torch, flambeau@strangeplaces.net
November 16 - December 19, 2009

Disclaimer: stealth crossover is stealthy! Written for jade_starlight in Yuletide 2009. Thanks to Mary Crawford for encouraging beta and elynross for typo-spotting! Do not archive without permission.

in this bare isle

"This is not what I pay you for, you know." Judson walked out on the sunlit deck, metal almost but not quite too hot under his feet, and tried to look disapprovingly at Mac sprawled out in a deck chair with a straw hat angled down over her face and an open bottle of Chinotto in her hand.

Gabe, lying on his belly on a garishly patterned towel, looked up from his laptop to give Mac a wide-eyed stare. "He's supposed to pay us?"

Mac nodded. "I definitely heard him say he was going to pay us, oh, a week ago?" She pushed the hat up far enough that she could make eye contact with Judson. "Yup, a week ago. Right after Signorelli was supposed to pay him."

"That would be the same Signorelli who was going to have the permit ready for us when we got here, and a crew hired?" Gabe nodded sagely. "There's a man who inspires me with total confidence."

"Fine, laugh it up." Judson dropped down in the second deck chair and stole Gabriel's mineral water. It turned out to be some barely-carbonated kind that tasted strongly of minerals, and he didn't care how healthy the label said it was, he still felt like if he drank enough it would coat his teeth and someone would offer him a bit part in the next Bond movie. "Tell me you wouldn't have loved to find a Visigoth burial that--"

The distant ringtone made him realize he'd left the phone inside. He hauled himself up out of the chair and strode off, taking the disgusting mineral water with him, just because.

When he came out again, he was grinning, and his grin widened even more when he saw how it made both Gabe and Mac look up and take notice. Mac was the one who asked. "Good news?"

"How would you like to go to a private Greek island?"

"I'm assuming it's not just to lie around in the sun." Gabe rolled over and sat up, stretching his legs until his feet were in the shade.

"Caves at sea level." Judson was already plotting a course in his head. "There's some kind of cache down there, something that might be a statue, maybe other stuff as well."

Mac looked pleased. "I love cave diving."

"That sounds interesting," Gabe agreed. "You think this was hidden away from... what, the Germans?"

"Could be a lot farther back than that," Judson said. His eyes went unfocused as he thought about it. Maybe someone had hidden it away from the Turks. Maybe someone had hidden it away from the Romans. Maybe someone in the nearest mainland city state had hidden it away from the people in the next city state over. "The statue's bound to be a hell of a lot older than World War Two, anyway, no matter who put it there."

"Well, we can't begin to date this stuff until we see it," Mac said practically. She got out of her chair and stretched, then plunked her hat down on Judson's head. "So let's get going."

Their departure wasn't quite that instantaneous; they laid in supplies (Judson shook his head when he saw the sixpacks of Chinotto bottles) and cancelled the delivery of fresh bread (and damn, but he was going to miss getting warm-from-the-oven bread of whatever kind the baker thought they might like that day tossed onto the deck in the morning) and tried to get hold of a few people (Signorelli still wasn't answering his phone), but after a couple of hours, they were leaving Calabria behind.

* * *

The island was much bigger than Judson had expected, with jagged heights wreathed in green, and a few strands of thin white mist that still hadn't been burned away by the sun. It looked pristine and untouched, but once they rounded the first inhospitable-looking promontory they came to a calm, deep harbor, with a solid stone pier and a deeply tanned, bare-chested man in cargo shorts raising a hand in welcome.

"Nice place," Judson said.

"Yeah." Gabe shielded his eyes with one hand. "Is it just me or does that guy look like he could bench-press the whole pier?"

"It's not just you," Mac said, then grinned. "Let me know if he does it. I'd watch."

The man worked with them as though he was used to boats that size, and soon enough they could walk down the gangway to greet him.

"Mr. Cross?"

"Call me Judson."

The man grinned easily, his eyes bright under a shock of dark-brown hair. "I'm Cal," he said and shook Judson's hand with a grip that was just short of being knuckle-crushing. "Glad you could make it on such short notice." Judson gripped back, but there was no challenge in it; it seemed habitual.

"Not a problem." Judson wiggled his fingers discreetly, making sure he still had his full range of mobility.

"You caught us at a quiet moment," Mac said, shooting Judson a sideways look, as if Signorelli's unreliability was somehow his fault.

While she and Gabe were having their own knuckle-crushing experience, Judson looked around, studying the lay of the land. This side of the island was flatter, with gentle slopes, and the vegetation was less dense; Judson could make out olive trees and fig trees, and some other greenery that fell into the I think I've seen leaves that shape before category. He turned to Cal. "The caves are on the other side of the island, right?"

Cal gave him a slow blue-eyed wink and a grin. "Yeah. Come on, you'd better talk to Rich first, before you dive in." Gabe snorted. "Anything you want a hand with carrying to the house?"

"No, we're good," Gabe said, slinging the strap of his laptop case over his shoulder. Mac strode ahead, talking to Cal and asking about the island, and Gabe fell into step beside Judson. "This place is much bigger than I thought it would be. A private island like this is serious money."

"I'll take your word for it," Judson said, looking around. The path they were on was well-kept but not what you'd call impressive, and as far as he could tell, no one had made any particular efforts to make the surrounding trees and bushes look good. So far, nothing except the well-maintained stone pier had looked like money, serious or not.

The path opened up onto a broad stone terrace, with a brand new modern villa on one side, looking like a stack of very expensive white lego blocks, and a stunning view of the glittering blue cove below on the other, and Judson changed his mind.

"Wow," Mac said.

Judson strode onto the terrace just as a man came out of the house, walking with a cane but not leaning on it. He was tall and thin, with white hair over a surprisingly youthful face, and his short-sleeved silk shirt looked as if he'd worn it to build a stone wall around a very muddy garden. "Mr. Cross!" His handshake was firm, but not grinding. "I'm Richard Batten, but please call me Rich. I hope you didn't cut anything else short to come here so fast."

"Our last job didn't exactly go as planned," Judson admitted. "We were kind of at a loose end. And when you mentioned cave diving and a hidden statue, you definitely got my attention. I take it this is a recent discovery?"

"Please, sit down." Rich gestured them towards fancily designed stone benches that seemed to have grown organically from the terrace, softened by piles of quilted seating pads in warm, earthy colors. They all sat, sinking deep into an unexpectedly luxurious softness, except Cal, who perched on the arm of the bench nearest to the house, head turned that way as if waiting for something.

Judson looked that way too, caught by the certainty of Cal's pose. In another moment, he saw movement in the doorway, and a woman came out, carrying a tray with glasses and a pitcher. She was wearing a loose housecoat-like garment over a bikini. She looked young, but she had white streaks in the long dark hair that was caught up in a sloppy knot at the back of her head. "I thought you might need some refreshments," she said, setting the tray down and starting to hand out glasses briskly. "Mint lemonade."

