"Where do you think they went?" Karen asked Patsy. "It's been over fifteen minutes."
"I don't know. Maybe they found some clue and are out in the woods looking for this Mr. Jones Flori guy. I hope they're careful. Antonio said the man is dangerous."
"What did Antonio tell you while we were gone?" Karen asked. "Everything was so rushed when we got back that I'm afraid I'm still sort of in the dark."
Patsy gave Karen a succinct summary of all that had occurred. "You can see how it happened, can't you? With Antonio's easy-going nature and the natural respect he had for two older men, well, they were just too much for him. But things will turn out okay, you'll see. I know Antonio thinks the world of you, but he's afraid you won't want to drive back with him now. And with this Mr. Jones still on the loose, he thinks it might be better if you didn't."
Karen mulled these things over in her mind while she looked out the window. Returning to the kitchen, Patsy filled the sink in preparation for washing some pots and pans. Abruptly Max appeared at the edge of the woods, and Karen called out, "Here comes Max, and he's all alone."
Hurrying outside, they saw Max enter the garage.
"Need some rope. Where is it, where is it?" they heard him mumbling. He pushed things aside and pulled out drawers, slamming them closed again. "Patsy, have you seen any rope around here?"
"Right there, honey." And she pointed to where the rope was hanging on the wall underneath a hose. "What's going on? What's the rope for?"
"No time to explain. Got to pull Flori out of the swamp before he succumbs." With these final words, Max grabbed the rope and ran back into the woods.
"I didn't know there was a swamp back there," Karen said to Patsy with some concern in her voice. "Could someone actually get stuck in it and die?"
"No, I don't think that could happen, it's not that deep. But if we've had a lot of rain, and we have, it's hard to see where the boggy part actually starts, and before someone is aware of any danger, he's gotten in up to his knees in this thick muck. You know how it is when you start to panic. You get all twisted around and usually end up getting yourself into a worse mess than if you had taken a minute to relax and think."
"Yeah, panic will do that," Karen agreed. "Is there anything that we should be doing?"
"No, we'd better stay put. If they need us, they'll at least know where we are."
* * * * * * * * * *
"I'd better go back and give him the news about the rope," Dr. Richardson said. "Hope I can find my way."
"I'll go with you," Antonio offered, "but I'll stay out of sight when we get close."
The two of them started off with Dr. Richardson calling out, "Are you okay? I'm on my way." But there was no answer. "Maybe we're still out of range." They hurried on, periodically calling out. Finally, they heard Flori answer, but his voice sounded hoarse and weak. Ten minutes later they came upon him still standing in the same spot, and while Dr. Richardson advanced, Antonio moved out of sight. "A man was driving down the street, and he's going into town to buy some rope to help us. Until he gets here, you'd better not try to move. He said the swamp gets pretty deep in certain spots."
"Yes, I'll not move. I feel strangely cold."
A nasty wind was now blowing, and the temperature had dropped considerably from the morning high. Dr. Richardson couldn't help but feel some pity for the stranger, the way he was continually trembling. "It won't be much longer. Then we'll take you home. Will you be okay while I go back and wait for this other man? He may already be looking for us."
"Go. Yes, I will be fine."
Antonio was waiting off a short distance, and when Dr. Richardson got back to him they made their way to where Jeff was waiting. Max arrived with the rope and handed it to Jeff.
"I recognized his voice. It's Flori all right," Antonio told them.
"Good. I've been thinking and have come up with a plan. I think we can dispense with the idea of tying him up. Jeff, you and Richardson will go and pull him out. Antonio and I will head back to the house, and Antonio is going to take your car and park it a little ways down the road. Do you have your keys?" Jeff handed them to Antonio. "Help Flori out of the woods. If you come upon the house first before seeing your car, pretend that you don't know who lives there. You can ask him if he wants to see if whoever lives there will help, but no doubt he'll say no. Once you get out on the road, take him to the car and back to your motel room. But in the car you're going to find a thermos bottle of coffee that will have a couple sleeping pills in it. Make sure he drinks some right away. By the time you get to the motel, he should be pretty much out of it. Antonio and I will be in the next motel room watching for you. Remember, be careful. He's out of his element now and anxious to keep his identity a secret, but once he feels safe, he could become dangerous if he thinks you know who he is. And in order for you to feel safe, I brought a gun. Who wants it?"
"I'll take it," Dr. Richardson answered.
Max handed it to him, but before letting go asked, "Are you for us or against us, Richardson?"
Meekly he answered, "I'm for you."
With a smile, Max let go of the gun and gave him a pat on the shoulder. "Welcome aboard, Leonard." Turning to Antonio, he gave him a nod and said, "Let's go. It's almost 5:30 and we have lots to do. Oh, I almost forgot." Max turned to Jeff. "Here's a flashlight. You're going to need it."
