Part One - Beltane, Chapter 1: Disappeared

‘Disappeared?’ Bitsy spat incredulously. ‘What do you mean Dad’s disappeared?’ She stepped in front of her younger brother Jem and Aunt Zinnia to face Dr Jenkins.
     ‘Oh dear. This is ever so awkward.’ Dr Jenkins put a soil-covered hand to his face. A taut muscle twitched in his tanned, boyish face. ‘It’s just that… well… Professor Bartlett – your father – has disappeared. And so have the treasures. All that remains is… as you see.’ He swept his hand around the barn, indicating the trestle tables filled with boxes of finds from the archaeological dig. His anguished face suddenly collapsed into relief as he focused on something behind Bitsy’s head.
     ‘I sink I better explain,’ came a dark, thick, foreign voice from behind them. Bitsy turned.
     ‘Oh, thank you Doctor Zanzibar,’ gabbled Dr Jenkins in a great exhalation. He spun on his heel and made a hasty exit, glancing over his shoulder at Bitsy.
     A short, stocky man emerged from the back of the barn. He was squeezed into a pinstripe suit, the stripes bulging around his solid form like contours on a map. His round bald head sat on his shoulders like a cherry on a fairy cake. Bitsy instantly felt her shoulders relax. Doctor Zanzibar was here. It will all be ok now, she thought. He’ll know what’s going on. He’s always on Dad’s side. She ran towards him, smiling broadly, and extended her hand. He stopped abruptly, took her hand in his and patted it delicately.
     ‘Elizabet, here you are comink for Professor Bartlett. Your fahzer. Of course.’ His velvet voice was smooth and round like a dark chocolate. But it was concealing a hard centre.
    Bitsy caught his tone and raised her head with a question in her eyes. She met his tiny, round, mirrored sunglasses and saw her own face staring back: large green eyes, flanked by wild chestnut hair and topped with a cowgirl hat.
    A sweet, almost floral scent wafted around Doctor Zanzibar like a halo. As he tucked her arm into his and pattered on his tiny, highly polished black shoes towards the others, another scent escaped from beneath the floral one. It was acrid, heady; the smell of adrenaline. The smell of excitement. Bitsy wrinkled her nose in distaste.
     ‘Jeremy. Knowink each ozzer, ve are, yes?’ Doctor Zanzibar extended his hand to Jem. It looked absurd: adorned with a single gold signet ring, it was like a posh washing-up glove filled with air. Jem’s eyebrows shot upwards, his surprised eyes and dark hedgehog hair giving him even more of a cartoon-character appearance than usual.
     Then Auntie Z stepped out from behind Jem. Doctor Zanzibar froze, his rosebud smile and hamster cheeks instantly falling and chilling. Aunt Zinnia’s long black curls and twinkling eyes were the image of Bitsy and Jem’s mother who had died in a car crash exactly a year ago.
     Bitsy shook herself. ‘Oh, Doctor Zanzibar. This is our auntie. She’s looking after us at home while Dad’s away here.’
     Doctor Zanzibar cleared his throat daintily. ‘Ah yes.’ His voice faltered. ‘Your aunt. Not your muzzer. I see.’ He fingered his sky-blue silk pocket handkerchief, which seemed to explode arrogantly from his top pocket.
     Bitsy turned to her aunt. ‘Auntie Z, this is Doctor Zanzibar. He’s our town mayor and a great fan of Dad’s work.’
     Doctor Zanzibar and Aunt Zinnia shook hands, Doctor Zanzibar clicking his heels, inclining his head and twitching his lips momentarily into an instant smile. And then it was gone.
     ‘So where’s Dad?’ Bitsy asked, frowning. ‘What did that other bloke mean?’    
     ‘Yeah, what’s going on?’ interjected Jem, scratching his head vigorously.
     ‘I vill come to ze point straight. Professor Bartlett has let us all down.’ Doctor Zanzibar swept his hand in a chopping motion.
     Bitsy staggered backwards, open mouthed, at his sudden aggression. ‘What?’
     ‘Whaddyamean? No!’ Aunt Zinnia and Jem stared at each other, their faces wide with alarm.
     Doctor Zanzibar raised his hand to stop the interjections from his audience. His face became as unforgiving as a gargoyle. ‘He has disappeared…’
     Bitsy, Jem and Zinnia exclaimed, ‘No!’ ‘Not our Dad!’ ‘I don’t believe you!’    
     ‘He has disappeared, viz him takink sree priceless and beau-ti-ful treasures of infinite value from our find.’ He continued talking over the gasps, cries and denials. ‘Ze objects most valuable zat ve have disinterred. Objects of in-cal-cul-able value to ze whole vorld.’ He spoke carefully, as if tiptoeing over broken glass. ‘Ze police have zeir investigation begun and your fahzer’ he looked straight at Bitsy ‘is in serious trouble – again. And zis time accountable he vill be held. In zis place you are not velcome.’ And then he turned, with a click of his heels, and left them.
     Bitsy stood in stunned silence for a moment. A block of ice formed in her stomach. She felt its chill creep through her body. Why had Doctor Zanzibar turned on them like this? He used to be Dad’s greatest supporter. Especially since their mother….
     She slumped against a table, shoulders drooping, jaw hanging open, staring forwards vacantly. Her mind was a swirling morass of thoughts and feelings, but she couldn’t catch hold of one long enough to look it in the eye. Images shot through her mind like a flick-book: her father, golden hair and wild beard, eyes alight with fun, playing with her in the garden; her mother carrying a birthday cake, its lighted candles illuminating her face; then her mother’s coffin deep in the grave.
     A dark country road stretched out before her as if she were driving. It was bordered by tall trees on either side, the nothingness relieved only by the ostenato rhythm of the white dashes between the carriageways. Headlights swept before her eyes, picking out another car in front of her, a turning on the left, a gate on the right. Suddenly the car swerved, crashed through the gate, veered into a tree and crunched to a violent stop. The horn blared. Smoke, fire, pain, twisted metal. Voices growled. Sirens and lights. Steam and mist.

The End

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