“Mmm,” Violet said noncommittally. Was that supposed to be a jab at her? She hadn’t known that her father had cancer until it was too late. She’d barely spoken to him in the last ten years and only found out his situation after he’d died. Then, she’d resented the fact that he’d prevented her from seeing him one last time. She’d always suspected that family wasn’t important to Phineas DeWitt, but denying his daughter her final good-bye to her erstwhile father? That made her irrationally upset, and when she was upset, she locked her emotions down and went cold.
Kind of like she was doing right now.
So she watched the camera jounce around and said nothing until the picture bobbed and she was looking down into a tight, dark crawlspace. “What’s that?”
“That is the hole,” Jonathan said. “It leads to a cave we found what we believe was used for oracular purposes and worship. The entrance is buried under several tons of rock and mud, but we were able to dig down several feet and break in from above.”
“Going in,” Sergio called. There was a minor scuffle, and then the camera stared at the rocky wall as Sergio climbed down on a creaky metal ladder into a narrow, dark tunnel.
“Brave man,” Violet commented. “You must be paying him well.”
“Actually, Sergio is a volunteer from the university,” Jonathan said.
“And he’s willing to jump into a hole like that?”
“Of course. That’s what archaeology is about.” Jonathan grinned at her. “I seem to recall a girl who had ‘carpe diem’ tattooed on her lower back. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“It was long beaten out of me,” Violet said in a disapproving voice. “I’ve had enough adventure for one life.”
“I am at the bottom,” Sergio called, and the picture bobbed again. “Heading into the atrium.” More scuffling, and then in the darkness, a light flared on. “At the site,” Sergio called, and the camera shifted. “Can you see?”
Violet looked over at Jonathan, one eyebrow raised inquiringly.
Jonathan pointed at the computer screen. “Do you see that painting on the wall? You can barely make out a mural, but it’s mostly destroyed.” His finger skimmed the screen. “This is a bull, and this person is a festival dancer here. Quit moving, Sergio.”
“Sorry,” came the tinny voice, and the camera stilled.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Violet said. “What does this have to do with me?”
“Below the mural,” Jonathan said, and his finger pointed at a slightly darker line, “we found two inscripted stone slabs—two stelae. One was hand-sized and one was larger. The larger was written in hieratic, and mentioned a great festival. The second one was in Etruscan and a variant we’d never seen before. It was commemorating something that one of our men interpreted to be a great flood or a disaster with water.”
She rolled her eyes. What did he want her to say?
Jonathan continued to watch her. “Your father took the smaller stone to have it carbon-dated and catalogued, and no one has seen it since. Nor has anyone recorded it being taken to a lab for carbon dating.” He turned back to the computer, tapped the screen, and then frowned to himself. “Thank you, Sergio. That is all I needed.”
“Anytime,” Sergio called back, his voice garbled. He said something else, but the connection disrupted and the call went dead.
Jonathan shut his laptop and gave Violet a scrutinizing look. “Well?”
“That was a lovely bedtime story, but what does this have to do with me?”
“Do you know anything about your father stealing artifacts?”
“I barely talked to my father in the last ten years. How would I know anything?” Her lips curled with derision. “You’re the one who was so in love with him. You should be the one to know.”
“I think he stole it because he knew I’d want it.” Jonathan gave her a curious look. “And I think he expects me to come after you and ask questions.”
“Well, if this was part of his master plan, it’s a pitiful one. I want nothing to do with him. Or you, for that matter.”
“Nevertheless, here we are.” Jonathan’s intense gaze made her shiver. “You said you’d help me find my stele and his journals.”
“You didn’t give me much of a choice,” she retorted back.
“He’s not my father,” Jonathan said.
He might as well have been. Violet sure hadn’t been close to Dr. DeWitt. She drummed her fingers. “Let’s just get this over with, all right?”
“Like I said, we’re heading straight to the airport. I don’t want to waste time, either. Every day that passes without that stele, the trail goes colder.”
“I have my passport.” She kept her voice even, and kept her gaze off of him.
He nodded. “All right. Can I ask where we’re going?”
She frowned and looked over at him. “Why are you asking me where we’re going? This is your little trip!”
“You’re the one who’s meant to understand the symbol your father left.” He pulled out a tablet and began tapping on it, then offered the tablet to her. There, scanned in, was a copy of the symbol on one of the letters.
Right. This was all a little game her father had designed to keep her in Jonathan’s eyes so he’d continue to fund Phineas DeWitt’s pet projects even after death. “Yes, I know where that is.”
“Care to share?”
She hesitated. “When I was growing up, I was very into Ancient Roman studies. One of the superstitions the Romans had were curse tablets. They believed that if you wanted to curse someone, you wrote the curse on a tablet and then hid it in a place that no one could find. When I was nine, I wrote a curse on my Etch A Sketch and buried it in the backyard of my childhood home. And because I wanted to find it later, I carved that symbol onto the tree.” She pointed at the symbol on the paper.
He took the tablet back from her and squinted at it. “I thought it was a hieroglyph.”
“It’s a devil.”
He turned the tablet, still staring at it. “Are you sure? There are five limbs and three eyes. Maybe it’s a bug of some kind?”
“I know what I drew,” Violet snapped at him. “And I wasn’t very good at carving, all right?”