The Eyes of Ishtar
Chapter 1

For twenty-three years Dr. Michael Savarin had been teaching Ancient Near Eastern Languages at Middlestates Theological Seminary. It was not a particularly prestigious school, and he could easily have moved up to one of the better-known theological seminaries, or even a major university like Harvard, but Dr. Savarin liked Hampton Heights. He liked it quite a bit, and so did his wife.

Over his teaching career, Dr. Savarin had noticed a marked decline in the seminary student. Like fog dissipating on a misty morning, so had the drive for excellence. Slipshod preparation was now the norm.

Antonio Kamil was the rare exception. Not only did he pursue his studies with diligence, but he was respectful in a day when that virtue was no longer fashionable. Thus, at the beginning of the fall term, Dr. Savarin had asked him to assist in some highly important research, a project on which he had been toiling for more than a decade. Antonio had been genuinely pleased by the request, and during the academic year his selfless devotion to the work was impressive.

Summer arrived in no time at all, and Antonio was to vacation in the Mediterranean with his parents for the next three months. A family reunion had been planned over a year ago. However, Antonio now suggested to Dr. Savarin that perhaps it might be better for him to postpone his trip, to remain for the summer and help finish the work. But Dr. Savarin wouldn't hear of it. "No, Antonio. You are to go overseas as scheduled. We'll finish the project the minute you get back." With obvious reluctance, Antonio had agreed.

Maggie, Dr. Savarin's wife, was not in the best of health, so they decided to stay home for the summer. Dr. Savarin was actually quite pleased at this. On the brink of success in his research, he didn't want to lose his momentum. His first regard, though, was for Maggie, and if she wished to travel, even to the North Pole, then he would do everything within reason to get there. However, Maggie assured him that she would much rather stay home and design a new quilt, the seed of an idea having already taken root. Quilting was a pastime she loved, and her many awards attested to considerable expertise in this area.

The very week spring term ended, Dr. Savarin settled down to work from his study at home, and for more than a month he labored with unremitting enthusiasm. Now, Monday morning, he awoke with a premonition that this was to be his lucky day. Jumping out of bed, he rushed to his study to grapple with the final problem. He tackled it assiduously all day and well into the night. Everything was going perfectly; the solution was at his fingertips. And then, with one last flash of insight, the sun broke through the clouds. He had done it! Years and years of painstaking effort had culminated in success.

The joy was almost too much. Dr. Savarin seized his bottle of nitro tablets. Shaking one out, he placed it under his tongue, and the tablet started to dissolve. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. With a satisfied smile, he silently rejoiced in this greatest of all his achievements. He had solved a mystery that had defied mankind for millenia. Oh, the surprise when the archaeological community would hear of it! He could imagine their astonishment. They hadn't known of his research into this ancient puzzle, and it would be a shock. No one had known.

No one, that is, except Mr. Jones. Dr. Savarin's cheerful musings turned sour. The mysterious Mr. Jones. Who he was and how he had found out was a puzzle Dr. Savarin couldn't solve.

Mr. Jones had definitely become a problem, and Dr. Savarin was at a loss how to handle it. For the present, he would dismiss him from his thoughts. He would let his mind dwell instead on the prestige that would unquestionably be coming his way. In his mind he could see the headlines in the New York Times: "ANCIENT MYSTERY SOLVED BY WORLD RENOWNED EXPERT DR. MICHAEL SAVARIN."

The nitro tablet took effect, and the good professor soon fell into a dreamy sleep. He was standing on a stage in nothing but his bedroom slippers, receiving the Olympic Torch from Dr. Jergenson, president of the seminary. Two hours passed before he awoke and went to bed.

The next morning Dr. Savarin wrote out the final steps of his research on a sheet of paper. He typed a summary statement at the bottom and put this last sheet behind the rest of his work in the file box beside his desk. Once Antonio returned from his vacation, Dr. Savarin would share the good news with him. His help had been invaluable, and it was proper and fitting that Antonio be acknowledged for his contribution.

