The Best Man In His Field
by M. Scott Eiland

The young man in the business suit who had picked me up at the airport led me into the elevator, and we started going up. Elevators look less elegant in this day and age, but they make up for it by being complicated--this model had doors on both sides, like at some hospitals. I remembered seeing one of those for the first time when Dad was in for his final hospital stay back in the late seventies. He had just worn out at the age of one hundred and ten, and he was still alert enough to be irritated that his son couldn't openly visit him--since he had been declared dead ten years before. He kept his peace, and we were able to say our discreet goodbyes. His funeral was a national event--the beloved master of understandable texts for generations of undergraduate archaeology students was mourned by many across his nation, and his eulogy--delivered by a sitting US Senator-- expressed regret that he had failed in his lifelong dream to discover the resting place of the Holy Grail.

Dad always could keep a secret--whether it was mine or his.

The elevator door opened, and the man gestured in the direction of a pair of closed oak doors. I nodded and thanked him before following the carpet towards my destination. There was a young woman sitting at the secretary's desk, and she perked up upon seeing me. She saw a man of ordinary height and weight, apparently about sixty years old, with neatly trimmed gray hair and a beard. Appearances can be deceiving, child I smiled at her. "Good afternoon. I am Doctor Walter Sullivan, and I have an appointment with the chief executive officer of this firm."

"An--er, I mean Mr. Angel is expecting you, Doctor." The young lady pressed a button on her desk, then smiled at me and added, "You can go right in, sir. Please ask if you want anything to drink."

I nodded and dismissed the secretary as I opened the polished doors and walked in. I saw a luxurious office with elaborate furnishings and a large desk in the back as I closed the doors behind me. Behind the desk was a wall with various examples of ancient weaponry--I raised an eyebrow as I recognized specimens that would turn the complexion of any museum curator in the world green with envy. This trip was worth making, but where's the--ah A large, dark- haired man who didn't look much older than the young secretary outside was off to the side, mixing a martini. He turned to me and smiled, and I immediately had a sense that I had seen him somewhere before--a sense that only grew as he smiled, extended his hand and said simply, "I'm glad you decided to make this trip--I've been a follower of your work for a very long time--Dr. Jones."

I felt a surge of irritation. Mere money would never have caused me to make the trip--I've never been particularly motivated by it, and I've got plenty, between my own investments and what Dad left me. The invitation I had received three days before had come in a crate containing a Ming vase with a rather unique quality--it had been chipped and stained in a fit of pique by one Napoleon Bonaparte. Whoever sent it knew that I would be able to ascertain its authenticity in a very short period of time--I got a phone call less than two hours after its delivery wanting to facilitate travel plans, and I was receptive, since the vase had been a simple courtesy gift to sway me to come--no one in their right mind would use it for such purposes if they didn't have a huge quantity of other such items to work with. I hadn't expected game playing, though. Again, I don't spend much time thinking about money, but I spent a lot of it establishing this new identity thirty years ago, and I'd just as soon not have people I don't know ignoring the efforts on my part to bury an old lifetime and ignore the new one that I've created for myself. Very well--I was going to make him work for it. I ignored the extended hand, frowned, and replied, "Young man--you have me mistaken for someone else. I am Walter Sullivan, former curator of the New York Museum of Antiquities--retired. You should know this, as you sent me an invitation to come to this place to discuss a matter which you described as being of great importance, and punctuated with a unique blending of the cultures of France and China. If I am mistaken, perhaps I should be on my way."

The young man smiled at me and said simply: "1939. The Florida Everglades. A moonlit night in the depths of a swamp twenty miles away from the nearest town."

I don't have an eidetic memory, but I had a very good reason for remembering that night. "I was being chased by two men working for a hostile power."

"Two of Himmler's best men, if I'm not mistaken." The apparently not- so-young man smirked--they hadn't been good enough.

"Nazis." I muttered.

"I hate those guys." We both spoke at the same time, and paused before breaking out into laughter. I reached out and clasped the offered hand. I shook my head and commented, "I found you standing over their bodies--I never did find out how you killed them, or why you chose to intervene. You just smiled at me and left."

"I just happened along--I was rather anti-social in those days--and they decided that I was an obstruction." The man spoke softly, but I could hear the note of satisfaction in his voice when he added, "They were right--broken necks are a bit of an obstacle to even the elite soldiers of 'the Master Race'."