"Thank you," Judson said as she poured for him. She didn't smile, but at least she nodded a little.

"Yes, thank you," Rich echoed. "Mr. Cross, Ms. Previn, Mr. Patterson, this is my daughter, Andie N--"

"Batten," she cut him off. "Dad, I've told you a million times, I'm changing my name back after the divorce. Get used to it."

"Yes, of course. I'm sorry." Rich rubbed a hand across his face, and didn't see the way Cal winked encouragingly at Andie, or the way she flushed slightly in response. Judson couldn't help but grin, and took a sip of lemonade to cover it.

"Uh, Ms. Batten?" Gabe leaned forward. "Your pocket is moving."

She looked down in surprise, and then she did smile faintly and fished a small calico kitten out of her housecoat. "They get everywhere," she said. She put the kitten on the table, and Gabe immediately started rubbing its ears.

Judson cleared his throat. "About the cave," he said.

"Yes, of course." Rich put his lemonade glass down. "It's probably best if you investigate for yourselves exactly what is down there, so you'll know the best way to bring it up, and if you need any specialized equipment."

Mac nodded. "With heavier pieces, especially if they're buried deep--" She was off, telling Rich probably a lot more than he'd ever wanted to know about underwater sites and artifact retrieval, while Gabe petted the kitten and Judson studied the people around him. There was something a little off about them, besides the fact that Andie seemed to get her clothes straight out of the fifties. Judson hoped it was all due to family tensions that wouldn't really affect him and his crew, but since their last two clients had been a woman in league with plate-stealing, knife-wielding thugs and a man who talked big but apparently wasn't in league with anyone at all, he was a bit wary.

"Better get started, then," he broke in, putting his glass down. "Can we leave the Explorer where she is and just take the zodiac around?"

"Should be fine," Cal said, rising and scooping the kitten off the table. "I'll get you a map of the island with the caves marked on it."

* * *

The map turned out to be hand-drawn, showing only the southeast coast of the island. Judson frowned over it while Mac expertly steered the zodiac past the secluded cove below the house and along a more rugged shoreline. Here the mountain came down steeply into the sea, bushes seemed to cling to the rock as much with stubbornness as with roots, and Gabe pointed out a small wild goat that was apparently standing on thin air, watching them go by.

"In here," Judson shouted, gesturing, and Mac slowed them down to a puttering crawl while they scanned the rocks closest to the water. Mac was the first to see the cave entrance, and she brought them in close and stopped the engine, leaving them in still, clear green water looking at a dark opening, easily twelve feet wide and with about four feet of clear air over the water.

"I don't suppose he gave you a map of the actual caves as well," Gabe said, trying to shine a heavy-duty flashlight into the darkness.

"Nope." Judson folded the map up and put it in the watertight storage box at his feet. "This is where we get to be explorers."

"That's great! I'll go in first," Mac said. She tipped off the edge of the zodiac before Judson could say anything, going into the water with barely a splash, dark head popping up moments later as she grinned at them. She swam in, and he and Gabe watched the opening in tense silence until she reappeared a few minutes later. "You can take the zodiac through, just go slow and keep your heads down, it opens up once you're inside."

Judson started up the engine again and took them in very carefully, while Gabe sprawled in the prow, holding up the flashlight. The cave was much larger than he'd expected, about the size of an Olympic pool, and Mac bobbed up and down in the middle of it, looking like a mermaid in black neoprene.

"This is amazing," Gabe said, and then, a moment later, "The roof's not gonna come down, is it?"

Mac made a face at him, then fixed her mask and went under while Judson rigged up the dive lights.

When she came back up, she was wide-eyed and more serious than he'd seen her in weeks. "Guys," she said and swam closer. "You gotta see this. Judson, just get down here and look over there," she gestured, "see for yourself." Something of her usual irreverence returned to her face as she added, "Just remember to keep your mouth shut, okay."

The water was warm and soft, and Judson relaxed into it, breathing slow and deep before going under at the spot Mac had pointed out to him. Salt stung faintly in a half-forgotten scrape across one knuckle. He half-turned as he went deeper and saw sealed chests piled on an underwater ledge; his pulse beat faster as he tried to date them, tried to imagine what was in them. When he swam closer and turned his head, a dark, solemn, hollow-eyed face stared at him through the swirling dark blues of the water. The word statue had been in his mind ever since yesterday, but it hadn't prepared him at all for the reality, and even with Mac's warning to keep his mouth shut, he came close to gasping.

He was close enough to see every curl over the smooth forehead. From this angle, the face was calm and commanding, even with a smudge of mud across one cheek. Bronze muscles seemed to ripple in the underwater currents, and the uneven light seemed to half hide, half outline a tall, strong body, leaning back against the cliff wall. Judson stared, entranced, until his lungs burned and he had to go up again.

When he surfaced, he was pretty sure he had the same look on his face that Mac had before. "Gabe," he said huskily. "Go down and look."

Gabe looked from Mac to Judson and back again. "What's down there? You both look like you had a religious experience."

"Pretty close," Judson said, swimming over to the zodiac and slinging one arm over its fat edge. "Go on, you know you want to."

He shared a grin with Mac as he got back in the zodiac and Gabe took his turn sinking into the smooth, clear water. Gabe came back faster than they had, wide-eyed and very nearly awed. "There's a guy down there," he said, and then his face split in a wide grin, "This is amazing. There's a chunk of frieze off something, did you see that? This is an incredible find." He swam closer. "Those boxes looked pretty new, though."

Mac snorted. "You have a funny definition of new."

"I'm not kidding." Gabe hung onto the side of the zodiac. "They looked like someone put them in the water yesterday."

"Seems unlikely," Judson said. "All right, let's get a better look at what's down there, so we can work out where to start."

They spent the afternoon in the cave, going over every part of it as thoroughly as they could with no real equipment. All the artifacts were gathered in one corner: the bronze statue of the serious young man, a segment of marble frieze with figures too covered in mud to make out clearly, some pottery, though none of it seemed intact, and three wooden chests that looked to have been caulked with pitch to make them watertight. Judson had to agree with Gabe that the chests showed no sign of spending a long time in the water, but then, this cave was a pretty protected location.

Mac sat back in the zodiac, rubbing her forehead. "It's gonna be a big project getting that bronze out without damaging it." She looked around the cave. "Beats me how they ever got it in here in the first place."

"Maybe a really small barge with hopper doors," Gabe said.

Mac stared at him. "Okay, one, we barely got in here with the zodiac, and two, did that bronze guy down there look like he was from the age of hopper doors to you?"

