"Karen, are you awake?" Patsy asked in a hushed tone.
"Yes, and I feel better too. What time is it?"
Patsy looked at her watch. "Close to 1:00. How about going out for a bite to eat. We can stop at the grocery store at the same time and pick up a few things."
"Yeah, that sounds good. Seems like I'm always hungry." Karen got up and quickly ran a comb through her hair.
Patsy was already out in the yard putting Parisa into her car seat. "We'll head to the Dairy Queen. It's new. In fact, the whole strip mall is new, including the Winn-Dixie."
After finishing their lunch, they walked over to the grocery store. Since Patsy needed only a handful of items, shopping didn't take very long. When they finished, Karen removed the bags from the basket and Patsy took Parisa by the hand. They were strolling through the lot toward Patsy's car when Karen suddenly stopped.
"What's the matter?" Patsy asked. Karen was staring at a blue Cutlass.
"I'm not sure," she answered. Karen walked to the back of the car and noticed the Minnesota plates. "I think this is Jeff's car."
"You mean the Jeff you were telling me about? Are you sure?"
"Well, no, I'm not exactly sure. I suppose there must be a lot of old blue Cutlasses with Minnesota plates, but it sure is strange to see one here in Rolling Meadows, don't you think? If it is Jeff's, what in the world is he doing here?"
Patsy stood silently watching Karen. Then turning in the direction of her own car, she put Parisa in and buckled the car seat. Walking over to where Karen was still standing behind the Cutlass, she took the bags from her hands. "Isn't it obvious?"
Karen looked at her with a blank expression.
"Oh, Karen, don't you see? He knew you were coming here with Antonio for a visit. And while you may have thought there was nothing suspicious about Antonio's behavior, he obviously thought otherwise. So he followed you in order to be sure that you weren't in any danger. And it appears he's going to stick around keeping an eye on you until you head back." Patsy gave her a quick smile. "He must be quite a guy." She tugged on Karen's arm and spoke softly. "Come on, let's go. Maybe he hasn't noticed us yet."
They got into the car, and Patsy drove out of the lot. She noticed out of the corner of her eye that, once again, tears were trickling down Karen's cheeks.
* * * * * * * * * *
Max and Antonio left the university right at l:30. The drive was filled with innocent conversation, and Max seemed like his usual, jovial self. Antonio wasn't sure what to make of this. Was Max suspicious or wasn't he? Antonio couldn't tell. As a consequence, he was hesitant to bring up the subject of Dr. Savarin's research. The good impression he had been anxious to make now seemed entirely ruined, and it depressed him because he really liked Max and Patsy. He had gotten himself into a quagmire and didn't know how to get out.
When they arrived back at the house, no one was around. "Must have gone out shopping," Max suggested. "Make yourself at home, Antonio. I need to check on the mail and do a few things in the office."
Max went out to the roadside box and retrieved the mail. As he was walking back, he heard a noise in the woods a little distance off. Expecting to see a deer or at least a squirrel, he stood motionless for a minute and waited. But no animal of any kind appeared. He opened the door to the office and went in.
A quick look through the mail was all that was necessary to see that the majority of it belonged in the house. What did require his personal attention wasn't urgent, so Max simply laid it on the desk, first clearing a small space to make room.
The false sheet of cuneiform script was missing. Max fished through the papers blanketing the surface but couldn't find it. What could have happened to it? It had been there this morning. Or had it? He couldn't remember actually seeing it. After sifting through everything a second time, he came to the conclusion it had been stolen. With this new development, he was forced to think of some plan of action.
Max walked to the window and stared out into the forest. Had Antonio taken it? Must have. There was no one else to consider. If he had taken it, what was he planning to do with it? His knowledge of Akkadian, if he had any at all, certainly wasn't adequate for deciphering the key, let alone the code. He must be planning on giving it to someone. But who? Perhaps his cousin Zakai. Max thought back to his trips to Cairo. The men he had met were courteous, proud, and eager to learn. Although he had liked them all, Max had come away with some misgivings about Dr. Hamadi Zakai. His love for the museum and antiquities seemed quite overwhelming, and Max had sensed almost an obsession with their protection and preservation. He could easily understand his eagerness to get the Assyrian crown.
