A short story by Andrew J. Hogan
Beverly scanned the Red Barge State Park cafeteria. Her friend Pat waved a hand from a seat in a nearly empty area back by the restrooms. “Sit down,” Pat said. “It’s a miserable day out there. How about some coffee? Or tea?”
“Thanks,” Beverly said. “I’m sorry to bother you with my problems.”
“No bother at all. What’s Craddock Llewelyn up to this time?”
Beverly looked around the cafeteria for any of her coworkers. The waitress brought a cup of breakfast tea. Beverly noticed the mug bore the logo of Sternmark Chemicals: ‘Nothing Survives Our Disinfectants.’ Beverly wasn’t sure she wanted to drink out of this mug, but decided she didn’t like to sound like a chronic complainer.
“Craddock is really old-school, I mean traditional Welsh old-school. He calls me ‘darling’ and ‘pet;’ he makes condescending remarks about women in science all the time. Last week he tried to bully me into singing a Gilbert and Sullivan aria after he learned that I had sung in an undergraduate production of H.M.S Pinafore.”
“At a staff reception. He loves parties, and he loves to drink. He has a lavish reception at the Country Club on the last Friday of April every year to welcome new seasonal staff and volunteers at start the new digging year. The superintendent comes, with all of his assistants; usually the state park director comes, if he is in town.”
“And he wanted you to sing at the reception.”
“Yes. He said it was common in Victorian England for the daughters of the master of the house to sing at the harvest ball. He wanted me to sing ‘The Hours Keep on Apace’ aria.”
“Right, Josephine has to decide between true love and a life of luxury. I assume that he hasn’t asked any male faculty members to sing at department functions.”
“No, just me. And I have been given an extra excavation load, supposedly because I didn’t get enough the fossil digging experience as a teaching assistant. And I have to do two weekly public tours of the fossil bed on my own; all the other staff is assigned public tours as a team. As a result, I don’t have enough time to write up my dissertation research.”
“What do you think he’s up too?” Pat said. “He’s kind of old to be looking for sex, don’t you think?”
“I’m pretty sure he’s gay,” Beverly said. “In terms of touching, he’s all over the guys. None of the other women on the excavation team ever complained about him being grabby or anything.”
“I’ve been a ranger here for five years at Red Barge, and I’ve never heard a harassment complaint about Craddock, just erratic and inconsiderate behavior.”
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do. If this was a regular job, I would just look for another one. But I have to stay here to complete my dissertation research. Craddock has no affiliation with the University, so there really nothing my dissertation director can do.”
“Craddock has been pretty much a loose-cannon ever since I arrived here. In my experience, the park superintendent won’t do anything but try to mollify him. The last superintendent lost his job, so I am told, when he tried to rein Craddock in. Craddock went to the State Parks Director and got the superintendent reassigned.”
Pat and Beverly finished their drinks and went back to work.
Beverly found Craddock on the stage of the Ichthyosaur Amphitheater, one of his monuments built with funds from an earlier grant.
“Your note said you wanted to see me,” Beverly said, getting no closer than the second level of seats.
“Come on down here on the stage,” Craddock said.
“I need to discuss something with you, and this is the best place,” Craddock said. Beverly slowing climbed down to the floor of the amphitheater. “Thank you, Beverly.” Craddock slowly waved his hand across the vista of the amphitheater. “In three months these seats will be filled by Prasad Chamling Namgyal and his entourage, along with some dignitaries from the Smithsonian, the Museum of Natural History, the Utah Department of Natural Resources and Historic Sites, and your University, among others.”
“What’s the occasion?” Beverly said.
“The occasion, my dear, is the initiation of a major paleontological grant, the likes of which the Utah State Parks Department has never seen.” Craddock stared at Beverly, apparently hoping for some kind of reaction, but Beverly wasn’t playing. “How big of a grant would that be, you ask?” Beverly raised her hands palms up and gave a quizzical glance. “Well, I’ll tell you, my dear. Big, very big. Big enough to take up your whole career as a paleontologist.”
Beverly’s bullshit-meter was flashing madly; Craddock was the master of hyperbole. She was curious, but she didn’t want to encourage him, so she waited.
“Do you know who Prasad Chamling Namgyal is?” Craddock said.
“He is the youngest, and richest, son of the last Chogyal of Sikkim.”
