Traffic was heavy near the Atlanta Airport. Hamadi's flight had already been changed from Sunday morning to early Saturday morning, and he had booked a room at the Red Roof Inn. Egyptian authorities would be at the Cairo International Airport to meet him. Also on hand would be the Greek police. All Hamadi needed to do was get on the plane without incident and avoid any contact with Flori while in the air. Would Flori have any idea who he was? Had he even seen him during the day and a half Hamadi had spent in Rolling Meadows? As far as Hamadi knew, no one had known of his presence until he had greeted Antonio at the university. After that he had met only Dr. Devlin, Leonard Richardson, and Jeff Summerfield. Since Flori had not even left the motel room, it seemed unlikely that he should have any idea who he was.
In his rearview mirror, Hamadi noticed that Leonard was still behind him, and this provided a feeling of comfort. Until he set foot at the Cairo Airport, Hamadi wouldn't be totally at ease.
At the Red Roof Inn, he got the key to his room and placed his suitcase and briefcase inside. He suggested that Leonard join him rather than get another room for himself, and Leonard took him up on the offer. Now they were seated around the table with nothing to do but wait.
"This has been a strange business, has it not, Leonard?"
"Yes, you're right. I'm glad for you, Hamadi. Finding this crown should be the high point of your career. Do you think there is any more significance to it than the sole value of the gems and its merit as a rare antiquity?"
"Yes, in fact I do. You are aware, are you not, that there are those who think other treasures of the Assyrian Empire were buried along with the crown?"
"I'd heard something like that long ago but never put much stock in it. If there is other treasure, then perhaps that's why Flori and these smugglers are so interested." Leonard sat silently for a moment looking at Hamadi. "We can't be sure that Flori doesn't know about you. I knew you were in Rolling Meadows already early this morning."
Hamadi's eyes opened wide. "You did? How?"
Leonard told him about seeing his car on the side of the road and looking through the papers on the seat. He also mentioned about following him to the university where he saw him meet Antonio. "I'm not particularly proud of myself, you understand. I mention this only because there's a possibility that Flori knows about you too."
A look of concern came over Hamadi's face. "I wonder what we should do in that eventuality?"
"Driving over here I gave it a lot of thought. Here's what I came up with. I'll disguise my appearance and travel with you. Somewhere around here there must be a place where I can get a fake beard and mustache. Max can probably help us with that. Flori saw me while he was stuck in the swamp, and although he wasn't in peak form at the time, he's probably not one to forget a face. The beard and mustache should change my appearance sufficiently that he won't recognize me. They'll also cover up a few of these scratches. I'll get a pair of clear-lens glasses to wear, and perhaps even a hair rinse to color this gray. Once Max gets here, we'll have him make another fake copy of the key for you to carry. I'll keep the genuine one with me until we get to Cairo when it will be safe for you to have it again. Hamadi, is there any possibility at all that I might be able to assist the archaeological team in recovering the crown? To be a part of such an enterprise would mean the world to me."
"I believe there would be a definite possibility. My efforts in bringing the key to Egypt shall insure my right to head the archaeological team. I shall insist on your participation. I give you my word."
"Thank you. I can't find the words to tell you how happy that makes me."
"You do not have to. I know. The passion of unearthing relics only few can understand."
"I've got Max's number here. Should we give him a call?"
"By all means," Hamadi answered.
* * * * * * * * * *
Max and Antonio were following Jeff's Cutlass at a safe distance. It had been Max's idea for Antonio to drive, thus giving himself a chance to think. Antonio was concentrating on keeping the Cutlass in sight when Max's phone rang. "Hello?"
For several minutes he merely listened. "Sounds good. I'll drop Antonio off to join Jeff after he drops Flori off, wherever that might be. I'll leave the cell phone with him. Let me write down your number there so he can call you and let you know where they're going and what they're doing once they're rid of Flori." Max grabbed a paper napkin off the floor and wrote down the number. "Okay, things are looking good."
"What's up?" Antonio asked.
Max related the latest plan for Leonard to travel in disguise with Hamadi. "I'll go out and find something suitable for the purpose and take it to them at the Red Roof Inn. But I'll have to wait until Jeff drops Flori off at the airport."