The phone rang. Picking up the receiver, Dr. Savarin spoke a breezy, "Hello?"

"Dr. Savarin. This is Mr. Jones. It's been some time since we last spoke."

Dr. Savarin's spirits sank. A moment before he had felt light-hearted and content. Now he felt apprehensive and angry. His knuckles whitened as he gripped the receiver. "I've asked you not to call me. When there is something to report, you'll see the notice in the personal column."

"Will I? I wonder. Several months ago, when last we spoke, you intimated you were nearing the end. Have you finished Dr. Savarin? I would find it most upsetting if you should tell me a lie."

There was no mistaking the threat. Dr. Savarin tried to control his nerves and speak with a confidence he did not feel. "The end is actually quite near. This is not an easy code to break, Mr. Jones, as you well know. You should be hearing from me, hopefully, by the end of the summer. Please, be patient; it won't be much longer. My wife is not well, and I've not been able to spend sufficient time on the code, not as much as I would have liked."

"Two more months." Mr. Jones ended the conversation with a note of finality.

With a trembling hand, Dr. Savarin replaced the receiver. Suddenly he felt a nervous wreck. How dare that man threaten him! Without knowing who he was, though, there wasn't much that Dr. Savarin could do. He certainly didn't want to upset Maggie by telling her about it. She had enough to handle. The bottle of nitro tablets was on the desk. In one rapid motion he shook a pill into his hand and popped it into his mouth. It required a noble effort on his part to relax. But Dr. Savarin was determined not to allow this odious man to upset him any more than he already had. No, Mr. Jones was not going to upset him any more.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Maggie, please reconsider. We have plenty of room and would love to have you. Why keep staying in that big house all by yourself?" It was Maggie's sister Phyllis on the phone. She and her husband, Greg, lived in Lake Lorraine, about seventy-five miles from Hampton Heights. For the past month they had been urging her to move in with them, into the mother-in-law suite currently unoccupied due to the recent death of Greg's mother.

"It's really very kind of you, Phyllis, and I'd love to, but I guess I'm just afraid of you and Greg getting tired of me."

"You're being silly! We all get along, and besides, you'll be in your own suite of rooms. We don't have to see each other every day, you know. Come on, what do you say? Greg truly likes the idea."

The thought of living alone was not a happy one, so with tears of gratitude Maggie finally accepted and promised to start packing right away. Replacing the phone, she found a box of tissues and dabbed her eyes.

Brimming over with happiness, Maggie wasted no time. She grabbed several newspapers and separated the sheets into one neat pile. She then scurried around the house to find all her knickknacks. They were everywhere. The knickknacks were gathered together on the dining room table, and Maggie set up a card table on which she placed the pile of newspapers.

She picked up a porcelain bell and set it in the center of the paper. The bell had been a gift from Michael on their 30th wedding anniversary. Instantly her thoughts went back in time to that special day. The memory was clear and sharp, like it was only yesterday. She could almost hear Michael's soft voice: "Maggie, for thirty years my heart has been ringing with love for you." Fighting back tears was hopeless, and Maggie took a chair by the window and wept.

After several minutes, she raised her head and wiped her eyes. On the window sill was a little wren. He was bobbing up and down, so happy, so carefree, and like magic, Maggie felt her spirits lift. She smiled as she watched the bird prance around. Then off he flew, taking all her sadness with him.

Now in a more collected frame of mind, Maggie took time to think. It was obvious that over the years she and Michael had accumulated more possessions than she could ever need or use. And since she couldn't take everything to Lake Lorraine, she would have to be discriminating in her choices. She would take only what kindled the most cherished memories and nothing else. The antiques would be given to her son, Peter, and daughter, Victoria, and what remained, though valuable, would be boxed up and given to Nelson Brothers. As for Michael's papers, these she would entrust to Antonio. With this thought in mind, Maggie decided a trip to the seminary to empty out Michael's office should be first in order.

Maggie found the dean, Dr. Daniel Marshfield, and asked if he could possibly round up a couple students to assist her. He was most accommodating, and within an hour everything was packed into file boxes and delivered to her house on Woodcrest Lane.

