In his office Max sat behind the desk thinking. He spent a full hour at it. The piece of paper Karen had given him was lying on the desk, and Max studied it closely. He took a sheet of paper virtually identical to it and laid it on the desk. An old typewriter was stored away in a closet, and Max retrieved it. The typing on the page was not that of a computer printer, but of a typewriter with an element. Max's old IBM had an elite element, and it would have to do. He retyped everything from the page Karen had given him onto the new sheet of paper and then wrote out the Akkadian script. The cuneiform characters were copied with numerous changes that would render it difficult, if not impossible, to decipher with any sense of meaning. The unrecognizable ancient symbols were copied exactly as they appeared on the page. Max figured that if he didn't recognize them, no one else would either. Not that he thought so much more highly of himself than he did of others, but because it seemed evident to him that these characters were created by combining the characteristics of a couple other languages.
If anyone wants to steal it now, let him. Max put the page Karen had given him in the safe. This new copy was placed on the desk, partially hidden by a few journals. Max chuckled to himself.
* * * * * * * * * *
Antonio was pacing upstairs in the guest room. Hearing from Mr. Jones had greatly unnerved him. Nevertheless, he pulled himself together and went down to the kitchen where Karen and Patsy were sitting at the table.
"You two gals seem to be enjoying yourselves," he said in a light-hearted tone.
"We are," Karen responded. "Here, sit down and join us," and she rolled back the chair next to her.
"Thank you, but no, I shall decline for this evening. After all that driving, I thought I might retire early, if that's okay with the both of you."
"Oh, Antonio, how thoughtless we've been!" Patsy exclaimed. "Of course, get a good night's rest, and we'll see you in the morning. Make yourself at home, and if there's anything you need and can't find, let me know."
"You're okay, aren't you?" Karen asked in a concerned voice. "Nothing's bothering you, I hope."
"No, nothing at all. I'm a bit tired, that's all. See you both in the morning." With a weak smile, Antonio left and went upstairs.
"Something's wrong, I know it!" Karen said to Patsy.
"What makes you think so?"
"Didn't you notice? His eyes were wandering all around the room. So unlike him. Surely you must have noticed how he always looks directly at you when speaking? Almost like his eyes had magnets in them making it impossible to pull your own away."
Patsy thought about this for a moment. "That's right. It is a rather unusual mannerism, one that makes you feel both uncomfortable and flattered at the same time. But perhaps he really is exhausted. Driving long distances and meeting new people can be tiring. Let's see how he is in the morning, and we can start worrying then if we need to. And maybe we should head off to bed ourselves, it has been a long day. What do you think?"
"Yeah, I am a bit tired myself." Karen got up from the table and gave Patsy a quick hug. "See you in the morning."
* * * * * * * * * *
On Friday morning at 7:15, a stranger rang the bell at The Fairview. Eleanora, an early riser, was already in the office. "Good morning to you, sir. Going to be a nice day. Would you like a room?"
"Yes, Ma'am, indeed I would."
Eleanora had him sign the appropriate form and gave him the key to room eighteen. "It's down near the end, Mr. Zakai. If you need anything, let me know. My name's Ellen." With a slight nod of his head, Hamadi took the key and walked down to room eighteen.
Unlocking the door, he peered inside, then moved his car in front of his door. A blue Oldsmobile was parked in the end spot, the rest of the lot was empty. Hamadi took a small suitcase from the trunk, and after placing it on the bed, returned to his rental car to make a tour of the city.
The address he was seeking was on Jefferson Road, and after ten minutes of fruitless searching he stopped at a convenience store and asked the cashier for directions. A minute later he was again in his car, this time heading out of town. It wasn't hard to find Devlin's house. A good ways beyond it, Hamadi pulled his car off the road and got out to walk. The sun was low on the horizon, the morning chilly.
The house was quite large and had an attached two-car garage. Beyond it were two other buildings, a slightly decrepit garage and some kind of workshop. The workshop abutted a densely forested area. Hamadi strolled down the road about fifty feet then made a detour into the forest. Through the tangled brush, he made his way in the direction of the workshop. But here in the woods it was dark and he had difficulty seeing. The undergrowth was full of clinging, thorny vines, and although he was moving at only a crawl, his clothes continually got caught. As he endeavored to free the material, Hamadi would cry out as sharp thorns penetrated the sensitive tips of his fingers.
Nearby was a fallen log, and he sat down momentarily to retie the lace on one of his shoes and catch his breath. Once again he advanced in the direction of what he hoped was the workshop. As he moved, Hamadi noticed that the lower limbs of the trees were apparently the choicest sites for spiders to weave their webs. In the early morning darkness, however, it was not always easy to spot them. He didn't notice the web coming up and walked smack into it. Taken by surprise, he flailed his arms and pulled the sticky web off his face. He felt a big spider crawling across his head, and in a frenzy he whipped his hands through his hair a half-dozen times and brushed wildly at his chest, legs, and sleeves of his jacket. Breathing heavily, he tried to gather his wits about him.
