The Road To Damascus
The scene opens on a wide, grassy lawn before a large, imposing, stately building. The sun shines brightly as crowds of people laugh and chatter, gathering together in familial clumps or weaving their way through the crowd towards marquees and drinks stands. In every brightly coloured cluster there stands at berobed figure or two, the dark black of their capes and caps contrasting clearly with their surroundings.
In the shade of a marquee awning, a young woman stands alone, gazing into the distance as if lost in thought, her black robes drifting in the breeze.
"Dr Droil, I presume," said a familiar voice from behind the young woman.
Juliet Droil turned, her face breaking into a wide, genuine smile as she did so.
"Nikko!" Juliet cried, "I didn't think you could make it!"
"Yeah, well, who needs college? I mean it, I get enough lectures from my Dad as it is without having to sit through one or two extra hours worth of psych stuff I'm probably never gonna use, right?"
"You shouldn't be blowing off college just for this, Nikko!"
"Hey, trust me, I've got a dozen other reasons not to go to that class! Besides, what with Dad and the others up in Alaska, I figured at least one of us should show face!"
"Well, it was sweet of you. Thank you. So how is college anyway? Blown up anything recently?"
"Not there, no," Nikko laughed and glanced at his feet, "Their toilets have much better security! How about you? How does it feel to be a doctor at last? Congratulations on that, by the way."
"Thanks," Juliet smiled, "It feels good. Now, at least, when Cal gets too big for his boots, I have a handy doctorate to beat him down to size with!"
"So you're staying?" Nikko asked, looking up, surprised, "I thought you were just working there until you finished your PhD?"
"So did I, but your Dad offered me a place on the team for as long as I wanted it. He said he'd rather keep us all together since we work well as a team. Plus he knows he can trust all of us."
"And if it ain't broke, don't fix it," Nikko sighed, wistfully.
"Something like that," said his one-time tutor, not quite meeting his eyes.
"So is there anyone else here for you or what?"
"Oh, Anthony's here." Juliet waved a hand randomly at the hubbub of people. "He's just gone to get me a drink."
"Oh, I forgot, you haven't met him! Anthony and I have been together for about six months now."
"Six months?" Nikko's jaw dropped. "What? How come I didn't know about this? Does nobody tell me anything now?"
"Oh come on, Nikko, it's hardly headline news! Besides, you never asked!"
"So, what, is it serious? I mean it, how did you meet this guy? What do you know about him?"
"Nikko, you're as bad as Cal! You're my ex-pupil, you know, not my brother!"
"Oh, so Cal doesn't like the guy either?"
"What do you mean 'either'," Juliet snapped. "You haven't even met him the yet! And Cal doesn't seem to like anyone just now."
"But I'm meant to be working with him this summer!" Nikko wailed, his eyes rolling heavenward.
Juliet smirked and glanced over Nikko's shoulder.
"Ah," she said, as a tall, dark haired young man approached them, "here he is. Nikko, meet Anthony Blake. Anthony, this is Nikko Zond, an old student of mine; and an old friend."
"The famous Nikko," Anthony Blake drawled lazily, "I've heard so much about you."
"Sorry Tony," Nikko replied, "'fraid I can't say the same for you."
Juliet winced and rolled her eyes at Nikko's deliberate use of the shorter form of her boyfriend's name. She knew Anthony wouldn't say anything now, in front of Nikko, but she was sure he would blame her for it later.
The rest of the day passed a little quicker spent in the presence of her jovial ex-pupil, but the few weeks that followed, as Juliet awaited the return of her friends and archaeological colleagues, seemed to drag into an eternity. They had been through so much together, especially in that first year, when she had joined them with the remit of tutoring Professor Solomon Zond's wayward teenage son, Nikko. Somehow, between various archeological digs, hours of research, several "missions" and even publishing a paper or two towards her PhD, she had managed to get Nikko to learn enough coursework to get him through his exams with distinctions and into college. That was nearly two years ago now and, since Nikko had acquired so many "extra credits", he himself was due to graduate soon. Yet another Zond heading down the familial route of archeology, and promising to be even more controversial, passionate and brilliant than his father. It would be good to have him back, sobered slightly by an increasing understanding of his chosen subject, if not by age and maturity: Nikko was the team's lucky charm. In the year he had spent with them, they had found three pieces of the fabled "Ring of Truth", said to possess all the wisdom, and therefore all the power, of God. They had even been hot on the trail of a fourth piece when Nikko had left for college. Since he had left, they had found that fourth piece and just one more: another wheel, with the Eye of Horus carved in its centre. It was the Eye that the rest of the team had gone up to Alaska to find. The fourth piece of the Ring, another branching section, had taken six months to find, after half a year of chasing leads around the globe. It was the translation of this that had led them first to the Holy Land, then to Alaska.
Eventually, the day arrived that found Juliet standing in the forecourt of the Veritas Foundation building, conversing animatedly with Anthony.
"I just don't understand why, now that you have your doctorate, you still want to work here!" Anthony cried in frustration, "You could easily begin your own research elsewhere; somewhere more... more suitable!"
"Somewhere safer, you mean!"
"Well, yes, somewhere safer. One of your proposed team-mates is on his way home with a broken leg and dislocated shoulder, all because your precious Dr Zond dragged him off to some remote the tip of the Alaska on some of wild goose chase!"