They drove in silence until the Cutlass finally turned into the Renaissance Concord Hotel.
"Looks like he's going to get a room instead of waiting around at the airport. Figures he'd choose a ritzy place," Max said in a disgusted tone.
They watched while Jeff got out of the car and retrieved Flori's traveling case from the back seat. Flori took the case and set it down. Reaching into his breast pocket, he pulled out a billfold and handed Jeff some money. Jeff shook his head, evidently not wishing to take it, but Flori insisted and they shook hands. Picking up his case, Flori made his way toward the hotel, Jeff watching him. At the entrance, Flori looked back, and Jeff gave a final wave. He got in his car and moved out into traffic. Apparently satisfied that he was now alone, Flori disappeared inside.
"It might not be a bad idea for the two of you to keep an eye on Flori," Max suggested. "If he decides to leave right away, follow him and see what you can learn. When I get back to the motel, I'll call you and see what's up, and we can make more plans after that. So you and Jeff'll be on your own for awhile, okay?"
"No problem," Antonio answered.
The parking spot that Max and Antonio had chosen was at the far end of the line. They waited until Jeff's car reappeared about ten minutes later. He took a spot between two larger vehicles, backing in. Handing Antonio the cell phone and Hamadi's phone number, Max told him to join Jeff. "Take care now." It was 1:30 Saturday morning.
* * * * * * * * * *
Without a phone, Max figured his best chance of finding a fake beard for Leonard was to get help from his good friend and former fellow student, Paul Jacobs. Paul lived on the east side of Atlanta not far from the airport. For the last twelve years he had been teaching at Georgia Tech, and since Max's move to North Georgia, they had seen each other on a regular basis. It was a ridiculously early hour to be knocking on his door, but Paul wouldn't mind once he knew the urgency.
Max rang the bell and soon Paul's voice came through the door. "Go home, Max, I don't want any. And besides, you're suppose to be recovering from a concussion."
"Come on, Paul, open up before I start shouting to all the neighbors how you flunked second grade."
The door opened. Paul was standing there in a pair of pyjamas covered with little Bugs Bunnies. "I've always regretted letting you in on that."
Max laughed and entered the foyer. "Nice jammies. Wouldn't mind having a pair myself."
"Consider it done. What's up, Doc?"
"I've got a huge favor to ask you."
"You can ask me over a midnight snack," and he led the way to the kitchen. Without wasting any time, Max told him what he needed. Atlanta was Paul's hometown, so he knew right where to go. "I'm going with you, and, if you don't mind, we'll take my car." Max readily admitted that he was glad for the offer, and after Paul had informed his wife that he was leaving for a short time, they got into Paul's immaculate Audi Quattro.
"Hey, what's it all about?" Paul asked eagerly. Max gave him the gist of the story with Paul promising to keep it in absolute confidence.
An hour and a half later, they returned to Paul's house. "I have one more favor. Do you have a typewriter?"
"No. We moved up to the computer age in this household over a decade ago."
Max ignored this jibe. "A computer and printer will have to do. Lead the way."
Max demonstrated his own expertise at the computer, and twenty minutes later was bidding Paul goodbye and heading to the Red Roof Inn. On the seat beside him was another phony page of ancient script together with an assortment of beards, mustaches, glasses, and hats.
* * * * * * * * * *
Antonio filled Jeff in while they waited at the Renaissance. "We really can't keep track of what he's doing in there if we're sitting out here," Antonio remarked after they had been sitting for forty-five minutes.
"Yeah, I know, but what can we do? And, really, what can he do? Without a car he'll have to rely on a taxi if he wants to go anywhere, and I haven't seen one pull into the lot. His other alternative would be to rely on a partner."
"True. And there probably hasn't been any time for some partner to get here from Greece or wherever. But what if he has someone already here in the States who works with him?" Jeff had no answer. "What would you think of the idea of you and I getting a room across the hall from him?" Antonio suggested.
"I don't know about that. For one thing, this place is way out of my reach."
"Don't give that a thought, I have plenty of money. If we got the room across the hall, we would at least know if anyone met with him."