For the next ten minutes Hamadi didn't move. He stood silently until the sun had risen enough to afford better light for maneuvering. Gingerly he took a few steps, watching out for vines. He cautiously made his way another twenty feet or so and looked up to see where he was. Inches in front of him was another spider web with a huge spider sitting serenely in the middle awaiting its next victim. A quick surge of shivers ran down his spine, and keeping his eyes on the spider, Hamadi slowly backed up. He thought of calling it quits and heading back to the car, but having come this far, he went around the web and continued on.
Finally, he could see the workshop and tiptoed toward it. He stopped behind a large pine tree, and pressing his hands against it, he moved his head to the side just enough to see. About ten feet away and off to the side was a window, and a man was standing there looking out. Hamadi froze, closing his eyes to mere slits. Had the man seen him? It must be Devlin. The sun had not risen above the roof of the workshop, so the forest behind was still engulfed in gloomy darkness. Hamadi opened his eyes a fraction. The man was still standing there, but now he was looking the other way. A moment later another man joined him. It was Antonio. Devlin gave him a friendly pat on the back and they both moved out of sight.
Hamadi maintained his post and soon heard their voices out in the yard. Their words were rather muffled, but to his consternation they were becoming more distinct. He plastered himself against the tree, barely breathing. Devlin and Antonio came around the back of the building.
"The property includes ten acres of this forest. Someday I'd like to clear this area right behind and build a deck and perhaps thin out the woods for a good distance. Patsy's made quite a few birdhouses that she's anxious to put up."
"You have a nice piece of property here," Antonio told him. "It's worth the long drive to come home to such seclusion. Not to change the subject, Max, but are you going into the office today? If so, I'd like to come along and see the university, if it wouldn't be an imposition."
"No, not at all, love to have you. There aren't any classes right now due to fall break. The university moved it up two weeks because of some major repairs in one of the dorms. So we'll have the place pretty much to ourselves. It'll give Karen and Patsy some time together too. We can leave as soon as you're ready."
After Antonio and Max had driven off, Hamadi inched his way to the window of Max's office. Pressing his face against the glass, he took note of what was inside: a large desk covered with papers, combination phone and answering machine, one file cabinet piled high with journals, one computer and all its peripherals, and...a safe? Hamadi did not expect that. He wondered what Devlin kept in there. His will, perhaps. Maybe bank CDs and other financial instruments or even some ancient antique.
There were no other windows on the back of the building, and Hamadi couldn't take the chance of looking through one in the front so decided to leave. As much as he dreaded going through the woods again, there was no good alternative. If he stayed along the forest edge, he might be seen since the sun was now higher. And weren't those women's voices he heard?
A barely-discernible path from his first trip through was spotted. After ten minutes, it came to an end. He stepped over a fallen trunk in what he thought was the direction of the road, but the road never appeared, and after ten more minutes Hamadi figured that somehow he had managed to veer off course. He could no longer see the edge of the woods that bordered Devlin's property. Listening for traffic, he thought he heard a car, and for a moment his spirits lifted. But it sounded too far away, and he concluded it must be on a different road.
Hamadi headed back toward Max's office. After another fifteen minutes of trudging through the underbrush, he sat down on a tree stump to rest. He strained his eyes to see any sign of a path, the road, or Devlin's property. But nothing looked familiar, and Hamadi came to the conclusion that he was lost. A sense of panic overcame him. How he wished he were back in Cairo where all was desert sands.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Come on, Parisa," Patsy called. "We'll go out and play for awhile. Karen, let's go, I'm dying to get a better look at that Mercedes."
Stepping outside, Karen remarked, "What a gorgeous day! So sunny and warm, you could say almost hot."
"I can't complain," Patsy responded. "September was a rather soggy month. Seems like we never saw the sun. And unusually cool too, so I'll take the heat as long as it lasts, which won't be long though. The forecast calls for a nasty cold front to come through later this afternoon."
They wandered around the yard while Parisa played with toys. "Antonio seems like quite a nice young man. You didn't tell me exactly how you met."
"Well, he came into the shop one day looking for a gift. Bought this lovely antique mirror that had been sitting in the case for over a year. We spent a good bit of time looking at other things, but he decided finally on the mirror. I think he would have preferred my jewelry box, but I couldn't bear to let that go. Before he left, he asked me if I would like to go out to dinner with him and perhaps go to the theater if he could get some tickets. Turned out we went to see Swan Lake. It was simply wonderful." Karen looked off dreamily as she remembered that night. "And then we just kept on seeing each other, almost every day. Have you ever met anyone so polite?"
They had walked around the yard and were now standing beside the Mercedes. "It certainly is a gorgeous car." Sliding her hand along the smooth and shiny surface, Patsy circled the car, taking in every detail. Her eyes stopped on the parking sticker attached to the window, and a puzzled expression came over her face. Karen noticed it.