"It's not like he's been there since he was new," Gabe argued. "This cache has to be recent, those boxes look practically new."

"They could have been added later." Mac wrung water out of her hair. "Just look at that frieze, that's the mud of centuries."

"I'm taking us back out," Judson said, cutting them both off. "Heads down."

They came out blinking into the daylight world. The sea was ridiculously blue, and as they went back along the shoreline again they came out from the shadow of the mountain into the golden haze of the low sun. Judson felt his hair start to dry in the warm breeze. Gabe hit the side of his head to get water out of his ear, and Mac laughed at him, and Judson grinned at them both with sharp fondness.

When they came to the cove below the house, an arm waved at them from the waves, beckoning. Judson slowed down and turned into the cove, where the rocks turned into golden sand and the water was so clear, he could easily see all the way to the bottom. They beached the zodiac, and Judson tugged his suit down to hang around his waist. He turned around and met a naked woman.

He blinked, and then realized that she wasn't actually naked, but her quite modestly cut bathing suit was the same shade of dark brown as her skin. She grinned at his confusion and stuck her hand out. "I'm Harriet. I was out and about when you arrived before. Did you find the cave?"

"Yes." Judson couldn't help but notice that she was looking at him with frank appreciation. "This is my crew." Gabe and Mac stepped forward for their own handshakes.

"Come on up to the house," Harriet said. "This is much closer than going around to the pier and back again." She started up a steep path that turned into stone steps, winding up the cliff; her pace was so brisk that Judson soon lost sight of her slim figure behind a cluster of small trees. He followed the trail of water drops on the stone steps, listening to the slap and scuffle of Mac and Gabe's feet behind him.

The path came out directly on the terrace. Harriet was standing over by the house, towelling her hair, and Rich got up from one of the benches as soon as he saw them. "Did you find it?" he asked, just as Harriet had.

"Oh, yeah." Judson waited until Mac and Gabe were next to him before he crossed the terrace to the benches. "That's an extraordinary find."

Rich nodded, a quick smile lighting his face. "I thought it would be. Come, sit down, tell me all about what you saw!"

"We're not exactly dressed for your patio furniture," Gabe said with a crooked grin, gesturing at the fancy rugs and cushions.

"That doesn't matter at all," Rich said, then caught himself up. "But you're probably starting to feel uncomfortable. If you don't mind borrowing a few things from us, this house has more bathrooms than I know what to do with," he gestured back at the sprawling villa, "so you can each have a shower, and of course you'll have dinner with us and we can talk more about what needs to be done."

"That sounds great," Mac said. She leaned forward a little and lowered her voice in a tone of mock confidence. "It was Gabe's turn to cook, and...."

"And I'm a very good cook, thank you very much," Gabe said. "But of course we're happy to accept your offer."

The house was very plain inside, white walls and empty spaces, bare tiled floors. The sparse furniture was mostly dark wood, all of it somehow old-looking, although Judson couldn't date it to any particular period. He ended up in a bedroom with a huge, low bed and nothing else, the mattress bare of everything except a white linen sheet. At least he wasn't invading anyone's privacy, he thought and went straight into the en-suite bathroom and started peeling out of the wetsuit.

Looking around the bathroom, Judson thought again about Gabriel's "serious money" comment. The sink was solid marble, the walls beautifully tiled in white and dove-grey and blue, and a pile of thick, plushy towels lay waiting. On the other hand, there was no extravagant tub, no range of fancy products, just an uncomplicated shower and a block of olive soap. He sighed in relief once he was naked, and turned the water to a comfortable temperature, not too hot, but enough to warm his wet, chilled skin. The high, narrow window above the shower was open, and a soft breeze blew in, ruffling his hair and tickling his shoulders.

As pleasant as the shower was, he kept it short, dried himself off cursorily and walked back into the bedroom to find a pile of clothes on the bed, and on top of the pile, a ginger kitten that seemed prepared to defend them against all comers. Judson chuckled and scooped it up, stroking the small head until the kitten lay purring in his hand with all four legs hanging limply. He put it down carefully and pulled on the clothes, which had to belong to Rich Batten. The khakis fit well enough, and were long enough; the shirt was a little too fitted, and tight across the shoulders and arms, but it would do.

When he went back out, with the ginger kitten perched on his shoulder, he met Mac in the long, unfurnished hallway that led to the terrace door, wearing a red cotton dress that was probably knee-length on its proper owner. She grinned at him. "You're picking up hitchhikers now?"

"I can't get the claws out of my shirt," Judson muttered. He fell into step beside Mac, and they went past a half-open door that seemed to lead to the kitchen, judging by the smells. Glancing in, Judson saw Andie Batten hand a bottle of olive oil to someone he couldn't make out. Since she was smiling, it was probably Cal.

Out on the terrace, Rich was reading a book, but he looked up as soon as he heard them coming and offered them a choice of wine or mineral water. Gabe came out a minute later, belted into a pair of jeans that ended well above his ankles. The look he shot at Judson said very clearly that he was about one belt-hole away from wearing his wetsuit instead.

"Now, please tell me all about what you found in the cave," Rich said, leaning forward to fill Mac's wine glass.

"It's incredible." Judson shook his head. "You have what looks like a classical bronze statue down there. I probably don't have to tell you what a spectacular find that is." He drank some water. "I can only speculate that it was brought out here from the mainland to be hidden away at some point, for whatever reason."

"There's also a piece of a marble frieze, about two feet high," Mac said. "Kind of muddy."

"And some boxes," Gabe finished.

Rich's glass scraped against the stone surface of the table as he set it down. "Boxes?"

"Wooden chests," Judson said. "They've been sealed up with pitch, but the contents have probably been water-damaged by now--"

"Not necessarily," Gabe said. "They look pretty new, I don't think they've been down there for long."

Mac swirled her wine glass thoughtfully. "Mr. Batten, how long have you lived on this island? Gabe seems to think someone hid a treasure in your back yard the day before yesterday."

Gabe made an exasperated face. Rich smiled. "In fact, we only returned here a few weeks ago after a long absence. I suppose anyone could have come here while we were gone." He shook his head slightly. "I've sometimes heard people talking about the possibility of vandals, but never about stealth art donors."

Judson stopped the kitten from diving headlong into his glass, and put it down on his lap instead. "We need to start by documenting this site thoroughly," he said. "And given the nature of this find, we also need to get in touch with the proper Greek authorities as soon as possible."

"I can take care of that," Rich said. He raised his glass to them. "You can leave the administrative side of this business to me -- it's my island, after all."

"I'd be happy to." Judson raised his glass back.

Andie and Cal came out with trays piled high with food. "We're pretty informal here," Rich said, moving the wine carafe out of the way of a bowl of salad. "Would you like some lamb, Ms. Previn?"