Max and Antonio turned back in the direction of the house while Jeff followed Dr. Richardson to where Flori was standing in the bog. "We have the rope. Are you okay?" Dr. Richardson asked.
"Yes, I'm okay."
Dr. Richardson stepped as close to the edge of the swamp as possible. About fifteen feet separated them. "I'm going to toss the end of the rope to you, and you need to wrap it around your chest a couple times and tie it tightly. Ready?"
On the first toss, the rope landed over Flori's shoulder. He fumbled about trying to grab it, and when he had done so, wrapped it around his chest. But his hands were numb, and he had difficulty tying a knot. "I can't do it. My hands, they are so numb."
Jeff whispered to Dr. Richardson. "I'll go in and help him. Max said there's really no danger."
"Well, all right, but watch yourself."
Walking up to the edge, Jeff looked at Flori. "I'm going to come out there and help you. You need to stand still and wait."
Cautiously he stepped into the muddy water. His foot sank into the mud up to his ankle. Before placing his other foot in, he decided to pull his foot back out to test the suction. It took a bit of effort. Jeff slowly made his way toward him. Although he knew there was no danger, he definitely felt uneasy. He could imagine how it had been when Flori found himself sinking in deeper and deeper.
The water was not as warm as he had expected. Perhaps the density of the forest kept the sun from really heating things up. He continued on and was soon up to his knees in mud, and the suction was quite strong, making it difficult to proceed. After more exertion than he had anticipated, Jeff finally was facing Mr. Jones.
Jeff felt a bit of compassion for him. Even though his face was splattered with mud, Jeff could see that he was quite pale and weak. He was shaking constantly. Taking the rope, Jeff made sure it was snug around Flori's chest and tied a good knot, one that would not easily be undone. "Now, I want you to take hold of the rope with both hands. I'm going to grab hold under your right leg and help you pull it free. When the gentleman begins to pull, take a step. Just the one step to start off with. Got it?" Flori nodded. "Okay, sir," he called to Dr. Richardson. "We're ready."
Jeff raised Flori's right leg. He could offer little assistance in his weakened condition. His leg came free with an ugly sucking sound, and Jeff moved it forward about eight inches while Dr. Richardson applied tension to the rope. Flori leaned forward and put his weight on it. To keep him from falling, Jeff held on to him. "Loosen up on the rope, I need to get to his other side," he called out. Looking again at Flori, he continued. "I'm going to use you as a support while I move around to help with your other leg." Placing his hands on Flori's shoulders, Jeff made his way through the muck. Once in position, he grabbed Flori's left leg under the thigh and moved it forward while Dr. Richardson applied steady tension to the rope. In this manner, they were able to get Flori to dry ground. Jeff himself was now slightly chilled and tired.
Collapsing on the ground, Flori closed his eyes. Jeff informed him that his car was out on the road and he had a thermos of hot coffee in it. "We'll warm you up soon." Turning to Dr. Richardson, he asked, "Do you think we can get him there?"
"I'm not sure, but we have to try. It's getting dark and colder by the minute." He turned to the man lying on the ground. "We need to get you out of here. Are you up to trying it?"
"Yes. How can I thank you? You saved my life. I thought that surely I must perish in this quicksand."
They helped Flori to his feet and the length of rope was looped up and placed over his head to rest on his chest. With a great deal of effort, they supported him and made their way in the direction of what they hoped was either the road or Max's house. It was a long and strenuous trek. Many times they had to sit down and recover their strength, and without the flashlight, it was unlikely that they would have made it out.
* * * * * * * * * *
Patsy and Karen had just stepped outside when they saw Max and Antonio return. "They're going into the office," Patsy said. "Let's see what's happening."
They ran over and found Max handing the typewriter to Antonio. "What's going on?" Patsy asked.
"I'm hatching up a plan, but there's no time to tell you about it now," Max answered. "Jeff and Leonard Richardson are pulling Flori out of the swamp. I need to have a thermos filled with hot coffee for them. Honey, can you do that? And put some sleeping pills in it, just enough to put him to sleep for a bit."
Patsy looked astonished. "If you say so, but what's that going to accomplish?"
"I can't explain now. Put the coffee in Jeff's car. Antonio and I are meeting him back at the motel. Hurry."
Patsy and Karen left with a shrug of their shoulders, and Max looked at Antonio. "I need the typewriter because I'm going to make another copy of the paper which, I hope, is in Flori's pocket. Once he's asleep, we can retrieve the two pages he has, copy the original again with a few mistakes, and give him back the two phony pages."
"But what happens after he figures out that neither is genuine?"
Max had taken some paper and pens from his desk and was leaving the office. "Come on, I'll explain in the car."
