Life couldn’t be worse for archaeology grad student Jim Hunt. Having lost his funding at a major midwestern university, and his partner, he desperately needs a breakthrough to revitalize his work and his life. Could a summer dig in map-dot Lyons, Kansas, jumpstart his fledgling career? Out of options, he packs his bags.
Five hundred years earlier, Spanish conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado faces a desperate journey of his own through New World terrain. He must find the legendary golden city of Quivira. But can he trust the mysterious “Turk,” his Indian guide?
Jim and Coronado’s stories interweave in The Dig, intersecting at a fateful point.
Things don’t improve for Jim with his first steps in Lyons—and his trespass upon an ancient mausoleum. His curiosity angers the locals—including Eva, a striking but no-nonsense museum worker Jim is instantly drawn to. A local tough, Mitch Keeper—enforcer for a reclusive, wealthy landowner—seems to go out of his way to harass Jim. The sheriff thinks nothing of throwing him in jail. And then the seemingly innocuous dig turns deadly.
It’s not much better for the conquistador. After days of wandering through dusty lands with no food or water, Coronado and his men are dying. Still, the Turk beckons them on. To continue means death. But to return empty-handed is equally unbearable . . .
Sheldon Russell ratchets the tension and mystery in both narratives as Jim and Coronado close in on—or are eluded by—what they seek. Along the way, the author’s research and craftsmanship shine through. Coronado’s carefully rendered, formal speech contrasts with the casual dialogue authentic to the plains today. Even minor characters, from Stufflebaum, Lyons’s prankster taxidermist, to the inscrutable Turk leap from the page. A historical fiction thrill ride that builds to an Indiana Jones–style standoff, The Dig forces its characters—and readers—to grapple with an age-old proverb: all that glitters is not gold.
|Publisher:||University of Oklahoma Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Sheldon Russell is the author of several novels, including Dreams to Dust: A Tale of the Oklahoma Land Rush, which won the Oklahoma Book Award for fiction.
Read an Excerpt
In Search of Coronado's Treasure
By Sheldon Russell
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESSCopyright © 2013 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University
All rights reserved.
The day Dean Halsey called him into his office, Jim Hunt knew that trouble awaited. Halsey checked the peer evaluations and then looked over his glasses at Jim.
"Frankly, Mr. Hunt, we're disappointed in your progress."
The heat rose in Jim's neck. "I can do better, Dean Halsey. It's just that I had to take on a second job."
"We don't give out scholarships to just everyone here at the University of Oklahoma, Mr. Hunt. You're obviously intelligent and have the potential to become a first-rate archeologist."
Jim's mouth went dry. "Gloria has had a really hard time since the baby. She's just been so unhappy and then when she lost her job, I had to pick up the slack. I didn't have the time I needed to complete the work."
Dean Halsey slipped the evaluations back into the folder and clasped his hands in front of him. "There are plenty of talented students around who deserve a scholarship and will work hard for it. When we invest in someone, we expect a commitment."
"Things piled up," he said. "Gloria has been so dissatisfied, the baby, and the apartment is so small."
"The department makes it a practice not to get involved in the personal lives of students, but it's clear that your home life is in need of attention. Perhaps you should take care of that first. Come back when you've worked things out, and we will reconsider an application."
Jim gathered up his backpack. "I've lost my scholarship, then?"
Dean Halsey stood and opened the file drawer, retrieving a paper. "I have here a letter from the park department. They are searching for someone to conduct a survey of dig sites in the area this fall. I'm prepared to recommend you for the position."
"The park department?"
"It's a staff-level position, but it would give you a chance to straighten out your life and get your finances in order. Perhaps you should consider it."
"It's not what I had planned, Dean Halsey."
"To continue as you are will only harm your opportunities for a career in archeology later."
Jim shifted his backpack to the other shoulder. "I don't know."
"There is one hitch," he said, handing Jim the letter. "The job requires field experience, an area in which you are decidedly lacking."
"I'd planned to do that after completing my program."
"Might I suggest you do some volunteer work in a dig to satisfy the requirement. There happens to be one scheduled at the Celf Historical Museum in Lyons, Kansas, this summer. With that experience, you should be able to get on at the park department without difficulty."