"If you remember to call me Mac, sure."

Andie and Cal sat down, too, and they all started passing dishes to each other. Gabe looked around. "Isn't Harriet eating with us?"

"Apparently not," Cal said, sounding unconcerned. "She's probably taking an evening tour of the island."

"She's a bit of a free spirit," Rich said, sounding more apologetic. "I'm sure she'll be back later. More wine?" The kitten climbed out of Judson's lap and went scampering away.

The food was good, but pretty spicy, and Judson was glad he'd stuck to mineral water through the meal, since he definitely worked up a thirst. Conversation during the meal was slow. Cal gave most of his attention to Andie and to his food, and Judson was distracted by thoughts of the bronze statue and plans for how to get it out of the cave. Gabe tried to find out if he and the Battens had any acquaintances in common, but Rich said they very rarely went back to the States and didn't maintain a home there. Andie muttered that at least they left the island more often than they had when she was young, Rich said that no one had forced her to return here once she'd left, and they seemed on the verge of the kind of family quarrel that Judson would very much prefer to stay out of, when Harriet came back. Even fully dressed in a gauze top and wraparound skirt, she gave off the impression that the clothes were just random chance, that she might take a step to the left and leave them hanging in the air. Judson shook his head at that thought.

"This looks delicious," she said, stealing a radish from the salad. "Does everyone want coffee?"

"I'll help you with that," Mac said, scrambling out of her seat with unseemly haste.

Cal put his fork down and reached out a hand to Andie. "Let's go for a walk," he said. She nodded, and they disappeared without a word to anyone else.

Rich looked apologetic. "Ah -- well -- I suppose we get a little on each other's nerves sometimes, living so close together."

"Not a problem," Gabe said with an easy smile. "You should see us some mornings. But tell me more about this island -- was that a wild goat we saw before?"

Judson silently blessed Gabe's manners as Rich went into detail about the island's fauna, flora and geography, bringing up sweet-water springs and various rare plants while Gabe nodded and dropped the occasional question.

The evening turned dark, and subtle lights came on along the balustrade that edged the terrace. While Mac helped Gabe keep up the conversation, Judson went with Andie to the kitchen and brought back coffee and dessert, fresh quartered figs and orange slices, with honey and lemon juice to dip them in, according to taste. When they came back, Harriet had lit candles on the table, and Cal grumbled that the flames flickered too much. Harriet grinned. "Who cares?"

"The one who has to get the candle wax off the table." Cal set the platter of fruit down where everyone could reach it. "Ms. Previn -- I mean, Mac, would you like some coffee?"

At least the figs were delicious. The kitten came back and clambered up Judson's leg, tiny claws digging in energetically. When it started conquering his knee with more ferocity than necessary, he disentangled it and sat it down on his lap, rubbing one finger along the jawline and behind the ears. He could feel the intense vibrations in his leg as it purred. Looking up, he found that Harriet was watching him.

"Thanks for a great dinner," he said. "I think it's time for us to get back to the boat, we have a lot of stuff to get ready for tomorrow."

"Oh, but I was hoping you would stay here," Rich said. "There's plenty of room, and I'm sure you'd be much more comfortable." He gestured at the villa.

Judson put the kitten in Rich's outstretched hand. "We need to go over our equipment," he said. "And get some new clothes."

Mac smiled brightly. "And I definitely need my own toothbrush."

"Oh, yes," Rich said, "Of course you have to pack a few things." He smiled. "Or as many things as you want, really. Like I said, we have plenty of room."

"I don't think you understand," Judson began, standing up, and then he noticed that Gabe was making a 'be polite to the nice people who are going to pay us' face at him, and scrubbed tiredly at his hair. "I appreciate the dinner and the hospitality, but we really need to sit down and get some work done."

Rich nodded. He put the kitten down on the table, where it immediately started to investigate the various bowls and plates. "You'll need a workroom with a couple of big tables. Harriet and I will take care of it. Cal, would you...?"

"Sure." Cal stood up, too. "I'll come with you to your boat, help carry stuff if there's a lot of it."

The kitten nosed into the bowl of lemon juice, sniffed, sneezed, and overturned it. Mac laughed, and the sound popped the tension in the air like a soap bubble. She picked up a last piece of fig and stuffed in her mouth as she and Gabe got to their feet, and Andie started to stack the used plates.

"Okay, let's get going, then," Gabe said.

As they started to walk off the terrace, Judson looked sideways at Cal. "You don't have to come with us. We don't really have that much stuff that we can't carry it ourselves. Maybe you should go give Andie a hand in the kitchen."

Cal grinned, acknowledging the hit, but he shook his head. "I'd better go with you. You've only walked here once, in daylight. The path is tricky, and this island is big enough for people to get lost and stay lost longer than they'd like."

"Judson doesn't get lost," Mac said. "And I don't get lost." She waited a beat. "Gabe might."

"Hey!"

She danced forward out of his reach. "He might find something interesting when he did, though."

Cal was right, the path was tricky at night. Judson wasn't worried that anyone would break an ankle, exactly, but he admitted silently to himself that without Cal leading the way it would have taken them a lot longer to get to the dock. He breathed deep as they went, wishing he had enough botany to identify the light, dry green scent that was so noticeable along the path. At the dock, once they got there, the air was cooler and moister. It wasn't as dark as Judson would have thought, though. He shielded his eyes from Cal's flashlight and looked up.

The stars hung close overhead, huge and bright. Judson smiled. This was just one of the things he loved about being far from cities and their constant artificial light. Out here the night sky looked just the way it should. When he heard a faint click, he realized that Cal had turned his flashlight off, and all four of them stood with their heads tilted back, watching the brilliant sky.

"This just never gets old," Judson said in a low voice.

"Never," Cal agreed.

Cal stayed on the dock while Judson, Mac and Gabe went on board the Vast Explorer and collected what they would need for the next day. Judson admitted to himself, if not to the others, that the multitude of bathrooms in the villa was an attraction. The Explorer was great, but she did not have three separate showers. And it was more comfortable to pull on a pair of his own old jeans, and a t-shirt that didn't feel as though it might split a seam if he breathed too deeply.

Coming up on the deck again, he found Mac already waiting. She'd changed, too, into dark canvas pants and a tight black top. At her feet she had a small satchel and another much larger bag. "I don't have to ask which one's clothes and which one's equipment, do I," Judson said with a half-grin.

"I really hope, with your supposed observation skills, you'd be able to figure it out."

"What do you mean, supposed?"

The clang of a metal door signaled Gabriel's arrival with laptop and toolbox and a few other things. They all went down on the dock, and Cal picked up the toolbox and two bags over their protests and strode off into the night, so all they could do was follow him.

