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Authors: Gin Phillips

Come In and Cover Me

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come in and cover me



a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA • Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) • Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) • Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi–110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Copyright © 2012 by Gin Phillips

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

Published simultaneously in Canada

The author gratefully acknowledges permission to reprint lyrics from “Jungleland” and “She's the One” by Bruce Springsteen. Copyright © 1975 Bruce Springsteen, renewed © 2003 Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP). Reprinted by permission. International copyright secured. All rights reserved.

ISBN 978-1-101-55429-6


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.


for fred

You are a gift to me.


Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.

RUTH 1:16



Crow Creek

New Mexico

Ren stood perfectly still in the dark, listening. She did not know if she was alone. She'd been careful as she left camp, and she could still see the blowing slopes of tent canvas and the glow of the embers a hundred yards or so away. She knew that the others—the grad students and Ed and the engineer who'd driven down from Santa Fe and even the dogs—were asleep. But there were other things that sometimes crept up on her.

This is what she saw: her flashlight beam carving out a tidy circle of rocky dirt. The stars were legion, too bright. Juniper and piñon pines rose into the blue-black sky to her left and right. To the south, the cliffs were a wall of nothing. The moon was gone.

“Hello?” she whispered. She considered the silence.

She took two more steps toward the place the girl had shown her, just at the edge of the drop-off. Her nose was cold, and she buried it in the soft sleeve of her jacket.

she said again into the fleece. She did not have to be loud. If he were here, he would hear her.

Just behind her right ear, she heard his answer, singsong, just as it used to be when he dove away from her flailing arms in the swimming pool:

“I thought you might be here,” she said, not turning. He said nothing. When she spun around, quickly, hoping to catch him off guard, he had melted into the dark. She thought she could hear the drumming of his hand on his thigh—a repetitive sound that always drove her crazy—but it could have been the branches of the trees rubbing together in the wind.

The question, she thought, was whether Scott was the only one here with her. Was the girl still close by? Ren was on edge as it was—wired on too much coffee, anticipation making her mouth dry, trying to be quiet in case this turned out to be some ridiculous whim, impossible to explain away. She did not want any unknown visitors surprising her and making her yelp loud enough to wake the others. Respectable archaeologists did not yelp. Though respectable archaeologists also did not, as a rule, go digging under the cover of night.

Still scanning the darkness, she rigged her flashlight between two rocks; it shone on the spot she had marked with three sticks earlier in the day. The dirt was hard and cold. She had not brought her gloves. She swung the pickax, minding her own feet, chopping up hunks three or four inches thick. She would not go deeper than that so carelessly—who knew how shallow anything might be buried, and it was so hard to see. Something nearby howled. She switched to the trowel, dug another foot, feeling guilty for all the loose dirt she wasn't screening. She switched to the whisk broom just to make sure she wasn't overlooking anything. As she dug, she grew more certain that she was idiotic to believe that there was anything here to find.

But the girl had meant for her to dig here. If there even was a girl.

She moved the dirt, bit by bit. She was perhaps a foot deep now. The swishing of the whisk broom uncovered one, two, three rocks, none bigger than her hand. At the edge of the square hole she had made, a root protruded. So far, in this midnight excavation, she had discovered three rocks and a root. And now another rock—she could see only the smooth surface of it, still dirt-covered.

She tossed the broom to the side and used her fingers to rub off the dirt. She yanked back her finger at a flash of pain. Sucking on her finger, she tasted blood and dirt, but she kept her eyes on the rock. The flashlight beam was shining off its jet-black surface. Obsidian. She brushed off the rock with her uninjured hand and considered the fine edge. Honed sharp as a knife. Nature didn't do that—humans did.

She breathed faster and aimed the light at the edges of the hole she'd dug, taking more time now, checking every inch carefully. When she cleared off another half-inch of dirt from one corner of the hole, she could see the edges of more rocks. But these rocks were in a line, a close formation. It was the top of a wall.

She sat back on her heels and turned off her flashlight. She smiled, a little at first, then enough that she could feel it in her cheeks. She made a fist and hammered it against her thigh, silently, triumphantly, possibly hard enough to leave a bruise.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
The word echoed around her skull and flowed into her bones and warmed her fingers. There must be another room under her feet, a room that no one would have suspected from the unmarked surface. There was something here that she was meant to find.