I chuckled, and commented, "From your appearance, I assume that you found what I was looking for?"

"You mean what you found, don't you?" The man replied, looking at me intently and obviously seeing through the disguise I use to maintain my current identity. He shook his head and added, "No, Dr. Jones--my longevity is based on a rather darker power." He inclined his head towards a nearby mirror--which looked as if it had been placed on the wall recently, and I noted that he had no reflection. He looked back at my surprised expression and explained, "I desire a good working relationship with you, Dr. Jones--I wished to let you know up front what I know to be true about you, and for you to know who it is you are dealing with, in case you might find the circumstances intolerable."

I shrugged--I had seen far stranger things in my time on this Earth than an apparently well-mannered vampire. "I tend to assume that you could have obtained take-out archeologist far less expensively than the means you used to bring me here, sir. I will therefore assume that you have a genuine venture to present to me, and that you will do so in good faith--until I have reason to assume otherwise." I stepped back and stated simply: "I'm ready to start the discussion whenever you are, Mr. Angel."

"Angel will do just fine, Dr. Jones." Very polite, this one--he still treated me as the senior individual in the room, though I suspected that for the first time since Dad died, I was in the presence of someone substantially older than myself. He gestured at a comfortable looking client chair, and I availed myself of it as he handed me the martini and moved to sit at his desk. He frowned, and began, "You're still active in the field, Dr. Jones--how successful have your recovery efforts been lately?"

"Not very, I'm afraid." I sipped the martini--finding it excellent-- and elaborated: "Oh, I've found any number of notable pieces--some would make the career of any archaeologist who hadn't already found even rarer pieces. . .but in the last five years, I've started to run into dead ends when I`ve sought out certain significant items. Empty pedestals, bare gem sockets, other such annoyances. Someone's been getting to places ahead of me, and I just wish I knew whether it was five days before I got there, or five centuries."

"The Mantle of Ra--the Eye of the Scarab--the Urn of the Ages--the Scepter of the Myrmidon. . .and the Monocle of St. Percival." Angel spoke softly, and I almost dropped my martini. He noted my reaction and nodded before adding, "Someone's been watching you, and cheating a bit to make sure they got to where you were going first."

"I see." My voice was cold, and I put the martini down before continuing, "So, is it going to be a matter of `work for us, or never see another significant piece for as long as you live?' Mr. Angel--I don't deal with blackmailers."

"I understand your reaction, Dr. Jones--but please hear me out." Angel looked at me with a concerned expression, and I relented, picking up my martini and listening as he continued, "I can explain what has been going on, but it will require a bit of explanation as to the activities of my associates and myself. I would appreciate it if you would grant me the time to tell you the story properly."

I hesitated, then nodded. Angel sighed, then spoke softly for twenty minutes, and I listened in fascination, my only other activity being an occasional sip from the martini. When he had finished, I blinked, then commented, "You've certainly picked quite a tightrope to walk--I take it that you found my name and recent activities when you reviewed the files that the main office left with you?"

Angel nodded. "There are a number of clients of this office who benefit by thwarting your acquisition of certain pieces--the files were quite clear on that point. The senior partners certainly didn't go out of their way to point that fact out to us, but they didn't count on our computer expert and the search programs she was able to write--your name popped right up." He looked at me intently and added, "Dr. Jones--the artifacts I named are powerful, but none of them threatens the very existence of the world: we've been lucky up to now. I would like to sponsor your activities in the future--to both enable you to find items that you never would have located otherwise, and to conceal your activities from dark powers that would seek to exploit your abilities for the cause of evil. I'm willing to spend as much time as it takes to convince you, or to let you leave here right this moment to consider my proposal, if that is what you wish to do." I blinked, and he concluded, "The Fountain of Youth has granted you long life, Dr. Jones--it would be a great honor for myself and this firm to assist in your continued efforts for the betterment of the human race while that good fortune continues for you."

I looked at the young man--who was neither young nor truly a man--and wondered at the conviction in his voice. For all of the wonders I've seen, I've gotten cynical in my somewhat old age--I've seen too much human decadence and corruption not to be. This one still believed in fighting the good fight, regardless of the cost, though I sensed a burden of pain and weariness on his shoulders that would have stricken many a good man.