There was at least one other possibility. Someone at Middlestates Theological Seminary, possibly Dean Marshfield himself. The Dean had told him all about Savarin and that Antonio had assisted him up until his death. And even though Marshfield claimed no knowledge of any research, it didn't eliminate the possibility that there was, indeed, something important on which Savarin had been working and that Marshfield knew all about it. Savarin had been a noted authority in the field of Ancient Near Eastern Languages and unquestionably was capable of deciphering the code. Assuming that he had, surely Antonio must have been aware of it, and it was a distinct possibly that Dr. Marshfield had heard about it too. But that still left two unanswered questions: How did one page get separated from the rest and how did Antonio know about it?
The first question was not important right at the moment, so Max concentrated on the second. Either someone had told Antonio of the missing page or he had discovered it on his own. If he had discovered it on his own, then he must have the rest. Either way, Antonio had managed to track the missing page to Karen's boutique. But once he knew she had it, why didn't he simply ask her for it? Perhaps it was because of all the news and resulting rumpus in Gaziantep. There had been the rumor that the key for interpreting a code had been stolen, and maybe Antonio feared that Karen would think he was the thief. Then again, Max couldn't dismiss the possibility that Antonio and someone else were working together to steal Savarin's work. How he hoped that wasn't the case!
A car pulled into the driveway and Max went out to take a look. It was Patsy, Karen, and Parisa. Should he tell them anything?
"Daddy!" Parisa shouted and came running over.
Max picked her up and swung her around. "How's my little Persian angel?" He gave her a kiss on the forehead and carried her back to the car. "You go with Mommy now, okay?" He looked at Patsy and gave her a wink. "Karen, how about running into town with me to pick up a couple things?"
"Sure, Max. Where's Antonio? Should we see if he wants to come along?"
"Why don't just the two of you go," Patsy suggested. "I haven't had a chance to spend much time with Antonio, and I'd like to get to know him a little better. I'll see if he'd like something to drink, and we can visit while you're gone."
"Yeah, okay," Karen answered. "Are you ready now, Max?"
* * * * * * * * * *
Antonio was in the guest room agonizing about what to do. This morning he had been confident his plan would succeed. He'd make a photocopy of the paper to send to Hamadi and replace the original on Max's desk before he ever noticed it was gone.
It hadn't been all that difficult to remove Dr. Savarin's paper from Max's desk during the night. The door to his office building had been unlocked, and the paper was partially visible. Antonio had tried to copy the strange letters by hand, but not being a scholar in the ancient languages, he'd been afraid of making an error. One little mistake could render it useless. So he had simply slipped the paper into his pocket and left.
The plan had seemed a good one until Hamadi had shown up. The problem was that Antonio had no way of knowing where Jones was or how much he knew. It was bad enough to be in danger himself, but to bring Hamadi into it seemed unconscionable. Antonio had told him of the phone call, and Hamadi had assured him he could handle the situation, but Antonio didn't want to take that chance. No, he had to find a way to make Hamadi leave for Cairo immediately.
Antonio came to a decision. He would put the paper back on Max's desk. Then, when Max was alone, he would tell him the whole story from the beginning. Once Max learned that Mr. Jones could pose some danger, Antonio was hopeful that Max would give the paper back to him. Antonio would then leave with Jones on his tail, and Karen could fly home later, Antonio arranging for her airfare.
Pulling the paper out of his pocket, Antonio stared at it. He was not a thief, and he was not going to look like one now. Even though the paper was technically his, to take it under these circumstances would give the opposite appearance.
He picked up another piece of paper that was lying on the bed. It was the phone number Mrs. Savarin had given him with the absolute confidence that he would do the right thing. Antonio felt ashamed. All the subterfuge had become oppressive and his only wish now was to be free of it. Without a clear conscience he couldn't go on, so Antonio took the paper and headed out to Max's office.
The office was empty, so Antonio slipped the paper back underneath some journals and left. Since there was no sign of anyone in the yard, not even Parisa, Antonio entered the house through the back door and called out for Max. Patsy answered.
"In here, Antonio. I'm in the laundry room."
Antonio found her stuffing clothes into the washer. "I was looking for Max. Do you know where he is?"
"Yes, I believe he and Karen took a ride into town to pick up a few things. They shouldn't be too long. How about a glass of something while we're waiting? Lemonade, Squirt, plain old water?"
"Well, okay. Squirt sounds good."
They sat down at the table and stared at each other for a few seconds.
"I hope you're enjoying yourself on this little trip, Antonio. I know Karen is. Thanks for driving her down here. It was so kind of you." Patsy smiled at him. She seemed genuinely grateful.
