QSFer Fiona Glass has a new sweet paranormal MM romance out: Trench Warfare.
“What happened, anyway?” “Simple. I fell in.”
County archaeologist Steve Saunders desperately wants his latest dig to be a success. Too many people think he’s too young for the job, and besides, the chance to track down the town’s missing priory is too good to miss.
But the dig seems to be jinxed. The weather’s awful, the clients want the land back to build an apartment block, and the clients’ representative tries every dodgy trick in the book. On top of that there’s a strange, unfriendly atmosphere about the place. Could that be why the priory disappeared so thoroughly? And what’s the link to the unusual stairs Steve’s assistant Jon finds in the cloister trench?
Throughout everything, Jon proves to be an invaluable support. But when he tries a trick of his own, he sets off a chain of events that lead to a result nobody, least of all Steve, expects.
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I could understand their concern. If I were a major development company trying to build a swanky new apartment block, I’d probably be impatient too. But that’s rescue archaeology for you. They’d bought a decent parcel of land, got all the right planning permissions in place, hired the contractors, got everyone on site… and then someone had found a medieval floor tile, and someone else remembered the town’s long-lost priory, and suddenly Historic England had put two and two together to make about fifteen. We’d been called in soon afterwards, with a brief to strip the entire site back if necessary, record everything we found, and cover it back up again before the apartments went ahead. All of which Paul already knew, of course, and none of which was going to help. I decided to try the business-like, mildly sympathetic approach. ‛We’re very grateful to the Spragges for their patience. Given the circumstances.’
He picked up his mug, stared at it and put it back down again. ‛I’m sure you are. The trouble is, their patience isn’t going to last for ever. This is a valuable project costing several million pounds and every week it’s held up puts them further into the red. It’s beginning to put a financial burden on the company and I’ve been sent to… well, to see what can be done.’
I sympathised with him—we run to a tight budget ourselves—but wasn’t sure I could do very much. ‛Most of the delays are outside of my control. The weather, the reputation of this place…’ I wasn’t kidding about the latter. I’d lived locally most of my life and had grown up listening to the stories about St Luke’s. The fact that it had disappeared so comprehensively was unusual in itself; even when Henry VIII had finished dissolving the monasteries there was usually something left. An arch here, a chimney there, stone carted off to build walls and houses and even rockeries. But here there was nothing above ground, and no clear record of where in the town it had stood. Rumours were bound to circulate about why that was, and they’d only got more virulent with time, to the point where if you believed even a fraction of them you’d think it was a regular Hell Fire club. Added to that was the fact that the place had an unsavoury feel to it even in full sun. ‛People who promise to come and work for us tend to stay away, or come for a day and never show up again. I’ve been short-handed from the start. And I can’t improve the English weather, no matter how much I wish I could.’
‛That’s assuming you have to excavate, of course. But surely there ways of telling what’s here without having to dig it up?’
I felt a flicker of irritation. I’d sent him reams of information about all this. Had he not bothered to read any of it? ‛There are, but the situation hasn’t changed since my initial report. If the priory was here then we’re dealing with something unusual—a site where there’s no obvious sign of it. The initial surveys indicated a mass of stone about a metre down across large areas of the site, which suggests that if the priory was here, it either collapsed or was demolished pretty much in one go and there’s a jumble of walls and roofs and everything else, all piled in on top of each other. Lidar’s hopeless in that scenario and even geophysics can’t penetrate through the rubble to tell us if there are walls or other features underneath.’
‛Really? I’m no expert but I’ve watched a few programmes on TV. I thought it could bounce signals off stone and show where the walls were?’
Oh boy, another armchair enthusiast. If I had a penny for every one of those I’d met over the years, I’d be sunning myself on a beach in the south of France, not grubbing around in a trench full of mud—however much I might love my job. ‛I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that. One stone gives off the same kind of signal as all the other stones. So all you get is a mass of noise on the chart. There are some signs… the geophysics picked up an area of more densely packed stone which is roughly rectangular and we’re hoping that’s the church. But we need to put in trenches and get under the loose rubble to the walls and foundations before we can be sure.’