"What's the matter?" she asked.
"Didn't you tell me that Antonio was a student at a Fine Arts College?"
"Yeah, Northern Minnesota College of Fine Arts. Why?"
"Well, how come I see a parking sticker on his car for Middlestates Theological Seminary?"
Karen came to stand by Patsy and take a look herself. "That's odd," she muttered. "Maybe he bought the car used, and the previous owner was a student there," she suggested.
Patsy looked doubtful. "Even if that were the case, shouldn't he have a sticker for his own school somewhere?"
Silently Karen stood staring at the sticker. Patsy didn't interrupt her thoughts. After thirty seconds or so, Karen bowed her head and mumbled, "I wonder if Jeff could have been right all along?"
"Jeff? Who's Jeff? You haven't mentioned him."
Karen said nothing, simply stood there looking so miserable that Patsy thought she was going to cry.
"All right, let's go inside. Seems to me there are a few things I should know. And I think you'd better tell me everything, starting from the very beginning." Grabbing Karen's arm, Patsy pulled her along.
Karen sat down at the kitchen table while Patsy got a couple glasses and filled them with iced tea. "Okay, Karen, now don't be afraid to tell me everything. And I mean everything."
Taking a breath and letting it out in a sigh, Karen began with the day Antonio had first come into her shop. "He had spotted the jewelry box, you know, the one I told you about, on a shelf behind the counter and asked to see it." Karen then related how she had taken it down and shown it to him, opening it up so he could see the smaller one inside, and that on learning they were not for sale, he had asked to see something else. "We spent a good half-hour to forty-five minutes looking at other items until he decided on the antique mirror."
"Nothing seems strange about that. How does this Jeff fit in?"
Karen told her all about Jeff coming into the shop and rambling on about Antonio wanting to steal something, something that he referred to as a Savarin piece. "Claimed he overhead Antonio at the deli talking with someone on the phone. I wrote him off as some kind of a nut. About a week later, though, he came in and apologized and brought me a gorgeous bouquet of flowers. He also took me out to lunch. We had a wonderful time, and he never mentioned the subject again."
"Weren't you even a little suspicious? I mean, here comes some stranger into your store telling you that Antonio wanted to steal something."
"Well, yeah, I guess at one point I was. Jeff had said something about a glass or box, and for a moment I thought it might be the jewelry box. But you know how it is. When you don't want something to be true, you can find a ton of reasons for not believing it. And besides, Antonio had plenty of opportunity to steal the box if he wanted to or have someone else steal it for him. I'm not in the habit of watching my customers with an eagle eye."
"Did Antonio show unusual interest in the jewelry box?" Patsy asked.
"No, I didn't think so at the time. When I told him it wasn't for sale, he just handed it back to me and I put it on the shelf. Then we wandered around the shop until he chose the mirror."
"And that was all? There were no questions about where you'd gotten it or anything?"
"No, none. But when we were back at the counter, he asked me if he could have another look at it. I said, 'Of course you can.' He remarked about how unusual it was with the hummingbird etching, and that he had never before come across a matching set of jewelry boxes where one smaller box fit inside the other. He took the little box out and held it, and I can still remember how careful he was with it. I think he asked me something about whether they were antiques, and we got on the subject of antique jewelry boxes in general. Probably spent fifteen minutes or so on the subject."
"And then you put both jewelry boxes back on the shelf and they were never mentioned again? You wrapped up the mirror, handed it to him, and he left. Think now, Karen." Patsy looked at her intently.
Karen stared out the window while she replayed that day in her mind.
"Wait a minute! I remember now. Yes, he was holding both boxes, one in each hand, and suggested protecting the smaller box by wrapping it in some soft fabric before putting it back inside the larger one. He wondered if I might still have the original material. So I told him there hadn't been any, only some paper. He said that it would do and asked me to get it."
"Oh, Patsy, I'm such a fool. I told him I had it but was saving it to show to my brother-in-law."
"Did he ask to see it?"
"No. Didn't ask a thing about it. Simply took a nice clean handkerchief from his pocket and wrapped it around the smaller box. Then he put it back inside the larger one and handed it to me without a word. I thanked him, put it on the shelf, then wrapped up the mirror he had bought."
"Did you talk about anything while you were wrapping the mirror?"
"No, I don't think so." Karen hesitated. "Well, to be truthful, I don't remember exactly. You see, I was so embarrassed because I hadn't wrapped the smaller box myself. It was just a matter of time and I would have, but still the fact that I hadn't made me feel like a fool. I was just imagining what Antonio must've been thinking of me. Some antique collector! More like a negligent, careless simpleton."
"He left after that?"
