave when her eye fell on a folded corner of newspaper. It was always strange to discover what time had chosen to preserve. The buried man's pants had rotted long ago, but in the spot where the pocket would have been, a scrap of newspaper lay in the dust.
Perhaps this held a clue to his identity. Shivering slightly at the prospect, she lifted the paper, climbed out of the grave and hurried to the yellow tent.
"What do you have there?" Dr. Dean glanced up from a microscope. "Looks interesting."
"Newspaper," Kitt said as she perched on a high wooden stool beside the table. With tweezers, she pried open the section of yellowed newsprint. The side folded in revealed a list of books and maps for sale—an atlas of the United States, a geography of the Mississippi River valley and a map of the New Mexico Territory. In one corner, the owner had scribbled what looked like an address. Probably the source for the maps.
She flipped the paper, hoping for something more revealing.
"Cattle market results," Dr. Dean observed, leaning over her shoulder. "Your fellow must have had a few head of cattle. Did you finish his grave?"
She shook her head. "No time. I'll have to let one of the students do the sifting." At the camera table, she photographed both sides of the newspaper clipping. Then she refolded it and set it in the box she would use to store the skeleton.
"It's strange," she murmured, half to herself. "The skull has two gold front teeth."
"Didn't I read about a fellow…Native American who ran with the old scalp hunter, James Kirker? What was his name? A real terror, as I recall. Black Dove—that's it." Dr.
Dean said the name that had been playing at the edge of Kitt's mind. "The Native American was buried someplace in Mexico, wasn't he?"
"Guadalupe Y Calvo. It's a town in southern Chihuahua." Kitt brushed her forehead with the back of her hand.
"While Dr. Oldham and I were working together at Northern New Mexico University, he found the records of Black Dove's burial."
"I read the paper you wrote on Kirker's exploits. Fine work. In my opinion, Frank Oldham is the leading authority on the Indians of the Southwest. You must have learned a lot working with him."
"I wish he were still teaching. Students loved him." Kitt smiled in memory. "I've considered expanding the paper into a book for the NNMU press. Should get some attention—white scalp hunters have been getting a lot of play since our account came out."
"You're the person to do the book, if anyone."
"Thanks." Kitt hung her head for a moment, feeling unworthy of the compliment. She had worked hard to earn her educational degrees and her professional reputation, yet something inside whispered that she was still inferior. Things would go wrong, she would fail and people would find out the truth about her. Kitt knew she was hard, tough, intelligent and competent. But sometimes she felt like a brittle shell with nothing inside.
Pushing down the lump of self–doubt, she faced Dr. Dean. "I guess I'll head into town—I've kept that reporter waiting long enough. If I'm lucky he'll have gone home. Shut things down for me, will you? And let me know what you find out about our mystery man."
"Yup." He nodded, again absorbed in his examination. Kitt slung her leather bag over her shoulder and picked up her worn jacket. Striding toward the Bureau's pickup, she glanced across the site. Students moved around in the waning sunlight. She paused and studied them as they labored in the cemetery, digging, photographing, conferring in low tones. The scene warmed her heart, let her know she belonged, gave her purpose and helped fill the hollow feeling inside.
Starting the engine, she glanced down at herself—a woman in faded jeans, dusty boots, a khaki work shirt. This was who she was…Kitt Tucker, head anthropologist–archaeologist for the Bureau of Reclamation in New Mexico, Oklahoma and West Texas. Thirty–two years old. Single.
Throwing the truck into gear, Kitt noted a lone figure beneath a stately cottonwood tree in the distance. Old Hod tipped his hat to her as she drove out of the cemetery.
Kitt scanned the dry landscape as her pickup sped along the two–lane road toward town. The clay soil and arid climate had worked unusually well to preserve remains at the cemetery. Too bad she hadn't had more time to examine that skeleton. By tomorrow the skull with the two gold teeth would be sealed in a new coffin, and soon it would be set in the ground again to rest in silence forever.
Black Dove. Legendary Shawnee war chief.
Retracing time, Kitt thought back to the two years she had spent working with Frank Oldham. Her primary focus in the academic paper Dr. Dean had mentioned had been white scalp hunters of the early 1800s—men who had killed Apaches for the Mexican and United States governments in exchange for up to two hundred dollars a scalp.