"I was glad to do it. Karen is one of the nicest girls I know." Looking away from Patsy, Antonio felt heartsick. Not only was Karen one of the nicest girls he had ever met, but he had grown extremely fond of her and maybe was in love with her, and here he had treated her and her family so shabbily. He felt his face flush with self-loathing. "Patsy?"
"I want to tell you something. Something that I'm deeply ashamed of. It's a long story, and after I'm done you may not want me around here anymore. Certainly you won't want me to drive Karen back home."
Patsy felt a tingle down her spine. Antonio was speaking slowly and looking directly into her eyes. He never once looked anywhere else. "I truly doubt that," she answered.
Starting with the term when Dr. Savarin had asked him to become his assistant, Antonio told Patsy the whole story, leaving nothing out. "So I put the paper back on his desk right before I came in here. There aren't enough words to tell you how sorry and ashamed I am."
Patsy reached her hand across the table. Antonio did likewise, glad for the comfort her grasp provided.
"You did the right thing telling me, and I believe every word. Both Max and Karen will too. Seems to me, though, there's really been no harm done. The paper is back exactly where Max put it, and in the final analysis the paper belongs to you, not Max. It is rightfully yours, Antonio. Mrs. Savarin left her husband's entire collection of research to you. You know, I sincerely doubt whether any of this would have happened if Dr. Richardson and Hamadi hadn't pressured you like they did."
Antonio squeezed her hand. "Thank you, Patsy. Maybe you're right. At least I'd like to think so. A great burden's been lifted from my shoulders and I feel so relieved. But I think it would be better if I were to head back home as soon as possible and take Jones with me. I'll arrange for Karen's air fare before I leave. Would it be asking too much for you to tell Max everything I've told you? When he's heard it all, ask him to come upstairs. We can talk then."
"Sure thing. But please, Antonio, don't fret yourself about it. I only wish I had as much courage as you to face up to my mistakes. It's sort of a strange thing when you think about it, isn't it? I mean, we all have the greatest respect for the person who owns up to his failure and says, 'I'm sorry.' There was an example of it just the other day. Some baseball player was accused of using drugs. And he didn't deny it. Instead, he admitted the truth right there in front of the press, took responsibility and didn't try to justify himself at all. I didn't even know the guy, but still I found myself getting teary-eyed and thinking that here is a man to be respected and admired after all. But while I was feeling respect for him, you know what else I was feeling? Disappointment. Disappointment in myself. Because, you see, aware as I am of the profound effect honesty has on people, I still find it virtually impossible to acknowledge my own faults and shortcomings. Most people, I'm afraid, do, and we're all losers in the long run because of it. You're one of the rare exceptions, Antonio, and you have all my respect and admiration." With these words, Patsy got up to finish the laundry.
Antonio withdrew to the guest room, no longer feeling encumbered with guilt. He called back to Patsy from the top of the stairs. "Patsy, we can't forget about this Mr. Jones. Max must know about him right away."
* * * * * * * * * *
"There's something wrong, isn't there, Max?" Karen asked when they started out. "Does it have something to do with Antonio?"
"I'm afraid it does," Max said kindly, and he related what he had learned that morning. "It's the paper he wants, I'm sure of it. Putting everything together that I know, apparently the late Dr. Savarin finished his work on the code, and this one page with the key got lost. Someone has the rest of the research papers. Whether that's Antonio, I don't know, but whoever has them knows that this one crucial page is missing. Antonio managed to track the missing page to you. But I'm not sure exactly what it is he wants to do with it. Perhaps give it to his cousin in Cairo, or maybe to the dean at Middlestates. I'm thinking of coming right out and asking him. What do you think?"
Karen was pondering this latest news when suddenly she blurted, "There's Jeff's car! Heading down that road!"
"Jeff who?" Max wanted to know.
"Jeff from back home. He followed me here. Patsy and I found out only an hour ago, but there's no time to explain. Let's see where he's going."
"Karen, I'm getting confused. Why would he have followed you here?"
"It's a long story, and I'll fill you in later. Please, Max. Don't lose him."
Jeff was driving at a moderate speed until he came to the Rolling Meadows Travel Lodge. At that point he slowed down but then resumed his former speed until he pulled into the parking lot of The Fairview, where he parked his car. Max drove on past and pulled over to the side of the road.
