The Eyes of Ishtar
Chapter 4


Saturday evening at the Summit Inn in Lynley, Antonio reflected on life in the United States. He liked living here. He had been born in the United States and pretty much thought he would spend most of his life here. His parents, however, were not so content. Growing impatient, they were eagerly awaiting the day when they would move back to Cairo. His dad, a native-born Egyptian, had been in the United States for the past twenty-five years. His mother, who was Swedish by birth, felt more like an Egyptian than a Swede, having grown up in Cairo. They were rather wealthy and could easily manage the move.

At one time, Antonio thought he might like to live in Egypt. His parents were thrilled at the thought. However, this wouldn't be an easy decision since Antonio had never so much as visited the country. Yet, he would seriously consider making a move to Cairo when his parents did and see if he could feel Egyptian.

But for now, he lived in Minnesota and felt quite American. And he was hungry. Grabbing his keys off the dresser, Antonio briskly walked out to the parking lot, but while still a good twenty feet from his Mercedes, he slowed down to a snail's pace. A red Camry was parked close by. It wouldn't be wise to let on that he knew he was being followed. That is, if he was being followed. After all, there had to be thousands of red Camrys in the greater-Minneapolis area. Antonio decided he was acting paranoid. Nevertheless, it wouldn't hurt to be cautious.

Antonio drove around the building and parked where he could keep an eye on the Camry. After five minutes, he got out and strolled nonchalantly back to his room. Pressing his ear against the door, he listened for a minute. Not hearing anything, he inserted his card in the lock and with baited breath gave the door a push. Mentally he was prepared for a short, swarthy stranger to dash out and knock him over, but there was no one inside. With a sigh of relief, Antonio let the door swing shut and with a lively step returned to his car. The red Camry was still in its place.

Long John Silver's was within sight of the motel, and Antonio was back in no time. Thoughts raced through his mind while he was eating. Thoughts of how he would elude this man if he saw him following. Antonio had visions of an actual brawl in the parking lot. He had never been in a fight with anyone. Could he possibly be capable of beating someone up? What if this man beat him up?

Opening his little directory of phone numbers, he called Mrs. Vanderveen.

"Hello?"

"Mrs. Vanderveen, this is Antonio. That guy hasn't shown up again at my apartment, has he?"

"Oh, Antonio, I'm so glad you called! No, not inside. But I saw him drive by early this morning." She sounded all excited. "He didn't get out of the car though. I was keeping an eye on him from the window. It just so happened that I was pulling down the shade when I saw the car, and I knew it was him from the way he slowed up as he drove past."

"Okay. That's good. I want to take some precautions in case he decides to search my apartment again. Get a piece of paper because I want you to write something down."

"Okay, hang on a minute," and Mrs. Vanderveen located paper and pen. "Ready."

"This is going to be a note to me. It will say, Antonio, your mother called and asked that you let her know the minute you get back from Colorado. Your father is going into the hospital for some surgery, and she would like you there. Sign it Milton and slide it under the door. And if by any chance he should approach you and ask about me, tell him you really don't know me since I'm rarely home. I don't want you to get involved any more than that. Do you mind writing the note?"

"No, not at all. I'll make sure no one sees me put it under the door. If I should happen to see him go into your apartment again, should I call the police?"

"Well, maybe better not. If this man is dangerous, I don't want him to know about you. You will be careful, won't you?"

"Yes, I'll be careful. Don't worry."

"I'll give you another call, probably tomorrow." With these arrangements settled, Antonio said goodbye. He picked up the Long John Silver's box to finish his meal and found to his surprise that it was empty. He couldn't recall having finished it.

The remote for the television was lying nearby. Antonio found an old movie to watch, and when it was over he switched to CNN. A series of commercials was airing, so he made use of the time by calling Dr. Richardson as he had promised. He wasn't looking forward to it. To his great relief, Dr. Richardson didn't answer and the answering machine came on instead. Antonio left a short message stating that he was in Lynley and would be home shortly. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he listened half-heartedly to the news. After a few minutes, the latest news from Gaziantep came on, and he sat up, all attention now.

John, bring us up-to-date on this latest rumor.

