Frances ignored the order. I picked up the walkie-talkie, held down the talk button and said in a strained voice, “I said, raise the stone, you moron. Didn’t you hear me the first time?” Frances’s mechanical voice sounded like static. He was agitated on the other side of the dig site. I dropped the walkie-talkie, jumped out of the control trailer and jogged to Frances’s side of the hole.
“I’m not going to do it Boss,” he said in a defiant tone. “You can fire me if you want. I ain’t gonna quit mind you. You’ll have to fire me. It’s wrong to open up this tomb and you know it. If that really is Achilles under that cap stone, he should stay there. For chrissakes, let the poor man have his rest.” One nod from me and security would escort Frances from the job site. He’d lose his job with the University and his reputation as the leading Homeric archaeologist would be damaged forever. He was worth hearing out. At least until I canned him. I nodded for him to continue.”
“When Odysseus crossed over the river Styx and met his father, Hector and him,” he nodded down to the oval blue inlayed capstone 15 feet below the rocky soil, “He grieved for their passing out of his world and into the underworld. No one, not even well meaning scholars from Harvard School of Antiquities have the right to disturb the greatest, most tragic warrior of all time. He belongs to the ages, not elevated on some pedestal and drooled over by fourth graders on a field trip. Don’t do it Jeff, don’t turn him into a publicity stunt to sell tickets to your museum. He deserves better than that.”
Finding the burial chamber of Achilles was one of man’s greatest quests. The man who found him would be spoken of in the same breath as Einstein and Freud. A giant of science. The list of men who looked for but never found him was endless. Jeff was bound and determined that he would not be counted among them. He was already fashioning himself as the Carl Sagan of Archaeology, and Godlike Achilles would be his ticket.
Jeff nodded and security relieved Frances of his equipment and escorted him to the gate. He then spoke a few words into his walkie-talkie, raised his arm and made a circling motion with his finger – just like he was a foreman on some construction site. The diesel engine revved up and the crane began to reel in its cable. 3000 years of gravity gave way to a 3500 horsepower engine and the capstone began to ascend out of the hole. In just a second or two Achilles would once again be subject to Apollo’s sunshine. Once it cleared the hole, the crane operator swung the capstone away from the hole and gently onto its temporary stand. Jeff climbed down the ladder into the hole. He wanted to be the first man since Odysseus to gaze upon the face of the fiercest warrior who ever walked the earth. There was nothing inside the oval chamber. No bones, no relics, no artifacts of any kind. The interior was painted the same Aegean Sea blue that the outer capstone was painted. Maybe Frances was right after all, maybe Achilles wasn’t just for him, but for every man.