"Max, pull into the lot. We'll go in and talk to him. This is ridiculous, following me everywhere. Especially now that we know he was right about Antonio."
"He knew about Antonio? What's going on here? Seems to me I'm missing an awful lot."
They pulled into the lot and parked right next to Jeff's car. Karen jumped out and hurried to the door. Without a moment's hesitation she gave it a couple knocks, and the door opened immediately. Max was coming up right behind her. Jeff stood there absolutely speechless.
"Jeff, may we come in? This is my brother-in-law, Max Devlin." Without waiting for an answer, she walked past him into the room. Max followed with a shrug of his shoulders and a bewildered expression on his face.
Slowly Jeff closed the door. "Karen, I hope you're not mad. I thought there might be some danger and wanted to keep an eye out. Now I'm certain of it. There are two men besides Antonio following you and keeping an eye on your brother-in-law's house. And maybe a third, someone called Mr. Jones, but I don't know anything about him." He smiled at Max. "I've wanted to let you know about it, but the right opportunity never seemed to present itself."
Max was dumbfounded. "Two more men, and maybe a third? Why, I can hardly believe it. I thought I had an idea of what was going on, but now I'm not so certain. I mean, I never even heard of you until just a minute ago, and here you tell me that two more men are involved. Someone please bring me up to date."
Karen pulled out a chair and sat down, Max and Jeff following suit. With a rush of words she told Max how she had met Jeff, and then turning to him said, "I'm sorry I didn't believe you. You must think me an awful ninny."
"No, I don't," he responded kindly.
Jeff filled them both in on the details of his trip and what he knew of the two men he had been following. Max rubbed his chin while he sorted through these new facts.
"I know of Hamadi Zakai. He's the assistant curator of a museum in Cairo, and perhaps a slick character too. I found out this afternoon that he's a relative of Antonio's. This other man, Len. You say he has a Middlestates Faculty parking sticker?"
"That's right. He's been following Hamadi since late this morning. Has a room at the Travel Lodge here in town and is back there now. His plan is to get into your office and copy the information, probably some time when you are all out for dinner in town. He doesn't want you to know that he has it."
Max nodded his head. "Yeah, I know who he is. Leonard Richardson. He would have no trouble in copying it, but whether he can do any serious translating, I'm not sure. He's quite an avaricious artifact collector and would probably do almost anything to be the one who uncovers the whereabouts of the crown. His uncle heads up an archaeological society. Not many people are aware of their relationship, but I heard it from a reliable source. He's the 'Ben' you heard him talking to, Benjamin Meredith. In the past some people have accused Richardson of using rather questionable methods in obtaining his artifacts, and whether that's true or not I don't know. Probably it's more likely a case of sour grapes. Nevertheless, he'll be in for something of a surprise when he searches my office, because Antonio has already taken the paper. I found it missing not more than half-an-hour ago. But it's not as bad as it sounds, because I had recopied the code, making some significant changes, and it was the fake copy that was left on the desk." Max turned and gave Karen a sympathetic look. "I sure wish it weren't so, because I like Antonio too."
Karen looked heartsick. "I should have known better. But better late than never, I guess."
"Hamadi and I are suppose to go out to dinner tonight around 6:00," Jeff informed them. "So I don't think he'll be lurking about out there any more today, unless he's gone out there now. Let me see if his car's still here." Jeff glanced out the window. "Yes, it's still here. Let's see, it's a little after 3:00. And Richardson's car was at the Travel Lodge when I drove by just a few minutes ago. Do you have any ideas, Max?"
"Not really. But I should call Patsy to warn her that Antonio may have plans to leave. Can I use the phone?"
"Sure. Dial 9 for local calls."
Patsy answered almost instantly. "Hello?"
"Hi, honey, it's me. I'm over at..." This was all Max got out before Patsy interrupted. For close to five minutes he never said a word. "I'm so glad. Oh, I'm so glad! See you soon, honey." Max was all smiles as he hung up the receiver.
"What was that all about?" Karen asked.
"Great news. Antonio's had a change of heart. He's put the paper back and told Patsy everything, the whole story from the time he started working with Savarin. No time for all the details right now, but the paper is his. What we really need to do now is pool our information. Patsy told me about this man called Mr. Jones, and he is not to be trifled with. Jeff, can you come back to the house with us?"
"I don't need to be back here until close to six. It's pushing 3:15, so if we hurry I think it'll be okay." He grabbed his keys off the counter and opened the door.