“Yes,” she said, quietly.

Just out of range of her flashlight beam, she thought she saw a thin shape dart past. The wind blew, and she smelled a sweet woody charred scent, like juniper set aflame. The small girl-shape skirted the edge of the light, spinning and teasing. She was too cheerful to be called skulking.

Ren lunged for the flashlight and tried to catch the shape. She was too late. There was no girl there, only a flutter of falling yellow leaves, reflecting in the light like wolf eyes, which was odd, because the only trees nearby were evergreens.

Ren went back to the dirt. She would cover up the obsidian and come back first thing in the morning, then run and wake up everyone as if she'd just been poking around. No one would know any different, other than her brother, Scott, and he wouldn't be saying anything.


Abandonment of sites, valleys, and regions has long been a topic of interest to archaeologists. Countless museum exhibits pose the question “Why did they leave?” . . . [In] all but the most extraordinary circumstances, abandonments probably involve some combination of “push” factors that negatively impact people's present circumstance and “pull” factors that suggest better opportunities elsewhere.

—From “Abandonment and Reorganization in the Mimbres Region of the American Southwest” by Michelle Hegmon, Margaret C. Nelson, and Susan M. Ruth,
American Anthropologist
, March 1998


Ren headed south out of Albuquerque. She could hear something metal rolling around in the backseat. Probably rebar. Possibly a tent pole. She'd forgotten to clean her boots, which were jammed under the passenger's seat; they were shedding flakes of dried mud on the floor mat. But these were minor annoyances, and she could shut them out.

He had called her a few hours ago, on her cell, and she'd nearly left it buzzing in her purse. Work calls usually came in through the museum line. She'd reached for the phone, flipped it open, not looking away from the computer screen: She needed another pair of seventeenth-century blacksmith tongs. The Valle de las Sombras City Museum had respectable collections of pottery and textiles, but it was the blacksmith forge out back that really brought in the paying visitors.

Ren Taylor, she'd said into the phone. Silas Cooper, said the voice on the other end. She didn't recognize the name. He explained that he did contract work in the southern part of the state. She could hear the wind blowing against the phone. He had to be in the field. She imagined him as about the age her father would have been, squinting against the dust in the air, dressed in the standard archaeologist's getup—khakis and a long-sleeved shirt, maybe a cap. He knew about her work at Crow Creek, he said, and she heard, tamped down, excitement in his words.
He's found something,
she thought, and she stopped imagining his wardrobe. She closed her laptop, spinning her chair toward the window.

He's found somethi
—the thought circled through her head. A sparrow of some kind flew off the branch outside her window, and she watched it disappear into the sun.

I'd like you to come out to the site we're working on here at Cañada Rosa, he said. Come see what we've found. What is it? she asked him, hoping she already knew. He said she could judge for herself, but he thought he'd found some pottery that she might recognize.

The joy made her stomach knot.

It was nearly two o'clock when she hung up. She thought she could pack a bag at home and still make it to the site by dark. She grabbed her keys and passed the office manager and the PR director as she left her office. To both of them, never taking her eyes off the exit, she said, “I think we've found her again. I'll call from the road.” The door swung closed behind her before she heard if they responded.

She'd jogged through her house, grabbing clothes and shampoo and boots and socks and her always-packed toiletry bag. She was back in the truck in less than ten minutes. She loved the frenzy of packing, loved locking up the house and cranking the truck and backing out of the driveway. It was always euphoric, this leaving, heading for open spaces.

The first two hours down I-25 passed flat and monotonous; it calmed her, even as she sipped gas-station coffee. She tried to exhale the excitement and breathe in only readiness. She did not want to be disappointed again.

She looked out at the mountain formations, like spines of stegosauruses, alligators, iguanas. There was a broad, flat hill like an oyster shell. She considered her hands, resting on the steering wheel. The scar on the top of her wrist was from a fall down a muddy slope outside of Tempe. She'd hit sharp-edged slate. That one she remembered. Her middle finger had a slice through the top knuckle. She had a vague memory of a paper cut from a file folder.

The asphalt road turned dusty and uneven as she turned off at her exit. A dented green sign with an arrow: Montpelier to the right. That seemed clear enough. She curved and clunked for several miles. Small dead and dying towns lay across her path. After a few twists of the road, she was at the start of the canyon, its dark walls rising up around her. She bumped violently down the road, not going more than ten miles an hour, the surface washed away in spots from flash floods past.