Jeff was debating with himself the wisdom of this idea when Antonio suddenly leaned forward. "Look! There he is!" Jones had come out of the entrance and was walking toward a car that had pulled into the lot. He opened the car door and a woman got out. She was taller than him, perhaps around five-six or so, on the thin side, and elegantly dressed with short, blond hair swept back from her face. It was difficult to get a good look at her face. They stood there in animated conversation for a minute before heading into the hotel.
"I didn't get a real good look at her. Did you?" Jeff asked.
"Not really. Let's see if we can get Max on the phone."
Antonio dialed the number Max had left. It was Hamadi who answered, Max hadn't shown up yet. Antonio told him about the lady visitor then waited while Hamadi consulted with Leonard. "Okay, Hamadi, see you shortly."
"Are we leaving?" Jeff asked.
"Yeah, Hamadi and Dr. Richardson don't think there's much point in our waiting here."
It was a quick trip over to the Red Roof Inn, and when they arrived they were pleased to see that four pizzas had been delivered.
"Wow, those look good," Antonio said. "I'll find some drinks."
"I'll help you," Leonard offered, and in five minutes they were back with half a dozen cans of pop.
The four men made quick work of the pizzas leaving four slices for Max. The next half-hour was spent watching the news.
At 4:15 Max arrived with an armload of stuff. "Pizza! I'm starved. Did you save those for me?"
"Sure did. Eat them while they're still relatively warm and I'll get you something to drink." Jeff filled a glass with ice and poured out a Dr. Pepper.
While Max ate, Jeff and Antonio related what had happened at the hotel when Flori met the strange woman.
"That's something we need to think about," Max said. He finished his drink while Jeff gathered up the trash and moved it out of the way. "But for now we had better concentrate on Len's transformation. Let's see, it's already 5:00. What time does your flight leave this morning, Hamadi?"
"Good. That gives us enough time for his makeover." Max laid out the beards, mustaches, and other items. "This is going to be fun."
Looking at Leonard with a gleeful smile, he gave a wave of his hand and said, "My dear Dr. Richardson, you will kindly notice this array of accoutrements. While you relax in your chair, the Amazing Max will transform you before your very eyes. But first, I must ask you to retire to the bathroom where you shall wash your hair. Take this magic bottle with you." He held it out with a slight bow.
Leonard snatched it with a smile and shuffled off. Ten minutes later he emerged with a towel on his head, dressed in wrinkled clean clothes.
"Did you sleep in those?" Max asked.
"Never mind. Let's get on with it."
Removing the towel from Leonard's head, Max picked up a comb and ran it through the now light-brown hair. Leonard's hair was quite full with just a bit of a receding hairline.
"He looks 20 years younger already, don't you think?" Max asked the others.
"Certainly does," Antonio responded.
Max picked up a small bottle of makeup and gently shook it. "Gentlemen, observe." He dabbed the makeup over the scratches on Leonard's face, blending in the edges. Five minutes were spent in concentrated effort until he stepped back to see the overall effect. "Oh, that's good. Maybe I should have been a beautician." Chuckling to himself, Max picked up the beards. Holding one in each hand, he decided on the smaller of the two. It was enough to cover the chin and hang down a few inches and was a salty-brown in color. He patted it in place on Leonard's chin. Next, he studied the mustaches and decided on the cookie duster. This he stuck under Leonard's nose, gently tapping it from one end to the other. All this time Leonard sat perfectly still saying nothing while the others looked on in amazement. The pair of glasses with black frames were settled on Leonard's nose. "Nah, too ugly." Max removed them, picked up the pair with the silver metal frames and tried these instead. "Yes. Definitely better." He stepped back to gaze at his handiwork. "A hat, and we shall be finished. I am rather fond of the Scottish tam." He placed it on Leonard's head. "Men, what do you think?"
They all were amazed at the new look. "I wouldn't know it was Dr. Richardson if I saw him in his office," answered Antonio. "It's incredible".
Leonard walked over to the mirror. His reflection was unbelievable, as if he were looking at a stranger. He thought he now looked distinguished and scholarly, and perhaps even quite handsome. Turning around, he addressed Max in a perfect Scottish brogue. "I dinna recognize meself, laddie. Aye, 'tis a fine job ye've done." Everyone laughed, and Max took a slight bow.