"That would mean no pay all summer."
"It's the best I can do. Think it over, Mr. Hunt, but don't wait too long."
* * *
Gloria shut the television off with the remote and looked up at him, her eyes flashing. "What do you mean no pay?"
"For field experience, and it's just for the summer," he said.
She tossed the remote aside, pulling her legs under her. Her ankles were thin and shapely, and she'd polished her toenails a deep red.
"You've lost your scholarship? How do you expect us to live?"
"I'll borrow a little to get us through the summer. I can live inexpensively at the dig. I can get by. Maybe my mother will take care of Sara so that you could take a part-time job. Then in the fall, I'll apply for the park department position. With Dean Halsey's recommendation, I'll be a shoo-in."
Gloria swung her legs around, dropping her face into her hands. Her ears peeked through her hair like white mice. She stood, jabbing her hands onto her waist and narrowing her eyes.
"You expect me to stay in this place all summer while you're out digging for bones or something?"
Sara cried from the back bedroom. She probably needed changing. Caught up in her soaps, Gloria sometimes forgot to change Sara's diaper.
"It's just for the summer," he said. "I can drive back on the weekends."
"And what if there are things I want to do?" she said, clamping her arms across her breasts. "Everything's always about you."
"I'm doing this for us," he said, "for you and Sara. Once I've finished my program, things will be better."
From in back, Sara cranked up full volume. He could tell by the way she shortened her sobs that she hadn't eaten.
Gloria turned her back to him. "I'm sick of waiting around. I'm sick of listening to you talk about archeology all the time, and I'm sick of listening to that kid cry."
Jim set his backpack on the table. "I'll check on Sara and then we'll talk."
The milk in Sara's bottle had soured, and her diaper sagged. He changed her, fixed a new bottle, and then picked her up. He hummed to her as he walked back and forth in the room, and when she'd quieted, he tucked her in. Not until she'd fallen asleep did he close the blinds and creep out.
The television and lights had been shut off. Moonlight shot through the window, a shaft of silver edging across the floor. He looked for Gloria in the kitchen and then in the bathroom. He checked the bedroom and found her closet door open, hangers scattered on the floor. His heart sank when he discovered the car missing from the driveway.
How long he waited in the darkness before falling asleep, he didn't know. But when he awoke, the sun was high in the morning sky, and Gloria had not returned. She did not return that day nor the next nor ever again.
* * *
His mother listened quietly on the other end of the line, and said, "Maybe if you two had married, Jim."
"I don't think so."
"I'll come to get Sara and make arrangements for your things," she said. "You do what you have to do this summer."
"Are you sure?"
"She will be fine, Jim. I raised you, didn't I?"
After that, he called Dean Halsey, then packed his suitcase and bought a bus ticket to Wichita.
Not knowing what to expect in Lyons, he boarded the bus alone on a Monday morning. As it pulled out of town, he could see the university stadium and the apartment where he and Gloria had lived.
On the bus, he pondered Gloria's charge. Perhaps she was right about his preoccupation. He lived for archeology, was intent on pursuing the remnants of the Spanish conquistadors' grand pursuit four and half centuries ago.CHAPTER 2
Because Hernando de Alvarado was loyal, tireless, and when necessary appallingly brutal, Coronado relied on him for the most difficult of tasks.
Earlier, on his foray to Cicúique, Alvarado had captured an Indian, a large and powerful warrior. His hands and feet were chained, and he now clambered up the hill. Friar Juan Padilla followed behind them. Drawing his Toledo sword, Alvarado motioned for the Indian to drop onto his knees.
"Welcome back, Captain," Coronado said.
"I rejoice in being in your presence again, my general. I have brought a captive, a Pawnee. Though he can run like the wind, he could not outrun a Spanish horse. We call him the Turk because he's so big and ugly, as can be seen, and a danger to all.
"One must be careful in telling secrets in his company, because he's very crafty, and he knows our language, which he has learned by listening to his captors. We have captured his friend, Isopete, a Wichita and a man of slower wit, as is most readily seen."