Thanks Phil. We've heard from a reliable source that the rumor is true. The code has definitely been deciphered. A number of countries have already claimed proprietary rights to it, among them Egypt, the United States, Greece, Great Britain, and of course, Turkey. However, no one is letting on where the deciphered code might be. In fact, it's not known absolutely whether it's the deciphered code itself that's missing or simply the key to unlocking it. Whatever it is, rumors are flying about that it's in the U.S. and will shortly arrive here. For the present time, we can only wait. Until someone comes forth with it in hand, the crown will continue to lie undisturbed as it has for the last 2600 years. It's now 5:30 in the morning here in Gaziantep. Perhaps this new day will bring more light to a mystery shrouded in darkness. Reporting live from Gaziantep, this is John Cummings with CNN Headline News.

* * * * * * * * * *

Jeff wasn't completely happy with the situation. Maybe it was none of his business and he should forget about it. But maybe he had some obligation to help this girl, even if she didn't want it. For the next few days at least, he would try to keep an eye on Antonio and see what might happen. However, for this plan to work, he would have to take some time off in order to stake out the boutique. He had three weeks of vacation coming, so Jeff called his boss that evening and asked if the next two or possibly three weeks would be okay.

"No problem," Mr. Browning said. "Have a good time and don't give a thought to this place. McKenzie can handle everything while you're gone."

Since graduating from high school, Jeff had been employed at Fidelity Bank. His present position was Maintenance Manager, and he loved the job. Mr. Browning thought the world of him, having promoted Jeff to the managerial position a mere two years after he had started. Jeff was honest, enthusiastic, and talented, a combination of assets rarely found any more.

* * * * * * * * * *

Sunday arrived and Jeff, according to his usual routine, would spend the day with his mother. He refused to even think about the Savarin piece or the boutique or unscrupulous men, relying instead on the old saying, Out of sight, out of mind. Besides, there wasn't much he could do on a Sunday when the boutique was closed. And he didn't have even the foggiest idea where either Antonio or this Karen lived.

The day was lovely, a cool breeze whistling through the canopy of trees. Fall was definitely in the air. Pumpkins were already piled high at the gate of the McTavish farm, and Jeff stopped and picked one out, a rather misshapen globe. He left two dollars in the bucket on the table. In his mind he could picture the face he would carve: eyes wide open in delightful surprise, bushy eyebrows meeting in the middle, a bewitching smile showing evenly proportioned teeth. He would place it atop a plant stand and dress the stand in farmer's overalls with a pair of work boots at the bottom. A basket of bright-red apples sitting beside would create a warm, homey atmosphere.

As Jeff was putting the pumpkin in the back seat, he heard dogs barking in the distance. Knowing who they were, he waited in anticipation. Coming over a small hill were Scotty McTavish and his two border collies, Mick and Jess. The two dogs raced toward Jeff, covering a couple hundred feet in a matter of seconds. With tongues panting and tails wagging, they greeted him with boundless exuberance. Stooping down, Jeff spent a few minutes in playful roughhousing until Scotty arrived.

"They knew you were here, Jeff. Without seeing you, they knew you were here."

For the next ten minutes, Jeff and Scotty engaged in light chitchat. Then Scotty headed to the barn where his sons, Ian and Tim, were waiting. Jeff drove off, but not before seeing Maddy come out on the porch and give him a wave.

The McTavish farm had been in Maddy's family for four generations. Her father had a good-sized herd of sheep, and Mick and Jess kept a constant eye on them. They could work all day and never tire. The farm also had forty acres of sunflowers, and the sight never failed to fill Jeff with a sense of wonder. Every morning the flowers lifted their faces to greet the rising sun. In adoring worship they followed its circuit until the close of the day, when they bowed their heads in peaceful repose. In Jeff's opinion, there was nothing more spectacular than a field overflowing with sunflowers.

Jeff arrived at his mom's around noon. Sunday supper, as she called it, was ready, a delicious beef casserole. Irene always made more than enough so he'd have some to take home.

"Dad would be fifty-five today, wouldn't he, Mom?"

"Yes, he would. Seems like it was only yesterday when he died, doesn't it? Maybe there's something we can do today to sort of remember him by. Can you think of anything?"

"Let's see," and Jeff put on his thinking cap. "Dad loved making home-made ice cream. Want to make some? Do we even have the stuff we need anymore?"

"Wonderful idea! Yes, I think we have everything. After we finish eating, we'll take a look."

Their meal was finished in record time, and Irene promptly got up. "Probably upstairs in that big closet off the spare bedroom. Let's go take a look," she said with sparkling eyes. She climbed the stairs as fast as her legs could move, Jeff right behind her. Her face was brimming over with happiness while she sifted through a hodgepodge of stuff in the closet looking for the ice cream maker.