"Thank you, thank you. However, we must set aside all thoughts of levity and get back down to serious business. Gather round if you will." Chairs were taken, and Max and Jeff sat down on the bed. "Let's try to get some guidelines about what we need to do at the airport."
"Are we all going?" Jeff asked.
"I think we'll all go. However, Jeff, maybe you had better stay in the car since Jones knows you so well."
Jeff looked disappointed at this news. "There's another beard and mustache here. Having come this far, I hate the thought of missing out on any action."
"You're absolutely right, and I'm ashamed of myself for suggesting such a thing. Here, take a seat and I'll fix you up so your mother won't recognize you."
Max took the remaining beard, a rather long bushy one, and positioned it on Jeff's chin. "Antonio, you and I will have to keep a fair distance away. Although Flori has never seen us up close, he may have an idea what we look like. So that means that Hamadi and Len will be on their own for the most part." Max picked up a mustache and placed it under Jeff's nose. "We don't know what's been planned with this woman, but Hamadi and Len need to be able to recognize her, and so you," and here Max looked at Antonio, "or Jeff will have to point her out to them." Max finished with the mustache, and Jeff picked up the black-framed glasses and put them on. "Not bad," Max remarked with pleasure. "I doubt he'll recognize you. I hardly do myself."
Jeff walked over to the mirror and looked at his reflection. "Hand me that baseball cap, okay?" Antonio handed him the Braves cap, and Jeff put it on. "I like it, Max. It's great! I think I'll wear this stuff home and really see if my mother recognizes me." He chuckled softly.
"All right. Quit admiring yourself and let's finish up here," Max said in a good humor. He looked at his watch. "It's 6:10 and the plane leaves at 8:30. I can't think of any good reason for sticking around here, can you?" No one offered any reason for staying. "How many cars do we have outside, and how many should we take to the airport?"
Jeff began counting. "There's mine, your Jeep, Leonard's Lexus, and Hamadi's rental car. We could leave mine and the Lexus here, since they've been driven all over Rolling Meadows and Finley over the last two days and would probably be the most recognizable."
"Good idea. The rental needs to go back, so we'll drop that off first and continue on to airport parking in my Jeep. But we can't leave Len's car here indefinitely. Do you want me to keep it at my place until you get back?"
"Sure thing," Leonard answered, and handed Max the keys.
"Okay. Let's pack our stuff and get going. When do we need to check out of this room?"
"The room has been reserved through Sunday morning," Hamadi told him, "since that was when I was originally planning to leave."
"Good. All we need to do is straighten it up a bit. Oh yes, I almost forgot. Here's another fake copy of the key. Put it in your wallet, and Len will take your photocopy of the original." Max handed Hamadi the copy he had made at Paul's.
Picking up his suitcase, Leonard tucked the copy of the original Hamadi gave him in a side pocket.
"Well, seems to me we're all set. Shall we?" and Max opened the door.
* * * * * * * * * *
At the Atlanta Airport, Max parked the car and the five men made their way inside the terminal. The place was crowded. Hamadi went to check his suitcase. He would keep his briefcase with him. Since Leonard had no baggage to check, he simply showed his passport and got his ticket. Once finished, they followed the crowd to the train station, parting company along the way with Hamadi walking about twenty feet behind Leonard and the other three a good ways farther back. Max saw Hamadi and Leonard board the train to the concourse. He, Jeff, and Antonio waited for the following one, and once on board separated. At Concourse E, they briefly made contact and agreed to meet again ten minutes later in the men's room.
Jeff found a seat a good distance away from the ticket counter and observed the waiting passengers. Hamadi was sitting at the left end of the first row of seats reading a newspaper. His briefcase was on the floor right next to his foot. A few seats down was a young couple with their heads together. Jeff thought they were working on a crossword puzzle. Farther away in another section of seats, Leonard was sitting quietly, surrounded by a rather boisterous group of people. He was observing passengers and had a pleasant expression on his face. As Jeff was looking over the passengers, he saw a lady take a seat directly behind Hamadi. She had three kids with her, the oldest about twelve or so. Down from her a little ways sat an elderly couple. The man appeared somewhat nervous and continually reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. As quickly as he pulled it out, he put it back again. With a tender look, his wife would put her hand on his arm and gently shake her head. Right behind them a stocky gentleman dressed in a baggy sweatshirt and blue jeans sat down. He had long stringy hair and a porkpie hat. Turning his head to glance around the area, his gaze passed over Jeff, and Jeff felt goose bumps travel down the back of his neck. It was Mr. Jones. However, Jones evidently didn't recognize him, because he picked up a magazine and started to flip through the pages.