Antonio followed carrying the typewriter. They were about to leave when Antonio noticed that the thermos wasn't there yet. "Max, wait. The thermos."
"Oh, I'm glad you noticed." He opened the car door just as Patsy was emerging from the house.
Handing him the thermos, she said, "Now be careful, honey. You're no James Bond, you know."
"I'm not? I rather thought I was." And with a wink, he closed the door and started the engine.
* * * * * * * * * *
"The road can't be much farther," Jeff said encouragingly. "Are you managing all right, Mr.?"
"Yes, thank you. Mr. Jones. And you men are?"
"My name's Jeff. I'm sorry, but I never got your name," and Jeff looked at Dr. Richardson.
"Leonard. Are you ready to continue, Mr. Jones?"
Once again they worked their way through the dense forest, and a half hour later finally reached the road. Jeff pointed the flashlight up and down searching for his car and spotted it about 300 feet away. "There it is. Be right back."
Pulling alongside, he helped Leonard get Flori in the back seat. "Here's some hot coffee to warm you up," and Jeff handed the thermos to Leonard. "I think there's an old blanket in the trunk." A minute later he was wrapping the blanket around Flori's shoulders.
Flori finished the coffee and thanked them in a grateful voice. "Your car, I am afraid it's getting rather soiled."
"Don't worry about that, I'll tend to it later. Right now I'm staying at a motel here in town, so why don't I take you back there and you can take a shower and rest until you recover from your experience. Once you're feeling better, I can drive you back home and Leonard to his car."
"Yes, that would be appreciated."
After a few minutes of driving, Jeff looked over his shoulder and saw Flori slumped in the corner sound asleep.
* * * * * * * * * *
On the drive to the motel, Max told Antonio his plan. "Flori must leave this country without suspecting us of any trickery. We can't have him or any of his thugs coming back for revenge. So that means we have to make him leave believing he has the original. Right now he has two copies in his possession. Are they both fakes or is one an original? Not being able to tell, he'll have to assume both are fakes and stick around until he gets his hands on the original, and I really don't want that. This thing is complicated enough already, and it could become a hopeless tangle."
"Then how do you propose to get him to leave the country when he thinks he may have two false copies?"
"That's where my new plan comes in. He's going to learn that he's too late, the original is already gone, because we're going to give a photocopy of the original to Zakai and have him take it back to Cairo."
"Zakai?" Antonio couldn't have been more surprised.
"Yes. He'll take the photocopy of the original back, but before he does, we'll release another news leak to the press stating something to the effect that the key for deciphering the ancient code has been acknowledged by the Egyptian government to be in the possession of one of their agents and will be in the country later that day."
"Then you've spoken to Hamadi?"
"No, not yet. He doesn't even know that I know he's here. But we're going to correct that right now." Max glanced at his watch. "He should be in his motel room waiting for Jeff. They were to go out to dinner tonight around 6:00, and it's ten after now, so he should still be there."
Max parked next to the only other car in the lot, and Antonio hurried up to the door and knocked. It was opened at once, and Hamadi, who was expecting to see Jeff, was stunned to find Antonio looking at him with Max by his side.
"Hamadi, much has happened. This is Max Devlin. Can we come in?"
Hamadi managed only a mumbled, "Certainly." Backing away from the door, he gestured for them to enter.
On his way in, Max stopped and offered his hand. "I believe we met once in Cairo many years ago. You may not remember me, Dr. Zakai."
"Ah, yes. But indeed I do. Your visit, Dr. Devlin, left a lasting impression."
Max took the next twenty minutes to explain all that he and Antonio knew and what had transpired over the last couple hours. "We will give you a copy of the original page to take back to Egypt. The original will stay here so that Antonio and I, that is, if he will allow me to assist, can get the research ready for publication. Once that is done, but before it is made public, whatever papers are still required to find the crown will be sent to you, and Egypt then can then make arrangements for excavating the site where the crown is hidden. Egypt will have her artifact, The Eyes of Ishtar; you will have the honor of having brought the mysterious code, now unraveled for all to read, to the world's attention in addition to displaying the crown in your museum; and Dr. Savarin will have the honor of having deciphered a code that no one else ever could."
"And what is to happen to Flori, or Mr. Jones as he wishes to be known?" Hamadi asked.
"He must not know that either Antonio or I had anything to do with giving you the key, but exactly how you're suppose to have gotten your hands on it, that I haven't figured out yet. If he thinks that either of us willingly gave it to you, he might try to get even, and we aren't equipped to handle any thugs that he might send over here to collect revenge. But that's not true with the Egyptian government. If Egypt could nail this underworld smuggler, well, would that make them happy? On the other hand, would it place you in any danger? We definitely don't want that."
