Karen couldn't believe it. Monday morning, and there he was again pulling up to the curb in his Cutlass. Was he actually going to come in? She prepared herself for the worst by putting on her most intimidating face. He really was getting to be more than a nuisance--a downright pest--and she was going to put a stop to it once and for all.
Standing in front of the counter, Karen watched him as he sat in his car. He appeared to be mulling over something in his mind and talking to himself, apparently not in any hurry to get out. While she watched, her thoughts strayed to Antonio. Karen really liked Antonio, but what did she actually know about him? He was handsome, suave, and drove a Mercedes-Benz. He liked fine restaurants and classical music. He had an interest in antiques. Yet, after spending some time with him almost every day for the past week, Karen realized that she hardly knew much about him at all. Where was he from? Kamil, she thought, was an Arab name, yet he spoke with no hint of a foreign accent. Where did he live? Lynley, yes, but where in Lynley? What did he do for a living?
Perhaps it was her own fault that she knew so little about him. Flattered with all his attention, she had failed to take any real interest in his background. Talking always about herself, she had monopolized every conversation.
Karen mulled over this last thought. Was that really true? Had she been so completely self-absorbed?
Taking a seat behind the counter, she took a hard look back on all their dates. It seemed to her that on numerous occasions she had asked Antonio about his background and plans. Why was it, then, that she hadn't learned anything? Was he hiding something about himself? Did he conveniently maneuver every conversation back to her because he had something to hide? Did she have something he wanted, like the piece of paper referring to a code, or the Savarin piece mentioned by the young man now sitting in his car? Karen dismissed both these possibilities. Antonio had never even mentioned a paper or the name Savarin. And the very idea that he was overheard in a deli of all places was ridiculous. They had been out to eat numerous times and all at expensive restaurants. No, he had simply come into her store and bought an expensive antique mirror, and there was nothing more to it.
That day was etched in her memory. She had been mesmerized by his piercing blue eyes. Never had she seen eyes so blue. When he spoke, he had looked directly into her eyes, seemingly reading her mind. Karen had found it not only difficult to look away, but also somewhat disconcerting. He was looking for a gift for a lady, he had said, and would Karen kindly assist him? She had shown him a number of expensive items, and he had decided on the antique mirror. It had taken no more than half-an-hour for Antonio to charm his way into her heart.
Maybe it was because she hadn't been sufficiently zealous in encouraging him to talk about himself that she knew so little of his background. Some people just shied away from that. Nevertheless, Karen decided that it wouldn't hurt to be a tad more discreet about herself and a whole lot more scrutinizing about Antonio. The question whether she had ever found an unexpected surprise in one of her auction purchases came back to mind. It had probably been an innocent one. Still, it wouldn't hurt to keep on her toes.
* * * * * * * * * *
As a miser counts his gold, Jeff went over his speech. Ten minutes later, he lifted the huge bouquet of mums in its foil wrapping from the vase and got out of the car. He slowly entered the boutique, glancing at Karen who was sitting behind the counter with a slightly perplexed look on her face.
"Miss, I can hardly think of the right words to tell you how badly I feel for making such a nuisance of myself. I'm so ashamed." A few moments of silence passed while Jeff looked everywhere but at Karen. "If you can find it in your heart to forgive me, well, I'd be ever so grateful."
Turning to look at her, he started forward with the bouquet outstretched in front of him. "And here, I'd like you to have these flowers. They're from my mom's garden. Please?" Jeff took a couple more steps, his face breaking into a shy smile.
Karen had been sitting the entire time with a somewhat puzzled look on her face. But sensing Jeff's embarrassment, and realizing that he was completely serious, her face now lit up in an engaging smile, and with a laugh she hopped off the stool and hurried over to take the flowers.
"Oh, how beautiful!" she exclaimed warmly. "They're lovely." She buried her face in the soft blooms. "Let me get a vase, and I'll be right back." Happily, she darted into a back room, and within the span of a couple minutes was back with the mums safely deposited in a glass vase of a translucent sapphire blue.
"Thank you. They're simply gorgeous. And tell your mom I absolutely love them, won't you? Mums are a favorite of mine." She delicately touched one of the petals. "Oh, and yes, I most certainly do forgive you." She looked at him with a twinkle in her eye. "Do you think, perhaps, that I might know your name?"