"No. That's when he surprised me. I mean, here I was feeling so miserable, wishing there were some hole I could crawl into, and then, just like that, he asks me out to dinner. You can't imagine how happy I was, how my heart wanted to fly away. You see," and Karen bowed her head, "I was sort of smitten by that time." She started to cry. "But now look at what it's all come to."
"Oh, honey, don't cry, please don't cry," Patsy begged. "Any girl would have been swept off her feet. Antonio is certainly a charmer, no doubt about that. But there may be some logical explanation, so let's not jump off the deep end, at least not yet." Patsy handed her a couple tissues, and Karen wiped her eyes.
"You said Jeff never mentioned this Savarin piece or Antonio again while you were out to lunch?"
"That's right. The subject never came up."
"Maybe we ought to check out the name Savarin on the computer. Nothing to lose."
The computer was located in a small nook adjacent to the laundry room. Taking a seat, Patsy typed in the name Savarin. Together they scanned the screen while Patsy scrolled down until the name Middlestates Theological Seminary appeared alongside the name Michael Savarin. "Aha! Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Languages. How about that!" and Patsy looked at Karen with a gleam in her eye. She clicked the mouse several more times, and periodically stopped to read a section before moving on. "Oh, oh, it says he died earlier this summer. I wonder if Antonio had something to do with it?"
"Patsy!" Karen snapped.
"Oh, sorry. Got a little carried away, I'm afraid. Of course, you're right. Antonio's no murderer." She looked out of the corner of her eye at Karen. "Guess I've been reading too many of those books lately," and she chuckled softly.
"Says here that he taught at Middlestates for twenty-three years. Has had a number of books published, one on ancient artifacts. Max must know of him. You know, I'll bet this is the man who broke the code. Then something happened and he died before he could get a team up to unearth the crown. He probably had the deciphered code in a safe place, but it got lost, who knows how, maybe even stolen. Or maybe he purposely hid it away in the jewelry box and that got lost instead. Anyway, Antonio knew about it and managed to trace it to you, but he didn't want to let on for fear you might report him or something like that. With the rumor of the broken code all over the news, you might have suspected that he was some kind of thief or even part of an international gang. So he decided to keep the paper in sight, so to speak, until he could think of a way to get it. Did you notice how he never had one word to say at dinner last night when Max was telling us about the crown?"
"No, I hadn't really noticed. But you're right. He was strangely quiet," Karen agreed.
"When Max gets home, we'll ask him about this Michael Savarin."
Karen looked at her with a wry smile on her face. "But what about me? How can I face Antonio knowing that he's just been playing me for a fool and never really had any interest in me at all?" Karen twisted her sweatshirt around her hands.
"Do we know that for sure?" Patsy asked. "Seems to me he likes you quite a bit. I don't believe there's anything insincere there, honestly I don't." Patsy pulled Karen's hands out of the twisted sweatshirt. "Karen, I'm sorry. You know me. I've probably let my imagination run wild. Antonio hardly appears like the kind of man to be unscrupulous, let alone be involved with gangsters. There's probably some perfectly logical explanation, so let's give him the benefit of the doubt. We'll talk to Max when he gets home. Well, I'll talk to Max when he gets home and fill him in. In the meantime, don't give it another thought. Max has the paper and it's safe. But you don't want to let Antonio know that you're on to anything, at least not right now. I mean, we're not sure of anything yet, and we wouldn't want to accuse him of something only to have to eat humble pie later on. So, have a good time until we know more. Antonio's very fond of you, I know it. I've seen the way he looks at you. Like Nelson Eddy gazing at Jeanette McDonald." Patsy gave Karen's hand a gentle caress. "Maybe there's a perfectly good explanation for his behavior, so why not think the best, okay?"
Karen let out a sigh. "Okay. Maybe you're right. I can probably handle that much until we know more." She got up from the table. "Maybe I'll lie down for a bit." With a dejected step, she left the room. Patsy's heart broke when she saw the tears trickling down Karen's cheeks.
* * * * * * * * * *
Early that same morning, Dr. Richardson opened his new packages of underwear. He really wasn't surprised to find that he had size XL in shorts and 2X in shirts. With the way his luck had been running, what really surprised him was that they were still clean and new and not someone's returns. He put on a shirt and pair of shorts and walked over to the mirror to gaze at his reflection. The sight was pathetic. The voluminous underwear made him look like a scrawny, 150-pound weakling: a poor emaciated skeleton hoping for one last meal. The shorts were so big that he had real reservations about them even staying up. Dr. Richardson pondered his plight.
Putting on his pants, he walked briskly to the motel office. A teenage girl was standing behind the desk. She was rather cute and bubbling over with friendliness.
"Hi! You must be Leonard Richardson. I'm Mindy. We're so glad you're staying with us. Everything's okay I hope."
"Hello there, Mindy. Yes, everything is fine. I was wondering if you had some paper clips that I could borrow. Two or three would be enough."
She rummaged through the desk drawer and came up with four. "These okay?" she asked, holding them out for inspection.