Jeff got up and drifted in the direction of the washroom. Max and Antonio saw him from where they were standing and intercepted him. "This way," Max said. The three of them moved off to a place where they couldn't be observed or overheard. "Antonio has spotted the woman," he told Jeff.
"He has? Where?"
"She's the woman with the three kids right behind Hamadi," Antonio told him.
"Not too far from our Mr. Jones. He's the guy in the baggy sweatshirt and porkpie hat sitting in the row behind her, down about seven seats."
"Good work you two!" Max exclaimed. "They're up to something. Jeff, see if you can get Len's attention and bring him over here. Be careful that Flori doesn't see you."
Jeff shuffled his way through a large group of people to stand directly behind Leonard. "Follow me." With Leonard in his wake, he led the way to Max.
"Something's going to happen before they board the plane, Len, I'm sure of it," Max told him. "Flori is sitting two rows behind Hamadi. He's the one with the baggy sweatshirt and porkpie hat. The lady with the three kids sitting right behind Hamadi is his accomplice." Max and Leonard moved over to where they could see the woman clearly. The kids were now running around and making a lot of noise.
"Go over there and walk past Hamadi. Step on his foot or something to get his attention then sit down beside him. I believe the kids are going to do something that will create a lot of confusion and Hamadi's going to be the center of it. This will give the woman a chance to either lift his wallet or take his briefcase, or maybe Flori will do that. Whatever happens, Hamadi must not notice that anything has been taken once he has them back in his possession. They must think they've gotten away with whatever they've got planned. Hurry."
Leonard grabbed his small suitcase and casually sauntered over to where Hamadi was reading his paper. The suitcase was more like a large briefcase, made of leather with hard corners. He swung the case in a carefree manner, and as he approached Hamadi he took a paper from his pocket and started reading. Nonchalantly he banged the case into Hamadi's knee.
Hamadi grabbed his knee and cried out in pain, "Careful, sir!"
Leonard spun around, and in his Scottish brogue he offered a loquacious apology. Bending over, he patted Hamadi on the shoulder. "I've not hurt ye, man, have I?" He sat down next to him and indulged in self-recriminations. "Aye, 'tis a sorry thing when ye become old and clumsy," he sadly finished.
"No harm done. It's quite all right." And Hamadi gave his knee one last massage.
Once again Hamadi picked up the newspaper. As he held it in reading position, one of the kids, a boy about nine years old, came racing by him and kicked his briefcase, sending it sliding about six feet or so. The boy fell down, rolled over, and started wailing at the top of his lungs. Hamadi jumped up and dashed over to help, and as he did so an older boy, in an apparent hurry to help his brother, ran smack into Hamadi and knocked him to the floor. The woman hurried over to where Hamadi was lying. She stooped down next to him, and grabbing his arm attempted to help him to a sitting position. Flori now came over to assist, and bending over he took hold of Hamadi's other arm, and together they struggled to help him to his feet. Hamadi was almost upright when Flori's foot slipped out from under him, and all three of them fell to the floor in a heap. A girl about thirteen years old had picked up the briefcase and was now sitting down with it on her lap.
By this time the agent behind the ticket counter had paged security, and a uniformed man came on the run. Confusion reigned as passengers and those seeing them off gathered round to see what was happening, all talking in loud voices at the same time. Flori and the woman successfully got Hamadi to his feet, and when the security officer arrived they backed up out of the way. The security guard motioned the rest of the people to do the same, and Hamadi now brushed off his clothes. Leonard took this opportunity to rush over with Hamadi's hat, which had landed on the floor during the melee. Moving directly in front of him, he gave it to him and whispered, "Nothing is missing." With the hint of a nod, Hamadi thanked him and put the hat on his head.
"Are you all right, sir?" the guard asked him.
"Yes, I do believe so." He looked over by his chair. "But my briefcase! What's happened to it?"