"Maggie, were you aware of any research of Michael's that might be useful to the seminary? Any research he possibly was ready to submit for publication?"

Maggie shook her head. "No, Dan. I really didn't know much about his research. I'm sorry." This wasn't exactly the truth, but Maggie didn't feel too guilty about it.

Dr. Marshfield continued looking at her. "What are your plans for his papers, or haven't you had time to think about that yet?"

"I'm not sure what to do with them at the present moment, but I'll give it some thought over the summer. Thanks for all your help." Uncomfortable with the direction in which he was going, Maggie said goodbye and left.

Back at home and feeling energetic, Maggie decided to put off wrapping the knickknacks for now. Instead, she went to the basement and brought up dozens of empty boxes and a half-dozen or so file boxes which Michael had wisely stored for future needs. She packed three of the file boxes with some of his smaller clothing items: ties, socks, t-shirts, belts, sweater vests and such like.

Rummaging through the last dresser drawer, Maggie picked up a box in which Michael had kept odds and ends. Underneath the box was a tie; a fugitive from the past. For a few seconds, she couldn't move. Pinned to the tie was a slip of paper in Michael's handwriting: Maggie's first tie. Yes, it was the first she had made, and here it was, secreted away all these many years. Maggie was touched and tears started falling again. It was a good five minutes before she managed to get a grip on her emotions and continue with her work.

With the tie gently laid aside, the three boxes were stuffed full and pushed against the wall. Larger boxes were found for the rest of Michael's wardrobe and her own. Maggie couldn't help but be appalled at the amount of clothes and shoes they had acquired over the years, and much of it seldom, if ever, worn.

Next she cleared out her own workroom. This was where Maggie kept all the materials related to quilting, baking, sewing, and numerous other pastimes in which she indulged herself. She took the lid off a file box and filled it with quilting and craft magazines no longer wanted. There were numerous cookbooks and pages of recipes as well, and these, together with the remaining magazines, she squeezed into two more boxes. The remaining file box she crammed with remnants of quilting material, duplicate craft tools, and other unwanted sewing supplies.

Maggie spent several days packing goods from the rest of the house and garage. Finally, everything in the house that could be boxed up was, and Maggie asked her neighbor's son Mark if he wouldn't mind coming over and giving her a hand stacking the boxes out of the way. Mark said he would be glad to help and came right over.

Entering the den, they made their way to where the six boxes from the seminary sat in the middle of the floor. Maggie asked Mark to slide them over against the wall on the right-hand side of the doorway. He slid them over. A similar box was in Michael's study, and Maggie asked Mark to get it and place it alongside those from the seminary. He found the box and positioned it snugly up against the others. Leading the way to her workroom, she instructed Mark to place these four file boxes in the den along the same wall where Michael's research boxes were sitting, but on the other side of the doorway. Mark did so. The boxes from the bedroom he carried to the den, placing the three file boxes next to the four already there and the larger boxes on the other side of the room where there was more space. There were numerous smaller boxes in the kitchen, and Maggie had Mark place them in the den, "anywhere along a wall where there's room." He divided them up, putting eight on each side of the doorway atop the file boxes.

For the next hour Mark moved the packed boxes in the rest of the house neatly against the walls. In every room and the garage, boxes were neatly stacked.

Maggie thanked him, gave him a twenty-dollar bill and a quick hug.

"Oh, Maggie, I don't want this," he protested, holding it out in his hand.

She rolled his fingers over it and squeezed his hand. "I want you to have it. You've always been such a help to me and Michael." Tears formed in her eyes. Mark returned the hug and left.

A week later, a family from Wisconsin made an offer on the house, which Maggie accepted. The closing would take place within the next two weeks, so she placed a call to McComb Moving and scheduled a pickup for the furnishings going to Lake Lorraine. The truck came immediately, and three men carefully loaded everything up. Next, she called Nelson Brothers and asked them to send their truck because she had a houseful of goods for them. The truck with four men arrived around 4:00. Maggie gave them specific instructions on what they should take and what they should leave. In particular, she mentioned the seven file boxes in the den on the right-hand side of the doorway. They were to stay.