* * * * * * * * * *
Back in his motel room, Dr. Richardson prepared for spending the remainder of the day out in the woods behind Devlin's house. His other pair of slacks were probably more suitable for tramping about, so he pulled open the dresser drawer to get them. The drawer was empty except for the few pieces of new underwear he had bought. He was momentarily surprised until he remembered the wash he had started that morning. "Good grief!" he exclaimed.
Dr. Richardson ran to the laundry room and found the washer agitating. The clothes inside couldn't possibly be his. The door on the dryer was closed. Perhaps someone had dried his clothes for him. He peered inside. Empty. Where were his clothes? He looked around the room and discovered several shelves on which were sitting a number of laundry baskets. He pulled the first one down, and there were his clothes. At least they were dry.
Back in his room, he dumped the clothes on the bed. The shirts and slacks looked frightful, full of wrinkles, but good enough for traipsing through the woods. Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was already past three. He'd better hurry.
In a short time he was on Jefferson Road. Slowing up, he looked for a place to park his car where it would be out of sight. The overgrown driveway he had used earlier in the day was too far away, but as a last resort he might have to use it. Unable to find a suitable place, he drove on past the house, noticing that the Mercedes was still parked in the driveway. There was one other car besides. Finding the spot he had taken that morning, he once again backed in as far as the undergrowth would permit.
Dr. Richardson trotted down the street to the Devlin house. Two more cars were now parked in the driveway, the last one an old, blue Oldsmobile Cutlass with Minnesota plates. He stared at it for half a minute trying to recollect where he had seen it before. He couldn't place it, so he continued past the house and made his way into the forest. He forged through the woods toward the back of the building that abutted it. Should make a good lookout post.
Trying to be completely silent was out of the question and making any respectable speed impossible. The ground was littered with small branches and tons of leaves and pine needles. Thorny vines were everywhere, and it seemed that every few steps Dr. Richardson's clothes got caught. Pulling the vines away was not easy. The thorns were sharp and the vines long, reaching well up into the trees. He was frustrated with the slow pace and the constant buzzing of insects, and already his face had a couple bites. His hair also felt sticky from a spider web he had run into. Nevertheless, he made some headway, slow as it was.
Not used to the exertion, he sat down on a fallen tree to catch his breath. It was surprisingly quiet in the woods when he wasn't moving. Occasionally he heard a bird chirp or a squirrel run through the fallen leaves, and on the whole it was quite peaceful.
He looked to where the building should be, but couldn't see it. Getting to his feet, he looked in every direction, but couldn't catch even a glimpse of it. The woods were rather dense, but surely he had to be close to its edge. He made his way cautiously about twenty feet and looked. Nothing but trees. He went another twenty feet or so to his left. Still nothing. Turning to his left again, he forged his way through yet another twenty feet or so of undergrowth and vines. Still there was nothing to be seen but forest.
A sense of panic overtook him. How in the world could he get lost in the woods when he was so close to a road and a house? If someone had told him it could happen, he wouldn't have believed it. He moved forward again when he thought he heard a distant voice. The voice was extremely faint, but Dr. Richardson thought he could make out the word help. He stopped and strained his ears to identify the direction, but the voice seemed to come from a different direction every time he turned his head. He was in a dilemma about what to do. Should he find his way out and get help or try to locate the distant voice and provide help?
* * * * * * * * * *
Max and Karen pulled out of the lot with Jeff right behind them. As he passed the Travel Lodge, Jeff noticed that Richardson's car was no longer there. However, he spotted it quite a ways ahead of them as the two cars made there way to Devlin's house.
Upon arriving, Jeff jumped out of his car and hurried over to them.
"Richardson is out here again, I'm sure of it. I spotted his car ahead of us on the road, and he was going in this same direction. Probably parked down the road a bit out of sight."
"Let's hurry inside," Max suggested.
The door had barely closed when Max shouted for Patsy and Antonio. "Need you both right away in the dining room. Hurry, please."
Antonio came racing down the stairs. "What's wrong? Has something happened?"
Max marched to the dining room with Karen and Jeff in tow. "Antonio, I'd like you to meet Jeff Summerfield. Jeff, this is Antonio Kamil."
Jeff stepped over and extended his hand. "Glad to meet you, Antonio."
"Same here," Antonio responded as he shook his hand, a perplexed expression on his face.
"Max, what's all the shouting about?" Patsy had come running into the room.