"Found it!" she exclaimed happily. Before handing it to Jeff, she lovingly wiped off the dust with her apron.

Fortunately, everything was on hand to make Jeff's favorite, chocolate marshmallow ice cream. They sat on the back porch sharing memories while the ice cream maker turned. When it was finished, Irene scooped the creamy mixture into bowls.

"Oh, Mom, this is good. You and Dad always were a whiz at home-made ice cream. Maybe we should do this more often."

After helping her wash and put away the dishes, Jeff followed his mom out into the yard where they embarked upon a tour of the garden. His mom was so proud of it. Untold hours were spent preparing the soil, putting seeds in tiny pots, transplanting seedlings, rooting plants, watering, weeding, fertilizing, thinning out plants, pinching back buds, and staking. It made Jeff tired just thinking about it. But the final display made it all worthwhile. Spring, summer, and fall, flowers were blooming.

They came to where Irene had a mass planting of mums in an attractive arc at the side of the house. The arc was close to twenty feet in length and about five feet in depth. Tall white blooms, surprisingly large, formed the background for the smaller bushy mums, all in varying shades of orange and purple. A copper-colored, four-inch-high picket fence surrounded the entire display. About fifteen feet behind towered a sugar maple adorned in reds and oranges, and in between, the grass was a lush green. Truly, it was a refreshing sight. A concrete bench and birdbath were off to the side, so Jeff and his mom sat down and enjoyed the sight for the next half hour, indulging in nostalgia.

"Guess I'd better be heading home now. Going to take the next couple weeks off for vacation."

"Planning on going anywhere?" Irene asked. "You can always visit your Uncle Alex in Maysville. Kentucky's not all that far, and the weather should be really nice right about now."

"That's a good idea, but I think I'll get some things done around the house for openers. Maybe start work on that room above the garage. Always had big plans for turning it into a den of some kind or even a spare bedroom. Or maybe I could do something with that small room off the garage, like a sauna. Wouldn't that be nice on a cold winter day?"

"Oh, wouldn't it! I'd love to be able to get into a sauna. Let me know when it's finished, because I'll be the first one over."

* * * * * * * * * *

Sunday night at 6:00 sharp, Antonio picked Karen up at her house for the first of what he hoped would be many dates. He was smartly dressed in a tailored suit for their dinner at the Renaissance Hotel. What better way to get to know her than a luxurious evening out on the town. He had been fortunate in obtaining two tickets for the ballet, Swan Lake, which he had learned was Karen's favorite. A football game would have held more interest for him. Nevertheless, he was determined to be attentive throughout the performance.

Karen looked quite attractive in a long, flowing blue dress. She was not by any means heavy, but she had what Antonio referred to as a "resonating" figure, which he found quite appealing. The "twiggy" look was not for him.

His plan was to take a few days to charm his way into her confidence. He knew she had the paper. Yesterday he had noticed the jewelry box sitting on a shelf behind the counter and had asked to see it. After handing it to him, Karen had kindly told him that it was not for sale, and during the conversation the sheet of paper had been casually mentioned, although nothing had been said about its contents. But how to bring the paper up was Antonio's current problem. With all the news about Gaziantep, he was afraid of arousing suspicion if he appeared too interested in the subject.

They finished their meal and were enjoying dessert.

"Karen, I'm astounded at your knowledge of antiques and the fact that you have so many. With running your own shop, how do you find the time to attend all these auctions?"

"Well, there are quite a few auction houses within a 200-mile radius of Minneapolis, even one right here in Lynley. Sometimes I close the shop for a day and drop by to see what's being offered. On occasion I'll receive an e-mail about a certain antique coming up, and then I can prepare a little in advance and have a friend mind the store for me. Have you ever been to one?"

"No, afraid not. Why don't you describe one for me," Antonio suggested.

"All right. Let's see, maybe the one in Ravenswood. An antique music box was available. I had received an e-mail describing it and was fairly certain that it was probably an original, but just to be sure, I did some research on what markings to look for. There are lots of replicas out there, and unless you know exactly what to look for you can end up with one of them."

"I take it you were able to inspect it ahead of time?"

"Yes, I looked it over very carefully. Most antique dealers won't bid on an item without checking it out first."

"Then you inspect every item?"