Back at the villa, they found the stone benches and table cleared of both dishes and cushions, and Harriet and Andie had disappeared. Rich met them in the open door, though, and showed them to a room with large windows that had a few chairs and a long wooden table as its only furniture. "You can set up anything you like in here," Rich said as Gabe unceremoniously plunked his laptop down at one end. "And the bedrooms and bathrooms you used before are yours for as long as you stay here."

"Thank you." Judson bent down to scoop up a kitten that came wandering in after them. This was the calico Andie had carried in her pocket in the morning; small but feisty, it tried to climb up Judson's bare arm until he disentangled it and put it on the table next to the laptop. It started to bat at the laptop cord, but Judson figured that was Gabe's problem.

Mac dug out a bottle of Chinotto from one of her bags, and Judson sighed.

They spent a couple of hours planning the next day's work as the house grew more quiet around them. Gabe complained that he couldn't get online, but when the kitten fell asleep sprawled across the keyboard, he gave up trying and helped Mac with the plan for the survey instead. By the time they were ready for bed, they had a pretty good working schedule for the next morning -- for the next couple of days, really, but they all three knew that everything was subject to change depending on what the Greek authorities had to say.

"But they like you, don't they?" Mac said. "After that business with the pottery smugglers I thought they were going to rename the Acropolis for you."

"Judsonopolis," Gabe said experimentally. "I don't know, guys, it sounds like something in the Midwest, population 350." He flicked the kitten's tail, and it opened one eye and tried to get him with a hind paw.

"We're making an early start tomorrow. You volunteering to get up even earlier and make the coffee, Gabe?"

The bed in Judson's room was made up now with old but clean linen sheets smelling of herbs, and not a kitten in sight. As Judson finally lay down to rest and sank deeper into the mattress, he couldn't remember why he'd been so set against staying at the house, anyway. A light breeze came in through the open window and tickled his cheek as he fell asleep.

* * *

The morning was fresh and clear, and as quiet as the night had been. Judson woke up with a fizz in his blood, feeling alert and eager. A cool shower helped wake him up even more, and he went into the kitchen with his hair dripping and his fingers already tapping with impatience. Their hosts were nowhere to be seen, but there was hot coffee waiting for them.

"And fresh bread," Gabe said through a mouthful. "This is really good."

Mac nodded, dunking her bread in olive oil and sprinkling it with salt. Judson found some figs and oranges, and after investigating the fridge, some feta cheese, some yogurt, and some honey. He passed the cheese on to Mac and Gabe and constructed something out of yogurt, honey and fruit that probably qualified as a dessert by some people's standards. Then he got himself some bread with olive oil and salt and ate both by turns, one bite sweet, one bite salty. Gabe made a face, but Judson just shrugged; this wasn't even in the top ten of oddest breakfasts he'd ever had.

"Did I ever tell you guys about the time in Sierra Leone when all we had to eat for a week was fufu and spam?"

Mac gave him a level look. "Judson, would you like me to tell you about some of the things I ate when I was in--"

"No," Judson and Gabe said at the same time. Silence reigned in the kitchen as they all finished their breakfasts. They were rinsing their dishes when Harriet appeared in the doorway, wearing a wraparound skirt over her disconcerting bathing suit and looking as fresh-eyed as if she'd slept for ten hours, or didn't need to sleep at all.

"Good morning," she said brightly. "Did you find everything all right?"

"Yeah, everything was fine." Gabe smiled at her. "You really didn't have to get up to make coffee and bread for us."

"Oh, that was no trouble at all," she said airily. "You should come back here for lunch around one, I'm sure Rich will have some news for you by then."

"Sounds good," Judson said. She moved back and let them past, and they went and put their suits on, then headed out, picking up the bags and boxes they'd left by the door.

The air out on the terrace still had a breath of coolness in it. The ginger kitten sat on the stone table, licking a paw and trying to rub behind its left ear. They went down the path to the cove at an easy pace and loaded their stuff into the zodiac. Gabe glanced back up towards the house and the terrace. "So do you think Harriet is Rich's girlfriend?"'

"No," Judson and Mac said at the same time, then looked at each other and grinned.

"She likes Judson," Mac said. "Must be his great personality. Or the way he was bare-chested when she met him."

"So was I bare-chested," Gabe pointed out. Mac just looked at him, and he stuck his tongue out at her and loaded the last of the equipment.

Judson shook his head. "Now, if Mac had been--"

She smacked his ass. "Hey, don't we have work to do?"

Judson squinted into the sunlight on the waves as they left the cove and turned east. The fizz in his blood was back. He loved this feeling, the certain knowledge that something absolutely amazing was waiting for him to find it. And the thrill was somehow intensified by the knowledge that Mac and Gabe were with him, that they were just as caught up in the same feeling, that they knew it and shared it.

They went into the cave and started working, two in the water and one in the zodiac at all times, slow and methodical. They'd made a plan last night and they were sticking to it; Judson admitted to himself that what he really wanted to do was just stare at that ancient bronze god for a few hours, trying to figure out how it had ended up here by staring into its unseeing eyes, but the whole site needed to be mapped and documented, and they needed to make sure that the rest of the cave really was empty, the way it had seemed to them yesterday.

"But really, those boxes," Gabe said when Judson surfaced and clung to the side of the zodiac. "They don't look like they belong. They're a completely different period."

"The bronze and the marble frieze are completely different periods," Judson said. He'd wiped enough mud off the carvings to make out that much.

"Not that different." Gabe held up a hand. "I mean, not as far from each other as those boxes are from them. They look new, Judson."

"Nobody seals wooden chests with pitch these days," Judson pointed out.

"I know that." Gabe rubbed his hand over his face. "But even if they're four hundred years old, that's still, what, eighteen hundred years off from the other stuff? Nineteen hundred?"

Mac popped up on the other side and freed her mouth to speak. "I'm starving. What time did they say lunch was?"

"Not for another hour," Judson said. "Weren't you the one who said we had work to do?"

He had to admit, though, when he went down again, that this was an odd collection of artifacts to find together, and that the wooden chests looked more out of place than anything else. He also had to admit that he was unreasonably hungry for someone who'd had a solid breakfast. The bronze statue seemed to watch him every moment he spent under the water, but its steady gaze was peaceful and benign.

When they went out of the cave again at midday, all three of them winced and shielded their eyes. The sun was fierce overhead, sparking polished-metal glints off the sea. Since Mac was steering the zodiac, Judson could peel off the top half of his wetsuit right away and enjoy the warmth for about two minutes before he started feeling a bit too hot.

They had a short commute, anyway. The small cove was empty, and they beached the zodiac and then skinned out of their wetsuits right there on the sand, pulling on shorts and t-shirts from one of the waterproof boxes. Gabe slung all three suits over his shoulder and they went up to the terrace to find that their hosts had set up an awning over the table and benches, providing much-needed shade. There was a breeze up here, too, that Judson hadn't felt down by the water.

