Short Stories » She Fell Among Thieves
She Fell Among Thieves
The six diggers were spading back the hard, cindery earth crusted over a formation of black stones. While I was supervising the job, my partner, was trembling inside the tent from a bout of malaria.
The first fat drops of rain were just beginning to splat on the bone-dry dirt in the Jordanian hills. The headman, Hussain, straightened up and grinned at me. They had uncovered a stone floor or roof. It was a rectangle of about 20 feet by 15 feet, and I bend down for a closer inspection.
It was a roof that was laid by some artisans long time back. It had endured centuries of dust-submerged oblivion. I instructed Hussain to remove one of the cornerstones.
The Arabs got down to work on the slab. As they slowly moved it, a hollow space appeared. I instructed the Arab workmen to bring a ladder and a flashlight, and to keep watch while I went down to inspect.
The place was dark and cold and I started to shiver. I slowly switched on the flashlight and played the flashlight over the old, stonewalls, seeing a faint film of mould.
The figure of a naked white female stood in the halo of light. It took me by surprise that I looked the opposite direction. I then laughed at myself, as it was only a large marble statue and it glowed in the dark.
It was the most remarkable statue that I had ever come across. The details and precision were outstanding. Her hair, fingernails, eye nails, just about everything. It was simply amazing. The expression sent a chill down my spine. Was it horror or surprise? Who was her sculptor and what was she doing here.
Excitement beat around my head and I tried to find answers to my queries. However, I was certain that I had made a priceless discovery. Anyway, I went up the ladder, asked the Arabs to close the slab, and went to Tanner’s tent.
I tried to explain how beautiful the statue was. All he did was to grunt an acknowledgement and swallow a quinine pill. He was wanted by many governments for smuggling archaeological artifacts. There was not a single archaeological group that would dare hire him. However, I admired his professional expertise. He also taught me a great lot on the financial aspects and rewards that come with archaeology...
It was raining outside. Tanner came with me down the ladder, and took one look at the statue and was trembling. “She is a fantastic find Miller. Believe me, she is really, really old. You don’t how old she is Even the greatest of sculptors couldn’t catch a facial expression like that. You can practically see the pores in her skin.”
“She is a treasure hunter’s dream. She is worth the thirty years that I have spent in this business. Miller, I know the right people. Straight, fifty-fifty, if you help me take her out to Israel.”
Tanner asked whether Hussain and the Arab boys knew about the find. I replied in the negative, but was not sure as he could have peeked.
Tanner added that if he knew he would run straight to the authorities.
Tanner added that it was wise that they left immediately to Israel, via the shore of the Dead Sea.
We took her up, but she was not heavy as we thought. “She is definitely not marble. What could she be made of?” I asked.
Grunting and shoving, we slowly put the statue into our truck bed. “I will drive,” said Tanner.
It was raining outside, the rains hitting against the windshield. It all seemed crazy to me, taking an unknown statue in this rain to nowhere.
Suddenly, there were lights in front of us, signaling us to stop. Tanner, hit the accelerator hard, planning to drive right over the man, if need be. “You imbecile, you cannot kill him!”
The truck went into a mad skid and fell inside a muddy pivot.
An Arab shore patrolman slowly made his way towards the truck. He was carrying one of those World War II sub-machine guns. I thought that he could possibly be bribed.
“Open up,” ordered the Arab.
The truck bed was like a bathtub, with rainwater pouring across every crack.
Tanner, by then had come behind the Arab and knocked him out cold, using a monkey wrench. He took the Arab’s gun and before I could say anything, asked me to drag the unconscious Arab into the thickets and then drive.
I had little choice, but to obey him. I tried to protest, but he tapped me on the chin with the muzzle of the gun.
I kept driving in the rain, finally when the first sign of daylight appeared, Tanner asked me to take a right turn. Unfortunately for us, the road ran straight into a guardhouse with full of sentries.
An Arab officer came up, carrying a rifle. “Where are you going?” he asked.
Tanner told him that we were American archaeologists trying to cross into Israel. He then asked whether we carrying anything... The Arab officer was not satisfied and wanted to search the truck. I was trembling, if they found out, it would surely mean the firing squad for both of us.
The Arab returned after two minutes and said that we could pass and asked us to drive carefully. I was shocked and feebly thanked him and drove on. I pressed the accelerator, and we were on our way. I still could not get it, why were not stopped and was trying hard to figure out why. He could have easily arrested both of them as smugglers.
Soon we reached the Israeli barricade, and their officers came to search the truck. Tanner quickly got out the door and opened the truck bed. Water rushed out like a small waterfall. All the water drained out and there was nothing inside.
Tanner could not believe it. He started screaming, “Hell, they have stolen her.”
I calmed him down and replied that nobody could have stolen the statue. He then thundered, “Then, where is she?”
It suddenly dawned on him that the statue had dissolved in the rain. He started laughing, until he ran out of breath and then started sobbing uncontrollably.
The Officer and I left Tanner with a medic, who attended to him and gave him some shots to calm him down and his fever.
When he finally came out, he accepted a cigarette from us and said, “Is he a religious fanatic?”
I replied in the negative.
Because, all he keeps raving about is about Lot’s wife. About how she looked back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and she was turned into a pillar of salt.