She stole quick glances at the jagged rock walls at narrow passes, automatically searching for signs of prior occupations. She caught sight of a small dark petroglyph—not so common in the area—along one flat wall. She slowed, rolling down the window halfway. It was a blanket pattern, from what she could see, an abstract design of lines and curves. Lovely. The Apaches had lived around this canyon, but their rock art tended to be painted red and was more sheltered than this wide-open section of rock. She guessed Puebloan, twelfth or thirteenth century.

She drove on. Where the canyon widened, the land was alive with willows and cottonwoods, cholla and prickly pear blooming all along the trickle of a creek. Silas Cooper had told her the water ran from a warm spring at the mouth of the canyon. It had been a long, dry summer, and now in August most of New Mexico had faded to various hues of tan. She hadn't seen color like this on the whole trip down: bright purples and hot pink from the cactus blooms, rich, deep greens of the dense cottonwoods. The creek snaked back and forth across the road—she lost count of how often she'd crossed it. Her windows were splattered with water.

It was disorienting, all this green.

He'd told her that the bunkhouse would be the first building she saw after she passed through the gate marked “Montpelier Box Ranch.” The iron gate was open, and she drove through, scanning for the house. She saw it almost immediately, a small rectangle pressed against the sheer drop of a cliff. Tin roof, pine porch. The Black Range loomed close by to the west. To the east, the San Mateo Mountains.

She circled behind the building, past a Jeep parked facing the cliff, and pulled in behind a black Dodge, angling into the shade of one of the wild walnuts. Ed Ripley's truck, she felt sure, and the sight of it relaxed some of the tension in her shoulders. It had been at least two months since she'd seen Ed. He had that same truck fifteen years ago when she met him on her first dig—she'd been in a crowd of khaki-wearing undergrads and he'd been silver-haired and dapper. He wore a white linen shirt every day, and it never showed dirt or sweat. He looked almost fictional, like someone who would have searched for King Tut. Only he wasn't an archaeologist, technically—he'd moved to New Mexico and developed a taste for amateur archaeology after retiring from some vague career in Washington. There were rumors of FBI or CIA.

She jumped from the driver's seat, landing softly, immediately feeling the dust and sand slide into her sandals. Voices were coming from inside the screen door. A black-and-white spotted dog—part Dalmatian and part some kind of hound—appeared from under one of the trucks and trotted toward her. The dog sniffed at her hand just as the screen door opened.

“That's Zorro,” said Ed, moving into the sunlight. His white hair—no black in it at all now—was cut close to the scalp. His clothes looked fresh-pressed. He was with a younger man whom she guessed to be in his early twenties. Too young to be Silas Cooper.

Ed held out his arms. She grinned and half-jogged over to him, hugging him tightly enough to feel his shoulder blades.

“Ah, it's good to see you, Ed.” The scrape of his beard against her cheek was comforting.

“Ren, we've been eagerly awaiting your arrival,” he said in his Walter Cronkite voice. All of Ed's sentences seemed to come from the nightly news. “This is Paul. He's the grandson of the ranch owner. He's been helping us out. Thinks he wants to be an archaeologist when he grows up.”

The young guy held out his hand. Maybe not even his twenties, reconsidered Ren. His cheeks and nose were red, and his hair was sun-bleached, but the rest of him was a dark brown.

“Nice to meet you,” he said.

The screen door swung open again. The dog still at Ren's feet spun and headed toward the man who walked their way. His green T-shirt was untucked, and his dark hair was wet. He was a few inches taller and maybe a few years older than she was.


She nodded and shook his outstretched hand. She could feel his calluses. “And you must be Silas. Good to meet you.”

“Sorry it took me a second—I was just grabbing a shower.” He reached down and rubbed the dog's head. “Any trouble getting here?”

“None. Good directions.”

“Glad to hear it,” he said. She noticed his hair hadn't been cut recently, and he had the beginnings of a beard. One knee was skinned up, with the scab hardened. He had the hard calves and thighs of a runner. “And glad you could come out on such short notice. Braxton—he's the ranch owner—wanted to be here to meet you, but he's not back yet. He bought this place a couple of years ago when he realized what was on it.”