With a look of relief, he told her. "Jeff. Jeff Summerfield. And I take it you're Karen?"
"Yes. Karen Phillips."
The door opened and a customer entered the store. "Jeff, will you excuse me a moment?" Karen set the vase on the counter and left to offer her assistance to an elderly woman while Jeff roamed around the store.
He came to a glass cabinet full of small figurines, and his eyes were instantly drawn to one of them. It was of a middle-aged woman holding a basket of colorful flowers. She reminded Jeff of his mom, short and plump with brown hair gathered up underneath a pale blue sunbonnet, a few stray hairs falling over her forehead.
Karen finished with her customer and came over to where Jeff was studying the figurine. She watched him intently. In a soft voice she asked, "Does she remind you of your mother, Jeff?"
Without taking his eyes from the figurine, he sighed. "Yes, she does. My mom looks just like her. I'd like to buy it, and," he turned to face Karen with a sheepish grin, "the price doesn't matter this time."
They looked at each other for a moment then broke out in laughter.
* * * * * * * * * *
It hadn't taken long for Dr. Richardson to find Antonio at the Summit Inn. He had driven directly over there Saturday morning hoping to check in himself but had been told that there were no vacancies until Monday. Over the weekend he had buzzed the Summit lot a few times looking for Antonio's car, but without success.
Now on Monday afternoon, he drove over to the Summit and saw the Mercedes parked at the end of the lot. He parked his own car closer to the front door and went inside to secure his room, after which he took a seat in a far corner of the lobby. Picking up a newspaper, he pretended to read.
Twenty minutes later Antonio appeared carrying his cell phone. He was on his way out, so Dr. Richardson got up and followed at a leisurely pace. Antonio aimed directly for his car, never once looking back. The motel was magnificently landscaped, and right behind Antonio's car was an area that featured a good-sized burning bush surrounded by a lovely bed of mums. With a furtive step, Dr. Richardson made his way over and crouched down behind the bush.
Upon entering his car, Antonio lowered the window. He punched in a number on his phone. In perfect silence Dr. Richardson waited, concentrating his attention on Antonio.
"Hamadi, it's me, Antonio. Listen, I only have a few minutes. I haven't been able to get the paper yet. But I know she's planning on giving it to her brother-in-law. He's a professor down south somewhere and used to be the head conservator at the Oriental Institute...."
Antonio's voice faded away, and Dr. Richardson could do nothing but wait. After a minute of fretful straining, he once again picked up Antonio's words.
"Something about archaeology....No, I don't think she suspects at all. But I can't be too curious, not with all the news on the television. She might connect the two together. It's just too bad I don't know exactly what's on the page, then I might be able to convince her that it's mine. But even if that were possible, how could I explain its presence in the jewelry box? That warehouse story is just too hard to believe. If I hadn't heard it myself from the man who did it...."
A rumbling pickup truck zoomed through the lot and it was all Dr. Richardson could do to hear himself think. The driver slammed on the brakes and then backed up into the spot next to Antonio. Black clouds of pernicious exhaust spewed into the air, putting a city bus to shame. Nevertheless, Dr. Richardson held his ground with self-sacrificing resolve and pulled his shirt collar over his nose and mouth. After revving the engine a couple times, the driver got out.
"She hasn't given even the slightest hint as to where she might be keeping it. However, I'm planning another date with her and will attempt to find out exactly where this Max lives....We've had several dates, why?...No, don't worry about that. I'm sure I can stop myself in time. At least I hope I can....Well, she's short, very pretty, and loads of fun. Has a figure like a freshly blossomed rose, if you know what I mean. And you'd be impressed with her knowledge of antiques....You know, I hadn't really thought about that. The last thing I'd want to do is hurt her. Maybe I'd better turn down the charm a bit....Okay, just for argument's sake, let's say you're right and it is too late. I'm in love, so what?....Yeah, you're right, that could be a problem. I never thought of it. Let me think it over....All right, talk to you later." Antonio snapped the phone shut and drove out of the lot.
