Malcolm Bright, new museum curator in a Welsh Border town, is a little lonely until – acting as emergency archaeological consultant on a new housing development – he crosses the path of Rob Escley, who makes Mal’s earth move in more ways than one. Then Rob discovers something wonderful, and together they must combat greedy developers and a treasure hunter determined to get his hands on the find...
Mal couldn’t remember the last time he’d enjoyed an evening so much. Rob’s frank appreciation, and that it was ignored by the others apart from a few gibes at Rob’s expense, had filled Mal with a sense of confidence he didn’t normally enjoy and he played his pool with a flair that surprised him and made Betty nod approvingly. He had even held his own when the banter became more general.
“I’m not letting you upset Betty,” he’d said after an innocent question about her ‘Peaches’ nickname’ prompted a story about a house party when they were sixteen and Betty’s karaoke performance after a pint of peach flavoured schnapps.
“Knight in shinin’ armour is it?” Sion said.
“No, I have to work with her tomorrow. Besides, don’t some of the rest of you have nicknames? Dirty Rob, isn’t it?”READ MORE
There was one of those tense and silent moments. It can’t have lasted more than a second, but it felt much longer and quite a lot happened. Rob’s lips thinned, Sion glared at Betty who flushed a very ugly pink and Morris emitted an anxious whine. Mal realised he had said absolutely the wrong thing.
“I—um—was called Rainbow in school,” he said. “Rainbow Brite? Like the cartoon.”
“We used to watch that.” Gary grinned. “Didn’t we, Rob?”
“Dammit, Gary!” Rob’s tone was aggrieved but his lips were easing into a smile. “Never out me as a Rainbow Brite fan, lapsed, when I’m trying to impress an attractive bloke.”
[ ... ]
As Mal trotted down the narrow stairs from the attic to the lower landing it suddenly occurred to him who might have been making Betty giggle and who she might trust enough to let them loose on the upper corridors of the museum. So he wasn't altogether surprised to glimpse a yellow hard hat through the wrought iron of the bannisters.
"Hey." Mal leaned over the rail and grinned as Rob looked up at him. "Didn't think I'd see you again so soon. No pool table but I can make you a coffee."
Rob gave him a beaming smile. "Tea and you're on," he said and followed Mal into the little room they had set aside as a staff kitchen.
Mal took a couple of mugs down from the cupboard and turned on the kettle. "I think I thanked you all for last Thursday, didn't I? It was good fun."
"Yeah," Rob's grin sounded in his voice but Mal turned to look at him anyway just for the pleasure of it. Rob had taken off his hard hat and put it on the window sill and was leaning against the edge of the window, hands in his pockets and looking out over the patch of grass and shrubs that was all the museum could afford of a garden these days. With his high vis jacket and coveralls undone to show a bright segment of printed tee shirt—Mal could see the “-oun-arm-lu” of “Young Farmer’s Club” and a bit of a bull logo—and with long legs in rigger boots crossed casually at the ankle, he looked both wildly out of place and very much at home. Mal really envied his ease. Here was a man who knew exactly what he wanted and was confident of getting it.
"And what he wants right now - apart from tea - is me!" Mal found that a very satisfying thought.
The kettle whistled and Mal poured the boiling water into the mugs, soaking the special pyramidal bags that Sharon insisted made much better tea than any other variety. Mal stooped to open the fridge.
"Milk?" Malcolm asked. "Sugar?" Rob had stopped looking out of the window and was watching Mal. Mal could feel it.
"I never say no to a bit of sugar. Bit o' milk too. Just enough to take the edge off."
Mal grinned and made the tea then turned and offered Rob his mug.
"Thanks," Rob said then lifted the mug a bit to read the printing on the side. "Museum curators do it meticulously? Oh. My. God. I hope that's true."
Mal snorted. "It's part of the job to keep the paperwork in good order."
"That's not what I meant and you know it."
Mal just smiled his agreement. "Come through to my office,” he suggested.COLLAPSE
"The characters in this story are delightful, as are the gentle mysteries surrounding the tomb’s origins and its eventual destination."
Rainbow Awards Honourable Mention (2017)
Length: 79000 words/ 288 pages