mad in pursuit journal
4.8.04 Using Clarke as the Template
A Scene: Outside a Hearing Room in Geneva, Switzerland
Nellie shifted on the hard bench and reread the report she is about to give. It is simple. A few paragraphs, four bullet points. It will show the UNESCO folks that Archaeos has been successful at salvaging an enormous quantity of pillaged antiquities being smuggled out of Iraq. Her warehouse in Istanbul was filling with found objects, now packed and labeled and catalogued for the time when Iraq was stable enough to ship them back.
It was her dream job. She'd been an antiquities dealer for years and knew all the back alley shops and middlemen in the Mideast and Central Asia. But she was increasingly conscience-stricken. It was one thing to trade in artifacts that had been circulating in the market for years. It was another to know that every time you came to town, diggers would go out and plunder sites that archeologists had closed down due to the dangers to their teams.
Nellie was not rattled by physical danger. For whatever reason, she swam easily through roiled waters. She was observant, saw the risks, and either handled them or avoided them.
Richard Weatherton slumped next to her and toyed with his unlit cigarette.
"I don't understand why you aren't giving this report," she said.
"They want to know what good stewards we are of their damn money. They know I'm just a smooth-talking politician. You're the expert. If we lose this funding, we're sunk. It's not just the money -- God knows, it's a pittance -- but the credibility.
The license to steal. The thought just sprang into Nellie's head. It surprised her. She let it float while she teased, "You'd lose your white knight status."
She joined Weatherton in the Archaeos initiative because he'd seemed heroic. While the scholarly community was wringing its hands over what to do about the looting of Iraqi antiquities, Richard took a leave from his tenured professorship and put together the funding to actually get something done. He was everyone's hero now, flying around the world now to speak at all the conferences.
She stared down at her papers. She wanted to dig a fingernail into a bent corner, but smoothed it instead. "Hey, what's the status of those items you borrowed for the Berlin conference?"
He had taken ten of the most valuable finds -- gold from the ancient city of Ur -- to illustrate a lecture.
"I wasn't at all happy with hotel security there, so I used the slides instead of putting the items on public display."
"They haven't been returned to storage." She dared to look at his face and he returned her steady gaze.
"Don't worry. I'm using them to impress some prospective backers. What's the hurry, anyway? It's not like peace is going to break out anytime soon in Iraq."
"Right," she said, turning to look at the door to the hearing room. Her network in the antiquities world was good and dealers live for gossip. She knew for a fact that two of the items had been sold to a collector in Munich.
Richard sighed. "I'm under a lot of pressure," he said. "You're really too skilled at your job, my dear. The more you find, the higher our costs are. The more famous we become, the more eyes will be on us. But you know how people are -- all talk, no money. This scrambling every day for every dime is going to kill me. We can't lose UNESCO support or it'll all go to hell. What would we do? Give the warehouse keys to the Turkish government and hope for the best, I guess."
The hearing room door opened. A young man in a dark suit emerged. "Ms. Mackenzie, the committee is ready for you."