Slowly Dr. Richardson stood up and indulged in a fit of lung-clearing coughing. The news he had just learned couldn't be worse. This brother-in-law was none other than Dr. Jonathan Maxwell Devlin, tops in the field of ancient near eastern languages.
* * * * * * * * * *
It was close to 5:00, and business had been sluggish. Karen put out the "Closed" sign and spent the next few minutes gazing out the window at nothing in particular. In spite of lackluster sales, she was in a good humor. Lunch at the Olive Garden had been delicious, and she and Jeff had laughed the time away. He really was a lot of fun. Such a good-natured, clean-cut young man. They had talked a bit about their families and goals in life, but not about Antonio; his name had never even been mentioned. Karen had at one point alluded to the subject in a round-about way, but Jeff had quickly turned the conversation in another direction. It had all been some kind of weird mix-up; she was certain of that now and decided it was best to forget about it. Jeff had hinted that maybe he'd drop by to see her again, if that was okay, and she had encouraged him to do so.
"I'd love that, Jeff. But better not make it too soon, as I'll be gone for a week or so on vacation."
"Leaving the area?"
"Yes. I'm going to visit my sister in Georgia."
"Will you be flying? If you need a ride back and forth to the airport, I'd be glad to take you."
"Thanks for that kind offer, but I'm going to be driving."
"Certainly not all by yourself?"
"No, I've got a friend who's going with me. At least I'm hoping so."
Now blissfully looking through the window, Karen saw the Mercedes pull into the curb. Antonio emerged looking quite handsome as usual. Karen watched him with a dreamy smile as he made his way into the store.
"You look especially pleased about something," he remarked. "Care to share it?" He took both her hands in his and waited.
Karen's eyes faltered under his gaze. "Antonio?" she began.
All of a sudden she felt tongue-tied. What was the matter with her?
"I was thinking of closing up the shop for a week and visiting my sister and her husband in Georgia. You remember them, at least I think I may have mentioned them. They have a little girl?"
"Of course I remember. Patsy, Max, and their little girl, Parisa. I believe you said he is a college professor. Is that the one?"
"I don't recall you mentioning that they lived in Georgia though, just somewhere in the south." He waited for her to continue.
"I was wondering, if you hadn't anything planned, or weren't too busy, if perhaps you might like to go with me?" She looked up, a hopeful expression on her face.
Antonio squeezed her hands. "Karen! Of course, I'd love to accompany you! I'm so glad you asked me. And besides, it's really not wise for a young woman to be traveling alone these days, especially such an attractive one." He looked at her fondly, and releasing her hands, he put his arms around her. "Yes, I would really enjoy making the trip with you," he said sincerely.
* * * * * * * * * *
Six-thirty Tuesday morning, Jeff got into his Cutlass and drove to Karen's boutique. He knew she was planning to leave early but had no idea how early. She hadn't mentioned who this friend of hers was, but Jeff figured it was most certainly Antonio, and if that were the case, Jeff was prepared to spend his vacation in Georgia too.
Sure enough, at 7:00 Antonio and Karen arrived in the Mercedes. After ten minutes Antonio left, and twenty minutes later he returned with what could be nothing else but breakfast for both of them. They remained in the store for another hour and a half, and once Karen made sure the "Closed" sign was hanging perfectly straight in the window, they left. Already knowing their destination, Jeff didn't feel any apprehension about losing them in traffic. The Mercedes wouldn't be hard to spot even should it momentarily get lost from view. All the same, he would do his best to keep them in sight while maintaining a safe distance.
They had been driving for about two hours and Jeff was feeling hungry, having forgone breakfast that morning. He picked up a candy bar from off the passenger seat. Although it was a fairly cool autumn day, the sun was shining brightly and the car was rather warm. The candy bar had been lying in a sunny spot on the seat and now felt a bit soft. With some difficulty, Jeff tore off the wrapper and placed it on the console, but the wrapper stuck to his fingers. He shook his hand, but the wrapper stubbornly clung. In his other hand, the warm chocolate was melting and making a mess. He gave his hand a vigorous shake, and the wrapper now flew off, landing on the passenger seat sticky side down.