‛I see. And how long will that take?’
An impossible question. How long was your average piece of string? ‛It depends on so many things. The weather, obviously, and man hours, but more importantly how much rubble we have to shift first.’
The smile was getting thinner all the time. ‛That’s a pity. I was hoping you had a magic wand.’
I raised both my hands and waggled them. ‛Sorry. No wand. But while you’re here, why don’t I give you a tour of the site? We might not have managed much progress since I last spoke to you, but there are a few finds coming up that strongly suggest it was a religious site.’
‛I think the board would prefer it if there weren’t.’ He examined his fingernails as though they were the most interesting thing on earth.
I glanced up pretty sharply at that. Was he suggesting what I thought he was suggesting? That I falsify our records or magic the finds away? Surely not. I must have misunderstood. ‛You know that’s not possible. All rescue digs have to be completed and written up into a formal report. I can’t change that. It’s the law.’ And a damn useful law it is too, when people stick to it.
‛I know, I know. I wasn’t really… well, you know. I’m in an awkward position here. I could do with your help.’
He flashed that glittering smile again, and crinkled the lines at the side of his eyes. Eyes that were a vivid shade of blue and set just a bit too close together, giving him a cross-eyed look. That’s what had reminded me of Sven, I realised. The memory sent a thrill up my spine and along my limbs, but the memories weren’t happy ones and even after all this time it was less about excitement and more about dread. Besides, all the smiles in the world won’t change a legal requirement. ‛I’m sorry. Really. But I’d be failing in my job as County Archaeologist if I agreed to anything underhand.’
The eyes opened very wide. ‛Oh, no, I’m not suggesting anything like that. I’m simply saying that if there’s anything you can do to make the work go faster, it would smooth things over with Michael and Angelo.’
I wasn’t sure if I believed him, but I promised to see what I could do. ‛Although with too few staff covering too many square metres, I’m not sure I can accomplish much.’
‛I might be able to do something about that,’ he said, and shook my hand, and left. It was only after he’d gone I realised he’d squirmed quite neatly out of the tour I’d offered him. And he’d left most of his tea cooling in the mug.
I lingered in my office, pretending to write up the day’s findings in the big journal I use. All the important stuff goes on a computer, of course, but I like to make my own notes so I can refer back to them when I’m constructing the official report. I can be a bit more creative, including sketches and annotations that wouldn’t fit into a word-processed document, and it’s a task I normally enjoy. For some reason, though, the words wouldn’t come. I spent most of the time doodling, or sitting with my feet up on the desk, cradling my own mug and trying to work out whether Paul’s visit was a friendly overture or a threat. I was no nearer a decision when I glanced at my watch and found it was nearly five o’clock and I’d never seen to that bead.
I emerged to find Jon putting away his tools while whistling something cheerful, which I took to mean his anger had faded away. Sure enough he took one look at my face and clapped a friendly hand on my shoulder blade. ‛Bad news?’
‛Yes. No. Well…’ I ran one hand over my face. ‛I’m still trying to work that one out. But the Spragges are running out of patience, apparently. I think he was trying to put the squeeze on me.’
‛I knew he was bad news the minute he walked in. Coming to site in a suit, for Christ’s sake. What did he expect? Red carpet to the door?’
When she isn’t being a pane in the glass, Fiona writes darkly humorous paranormal romance, often featuring gay characters and almost always with a twist in the tail. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines including Mslexia, Paragraph Planet, and The Library of Rejected Beauty. Her books include gay paranormal romances ‘December Roses’, ‘Trench Warfare’ and ‘Echoes of Blood’ on Kindle, and paranormal romp ‘Got Ghosts?’ from Fox Spirit Books.
Fiona lives in a slate cottage within stone-throwing distance (never a good idea in Glass houses…) of England’s largest lake with her husband, several pot plants and a vast collection of books. She enjoys history, gardening and photography, and rarely has her nose far from the pages of a book – or a cup of tea.