Authors: Parker Francis
As an unpublished manuscript,
won the 2007 Josiah W. Bancroft, Sr. Award, and was named a Book of the Year in the 2009 Royal Palm Literary Awards Competition. Author Parker Francis, also known as Victor DiGenti, writes the award-winning
adventure/fantasy series. These books are available as Kindle downloads and as trade paperbacks.
Books by the Author
(Under the name Victor DiGenti)
Windrusher and the Cave of Tho-hoth
Windrusher and the Trail of Fire
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Parker Francis
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, downloaded or transmitted in any form by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except brief extracts for the purpose of review, without the express written permission of the publisher and copyright owner. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher and author is illegal and punishable by law.
Cover illustration and formatting by Greg DiGenti
Published by Windrusher Hall Press
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
“Guilt is the source of sorrow, ‘tis the fiend,
Th’ avenging fiend that follows us behind,
With whips and stings.”
Many thanks to those who helped in the transition of this story from rough draft to finished product. Thanks for their editing, critiques, suggestions, and support. Including Camille Cline, David Poyer, and the Ponte Vedra Writers critique group led by Bill Kerr. To Evanne for her coping skills; to Kay Day for giving voice to the poet, and to all my readers who have waited (along with the author) for this book to be published.
People who grumble about life being unfair have it all wrong. It’s life’s alter ego, death, that isn’t fair. Pick up the paper. Turn on any of the twenty-four-hour news channels. See what I mean? Every day we hear of innocent people suffering horrible and senseless deaths. Vacationing prom queens disappear from tropical islands. Drivers rage against one another, ending their commute prematurely. Families slaughtered by homicidal misfits foraging for money, drugs or payback. And I hate to think about the god-awful things perpetrated on innocent children. Not that I don’t have personal experience in that area.
I was sitting in the welcoming shade of Trinity Episcopal Church in the nation’s oldest city shaking sand from my shoe. My back scraped the rough coquina wall flanking Artillery Lane, one of the narrowest streets in a city known for its challenging roadways. I should be enjoying my sabbatical from the office; instead my mind skewed uncontrollably toward the dark side. Maybe the smell emerging from my sweat-soaked sock was playing tricks with my brain chemistry. Maybe digging up 500-year-old bones gives you a sharper view of life’s fragility. More likely, it’s my naturally gloomy nature reminding me that in the end we’re all history.
In front of me, five other volunteers were mucking around in the shallow pit next to the church. We called ourselves amateur archaeologists, but amateur may be too generous a word. We’re just grunts, doing the backbreaking work of digging and screening a fifteen by thirty piece of real estate before progress, in the form of a new parking lot, paved over this particular slice of history.
I didn’t know about the others, but I welcomed the grunt work as a distraction from what paid the bills—my regular job as a private investigator. My name is Mitchell, Quint Mitchell. I was enjoying one of my mental health days, sitting here sweating and emptying sand from my size twelve-and-a-half shoe when my cell phone rang.
I checked the Caller ID and took a deep breath. Him again. My dark mood had suddenly become blacker. Slipping the shoe back on my foot, I moved around the corner of the old church away from the others. I didn’t say anything. He’d start when he was ready.
“Are you there, you goddamn murderer?”
I wasn’t shocked; instead sadness consumed me, nearly taking my breath away. The image of a girl’s face convulsed in terror sprang into my head, and I bit my lower lip in an effort to drive away the picture flashing through my brain.
“You should be put down like a mad dog, Mitchell. You’re not even worth the breath it takes for me to call and remind you that every day you’re alive is one day too long.” The man’s voice broke; his anguish a serrated blade slicing deep into my chest.
The vision of the doomed girl remained with me, a morbid souvenir of a tragic accident. Consumed by her death, the girl’s father called me at all hours of the day and night. Although I was cleared of any blame for my part in the accident, he won’t let me forget I was driving the car that killed his daughter. As if I could forget.
I knew I shouldn’t answer his calls, save myself the misery. Hearing the utter grief in the poor man’s voice, though, I told myself this might be his only comfort. But each call added to the weight I carried, often unleashing darker and bloodier images than that poor girl’s death. The slide show in my head, if I let it, would make the leap from last year’s traffic accident to a summer’s day twenty-three years earlier.