The men worked speedily and efficiently clearing out the garage and house. Vince headed for the den, the last room to be cleared. He stood in the doorway and casually looked the room over. On his right were two stacks of boxes. He carried out the eight on top and left the seven according to instructions. On the other side of the doorway were two more stacks of boxes, and all these he carried to the truck. His partners removed the larger boxes and the room was finally emptied of all they were to take.

The truck left. Maggie stood in the garage, vacant now except for her car. With a sigh, she entered the kitchen, and its bare walls and empty shelves filled her with sadness. In the living room were a couple Queen Anne chairs and an antique roll-top desk. Victoria would be coming shortly to pick them up. Michael's desk, which Peter would take, had been moved from the study into the front room. Maggie slid her hand along the glossy surface. It was a finely crafted piece of furniture made of mahogany with brass handles. A roll-away bed looked out of place against the wall. This would serve Maggie's needs for the next week and then be given to her neighbors.

Maggie was overwhelmed with a feeling of loneliness. She couldn't bear to see Michael's study or his den, so she simply pulled the doors shut without a glance inside. Time heals all wounds, so they say. Maggie hoped so.

The phone rang. She hurried to answer it. "Hello?"

"I wish to speak with Dr. Savarin."

"I'm sorry, but my husband recently passed away. Who is calling please?" There was silence at the other end of the line. "Hello? Hello? Are you there?" Maggie shrugged her shoulders. Must not be too important, she thought to herself.

* * * * * * * * * *

Nelson Brothers Warehouse was located on the shore of Hampton Heights Lake. It was one of the first businesses in Hampton Heights and had gained a reputation over the past eighty-five years as the finest warehouse in the state of Minnesota. Although its primary business was warehousing, Nelson Brothers maintained one sideline venture: It was connected with the world of auctioning. They would receive sundry items at the facility and sell them to fifteen small auction facilities within the state. Expensive personal items, such as jewelry, art work, computers, and musical instruments, were everyday fare. Nelson Brothers bought these at roughly half their value. More numerous were items of lesser value, often coming into the warehouse by the truckload. This frequently occurred when the heir to an estate--not wishing to be encumbered with the inconvenience of a garage or estate sale--arranged with Nelson Brothers for the removal of these household goods. In such cases, a suitable compensation was agreed upon. Items brought into the warehouse for auction were set aside for sorting and shipment to the auction houses. Nelson Brothers charged an appropriate fee, and the auction houses were then free to make whatever profit they could.

Many of the employees of Nelson Brothers had been there for thirty years or more. The pay and benefits were excellent. Ownership and management of the facility had stayed within the Nelson family the entire time, and they had maintained an atmosphere of good will with their employees. Shorty was one of those employees who had worked at Nelson Brothers for over thirty years. He had been there, it seemed, his whole life. In another month he would reach his thirty-fifth anniversary and was looking forward to retiring and taking his pension at that time.

This morning Shorty had to separate the contents of ten crates of goods and assemble them for the various auction houses. It was a job he especially liked. Every so often he thought of taking a thing or two, but he never did. Honesty still meant something to him as did an honest day's work. But today he was not feeling well, and his mind wandered continually. He had been to see the doctor yesterday. "Now, we'll just wait for the results before we jump to any conclusions. It may be nothing at all," the doctor had said encouragingly. Nevertheless, Shorty knew better. It was cancer. What else would a spot on his lung be?