"No man befriends Isopete," the Turk said, looking up at Coronado.
The Turk's voice, deep as a drum, summoned the attention of all present. He smelled of weeds and horse sweat. Black hair fell about his shoulders, and his eyes snapped. Powerful arms bore against his chains, and a scar ran the length of his cheek. A tattoo of dots and lines encircled his throat like a necklace.
"And why have you brought this Turk to me in this manner?" Coronado asked.
The Turk said, "It is I who know of the golden cities, which can be found by few men, for the way is most difficult."
Alvarado dropped his sword on the Turk's shoulder and slid it into the soft skin of his neck. A drop of blood gathered on the point of the sword.
"Do not speak to the general without consent, Turk, or my sword will taste your flesh."
"You may speak the truth, if it pleases you to live," Coronado said.
The Turk glanced up at Alvarado, who withdrew his sword.
"The Turk speaks truth even now, for he fears the wrath of the Spanish warrior," he said.
"I beseech you then to speak only that and live out your years, Turk," Coronado said.
"I have been to the north and have seen this gold and silver, which gives great happiness, for it is more pleasurable than a woman's heat."
"Speak more of this gold and silver which turns the heads of men."
"Enough gold for a thousand men. The trees hang with bells of gold, their chimes sing in the wind, and the women cook in golden pots. Silver chains hang about their waists and from their hair. Even the birds have golden sand in their craws. Gold is left to lie about, because no one troubles to pick it up, though it drifts about the land like snow. I have seen this myself in wonder, though even I soon wearied of gold."
Coronado looked over at Alvarado. "Does a man who speaks only truth deserve the chains?"
"Such a man is uncommon, my general, even in Spain, and in a land such as this, most rare indeed. Servantes, a man most holy himself, did witness the Turk talking to the devil in a pitcher of water. Should not such a man be chained?"
Coronado turned to the Turk. "And so, Turk, you are in God's eyes a liar and collaborator with Satan, the sworn enemy of the church."
The Turk shook his head. "I am a holy Catholic, my general, as the Requerimiento commands. Each day I pray for my heathen soul and for the long life of the King of Spain. I pray for Captain Alvarado, and even for Servantes, though sometimes he drinks of the friars' wine."
Alvarado shrugged. "I have seen the evil in the Turk's eyes in the first light of day when it cannot be hidden. His conversion is false, as is his tale of gold, and I should have run him through with my pike many weeks ago so that I might have slept in peace at night."
"And where is this gold, Turk?" Coronado asked.
"Far away in the land of Quivira," the Turk said.
"Coronado will show what happens to liars. Alvarado, bring forth the heathen, the thief who dared steal from the cook's fire, so that his rectitude may be judged and witnessed by all."
"As you command, my general."
"Fetch also the hunting dogs, which hunger for justice, so that the perils of deception cannot be mistaken, or perhaps the Turk, as so many before him, has only dreamed of gold, and wishes now to make amends to Coronado and to his God."
The Turk shook his head. "The gold is not mistaken, my general, for I have seen it with my own eyes."
"Bring the thief to me," Coronado said.
Alvarado brought forward an old Indian tied at the end of a rope. Coronado removed his helmet, cradling it in the cup of his arm.
"And is this the man who dare steals from those who would bring him salvation?"
"The heathen is secured at the end of a rope, my general, for he is more stubborn than a friar and would have been throttled by less benevolent men many days past."
Friar Padilla looked up through his brows and shook his head.
"And does he speak only with his hands?" Coronado asked.
Alvarado shrugged. "Grunts and snorts, like those of swine."
Coronado walked around the old Indian, whose hide hung from his bones. His hand jerked with tremor, and blood oozed from the briar scratches on his legs. He smelled of dirt and sour.
"Ask then, Alvarado, if he is a thief as charged and steals food from those who would save his children from eternal damnation?"
The old man grunted and looked at his feet.
"He says that the general's own man ate the meat in the darkness of his tent."
"Tell him that to lie to Coronado insults the King of Spain, blasphemes the mother church, that he will be lost in the fires of hell from which no man escapes."