"Well, no. It's not always practical. You see, I don't always know ahead of time what I'm going to bid on. Occasionally, I just hang around until the auctioneer holds up something that looks interesting. I suppose I could look at everything first, but time usually doesn't allow for that. There's too much stuff being auctioned, a lot of it junk that I have no interest in. And then again, the place is usually packed. Lots of people passing their time looking for a bargain. So quite often I just meander around, hoping that something catches my fancy. Periodically I buy something for the shop that way, bidding on the spur of the moment. If I'm lucky, I get a bargain." Karen started laughing a little self-consciously and looked down at the table.

"Okay, tell me. What did you buy that wasn't quite the bargain you were expecting?" Antonio leaned forward, looking into her eyes and smiling.

"It was this small box full of kid's jewelry from the 50's and 60's. The auctioneer opened the lid and rummaged around, calling out a few of the items inside. Pop beads, charm bracelet, and a Cinderella watch to name a few. There was also a Pez dispenser. Well, charm bracelets are collectibles, and a watch with Cinderella on the face is worth a good bit of money. Old Pez dispensers are valuable too, so I figured there was probably a lot of good stuff inside. There were three other bidders, and I finally got the whole boxful for $35.00. Turned out the charm bracelet had only one charm, the Cinderella watch was missing a hand, the Pez dispenser was broken, and the rest of the jewelry was pretty much worthless junk. Thirty-five bucks down the drain."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," Antonio murmured. "Too bad there wasn't some unexpected surprise in there worth lots of money. Like a necklace that appeared to be cut glass but was really diamonds. I imagine there's lots of valuable stuff at these auctions that may not seem so to the average buyer. Once I heard of a woman who bought an ugly painting, and it turned out that underneath the picture was an original painting by some famous artist. I believe she sold it at Sotheby's. I also remember a case where someone actually found a document written by the Continental Congress in a box of household papers. Have you ever found an unexpected surprise?"

Karen stared at Antonio for a couple moments before answering. His face held a perfectly candid expression, and it seemed like an innocent question. Yet, she felt the smallest twinge of uneasiness that it should be asked so soon after she'd found the mysterious paper.

"No, I can't say that I have. It would be nice though."

They finished dessert, and Antonio drove the short distance to the theater for Swan Lake. It was a great performance, and he could tell that Karen loved it, and he, surprisingly, enjoyed it himself. Perhaps it was just being with Karen that had imparted life to what normally he would have found rather dull.

Antonio was certain he had made a favorable impression, and he had to admit that Karen was a fantastic date. With the night having gone so well, he didn't anticipate any trouble getting the paper once a feasible plan was in place.

As they walked to the front door, Antonio took her hand. With a light kiss, he wished her goodnight and promised to see her again soon. Driving back to his room at the Summit, he whistled a happy tune.

Once inside, Antonio called Mrs. Vanderveen.

"Antonio, he was here again!" She could hardly contain her excitement. "I was keeping watch at the window, and sure enough, there he was parking his car at the curb. I went to the peephole to watch, and he came down the hallway and stopped in front of your door. He looked around to be sure no one was watching and then picked your lock and opened the door. Right off he saw the paper on the floor and picked it up. He had gloves on. He read it, and I saw him get this kind of angry look on his face. After that the door closed, and I waited, hardly breathing at all. But it was only for a few minutes, cuz he came right back out and put the paper back down on the floor real careful like, locked the door, and charged down the hall like his pants were on fire."

"Do you know whether he spoke to anyone? The manager perhaps?"

"No, but I don't think he did, because soon as he got in the elevator I went back to watch out the window, and he was outside at his car in no time. And he tore away down the street lickety-split. Then I went downstairs myself pretending to get my mail, and there was no one in the lobby."

"Mrs. Vanderveen, I can't thank you enough. I don't know who this man is, but when I find out, I'll fill you in with all the details. Watch yourself in the meantime, okay?"

"I will. If he comes back, I'll know it."

Antonio put the phone down and thought about the situation. The stranger didn't know he was in Lynley, so Antonio probably had a few days before he needed to start worrying. Tomorrow he had better call Hamadi and find out whether he had learned anything about this guy and at the same time give him this latest news.

* * * * * * * * * *

On Monday Dr. Richardson put in a call to his uncle. "Let me talk to Ben, will you?"

Almost immediately Ben was on the line. "How's it going Leonard? Have you been able to start working yet?"

"No, and I don't think I'm going to either," he answered in a testy voice.

"Why? What's happened?"