Any other day Shorty could pack these shipping containers blindfolded, but today his hands seemed numb. He picked up a small box and lifted the cover. Peering inside, he beheld a glass chest with an etching of a hummingbird on top, and gently placing his fingers around the sides, he pulled the chest out. It was a jewelry box with a shiny gold clasp. He felt something move inside. Opening the lid, he was amazed to find an identical miniature jewelry box resting on the blue velvet lining. Carefully he took it out. Both sparkled with colorful stones, and Shorty was captivated by their beauty. Before putting the smaller box back inside, he would wrap it for protection. He looked for the box of wrapping tissue, but it was nowhere in sight. He searched for a few more minutes, but time was ticking by and Shorty didn't want to stay late, not with the wife worrying so about him. Nearby he spotted a number of cardboard file boxes. Lifting the lid on one, he found it filled from front to back with papers. He pulled out the last sheet. Surely one piece of paper would never be missed from a whole boxful. Taking his time, he wrapped the smaller jewelry box in the paper and placed it snugly inside the larger one. "Perfect," he whispered to himself. "Just perfect."

* * * * * * * * * *

Antonio's Mediterranean vacation was one to be remembered. He had met and entertained a host of lovely girls, gambled and won a good deal of money, and visited with relatives, some of whom he had never met. His parents were extending their stay for a while longer. Three months had not been enough time to catch up on all that had happened back in Egypt.

At the airport, Antonio fondly bid them all good-bye and boarded his flight to the States. His summer vacation was over, and he needed to get back to the seminary to assist Dr. Savarin. To be more precise, he was anxious to get back. Antonio remembered well the excitement in Dr. Savarin's voice when he had bid him good sailing. Victory of some kind had been on the horizon.

Upon arriving home, Antonio made it of prime importance to see Dr. Savarin right away. He would drop by his house this very evening and get all the latest news on the project. Leaving his luggage to unpack later, Antonio jumped in his Mercedes and sped over to the professor's house. On the way, his mind conjured up images of the professor and himself standing on a great stage receiving an award for outstanding work in the area of Ancient Near Eastern Languages.

Pulling up to the curb of the Savarin home, Antonio noticed the real estate sign. That's odd, he thought. Were they moving to a smaller house perhaps?

Mrs. Savarin answered the door. "Antonio, how nice to see you," and bowing her head, she started to cry.

Alarmed, Antonio took her arm and led her to a chair. He was surprised to see the room almost completely empty. "Mrs. Savarin, what's happened? The Professor, he's not had an accident, has he?"

Through a flood of tears she related how Michael died about a month after Antonio had left. "It was a sudden heart attack. He died before the ambulance could get here."

Mrs. Savarin's grief broke his heart, so Antonio didn't prolong his stay. Making the suitable condolences, he clasped her hand in his. "Please take care. I'll drop by tomorrow." In a confused state of mind, Antonio left.

Back in his apartment, he wondered what had happened to the professor's papers. Had the research been finished and submitted to any journals? Was it lying around amidst a desk full of papers or had it been safely put away? Did anyone else know about it, and who, in fact, did it really belong to? The seminary? Mrs. Savarin? Himself? This was a distinct possibility. After all, he had assisted in the work.

The next day Antonio rushed over to the seminary. Dean Marshfield informed him that Mrs. Savarin had boxed up all her husband's papers and taken them. "No, I'm not aware of any recent submission of his. Was there something he had been working on? Something the seminary should know about?"

"No, no, nothing that I know of," Antonio quickly assured him. "I was simply checking, that's all." The dean looked suspicious.

Antonio sped over to the professor's house. Mrs. Savarin answered the door, and seeing Antonio, she apologized for her behavior the night before.

"Oh, please, I understand. Such a tragedy, it's hard to take it all in. Are you feeling up to a visit today?" he gently asked.

"Yes, I am. Please," and she held the door open.

She filled Antonio in with all the details of her husband's death, the funeral, and of her own plans for life without Michael. "I won't be leaving for another couple days. The closing is tomorrow. By the way, there are a number of boxes in the den for you containing Michael's work and the research project the two of you were working on. He had finished it and was so anxious to have you see it." She smiled warmly at Antonio. "He liked you a lot, you know. Said you were the best student he ever had. I'm sure you'll know what to do with it all."

She led the way to the den and asked Antonio if he wouldn't mind tending to it himself. She couldn't bring herself to go in. "Can you manage them all right, or do you want to get someone to help you?" she asked.