He was right about the gift I had received--after the Nazis had been slain and Angel vanished into the night--I had stumbled along without my supplies for hours, desperate for water that was not foul or otherwise tainted. As the pre-morning light began to break over the eastern horizon, I stumbled upon an ancient fountain that had been long since abandoned. A small amount of water was still inside the cracked base. I was heedless of potential risks and drank deeply. I felt a surge of energy, but my senses fled for some time. When I came to my senses, I was at the edge of the swamp and the sun was high in the sky--I couldn't have retraced my steps in a thousand years. When I returned to my hotel and looked into the mirror, I was startled to see that I looked ten years younger. I had found my goal and lost it, all in one night.

It was years later--after explaining away my sudden transformation to better tailors and a gifted beautician--that I realized that I was no longer aging noticeably. I began resorting to makeup, and began to research for a cause for this change in me. Nothing was forthcoming, and it took Dad to point out the obvious. "You've partaken of both of the most legendary mystical youth bestowing artifacts in history, you damned fool! You're just lucky that you didn't regress to being an infant after the Fountain. Someone has always been looking out for you, my boy--but you're going to have to take the good with the bad this time."

He had been right--I was the same apparent age as I sat in Angel's office, pondering what he had told me, as I had been for the sixty odd years prior to that moment. I had cheated death many times before that night in the Everglades, and now it seemed that I was cheating mortality itself. I do not live in fear that the gift will be withdrawn and that I would die--I have seen more wonders than almost anyone who has walked this Earth, and my friends are mostly long dead: death is the one great adventure that I have yet to experience. But Angel's offer intrigued me--he offered me a chance to use my abilities not just to discover and preserve the lost treasures of humanity, but to help preserve the human race itself. I had done such work in the past largely by happenstance and sheer stubbornness: this time I would do so with full awareness and sense of purpose. . .along with thwarting those who had cheated me out of some damned good finds. It was a challenge worthy of the name and identity I had abandoned out of necessity, and I stood up and extended my hand. "Angel--I don't need time to decide, but I would like to hear some of the details, and to meet the people I will be working with."

Angel blinked--visibly surprised and pleased--and pressed a buzzer on his desk before reaching out and shaking my hand firmly. We both sat down and nursed our drinks for a few minutes until the doors opened and two people walked in--a man in his early thirties, and a woman a few years younger than that. Both looked bright and attentive, and I stood as they approached me and stared. I smiled and commented, "Let's see--you would be Wesley Wyndham-Pryce and Winifred Burkle? Pleased to meet you--Angel here has told me of your credentials, and I'm looking forward to hearing about what projects you have in mind for me."

Wyndham-Pryce straightened slightly and extended his hand--which I shook as he commented, "It's a rare honor, Professor.--I'm quite familiar with your work." He paused, and commented, "I believe that you have worked with a former colleague of mine--Rupert Giles."

The name definitely rang a bell. "Yes, quite a good man in his field- -I haven't seen him in about seven years. What's he been doing?"

"Saving the world." The answer came from Angel, who had come around to the front of the desk and joined us.

I looked at Angel's face and saw no sign of deception, and nodded in response. "That sounds about right for Rupert." I turned to the young woman next to me--who was visibly nervous--and commented, "I've worked with a few talented physicists in my time, Miss Burkle--Oppie in particular was rather fond of discussing the connections between his chosen field and my own, before he got caught up in government programs. If you'd like, I could tell you a tale or two."

Winifred's eyes widened and she smiled as she replied, "I'd love to hear those stories, Dr.--" She hesitated, then asked, "What are we supposed to call you--Dr. Jones or Dr. Sullivan?"

I thought for a moment--grateful for such a trivial problem to resolve before more pressing issues intruded. I frowned, then replied, "In public--Dr. Sullivan, since he is alive and well as far as the world is concerned. In private, Dr. Jones will do nicely." I reached out and took her hand, and grinned wolfishly as I kissed her hand before releasing it and adding, "And you may call me Indiana."

Winifred blushed, and the other two men in the room chuckled. For a moment, I thought I heard a derisive snicker that sounded a lot like Dad, but I've learned to live with ghosts over the years--even the rude ones. I looked over at the bar and called out, "Angel, I think more martinis are in order."

The vampire smiled and went to comply, and I turned back to the two younger people. This was going to be fun.


Silverlake: Authors / Mediums / Titles / Links / List / About / Updates / Silverlake Remix