"Well, I suggested to Antonio that I could start some work on the papers while he was off gallivanting who-knows-where. But he claimed he didn't have time to wait for me to come over and get them. I think he's got something else planned. The last word I've had was a phone message saying he was in Lynley, and that was a few days ago."

Dr. Richardson waited while Ben gave this some thought. "I think you're right, which means that we have to keep an eye on him. You say he's gone to Lynley. Maybe you should make a trip out there yourself if you don't hear from him within the next few days. You'll have to find some way to track him down and then follow him for awhile until you learn something. I wonder if he's heard all the news on TV?"

"How could he not have? It's on every news network there is. But what I can't figure out is how they all know about it. Did you tell anyone? I know I didn't."

"Of course I didn't! I'm the last one who wants a pack of hounds on my trail. Could be that Savarin told someone. We don't know who all he may have been corresponding with. Or maybe Antonio let the word leak out."

"No, I don't think it could have been him," Dr. Richardson said. "From what I gather, Savarin kept him pretty much in the dark. No, it has to be someone else. And now we've got ourselves a real mess."

Ben tried to reassure him. "Maybe, maybe not. Listen. No one seems to have taken any definite action yet, not that I can tell. They think the code's been deciphered, but without the key in hand, they can only sit out there and twiddle their thumbs. Eventually, they'll have to go home. Digs aren't financed indefinitely when no results are produced, so let's give it some more time before we get ourselves into a lather. In the meantime, let's hope Antonio calls."

* * * * * * * * * *

Monday afternoon Antonio placed a call to Hamadi. It would be around eight in the evening in Cairo, and he was hoping Hamadi would be home. He was.

"Hamadi, it's me. Have you found out anything about that man I told you about? He's been back at my apartment."

"Yes, I have. You must be careful, he's dangerous. His name is Flori, but no one that I've spoken with knows his full name. He takes a common name when he travels, Mr. Jones when he's in the States, Monsieur Dubois when in France. He is part of an organization that operates out of Greece."

"What kind of organization?" Antonio asked.

"One involved in all kinds of smuggling. Jewels, narcotics, gold, art, antiquities, you name it. Not a whole lot is known about how they operate, but there are a number of levels within the organization, and Flori is part of the inner circle. You are the first one I know who has given such a good description of him. But, hear me now Antonio, Flori must not know that you are on to him, and your neighbor lady must forget the whole thing. Are you listening?"

"Yes, I'm listening. But are we sure that this man is Flori and not just one of his henchmen?"

"Yes, it's Flori, I'm positive. You see, the head of the organization is a man named Dimitrios, and about a year ago his right-hand man, who goes by the name Midas, tried to take over the organization. From what I've heard, there was a violent and bloody battle, and Flori received several serious wounds while protecting Dimitrios, including a knife wound to the chin. Dimitrios was spared any serious injury, and Flori recovered with only the scar on his chin as a memento, a so-called badge of honor. Strangely enough, prior to this attempted coup, Dimitrios had actually suspected Flori of being a traitor. But his courage and loyalty during the coup moved him up in the ranks and cemented his relationship with Dimitrios. Midas has since dropped out of sight, but he is still actively trying to eliminate Dimitrios. No, with the scar on his chin, there's no question that it's Flori."

"But why's he interested in me? Do you think it has something to do with this Assyrian crown business?"

"That's it exactly. He wouldn't be bothering with you if Dr. Savarin hadn't died. Dimitrios must have known about his research, and he was using Flori to intimidate Savarin, not wanting to trust anyone else. And after Savarin died, he somehow found out that you were the one who had gotten hold of his papers. Did he take anything from your apartment the last time he was in there?"

"No. He found a note on the floor that I had Mrs. Vanderveen put there saying that I was in Colorado. She said he looked mad when he left. So I don't think he knows I'm here in Lynley. No one knows I'm here, except for Dr. Richardson and you."

"Yes, yes, this Dr. Richardson. He could become a problem, Antonio. Better avoid him from here on. Keep in touch only with me. Maybe we're safe for now, but still, you must watch yourself and keep me posted of anything at all unusual. And I believe I've found someone at the University of Cairo who might be able to help with the publication of Dr. Savarin's research, but I still have more to look into first. We'll talk again later."

Digesting this new information took several minutes, and Antonio then called Mrs. Vanderveen. Fortunately, she was home.

"Mrs. Vanderveen, you musn't get tangled up any deeper in this mess. I've learned a good bit more about this man. He goes by the name of Mr. Jones, and he's extremely dangerous. He may even be a killer."

