William's Prelude

You are gratified, but hardly surprised, when the phone call arrives. After all, who else should they be calling in in a crisis like this one?

"Professor Lowell", the breathless young thing on the phone squeaks. "I'm Samantha Kosanger, Special Assistant for Central Asian affairs to the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton." You roll your eyes silently. "Mrs Clinton says that she wants you on the next plane to Tashkent, to participate in the investigation into the tomb robbery." Participate in, you note with annoyance, not lead. "And, uh, she wants me to stress how valuable your expertise would be, and that the administration would express real gratitude for your part in solving the case". That's better.

Of course, you now have packing for Central Asian fieldwork down to a science, or perhaps an art form, and so in very little time your suitcases and kit are prepared. While you wait to board, and on the plane (first class - about time!) you review some recent facts that have crossed your Interpol desk which you feel may be relevant…

*
First class is considerate, but a waste of resources, William thinks — not that he'd tell them that. Flying in large airplanes is terrifying. Something about the shape of the cabin, like being trapped inside a sausage casing. It even smells like sausage casing. So a pill or two fast-forwards him to Frankfurt, where a layover allows him time to sneer at the airport bookstore offerings and read through the sheaf of bureaucratic gobbledeygook provided by way of a briefing.

The robbery was not of the Tomb of Timur, as was commonly reported, but of the Crypt of Timur; the building originally intended for the conquerer’s tomb, which he never lay in. Only discovered in the 1963, the bodies found inside have never been identified…

He skims past the rest in in boredom. Human remains — not his problem. At least out here, in the heart of the world, it won't be NAGPRA's problem either. No doubt whoever finds the bodies, or finds out who they are, will get famous for a bit. Pffft.

…some seizures recently have been of artefacts travelling in the opposite direction: from western Europe to Central Asia. The original location of some of these was unclear, suggesting they were sold or stolen from private collections…

William giggles. No honor among thieves. It's only a pity they weren't re-looted in the proper steppe fashion: over the bodies of their fat, grasping "owners".

Though reading further, he regrets his enthusiasm on behalf of the thieves and blushes. Burning a museum? He looks around, but no one in the departure lounge seems to have noticed his shame. And the list of suspects… well, those poor artifacts have gone from the frying pan into the fire.

Artefacts seized travelling from West to East include coins from various minor principalities in the first millennium AD…

On the other hand, William Lowell does not hunt down missing loose change on behalf of coin collectors, who are pathetic nerds.

… an engraved star chart from the Timurid period of Samarkand…

Yes, that does sound like the kind of thing that nouveau riche pluto~autocrats would want to own. No taste. Ulugh Begh wasted his talents on politics and al-Kashi was a glorified watchmaker. This chart is probably a phony, anyway. It even sounds tacky.

… and some Persian texts from c. 800 AD.

William perks up and tries to control his breathing. Black market post-Sassanid manuscripts? There was that rumor that Ali Reza Jr. owned some otherwise unpreserved prophetic text, along the lines of the Bahman Yast. Or even that extremely fine specimen of the Bundahishn that you-know-who had locked up in a vault. What if they had been stolen? Were floating around in transit — virtually on the loose? Now might be the only time to rescue them from the clutches of the collecting fraternity! It's a good thing he was notified. Regardless of what texts they are. Yes. These State Department yahoos' "intelligence" is probably worthless, but clearly there's been actual crime committed here.

Mentally, he adds an item to his to-do list upon arriving in Toshkent: get special bookmark?

Numismatics. Hah!


DEBRIEF:

William got into some sticky spots while conducting fieldwork in the '90s in Tajikstan; cordite-flavored sticky. While militarily incompetent and not someone you want in a firefight, he has the experience and he has the contacts to be dangerous. The "special bookmark" he thought of? Well, there's a bookstore in Tashkent he knows, and the owner has two sons involved in what hoi polloi refer to as "Islamic militancy", and would be willing to get him a gun…

Rare manuscripts must not be allowed to remain in the hands of private collectors.

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