Hamadi thought this over. "Flori is a dangerous man. So is Dimitrios. Their activities take place throughout the middle east and the Mediterranean. If the Egyptian police could arrest one or both and possibly break up the smuggling organization at the same time, they would be most happy. And they would not be ungrateful for my assistance. I can see no danger to myself once I'm on Egyptian soil."
"When are you to go back? Do you have your ticket already?"
"I am scheduled to leave on an early morning flight Sunday. I had plans to stay in a motel in Atlanta tomorrow night."
Max rubbed his chin while giving more thought to a plan. "It might not be a bad idea to book a flight for tomorrow morning as well. The sooner you're out of danger, the better. What motel are you registered at?"
"The Red Roof Inn."
"See if you can get a reservation for tonight, things might start moving fast. Now, Jeff and Leonard should be here with Flori shortly. Is it okay if we wait here with you?"
"I'd be delighted," Hamadi answered.
"Good. I'll bring the typewriter in. Antonio, would you help me?"
They brought in the typewriter, papers, and pens. It was now after 6:30. "Do you think anything has happened to them?" Antonio asked.
"I don't know. Let's give them another hour or so before we decide on any action. In the meantime, Hamadi, perhaps you should make the proper arrangements with the Cairo authorities letting them know you may be leaving as early as tomorrow morning. Be sure they have adequate protection awaiting you at the airport."
It was nearing 8:00 when Jeff's car finally arrived at the motel, and Max and Antonio hurried out to help carry Flori into Jeff's room. Once he was laid on the bed, Max suggested they search his clothes for the papers and a weapon. Jeff found a small diary, and the two pages of ancient script were neatly folded inside. Only one weapon, a switchblade, was discovered.
"I'll be back in ten minutes," Max said, and left with the two sheets of paper. When he returned, he placed two folded papers back in the diary and put the diary in Flori's jacket pocket.
"Are those different?" Jeff asked.
"Only one. You see, he had one fake copy of the key and the original. But he didn't know he had the original. At least he couldn't be sure whether he did. Now he has two fakes and soon will learn they are precisely that. My plan isn't finalized yet but should be shortly, and then you'll see what I'm up to. Leonard, you'd better leave. As far as Flori knows, you're a resident in these parts and you needed to get home. Wait with Antonio and Hamadi in his room two doors down. Jeff, when he wakes up, you can suggest that he take a shower. Offer to take his clothes to the laundry and wash and dry them. You can wash your own at the same time. Do you have a robe or something that he can put on?"
"Yeah, as a matter of fact I do," Jeff replied.
"Good. It might not be a bad idea for you to go out and get something for the both of you to eat. Take your time doing all this, because I need it to get my news leak in the works. He may want to leave once he has clean clothes."
"How can he? He doesn't have a car here," Jeff reminded him.
"Oh, yeah, that's right. How in the world did he get out to my place anyway?"
Leonard was opening the door to leave. "I parked my car in the one spot along your road where it couldn't be seen, and I didn't see any other vehicle," he offered. "Do you think he could have a confederate?"
"Oh, let's hope not," Max sighed. "Maybe he took a cab. We do have one taxi service here in Rolling Meadows. And where could he possibly be staying? There are two motels in Rolling Meadows, and you're in one and Jeff's in the other. Could he have checked in without either of you having seen him?"
"No, I would have noticed if he were here, I'm sure of that," Jeff responded.
"Leonard, you'd better check at your place. We'll drop by there now, and then I'll take you to your car. You can return here to the motel and wait with Antonio and Hamadi. Will you be okay here all alone with him, Jeff?"
"Sure. He has no reason for suspecting me. But maybe we'd better break this up before he comes to. I'll keep Antonio posted each time I leave the room."
"Ok. Remember now, he's Mr. Jones. You've never even heard the name Flori," Max cautioned as he opened the door.
"Right. Mr. Jones. I'll remember."
Jeff looked down at Mr. Jones lying on the bed. He gave him a slight push. He didn't move. Jeff raised one of his eyelids, but Mr. Jones didn't so much as flinch. A quick puff of breath on his face elicited no response whatsoever. He seemed to be sound asleep and not faking it.
Jeff was suddenly conscious of how filthy he was. Sitting on the edge of the chair, he removed his soaking shoes. After undressing and tossing his dirty clothes in the corner, he took a quick shower and got dressed. There was a pair of hiking boots in the trunk of his car, and Jeff quietly left the room to get them. Pulling a chair out and placing it next to the bed, he sat down to watch Mr. Jones and ponder over the events of the day. He had never in his life anticipated that helping Karen would get him involved with a dangerous criminal or with some international intrigue. If Mr. Jones should for some reason question the sincerity of his help, could he handle himself in an emergency? Jeff had the advantage of height and stamina but not much else. He had never taken any self-defense classes, nor had he ever had an occasion to threaten anyone with a fight. Nevertheless, if danger presented itself, he had no doubt that he could face the situation with sufficient courage. Yet, the best approach would be not to give any occasion for suspicion.