The kitten was still on the table, but other than that, the terrace was empty. Judson went to the open door of the house and called out a "Anyone here?" When he didn't get an answer, he shrugged and they all three headed for the bathrooms.

Ten minutes later, looking back out on the terrace, Judson found Rich on one of the benches and the table full of food. He blinked and went outside. "I was starting to think no one was here."

"Oh, no, sorry about that." Rich gestured at the opposite bench. "Please sit down, have a rest, tell me what you've done today." He poured mineral water for Judson, and filled the other glasses on the table again -- just four of them. "My daughter and Cal and Harriet are off on some expedition of their own."

"I hope they brought a lot of sunscreen," Judson said dryly. Mac and Gabe came out of the house and joined them; Gabe scooped the tabby kitten out of the way before sitting down. Judson hadn't even seen it sleeping curled up between two cushions.

Lunch was a simple meal, just a mixed salad with some more of the bread from that morning and cold sliced meat. Judson was really hungry, and he noticed the others were too. Mac barely preserved her table manners as she explained the morning's diving to Rich and went through a bowl of olives at the same time. "So we can salvage the chests and the pottery, that won't be difficult, but we're going to need a lot more work and equipment for the marble slab and the big sculpture."

Judson leaned forward. "Did you make those calls today? What's the word?"

"Oh, yes, of course." Rich turned towards him. "That's all been taken care of. I talked to a Dr. Demetriades, who seemed to know you--" Judson grinned and nodded. "--as well as a couple of other people, and they were all thrilled by the news. I think it's safe to say that this island won't stay quiet for long."

He didn't look all that bothered by the thought, but Judson still said, "That's going to be quite a change for you here."

"It won't be a problem." Rich smiled. "Of course, knowing you and your reputation, and that of your crew," he nodded to Mac and Gabe, "they were happy for you to continue with your work while they arrange to get here."

"Well, that's good," Gabe said a little wryly, and Judson quirked a brow at him in acknowledgement of the unspoken rest of the sentence: because they'd have to drag Judson away by force to get him to stop, and even that didn't usually work for long. The calico kitten scrambled up on his leg and prepared to jump to the table from there, and he wrapped a hand around its chest before it could make the leap.

Rich nodded. "So you'll start by bringing up those chests this afternoon, then."

"That's right." Mac helped herself to a few more olives.

Judson frowned. "Maybe we should hold off a bit," he said slowly.

"There's no reason." Rich refilled Judson's water glass. "I assure you, Dr Demetriades has the greatest respect for your work."

"Yeah, at least most of the time." The kitten tried to climb into the leg of Judson's shorts, and he handed it over to Gabe, who was already petting the ginger one. Judson drank some more of his water.

"We should get back to work," Mac said, eating another olive.

"I'll ensure that you get plenty of olives at dinner." Rich patted her hand, and Judson frowned some more.

The post-lunch sleepiness that threatened was no match for the excitement that came back once he put on his wetsuit and headed out, going down to the cove with Gabe and Mac hard on his heels. Mac had found a bucket hat somewhere, and it shielded most of her face from the glare of the sun as they headed back. Judson found himself trying to picture her and Gabe twenty years from now, wondering if their faces would be tanned and lined as his was from endless days spent outdoors, or if Mac would have remembered to wear a hat, if Gabe... well, if Gabe would still be doing this work twenty years from now or if he'd have a career in politics and only bring up the adventures of his youth in the right campaign speeches.

Judson didn't usually let his mind range that far into the future. He'd never seen the point of worrying about what would come later when the present was so present, full of interesting things to see and to do and to find. (He didn't live in the past, either, despite what some people had suggested. The past was just a lot more present in his world than in most people's.) Right now, he had his crew, and he had the find of a lifetime, and he had work to do.

The chests were heavier than they'd estimated. It took them several hours to get all three chests up on a rock ledge that was only about two feet under the surface, and from there into the zodiac. Gabe banged up his knuckles, and Judson knew he was covered in bruises on the left side.

"It's too bad that guy can't help," Mac said, nodding at the corner where the bronze statue stood, a silent underwater sentinel. "He looks pretty strong."

Gabe turned his head as if he expected the statue to start moving right then. "I dunno, Mac, I think I'd prefer it if he stayed right where he is." He inspected his skinned knuckles and made a face. "Besides, if he started walking, who knows where he'd stop."

Judson silently agreed. After being shut up in this cave for who knew how long, being locked up in a museum wouldn't be much better. He snorted quietly at the thought and rapped his fingers on the nearest of the three boxes, listening to the sound it made. That was definitely full, not hollow. "Come on, kids, put your backs into it."

Once everything was safely on board, including Mac and Gabe, Judson took them out, and breathed deeply of the fresh air once he could straighten up fully again. The sun was low now, and the early evening as spectacularly beautiful as the day had been. He slowed the zodiac down to little above a crawl, just enjoying the warm air and the feeling of being on the water. Gabe was frowning down at the wooden chests, but when Judson reached out and smacked the back of his head, he looked up and relaxed into the moment.

This time, Rich and Andie and Harriet and Cal were all standing on the beach, waiting for them. Judson raised an eyebrow; Gabe raised a hand in greeting. They brought the zodiac in, and Cal effortlessly pulled her prow high up on the sand, while Rich took one step forward and two steps back, as if he couldn't decide whether he should help or not. Judson got out, and Mac and Gabe swung the heavy boxes out to him one by one, until all three were standing steadily in the sand. Then Rich came forward, stumbling slightly on the uneven surface as his cane sank deep. "This is-- I knew you could-- Did everything go well?"

"Sure," Judson said, rolling his left shoulder and feeling the tenderness where he'd banged it into the rock.

"Fine," Gabe agreed, wincing as his knuckles brushed the side of the zodiac as he got out.

Rich broke into a wide smile. "Wonderful. We should do something to celebrate."'

"You could feed us," Mac suggested, jumping down on the sand. "I don't know about you guys, but I feel like I haven't eaten for days." When she said it, Judson realized he was starving, too. His stomach rumbled. He hoped it wasn't loud enough for anyone else to hear, and then Gabe winked at him.

"Of course we will. Dinner should be ready by now." Rich took another step closer to the boxes, seemingly unable to take his eyes off them.

"Let's go eat, then." Cal picked up two of the boxes as if they weighed nothing, and started for the steps. Judson was about to pick up the third one when Harriet beat him to it, hefting it easily, and he shared a slightly incredulous look with Mac and Gabe as they gathered up their equipment and followed at a slower pace, and Rich and Andie brought up the rear, arm in arm. The resemblance between them really was striking.