“Sikkim, it’s the smallest and last state to enter the Indian Union. Prasad’s father was the last Chogyal, king-priest of Sikkim. He was thrown out of office and the monarchy abolished back in the 1970s. Daddy was apparently a bit of an avaricious ruler and wildly unpopular; ninety-eight percent of the people voted to abolish the monarchy.”
Beverly’s bullshit-meter was still blinking; she stood pat.
“Well, young Prasad apparently inherited some of the royal avariciousness, because he used Daddy’s money to acquire a near monopoly on telecommunications facilities, not just in Sikkim but throughout northwestern India and even part of Bangladesh and most of Bhutan. In the 1980s he was merely rich, but as India became a major international telecommunications supplier, he became filthy rich, buying up a lot of real estate in a very crowded country.”
Okay, Beverly was hooked, although still skeptical. “What would possess a telecommunication billionaire to come to Red Barge State Park?”
“Helen Marguerite Muir-Wood.”
“Sure, I remember her, one of the most prominent women in paleontology before and after World War II.” Now Beverly was really interested.
“You would remember that,” Craddock said. “She happens to have done a lot of research in Sikkim, during the time when Prasad’s grandfather was the Chogyal. Grandpa Namgyal was a real aficionado of paleontology and was fascinated about all of the clam fossils decorating the sides of his part of the Himalayas. Apparently it fit somehow into his origin myth for the Lepcha founders of modern Sikkim. Anyway, Helen Marguerite was a favorite of the Chogyal, and he asked her to be the godmother for his youngest son, which is a bigger deal than it is here in the States.”
“I still don’t get the connection,” Beverly said.
“I’m getting there. Grandson Prasad maintained his grandfather’s love of clams and other brachiopods; in fact, he has one of the world’s great private collections of exotic shells. Anyway, Prasad wants to spend some of his accumulate billions on a memorial to his British godmother. Some import-export scandals involving his company in Great Britain have prevented him from establishing a research center in his godmother’s honor in her native England, so when I ran into him last month in the Cayman Islands, over a few mojitos, I sold him on the idea of a research center at Red Barge dedicated to Helen Marguerite.”
“Is this really the right place for a brachiopod research center? We’ve only found a few brachiopod fossils in the Weberian limestone cliff over by Willow Creek.”
“Exactly, but they are in there. And if we had a large excavation budget, we could get to them. Once we collect the brachiopods, we can house and study them in the new Helen Marguerite Muir-Wood Brachiopod Research Center. The director of the new research center would, of course, be a young female paleontologist.”
The red flags were waving now. “What would a young female paleontologist have to do to obtain such a position, I wonder?” Beverly said.
“Sing,” Craddock said. “Prasad does have some eccentricities. Helen Marguerite was a devotee of light opera, Gilbert and Sullivan in particular. She brought records of performances with her on field trips, and Prasad’s father, the Chogyal, staged a production of H.M.S. Pinafore, to celebrate the birthdays of his youngest son and Godmother Muir-Wood, who were born only a few days apart. Hanging around with Prasad, I’ve had to put up with a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan, something most Welshmen can’t tolerate too much of. But I managed to woo Prasad for a $15 million dollar donation to set up the Brachiopod Research Center.”
“Fifteen million,” Beverly said, almost as a gasp.
“Right, and the chief paleontologist of the research center needs to be a female paleontologist who loves Gilbert and Sullivan.”
“That’s why you wanted me to sing ‘The Hours Keep on Apace’ aria?
“That’s right. You thought I was being a paternalistic snob, but I was testing to see if you might be a viable candidate for the position.”
“It’s crazy to pick a scientist on the basis of their ability to perform light opera.”
“When you’re worth seven billion dollars, you get to set your own standard for what’s crazy and what’s relevant,” Craddock said.
Beverly knew she shouldn’t but she said: “Okay, what do you want me to do?”
Beverly spent the next three weeks in a sickening agony of fluctuating high expectations and impending dread. Craddock smiled at her instead of sneering. They exchanged meaningless pleasantries where they had previously ignored each other.
“Are you practicing your arias? Will you be ready in five weeks?” Craddock said.
“I’ve been surprised by how much I remember from my undergraduate performances. I would probably do better with a voice coach, but I think I will be ready for the convocation.”
Craddock pulled out his topo map of the Park. “I’d like you to go over here to the Willow Creek wash drainage. I was kayaking over there the other day, and I thought I saw a brachiopod cluster right about here, maybe fifty feet up the side of the canyon. It’s where the cream sandstone changes to red. It could be kind of a teaser for Prasad, dispel any last minute doubts he might harbor.”