"Here it is." The girl came over and handed it to him. "I didn't want it to get stepped on."
Putting her hand on her daughter's shoulder, the woman stood there proudly. Unexpectedly she bent down and reached underneath the end seat. "Is this your wallet?" she asked, now holding one out in her hand.
"Oh, yes. Indeed it is. Thank you so much. Thank you both," and Hamadi gave the little girl a pat on the head.
With the excitement over, people moved away and things returned to normal. The call was made to board the aircraft, and Hamadi made his way to the gate. Out of deference, he was at the head of the line. Flori was farther back. At the very back of the crowd was Leonard, and he looked in Max's direction. With an imperceptible nod of his head, he shuffled forward. Max returned the nod and watched until Leonard disappeared from sight. There was now nothing more that he, Jeff, and Antonio could do. He looked around to see where the woman had gone. She and her three kids were nowhere to be seen.
"That was some smooth operation. Did either of you see what actually happened?" Antonio asked.
"Not me," answered Jeff. "It was all too fast. Do you think the papers were switched, Max?"
"Oh, yes. They definitely made the switch. I noticed the makings of a smirk on Flori's face when he got in line to board the plane. Len and Hamadi both played it cool, and I don't believe things could have gone any better. And since Len has promised to call when he's in the clear at Heathrow, we may as well clear out of the motel and go home. What do you say?"
"Sounds fine to me," Jeff responded, and Antonio agreed. They found the Jeep and drove back to the motel, satisfied with what they had accomplished.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Hi, Irene. The flowers look beautiful." Maddy gently touched the petals of a large white mum.
"Thank you, dear. Why don't you sit down right there, and I'll fill a vase for you." Before Maddy could so much as get a word out, Irene was off scurrying to the house for a vase. She returned with a lovely green one and filled it with flowers.
"When will Jeff be home? Has he gone to visit his uncle?" Maddy had been out of the area for the last few days and didn't know the details about Jeff's trip, only that he was on vacation.
"I'm really not sure. He said something about traveling down south and perhaps seeing the ocean. I expect he'll be home either tonight or tomorrow. After all, he has to go to work on Monday, unless he decides to use up all three weeks of his vacation time."
Irene handed the vase to Maddy. "Thank you, they're so lovely." She sat there touching the delicate blooms in a winsome way. After a minute of happy silence, Irene noticed a frown form on her face. She sat down beside her.
"What is it, Maddy? Something to do with Jeff and Evan?"
"Oh, Irene. I'm so mixed up." She spoke in a rush of words, turning to look at her. "You know how I love Jeff, but if he doesn't feel the same way about me, well, maybe I should consider Evan. He's a wonderful man, handsome and polite. Not to say, quite well-to-do. You should have seen the way all the girls threw themselves at him during the convention. It was disgusting."
"I can quite imagine that. He certainly is charming to say the least. Is he back in Boston now?"
"No, he's traveling in Europe somewhere. He's going to be gone about a month. Before he left he asked me if I was seeing anyone on a regular basis." Maddy turned her face away to look at the flowers.
"Well, I told him that I was, that I'd been dating the same young man for the last couple years. He asked if an engagement was on the horizon, and I had to tell him no. He seemed happy at that and suggested that we take some time getting to know each other better. He mentioned that he has someone else he's pretty serious about too, but he wants to be clear in his own mind before he asks her to marry him. For a moment, I was so relieved he had this other lady, and that I could think about Jeff without conflicting emotions. And then all of a sudden I found myself feeling almost jealous of her, because without Evan there's only Jeff, who doesn't seem to be in any rush to ask me to marry him, that is, if he's even considering it at all."
Maddy looked at Irene with tear-filled eyes. Putting her arm around Maddy's shoulders, Irene gave her a hug. "Jeff will be home in a day or so, I'm pretty sure. He's had time to be alone and give serious thought to things that matter. Maybe that's exactly what he's needed--a time away from surroundings too familiar. Let's give him a little more time, shall we?"
* * * * * * * * * *
Patsy and Karen ran out the door when the three cars pulled into the driveway. "How did things go?" Patsy asked right away. "I was a mite concerned since you never called."
"I'm sorry, honey, it was rather hectic. But things couldn't have been better. I think our plan was a complete success. We'll tell you about it inside."