"No, I think I can manage."

Maggie left him, and Antonio opened the door. The room was completely empty except for seven file boxes against the wall. He lifted the first box. It was surprisingly heavy, but he carried it to the car without any strain. The next four boxes were lighter in weight. The last two were again quite heavy. Antonio was glad there were no more.

"Thank you so much, Mrs. Savarin. I'm sure I'll see you again before you leave. Goodbye."

By the time Antonio got all seven boxes into his apartment, he was tired. But he was also curious, so sliding the heaviest box over to the center of the floor, he lifted the lid. The box was jammed tightly with magazines. He pulled one out near the front, Advanced Designs for the Experienced Knitter. He stared at it, perplexed. What's this? From nearer the back, he pulled out another, Having Fun with Decoupage. Antonio reached in and grabbed three more, all of them Quilter's Monthly.

Shoving the box out of the way, Antonio slid another one toward him, one of the lighter-weight boxes. He lifted the lid, and to his consternation he found it stuffed full of sewing material and supplies. A mammoth bundle of knitting needles tied up with string was lying on top. Antonio kicked it to the side, and with a feeling of apprehension, rushed over to stand staring down at the remaining five boxes. Falling to his knees, he flung off all the covers. Three of the boxes were jam-packed with clothing. The last two, however, contained more magazines together with books and papers. With a silent prayer, he pulled out a book, Beginner's Guide to Hungarian Cuisine. He let it fall to the floor. His heart now pounding, Antonio reached into the box and yanked out a handful of papers, frantically flipping through them. "Chocolate Extravaganzas," "Low-Fat Desserts for the Middle-aged Man," "Tasty Treats with Artichoke Hearts." In despair he tossed them aside.

Antonio was almost beside himself. Snatching the phone, he pushed the button that automatically dialed the Savarin residence. There was no answer, only the answering machine. Taking a deep breath, he left a message along with his number and asked Mrs. Savarin to call him the very minute she came in. It was a matter of the greatest urgency. Overwhelmed with depression, Antonio sunk into a chair and stared off into space. "All that work," he sighed. "All that work."

* * * * * * * * * *

The following morning Mrs. Savarin returned home after spending the night with a dear friend. She noticed the flashing light on the answering machine and pushed the button. "Mrs. Savarin, this is Antonio. Something terrible has happened. The boxes you gave me were filled with magazines, clothes, and sewing stuff. Please call me the moment you get home. My number is 487-1163." Maggie stood silently, trying to grasp the significance of the message. She dialed the number Antonio had left, and it was answered before the first ring finished.

"Hello, Mrs. Savarin, is that you?"

"Yes, it's me. I don't know how to begin. Why don't you come on over, and we'll try to figure out what happened." She sounded close to tears.

The normal ten-minute drive took only five. Mrs. Savarin was standing in the open door waiting for him, wringing her hands in obvious distress. They stood on the porch, and with a rush of words she told him about the day the movers had come.

Taking a quick breath, she looked at Antonio. "The men from Nelson Brothers must have taken them by mistake. I'm certain I told them not to take the boxes on the right-hand side of the doorway. Maybe in all the confusion they got things mixed up. You must go over there immediately and see what you can find out. After losing Michael, I don't think I could stand it if his greatest achievement was lost too." Antonio promised he would leave at once and turned in the direction of his car. "Oh, Antonio, I do have to go to the closing today, and tomorrow I'll be leaving. Let me give you Phyllis' number, and you will call me, won't you, the minute you know something? I dread leaving with this worry hanging over me, but I must."

She stepped into the house and returned almost instantly with a piece of paper in her hand. Antonio looked straight into her eyes. "I promise I won't let the matter rest until I know what happened." He strode to his car and sped off down the street.

Maggie turned to go into the house. She had taken only a few steps when a car pulled up to the curb and a well-dressed gentleman emerged.

"How do you do, Madam. I am looking for a house in this area and see that yours is for sale."

"Oh, I'm sorry. The real estate company should have taken that sign down. The house has been sold. There are two others on the next block. You might like to look at them."