“I assume you want me to go alone?” Beverly said.
“That would be best.”
Beverly collected her equipment bag and stocked up her backpack with water and supplies. On her way to the boat ramp, she ran into Pat.
“Wow, you look a lot happier,” Pat said. “Is it just the improvement in the weather, or has Craddock undergone some kind of personality transformation?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Oh, God, you’re sleeping with him.”
“No, it’s worse than that.”
“What could be worse?” Pat said.
“He’s lured me into a scheme that’s too good to be true. I know something is going to go wrong, but I can’t pass up the opportunity.”
“What is it?” Pat said.
“I promised not to tell anyone. If anything leaks out, I’ll get blamed.”
“Where are you going?”
“Craddock sent me off to check on some fossils he saw while kayaking.”
“Want me to come along?” Pat said. “My shift’s just about over, and it’s pretty slow today.”
“No, I’d better go alone. Thanks.”
“Ah, part of the secret plan.”
Beverly smiled a sick smile. The secrecy made the whole ridiculous scheme even more upsetting. But if the scheme worked, her career would be made. No more worries about ending up as an oil rig paleontologist. But if this scheme failed, who knows, maybe a high school science teacher?
It took Beverly about an hour to motor out to the north arm of the lake where Craddock said he saw the fossils. From the boat, Beverly used her binoculars to find the spot where the fossils were supposed to be. She wondered how Craddock had possibly seen the fossils with the naked eye from the lake level. He must take along a small scope when he kayaks.
She climbed the side of the canyon, and when she reached the spot, there was a collection of more than a dozen large shells along with many shell fragments, primarily Retuculatia. This did look like a good site for a major excavation, probably part of an ancient lagoon from the distribution of the silted upper layer on the sandstone base.
To her right, Beverly saw a fracture; it looked new. Closer examination showed a piece had recently been broken off with what looked like a rock pick. Craddock had been up here. He’d known about this place for some time. Now he was trying to give her the right of discovery. What was he up to?
“Beverly, let me introduce you to Seva Paryawarna Badi, chief cultural assistant to Prasad Chamling Namgyal,” Craddock said.
The small, slender man in what appeared to be a very expensive business suit bowed and took Beverly’s hand. He hesitated while Beverly removed her right work glove and then kissed her hand. “Enchanted,” he said.
“Mr. Badi has brought with him the revised Pinafore script as approved by Mr. Namgyal.”
“Revised?” Beverly said.
“Yes, you will be pleased to be knowing that Mr. Namgyal has been making the great improvements to achieve the greater relevancy of the original opera to the cultural meaningfulness of the Sikkim kingdom,” Badi said.
“I thought Sikkim was one of the states of India?” Beverly said.
“An unfortunate historical development, not easily rectified,” Badi said.
Craddock passed the folder he was holding to Beverly. “Why don’t you look over the revised script, and let us know what you think. I can give you the rest of the week off to learn the new lyrics. The music has been left untouched.”
“The Adhiraj is quite a poet in his own right,” Mr. Badi said. “He detests the modern poetry because it doesn’t rhyme, so he formed his own literary journal, the Himalayan Foothills Journal of Traditional Poetry and Prose. Perhaps you have heard of it?
“I don’t have the opportunity to read much poetry, I’m afraid,” Beverly said.
“I will make the notation to be sending you a complimentary copy,” Mr. Badi said. “The Journal is featuring the kind of poetry the Adhiraj approves of. Nearly every issue contains one of his own poems. He has won the best poem of the year competition on several occasions.” Mr. Badi turned to Craddock. “The Adhiraj is hoping your subalterns will be making the greatest of efforts to being ready for performing the opera on the next Tuesday in the evening after the Adhiraj’s helicopter has already been arrived here.”
“Certainly,” Craddock said, giving Beverly a pained look. Beverly smiled and nodded.
Beverly opened the door to her cabin in response to a late evening knock.
“Don’t blame me,” Craddock said. “I didn’t imagine he would approve changing Josephine to Jyotsna.”
“What about the costume directions?”
“What are you talking about?” Craddock said.
“Right here, ‘Jyotsna enters stage left, wearing an embroidered red silk Dumdyam and a gauzy transparent white Tago shirt with a gold Nyamrek belt and red Taro cap.’