"A killer? Who would he want to kill? Surely not you."

"It's a long story, but he thinks I have something of great value. And ordinarily I would tell you all about it, but in this case it's better for you not to know too much. For your own safety, you understand? When it's all over, I'll tell you the whole story."

"Well, yeah, I guess so. But what about you? What if something happens to you? I mean, if this Mr. Jones is a killer like you say." Her voice took on a note of panic.

"He doesn't know where I am, so don't worry, and I'll be calling you fairly often. I know this sounds melodramatic, and if it weren't happening to me, I wouldn't believe it. Promise me now, you won't do anything more, okay?"

"If you say so. I don't want anyone to get hurt."

"Good. I'll keep in touch. Take care, and please don't worry." Antonio put the phone aside and laid down on the bed. Staring at the ceiling, he spent the next hour in earnest contemplation.

* * * * * * * * * *

By Monday afternoon Jeff's confidence had returned, so he drove over to the boutique. He had no plan of action. After thinking about it all night, he had come to the decision just to wing it.

The shop was open and Karen was inside pushing around knickknacks. Upon stepping inside, Jeff was greeted with a cool, "Hello again."

"Hi."

"Did you decide about the brush and mirror?" she inquired tonelessly.

Jeff hesitated. "Well, yeah, I know my mom would love them, but maybe, you know, it being sort of fancy and all, she'd be afraid to use it, you know what I mean? It might get scratched or something." This was not the start he had hoped for, stuttering around like an imbecile. "I thought I'd take a look at something else."

Karen seemed to warm up at this, and she now marched down the aisle all business. "I know exactly what you mean. Have you given some thought to cologne? We have a delightful fragrance from Paris called Moonlight Dreams. Here, let me get it," and she bustled off to the far side of the store. In a moment she was back carrying a small spray bottle, and before Jeff knew it, she had his hand in hers and was spritzing his wrist. Raising his wrist up to his nose, Karen smiled, ordering him to take a whiff.

Jeff obeyed and was surprised to find that it smelled like lilacs. He took another whiff and smiled back.

"Hey, yeah, that is nice! From Paris, though, I don't know, it's probably out of my reach."

"Oh, I doubt that," Karen replied. "Can you imagine the surprise on your mother's face?"

"How much?" Jeff countered.

"Only $65."

He wasn't exactly cheap, but $65 for perfume? He could buy his mom a whole gardenful of plants for that much money! "No, no, I'd better not, at least not right now. Maybe Christmas, perhaps. I'll think about it though."

Karen left him on his own to think, returning to the front counter where she sat down and busied herself with paperwork.

Cautiously, Jeff approached. "Miss?"

"Yes?"

"This guy Antonio. Is he a regular customer or something? Not that it's really any of my business, but I thought you should know that I think he might really be trying to steal something of yours, a Savarin piece. Do you have one?"

Karen looked at him with something akin to looking at a beetle through a microscope. "I beg your pardon? You're not starting in on that again?"

Taking a breath, he took another couple steps forward, placing his hands on the counter. He stared down into her eyes and spoke with a rush. "This guy, Antonio, did he say anything to you about the Savarin piece? It's a famous glass or box or something. He thinks you have it and is going to try and get it from you. You have to be careful around him, I don't think he can be trusted."

For a few moments, she said nothing. Then getting to her feet, she came around the end of the counter. "Do you wish to buy something or not?", she asked in an icy voice. "If not, then please excuse me. I have things to do." And turning on her heel, Karen opened the door to the office and disappeared, the door slamming shut behind her.

Jeff felt depressed. How could he have bungled it so badly? She must think him some kind of lunatic. And who wouldn't, the way he blathered on. With his shoulders drooping, he shambled out and went home.

Opening the door a crack, Karen saw Jeff's car pull away from the curb, so she slowly walked to the stool behind the counter and sat down. A famous glass or box or something? Her brow furrowed as she recalled Antonio's question: Have you ever found an unexpected surprise? She spun around on the stool to stare at her glass jewelry box. No, no, it just couldn't be! Not Antonio! And with a shake of her head, Karen dismissed the entire episode from her mind.

* * * * * * * * * *

When Tuesday morning arrived, Jeff was in a quandary about what to do. Nevertheless, he drove to the boutique in hopes of a sudden inspiration. One thing he was certain of: He couldn't go into the shop again without buying something. But what could he possibly purchase there? He didn't have a sister. There was Maddy, of course, but he had never bought her anything really expensive before. If they were engaged, that would be different. It would have to be something for his mother.