Dr. Richardson noticed that they had seen better days, but he held out his hand and said they were fine. Mindy turned her hand over and the clips fell onto his palm. Thanking her, he returned to his room.
Removing his slacks, Dr. Richardson concentrated his attention on the waistband of the shorts. He made a neat, vertical fold and put on a paper clip. He did this three more times. The material was bulky, but the clips seemed adequate for the job. Satisfied, he finished dressing. He could feel the clips against his skin, but there was nothing that could be done about it. The shirt hung loosely around his shoulders and neck, but at least the sleeves didn't show. Dr. Richardson put the rest of the new underwear in a drawer, and gathering up every other article of clothing, he stuffed them in a bag and went back to the office. "Mindy, do you know where I can wash some clothes?"
"Sure. We have a laundry room 'round back that you can use. Takes quarters. Do you need any?"
He checked out his coins. Mindy made change for a $5 bill, and Dr. Richardson was now ready to do his laundry. It was no surprise to find the laundry room deserted since the parking lot was too. He threw his clothes into the washer and got it going. Dashing back to his room and grabbing the key, he left. After a quick breakfast at Burger King, he sped toward his destination, the Devlin house on Jefferson Road. The clock in the car read 8:23.
* * * * * * * * * *
For close to two hours Hamadi traipsed through the woods. His clothes were torn and threads were pulled out everywhere from scores of snags. His shoes were wet and covered with mud. Once he was terrified that he had gotten caught in some quicksand, but he had managed in his panic-stricken state to pull his legs out from the muck and land prostrate on dry ground.
Now he was sitting on a fallen log, resting and working up the courage to continue. From his pocket he pulled out a dirty and blood-stained handkerchief. He used it to wipe his face, which not only was covered with numerous scratches, but sported an impressive display of bug bites. In the silence he heard a car and not all that far away. Encouraged, he got up and lumbered in the direction of the sound. After five minutes he sat down and waited again. Only a short time passed before he heard another car, this time closer, and with renewed spirits he quickened his pace. Ignoring the gnats and mosquitoes, he pushed vines and small trees to the side and ran as fast as the environment permitted, jumping awkwardly over fallen timber.
Abruptly he came to a stop. There was a small ravine between him and the road, and it was filled with mucky-looking water. The trees and roadside brush on the other side of the ravine were extremely dense, and Hamadi didn't know if he could get through. In the distance he heard a car approaching, and coming to a quick decision, he hurled himself over the water. About to topple over, he grabbed hold of a low tree limb and hauled himself up the other side and with great effort propelled himself through the brushy hedge. The momentum threw him off balance, and he tumbled into the road landing on his side. Slowly he got up, grateful that he was finally free.
The driver of the car, shocked to see a man tumble into the roadway, slammed on the brakes. Rushing over he asked, "Are you all right?" He helped the stricken Hamadi to his feet, noticing his disheveled appearance. "What happened? Are you all right?" he repeated.
"Yes, thank you, thank you. You don't know how grateful I am. I got lost in the woods hours ago, and thought I might never find my way out."
"Here, let me help you." He took Hamadi's arm and guided him to the car. "Why don't I give you a ride home or wherever it is you're going." Opening the door, he helped Hamadi in. "How in the world did you end up lost way out here?" he inquired.
Needing time to think, Hamadi took out the dirty handkerchief and blew his nose. "Well, I'm here on a short visit, you see. I have a relative in the area, and while I was awaiting his return from an appointment, I decided to tour the countryside. I saw this most colorful bird fly into the woods and wanted to get a better look at it, and before I knew it, I was lost."
"Oh, what color was it? Red?"
"Yes, it was red," Hamadi thankfully agreed.
"That was probably a cardinal. I guess you don't have any where you come from."
"No, we do not have cardinals in Egypt." There was silence for several seconds before Hamadi spoke again. "You've been so kind. I hate to impose, but could you perhaps take me back to my motel? I'll clean up a bit, put on fresh clothes and then, if it's not too much of an inconvenience, you could drive me back to my car."
"I'd be more than glad to, Mr.?"
"Zakai. Hamadi Zakai. Please call me Hamadi."
"I'm Jeff Summerfield. Which motel are you staying at?"
"Hey, I'm staying there too! I guess that saying's true, It's a small world." And whistling a merry tune, Jeff pushed down on the accelerator and sped back to the motel. It was 10:00.
* * * * * * * * * *
On the drive into Finley, Max did most of the talking. Antonio was glad to sit quietly and listen, feeling on the gloomy side this morning. But he tried his best not to let it show. He wanted to bring up the subject of Mr. Jones and the broken code, to tell Max the whole story from the very beginning and shed the burden of guilt he was feeling. It wasn't Antonio's nature to be deceptive, and he was beginning to hate himself for it. But how to proceed so that he didn't lose his last scrap of self-respect had yet to be solved.
