17.10.10

Morning Wood

"Do you think it strange, Mister Sullivan, that this has managed to survive hundreds of years without any signs of decomposition?"

I took the object Professor Diessen handed me during our breakfast and did my best attempt at faking the act of a close and thorough examination. Truth be told, I wasn't even sure what I was holding. "Well, I would imagine that the native islanders would design a bowl that would last..."

Morgan chuckled audibly and gave the professor a glance. "Do you know what it's made of?" she asked.

I shook my head as I turned it over and around in my hands. "Not a clue. If I had to guess based on its weight, I'd say wood. But that's impossible, isn't it?"

"And I would respond that it's not impossible," Diessen replied, "but extremely unlikely given its age. Morgan had it carbon dated the last time she went back to Los Angeles. Would you believe that this bowl is over four hundred years old?"

"If anyone else had said so, no. But here it is, in my hands. Where did you find it?"

"At our most recent excavation site," Morgan replied. "It was a most unexpected find, and judging by how well it was hidden, I don't think it was meant to be recovered. Ever."

"What do you mean by hidden?" Jason asked.

Diessen chuckled. "This wasn't just stashed away in a heiau," he said. It was actually buried about fifteen feet below it. No small feat on an island that's mostly solid rock."

"Sounds like it was either very important," I said, "or very dangerous."

"Perhaps both, Joe." Diessen took back the bowl and slowly turned it over in his large hands. "But what we do know is that this bowl is made from the wood of the native ti tree. A rather complicated series of tests told us that. Sturdy? Yes. But this... It is practically indestructible."

"It's true," Morgan added as she sipped a cup of tea. "I tried to split it in half. The bowl was having none of it."

Jason looked at Diessen. "Maybe a witch doctor put a spell on it or something."

Diessen nodded. "It is possible that this was a tool of the kahuna. But I have my doubt that they were its creators. I more suspect that whoever built that key, as Joe called it, also constructed this bowl."

"I can see how you would think that," I said, "based on their mysterious nature alone. So did this come from Kaho'olawe?"

Morgan shook her head. "'Fraid not. But the heiau we pulled it out from is near the Maui coastline that looks out to the island. Our current theory is that whatever happened on Kaho'olawe was managed from a distance, at least partly."

Jason raised an eyebrow. "That sounds kind of sinister. Like they were testing bombs."

"Yeah," I laughed. "Exploding coconuts were all the rage back then."

"I could make a joke," Jason said, "but it would be in poor taste."

"Don't underestimate your audience," Morgan said with a chuckle. "Karl and I have positively filthy minds. Keeps us from getting bored with our work."

"Getting back to the bowl," I said, "have you two speculated on what it was meant to contain? I mean, something this... strong surely wasn't meant for holding plain old water, was it?"

"Now we're getting somewhere," Diessen said with a smile. He set the bowl back on the table, stood up and went to a nearby bookcase to retrieve what at first glance looked like a well-worn trade paperback. "You may have come across this book yourself, Joe. It's a collection of Hawaiian mythology that I'm rather fond of using for reference. It happens to contain more than a few stories about Pele and all the trouble she caused.  While most aren't all that specific on details, these being legends of folklore and all, one in particular talks of a ritual."

He handed me the book. "I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about the bowl after you read the story on page 176."

"I'll make sure to read it today, then." I looked at Morgan. "Are we going to be visiting the dig site today?"

"If you wish," she replied. "It's not very far from here, though I would like to take a few precautions before heading over."

Jason looked at Diessen. "Precautions? Have you had trouble at the site?"

"We've had unexpected visitors," Diessen replied. "They haven't given us any trouble yet, but they look far from friendly. And I'd be lying if I said that I didn't think they were hoping your charming husband would eventually pay us a visit."

Jason turned to me. "What are we getting ourselves into, being here?"

I glanced at Morgan, but I couldn't read her expression. Diessen looked tense. "I don't know, Jason. But I don't think this will be a relaxing getaway."

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