Shakespeare's Dark Lady
Daniel gave the baggage trolley a heave and barged his way into the Heathrow Airport throng with Amelia clinging to his sleeve. Mannering raised his right arm like Moses parting the Red Sea and a pathway opened miraculously .
"It will take a good deal of digging to open your tunnel," Mannering said once they were in his Volvo and on the M4. "We refilled it some weeks ago. I was going to ask you to pay for the cost of all the work but donations to Holy Trinity have quadrupled since February so I think we'll let the matter drop."
He seemed surprisingly low-voltage considering the circumstances. Daniel thought he caught a touch of mischief in his voice, even if it did seem to be directed at Amelia. He sat alone in the back. Amelia twisted around in her seat and placed a hand on his knee.
"It took us twenty-six freezing nights to dig that tunnel," he said.
"I'm surprised it didn't cave in on you. Only we three and Dr. Gillespie--the archeologist--will be going into the crypt in a few weeks' time. The public will be disappointed, but the media and other interested parties will get in there over my dead body."
Opposite the Sheraton Park Tower in Knightsbridge, Daniel started at the sudden threnody of a police siren. He watched the flashing light woffing off into the Hyde Park Corner underpass.
"Even though Holy Trinity isn't pressing criminal charges," Mannering said, "the police would like a brief word with you just to tie up the loose ends. Meanwhile I think you and I can sort out our own piece of red tape. I trust we'll find the cross undamaged and safely where you put it?"
Once the car emerged into Piccadilly they stammered to a crawl in dense traffic beside Green Park. Some things about London never changed.
"I'll let you out here and double park outside the door," Mannering said near the corner of Albemarle street.
Daniel sprang from the car, weaved his way to the top of St. James's street and vaulted the railing.
The London Security Company had been recommended by Dunkley, whose office was next door. It took two minutes for him to announce himself and be shown to a windowless room with a green baize table. He'd no sooner taken a seat than one of the managers came in. He produced a paper for signature, checked it against a facsimile, and asked Daniel to repeat his password.
"This way, Dr. Bosworth. I hope you've got your key?"
The elevator was tiny, and it was impossible to tell how far below ground they'd gone when the Victorian cage came to a halt. As the grille and the outer door opened they came face to face with an attendant stationed on the other side of six steel bars. The manager showed an ID.
The door opened and clanged shut, leaving the three of them in a cramped area facing a second door. The attendant pressed a button. There was no sign of whoever looked out through the fisheye lens in the wall, but a moment later the door swung open. Daniel could see it was almost half a foot thick.
Along one wall were several hundred safe deposit boxes in rows of varying sizes. He headed for box C194 and put his key in the left-hand lock. The manager produced a flat key from his pocket, reached across Daniel's arm, and inserted it in the lock on the right of the first The two keys rotated clockwise through 180 degrees.
The manager nodded toward the table with its solitary chair and went to a room off the main vault to join the attendant. Daniel jerked the box from its slot, placed it on the table, lifted the green metal lid.
His treasure was there. And, by all appearances, unsullied.
Mannering drove back along Piccadilly, crawled around Hyde Park Corner, then headed down Grosvenor Place toward Victoria Street and New Scotland Yard.
"Let me straighten your tie," Amelia said as the car pulled to a stop.
They took the elevator to the eighth floor and turned left toward Criminal Investigation. The moment they entered his office, Detective Chief Inspector Tom Drake, in plain clothes, rose slowly from his chair and gestured in the direction of a serious-looking man in his twenties, more features than face.
"Good afternoon, Dr. Bosworth. This is Detective Constable Frank Hillaby."
The name hit him like a hammer. So this was the cop with the busted collarbone caught trying to get into the Holy City with an officer of the FBI. The look he was giving Daniel wasn't hostile, exactly, but it wasn't the look of a friend.
Drake looked taller than on a TV screen and much older than when Daniel had met him several years ago--probably around sixty-four. He waved them into seats and sat down behind the oak-veneer desk.