Looking up, Jeff could see that the Mercedes was getting too far ahead, but from where they were, in the left-hand lane, he was certain no stop was imminent. With two swift bites, Jeff ate the candy bar and then retrieved from the console some napkins with which he wiped his hands. He looked again for the Mercedes, but it was no longer in sight, and feeling a sense of alarm, he stepped on the accelerator and concentrated on the road ahead. He soon spotted the Mercedes, and though it was a good distance ahead, he caught up without, thankfully, getting a speeding ticket.
A rest area was coming up and the Mercedes' turn signal came on. Parking at the farthest end, Antonio presumptuously took two spots while Jeff pulled in on the other side of the drive. Hand-in-hand, Karen and Antonio made their way to the restrooms, Karen holding her purse tightly under her arm. After a minute or so, Jeff got out too and dashed over to the drinking fountain where there was an outside faucet for filling containers. He gave his hands a quick rinse and then sprinted to the restrooms, hoping that Karen was not on her way out. To his relief, he didn't see her. If Antonio saw him, so what? Antonio didn't know him from Adam.
* * * * * * * * * *
Maddy was enjoying herself at the Congress Plaza Hotel and Convention Center in Chicago. The first two days had literally flown by, filled with a number of speakers from as far away as Italy. Window display was one of many topics being covered, although not a very popular one. Along with four other seminars, it had the dubious distinction of not requiring preregistration. No matter, Maddy had found it interesting and couldn't wait to get back to Lynley to try out some of the new ideas. The featured speaker had been a gentleman from Boston who traveled the world in search of the latest trends. After the seminar he had asked Maddy to join him for dinner, and she had readily accepted, finding Evan Taylor both charming and interesting.
The most popular event of the convention was the parade of runway models wearing the latest fashions from Europe. One of Maddy's co-workers, a young woman named Cherise Fontana, sat next to her. She was a buyer and remarkably knowledgeable about current fashions. Occasionally she asked Maddy's opinion about a design and typed it into her laptop. Fortunately, Cherise never asked her opinion about the models themselves, because Maddy thought they looked ridiculous. Robotic scarecrows with faces like mannequins, whipping one foot in front of the other as they strutted down the runway.
The convention lasted two and a half days, and Maddy was anxious to get back home. O'Hare Airport was crowded so she felt lucky finding a place to sit at the gate. Next to her was a young girl, around sixteen or so, engrossed in a paperback novel. Evidently she heard her name called because she sprang up out of her seat like a jack-in-the-box. The book flew from her hands and hit Maddy in the side of the head before landing in her lap.
"Oops! Sorry about that," the girl giggled.
Maddy picked the book up and noticed the title: Once Upon a Midnight Eerie. With a laugh, she handed it to her. "Any good?"
"Yeah. Thanks. Coming!" she shouted, then hurried off.
There was a magazine under the now empty seat, and Maddy reached over and picked it up. She thumbed through the pages until she found an interesting article to pass the time, oblivious to the comings and goings of passengers. The vacated seat was taken within a matter of minutes.
Ten minutes later the boarding call came, and Maddy grasped the handle of her carry-on case.
"Hello, Maddy. Let me help you with that," and Evan arose from the seat next to her and took the case from her hand.
She couldn't have been more surprised. "Evan! I had no idea you were booked on this flight?"
"I'm on my way to Minneapolis for several days. That's not too far from Lynley, is it?"
"No. Well, actually I mean, yes. Yes, you're right, Lynley is not far at all." She laughed self-consciously.
With a winning smile, he took her arm and they moseyed along toward the gate. Upon entering the plane, Maddy was pleased to find that they had seats next to each other.
"Oh, what a coincidence!" she exclaimed.
"Isn't it though," Evan responded with a wink.
It was just a short flight, so upon arriving at the Minneapolis airport Evan asked if she had time to join him for dinner. Maddy was not in that much of a hurry to get home, so she gladly accepted.
"Do you have a car at the airport? Or is someone coming to pick you up?"
She had to confess that, at the moment, she didn't know how she was going to get home. A neighbor had driven her to the airport. Her plans were to call her father and see if he or one of her brothers could come and pick her up.
"Then allow me to drive you home."
Evan brought the rental car over to where Maddy was waiting, and after assisting her in, found a nearby restaurant. The dinner was delicious, and Maddy had a wonderful time. She hated to see it come to an end.