"How unfortunate. Your home has much appeal. The sale is definitely final?"

"Yes, I'm afraid it is. The new owners will be moving in this weekend."

"Thank you, Madam. I will take a look at the others." With a slight bow, the stranger got in his car and drove away.

* * * * * * * * * *

Karen Phillips had paid a pretty penny for the jewelry box, but she couldn't be happier. It was crystal, trimmed around the edges in gold with a band of iridescent glass beads encircling it. The box rested on four round, gold knobs, and there was a hummingbird etched on its cover.

Lifting the gold clasp, Karen opened the box. Inside was something neatly wrapped in a sheet of paper. Taking it out, she removed the paper and let it fall to the floor. To her surprise, she was holding another jewelry box identical to the larger one. Karen gazed at the delicate etching, amazed that such fine work could be done on something so small. This box, she thought, would be the perfect place to keep the antique ring her grandmother had given her. It was a rather gaudy-looking thing that Karen hadn't wanted. But her sister Patsy didn't like it either, so rather than hurt Gramma's feelings, Karen had oohed appropriately and thanked her with a befitting amount of exuberance. With a sense of satisfaction, she would hide it away in this perfect little box.

About to toss the rejected paper into the wastebasket, Karen had second thoughts. Maybe it gave the name of the original owner. She gave it a quick scan. The page was filled with handwritten characters and typing, but she found no name. Karen perused it again, this time more carefully. To her utter amazement, the characters looked like Cuneiform script! This was probably an Akkadian text. The Gilgamesh Epic was written in Akkadian, and although she couldn't read the language, she'd seen copies of the ancient tablets on one of her visits to Patsy and Max. Her brother-in-law, Max Devlin, had been translating them at the time, and Karen had been fascinated by their history and the story they told. Max had a unique gift for making ancient history come alive.

There were other letters on the page, but these Karen didn't recognize at all. Probably same other ancient language, she thought. Karen read the typing at the bottom of the page. "The clues to deciphering this mysterious code have at long last been successfully interpreted. It has been my greatest achievement, and I humbly offer this publication to all those who love archaeology and the ancient languages of the middle east with the same passion as myself."

Karen knew she was holding something extremely valuable. In what way and to whom she had no idea. Someone had made an astonishing discovery, and before it could be published, this page was hidden away in a jewelry box. Did the jewelry box inadvertently become lost? Was it stolen? Or was the jewelry box purposely removed from its usual spot in order to prevent the page from being stolen? If so, how did it become lost and end up at an auction? Perhaps some thief took the box and paper, and being found out, sold it to an auction house hoping to go back for it later. Karen mulled over these thoughts for several minutes. All sorts of valuable items were accidentally lost and as time passed forgotten. Maybe this was one of them. People were always looking for these rare finds at estate sales, flea markets, garage sales, and, like herself, at auctions. But what if the person who wrote this page lost it purely by accident and was still looking for it? Was there the least possibility of ever finding it?

Maybe she should show it to Max. A professor of Ancient Near Eastern Languages at a relatively new university in Georgia, he was highly respected in his field. Twenty years ago Max had received his Ph.D. in the field and was a scholar of the first class. He loved the languages and life of ancient near eastern civilizations and had written two books on the subject, not to mention numerous journal articles. Karen didn't believe there was anyone so immersed in the ways of ancient life as Max, and he spoke passionately about the subject. In fact, the subject somehow managed to be relevant to almost any topic that she or Patsy brought up. "Now isn't that interesting," he would say. "You know what they did back in Assyria, don't you?"

Patsy and Max had been badgering her to come for a visit. Opportunities for getting together over the past few years had been few and far between, and Karen missed them. The last visit, if she remembered correctly, was two years ago at Christmas. Parisa would now be four-years old. Karen's boutique was doing well, and she could afford to take a week or so off. Yes, she would take a short vacation and surprise Max with the paper. He would be in seventh-heaven. She would plan for early October when the weather was so delightful in Georgia.


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