Excerpt of Timeline by Michael Crichton
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They had arranged to have dinner in the old town square of Domme, a village on top of a cliff a few miles from their site. By nightfall, Chris, grumpy all day, had recovered from his bad mood and was looking forward to dinner. He wondered if Marek had heard from the Professor, and if not, what they were going to do about it. He had a sense of expectancy.
His good mood vanished when he arrived to find the stockbroker couples again, sitting at their table. Apparently they'd been invited for a second night. Chris was about to turn around and leave, but Kate got up and quickly put her arm around his waist, and steered him toward the table.
"I'd rather not," he said in a low voice. "I can't stand these people." But then she gave him a little hug, and eased him into a chair. He saw that the stockbrokers must be buying the wine tonight -- Château Lafite-Rothschild '95, easily two thousand francs a bottle.
And he thought, What the hell.
"Well, this is a charming town," one of the women was saying. "We went and saw the walls around the outside. They go on for quite a distance. High, too. And that very pretty gate coming into town, you know, with the two round towers on either side."
Kate nodded. "It's sort of ironic," she said, "that a lot of the villages that we find so charming now were actually the shopping malls of the fourteenth century."
"Shopping malls? How do you mean?" the woman asked.
At that moment, Marek's radio, clipped to his belt, crackled with static.
"André? Are you there?"
It was Elsie. She never came to dinner with the others, but worked late on her cataloging. Marek held up the radio. "Yes, Elsie."
"I just found something very weird, here."
"Yes. . . ."
"Would you ask David to come over? I need his help testing. But I'm telling you guys -- if this is a joke, I don't appreciate it."
With a click, the radio went dead.
Marek looked around the table. "Anybody play a joke on her?"
They all shook their heads no.
Chris Hughes said, "Maybe she's cracking up. It wouldn't surprise me, all those hours staring at parchment."
"I'll see what she wants," David Stern said, getting up from the table. He headed off into the darkness.
Chris thought of going with him, but Kate looked at him quickly, and gave him a smile. So he eased back in his seat and reached for his wine.
"You were saying -- these towns were like shopping malls?"
"A lot of them were, yes," Kate Erickson said. "These towns were speculative ventures to make money for land developers. Just like shopping malls today. And like malls, they were all built on a similar pattern."
She turned in her chair and pointed to the Domme town square behind them. "See the covered wooden market in the center of the town square? You'll find similar covered markets in lots of towns around here. It means the town is a bastide, a new, fortified village. Nearly a thousand bastide towns were built in France during the fourteenth century. Some of them were built to hold territory. But many of them were built simply to make money."
That got the attention of the stock pickers.
One of the men looked up sharply and said, "Wait a minute. How does building a village make anybody money?"
Kate smiled. "Fourteenth-century economics," she said. "It worked like this. Let's say you're a nobleman who owns a lot of land. Fourteenth-century France is mostly forest, which means that your land is mostly forest, inhabited by wolves. Maybe you have a few farmers here and there who pay you some measly rents. But that's no way to get rich. And because you're a nobleman, you're always desperately in need of money, to fight wars and to entertain in the lavish style that's expected of you.
Excerpted from Timeline by Michael Crichton. Copyright© 1999 by Michael Crichton. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.