“Witch!” Randy Osborne said, as he strode around the room wearing a contemptible smirk. “You're an out 'n out witch.”
“Your choice of labels defines your ignorance,” Chione said, not backing down from his stare. Witch was his mother's terminology. He always listened to her. Randy seemed unable to form his own opinions. If pressed, he always quoted his mother.
“Here, here,” Clifford Rawlings said in her support as he threw a fist into the air.
Others in the group expressed mixed reactions, but Chione Ini-Herit had grown emotionally strong enough to withstand Randy's cruel taunting. Shortly after they met and she learned of interning with him, she decided that anything Randy said would not tear at her equilibrium. Her passive attitude, till now, kept him in line.
This was the first time Chione had a chance to see all the members of the archaeological team together in one room. They were older and, at times, a little intimidating. Her own demeanor was quiet, meditative; maybe passive aggressive, and she sometimes became overwhelmed with their high-spirited personalities. Yet, being allowed to accompany these professionals to the dig site in Egypt was the chance of a lifetime. Presently, she would be happy to sit back and watch the team members goad one another. Information came at her so quickly it numbed her senses. With the whole team together, their voices assaulted her eardrums in round after round of quips and retorts that would send the meek fleeing. Getting to know these people could not wait until they arrived at the dig site when work would proceed at full speed. The only way to get to know them as a team began here. Now.
Aaron Ashby stepped up behind her. “You don't know the meaning of witch, Randy.” Chione felt Aaron's hand touch her shoulder, but he removed it right away, minding his manners. “What gives you the right to label anyone?”
“Because she predicted our discovery,” Randy said, “and danger near some small tombs. What did she say… that the bone yard is haunted, and that our find could change history? Ha!” He rocked back on his heels. “Sounds like a typical psychic reading.” He glared at her again. “Even your Egyptian looks spook me. Why don't you crop that black hair of yours about ear length like the Egyptians used to—?”
“If Chione's appearance spooks you, Randy,” Kendra Laker said succinctly. “Maybe you need to scrutinize your own image.”
Chione became flustered, and wondered why they stood up for her. She could hold her own in her quiet way. The group seemed too willing in their zeal to pounce on Randy. During the planning stages of the expedition, envy among some of the lesser staff at the California Institute of Archaeology predicted the team would not hold together. It would not be because of the diverse backgrounds of each in the field of archaeology, but due to the clash of personalities and ego opposites.
“Excuse me, Mr. Osborne,” Aaron said. “Any learned archaeologist knows that in Egypt those small tombs are mastabas.”
“And what you so unprofessionally label the bone yard,” Clifford said, “is a necropolis.”
Eager anticipation as well as irritability hung heavy in the small conference room at the five-star Re-Harakhty Hotel in Cairo. Jet lag had gripped them all. Despite air conditioning, the crowded conference room was stuffy. The moment for which all had waited was upon them. The small group of colleagues milled around impatiently awaiting the arrival of Dr. Sterling Withers. Before the team made their way south along the Nile to Valley of the Queens, he was to deliver one final briefing on this, the first advantageous opportunity to befall the Institute and that tempted to be the find of a lifetime.
Archaeologist Dr. Sterling Withers inherited a fortune in croplands in the California Central Valley. Yet his interest had never been in what grew from the soil but what lay buried beneath it. He quickly leased out most of the land to crop farmers but retained the residential portion to manifest his lifelong dream of a privately held archaeological institute. The Institute's monstrous old Victorian main building, with its attendant renovated and new smaller structures that comprised the facility, sat off the main road. Situated on a verdant patch of green acreage, the cluster of buildings was canopied and sheltered from the heat and dust by decades-old shade trees. Perfectly timed, the Institute opened its doors with the New Millennium. Lathrop, California became a bigger dot on the map. After several years of hoping to find a new dig site, the Institute's exploration team auspiciously happened upon a tomb that had remained sealed for how long, no one yet knew with certainty.
Chione glanced out the window of the top floor hotel conference room and over the resort grounds, replete with monstrous swimming pools and lavish amenities. Though she detested commercialism, just being in Cairo, or anywhere in Egypt, made everything right. Still, she could not shed the luxury fast enough. Something had taken hold of her. She yearned to get to the dig site and down into that hole in the ground.
Off in the distance, clouds of sand blew on air currents. They reminded her how summer lingered in the California Central Valley. The late fall season had not been the traditional mild Indian summer like many others. There was no escape. Everyone suffered. Any place in the world would have offered reprieve from the antagonizing heat, but traveling to the Egyptian desert was not where anyone would seek respite from the sizzle of the California Central Valley. Now that they had finally arrived in Egypt, having to wait to learn last minute details of the project fueled impatience and made tempers flare.
Randy's snicker brought her thoughts back into the room.
Aaron sighed. “You don't get it, do you, Randy?”
“What's to get?”
“That's what makes Chione so gifted. She has no skeletons dancing in her closets.”
“You mean because everyone knows her secrets?”
Chione felt pangs of anger at being taunted by Randy and freely talked about. She harbored no illusions about the condition of her life. She glanced at Kendra with a wry smile. They were aware of the fact that her reproductive organs were underdeveloped leaving her unable to bear children. She did not care who knew and because of that, in her mind, she felt free. One day, Randy would get his comeuppance. Now, she intended to let the scene play out, partly to get to know the team, and because Randy could make a fool of himself without any help from her. Randy's inclusion in the project deterred any emotional high the team might experience. Intolerance would be tempered by the work.