Upon arriving at the campus, Max took Antonio on a tour of the university. Max had been right when he said the place would be deserted.
Around lunchtime they went into Finley and got a bite to eat at Culver's. Conversation centered mostly around the university and Max's many interests, archaeology in particular.
"You seem to have quite a knowledge of archaeology yourself, Antonio. I believe you mentioned at dinner last night that you attend college in Hampton Heights, and as you must be certainly aware, there's a seminary right there, Middlestates Theological Seminary. Have you ever considered a degree in archaeology?"
Antonio was not expecting this question. He spoke slowly. "Yes, in fact I have. The thought's crossed my mind a couple times."
"Surely you've taken at least a non-credit course."
"No, although I've often thought of it." Antonio was feeling uncomfortable with the direction their conversation had taken.
"That's surprises me, seeing how well-versed you are. How have you managed that, if you don't mind my asking."
"No, I don't mind." Antonio couldn't come up with a plausible explanation right on the spot, so he reverted to some partial truth. "I have a relative in Cairo with a Ph.D. in archaeology, and we've spent a good bit of time discussing the subject. How is it that you got interested, Max? Was your father an archaeologist?"
Max was not to be sidetracked. "What's his name, perhaps I know him? I've visited Cairo twice, given a couple seminars there."
Thoughts raced through Antonio's mind. Hamadi never mentioned anything about knowing Max Devlin. Did Max know Hamadi? Antonio knew he was on the spot, but he couldn't think fast enough to come up with anything passable. Since Max was looking at him expectantly, Antonio blurted out the truth. "His name's Hamadi Zakai. Have you met him?"
Max did not immediately respond. He was staring at Antonio rather intently. Antonio thought for sure he had the word charlatan written across his forehead in big bold letters and started to squirm under Max's gaze. After ten seconds, Max spoke a single word. "Yes." Silence descended like a dark cloud. However, Max regained his composure and suggested that it was time they got on back to the university.
On the short drive back, Max was once again his usual effervescent self, giving a running commentary on the sights of Finley. They pulled into the lot and found a parking spot near the main entrance of the building where his office was located.
"You know, Antonio, I have probably an hour's worth of work in the office before we can leave. Do you want to roam around the campus some more and meet me back at the office, say around," and Max lifted his wrist to look at his watch, "1:30?"
"Sounds fine. Take all the time you need. And thanks for the lunch, Max."
"You're quite welcome." Max gave Antonio a soft pat on the back and they parted ways.
* * * * * * * * * *
It was just past 8:30 when Dr. Richardson drove past Devlin's house. The Mercedes, he noticed, was still in the driveway. A bit farther down the road there was a car parked on the shoulder with no one inside. Dr. Richardson parked his car and got out. Looking through the driver's window, he could see the key in the ignition. The driver's door wasn't locked, so he got in. A briefcase was lying open on the passenger seat with some papers inside, and he carefully picked up the rental car agreement which was on top. It was from a rental car agency at the Atlanta Airport and in the name of Hamadi Zakai.
Hamadi Zakai. That name was familiar. Dr. Richardson snapped his fingers. Of course! The man Antonio was talking to on his cell phone at the Summit Inn. Well, isn't this interesting? he thought. Antonio has plans to work with this Zakai. There were other papers in the briefcase, and Dr. Richardson glanced through them, disturbing them as little as possible. He found a folder containing airline reservations. Zakai had arrived from Cairo Thursday around midnight and he was to return on a flight this Sunday morning. Evidently he was anticipating finishing his business this weekend. No doubt this business was getting the last page of Savarin's research. And here was his car parked close to Devlin's house with no sign of him anywhere. He would undoubtedly be coming back.
Dr. Richardson replaced everything in the briefcase and got out. Hurriedly he jumped in his car and drove down the road in search of a place to park. On his right was a hilly, overgrown driveway, and he backed his car in as far as it would go. The area was forested on both sides, but across the road the land was cleared for a line of utility poles that extended far into the distance. As luck would have it, the sun was brightly shining through the opening. Dr. Richardson muttered in disgust as he flipped down the visor. But with his car angled slightly downward, he couldn't see the road, so he pushed it back up. Squinting in the sun, he sat and waited.
* * * * * * * * * *
It didn't take long for Hamadi to change into fresh clothes, and he and Jeff were back on the road by 11:00. Hamadi gave Jeff directions once they turned onto Jefferson Road. "It's not too far down this road." About 200 feet past the Devlin driveway, the car was spotted. Jeff had been careful not to look down the driveway as they passed, but out of the corner of his eye he noticed that Hamadi had.
"Seems like it's been perfectly safe here," Jeff remarked as they walked toward the car.
"Yes, I'm so glad," responded Hamadi. "It's a rental car." Turning to Jeff, he held out his hand and Jeff took it with a firm grip. "How can I properly thank you, Jeff. You've been a lifesaver."