An hour and a half passed with no movement on the part of Mr. Jones. Finally Jeff detected a slight flicker of an eyelid. "Mr. Jones, are you awake?" He picked up his hand and rubbed it gently. "Mr. Jones, are you awake?"
He was coming to his senses and looked around the room. "Where am I? Are you the young man who helped me?"
"Yes. Do you remember us pulling you out of the swamp? You were in there an awfully long time, and I'm afraid you might be suffering from some hypothermia."
"Hypothermia. That means a low body temperature. It's made you groggy and tired. A hot shower or bath would probably make you feel better, don't you think?"
"Yes, perhaps so."
"I have a nice clean robe you can put on afterwards. In the back is a laundry room, so I can take your clothes over there and wash them. Afraid there's not much I can do for your shoes though. I have a pair of slippers you're welcome to use. Are you feeling up to a shower, or do you think you need to see a doctor? I can drive you over to the emergency room if you want."
Mr. Jones gave this some thought. He sat up slowly and looked down at his clothes. When he saw their filthy condition, he asked, "Do I look as frightful as these clothes?"
Jeff laughed good-naturedly. "Pretty close."
"Then I shall take a hot shower. Thank you for the kind offer of a robe and slippers." He got up from the bed, but it took a few moments for him to feel steady enough to make his way to the bathroom. Jeff gave him some support. "You're most kind," Mr. Jones told him.
Opening his suitcase, Jeff took out the robe. "If you want to toss your clothes out the bathroom door, I'll take them and get them washed."
Accepting the robe, Mr. Jones entered the bathroom. A couple minutes later the clothes were tossed out and Jeff gathered them up. "Be back soon."
* * * * * * * * * *
It was a short drive to Leonard's motel, and Max quickly filled him in with the details of Hamadi Zakai's presence at the Fairview Motel. At the Rolling Meadows Travel Lodge, Max waited while Leonard ran into the office. In a couple minutes he was back with the news that no one else had checked in. "Well, we can't waste time worrying about where he's been staying. I need to bring you up-to-date on this plan I've come up with." Leonard quietly listened while Max outlined his ideas. "We've got to come up with something feasible to leak to the press. Any ideas, Leonard?"
Leonard squinted his eyes in thought. "Seems to me it's imperative for Flori to believe that whoever had the genuine paper had to let it go unwillingly. Right now he's under the impression that you were the last one to have it, correct?"
"Yes, since he took what he thought was the genuine page from my office, that would seem a logical conclusion on his part. And since he's also threatened Antonio, apparently he knows that Antonio had it first and must've given it to me. So where does that leave us?"
"If Zakai is going to be the next one to have the key, it seems that he is going to have to take it from either you or Flori."
"Yeah, but that's going to create a problem, because Zakai would have no way of knowing that Flori had it unless he already knew Flori to be the confederate that Midas was waiting for in Turkey before he was killed. And Flori would have to know that Zakai was interested in it, and we don't know yet if that's the case. No, sounds like there's too many loose ends to go in that direction. What if we assume that Flori believes simply that his copies are both fakes and the original is still in my possession. Then what?" Max asked.
"I would imagine he'd assume the original is still in your office, probably back in the safe, and he'd try to get it either by breaking in or actually threatening you directly into giving it up. If he's an underworld thug, he wouldn't hesitate to threaten harm to your family. That's something we need to consider very seriously."
"Yeah, I never thought of that."
"Wait, I think I've got something!" and Leonard turned in the seat to face Max. "Yeah! We'll leak to the news that you, the renowned scholar and author, Dr. Jonathan Maxwell Devlin, were found unconscious at your home, the victim of a robbery. Some valuable papers were stolen, and you've suffered a minor concussion but are at home recovering. Unfortunately, you were not able to give a description of your assailant. Our dear Mr. Jones will hear this news brief and assume that the original page had been in your possession all this time and that therefore his pages must be spurious. But he won't know who has taken it, so we leak another news item that Egypt is now in possession of the key to the code for identifying the site of the lost crown and that their agreement with the late Dr. Michael Savarin has been completed. We'll have to mention that the Egyptian emissary, Dr. Hamadi Zakai, will be leaving for Cairo shortly. The news hawks won't put the two together, but Flori will. What do you think his reaction will be?"
They had arrived at Leonard's car still parked in the overgrown driveway on Jefferson Road. Max turned his head and gave him a look of sincere admiration. "Excellent, Leonard. I like it. It's perfect. And I believe his reaction will be to get to the airport as fast as possible and forget about all of us. Yes, things are looking up. Why don't you go back to the motel and fill in the others. Zakai needs to be prepared. We can't be positive that Flori doesn't already know he's here and staying at the same motel as Jeff. I'll go to the house and see if I can get the news out over the wire. You know, Len, I'm rather getting to like you."