“I hadn’t noticed,” Craddock said. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“Now, you should really consider…”
Beverly slammed the door behind him.
The special lighting set up in the daytime-use-only amphitheater was turned off around the performance area. A spotlight followed one of the stagehands as he carried a large placard, “H.M.S. PINAFORE,” across the stage. The overture began playing on the sound system. All the music was canned; there was no room for an orchestra. As the opening chorus began and little Buttercup waited in the wings, Beverly adjusted her costume; only she and Mike Spencer, who was playing the Sri Chempo, Grand Commander with Collar (aka Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty), were dressed in traditional Sikkim costumes. For a $15 million gift, the whole production was pretty much amateur hour. The only singing parts were Sir Joseph and Josephine, Buttercup and Captain Corcoran; everyone else was lip-synching over a sound system that was mediocre at best.
Buttercup finished, the Captain made his entrance and exit, Buttercup returned and left, and it was time for Josephine’s (Jyotsna’s) aria. The spot light swung to stage right and Jyotsna’s gauzy white Tago shirt left her completely exposed on the arms and shoulders. Beverly’s chest was covered by the long black strands of the wig she had placed over her own short hair. In the many narrow braids hanging over her chest, Beverly had tied nearly two dozen nobile dendrobium flowers.
Beverly sang her parts passably well, stumbling over the pronunciation of the dozen or so Nepali words Mr. Namgyal had substituted for the originals in her principal aria.
The hours creep on apace/ My guilty heart is quaking!
Oh, that I might retrace/ The step that I am taking!
Its folly it were easy to be showing/ What I am giving up and whither ohar dohar.
On the one hand, babu’s luxurious nivas/ Hung with ancestral khunda and old pittala,
Carved teak and tapestry from distant Japan/ Rare blue and white Cin finger-pyala,
Rich Persian rugs, luxurious sofa pillows/ And everything that isn’t old, from Sipraj Bajar.
And on the other, a dark and dingy room/ In some back street with stuffy bals crying,
Where organs yell, and clacking jois fume/ And lugas are hanging out all day a-drying.
With one cracked aina to see your face/ And dinner served up in a khir basin!
Once the performance was completed, the audience gave an appreciative, if not enthusiastic, applause, mercifully restrained enough to avoid the need for any encores. Beverly noted when she took her final bow that the magnificently dressed man in the front row whom she took to be Mr. Namgyal stood and nodded to her.
Backstage, in the cafeteria, Beverly removed her wig and slipped out of her revealing costume. When she came out of the dressing area, Mr. Badi was waiting for her with a dozen roses.
“The Adhiraj was much being impressed by your portrayal of Jyotsna. Your using of the national flower of Sikkim in your costume was very much what the Adhiraj would have wanted to do himself were he being as talented in the fashions as in the writing of the lyrics.”
“I hoped he would be pleased,” Beverly said.
“Here I am giving the signed documents for the creating of the Helen Marguerite Muir-Wood Brachiopod Research Center for being here in the Red Barge State Park,” Mr. Badi said.
“Shouldn’t you be giving these documents to Dr. Llewelyn?”
“The Adhiraj has other plans for Dr. Llewelyn,” Mr. Badi said. “The Adhiraj is apologizing for his having to be going off just following the performance. A matter of some urgency has arisen in the Bengali State that is requiring his immediate attention.” Beverly heard a helicopter pass overhead. “That would be the Adhiraj leaving now.”
“You’re not going with him?”
“No, I am to be accompanying Dr. Llewelyn on Friday.” Mr. Badi took Beverly’s hand and kissed it. “Best of the luck being with you for the new position.” He bowed and left.
Pat was waiting at the cafeteria in her usual seat. “So have you talked with Craddock since the performance?” she said.
“Late this morning. He was at his desk, frantically going through a mountain of paperwork.” Beverly said.
“What did he have to say about your dendrobium maneuver?”
“He said, ‘I guess I’m never going to get to see your boobs.’ I told him it would take more than a cheesy rewrite of H.M.S. Pinafore for that to happen.”
“And here I thought he was gay,” Pat said.
“I said the same thing to him. ‘Who says I’m not switch hitter,’ he says. ‘A man can appreciate a fine form of either gender.’”
“Did he tell you about his latest scheme with the Sikkim mogul?”
“He said it was far away, but he couldn’t tell me exactly where.”
“And you said?”
“I sang him one of Josephine’s closing lines from Pinafore: Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen / The clouded sky is now serene.”