Details of Black Dove's life slowly sifted back into place. He had been one of James Kirker's right–hand men for many years, ruthlessly slaughtering men, women and children for bounty. He had been tall, powerfully built and handsome. he'd had two gold front teeth.
And he was buried in Guadalupe Y Calvo, Mexico.
A tumbleweed rolled across the highway, and Kitt swerved to miss it. Those had been good years at the university. She had entered as hardly more than a child, aching to fill the void in her heart left by the sudden end of her brief, tempestuous marriage. She had worked hard to put away her past, to grow beyond it. And nine years later she had completed her doctorate as a mature woman, capable and skilled.
Kitt rounded a bend in the road, and the small oil town of Catclaw Draw came into sight, pink–glazed by the setting sun. The thought of her marriage opened a floodgate of emotion, just as it always did. How intensely she had worked to dissipate the effects of that year of reckless passion and tragedy…that year as the wife of Michael Culhane.
She hadn't spoken that name aloud in years. Not long after he had walked out the door, she had severed his name from her own, just as she had tried to sever all her memories of that time…holding each other close in their little trailer, enjoying picnics and laughing down by the creek, parents arguing ceaselessly over the hasty wedding and the child… most of all their child.
Blinking back tears she never allowed herself to cry, Kitt sped through town and swung the pickup into the motel parking lot. No—she wouldn't cry now. She was too knowledgeable for sentiment. Statistics showed the marriage had been doomed before she and Michael ever said their vows. They had been too young. Too silly and irresponsible. Both sets of parents had fought the union from start to finish. Babies born to teenagers were often small, often premature. The odds had been stacked against them from the beginning.
There was no point in going over barren ground. She had closed off that part of herself.
Kitt climbed out of the pickup and stepped to the turquoise motel door. Fortified against her past, she inserted the key and slipped into the darkened room, shutting off emotion as she shut out the sun setting behind her. She lifted a hand to the light switch just as a hard pounding sounded on the door.
For a moment she stood in frozen silence, staring into the blackness. Then, with a melting wash of relief, she realized it must be the reporter. Dropping her leather bag onto a chair, she turned and pulled open the door.
Her eyes fell on the man leaning against the door frame, and the words suddenly garbled on her tongue. In the faint breeze, his dark blond hair lifted from his forehead, and at first she wasn't sure. The shoulders were different somehow, and the jaw. And then she looked into his eyes. Gray–blue with a golden halo around the dark center.
"Kitt?" His voice was deeper than she remembered. He stood to his full height—and he was taller than she remembered. "What are you doing here?"
"This is my room. What are you doing here?" He looked away for a moment, his expression rigid. Then he turned back. "I came to get a story on an archaeological site. I'm supposed to interview the project director in room 112."
"But Mr. Burton—"
Excerpted from The Heart's Treasure by Catherine Palmer Copyright © 2007 by Catherine Palmer. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 years ago, Kitt and Michael married right out of school against their parents wishes. They were happy and expecting a child. Then without cause, the baby was lost. Michael took off and joined the military and Kitt worked through her grief and went to school. Now Kitt is an archaeologist and Michael is a free lance writer. In their journey, Kitt turned from the Lord and Michael found the Lord. Michael was sent to do a story of an archaelogy site in New Mexico where they were moving an ancient grave yard. There is a mystery surrounding an Indian named Black Dove. When he shows up to get the interview they are both SHOCKED to see each other. They are still attracted to one another but there is still a lot of hurt that lies between them. He is anxious to talk with her and settle the past but she is very anxious to have him go (to protect her feelings). This story is their journey in dealing with hurt, pain and forgiveness. Will they be able to work through the emotions of the past, mend the broken pieces and come together? This story is also a mystery about an Indian named Black Dove. He seems to be buried in two different places. Then there is the question about where the Gold is buried. You will meet some interesting characters along the way. So join Michael and Kitt as they journey from New Mexico to Mexico seeking the answers they're looking for, both professional and personal. One thing I really enjoyed was the chemistry between Kitt and Michael. You could really feel the pull. I thought the book was a great read. I think you will too.