"Honey, this is Karen's friend, Jeff Summerfield. Jeff, my wife, Patsy."
"Pleased to me you, Patsy," Jeff said with a nod of his head.
Patsy gave Karen a quick glance. "The pleasure is certainly mine, Jeff."
"Okay, everybody sit down," Max ordered. Patsy and Antonio sat next to each other with Jeff and Karen across from them. Max seated himself at the head of the table with a serious look on his face. "We have things to discuss, and there's no time to waste. Now, much has transpired over the past two to three weeks, and even though you may not know many of the details, I want to assure each of you that we are all, as of this very moment, friends. No ill feelings are harbored against anyone. I don't have the least hesitation in trusting any of you, and you can rest assured that you may do the same.
"Let me summarize what we all may or may not know. Antonio, please correct me if I don't have the facts quite right. First, Antonio is the owner of a piece of paper on which is crucial information for deciphering an ancient code pertaining to an Assyrian crown, the one covered by the news media called The Eyes of Ishtar. The media seems to think that it's the key itself. Second, Dr. Leonard Richardson of Middlestates Theological Seminary is eager to get his hands on this paper in order to find the relic for himself and his uncle, a well-known archaeologist named Ben Meredith. Richardson is here in Rolling Meadows. Third, Antonio's cousin from Egypt, Hamadi Zakai, is also here in Rolling Meadows for the purpose of obtaining the paper and unearthing the crown for his museum. Fourth, there is a man who calls himself Mr. Jones, and we think he's here in the area for the same purpose. But unlike the other two, this man is dangerous. His real name is," and here Max looked expectantly at Antonio.
"Thank you. Flori. He's part of a Greek smuggling organization, and we need to treat him with some respect. A short time ago he contacted Antonio by phone and threatened him. As for Dr. Richardson, he's not at all dangerous but more or less a distraction we have to contend with. I don't think Zakai poses any real threat, do you, Antonio?"
"No. He's underhanded, maybe even a thief, but as for imposing any physical danger, no, we needn't fear him. At least he wouldn't be dangerous to us."
"Good. Now our goal is actually quite simple and twofold," Max continued. "It is, first, to ensure that Antonio receives the paper back so that he can safely pursue whatever it is he wishes to do with it. Second, to make sure that everyone else who is interested in it goes back home. And since the paper is in the safe in my office, the first part will not be hard to accomplish."
"It's in your safe?" Antonio asked. "How long has it been there?"
"I put it there last night. I had recopied it with a few well-chosen errors in case someone had wanted to steal it. Not meaning you, necessarily, but with all the rumors, I wanted a safeguard. And I didn't know everything then that I know now."
Parisa came skipping into the room. "Hi, Mommy."
"Why, honey, what have you got there?" Patsy asked.
"Found it. Isn't it pretty?" And Parisa held out the hat for Patsy's inspection.
"Where did you find it? Someone must be looking for it, don't you think? It's almost brand new and looks pretty expensive."
"Patsy, may I see it please?" and Antonio held out his hand. With the red feather, he had no doubt who it belonged to. "It's his. It belongs to Flori."
"Are you positive?" Max asked.
"Tell Daddy where you found the hat." Max walked over to Parisa and picked her up.
"Behind your office. On the ground in the woods with some stickers in it. I didn't go in real far, just to see the red feather."
"Antonio, come with me." Putting Parisa down, Max ran to his office with Antonio right behind him. Max rummaged through the jumble on the desk. "Patsy said you put it back. Where exactly?"
"Right here," and Antonio pointed to the spot where it should have been. "Do you think Flori took it? Could have been Dr. Richardson or Hamadi."
Kneeling in front of his safe, Max spun the combination and opened it. The original sheet was also gone. He looked through every paper that was in the safe. In an angry voice he said, "Whoever took it got into this safe as easily as you and I get into the fridge. It had to be Jones. But how did he know that I had made a copy?"
After thinking for several seconds, Antonio answered. "Well, maybe because he's the consummate swindler. He deals with underworld thugs all the time, and it was probably second nature to him to figure that the paper on the desk might be a fake to mislead him. Or maybe he didn't suspect a fake and was just curious to see if there was anything else of value in the safe."
Bowing his head in disgust, Max muttered, "I was such a pompous fool. Seeing the safe and knowing all the press that surrounded the crown, he would certainly assume that I would put the key in there. And I thought I was so clever!"