With an amazingly good Bogart impersonation, he responded, "Max, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
* * * * * * * * * *
After throwing the clothes into the washer, Jeff drove straight to Subway for some sandwiches. When he returned, he found Mr. Jones comfortably robed and watching CNN Headline News. If his experience had unnerved him any, Jeff couldn't see any signs of it. He was calm, affable, and in total control.
"Hope you're hungry," Jeff said while handing him a sandwich. "Here's a drink too. Would you like the Coke or Sprite?"
"Thank you, Jeff. You choose first."
Jeff took the Coke and handed the Sprite to Mr. Jones. "I need to go check on your clothes. But let me get you some slippers first. Jeff pulled out his size-twelve slippers from his suitcase. They were the typical, backless, leather mules and had seen better days. Rather woebegone in appearance, they were stretched out and slightly misshapen. No matter, Mr. Jones slid his feet into them. The soles extended about four inches beyond his heels, and the sight made Jeff think of a little boy playing grownup wearing his father's shoes.
On his way to the laundry room, he gave a quick rap on the door of the room where Antonio and Hamadi were waiting. Antonio opened the door a fraction.
"Laundry room," Jeff whispered.
Antonio followed him, and once they were both safely inside asked, "How's it going?"
"I brought him something to eat. Haven't had much of a chance for any conversation yet. What's happening at your end?"
"Max called half-an-hour ago from home saying he's got a news leak in the works. Dr. Richardson is back and we're sitting around just visiting for the most part. Some news should be coming over CNN shortly, so Max wants you to be sure to have that station on.
Having brought him up to date, Antonio left. Jeff put the clothes in the dryer and immediately hurried back to the motel room. Mr. Jones was still watching CNN.
"Your clothes are in the dryer. It'll be about twenty minutes or so before they're ready. How's the sandwich?"
"It is quite good. Although I feel still a bit weak, I know I shall be okay. How can I thank you and that other man who was so kind?"
"Don't give it another thought. I'm so glad to have been able to help." Jeff sat down at the table and unwrapped his sandwich while Mr. Jones watched the TV. Within a few minutes, the news Jeff was waiting to hear came on.
We turn our attention to Gaziantep where we have word of a new development. Our correspondent John Cummings is on the scene.
Hello, Mitch. It's a strange time to be making an announcement here in Turkey. As you know, it is, as we speak, 5:30 Saturday morning. But with all the insinuations flying about as well as the emotion-charged atmosphere, the Turkish government felt it best to keep everyone abreast of the latest developments. And this latest development concerns an announcement by the Egyptian government in which they state that all documents relating to the crown known as The Eyes of Ishtar, in particular the key to the undeciphered code, have now come into their possession. Through an arrangement with the late Dr. Michael Savarin, a professor at Middlestates Theological Seminary in Minnesota, the Egyptian emissary, Dr. Hamadi Zakai, has received the final papers and will be enroute back to Cairo shortly. More information is to be forthcoming in the next day or so.
This is surprising news, John. Anyone packing up to go home?
No, Mitch, not yet. With the news so recent, there's not been much time for these archaeologists to plan their next steps. And not all are satisfied with this claim by Egypt. The United States, Great Britain, and Greece are not likely to accept Egypt's claim hands down, you can be certain of that. Rumors have already begun circulating that this is plainly a ruse to get everyone to leave. We should know more later in the day. Reporting live from Gaziantep, John Cummings for CNN Headline News.
Thank you, John. Before we leave the subject of ancient artifacts, we regret to inform you that our interview with Dr. Jonathan Maxwell Devlin of North Georgia Regional University has been postponed. CNN has just learned that Dr. Devlin, a renowned authority on ancient Near Eastern languages and well-known for his many publications on ancient relics, was found unconscious at his home earlier this evening, the apparent victim of a robbery. He has suffered a mild concussion but is resting comfortably. We will keep you advised of his condition. After this break, Headline Sports. Stay with us.
Jeff paid little attention to the newscast. He finished his Coke and gathered the trash, putting it in the wastebasket. "I'd better go get your clothes before they wrinkle up. Won't be but a few minutes."
Once again Jeff gave Antonio's door a quick rap. He kept going and Antonio joined him in the laundry room.
"That was some news!" Jeff exclaimed. "Mr. Jones was still staring at the screen when I walked out."
"I can imagine. Dr. Richardson had already told Hamadi and I what to expect, but all the same, hearing it live on television like that almost gave me the chills. Max is thinking that Flori will want to get to the airport as soon as possible now. That's all I know right at the moment."
"Do you think he'll want me to drive him? I've already told him I'm on my way to Florida. Or does he have a car here?" Jeff asked.