It wasn't a very long drive to Lynley, and the time was filled with light-hearted conversation. All the same, it was rather late by the time they reached Maddy's house.
Evan walked her to the door, and taking her hand in his, said, "I shall see you again, Maddy, before I return to Boston. Until then," and he gracefully bowed his head.
Maddy felt just a bit like Cinderella--and rather liked it too.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Do you realize, Antonio, that I hardly know much about you at all? It would be rather embarrassing if Patsy were to ask me what you did for a living and I had to say I didn't know." Karen laughed self-consciously. "I'm ashamed of myself because, you know, it's all my fault. You must think me awfully self-centered." And Karen turned her face away to look out the side window.
They had finished getting gas and were back on the road. Antonio placed his hand over hers. "No, Karen, I could never think that," he said tenderly. "But we'll rectify matters right now. What would you like to know? Ask anything you like, anything at all."
Antonio had known that it was simply a matter of time before he would have to disclose something about himself, and so he had a plausible story already in mind. It wouldn't be all lies by any means, and he would keep to the truth if possible. All this subterfuge was beginning to weigh on him, but with the situation the way it was, he didn't know what else to do. He was stuck in the middle and couldn't find his way out.
Turning in her seat to face him, Karen asked, "What do you do for a living?"
"At the moment I am, shall we say, unoccupied with the everyday pressure of earning an income. For the past two years I've been a student at a small private college in Hampton Heights, located in the northern part of the state. Perhaps you've heard of it, Northern Minnesota College of Fine Arts? Before that, I was among the ranks of the honorably employed working for my father in his import-export business. I'll probably finish my degree next year, but it's not a foregone conclusion by any means. This term I'm taking a much-needed respite. Next question, Miss Phillips, if you please."
"Are you making fun of me?" Karen asked in a half-serious tone.
"No, having a little fun with you though. You look so pretty when you get a mite flustered." He turned his gaze upon her, and his blue eyes twinkled.
"Antonio, I don't know when you're being serious or just having fun. And it bothers me just a little, I'll have to admit."
Hesitating a mere moment, he responded. "I'm most serious when I'm having fun."
Karen remained silent for several seconds. "Where are you from? Kamil is an Arab name, isn't it? And yet you have no accent."
"Yes, it is. I was born and raised here in the United States, but my parents were not. Nevertheless, they are citizens. My father was born in Cairo, and he lived there until coming to the United States twenty-five years ago. My mother was born in Sweden, but her family moved to Cairo when she was a small child, and so she is more Egyptian than Swedish as far as her lifestyle goes. They are anticipating returning to Cairo within the near future, that is, once my father finally decides that retirement is preferable to working."
"Will you go back with them? I imagine it must be a beautiful place. How I would love to see it myself," she remarked wistfully.
"Yes, it is beautiful. But unbelievable though it may seem, I've never been there. Not that I haven't done any traveling. On three occasions I've had the opportunity to travel overseas. Once to Sweden to do research on my mother's family background, once to Germany where my brother lives, and this past summer to the Mediterranean with my parents for a family reunion. But never to Egypt. Someday, almost certainly, I will go to Cairo and see if I can feel like an Egyptian. What do you think? Can you picture me in Egypt, perhaps giving guided tours of the pyramids to American visitors?"
Karen stared at him for a bit, evidently trying to picture this scene in her mind. "I'm not sure. But I do have a picture in my mind of you consuming a big, juicy hamburger. What do you say? I'm sort of hungry."
"Your every wish is my command." And he bowed his head in mock deference, a hint of a smile on his face. The serious atmosphere lifted, and Antonio took her hand and gave it an affectionate squeeze.
* * * * * * * * * *
His car was almost out of gas. They had been driving for close to three and a half hours since their last stop for fuel, and Jeff feared that any minute now the Mercedes might be out of sight while he was thumbing a ride to the nearest gas station. To his relief the Mercedes exited the interstate, and Antonio pulled into a gas station to fill up. Jeff pulled up at the pump farthest from him. He watched Karen get out and go inside, holding her purse tightly against her chest. Had she found out that she did, in fact, have something in which Antonio was interested?