The day my brother was murdered.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” The girl’s father shouted into my ear, interrupting my morbid train of thought. “Don’t you want to explain to me and God why you’re alive and …” He choked back sobs.
I slumped against the church wall, eyes closed, stomach aching. Instinctively, my hand rose to my chest and touched the medallion hanging beneath my shirt. I peered around the corner at the other volunteers. They were still absorbed with their tiny piece of real estate, digging up artifacts from generations past while I dealt with more recent ghosts.
Finally, I found my voice. “I’m sorry.” It was all I could say to the man sobbing on the other end. I closed the phone and returned it to my pocket.
“Is everything all right?” Jeffrey Poe’s question startled me back to the present. His long face, usually alive with the possibility of discovery each time he supervised these archaeological digs, was set in a serious mask of concern. It made me wonder how I must look to him.
“Just some boring business from the office.” I tried to dredge up a tone of lightness I didn’t feel. “I’ll start on the trash pit now.” He watched me step over the twine surrounding the survey area, pick up the trowel and kneel by the depression.
Dr. Jeffrey Poe, St. Augustine’s archaeologist, had a sharp eye and didn’t miss much. A tall man with perpetually tousled brown hair, a ruddy complexion and a ready smile revealing a gap in his front teeth, Poe took me under his wing after I approached him about volunteering with his archaeological surveys. Over the ensuing months and years, we became close friends.
Seemingly impervious to the searing August heat, Poe wore his standard uniform of long-sleeved denim shirt and floppy, wide-brimmed canvas hat tattooed with the imprint of dozens of digs. As city archaeologist, he followed-up on construction permits within the city limits to determine if the site might add to the knowledge of St. Augustine’s storied past. If so, he surveyed the site, retrieved artifacts, and recorded as much data as possible before asphalt obscured the past.
Poe acted as ringmaster of our little circus, directing the six volunteers—four elderly retired professionals, a long-haired Flagler College freshman, and me. Together we’re grubbing around in a shallow rectangular pit slightly larger than a boxing ring.
I studied Poe a moment before turning my attention to the trash pit. The city archaeologist walked to the screening table and picked through the scattering of debris searching for anything of value. His face had taken on a nearly beatific look as he lost himself in the pursuit of clues to the old city’s past. I can’t see any hint of the pressure I knew he’d been under since his bitter encounter with William Marrano, St. Augustine’s vice mayor. For a while after the two of them clashed over a new development on the San Sebastian River, it looked like Poe might lose his job.
Kneeling in the dirt, I turned my attention to the trash pit. Poe discovered the depression in the corner of the excavation when he arrived today. He explained the heavy weekend rains probably caused the soil to settle. We added it to the collection of other holes dotting the area. The phone call still buzzed inside my head like an angry wasp, but I brushed it aside, concentrating on the task at hand.
I used the trowel to outline the pockmark of recessed soil, then carefully skimmed away the dirt as Poe taught us, one layer at a time. My dig partner, a retired attorney named Rachel, hovered over my shoulder with her grid map and a spiral bound notebook, taking notes as I widened the pit. I shoveled the loose dirt into a five-gallon plastic bucket, surprised to find the soil falling away easily beneath my trowel.
In the branches of a nearby oak shading our site, a mockingbird called, probably searching for female company. I paused a moment to look for the bird and wiped away a trickle of sweat burning my eye.
“This sure looks different from the other trash pits,” Rachel said.
“Now that you mention it, I wondered why we weren’t seeing the same striations and layers of clay.” I’d transferred about eight inches of topsoil from the depression to the bucket, and instead of the hard-packed dirt we found at the other holes, this felt like newly-turned soil.
My trowel scraped against something hard and unyielding. Not surprising. Sometimes when we’re lucky, we find intact artifacts like cannon balls or the foundations of ancient structures, usually made from coquina. Poe said this site probably dated back to the first buildings erected in the mid-sixteenth century. I may have found the remains of one of St. Augustine’s first homes or a military wall, like the Rosario Line uncovered in 2007. Postholes, trash pits and soil stains are all good indications of early habitation, often leading to the recovery of historically valuable artifacts.