"I won't keep you long, Dr. Bosworth. Let me point out straightaway, if it weren't for the research you're doing you wouldn't be walking away scot-free from your little digging expedition."
Daniel nodded. Here in London after so many years Drake was still a Yorkshireman, with a Yorkshireman's way of putting things that left no room for maneuver.
"There's one little matter," Drake said. "How did your two Stratford associates come by the sum of five thousand pounds between them?"
"I had to pay them or they wouldn't have done it. No one was going to do it for nothing. Except me."
Drake was poised to comment when a Scotland Yard tea lady came in with an urn on a trolley and started handing out cups.
"I assume you're not going to charge them with anything?" Daniel asked, taking a cup.
"Don't assume anything, Dr. Bosworth. In a case like this I'm the one who makes the assumptions. Now, when we checked up on your friends we found they'd been having a grand old time thanks to your money and a little black book listing the name and phone number of every prostitute known to the police from Slough to Swindon. And a few more besides. They--"
"Hold on," Daniel said. "That book's confidential--and strictly for professional purposes. The women--and the men--get paid out of university funds for volunteering for research into sexually transmitted diseases."
"Calm down, Dr. Bosworth. I'm going to return the book. But if your two accomplices didn't have AIDS before they set off on their brothel tour, they probably have it by now." He took the black book from a desk drawer and handed it to him. "I'm giving this back to you. Lock it up safely in future. And next time you want to poke around in a grave, do what you've done in the past and get an official authorization."
He opened a file folder and lifted out some papers. "I'm also returning the genetic papers on your mother you gave us a few years ago. We've kept a copy."
Daniel took the file without a word and handed it to Amelia. Into his jacket pocket he slipped his black address book, next to the bulge in his raincoat. Something about the way Drake was looking at him made him feel transparent, as if he could see right through to the cross.
He wanted to ask Drake why he'd reopened the file on his mother, then decided against it. Not in front of Mannering.
They were driving through the stone gates of Forest Spring, the estate Daniel had called home since the age of two. The tip of the Colonel's land butted against the Elizabethan manor of Littlecote, the two estates separated in part by a lake. It was to this part of the property that Daniel took Dancer, the family's old labrador, for some exercise after lunch.
As he came to the withy walk that skirted one side of the lake, he flung a stone onto the weed-choked surface. It narrowly missed one of the Colonel's prized ducks. He visualized a hand appearing from among the lilies, trailing a wet sleeve, catching the stone. What was left of a palladian folly faced him across the water. In front of it was a lead statue of Minerva.
The only sound was the song of the blackbirds and the twitter of a tom-tit underneath the ivy-clad cupola. There was a flurry on the water as a duck did a perfect takeoff. He threw a stick which Dancer declined to chase, then stood throwing pebbles into the water.
Eight days of his life had gone missing at Big Sur, and he was still none the wiser. He hoped Polly Ann was alright.
He continued around the lake, following the woodland walk as far as the ancient mulberry tree he and Matthew used to build huts in when they were kids. Dancer shambled in front of him onto a path that criss-crossed the lawn at the rear of the cob-walled coach house.
After an early supper, he picked a purple rose from the east side of the house and set off for the churchyard to visit his mother's grave. He began the brief walk thinking about Jake and Roy. They'd worked for the Colonel for years, then they'd been fired five minutes after the old boy got wind of their sexual exploits from Drake. . .
He passed a deep pond that had once been their secret swimming hole. His steps slowed. It was not until he and Dancer reached his mother's gravestone that he turned his thoughts to her and visualized her the way he knew her best ...... in the photograph.
For a week they took a suite at the Randolph while Amelia hunted up and down the Victorian houses of North Oxford with a copy of the Oxford Mail and an agent from Andrews real estate office at Carfax.
As for America, Amelia's contacts made it possible for her to arrange matriculation in two days. But getting an exemption from "keeping terms" for the minimum two years required for an Oxford Doctor of Philosophy degree turned out to be more difficult. In the end, thanks to Elizabeth Chambers, who would be her supervisor at Lady Margaret Hall, they granted her three terms cross-credited from Harvard, which would enable her to complete her doctorate after one more year of research.
