Jordan carefully placed the trophy on a table for further inspection. He smiled at his wife, making her feel that she had earned the honors of investigating the box first. Unlike the days of earlier expeditions, where a struggle for control always prevailed, Jordan had made up his mind that he had intended no such bickering here. In those early days Audrey had admired the spunk and persistence of her husband and looked up to him as the family leader. Once the boys came along, one after the other, they drained Audrey’s attention to the point of her pulling away from her husband’s favor. The resulting rerouting of interests toppled their bond and made life less than pleasant in their house.
Even so, Audrey still kept up a proud attitude until she finished her own education and began her own fledgling practice once the boys were weaned. Although she had regarded her husband in the highest esteem, swept away by his brilliance, charm and academic prowess, she now felt thwarted by his presence, as if he tried to maintain her in a subordinate ranking. He was like an archaeological dictator who could never tolerate the student to rise above him. Yet, she needed to maintain her image as mother.
She propped open one eye with her forefinger and began to draw close to the relic, carefully maneuvering her head around to cast her site into every corner and observe every detail. Jordan only watched her and said nothing. The boys had gone down the hall to grab sandwiches at the local café. She continued to tinker with the box, poking at the lid with metal implements.
“Want me to help or are you going to persist in your stubborn state?”
“It’s welded on from years of closure,” she said. Tim returned with some kind of meat-rice concoction.
“How you going to open it?” he asked as he crept closer to his mother. She dropped back and walked around the table to study it from different angles.
“Probably oxidized shut,” Charles added, as he entered, also eating a chunky meat embedded in a bowl of rice. Then Jordan found it necessary to prod it a little.
“You’re going to damage it and then we’ll have to pry it open.” He regarded her with agitation. Suddenly it popped open a crack on its own.
“There you are,” Jordan said. “You want to open it completely?”
She took the initiative and established her finger nails under the flange of the lid and applied a small amount of pressure. The lid responded more easily than she anticipated. The four of them stared at the widening opening, with curiosity building. The box seemed empty except for a scroll rolled up with a hemp chord holding it together. Jordan used a spoon to hoist up the intriguing artifact.
“What is it, father?” Charles enquired.
“I recognize it,” Audrey said.
“Can we carbon date it?” Tim asked.
“I think so, Tim,” Jordan answered. “But it is extremely delicate. Yeah. Sure. Why not?” Audrey stared at Jordan with a disapproving grin.
“Without the proper environment, trying to open it would be a dire mistake.”
“I am still baffled,” Tim insisted.
“You won’t before long,” Jordan assured. “This scroll will unlock the secrets of the people who buried it.”
Later, Audrey soaked the specimen in a chemical bath for three days before she dared to touch it again. When the time came Audrey and her two sons gathered around it as if to worship it.
“By now it should be soft enough to roll like pie dough.”
When she tried to unravel it, she found that it yielded to her touch. In fact, she was able to lay it out flat before the day was through.
“Did you uncover anything?” Jordan enquired.
“Well,” Audrey said. “It dates back 500 years and has an ancient but translatable language in it.”
“That’s good news.”
“There’s more news. It has a treasure map of sorts in it. It points to a notch in the mountain and gives the precise location where the notch can be viewed and what to look for.
“So, what do we look for?”
“A big ‘W,’”
“Are you mocking me?”
“Then it goes on to say that, ‘whomever shall venture into the valley beyond the notch will discover the true treasure of the jewel of the mountain and relish in its splendor, and shall never languish. But heed the warnings of the corneous ruby, fear its perils lest ye shall never prosper.’”
“Rather spooky,” Tim said.
“Sounds like a fun-packed expedition to me,” Jordan said.
After a while, the boys wandered away, chatting and shoving each other as brothers do. They never looked back, knowing that they were in the way despite the fact that they had achieved the rank of archaeologists having finished their degrees.
Jordan tried to entertain Audrey the way he used to, before the boys, but still kept that reservation about her reception. Jordan also knew that Audrey was a different person now. She had matured and the nature of her romantic side had to be rediscovered.
Later, without the boys, the two of them walked around each other in the lab, as though to start a sparring session.
“Dinner sounds like fun to me,” Jordan announced.
“Just you and me or with the kids?”
“I think the kids have their own plans.”
“Then we can discuss the jewel.”
They mutually agreed to walk side by side and put aside their sparring tendencies so that real archaeological discussions could ensue. When they sat down to eat in a local place Jordan was quick to consume his food and demonstrate the plan he intended Audrey to see.
“Can we forge a copy of the scroll?” Audrey asked, surprising Jordan.