"Glad I was there to help. You know, I'll probably be another day or two here in Rolling Meadows. What do you say we go out for a bite to eat later? I'm on a short vacation with no particular destination in mind, so I have lots of time."
Hamadi considered this. It would be an inconvenience, but yet manners almost demanded that he consent. To say no would give every appearance of ingratitude. He smiled. "Jeff, that is a delightful idea. And you shall be my guest."
"Oh no, absolutely not," Jeff protested. "I'm glad just to have someone to eat with. We can head into Finley, if that's okay. There's a university there, so we should have a good selection of restaurants to choose from. What time suits you?"
Hamadi thought a moment. "Shall we say 6:00?"
"Sounds good to me. See you then." Jeff got into his Cutlass and drove off with a wave of his hand.
* * * * * * * * * *
By 10:30 Dr. Richardson was struggling to stay awake. Even with the windows down, the car felt hot, and the strain of watching had put him into something of a stupor. He found himself continually nodding off. He was thirsty too. Oh, how he wished he had something cold to drink!
Taking a handkerchief from his pocket, he mopped his forehead. With a sigh, he laid his head back against the headrest and soon dozed off again. He felt the scorching heat on his face while he stood in the middle of a great and terrible desert. All around him lay hundreds of sun-bleached skeletons, wretched men who had expired in anguish with a Coke machine in plain sight. Would he be the next victim?
With a start, Dr. Richardson awoke and licked his lips. His watch read 11:15. Maybe he was wasting his time. The car could have driven past without his knowing it. He was about to drive back down toward Devlin's and see if it was still there when, to his delight, it made its appearance. He started his engine. Pulling out onto the road, he followed Zakai all the way to Finley, into the parking lot of North Georgia Regional University.
The parking lot was fairly empty. No doubt fall break, Dr. Richardson thought. He parked his car at the opposite end of the lot from Zakai and lowered his window. Zakai was in the process of getting out of his car when he unexpectedly pulled his legs back in and closed the door. A broken-down Jeep had parked across from him and two men emerged. One of them was Antonio, and the other surely had to be Max Devlin. The two men separated, Devlin heading into the building and Antonio continuing through the lot.
Dr. Richardson watched Zakai exit his car and heard him call out, "Antonio!" Antonio seemed to be in a state of shock. With arms outstretched, Zakai greeted him with several quick kisses on both cheeks saying, "Antonio, it's so good to see you."
Antonio appeared to be assimilating this new state of affairs. "Hamadi, I didn't know you were planning on coming. What a surprise." Giving a quick look over his shoulder, he put his hand on Hamadi's arm and steered him back behind the cars in the lot.
They were now out of hearing, so Dr. Richardson got out and looked for a way to get closer without drawing attention to himself. Seeing none, he entered the building instead into which Devlin had disappeared.
The building was quiet except for a handful of people lolling about the halls. Dr. Richardson was familiar with this environment, and feeling quite at home, he took a short tour. He made his way to the area where the faculty had their offices on the third floor. The elevator being in use, he took the stairs. He had never met Devlin and thus was not the least hesitant about glancing in his office door as he walked by.
The door was open and Devlin was on the telephone listening. Dr. Richardson stopped a few feet beyond the doorway hoping to catch a few words. After about fifteen seconds, Devlin spoke. "You've been most helpful, Dr. Marshfield. Any time I can return the favor, please let me know."
Dr. Richardson trotted down the hall, found the staircase and went back outside. He needed time to think, and seeing a bench close by he sat down. Looking around, he didn't see Antonio and Zakai. What had Devlin learned from Dan? he wondered. That Antonio had been Savarin's assistant? Probably. That there may have been some mysterious research that Savarin had been working on? Quite possibly. That Antonio had taken an unexpected and surprising term off before graduation? Well, that much, certainly. On the other hand, what had Dan learned from Devlin? That Antonio had made the acquaintance of a renowned figure in archaeology and ancient languages. What more could there be, for surely Devlin would never have let on that he knew anything about the code Savarin had broken, presuming that his sister-in-law had already showed it to him.
For the present, Dr. Richardson felt confident his plan was still on course. Dan didn't know that he was in Rolling Meadows, only that he was on the sabbatical arranged by Dan himself. Devlin wouldn't recognize him, he felt certain of that. Antonio was unaware of his presence here in Georgia. And Hamadi Zakai and he were total strangers. Since no one else in Rolling Meadows knew he was here, there was nothing for him to be uneasy about.
With a light-hearted step, Dr. Richardson returned to his car and drove into town for some lunch, completely oblivious to the fact that he was being followed.
* * * * * * * * * *
After Jeff had dropped Hamadi off at his car, he had turned the Cutlass around and gone back the way he had come. Once out of sight, he had again turned around to drive slowly back in the direction of Hamadi's car but had found it was gone. Speeding up, Jeff had been surprised to see the silver Lexus a little ways ahead.