Nancy Bretton, Amelia told Daniel with a grin, had looked daggers on learning of her plan to abscond from Harvard, but Bob Carr had been understanding itself when she visited him contritely the day before her departure. He agreed to rescind her teaching contract on condition she return at a later date to give a special lecture if she finally uncovered the real Dark Lady.
"I expect he knew what he'd have on his hands when your senior groupies learned they'd been abandoned," Daniel said.
With the house agent Amelia found them a comfortable furnished flat on the second floor of a red brick house up the Banbury Road that overlooked, from the back, the tree-edged lawns and herbaceous borders of middle-class Oxford. The following day she was directing the men who came to move everything from Daniel's rooms in college to the new flat. The building, which was owned by St. John's College, had fireplaces with artificial gas fires. But it also had a piano, which more than compensated, so far as Amelia was concerned.
The silver T-cross was not among the belongings moved into Banbury Road. It was securely lodged in a cashbox in the bursar's safe at All Souls.
At the beginning of May, instead of going to the International Conference on AIDS in Milan, Daniel and Amelia went to the chapel of All Souls, where they were married in a quiet ceremony by the chaplain. His immediate family were on hand, and Lawrence sailed over on the QE2, taking rooms at the Randolph for a night. Cissy sent her regrets, but turned up anyway.
Daniel thought he could feel Janey there. Or so he interpreted the warm glow that stayed with him throughout the proceedings..
"You look tense," Amelia whispered as the chaplain stepped forward and made the sign of the cross.
"Usually do when I get married."
He smiled at Lawrence, who since his arrival had seemed oddly warm toward him. When he smiled back, the barely detectable tic under the old man's left eye might almost have been taken for a wink. As they took their places by the register a few minutes later, there was an expression on Lawrence's face he hadn't seen before: sadness and a kind of tranquillity, mixed with. . . . . what? It was as if Lawrence wasn't there.
Even when he signed the register, signet ring flashing, and said: "I hope you two are going to make me a grandfather soon."
Nuptials concluded, they all walked across to the Common Room for a quick speech and toast from Roderick Tillman, who'd been hauled in at the last moment to act as supporter.
Lawrence chatted with everyone except Cissy. No one mentioned the Shakespeare Search. When the Colonel and Hattie Bosworth cornered Lawrence with the chaplain, Daniel walked up to Cissy and stood frowning over a glass of a very expensive Krug. It was the first time he'd seen her since their confrontation in the gym.
He led her over to the window. "Look, I don't really want to talk to you-".
"-but I would like to try and clear up a few things, that's all."
"You mean about me and Amelia, I suppose?"
"So you're implying that you and she. . ."
"What if I am? Hey, it really doesn't make any difference. She's yours now, for richer and richer, till divorce do you part."
"You're a comedian, too? What is it with you that you never answer a straight question. You or Amelia."
"We're a lot alike," she said, putting a hand on his sleeve.
Her look made him squirm. Perhaps she thought she was turning him on.
She saw the distress on his face and laughed. You've gotten her away from America. Why don't you let sleeping dogs lie? Marcus, Lawrence, even me? Maybe we're all just figments of your imagination."
Another laugh. "Why not come up and see me sometime, Dr. Bosworth? Even me."
With that she went to say goodbye to Amelia, then flounced out to join the friends she was staying with in London.
Daniel joined Lawrence and Amelia.
"Are we going to see a bit of you in the next few days?" he asked Lawrence.
"Do I look like the kind of father-in-law who would spoil the honeymoon?" He looked at his watch. "I've got a friendly game at the Guard's Polo Club with some of the other ancient members, then I must fly-literally, that is. The Opera Ball is tomorrow night."
"Daddy, why don't you just slow down and relax for once."
"Me?" Mock astonishment. "Not this side of the Onion Patch Series."
"Daddy sails, too," Amelia explained.
"I sail a bit myself" Daniel said. "Fair weather sailor. Nothing serious."
"If you both come and stay in Nantucket next summer, I'll see if you can join my crew over in Newport."