"Max, wait! Maybe you were more clever than you think." In his excitement, Antonio paced back and forth, snapping his fingers. "At the time you didn't know of Flori. Most likely it was someone a good deal less sinister whom you thought would try to steal the paper, and that person probably wouldn't have thought anything about you trying to trick him. I never did." Antonio stopped pacing to look directly at Max. "I'm sorry about taking the paper, truly I am."
Max felt the intensity of his gaze and found it difficult to look away. Wasn't it funny that he hadn't noticed before the brilliant blue of Antonio's eyes. "I know," he spoke softly. "It's forgotten. You can take my word for that."
A sense of genuine relief appeared on Antonio's face. "Now, consider this. Our Flori, alias Mr. Jones, has two sheets of paper, each with an ancient text. Can he be sure the one he took from the desk is the fake? No. It could be that he figures I've told you all about him and thinks that maybe you're trying to trick him by leaving the original in plain sight and putting the fake in the safe. That thought would undoubtedly cross his mind, so he has to take them both to be safe. And since he's not an expert who can tell the difference, he'll have to show both papers to someone else to find out which is the genuine page, probably someone back in Greece. But now, safely away with both sheets in hand and with time to think, another thought can't help but cross his mind. If you were playing him for a fool by leaving the false page in the safe, then surely you wouldn't leave the genuine one on the desk and risk it being taken too. Only an imbecile would do such a thing. No, a smart man would hide the real page somewhere else and leave another fake on the desk. Max, I believe Flori will be back. He was in a rush before and didn't have time to think of every possibility. But now he'll have come to the conclusion that both of his papers are red herrings and will return to search for the real thing."
"You may have something there, Antonio. It sounds reasonable," Max agreed. "Let's hope you're right and we still have an opportunity to get the original back."
"Here's something you probably don't know, Max. The underworld organization that Flori works for is controlled by a man named Dimitrios. Before the body of Alexander Kristatos, alias Midas, was found in Gaziantep, I mean long before that, Flori was suspected of being disloyal to Dimitrios. Dimitrios suspected that he was actually working for Kristatos. Then Kristatos made an attempt to take over the smuggling operation, but his coup failed, and during the melee he and Flori had a bloody fight that ended with Flori getting that nasty slash on his chin. The upshot was that Kristatos disappeared alive and well and Flori was now in like Flynn with Dimitrios.
"I learned all this from Hamadi. It's rather confusing, but the bottom line is that I was the one who leaked that story about Midas expecting to have the key to the broken code in hand within the week. I wanted to create some confusion, and it worked. I figured that if Dimitrios all of a sudden got renewed suspicions about Flori's loyalty, it would give Flori someone else to worry about instead of me. When the news came out over the wires that Midas, that is, Kristatos, was expecting the key, Dimitrios probably figured that Flori was going to double-cross him and give the key to Kristatos instead of him. Dimitrios then probably came to the conclusion that that fight between Flori and Kristatos some time ago was a put-up job, apparently nothing more than a show for the purpose of making Dimitrios believe that Flori was really loyal to him. Anyway, once Dimitrios learned the truth, or what he thought was the truth, that Flori was going to give the key to Kristatos, he found Kristatos and had him eliminated. And now Flori probably thinks that Dimitrios suspects him again. So what will he do? Will he try once more to prove his loyalty by giving Dimitrios the genuine paper? Or will he give him the fake and keep the genuine one himself? Dimitrios wouldn't know that it was a fake, or even that a fake existed."
Max rubbed his chin. "You were right when you said it was confusing. My own feeling is that Dimitrios would never trust Flori again. But where does that leave us?"
Antonio had no answer.
"This situation is a real mess. Of prime importance is getting the original back before this Flori has a chance to do anything with it. He couldn't have taken it all that long ago. And I didn't see any car parked around here. Let's go back to the house and see if the others have any ideas."
* * * * * * * * * *
Dr. Richardson pressed on in what he hoped was the right direction and thought the voice sounded closer. The words, "someone, help," were now quite distinct. He hurried as fast as the vines would permit.
"Hang on!" he shouted. "I'm coming."
Fifteen more minutes passed and Dr. Richardson finally came upon the man calling for help. He was standing in the middle of some huge swampy bog, covered with mud, and in well above his knees.
"Oh, thank you. Thank heaven you've come. But don't come any closer. I fear this may be quicksand."
"Can you move at all?" Dr. Richardson anxiously inquired.