Maintaining a careful distance, Jeff had followed the Lexus into the university parking lot where he parked his own car near the entrance. The rental car and Lexus had taken spots farther down.
Another car drove in and parked, a disgraceful-looking Jeep Cherokee. Two men got out and strolled the short distance through the parking lot but went separate ways on approaching the entrance of the building. One was Antonio. Jeff was certain the other man had to be Devlin. Hamadi emerged from his car and called to Antonio, and Jeff could see the surprise on Antonio's face. Nevertheless, they greeted each other cordially and made their way back behind the lot, talking as they went. The Lexus man remained in his car for a minute or so and then entered the building.
Jeff decided to follow Hamadi and Antonio. In the car he found a pair of sunglasses and a baseball cap, and with these on he stayed about fifteen feet behind them. They made their way to a grouping of park benches and sat down. Jeff rambled in the same direction and sat on a bench facing the other direction. Neither man looked back, apparently unaware of his presence.
Jeff picked up their conversation in the middle of a sentence. Antonio was speaking.
"...whether I can handle it. This Jones character was serious. What if he actually hurts someone? And Max is suspicious, I know it. He's probably put the page away where I can't find it. And now I'm afraid I've lost the opportunity to ask him to help me with Dr. Savarin's work. Oh, why didn't I ask him yesterday when I first wanted to and tell him the whole story! How did I get myself into such a mess?"
"Antonio, please, listen to me. Do not fret, I'll handle it. You don't need to do another thing. There is a man in Cairo who will aid in publishing the work, and Dr. Savarin will receive all the credit. I'll find the key myself, if not the actual deciphered code, thus relieving you of any further distress. Let me suggest that you return home tomorrow."
"Return home? What about Karen? I can't ask her to leave right away."
"Tell her something urgent has come up and you must leave immediately. Your father has taken ill, and your mother needs your help."
"That won't work," Antonio protested. "She has no way home."
"Pay for an airline ticket for her."
After a period of silence, Antonio spoke. "I don't know Hamadi. Maybe we should forget it. Is it that important? I mean does it really matter who discovers the crown? My main interest is in seeing that Dr. Savarin gets credit for the work that leads to the crown's discovery, and if Max will help me, everything will still be according to my original plan."
"Antonio, let's head back." They got up and walked toward the parking lot. Jeff followed leaving a safe distance between them, but was now no longer able to hear. Upon reaching the lot, Hamadi gave Antonio an affectionate farewell and drove off. Left alone, Antonio dejectedly made his way inside the building that Jeff had seen both Devlin and the Lexus man enter. The elevator was on the first floor, and Antonio got right in. The Lexus man reappeared from the building about a minute later. He sat down on a bench, apparently thinking, while Jeff watched. After several minutes, Jeff saw him nonchalantly stroll to his car and drive off. Jeff darted to his own car and followed him to Taco Bell.
The Taco Bell was crowded, and the Lexus man deftly backed his car into a space between two larger vehicles, a minivan and a pickup truck. He got out and went inside. Waiting until he was out of sight, Jeff squeezed his Cutlass into the space on the other side of the mini-van. He lowered his windows and slumped down.
The Lexus man returned and opened his car window. Cautiously raising his head, Jeff peered through the windows of the van and saw him unwrap his lunch. When he had finished eating, he got out and threw the trash in the can behind the pickup truck. Back inside, he picked up his cell phone. What luck! Jeff thought, and he sat up and poked his head out the window. After a few moments the Lexus man spoke. It took much concentration and straining, but Jeff was able to pick up his side of the conversation.
"Ben there? It's Len calling...Give me that number, will you. I don't have it...Thanks." Within a minute, he continued. "Ben, where are you?...Hey, listen for a minute. I've got some more bad news for you. Antonio is leaving me completely out of it. There's a guy from Cairo here named Hamadi Zakai, and I saw him with Antonio half an hour ago at the university where Devlin teaches. They were real chummy, let me tell you...Are you sure? I wonder if Devlin knows of him? Oh, and I overhead Devlin on the phone talking to Dan Marshfield at Middlestates, so you can bet that he's on to Antonio...No, I think I'm going to stake out his office at the house. I'll wait until the whole bunch of them head out somewhere and then see if I can get inside. All I need to do is copy the page."
Jeff heard the engine start and saw the man, whom he now knew as Len, pull out, still holding the phone to his ear. Jeff followed the Lexus all the way back to Rolling Meadows. As the Lexus passed The Fairview, it slowed down to a crawl. Len was staring at a car in the lot, Hamadi's rental car. Stepping on the gas, he continued on to the Rolling Meadows Travel Lodge where he turned in.
At a leisurely speed, Jeff drove back to his room at The Fairview. Lying down on the bed, he tried to figure out his next move. It was already 2:00 on Friday afternoon and he needed to come to some decision soon. Maybe he could think better on a full stomach. The Dairy Queen he had spotted earlier in the day came to mind.
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