Now You Sea God, Now You Don’t (Excerpt)
by T. Lee Harris
The water was almost too hot. Josh Katzen sighed happily and slid down into the bath until the herb-scented suds from the body wash lapped at his chin and his long, sandy hair floated free around his shoulders. Since the tub was small, this made his knees poke out of the warm frothiness into the cool air of the bathroom. He groaned, tucked his legs around in a pseudo lotus position and settled in for a soak. He truly loved his work as an archaeological artist and photographer, but this was one pleasure he missed when he was on the dig in Peru. Sure, a couple times a season, he had a foray into Trujillo, and there was always the hotel in the nearby town of Piedras Rojas, but it wasn’t home.
Closing his eyes, he pushed all thoughts of pencils, brushes, artifacts and dust from his head. He willed his body to relax, to – downstairs, a pot lid rattled. He opened one eye. The chicken had been simmering for better than thirty minutes, surely the pan would be way too hot….
The deep KLOOONNNG of a heavy Revere Ware lid hitting the kitchen floor launched him from the bath and toward the door with a bellow. Pausing to jam his arms into his ratty kimono, he pelted down the stairs. “Damn you! All of you! This I didn’t miss in Peru!”
The kitchen was empty except for the pan lid rocking gently on the linoleum and a splotchy trail of broth that led to the living room, across the parquet to the couch. Which was growling.
Dropping to hands and knees he peered under and met a pair of unblinking, unrepentant green eyes. Boudicca. Of course. They had a stare-off until the little calico cat broke cover and tried to dart past him, clutching her prize of a still-steaming chicken wing in her teeth. He was ready for it and snagged her by the scruff of the neck, pinning her to the floor and snatching the piece of chicken. She sat up, irritably ruffling black-smudged apricot fur. Hearing lapping, he looked around and saw the two male cats, Whozits and Flash, had oozed out of their hidey holes. They were busily cleaning the broth their sister had so thoughtfully served up.
“Cats. Why do I even like you?” He shook the mauled chicken wing at them. “Well, this you forfeit, cat creeps.”
As he stood to toss the wing in the trash, his gaze fell on the light table and the unfinished drawing surrounded by glossy photographs of the gleaming mask of the Moche sea god. The golden splendor drew him to it as surely as the fragrant chicken broth drew the cats.
Another cat face snarled out from the illustration board and the photos. A cat face of pure gold with inlaid teeth and startling blue eyes surrounded by eight tentacles of an octopus tipped with tongue-flicking snake heads. It was a riveting piece with a convoluted history. Made to adorn the brow of an ancient Moche king, it was looted from a northern Peruvian tomb in 1988. It then disappeared, only to be recovered by Scotland Yard from a dusty file cabinet in the offices of a prestigious London law firm almost twenty years later. Where had it been? No one knew or was saying. If the mask could talk … ah, it probably wouldn’t tell. It was part cat, after all.