Everyone settled down comfortably in the family room, and Max gave a minute account of all that happened. "Len will call us from London where he has a lengthy layover. It probably wouldn't hurt for us to keep CNN on."
Every one engaged in happy conversation for the next fifteen minutes, and then Jeff stood up. "Well, it's been a grand time, and I've enjoyed meeting you all, but I should be heading back to Minnesota. If I leave now, I can be back sometime Monday."
"You've missed a whole night of sleep! Aren't you tired?" Patsy asked. "You all should be tired."
"Well, actually I feel quite alert. All the excitement, I guess. I'll get a motel on the way, it won't be a problem. It's been an adventure I'll never forget."
Max put his hand on Jeff's shoulder. "We couldn't have done it without you. I mean, if it weren't for you, we wouldn't even have known what was going on. Thanks. We'll definitely keep in touch, and I'm sure we'll see each other again. But are you sure you won't spend the night with us? We'd be honored."
"Thanks, but no, I'd better be on my way."
"You know, I should return to," Antonio added. "There is still the research papers to work on, and I feel a sense of urgency to get right on it for some reason. Max, you said you might help me?"
"Definitely. What do you think of this idea? You could bring the research here and remain as our guest while we work on it. We'd be glad to have you."
"Really? I'd love that. Thank you," Antonio answered graciously. "Then I'll leave now too, follow Jeff as sort of a traveling companion, load up all the material and come right back. But I wouldn't want to spoil your vacation, Karen, and would be happy to arrange for your airfare if you would prefer to stay longer."
Karen realized that he was providing her with an out if she wanted it. With a tender look, she answered, "I wouldn't mind leaving now. There's always Christmas when I can come again."
Antonio walked over and took her hands in his. Looking at the others, he said, "The Eyes of Ishtar can't compare to this treasure."
* * * * * * * * * *
At 5:30 that evening Max received a call from Leonard. There was a four-hour layover at Heathrow before leaving for Cairo.
"Everything going okay, Len? That was quite a to-do at Atlanta, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, I never really saw the wallet lifted, but the paper was exchanged. Hamadi told me so as we passed by in the aisle on the way to and from the bathroom."
"What's he doing now?"
"I last saw him sitting at the gate watching people. We've not spoken since arriving here, but I've had him in sight most of the time. Flori keeps in the distance, still with the same stringy wig and porkpie hat. He hasn't spoken with anyone who was on the plane, nor anyone here at the terminal, but he's made several calls."
"What time does your plane arrive in Cairo?" Max asked.
"We should arrive around 8:30 p.m. Cairo time. That will be 3:30 a.m. for you."
"Okay. I'll keep an eye on the news to make sure nothing has happened at the Cairo Airport. Why don't you call me once the both of you are settled safely. I don't mind saying that I'll be glad when this is all over."
"You and me both. Talk to you later, Max."
"Watch your step," Max cautioned.
Max told Patsy that he was going to lie down for a while as he all of a sudden felt sleepy. "I'm going to set the alarm for 3:30. That's when the plane arrives in Cairo."
"Okay, honey. I'll fix a sandwich for you and put it in the fridge in case you get hungry."
At 3:30 the alarm went off. Max shut if off and went downstairs. After turning on CNN Headline News, he went to the kitchen and got a can of Squirt and the sandwich from the fridge. The news was all rather boring until around 4:30.
We bring you this breaking news. Max turned up the volume.
There was a major altercation at the Cairo Airport today. Bernice Kaminski brings us this live report.
Egyptian police together with Greek police arrested three men at the Cairo Airport after a brief altercation today. A man known only as Flori, wanted for smuggling activities in the Mediterranean, and an associate who was there to meet him, were apprehended leaving the terminal after being pointed out to the police by Dimitrios Cassavetes. Cassavetes had been taken into custody earlier by the Greek police and was in cuffs at the time. The police had received a tip that he would be meeting the flight from London. Flori and his accomplice, a man named Andreas, almost managed to elude the police but were frustrated in their attempt to flee when a Scottish passenger inadvertently got in their way, causing all three men to trip and fall to the floor. This gave the police the time they needed to close in. Flori and Andreas put up a fight but were soon overwhelmed. The two men were handcuffed and hurried to a waiting car. The Scottish passenger, although appearing somewhat befuddled, was not hurt, and a fellow passenger, a native Egyptian, saw that he was taken care of. This is Bernice Kaminski, reporting live from Cairo.