Jeff racked his brain to come up with an idea. His mom, bless her heart, was not what you would call svelt. Those flimsy nightgowns would never suit her plump, matronly figure. Maybe some perfume after all, but something a little cheaper. "No, that won't do," he muttered under his breath. His mom never went anywhere but to the Legion Hall on Thursdays for bingo. Cosmetics maybe. But Jeff couldn't recall a time when he even saw her with a bit of lipstick on. And seeing that she spent most of her time outside in the sun, it didn't seem likely that she would want any. What about sunglasses? Yeah, that was a great idea! Sunglasses!

Arriving at the boutique, Jeff entered the store and walked directly to the stand featuring the most elegant sunglasses he had ever seen. He looked at a price tag. A hundred dollars? That had to be a mistake. Who in their right mind would spend $100 on a pair of sunglasses? Must be they were designed by some famous Italian artisan. He picked up another pair and immediately put them back. They were 85. Poking around, he searched for the cheapest pair, and at last he found a pair for only $30.00. They were wraparound glasses in what to him was a lurid shade of purple. The lenses were sort of greenish. Could his mother possibly find them attractive? Probably not, but that wouldn't matter. She would be so happy that he had thought of her, and she would thank him over and over again, giving him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. She would keep them in her pocket, and whenever she saw him coming she would grab them and put them on.

Suddenly Jeff felt ashamed, and a sense of self-loathing flooded over him. What a hypocrite he was! How could such a wonderful woman have such a no-good bum like him for a son. He put the glasses back and with a determined step and steely eyes made a beeline to the counter where Karen was standing with the look she saved for greeting a shiftless vagrant.

Towering over her, he began to speak. "Now I want you to listen to me. I'm asking for only a few minutes of your time."

Karen came out from behind the counter. In her hand was a bottle of glass cleaner. "Kindly leave. You're getting to be a nuisance, and I'm sick and tired of it. If you wish to make a purchase, I will gladly assist you. But until that time, you're not welcome here." She glowered at him, waving the bottle in his face. Jeff was too stunned to speak.

He left the store and drove away, but it didn't take long for Jeff to find himself getting angry. How could any girl be so stupid! Couldn't she see that he was trying to tell her something important? Ah, maybe he oughta just chuck the whole thing. Why should he care anyway? Like they say, Ignorance is bliss.

* * * * * * * * * *

Tuesday morning found Dr. Richardson in his attic searching for a suitcase. A small one was all he needed. However, the three he had come upon so far were adequate for packing up his entire wardrobe for an overseas vacation. He scrounged around some more, pushing and kicking boxes aside until he finally saw what he was looking for--a small suitcase about the size of a large briefcase.

He carried it down to the kitchen and gave it a good dusting. Opening it up, he discovered a magazine. The magazine was not a pretty sight. It had lain for years in the suitcase, which had been stored standing up. Now the magazine was partly rolled up, partly smushed down, and the pages were splayed. Dr. Richardson muttered in disgust, "Good grief! Would you look at that!" Gingerly he removed the magazine, and after making a judicious appraisal of its condition, placed it on the table. He went to his study and returned carrying a mammoth unabridged dictionary which he laid silently on the counter. Picking the magazine up, he slowly uncurled it until he could make out its name: Journal of Ancient Artifacts. Dr. Richardson looked at it with a sudden feeling of horror. "Oh, please, not my article, please, please don't let it be my article," he prayed in a whisper. With a feeling of trepidation, he laid the magazine on the table and gently spread it as flat as possible, holding down both sides with his hands. There in big bold print were the words, "LEONARD RICHARDSON TALKS ABOUT HIS MOST IMPORTANT DISCOVERY."

He felt like crying. It seemed like minutes before he could move. Letting go of the magazine, he walked to the counter and picked up the dictionary. Setting it down on the table, he carefully held the magazine flat and eased the dictionary on top of the bound edge and continued to slide the dictionary over it until the magazine was no longer visible. Dr. Richardson sat down at the table in gloomy silence. How could it have happened? He was always so careful with his books and journals. After a couple minutes, he got up and shuffled to the bedroom. He fell across the bed commiserating about the inequities of life and soon fell asleep.

-------------------------------------------------------

Return to Table of Contents

Return To "Good Clean Novels" Home Page