"I'd enjoy that." He meant it.
Lawrence kissed Amelia, gave Daniel an awkward handshake, and left.
The first departures became the signal for mass exodus, and half an hour later the newlyweds were hurrying up the Banbury Road in an attempt to beat rain that hung in a thundery sky. As they reached Summertown a few drops fell. They ran. With less than two hundred yards to go, the deluge came. They raced up the stairs, soaked to the skin. Amelia was still laughing a minute later when she stepped out of the bathroom and threw a towel at Daniel.
"It's time" she said, " to consummate our marriage."
They were making love in daylight, for the first time ever. She seemed different. Lighter.
For the first time he could watch her face as she built to orgasm. Tiny lines appeared around her eyes, her skin turned mottled pink, her mouth opened by slow degrees, she screwed up her eyes and her lips pulled back in a rictus that could have been pain but he knew to be pleasure.Tiny beads of perspiration sprinkled her forehead.She gripped him tightly, desperately, forcing the rhythm faster.
When her agonized cry came, he suddenly saw Marcus and wanted to . . .
He plunged viciously hard, which only doubled her cry as she sucked him up inside her. As he vanished, the last sound he could make out was her scream: "I want to die."
By the beginning of May he was getting up at dawn and going to work six days a week at his lab in South Parks Road, driving his colleagues close to exhaustion. Roderick Tillman had been back on the job a week before him and already looked shattered by the pace.
Daniel cared little for the fact that the Shakespeare Search had failed to find a living descendant. It had raised money for AIDS research, tens of thousands had been screened, he had his broad range of samples and to hell with Marcus Freeman. There had to be a vaccine for HIV after so much work by so many scientists. He could smell the prize getting closer as he crawled home to bed. He thought of that when he was drooping from fatigue, thanks to the combination of daytime slave labor and nighttime sessions of intense lovemaking.
On a sweltering night in the second week of June, Amelia burst through the front door with a hallelujah shout.
"You've found the Dark Lady!" he said.
"Not yet, but even more creative. . . Oh, Daniel, we're going to have a baby!"
He bounded over and pinned her in his arms. "I wondered a bit, the way your hips seemed to have filled out. Thought it might be my pasta recipe."
"Which, I now discern, is secretly a fertility drug."
"Completely unrelated to coming off the pill in March, of course."
"Let's call it a no-fault pregnancy," she said, pressing herself against him.
"And the window cleaner?"
"Definitely not his fault--he couldn't get it up. You won't be able to either if you go on working yourself to death."
"Just as well someone is working now there's one extra mouth to feed. But you really did want a baby, angel--didn't you?"
"Yes I did want a baby angel. Now I'll have two."
"Me too. I mean, I always wanted to be a father."
He thought of Lucy and his breakdown when she'd miscarried.
She saw his face, reached up and touched his cheek.
He took her hands and raised the tips of her fingers to his lips. Her fingernails were growing back.
Amelia continued her research through the summer vac, regularly visiting Elizabeth Chambers. She loved Oxford, she loved the Bodleian Library with its creaky floors and painted ceilings, but most of all she loved being pregnant.
For a brief period Lawrence phoned her almost daily but by July his calls had ceased. From time to time she checked in by phone with Katie Barber, who had worried about her departure from analysis in mid-stream. But no longer, said his bride, "now that she's heard my pregnant voice."
As the summer wore on she began to have trouble sleeping. Daniel knew pregnancy could do strange things to your metabolism, but that didn't seem to be the whole story. Sometimes when she woke up in the night he could feel her wet with perspiration.
"I have to admit I've never felt so nervous in my life," she said. "It's as if something's happening to me and I have no control over it."
"Something is," he said. "You're having a baby."
Two nights later Daniel was washing the dinner dishes when he heard a yell from the sitting room. He dashed in.
"Amelia! What --"
With that she disappeared into the study. Then emerged and rushed at him, lassoing his head with her arms, dragging him down on the sofa beside her.