“That was part of my planning. Those kinds of details were always my sovereignty.”
Later, he helped her set up an overhead shot of the scroll, enabling a high-resolution digital image. After they printed it out, they brought it back to the lab for comparison. “It shows all the valleys and peaks necessary to map it out. I can determine the latitude and longitude of every nook and cranny.”
“That’s where you come into play.”
“To figure out the latitude and longitude of the prominent features?” She only smiled and walked around the table to the other side, as if to square off with Jordan.
She removed a pencil from her shirt pocket and lifted it to amuse her fingers while she patiently waited for Jordan to react. He turned on his heel quarter way around, at the other end, then back before he spoke again.
“I hadn’t realized I counted,” Jordan posed, positioning himself for the next verbal onslaught.
“There’s something to be said about the authenticity of the scroll,” Audrey promised, flicking the eraser on her lips. “I believe the person who wrote it was quite unusual.”
“And perhaps has a treasure,” Jordan suggested, carefully watching Audrey’s eraser play.
“A jewel, anyway.” She tilted her head and cooed, “Hm!” making Jordan consider what she thought.
“But what in heaven’s name is the Corneous Ruby?” Jordan wondered with an absent-minded expression etched on his face.
Suddenly, Audrey’s eyes popped wide open, as though someone switched on a high-beam lamp, making Jordan fully aware of the extended domain Audrey’s eyes seemed to claim.
“Well, corneous comes from the Latin root, cornu, which means horny.” She gleamed with a wide smile growing on her face.
“Sounds like it’s gonna be fun…” Jordan pinched his lips together.
“Not that kind of horny, banebrain,” Audrey said, lurching over the scroll. “Horny means with horns.”
“As in big horn sheep?”
“Not in this country,” she blasted, shaking her head. “Besides, these people don’t speak a Latin-based language. No, It would have to be written by a Westerner, not an Asian,” Audrey assured. “It will be worthwhile to think about its potential.”
“Potential?” Jordan screamed, crossing his legs as he stood. “There’s a jewel waiting to be claimed. And it may be a whole treasure chest, for all we know.” His eyes bulged with excitement as Audrey withdrew.
“And how can you get there?”
“You forgot that I have a pilot’s license and I still have plenty of aviation contacts and can easily get a ski plane. And we can go together…as a team, I mean. Just like the olden days.”
“Olden days?” Audrey snapped, closing one eyelid. “C’mon, Jordan. They are so passed.”
“You mean once Charles and Tim came along.” Jordan walked away a short distance, maintaining eye contact by glancing over his shoulder on occasion.
“Twisting issues have always suited you so well…”
“And the truth comes out whenever the issue of our sons comes up,” he proposed, turning back.
“You speak the truth, alright. But your truth is laced with lies.”
“Don’t lay that on me again. I thought I explained that?”
“The trouble with you is that you think all your insincerity can be explained.”
“Audrey…” Jordan pleaded, now walking back.
“And now, folks…here’s the pleading phase!”
“Education has warped your mind.”
“My mind warped? And I suppose in a married man’s mind, entertaining all those interns is not warped?”
“Why do you have to twist the facts?”
“No, Jordan. You’re the expert at twisting,” Audrey gloated. “Remember?”
“Audrey,” Jordan begged. “Can’t we let that go and pursue this jewel?”
“The master has spoken!”
“No, I don’t want us to go that way. I know you don’t believe in us any more, but you still have a zest for adventure.”
“You always had a way to press certain buttons.”
“Does that mean I pressed the yes button?”
“Jordan, I’m a fool.”
“Audrey, you are a strong-willed woman who possesses a zest for life.”
The twinkle in her eyes provided him with an indication, making him feel a sense of victory. As she stood before him with a drooping head and hidden smile, he waited, like a cat stalks its prey, feeling the surge of adrenalin, eager to strike. Her austere expression had melted before his eyes, paving the way for his elaborate plan.
“Our sons can be instrumental.”
She looked up at him with a renewed expression, one of curiosity. She wondered what plan had he conceived since the realization of a potential treasure?
“Instrumental,” Audrey echoed. “And how might that be carried out?”
“Audrey, smell the roses! They’re not children anymore.”
“No, they’re not. They’re becoming more like archeologists every day.”
“I mean…more like you!”
His response only rose as far as his throat and stuck there with no place to go, as if it forced him to assume another silent pose. His lips froze and he stared into space while Audrey basked in her verbal conquest.
“I…” Jordan tried to say.
“I know. Let’s get out of here.”
