Boston 19th November, 9.00 a.m.
A doleful Norman Owens had been in Charlestown for three months, waiting for news of when he would be joining Professor Putnam’s next expedition–fieldwork with the Cree Indians of James Bay. Despite keeping busy with research he felt restless, longing to be outdoors in the solitude of the wilderness and breathing clean air. He had never really enjoyed the bustle of Boston, and couldn’t wait to leave. Ideally he would have never have left Finland, but he knew deep down that he would not return there. The fighting between the Reds and Whites and the schism it caused, setting families and friends against each other had poisoned the place for him. So now he must think of the future and seize any opportunities it presented. But commissions for conducting exploring had not been in great supply as of late, although things were now starting to recover after the upheaval of the war and the influenza pandemic.
Soon, his funds would run out and he’d have to quit his cheap boarding house–he existed on a small grant from the university until the expedition started. This, combined with a lack of friends and dislike of the city, meant that his only outlet was research and preparation; he was becoming bored and frustrated, to say the least. He could contact his parents for funds but doing so would be vindication of their view that his best future lay in helping with the family business concerns back in Washington. So that was no course of action.
He was lost in his thought. He didn’t hear the ringing of the telephone in the entrance hall downstairs and almost didn’t hear the knocking of his landlady, she shouted to him that Professor Putnam was on the phone. The Professor usually saved any conversation for their meetings at the university… Owens rushed downstairs, hoping finally to hear the news he has been waiting for.
“Hello Professor!” he was almost breathless.
“Ah Norman! Good morning to you!” came the Professors calm and measured tones. “I have some good news for you, but it won’t exactly be what you’re wanting to hear, so let me apologise in advance if I’ve got your hopes up unduly. Our grant has been approved, but due to university bureaucracy it won’t be available until late next month. Therefore we can’t purchase our supplies until the new year. However, my friend, we will definitely be leaving in January.”
“Good news indeed, Professor!” said Owens. “At long last we’ll be studying the Cree.” The call was a welcome diversion, God knows he was damn bored. He began to wonder why the Professor had called–“Is there anything else, sir?”
“Why yes, as a matter of fact there is. I wanted to call you about it as I’ll need your answer quite soon.” There was a pause on the line. “It’s a bit irregular, but nothing illegal of course! You might find it an amusing diversion. In fact, I’m quite intrigued myself, but papers don’t grade themselves. Ha Ha!” Often, the Professor took a while to get to the point of the matter.
Owens didn’t like the sound of “irregular”; “illegal” however was okay by him. “Papers–I see, so you’re too busy? I’m not sure about this…”
The Professor chuckled to himself. “Oh no, you don’t have to grade papers for me. Although I must admit it can be frightfully dull. Undergraduates often have such little perspective, especially regarding kinship among aboriginal groups.” He coughed. “But your papers were always very good of course, even though anthropology wasn’t your major. Do you ever regret not majoring in anthropology?”
“Not now I don’t, sir. I was lucky with the Sami job,” he remembered the reindeer herders wistfully, “in so many ways; one of those is that I’ve ‘put my foot in the door’–fieldwork opportunities open up after the first time.” Norman hoped he hadn’t overdone the positivity, the Professor said that the expedition was going ahead, time to change subject. “This diversion you spoke of, tell me about it. I’m free till January, you know.”
“Ah yes of course, sorry for rambling on. An associate of mine from the Theosophical Society, a very important contributor to the expedition, would like someone to accompany his wife on an–er–investigation”.
“I see–keep him onside? Y’know that I’m not keen on mumbo jumbo, but I’ll do it if we needs keep our contributor sweet.” Norman sighed: “This wife, some grieving 50 year old who lost a son in the war, I presume?”
The Professor snorted. “I’d like less cynicism from you. Some of us take this ‘mumbo jumbo’ very seriously. And no, she is not a grieving mother, but in fact a talented young artist, with a superb appreciation of the link between the material and spiritual worlds that is highly evident in her works. Oh, the turquoise!” He paused for a moment. “The investigation is into the mystery of a rented property belonging to an associate. I don’t know the details but apparently some strange events have occurred there and now it cannot be rented. The owner is very willing to pay well for the assistance. With your mind and her artistic sensibilities, you should be able to get to the bottom of the problem.”
“An artist? I’ve never had anything to do with that type… Look, sir, I’ll be on my best behaviour–anything to ensure that our expedition goes ahead.” He couldn’t help but question: “Turquoise?”
Putnam respects Norman but not when it comes to his sense of aesthetics. “Never mind that. Listen , I know that you’re not always the most patient of men when it comes to dealing with others, but do try to be as reasonable as you can. As well as the fee from the landlord, her husband will pay you $40 a day to aid her.”
“Sold,” said he laconically.
“Excellent decision my boy. I’ll introduce you two the day after tomorrow, and then you can meet Mr. Jordan, the landlord. 11am, at Parker’s Restaurant in School Street. See you at the university.” He rang off.