"No. Each time I try, I begin to fall. Can you bring more help? I'm feeling rather cold and losing strength."
Dr. Richardson looked the man over. His clothes were wet and mucky-looking, and he was shaking slightly. "I don't know how long it will take me to find my way back. Will you be okay if it takes as much as another hour?"
"Yes, but please hurry."
Turning back in the direction he had come, Dr. Richardson tried his best to stay on the path. Periodically he shouted for help in case anyone was within range. But even if he found help, could he find his way back again? What if the man lost strength and couldn't shout any more? What if he lost consciousness? Dr. Richardson stepped up his pace.
* * * * * * * * * *
Max and Antonio informed the others that the paper was missing. Jeff's suggestion was to check around the edge of the woods for a trail.
The three of them entered the woods right behind Max's office, and it took no more than a minute for Max to find enough broken branches to see the direction someone had recently taken. They followed it for about 200 feet when Max suddenly put out his hand.
"Stop. Do you hear that? Someone's shouting." They listened without moving until Max spoke again. "Someone's in trouble. Probably lost." Cupping his hands around his mouth, he shouted, "This way! Are you lost?"
The voice shouted back, barely audible. "Need help. Can you find me?"
"Stay where you are and keep shouting. We'll head your way," Max yelled.
The man continued calling out, and the trio made their way toward him. Max was familiar with the forest and started walking faster.
"There's a large muddy bog out there, and it's hard to see. Before you realize what's happening, you're in up to your knees, and it can be pretty scary. Getting out isn't easy either. The depth fluctuates, and it seems that every direction you turn, you just get in deeper. Although there's not much danger of sinking in deeper than your thighs, it can create a sense of panic, especially to someone not familiar with this kind of environment. Do you think, perhaps, that Flori has gotten himself stuck?"
They continued for another fifteen minutes until the voice became clear and distinct.
"That sounds like Dr. Richardson," Antonio said. "Dr. Richardson, is that you?" he called.
"Yes, Antonio, it's me."
Five minutes later they met up with Dr. Richardson. His face was covered with blood and his clothes torn.
"Dr. Richardson, are you okay?" Antonio asked, taking his arm.
"Yes, I'm fine. But there's a man out there who's stuck in some kind of a bog, quicksand he thinks. I was trying to get back to find help. We must hurry, I don't know how long he can hold out."
Max spoke up. "Don't worry, he'll be okay as long as he's not ready to pass out. There's no danger of him sinking in more than three feet or so. I'll bet it's Flori all right. Did he have a scar on his chin?"
"Not that I could see, but then his face was crusted with mud. Are you sure he's not in any grave danger?"
"Quite sure. Okay, everyone, relax and let's think a minute, we've got time. We know he's got the paper. I mean," and here Max looked at Dr. Richardson with a hint of disgust, "you don't have it, do you, Richardson?"
Dr. Richardson didn't speak right away. But sensing that all was known, he answered somewhat shamefully, "No."
"All right then. I'm getting an idea. Let's see, I wonder if he has a gun. No, probably not, or else he would have shot it a couple times to attract some attention. So right now he's stuck and afraid to move. We'll have to help him out but at the same time keep a tight hold on him."
"Hamadi told me that he's very dangerous," Antonio reminded him. "Even though he may not have a gun, he could have a knife."
"You're right," Max agreed. "He can't take all four of us, but he can take one of us and put a knife to his throat."
"What about this idea?" Jeff said. "Dr. Richardson can go back and tell him that he came across a man driving down the street who can help, but first this man needs to go back to town and get some rope. He can also tell him that the swamp's pretty deep in places, and it's dangerous to move. Antonio and I will stay here, and you can go back for the rope. Once we get him out, we'll tie him up so he won't be a danger."
"That's not bad," Max responded. "But let's not tie him up. We don't want to let on that we know who he is. Now, since we're not sure that Flori doesns't know Antonio by sight, it would be better if Antonio stayed in the background. He might possibly know me since he's been watching my place, and seeing me might put him on his guard. Jeff, you're the only one we can be sure he doesn't know, so you'll be the one to bring the rope. Does he know who you are?" Max asked Dr. Richardson.
"No. I never told him my name, and he didn't mention his. I've never seen him in my life. Who is he?"
"The two of you fill him in, and after that he can tell Flori that help is on the way. I'll go get the rope. And remember, you don't know his name. He's still a stranger to all of us, as far as he knows."
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