She held a book he'd seen in her hands many times before, a modern reprint of Willoughby's curious Avisa, the poem from 1594 that seemed to be related to Shakespeare's sonnets.
"I've broken it."
"The Dark Lady. I've solved the mystery, lover. It came to me in a flash while I was looking into the fire."
Daniel looked from Amelia's excited eyes to their gas fire.
"It was hidden in a single word. I just knew it had to be her, but I could never find the sure-fire clue before."
The book was open at two pages of a poem that had been added to the Avisa in the 1596 edition: The Victory of English Chastity under the Feigned Name of Avisa. She was jabbing her finger at two lines: "Yet if you know a bird so base, in this devise she hath no place."
"Amelia, angel, slow down. So who was this Avisa bird?"
"'Devise,' lover. What's a devise?"
"I suppose it could mean a poem?"
"Of course it does, but it also means 'motto.'"
"Devise. . .. . .So the clue is in 'base'. . .. a motto beginning with 'base.'"
"Is there one?"
"Of course there is. Basis virtutum constantia. The basis of virtue is constancy. Don't you see? Base meaning basis and base meaning unfaithful. So someone unfaithful--the Dark Lady--doesn't fit a motto that is only appropriate to someone who is constant and faithful."
"So the subtitle of Willoughby's Avisa is The True Picture of a Modest Maid and of a Chaste and Constant Wife. Except that it's a parody of someone married who is anything but faithful ...... someone who is base."
"Whose motto are we talking about?"
"Secret," she said. "You'll have to wait till I've double-checked the other parts of the picture to see if they correspond, but it's her, it's her, I know it is now. For sure."
"Just give me a clue."
"Her name was Penelope and she was an aristocrat. Get it?"
"Got it," he said.
Forty yards from the rope, two policemen stood guarding a makeshift shack on the west bank of the Avon. The day before--under Mannering's watchful eye, of course-- students from the archeology department at Exeter University had all but finished digging and shoring up the tunnel.
The temperature was closing on seventy-five degrees when Amelia and Daniel walked into Holy Trinity through the main door in the north wall of the nave. The church, like the churchyard, was closed to the public. Adrian Mannering waited inside, looking oddly comfortable in a pair of black overalls.
"You'll find it shadier in here," he said. "It's all ready." He pointed in the direction of the north transept. "The sexton's arranged suitable clothing. You'll find it on the bench in the vestry. I hope it fits."
When they returned in overalls and wellingtons, Mannering handed Amelia an ancient-looking earthenware vessel. She turned it around, taking care not to dislodge the stopper.
"Holy water?" she asked in a jumpy voice.
"Yes. Do be careful with it, my dear. It's probably as old as the church itself, perhaps older. We don't have many relics in Holy Trinity. This one was used for requiem masses before the Reformation."
Cradling the chalice in both hands, she passed it back.
"I'm just going to take another look at Shakespeare above ground," she said. "It's a year at least since the last time I was here."
Mannering and Daniel followed her up the aisle--past Clopton Chapel, the vestry, the old carved pews of the quiristers, and the font in which Shakespeare had been baptized in 1564--to the roped off area of the Weeping Chancel.
A plump Shakespeare gazed down from the wall on the left: the Shakespeare sculpted by Gheerart Janssen, the bourgeois Bard scholars had trouble reconciling with the genius of his work. Daniel stared at the gravestone with its malediction.
"Look there." Amelia pointed to the T-shaped spade of Priapus at top left of the bust. "Fertility, regeneration, immortality--and the mystic enlightenment of sex." Her clear high voice rang out in the sepulchral space. "As the son of Venus and androgynous Dionysus, Priapus--"
Mannering coughed. "It's almost two o'clock. Time to go in."
Outside the shack, one of the policemen made a saluting gesture. Almost hidden from view behind a hillock of soil trailed the mud-covered workers. Unlike Daniel they hadn't used the river to get rid of their diggings.
Daniel turned on the rubber-coated flashlight Mannering had given him, stepped inside the makeshift shack that leaned out over the bank, and looked down the steps. Amelia followed, wielding two flashlights to light the way for Mannering, who balanced the chalice in one hand and held onto a rope handrail with the other.
