I was considering writing a prequel to Brendan’s Cross, which would be Mark Seaton’s story before he came to work undercover at the museum in Annapolis.
It would have involved putting off Brendan’s Cross for YEARS, and revising it to adjust for the prequel, and honestly, I just didn’t want to go there! But I did come across this scene, from his perspective, about his first visit to the museum and first meeting with Lillian. I enjoyed writing it, but doubt it will ever fit anywhere else…
… and happy birthday to Mark’s inspiration, Tom Hiddleston!
Mark Seaton considered handing back his secret agent membership card even before leaving London.
Of course he would use an alias, his friend Rhys had said, but not to worry, it would be a good, solid, English name. Easy to remember.
“Good afternoon, all.” The lead conservator, an older man named Prentice, addressed the small group gathered in the pathetic excuse of an artifacts conservation lab, “Please make welcome Mark Wellington, our new assistant conservator. Mark hails from Derbyshire, and most recently from the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archeology.”
Wellington… Mark fought the urge to roll his eyes, remembering Rhys’s roar of laughter when he presented Mark with his new identity documents. Instead, he focused on the introductions, conscious of the presence of the two people he was assigned to watch.
As the small maritime museum in downtown Annapolis, Maryland was obviously chronically underfunded and understaffed, three of the four present now greeting him were polite, but clearly taken aback by the news. Prentice went on to explain, with grandiosity and self-importance, as though he’d had anything to do with the facts, that not only had the museum received a generous endowment from an unexpected source, but the contribution of several valuable artifacts recently raised from a wreck in the Bering Sea.
Both arranged by Britain’s National Crime Agency, who, on Rhys’s urging, had recruited Mark aggressively for this special assignment.
He had already been introduced quite thoroughly to the staff by way of NCA portfolios, but it was interesting to now meet them in person. Two of the women standing at one end of the room seemed to accept the story at face-value, the young and giggling intern named Sarah, and one of the conservators, the lovely brunette, Lillian, who, once over her surprise, seemed edgy and preoccupied.
Conveniently, his ‘assignments’ were standing close together at the other end of the room and were clearly skeptical. A black woman, named Vera, paradoxically, was a bit older than Lillian, also a conservator and, without any attempt of subtlety, looked daggers at him. Maritime archeologist and patron of the museum, Duncan Scott, was polite but reserved, regarding him as an alpha wolf regards a new male approaching his territory.
But neither the museum nor its lab was Scott’s territory. The maritime archeologist was in partnership with his father-in-law Vic Andrastus, head of the Andrastus shipping fleet and the company now firmly in NCA’s sights. Scott not only captained the research vessel Jupiter, he was a former Coast Guard commander and NCA believed he was using his knowledge of and contacts within the agency to aid and abet the Andrastus smuggling network.
Although Scott was married to Andrastus’s daughter Victoria, Vera was apparently a love-interest of Scott’s, and by working with her at the museum and working with Scott on the Jupiter, Mark was to glean what information he could to aid the NCA’s mission.
Already Mark’s instinct was telling him that the NCA was way off track, and he wondered if this assignment was likely to be both short and uneventful.
Thankfully, Prentice’s cell phone rang. Pausing dramatically to glance at the screen, he raised his hand to stem the flood of eager question that Mark saw no signs of, turned and left the lab without another word.
An atmosphere lingered, however, and the silence broken only by the rain beating down on the metal roof above them and a rumble of thunder in the distance until the young intern giggled again. Under Vera’s glare, Sarah suddenly remembered she had class, grabbed her backpack and left the lab through the back door.
“Okay,” Vera said, raising a hand and pointing at him, “what I want to know is—”
“How about if I give you the fifty cent tour?”
Surprised, he turned and looked over towards the soft voice. Lillian raised her eyebrows and nodded towards the door back into the museum.
“I would like that very much,” he said, gratefully reaching for the door to hold it for her, “thank you.”
“Since you’re leaving early Vera, I’ll close up,” Lillian said, pausing briefly before glancing towards Scott. Mark saw a shadow cross Scott’s face before he nodded a polite farewell to the couple and followed her out.
The windowless main gallery of the small museum was dark except for a few glowing green exit signs at either end. When Lillian flipped a switch, bright, overhead fluorescents flooded the room with harsh, white light.
Not at all what she wanted, Mark noted with amusement the sound of the mild curse she muttered before turning off one and on another. This time, soft golden light illuminated the interior of each individual display case.
She described the vessels and sites each artifact was recovered from, and he asked about their process of conservation and found himself forgetting the atmosphere in the lab and worrying about the new, warmer atmosphere in the gallery.
“Dr. Prentice offered to show me about tomorrow,” he said, “but I’ll pretend it’s all new. Your – our, coworker seems to dislike me,” he added. “Whatever did I do?”
Lillian glanced towards him, surprised by his question but shrugged, her smile not at all apologetic. “I really couldn’t say. As you may have noticed, she is usually fascinated by a handsome face.”
Jealousy? He knew that all three of them were married, although there was a notation in Lillian’s portfolio that she had very recently filed for divorce. He had already seen that she still wore a ring. Was Lillian the one, he wondered, who Lucy thought would need him?
She glanced into the lab, now empty and lit only by desk lamps and computer screens. Once inside, she turned to him.
‘I wouldn’t tell just anyone this, but since you are doomed to share this confined space with us, I will share what I have learned about Vera over the last few years.”
Mark leaned against the counter and wondered if this woman had any idea just how beautiful she was. Long dark hair was pulled back away from the lovely, pure oval of her face, the soft light accentuated her high cheekbones, delicate but firm square chin and straight nose. Her voice was soft, a bit husky and now held a hint of sharing secrets.
“Vera either likes someone or she doesn’t. Period. Especially men and tends to latch on to the one man she trusts to never take her up on her outrageous hints, innuendo or outright propositions. Like Duncan…”
“So they’re not an item? I wondered.”
“Of course you would, from the way she had him pinned in the corner. He just never lets his fear show, though. He just plays along.”
A streak of lightning lit the room for a moment followed by a crash of thunder that shook the instruments on the countertops. Rain beat down even heavier on the tin roof above