The awning was gone, Judson noticed when they came back up to the terrace again. He was just in time to see Harriet disappear into the house in a swirl of airy, crinkly skirt ruffles. "Go ahead and get cleaned up," Rich said from behind them, so Judson went straight through as well, taking the time to see Cal and Harriet put the boxes down on the long table in the workroom before he went to take a shower.

It felt good to wash the salt off his skin and scrub the dirt from under his fingernails. Judson rubbed a hand over his chin and decided he could live without a shave for another day. He pulled on jeans and a shirt and padded barefoot out into the house, enjoying the feeling of being dry between the toes. He was headed for the terrace, but somehow he found himself standing by the open door to the workroom instead. Part of him wanted nothing more than to walk in and touch those chests, start investigating them. But another part of him wanted food, and that part was more insistent. His stomach made another unsuitably loud noise, and he headed outside.

Dinner was roast chicken, and more of the bread and salad, of which there seemed to be a neverending supply, plus a couple of bowls of different kinds of olives. This time Judson mixed a little white wine in his mineral water and sat sipping it slowly while they waited for Mac to show up; she came out trailed by both the kittens, and Rich started to carve the first chicken. Judson grabbed some olives before Mac could eat them all, and Gabe shifted closer to him to make room for Mac at the other end of the bench. She plopped down and smiled brightly at Rich. "Ooh, olives."

The ginger kitten came to sit on Judson's feet and started licking his toes. He twitched, and Gabe gave him an amused sidelong glance. "Ticklish, huh?"

"Not at all," Judson lied blatantly and speared a piece of tomato on his fork.

The chickens were roasted to perfection, with crisp, salt-glazed skin and tender meat. Judson dug in, only slightly distracted when the kitten decided to scale his leg. When a small paw tried to reach his plate, though, he lifted it down on the ground again. Moments later, it was back to scaling his leg.

"A toast!" Rich said, lifting his glass. "To a successful salvage operation!"

"And a discovery that'll go down in art history," Judson added.

Cal unabashedly picked up a chicken leg and bit into it, and when Mac saw that, she did it too. Judson shook his head fondly and put his knife and fork down to remove the kitten once more. The terrace lights came on as the sun slipped down into the sea, and Judson tried to see if they were set into the low stone wall; he'd meant to check it out in the daytime, but it kept slipping his mind. Rich made more toasts -- to Judson, to Mac, to Gabe, to lost things being found, to the island itself, until Andie finally said, "I think that's enough, daddy," and put the wine carafe at the other end of the table.

"We were very lucky you could come here," Rich said earnestly. "Very lucky."

Judson thought Andie rolled her eyes at that, but the expression was so fleeting in the blue twilight that he wasn't sure.

Dessert was vanilla ice cream and figs soaked in brandy, and quite a lot of brandy at that. Judson gave up the fight and put some tiny pieces of chicken meat down for the kitten; within moments, the second kitten turned up as well, and they had an epic battle for chicken rights on top of his bare feet. Gabe was deep in a conversation with Harriet about information retrieval, and Cal stole the figs off Andie's plate.

"We keep early hours here," Andie said, taking the wine carafe just before Rich could grasp it, and pouring the last of the wine in Judson's glass. "I hope you don't mind."

"We don't mind," Mac said. "At least, I don't." She smothered a yawn behind the back of one hand. "I'm sorry. I haven't been this sleepy in years."

"Of course you're welcome to stay up as long as you like." Andie rose and started stacking emptied plates. "You won't disturb us at all."

Judson wasn't sure how long he stayed out on the terrace, eating a few more figs and watching the sea while Gabe slowly sagged down until he was sleeping with his head on Judson's shoulder, not even stirring while the kittens played a complicated game of tag back and forth across his legs. It wasn't until the evening breeze raised gooseflesh on his arms that Judson shook himself, and then shook Gabe awake, and Mac on the other side of Gabe."I don't give you enough work if a day's diving puts you to sleep," he said and ruined the effect by yawning. "We should go over our plans, see what else can be done before Alex Demetriades gets here."

"Sure," Gabe said with his eyes still closed.

Mac got to her feet and started pulling Gabe upright, scattering the kittens. "How about we do it tomorrow," she said. "Obviously Gabe needs his beauty sleep."

Judson got up, too, feeling heavy and languid. He dragged Gabe's arm across his shoulders, and the three of them slowly made their way indoors. Judson paused at the door to the workroom, and then Gabe yawned in his ear and he realized anything they did tonight would only have to be double-checked and probably re-done the next morning anyway, so they might as well go to bed.

* * *

He wasn't sure what woke him; for a few minutes, he wasn't really sure he was awake. Judson blinked hazily at the ceiling and finally realized that he was thirsty, and also he thought he could hear voices. He got out of bed slowly and staggered over to the door, hitting his shoulder on the doorframe. Rubbing it, he wondered dimly just how much brandy had been on those figs. The house was dark and full of soft blue shadows.

Judson followed the sound of the voices, wondering when this hallway had become so long and hazy, and when his legs had become so disobedient. Finally he saw a soft light coming from inside the workroom, and four figures standing around the table. Judson tried to blink the sleep out of his eyes. Rich was opening one of the sealed chests as easily as Judson might have opened a jar of pickles. He had a look on his face that Judson couldn't quite understand or describe, something like happiness and foolishness and regret all mixed up. He lifted a book from inside the chest and held it reverently between his hands.

"Here we go again," Cal said. "How many years will it be this time?"

Rich glared at him. "I meant it for the best."

"You always do. At least it wasn't the Calypso Deep this time." Their voices sounded odd to Judson, as though they were doing a bad job of dubbing their own lines over some other, stranger rhythm.

Across the table, Andie shook her head at Rich. "You have to stop doing this, daddy. This makes how many times now? You're like one of those people who give up smoking every New Year's--"

"I heard something." Harriet raised a hand, and the scene before Judson wavered as though he were back under water. He rubbed his eyes to clear them and remembered how thirsty he was. It didn't make any sense to come out here when he could just get water back in his own bathroom.

The hallway swayed and pitched around him as he went back. Judson thought vaguely that he remembered a storm just like this, once. When he came back to his room, he meant to go get himself some water, but instead he fell face-first into bed and felt the house shiver around him for what felt like forever before he fell back asleep.

~

Judson woke up with two kittens sitting on his chest. He was lying flat on his back, his tongue was glued to his palate, and the soft, comfortable bed was really hard, and--

He sat up abruptly. He was on the floor, stark naked, and two kittens were sliding down his torso, mewling indignantly. Judson scooped them up before they could reach any sensitive areas, and looked around. This was the room he went to bed in last night, but the bed was gone. His clothes lay in a neatly folded pile next to him.