Almost crouching, Daniel continued down the joisted conduit. At least the air was less revolting this time around. The ground sloped at first but the last twenty yards were flat, covered in a layer of sludge that made a soft sucking underfoot. The passage had only been damp before; now water from the river was seeping through.
He made out a light ahead and at the aperture in the vault's wall met another mud-covered figure who transferred his flashlight and held out a blackened hand.
"Clive Gillespie, Balliol." He looked worried.
"Daniel Bosworth, All Souls." Daniel's hands were clean despite the passage he'd just navigated. Gillespie saw the look and withdrew his hand. Daniel put him at about sixty.
The aperture was completely open. The ground inside the vault had a glutinous consistency. Daniel scraped at the surface with his foot.
"Terracotta tiles," Gillespie said. "Twelfth century. This crypt predates the one directly above it, which means there was probably an early medieval church on this site. There are bones here going back seven or eight hundred years, maybe more. Are the others coming?"
"They're just behind." Daniel stared into the gloom and almost jumped. A dark shape glided out from behind an oaken upright. As it stepped into the pool from his flashlight Daniel recognized Tom Drake, who nodded in his direction. He could only nod back. He returned his attention to Gillespie, aware that Drake's eyes were watching every move he made.
"Pity Reverend Mannering won't authorize a proper excavation," Gillespie said. "I've had the last hour to snoop around. Over there," he shone his flashlight across the top of the sarcophagi, "there's an archway with a groined roof. Beyond it there's a cavity in the wall containing a reliquary with four lead boxes that probably hold the bones of local saints. One has an ivory fish in the top."
"Daniel, give me a hand." Amelia's voice sounded squeaky. He took her flashlight, and she helped Mannering as he shuffled forward holding the chalice at arm's length. Drake nodded at each of them.
Gillespie stood on the other side of Shakespeare's sarcophagus. Amelia stared at it, then shone her flashlight around the chamber, awed by the neat tiers of bones. A pungent smell made Daniel hold his breath. He turned to find Mannering genuflecting at the foot of the grave.
"Let us remove the slab," Mannering said, assuming the grammar and intonation of the Anglican pulpit.
Amelia took care of the flashlights, Gillespie gave the orders. Drake watched. The rest of them got into position and heaved. It took several minutes before the stone lay around at right angles. Mannering, breathing hard, crossed himself.
"It's hotter down here than you'd expect," Gillespie said and ducked out of sight. When he resurfaced he carried a battery pack connected to a needle-thin cutting blade.
Gillespie worked on the lead for the next half-hour. Amelia seemed mesmerized by the casket lid, while off to one side her fingers worked up and down the furrows of the poet's rough coat of arms in the top of the slab, as if trying to clean it with her nails. Or was she getting a sense of something by touch, like a clairvoyant who needed to feel something belonging to a departed loved one in order to make contact with the spirit world? Twice, as if to prove she wasn't imagining things, she ran her hands all over the lead surface inside the sarcophagus. Each time she did so Gillespie straightened up and switched off the cutter. The second time, his task was done.
Mannering's eyes were shut and he dropped to his knees.
"Our Poet asked that his bones remain undisturbed through the ages. We who are likewise subject to the mutability of our mortal coils are here today to keep faith with him and ensure that his last wish be respected."
With a glance toward Amelia, Mannering took from his pocket what looked like a gold egg cup. Amelia put the flashlights down, picked up the chalice and poured Holy Water from it into the gold vessel.
". . . and the Holy Spirit." Mannering sprinkled a little water on the casket and delivered a benediction. At last he picked up a flashlight in his free hand and nodded to Daniel, who used the small crowbar Gillespie had passed him to prise up the lid. Gillespie got his fingers under the edge on the opposite side, and the two of them lifted together.
