More Bitter Than Death: An Emma Fielding Mystery

Chapter 1

I WAS BACK AT PENITENCE POINT. THEY SAY THAT every criminal returns to the scene of the crime, and I sure felt guilty, but I wasn’t sure about what. I had a lot to choose from, at the moment.

Although we were all stamping and shivering, walking on paths that were carved out of the knee-deep early January snow, I was knocking almost everyone dead with my tour of the site. Nearly everyone had paid attention when I warned them to dress sensibly, and the good thing about the gray afternoon was that it was perfect for imagining what it must have been like here four hundred years ago when the English colonists were wondering what the hell they were doing stuck in Maine. And frankly, being on the Atlantic coast when a storm was brewing, you had to want to be there for some reason. The snow that was already on the ground damped out the ambient noise of the twenty-first century, the dull light warning of the promised storm made you pause to think about life when you couldn’t just flick a switch for light and heat, and the sound of the water brushing the beach and rolling the cobbles lent you a little of the sense of isolation that must have characterized the days of the first English settlers on this shore. I made good use of these points as I walked the group over to where we believed the buildings of Fort Providence once were, and to judge from the responses—oohs, ahhs, questions, and laughter in the right places—I was doing a great job.

This was one of my favorite things: talking about my archaeological work with my colleagues from up and down the East Coast. The conference we were all gathered for was one thing—a yearly archaeological jamboree of hundreds of kindred spirits—but actually being on the ground, at the site, in the environment, with a group of people who spoke your language, should have been sheer bliss.

What was really pissing me off was the two men who were tuned out, each in his own little world, at opposite ends of the site. The way I see it, if you’re not going to pay attention, you shouldn’t really take up someone else’s space on the bus. More than that, I couldn’t stand how childishly angry I felt with them—each for separate reasons—and struggled to focus on what was important.

I kept my talk brief and to the point, however, because the wind whipped right off the water to bite right through to the bone, no matter how many layers of wool or fleece or Gore-Tex you wore. And every time I looked over, they were the only two not paying attention. I tried funny, I tried serious replete with jargon, I tried romance and pathos. The rest of the group was right there following along with me, but no matter what I did, those two just wouldn’t react.

I hate when that happens. I hate how petulant I felt, no matter how well I was hiding it.

What do you want, guys? Archaeology not enough for you? I can do murder and mayhem, if that’s more to your taste.

Ah, to hell with them, I thought, and concentrated on the people who knew enough to pay attention, strutted and shimmied for them all the harder: archaeology as performance art. Knowing the older guy was just looking off to the water, and the younger, red-headed guy off to the right was looking around like he was waiting for a bus, impatient and bored, just gnawed at me. I had enough on my