“And what exactly is on it?” asked Ren.

“Oh, I'm not going to just blurt it out like that with no drumroll or anything. I've got to set it up. Zorro, you're an idiot.” The dog had arranged itself on his foot, and Silas reached to scratch its ears. “But I'll show you something later that'll curl your toes.”

Ren considered his forehead and his slick, messy hair while he was focused on the dog. He looked up from the dog, caught her eyes again. Half a second of a smile.

“Professionally speaking,” he said. “We were just about to make some dinner. I'll catch you up on everything while we eat. Glad you made it before the sun set.”

“Is it too late to see the site?”

“Yeah. Sorry, but you don't want to get stuck up there in the dark. I'll take you first thing in the morning.” He took a step toward her Land Cruiser. “Need help with your stuff?”

She didn't, and they all walked together to the bunkhouse, the dog weaving around their feet. Silas held the back door for her as she stepped into the ranch house, Paul and Ed behind her. The windows were wide, letting in plenty of light, and the ceiling fans whirred over an open den with two worn sofas and speckled white tile. She stepped into the kitchen, which had steel counters piled with loaves of bread and bags of junk food.

“We had college volunteers here over the summer,” Silas said, lifting a red plastic cup off the counter. It read “SC” in black Magic Marker. “The last group left a week ago, and we've been living on the leftovers.”

He motioned to two doors on the closest wall, then pushed one door open. “There's a bathroom here, between the bedrooms. This one's yours—my stuff's in the other one.”

Ren looked from Paul to Ed. “Just two bedrooms? Did I kick someone out?”

“Nope,” said Ed. “I've got a cot set up in my tent, and I like the view out there. Paul and I have been outside all summer.”

“They didn't actually offer me a bed,” said Paul.

“You kidding?” asked Silas. “You have to earn a bed.”

“Couldn't you sleep at your grandfather's?” asked Ren. “His place must be close.”

“Just up the road,” said Paul. “But, you know, I have to earn a bed.”

“He idolizes us,” said Ed.

Ren noticed a screened porch with a row of tables. Silas followed her gaze. “And that's where we do the lab work,” he said.

She scanned the brown bags and cardboard boxes she saw stacked and piled in corners. “Is it in there?” she asked.

“I told you she wouldn't wait,” said Ed.

Silas looked over at the porch, then back to Ren. “Don't you want to at least put your bags down? Eat a hot dog or two?”

“He thinks he's being funny,” said Ed.

“Show me,” said Ren.

Something shifted in Silas's eyes, and Ren could see the same excitement she had heard on the phone. It had been lurking there, underneath, pressed down under introductions and luggage.

“Show me,” she said again.

He headed toward the back porch more quickly than she'd expected. She dropped her bag where she stood and followed him. In the lab, breeze blowing through the screened windows, Silas reached for a cardboard box on top of a file cabinet. He lifted the lid and pulled out a convex piece of ceramic bowl. It was roughly a trapezoid, grayish, with a good section of the rim showing. Maybe eight inches wide at its widest point. Three thick black lines ran under the rim, and two shapes converged into the white space. One shape, filled with diagonal lines, could have been a wing. But it was another curved triangle that made Ren's breath catch. For a moment she could only think
Yes yes yes yes

When other words came to her, she pointed to the shape. “It's a beak. Part of a parrot's head and a beak.”


“It's her.”

“I think so, too. We've dated another room at the site to being about the right time period.”

She passed the sherd back. “You could look at the beak and know to call me?” she asked. “You knew it was her?”

“I told you I was familiar with your work.” Silas replaced the box on top of the cabinet.

There had been a year or so when she had spoken everywhere, when she forgot which microphone she was standing at and all the audiences looked the same. The bowls she'd discovered, really, were the draw, but since they kept silent, the glamour rubbed off on her. The find at Crow Creek was in all the daily papers, not just the academic journals. Three twelfth-century Mimbres bowls found—arguably the biggest ceramics find in half a century in the Southwest. And she could persuasively argue that these bowls pointed to one artist, a mysterious figure who could add a personal touch to a scientific story.
magazine did a feature story;
National Geographic
each ran a column-long piece. Ren was at first flattered, then overwhelmed, and finally relieved when it was over. The attention only distracted her from the artist.

BOOK: Come In and Cover Me
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