Antonio had taken the nozzle from the pump and was standing with his arms akimbo while the tank filled. His mind seemed elsewhere, but his eyes were on the convenience store. A fleeting impulse came upon Jeff to dart into the store and talk to Karen. But he quickly dismissed the idea. As luck would have it, his pump was the slowest one of the bunch. Each time he squeezed the handle to make it pump faster, it shut off. If he left it to pump at its own speed, he would still be there when Antonio and Karen returned from Georgia. Annoyed, he had to stand there and hold the nozzle depressed, breathing in noxious fumes all the while.
He and Antonio finished and waited for Karen to reappear. Jeff spent the next couple minutes letting his eyes wander over the other customers filling their tanks. The station was mammoth, having at least eight islands with multiple pumps. His eyes stopped at an island between his and Antonio's. A man was scrunched down and peering over the top of his car, a silver Lexus. He was watching Antonio. When the man saw Karen exit the store, he replaced the nozzle in the pump and pushed the button for the receipt. Snatching it, he hopped into the car. With a smile on her face and still clutching her purse, Karen made her way to the Mercedes. Apparently everything was fine. They got in and the Mercedes silently sped away. The stranger in the silver Lexus pulled out right after them and stepped on the gas. Not to be left behind, Jeff did likewise, wondering what this new development meant.
* * * * * * * * * *
At the Devlin home, Max was out working in his office. This was a separate building from the house, about fifty feet away. At the back the area was completely forested, and to the side it was open farmland. All together the Devlin homestead sat on twenty-five acres. Max's office was a converted machine shop in excess of 800 square feet. The two back rooms were used for storing journals, of which Max had hundreds, and articles written over the past twenty years. Max loved to write, and when he came upon a subject that stirred his interest, he could spend all day at it. These two rooms were maintained in a state of relative neatness, thanks mostly to Patsy.
The main room of the building was his work area. Here Max studied his current interests which were many: recent archaeological finds, artifacts of the middle east, ancient Hebrew and other languages, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and a new interest for him, ancient flora and fauna. His library flourished with books on each of these subjects, and Max was thrilled whenever he could add another. The room looked messy to the casual observer. However, Max knew precisely where everything was, so Patsy never touched anything on the table or on top of the file cabinets.
Patsy had a compact office at one end of the building. From there she wrote letters to her mom and dad, and periodically to her sister and brothers, but that was about all. It gave her a chance to be around Max while he worked. She loved to hear him mumbling and muttering to himself. Parisa would sit quietly during these times and color. At the other end of the building Max had his office, and there he spent hours writing, doing computer research, and playing free cell solitaire. An office was, naturally, provided for him at the university, but he preferred working here at home where interruptions were minimal.
Max had been at North Georgia Regional University ever since its inception eight years ago. Prior to that he had been at several highly-respected seminaries in the north with a short tenure at Harvard. When North Georgia had asked him to come on board, Max had given it careful thought. He had not been unhappy at his current position, but the thought of molding and shaping to some degree the leanings and goals of a new institution was exciting. So Max had accepted a generous offer and moved into an apartment in the area until he could find suitable, permanent lodging.
It was at the university library where he had met Patsy, who had been working on her degree in architecture. Although eighteen years younger than Max, they had fallen in love, and immediately after graduation they had married and settled down in Max's apartment. This was to be until they found the right place to build their dream home.
Patsy had hated the thought of a subdivision. She liked the open outdoors, and, in fact, Max did himself. When the land and workshop had become available outside Rolling Meadows, they had gone to take a look and knew right off that it was for them. It took a year to get their dream home built. It included a beautiful and large office for Max, and he used it for exhibiting some of his books and artifacts, but the atmosphere was not conducive to productivity. There was simply too much noise for him to concentrate. So he had decided to do something with the workshop and had vowed to turn that ugly, dilapidated building into his ivory tower.
Max was now sitting in his ivory tower and thinking about Karen. What could she possibly be bringing him? He was well aware of the vast number of auctions, conventions, exhibits, and whatnot she attended, and that her knowledge of antiques was considerable. "It must be an antique," he said to himself. "An antique from the middle east probably. She knows I wouldn't be interested in too much else." His fingers tapped lightly on the top of the desk while he talked to himself. He looked down at the desk. There was the printout of his latest journal article that he had promised to e-mail by Friday. With a sigh, he put aside any more thoughts of antiques and turned his attention to the computer. "She'll be here soon enough. Then I'll know," he mumbled.