"Cal will be fine. He's had worse injuries!"
"Somehow, Juliet, that does not reassure me!"
"They are my friends," said Juliet, her tone as cold as ice. "I've worked with them on this project for years."
"So you've done your bit," Anthony's voice was as warm as his beloved's was cold. His hands came to rest on Juliet's shoulders reassuringly. "You can hardly expect them to think badly of you for wanting to do something else with your life!"
"But that's a just it, Anthony, I don't," Juliet explained patiently. "I want to do this and that's all there is to it. Now let me go!"
Pulling her arm out of his grasp, Juliet hastened through the doorway and up the stairs, disappearing out of Anthony's sight. With one last, bitter grimace in her direction, he turned and stalked off, disappearing round a corner of the building.
"I swear, if that guy ever lays a finger on her, I'll kill him!"
Nikko looked up, hearing Cal's voice, and saw the heavily bandaged young man glaring out of the window.
"Who? That Blake guy?" Nikko asked, walking over, throwing a ball from hand to hand, "Why? Do you think he would?"
"I don't know that he wouldn't," Calvin replied through gritted teeth.
"Hey, am I missing something here, man?" Nikko pressed, sitting down on the windowsill Cal was looking out of, "Did something happen between you and Juliet while I was away? 'Cause, you know, this does not sound like the concern of an over-cautious friend. Man, this sounds like jealousy, pure and un-simple."
"Leave it, Nikko, it's none of your business. Besides, un-simple is not a word."
"Hey, chill man, I'm on your side here. I'm not exactly Tony's biggest fan myself. The guy is too far up his own... Ah, Juliet, and how are you this fine morning?"
"Drop the pretence, Nikko, it's obvious you were talking about me," Juliet said severely, depositing her bag and a jacket in the vestibule provided, "And before you ask, he was just worried about me coming back to work here after Cal's accident."
"What? So because I'm clumsy you can't work here?" Calvin burst out, still staring out of the window.
Juliet sighed and looked over at Cal. For a moment, Nikko thought he saw a flash of pain across her face, and then it was merely a look of concern she bore.
"What happened?" Juliet asked, "You look pretty beat up."
"I've had worse," Calvin replied sullenly.
"I know, I was there," Juliet said waspishly, "That wasn't what I asked."
"I fell!" Calvin snapped, wheeling the chair that was temporarily supporting him round to face Juliet, "I fell. Happy? Now at least I won't be around to mess up any other expeditions for you!"
Manoeuvring his wheelchair furiously Calvin left the room. Nikko, who had witnessed the exchange in silence, watched the look of shock, mingled with anger and pain, unfold on his ex-teacher's face.
"Well," Nikko said last, "Seems to me there's a lot of news and I missed out on while I was at college. Now it doesn't look like Cal will be showing his face for a while and I know Dad, Maggie and Vincent won't be back until tomorrow, so spill: what happened between you and Cal these last two years?"
Juliet looked up at Nikko and held his gaze from moment to two. The teenager raised his eyebrows expectantly and shrugged, his face smug.
"I'm gonna find out somehow," he said, "so you might as well give me your side of the story now."
Juliet sighed, pushed the books and papers she had brought with her to one side and sat down. Nikko walked forward and sat in the chair on the opposite side of the desk.
"So," he said, "Tell me how it all started."
6½ Months Ago
On a deserted airstrip some miles outside Jerusalem, a private jet touched down. The door opened and stairs descended to the weed infested, dusty tarmac. Vincent led the way, followed closely by Dr Zond and Cal, all carrying equipment. Maggie followed, carrying bags also, and calling back over her shoulder to the young woman who was last to emerge. After a moment Juliet appeared at the jet's doorway, heavy bag in hand.
"I think that's everything from in here," she said a she descended the steps "That just leaves the stuff in the hold."
"I'll make a start on that," Vincent said, walking round to the other side of the jet and leaving the growing pile of equipment with the others.
Suddenly there was a sharp cry of alarm from Juliet. Not far from the bottom of the steps, her bag had caught on something. The weight of the bag and her own momentum threw Juliet off-balance and spun her round, so that she felt herself falling backwards through the air and down the stairs. She flung her hands out to grab hold of something and, as they met something solid, she felt her fall broken by a pair of arms now wrapped around her.
Tearing her eyes away from the no longer receding jet, Juliet looked up to see that it was Cal who had caught her. Her left arm had landed a hold around his neck and he was holding her 'Gone With The Wind' style around her back and waist.
"You know, if you were planning on falling for me, I could have done with a bit more warning!" Cal joked, although his eyes never left Juliet's for a moment.
There was silence.
For once, Juliet couldn't think of anything to say. Time seemed to stop: an eternity passed with the two gazing into each other's eyes.
"Hey Juliet! You okay? " Dr Zond yelled, breaking the spell of the moment.
Juliet blinked and looked round just in time to see Maggie punch Solomon's arm and Vincent hold up his hands, refusing to back up his friend as Dr Zond appealed to him silently.
Juliet let Cal help her stand up, noticing as she did so that his cheeks were a little flushed and wondering if hers were the same.
"I'm fine," she called, dusting herself down and straightening her hair and clothes before retrieving her bag, "I just slipped. No harm done."
"That was how it started," Juliet told Nikko as the younger man listened patiently, "One stupid slip. One crucial moment."