"No one seems to know. Guess we'll have to play that by ear. Whatever you do, remember to be careful. He's not a fool and will be dangerous if he knows he's been duped."
"Yeah, I'll remember that," Jeff promised. "The sooner he forgets that he ever knew any of us, the better." He took the clothes from the dryer and hurried back to his room.
* * * * * * * * * *
"You know all kinds of people are going to be calling, don't you? What should I tell them?" Patsy asked.
"Tell them I'm okay."
"What about your folks? They'll probably want to rush right over here."
"Honey, you can tell them the truth. Ask them to keep it quiet, that's all. I have no doubt you'll know exactly how to handle any situation. Now, I have to get going. You and Karen keep the doors locked and be careful. Not that anything will happen any more, but best to take some precaution. In fact, it might not be such a bad idea for my folks to come and stay for awhile, because I'm not sure what's going to transpire at this point. I may be home within hours or I may be gone a day or so. Can't tell right now. My own feeling is that we're on our way to the airport and that I'll be home before my folks can even get here."
With a last quick hug, Max was out the door and back on his way to the motel. He parked his car around back where it couldn't be seen and found that Leonard had done the same. Cautiously he approached the room and hurried in. The other three men were watching the news, but once Max entered, the sound on the set was muted and all eyes turned to him.
"How did you like my news leak?" he asked with a smile on his face.
"A more appropriate question would be, how did Flori like it?" Hamadi corrected him.
"Has anyone heard from Jeff?"
Antonio filled him in on what had taken place since his departure. "Without a cell phone, we won't be able to keep in touch, but he knows we'll keep him in sight in case Flori asks him to drive him somewhere. Did you find out where he's been staying?"
"No," Max answered. "We're going to forget about that. You know, it might be a good idea for us to turn the lights off and give the appearance that the occupant of this room has gone to bed. We can open the curtains a hair."
For several minutes they all sat quietly in the dark. "Hamadi, I'm thinking it might not be a bad idea for you to start driving to the airport," Max suggested in a low voice. "We wouldn't want Flori to get curious about the occupant of this room and break in during the night. It's absolutely crucial that he doesn't know we're all acquainted. Len, you can follow Hamadi in your car. When you get to Atlanta, check into the motel and call me. I'll give you my cell phone number," and Max found a scrap of paper. "Antonio and I will have to keep an eye on Jeff."
"From where?" Antonio asked. "Since we don't want Flori breaking into this room and finding us here, where shall we stay?"
"Hmm. Good question. Let me think about that for a minute."
"We also should get our cars out of here, don't you think?" Leonard suggested.
"Yes, definitely. In fact, we need to do that right away. You and Antonio can leave right now. Antonio will take my car. Keep your headlights off until you're away from the motel. Len, wait until you see Hamadi leave in his car, and then follow him to Atlanta. Antonio, you will have to park down the street far enough away not to be noticed but yet where you can see what's happening here. I'll have to find a place outside where I can stake out Jeff's room. Or I may join you in the car. That'll have to be determined as time progresses. But if you should see Jeff and Flori leave, you'll have to come pick me up right away. Okay, better go you two, Hamadi will leave in five minutes or so."
Max watched from the window until the cars were out of sight. With his suitcase in hand, Hamadi took a few steps toward the door, but before opening it, he offered his hand to Max. "You have my deepest gratitude. Be careful and take no chances, Max."
"Yes, I'll be careful," Max answered. "If all goes according to plan, I'll see you soon at the motel."
As Hamadi pulled out into the road, Max noticed the silver Lexus come up behind. A short distance down the road, Max saw his own car pull into the curb and park.
With Hamadi gone, Max didn't want to turn on any lights, so taking out a small penlight from his pocket, he hurriedly looked the room over for any telltale signs that there had been more than one person. Nothing out of the ordinary was evident. The wastebasket held only the paper wrappings from a fast-food meal. In the bathroom were the towels that had been used, one covered with traces of blood. Carefully he folded it and put it back on the rack. No reason to give Flori anything more to think about should he decide to check the room out. Convinced that he could do nothing more, Max pushed the chairs back around the table and laid the room key on the dresser before walking out.
* * * * * * * * * *
Mr. Jones was still sitting in the chair when Jeff came back with his clothes. He appeared deep in thought.
"Anything wrong?" Jeff asked with some concern. He placed the clean clothes on the bed and sat down in a chair, trying to read Mr. Jones' thoughts.
"No, just thinking. Perhaps some television will be relaxing."
He picked up the remote and surfed through the channels until he came to Animal Planet. For the next ten minutes Mr. Jones watched Mark O'Shea and his assistants wrestle with a twenty-foot anaconda that weighed over 400 pounds. Jeff wasn't too keen on snakes himself and seriously wondered how he could find this relaxing. The capture was made successfully with no injury to man or snake, and Mr. Jones turned the set off.