Amelia's thin scream reverberated around the walls of the chamber. Her hands went up to cover her face, and the chalice crashed to the ground and broke. But Daniel's first thought was for Shakespeare. He shone his flashlight straight into the coffin. As he'd expected, the fresh bacteria that had entered when he'd opened it up in January had been multiplying, playing havoc with the corpse ever since. Even though the lead had been resealed within a month.
Already the moldering head had begun to resemble a skull. The trumpet nose had turned into a hole. The lower jaw had loosened and moved, exaggerating the frightful mouth that seemed to be silently echoing Amelia's scream. Parts of the winding shroud had turned to shreds. A fungus had taken hold of the ghoulish hands that clutched a sere pelvis like the talons of an owl.
Mannering, still holding the gold cup, moved one foot toward Amelia and slipped, lurching against the slab as his spectacles clattered on the ground. The cup tilted, spilling holy water across the Bard's midriff. Gillespie and Daniel looked at each other and quickly dropped the coffin lid sideways over the top of the slab.
Amelia's eyes were darting this way and that. She stood whimpering, her hands over her mouth. Drake had drawn back into the shadows. Mannering seemed to be leaving center stage to Daniel. Gillespie produced a propane blowtorch and a small hammer.
"Hold it, please," Daniel said. "We still have something to do." He looked at Mannering, who loomed so tall Daniel felt as though he had shrunk.
Amelia lowered one hand, crossed herself, and covered her face.
Daniel put one hand into his overalls and brought out the silver T-cross. It glinted, brightly enough to send an arc across the back of Amelia's raised hand. He fondled the amulet for a few seconds, then held it out to Mannering, who stared back at him. What sort of cross had he expected? Daniel knew Amelia hadn't told him to expect a Tau or any kind of cross in particular. Did he have any emotions?
Amelia was peeping between her fingers at the cross and the Bard's corpse . Mannering mumbled something in Latin in a solemn voice. The shards of the broken vessel lay scattered around his feet.
On impulse Daniel raised the T-cross to his lips. Amelia watched through her fingers while he fumbled to reposition the artifact between Shakespeare's hands, patibulum toward the head, stipes toward the tiny mortified penis shrunken since January to the size of an inchworm. The Bard's fingers were so stiff that he had to use force to get the cross back into its original position.
As he pulled the fingers apart the corpse seemed to sink a fraction and the last remnants of the calico topknot around the head gave way. The effect was horrific to watch. The lower jaw, already stretched open to create an inch gap between Shakespeare's few remaining teeth, suddenly widened another couple of inches when the support of the cloth band was removed from beneath the chin. The mouth was now gaping wide. The thin lips that had been pulled back in January had vanished completely, but skin still adhered to parts of the cheekbones in dried patches.
He forced the cross into place and stood back.
As the lead was resealed Mannering watched stiffly, lips moving in prayer. Amelia was in tears. Daniel passed her a flashlight and she shone it at the grave. When he looked to where Drake was standing he could just make out his shadowy form.
Mannering picked up the pieces of the broken pot and helped Gillespie and Daniel work the slab back into place. Amelia was swaying.
"Are you going to be all right?" Mannering asked.
"She's fine." Daniel said. He took her by the hand and led her toward the tunnel opening. He still wanted to interrogate Drake about his mother, but this was hardly the time and place.
He drove the car fast, top down, in the direction of Stratford's town center, the roundabout, and the road to Oxford. A sidelong check took in Amelia's filthy dress, her dirty hands and hair. She was badly shaken, but basically alright.
She tried to smile but failed. He kept quiet, leaving her to think things out before asking or answering any questions. Christ Almighty, what a fiasco.
Amelia's hair flew in the wind. She cradled her head in her hands. "God, I need a Tylenol." Silence for a while, then, "D'you think Mannering expected a crux capita--the regular Christian cross? Or the crux commissa?"
"The crux what, angel?"
"The crux commissa, the Tau that proves Shakespeare was a heterodox Christian."
"I don't know what he expected, but if he has any sense he'll stop criticizing your theories. Even though you've broken one of his priceless relics."
He glanced at her. She was trembling from head to toe. She curled up in her seat and stayed like that for the rest of the drive, neither talking nor moving.