"What the hell is going on here?" Mac appeared in the doorway, tousle-haired and more than a little cranky. "This is the weirdest-- Oh, fine, put something on first, jeez." She continued along the hallway, and Judson heard her calling, "Gabe! Gabe, are you okay? Doesn't anyone wear anything to bed around here?"

Judson rolled to his feet, wincing a little. Yesterday's bruises hadn't been improved by sleeping on the bare floor. When he went into the bathroom and turned the tap by the sink, it made a grinding sound and dribbled out three drops of discolored water. Judson cursed. He pulled his clothes on and scrubbed at his hair with both hands, then strode out into the house. The hallway was empty.

Gabe came stumbling out of his room, which was also empty. "What's going on here?"

"Oh, crap. Judson!"

They both lengthened their stride in response to that note in Mac's voice. She was standing in the workroom. Gabe's laptop was on the floor, and so was the rest of their equipment. The table was gone. The wooden chests were most definitely gone.

"What the hell," Judson growled.

The kitchen was empty, stripped down to the walls, not even a shelf remaining. Every room in the house was empty, completely bare of furniture and with no sign that the Battens and Cal and Harriet had ever lived there. When they came out on the terrace, that was empty, too. The stone benches were gone. Judson shook his head in disbelief.

"I don't get it." Mac turned around, taking everything in. "Did they drug us?"

"Maybe they did. I feel like I have the worst hangover in the world." Gabe still looked dazed, as if he hadn't woken up properly.

"It would explain why we didn't even notice when they took the beds from under us," Mac said with a frown. She walked to the edge of the terrace and looked down. "The zodiac's still down there."

"At least that's something." Gabe looked at Judson. "But how--" He gestured at the house. "Where did everything go?"

"I don't know." Judson rubbed at his forehead. "I know I woke up last night, I know I saw something, and it was all about those wooden chests. I just can't get it to make sense."

"Considering it was probably some kind of drug-influenced dream, I'm not surprised," Mac said. "Anyone else have a strong urge to go check on the Explorer to see if anything else is mysteriously missing?"

They collected their gear from the empty rooms of the house, looking one last time to see if there wasn't something there, anything, a clue to what had happened. Judson stood in the door of the workroom and looked in for a long time, trying to pin down memories that drifted at the very back of his mind. The kittens rubbed up against his ankles and meeped, and he looked down. "Don't suppose we can leave you here." He scooped them up and put them in an open bag on top of Mac's bucket hat.

Getting all the stuff down to the beach took two trips along steps that seemed a lot less well-kept than Judson remembered them from the day before. When he came down the second time, the kittens had escaped from the bag and were chasing the strap of the laptop case that Gabe dragged along the sand in front of them.

"I didn't realize this was playtime," Mac said. She pulled her hat out and was about to put it on when she noticed the cat hair. "We don't even have any food for them."

"Yeah, well, neither has that place," Judson said, jerking his head up towards the house. "Don't you think the Explorer needs a ship's cat?"

Mac just shook her head, but there was a smile on her face. They loaded up the zodiac, and Gabe kept an eye on the kittens as Judson steered them out of the cove.

It wasn't until he saw the familiar form of the Explorer and felt something relax deep inside that Judson realized how worried he had been that she would be gone. But there she was, moored just like before to the huge stone pier, looking perfectly solid and real. Looking like home.

The kittens loved being on board. They started chasing each other around, getting underfoot as much as possible while Judson and his crew checked out the boat and stowed the equipment, until Gabe put down a bowl of water for them and they stood quietly side by side, drinking and drinking. Seeing that, Judson went and got himself a bottle of mineral water and downed half of it in one deep draught. He could almost feel his dried-out cells popping back into shape.

He could almost feel his brain popping back into shape, too. Judson fetched the sat phone and sat down at the table, and after several tries and some progressively louder conversations, he got Alex Demetriades on the phone.

"Judson! It has been a long time since we talked. What are you doing these days?"

Judson frowned. "You mean you don't know?"

Alex laughed. "I'm sorry, but I don't always keep track of you. Is it something I should know? Are you here in Greece? We would be happy to see you--"

"Hang on," Judson said. "Nobody called you yesterday about finding a giant bronze statue in the sea?"

"No. No." Alex sounded flabbergasted. "But Judson, that would be -- a giant bronze -- you mean like the Artemision Zeus?"

"Poseidon," Judson said automatically. "Something like that." His thoughts whirred faster. "Look, I'll get back to you. I have to check out a few things here first."

He heard a faint "But Judson!" just as he ended the call.

Gabe came to sit next to him. "What was that all about?"

Judson shook his head. "Rich never called Alex Demetriades. There's nobody coming."

Gabe's eyebrows drew together. "Well, didn't you tell him to come, then? Even if Rich made all that stuff up and stole those boxes, this is still the kind of discovery that those guys ought to be falling over themselves to get a look at."

"If it's still there," Judson said.

Mac came over. "Of course it's still there. There's no way they could get that stuff out of the cave overnight."

"There's no way they could empty the house of furniture and get the stone benches away from the terrace overnight, either," Judson said. "Imagine what those things must have weighed."

Gabe shook his head. "But in that case, what did they need us for?" Mac and Judson looked at him. "If they could just get everything out of the cave themselves, we wouldn't even have to be here."

"I just think we should go look," Judson said.

They got themselves ready and went up on the deck again, closing the door carefully so the kittens wouldn't go wandering and fall in the sea. Getting ready to take the zodiac back around the southern tip of the island again, Judson finally realized what had been bothering him since the moment they first arrived. The Explorer had been the only boat at the huge stone pier, and she was still the only boat there. He hadn't seen so much as a rowboat that might have belonged to the people in the villa.

Mac steered and Judson sat forward in the prow, not quite pressing his hands against it to make the journey go faster. He didn't take in much of the trip, though the sunshine was still as bright, the sea still as clear, and the island still as greenly beautiful. When they came up outside the cave entrance, he turned to Mac and Gabe. "Wait here, okay?"

"It's faster to take the zodiac in," Gabe said, then shook his head. "Just as fast, anyway."

Judson shook his head, too. "Just wait," he said again, grabbed the dive light and tipped over the side. He swam in, squinting at the darkness after the bright morning sunshine outside. Once he was inside the cave, he hesitated for just a moment before taking a deep breath and switching on the light as he went under the surface.

The cave wasn't that big; it wasn't as if he had to spend a long time looking.

The sculpture was still there. Calm hollow eyes met his own, and the bronze face was the same, at once commanding and patient. This was someone who had waited centuries, millennia. And for whatever reason, whatever had been going on with the chests, and the family in the villa, and the strangeness of these past few nights and days, one thing was clear: the waiting was over.

Judson kicked up, and a joyful stream of bubbles rose with him. When he broke the surface of the water, he was laughing.

* * *

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