A car engine started in the lot, and Jeff saw headlights come on. It had to be Hamadi leaving. Mr. Jones also noticed it.
"I'm in something of a predicament, Jeff. For the last several days I have been staying in Finley. I have friends there as well as here in Rolling Meadows. I now need to get back to Finley, but, alas, I have no car. You see, my friend in Finley, his name is Rashid, drove me here and dropped me off for a day's short visit and was expecting me to call when I was ready to return. My visit here came to an abrupt end when the man I was visiting was without warning called out of town. I placed a call to Rashid, but his phone line was busy. So I decided to spend a peaceful hour touring the countryside until I could reach him on my cell phone. Well, you have an idea what happened after that. My interest in nature led me astray, and I ended up lost in the forest. In my effort to extricate myself from the marshy swamp, my cell phone fell and was not recoverable. Rashid no doubt thought I was continuing my stay for another day, so was not alarmed when he didn't hear from me."
"Is that all? Why, I can drive you back to Finley, no problem. We can get an early start if you like, grab breakfast on the way."
"You are most kind. However, there is one additional inconvenience. You see, my flight reservation for leaving Atlanta Airport is early tomorrow morning."
Jeff nodded his head. "I see your problem. Airline reservations can be difficult to get sometimes, and I would hate for you to miss yours." He looked at his watch. "It's 11:30. I don't feel particularly tired, and if it suits you, we could probably leave now. We'll drive into Finley and get your things, and then I'll drop you off at the airport and continue on my way to Florida from there. Do you mind sitting around the airport until your plane leaves?"
"No, indeed. Many hours have I spent at airports. But I just may check into a motel for the remaining hours until I need to check in at the terminal. And most certainly, I will reimburse you for your expense here as well as for any others that may arise, including a room for yourself."
"Thanks. I appreciate that, but it's really not necessary," Jeff responded. "Once I drop you off, I'll just continue on to Florida since I feel quite wide awake. Thanks anyway, it was kind of you to offer."
Jeff began to pack his few belongings while Mr. Jones stepped into the bathroom with his clothes. "I'll put my things in the car and be right back," Jeff told him.
The door to the bathroom closed, and Jeff picked up his suitcase and dirty shoes and took them out to his car. As he opened the trunk, he heard his name whispered.
"Jeff. Don't look around. Are you leaving?" It was Max.
Without looking up from the trunk, he whispered back. "Driving to Finley. After that we're on to the airport."
"Okay. Antonio and I will be right behind you all the way."
Jeff straightened up a few things while he waited for Mr. Jones. A few minutes later, Jones exited the bathroom wearing his own clothes and the leather mules. His feet were sliding around inside the big slippers as he made his way to the door, the silky texture of his socks undoubtedly a contributing factor. Handing Jeff the robe, he said, "Perhaps it would be all right to keep the slippers until we get to Finley? There I have other shoes."
"By all means," Jeff kindly responded.
It was thirty minutes to Finley where Mr. Jones directed Jeff to the Red Roof Inn. There were a number of vehicles parked right in front of the entrance, and the parking lot was surprisingly full, so Jeff was forced to take a spot quite far down.
"I'll hurry and get my things," Mr. Jones said as he opened the door.
Jeff couldn't help but laugh as he watched Mr. Jones attempt to hurry through the lot. The over-sized slippers continually flopped and slid around due to the slippery material of his socks. It was impossible for him to pick up his feet, and shuffling flat-footed was about all he could manage. Nevertheless, in a bold move he quickened his pace, but soon stumbled, the slippers flying off. On the verge of toppling over, Mr. Jones clumsily regained his balance, only to find himself now standing in an oil slick in his stocking feet. Jeff could see his lips angrily move as he gingerly walked over to where the slippers were lying. Furiously he thrust his feet back into them and continued to the motel entrance looking like a waddling penguin in a hurry to dive into the sea. In his mirror, Jeff saw Max and Antonio, who were parked close by, laughing hysterically. He gave them a thumbs up.
It was close to thirty minutes before Mr. Jones emerged from the motel with a small traveling case, once more his imperturbable self. He got into the car, and Jeff asked, "Ready?"
"Yes. All set. I fear your slippers have suffered a severe setback, and I shall most certainly reimburse you for them."
"Oh, that's okay. They were pretty old and worn anyway. Do you want to stop anywhere here in Finley for something to eat, or would you rather wait until we get to Atlanta?"
"I believe, if it's not an inconvenience, that I shall wait until the Renaissance Hotel where I now have a room reserved. Perhaps I shall take a short nap on the drive there."
"Sounds fine to me. Pleasant dreams." And Jeff looked at him with a smile.
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