Friar Padilla said, "To lie is to break God's commandment, upon which all other commandments rest, for a liar is defiled by both man and God, and such a man will surely suffer the agonies of hell."
Coronado nodded. "Tell this man that the dogs will strip away his hide, that he will stand quivering and bleeding before God, that Satan will take his soul into the underworld forever."
When Alvarado had finished, the old Indian shuffled his feet. Locking his eyes on Coronado, he spat into the dirt.
Coronado's jaw rippled, and he motioned for Alvarado to bring the dogs forward. The curs lunged at their ropes, their hindquarters trembling, their front feet lifting off the ground.
When their ropes tangled, a fight ensued, the dogs snarling and slashing, their necks bloodied, and bits of fur floated about in the air. Kicked apart by their keepers, they slunk back, yelping and biting at their own wounds.
The old Indian's eyes widened, and his breath shortened. His knees buckled, and he grabbed at the rope to balance himself.
"Release him, then," Coronado said. "So that he may face the retribution that he, and no other, has chosen."
With a slash of his sword, Alvarado severed the Indian's restraint, and he dropped at Coronado's feet. The Indian lifted himself onto all fours. His belly hung slack from his ribs, and his arms trembled as he struggled to stand. The dogs howled and churned, and their keepers leaned into the ropes.
Coronado signaled to Alvarado, and with a flourish, Alvarado lifted his sword, releasing the dogs. At first they sniffed the ground, urinating and defecating as they stirred about. Then as if by command, they circled in twos. A white bitch, wide between the eyes and big as a cougar, assumed the lead. The pairs flowed in behind her, dust rising from their feet and drifting over the conquistadors.
The old man turned in a circle, his arms limp at his side. His forehead shined with sweat, and a ring of moisture spread across the front of his breechclout.
His breathing stopped when he'd made his decision to head for a stand of trees a hundred yards away at the top of the hill. Just as he broke into a run, four dogs split from the pack, two on a side, looping wide to cut him off.
He did not slow nor alter his course but ran hard for the trees. But even as he breached the hill, the first dog caught him in the buttocks. Setting its front feet, the dog thrashed its head. The second dog came from the side, striking him hard in the kidneys. The old man grunted and spilled forward into the dirt.
The pack moved in, tearing at his flesh, tugging him this way and that, dragging his body into the trees.
Coronado turned to the Turk. "The holy Padre Marcos de Niza spoke of gold and treasure in this land, but after many leagues, only clay huts and heathens have been found. Why should the Turk now swear he has seen what others have not? Why should Coronado follow the Turk into this faraway land called Quivira?"
"If the general sets me free, I will lead him there, as no other man can do. The people in this land drink from cups made of silver, and the women wash their hair in pots made of gold." Holding out his hands, he added, "To find such gold will bring great honor to Coronado."
"Honor for Viceroy Mendoza of New Spain," Coronado said.
The Turk lifted his arms above his head and said, "And for the greatest conquistador of all, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, and for his army of noble warriors."
"If the Turk speaks the truth, there will be souls to be harvested for God's glory."
"And so many lost souls hastened to their salvation because of my general."
"And grace for the friars who pray daily for the heathens, holy men who mark the way to deliverance," Coronado said.
The Turk clasped his hands across his chest. "And for the glory of Francisco Coronado when he kneels before his Spanish god, for no other conquistador will have so many who follow his council."
Coronado turned, scanning the horizon. "You have seen the fate of liars, of those who betray and steal. Have you not, Turk?"
"The wisdom of the dogs is certain, my general, but the Turk fears not their judgment. Follow me, and I will lead you into the land of Quivira."
Coronado turned to Alvarado. "Return him to camp while I consider his words. Later, when I have discerned the truth of this matter, I will have him brought to me."
When they were gone, Coronado went to his tent, retrieving his wife's letter from his satchel. The letter, dated September 16, 1540, was even now nearly a year old. News traveled slowly in the great wilderness of the Americas, and had it not been for the arrival of the friars from New Spain, he might not have received the letter at all.
Excerpted from The Dig by Sheldon Russell. Copyright © 2013 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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