Max turned the set off. With a sigh of relief and a soft chuckle, he climbed the stairs and got into bed without waking Patsy but found it almost impossible to fall asleep. He got dressed and once again found himself downstairs watching television. For the next couple hours he watched an old movie, but his mind wandered continually.
Max made his way to the kitchen. It was almost 7:00 and Parisa and Patsy would be up soon. Maybe he would make breakfast for them all. Yeah, blueberry pancakes, he decided. His favorite.
The phone rang, and Max dashed over to grab the receiver. It was Hamadi. "Max, how wonderful to hear your voice," he spoke cheerfully. "Leonard and I are fine. We are no longer in any danger whatsoever."
"I'm sure glad to hear that. And knowing that our dear Mr. Jones has been arrested puts my mind at ease. Len sure was right on top of things, wasn't he? He deserves a lot of credit."
"Yes, he most certainly does. Max, we have many things to do right now, so we will call you again, shall we say, in a day or two? By that time I'll have phone numbers to give you where we can be reached."
"That sounds fine, Hamadi. We'll keep in touch."
Gathering the ingredients for his pancakes and humming a happy tune, Max mixed up the batter. Life was great. Yes, life was great.
* * * * * * * * * *
It was approaching midnight on Saturday when Jeff and Antonio pulled up to a Holiday Inn in Illinois. With Karen behind the wheel of either the Mercedes or Cutlass most of the day, the two of them had been able to grab some sleep. Antonio insisted on paying for the three rooms, and Jeff graciously accepted.
At 5:00 the following morning they were all up, eager to get on the road. With a minimum of stops and no traffic tie-ups, they made great time and would soon be home. Antonio's Mercedes pulled into the gas station for the last time and Jeff followed. He got the gas pump going and walked over to Antonio's car where Karen was still sitting inside. Antonio had inserted the nozzle and gone inside to get a drink. It was freezing cold outside so Jeff got behind the wheel for a minute.
"Karen, I wonder if I could ask you a big favor?"
"Are you kidding? Surely you couldn't possibly imagine my saying no after all you've done for us?" She laid her hand on his arm and gave it a squeeze.
"Can we stop by your shop? I want to buy something."
Antonio was returning with a soft drink. Jeff got out, and as Antonio handed the drink to Karen, she asked, "Would it be okay if we stopped by the shop for a minute? Jeff wants to buy something."
Fifteen minutes later Antonio was unlocking the door. Karen turned on the lights, and Jeff walked right over to the case where the gold mirror and hairbrush were lying on a shelf. Karen came up behind him.
"Shall I wrap them for you?" she asked with sparkling eyes.
After emotional goodbyes and promises to keep in touch, Jeff headed home. It was close to 10:15, but he decided to stop by Maddy's house nevertheless. The porch light was still on, and Jeff pulled his car into the driveway and got out with his gift. As he was closing the door, the front door opened and Maddy came out.
"Hi, Jeff. Just getting home?"
"Yes. I know it's awfully late, but when I saw the light on I thought you might still be up." He walked up to the porch. "Why don't you get your coat, and we can sit out here for a minute."
Maddy returned in less than thirty seconds with her coat on. She sat next to Jeff on the swing.
"Here's a little something for you," and he handed her the box wrapped in shiny paper.
"Oh, it's heavy." Carefully she removed the bow and wrapping paper and handed them to Jeff. She lifted the cover of the box and pulled back the tissue wrapping. The brush and mirror were lying on a soft layer of velvet, and the colored stones twinkled in the light. "Oh, Jeff, they're beautiful!" She picked up the mirror and looked closely at the intricate scrollwork and flowers. "How lovely!" Turning it over, she looked into the glass. The tiny green stones sparkled as she moved it back and forth.
"Do you like them?" Jeff asked anxiously. "Those green stones are the color of your eyes."
"Yes, I absolutely love them," she said softly. "I've never seen such a beautiful set. I don't know how to thank you."
"I think I do." And Jeff put his arms around her and held her close.
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