The Thief in the Night

Alexandria Jones

Alexandria Jones and her faithful dog Ramus slipped out of the tent when the talking started. One of Dad’s assistants had made the long drive into town to bring back pizza for supper. But now, all the adults would be working past midnight to finish the final site report.

Paperwork was necessary, she knew, but so-o-o boring.

Alex and Rammy wandered around the nearly-dark camp. Many of the tents were down. Crates stood near the road. All the artifacts had been carefully cleaned and labeled, and some were already shipped to the museum lab.

She ran a hand over the edge of a crate, then jerked back, wincing at the splinter that dug into her palm.

* * *

Alex’s father, Dr. Fibonacci Jones, told her that every hour of work in the field meant three hours of lab work: sorting artifacts, preservation, dating (not the romantic type) — even pollen analysis and dendrochronology. (That means counting tree rings. Not many of those in this part of Egypt!) But to her, that wasn’t real archaeology. Real archaeology was dust on your skin and dirt under your fingernails, peeling away the layers that hid the secrets of the past.

Finishing an excavation always made her feel sad.

Of course, it would be great to get home and see Mom again. She supposed that she even missed her brother Leonhard, a little.

Alex made her way to the edge of the camp. Shivering in the cool desert night, she pulled her jacket tighter and stared at the stars. Rammy leaned against her legs. She bent down to hug him, rumpling her fingers through his short, slick fur.

Suddenly the dog tensed, and a low growl escaped his throat.

“Rammy, what’s wrong?”

He gave a warning bark and leaped away from her, running back through the camp. Alex jumped to her feet. She heard a crash, as if someone dropped a stack of dishes. A man yelling. The roar of a truck’s motor.

She got to the road just as her father and the others ran up. A pried-off lid leaned against one of the crates, and broken pottery littered the ground.

She looked down the road, but the truck was gone.

Dr. Jones bent to pick up some broken shards of pottery. He spotted a bit of papyrus snagged on a bent nail and held it up. Everyone groaned.

Papyrus fragment

Alex knelt beside him. “Dad, I heard the man’s voice. When Rammy scared him, he yelled.”

“Simon Skulk?”

She nodded.

“Who is Simon Skulk?” someone asked.

“A former student of mine,” Dr. Jones said. “He helped me on a couple of digs. Then he went rogue.”

“He would never listen to directions, so he flunked out of grad school,” Alex said. “Now he follows Dad around the world and steals artifacts.”

“Whatever for?”

“He sells them to multinational textbook companies, to be made into homework.” Alex shuddered at the thought.

“Clean up this mess,” Dr. Jones told his assistants. “And we’d better post a guard tonight, just in case.”

* * *

Alex followed her father back to their tent.

“What’s on the papyrus?” she asked.

“A scribe’s calculation.” He paused to look down at her. “Have I ever told you how the Egyptians did multiplication with only the times-two table?”

She smiled. This sounded a lot more interesting than writing a site report.

Continue reading part 2: Alex’s Puzzling Papyrus.

To Be Continued…

Read all the posts from the September/October 1998 issue of my Mathematical Adventures of Alexandria Jones newsletter.

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