* * * * * * * * * *
Karen felt sleepy. "Antonio, would you mind if we pulled off for the night? I feel so tired and could sure use a shower."
"Of course not. There's a Marriott coming up. How's that? We'll get a good night's rest and start out fresh in the morning."
* * * * * * * * * *
Jeff looked at his watch. It was well into the evening and the rain was coming down harder. They would have to pull off soon and get a motel. With the late start--it had been 9:00 when Antonio locked the door that morning--and the numerous stops, they had barely made it into Indiana. Jeff was feeling drowsy. The strain of keeping an eye on the Lexus in addition to the Mercedes had been tiring.
The upcoming exit listed the selection of motels available: Holiday Inn, Comfort Inn, Marriott Courtyard, Motel 6, and Jenson's Economy Travel Lodge. Jeff would have opted for the Motel 6 or Travel Lodge, but he seriously doubted whether this would be Antonio's choice. Sure enough, Antonio pulled into the Marriott Courtyard. The Lexus turned in also but drove by the entrance and out of sight.
Jeff pulled into a spot where he could see the Mercedes. He watched while Antonio ran to the lobby to procure accommodations. Five minutes passed before he dashed back out and drove to the other side of the building. Slowly Jeff followed.
Antonio chose a parking spot in a deserted area. Driving on past, Jeff circled the building, noticing that the Lexus was backed into a parking spot in a dark corner at the far end of the lot. When he got back again to where the Mercedes was parked, Antonio and Karen were nowhere in sight, so Jeff parked his car and trotted to the door that opened into the hallway. Without a card, however, he couldn't get in.
Peering through the glass, Jeff saw Antonio standing in front of the motel room door waiting for Karen to precede him in. As the door closed, another door opened and a couple made their way to where Jeff was standing. It was still raining, and once they got outside they dashed to their car. Jeff was able to catch the door before it closed and hurried inside. He made his way to the door Antonio and Karen had entered and placed his ear against it. A few words here and there were all he could make out.
"A bite before we...so tired...perhaps...tired myself...."
The door across the hall opened, and a short, rotund man came out. Scurrying away from the door in the direction of the entrance, Jeff mumbled, "Where's my key?" The fat man gave him a suspicious look, stared after him for a couple seconds, then waddled down the hall.
Once he was out of sight, Jeff tiptoed back to Karen's door. He was about to place his ear against it a second time when it unexpectedly opened. Startled, Jeff hastily dropped to his knees and began groping around on the floor. "Here i'chis," he mumbled in a slurred voice, and getting to his feet he weaved down the hallway. Antonio, though surprised at this sight, apparently dismissed it. With a shrug of his shoulders, he made his way to the next door and disappeared inside.
Jeff breathed a sigh of relief and decided he needed time to think. Back at the entrance, he peered out into the lighted parking lot. Tuesday night was apparently a slow time as the motel lot was not full by any means. The Lexus was still parked in its corner but the driver was not behind the wheel. The rain had let up momentarily, so Jeff strolled in the direction of the car, patting his pockets for an imaginary pack of cigarettes. There was a trash barrel not far from the Lexus, so he took a handkerchief from his pocket and crumpled it up. Standing by the barrel, he looked the Lexus over and noticed a parking sticker on the front windshield: "Middlestates Theological Seminary, Faculty Parking."
Once again it started raining, so Jeff returned to his own car. While he was pondering the situation, the owner of the Lexus also returned and drove away. Jeff followed. A convenience store a few minutes away was the destination, and the driver pulled up directly in front and went inside. Jeff parked his car around the corner and entered the store through a different door where he could safely watch without being seen. A humble purchase of toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss was made, and the man departed. Must be spending the night in the motel, Jeff thought. He bought a can of Coke and left.
The Lexus returned to the Marriott, this time the driver taking a parking spot near the front of the motel. Carrying his recent purchase, he entered the motel, most likely in search of his room. Jeff parked his car within sight of the Mercedes and tried to get some sleep.
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