In his heart, he thought, I know you’d do it, but failed to make the words vocal. Doubt still occupied his leanings, giving him a defensive attitude even though he would persist and allow the prospect of treasure to drive him. Audrey still nodded affirmatively, easing the pressure that he bore, as the two left the lab together.
Jordan drove out to Kremble Peak with Charles where a narrow road switch backed up the steep slope to the summit. When they stopped, Jordan pointed, “There it is.” Charles strained to see.
“What are we looking for?”
“Look there,” Jordan said, handing his son the binoculars. “Now find the ‘W.’” Charles searched until it came into view.
“Wow!” Charles screamed. “I see it.”
“Now we have to enlighten your mother.”
“Dad,” Charles wined. “What are we going to do?”
“Son,” Jordan proposed. “How’d you like to go on the adventure of your life?”
“Well…I haven’t really thought about it.”
“There’s nothing to think about. Imagine climbing the slopes of some of the world’s biggest mountains!”
“What about mother?”
“How did you persuade her?”
“She’s the one who suggested it.”
When they returned to the lab, Jordan saw Tim and Audrey disagreeing over the scroll.
“Well, Tim,” Jordan persisted. “We going?”
“I don’t know….”
“Why are you putting the kid on the spot?” Audrey said.
“Charles is dieing to go.”
“He was concerned that if you decline, how would he and I manage alone?”
“I know you just can’t let this go.”
“How can I? A treasure! Think of it!”
“If mom says ‘It’s all right,’” Tim said
“You always found a way to twist my arm.”
“You said I was an expert at twisting.” Jordan persisted. “Is it yes, is it yes?” She shook her head.
“I’ll call Charles to tell him it’s on. And I have a buddy down in the valley who has a strip and a plane.”
“When are you going there?”
Later, in the bar, when Jordan and his entourage entered, heads immediately turned and an old, grisly-looking stump of a man rose from his seat. His eyes twinkling and fixed on Jordan. “Look what the mountain wind blew in…!” he said, scratching his sides and hair. “If it ain’t the abominable snowman himself.” He instantly threw his arms around Jordan. “Grab a seat, mate!” He smiled at Audrey. “And who’s the doll you brought along?”
“My wife,” Jordan said.
Jordan began to unwind in the familiar atmosphere, where “mates” gathered before their expeditions in the mountain. Jordan looked confident when he pulled out the aviation chart of the area and compared courses with those on the treasure map replica.
“According to the map,” Jordan announced to McBane and his cronies, as they pillaged through beer foam. “We need to fly North to some of the most colossal peaks, including Annapurna.”
“Got that right, mate!” the grungy old proprietor grunted.
“And land on one of the ice shelves around 18,000 feet.”
“Right again, governor.”
“Then a really big trek up the mountain, all the way to the designated pass.”
“A bloomin’ trekki!” the old man growled.
“Beers on the house!” The barkeep poured and the men drank.
“Bring ’er back in one piece, mate.” He handed over the keys.
“Ay, sir!” Jordan answered as he consumed the brew.
“Did you ’ear what the bloody bloke called me?”
“Yes, sir!” several men yelled in chorus.
“You need alcohol to fuel a journey like that…”
“Now get the man a drink…GET THE MAN A DRINK!”
“Drink up,” said the barkeep. “Drink up!”
Everyone shouted and raised their glasses, and wiped their mouths with their filthy sleeves, paying tribute to Jordan as though he were a great explorer in times past.
“Drink up, McKinley!”
“Drink up, Hillary!” Even Audrey’s stiff face somehow broke into laughter.
“Drink up, Anna…!”
“Anna? Hillary?” Jordan winced, feeling mocked.
“Ain’t you never ’eard of Sir Edmond?” growled a shabby half drunk supporter.
“Anna…purna, you skunk!” blasted another.
The next day Jordan drove out to see McBane’s strip and was impressed with the planes on the field and amazed to see McBane so sober, considering how well he partied the night before. Jordan jingled the keys as he approached four-niner-lima for the first time.
“Nice plane,” Jordan cried.
“With a 260 hp engine,” McBane boasted. “She’ll do the job, mate.”
In the cockpit, he spun the propeller several times without a spark. When he looked out of the window, McBane signaled, “Turn ’er some more. She needs a little lovin’ to warm up to ya.” Jordan smiled. With another try the Saratoga fired, blowing smoke everywhere. This seemed like a frozen moment in time, a moment when Jordan realized that he was back in his element and ready to meet the mountain.
The very next morning, Audrey and Charles loaded the plane with their equipment and supplies, while Jordan checked the outside of the plane for the last time. He still feared for an incident in the nature of the unknown. “A glacier high in the Himalayas!
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