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Let's make a story! - Page 8

post #211 of 237
Somehow lunch did not seem very important to Jessica as Phillipe began to tell her the details of the sting. She sipped a cup of tea absent mindedly, but was not even aware that she was doing so. Phillipe and Mark, two very dear friends, were in danger. The Boulanger parents' lives depended on this plan, and so did hers. Phillipe began by explaining that he had spent the night at home-for two reasons, to protect his parents and to allay any suspicion Jacques had about his presence at the museum.

"Jacques has not noticed his books are missing. They were duplicates, of course, but still in Jacques' own handwriting. The police will begin to gather more evidence as soon as Jacques is behind bars. I would imagine he backs up his figures on Fridays, so we will have to act before he discovers the second set is missing."

"Jessica, you will call Jacques tonight and inform him that the painting has been found, and arrange to meet him at the museum. Call very late so that he will not insist that you go there until after closing tomorrow."

"The telephone company has arranged that all calls to Monsieur Carpentier, the art collector, will be directed to the detective bureau. The secretary to the chief detective will answer that phone as if she were an employee, and put the detective on the line. He will insist upon a meeting with Jacques tomorrow evening at the restaurant around the corner. It's small and quiet. Of course, Monsieur Carpentier, in reality, Detective Moulier, will arrest him on the spot for grand theft."

Mark interrupted. "You'll be safe at the museum, Jessi. I will be in the back basement room. There will be a tiny microphone hidden in the frame of the painting itself, and a small receiver in the back room and the men's rest room, where a police officer will be hidden. Just give him the Monet, and let him go. Another officer will be waiting outside, and will follow him to the restaurant and guard the entrance. He won't get away."

"And Phillipe?", Jessica interrupted.

"I will accompany you to the museum, Jessi." Phillipe gazed at her eyes and touched her hand gently as he spoke in a soft and reassuring tone. "We can't have you alone with him, not for a minute."

"That's completely unnecessary! I am not a helpless, pathetic..."

"Tomorrow night, Jessi, tomorrow night." Mark looked at her with such love she said nothing, not for now, at least...
post #212 of 237
At 10:00 that evening Jessica made the call to Jacques. She told him that she had stayed late at the museum and had in fact located the painting.

"And you are still at the museum?" Jacques asked accusingly.

"No, I came back to the hotel. It's late and I hadn't eaten yet. If you've waited this long you can certainly wait one more day." Jessica shot back. She had had enough of his intimidation games, especially now that this was almost over.

"You are mistaken, madame. I cannot wait one more day. You will go back to the museum tonight and retrieve the painting. You will then bring the painting to 556 Rue du Leon. You will be there in one hour."

"For goodness sake, Jacques! I need to eat my dinner, I just ordered room service."

"No excuses, Jessi," he said with a snarl. This impetuous brat was irritating him, and he didn't like to be irritated. "One hour!"

The phone slammed in her ear. She looked at Mark incredulously.

"Well, so much for the best laid plans." Then she explained the situation to him.

"Oh Lord, Jessi. This wasn't supposed to happen at all! Let me make a few phone calls and we'll see what we can come up with. Here," he handed her a cell phone, "hit redial and call Phillipe and let him know what's going on."

"Mark, I have to leave NOW if I'm going to get the painting there in an hour."

"Fine, then we go. I'll make the calls on the way."

The pair flew out of the hotel and hailed a cab for the museum. Once there she picked up the painting and snuck it out in a trash bag out the back door. Once in the cab, she looked at the painting and marveled once again at the workmanship. It was a beautiful painting, and the thought of using it to trap a criminal broke her heart. What if something happened to it? The world would lose a priceless treasure.
post #213 of 237
Rue du Leon-Jessica pondered the name. It didn't translate. Did she misunderstand Lion for Leon? Street of the Lion- It would be an apropos name for a beast like Jacques, but she didn't dare take the chance. The police, everyone, would be going to the address Mark gave them. She asked the driver to rush. There was no microphone in the frame, no Mark hiding in a back room, and no policemen guarding her and the painting. And she had no way of knowing what arrangements Mark had made. Where was Phillipe? A beautiful plan had splintered, like a tree hit by lightening!

"Here you are, Mlle. Are you sure this is the right place?" Jessica was startled as his voice broke her concentration. She nodded, hesitantly. The driver pointed to a huge warehouse, dark and apparently abandoned. The St.Lawrence River looked black as it flowed slowly within a few hundred yards of the street... It seemed like an ominous sign. "Would you like me to wait?"

Jessica hesitated briefly, then thought it best to err on the side of caution. "Please drive up to the next block and watch for me. I might be coming back out in a matter of minutes. If I'm not back within twenty minutes, just leave. My friend is probably in a back office."

"But Mlle., the place is deserted.."

"Twenty minutes," Jessica repeated. That would still give her time to take the cab to Rue du Lion, if there had been an error. She would soon find out. There was only a sliver of a moon now. It barely glistened on the dark river. Jessica had seldom felt so alone.
She paid the driver and approached the darkened building.

As the cab drove away, she felt a chill that touched her spine and made her heartbeat quicken. Gradually, her eyes became accustomed to the dark. Yet, as she looked for an entrance, she saw no cars or people. Where were the police? And Mark? Oh my Lord, was she alone? What would Jacques do if she was not on time? Jessica clutched the trash bag in her left hand and approached what appeared to be an office door. She opened it slowly. A step of faith, she thought, as she turned the knob and found that the door was unlocked.
She felt certain now that Jacques was waiting somewhere in the blackness in front of her.
post #214 of 237
The match strike startled her, and the bright flame distinctly showed the outline of Jacques' face, and briefly, the outline of three more men standing behind him, before the cigarette dulled the flame. A bit overdramatic, perhaps, but it did have the desired effect.

"You're late, Mlle." Jacques said and Jessica instinctively looked at her watch. It was 11:01.

"I suppose that depends on whose watch you're looking at." She was scared stiff, but she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of knowing that.

"I assume you brought it, otherwise you shouldn't have come at all."

"Of course I have it. What will happen to it now?"

"Really,it is none of you business what I do with what is rightfully mine. It won't be destroyed, if that's what you are asking. Now give it to Francois."

Relunctantly, she handed the bag over to the burly man who stepped out from behind Jacques. All she could see was their outlines, no matter how hard she strained. It would be impossible to identify any of them besides Jacques later. The bag was given to Jacques to walked to the far end of the room, took out a penlight and peered into the bag with it.

"Very good, Jessica. You have followed your instructions well. Now, we should discuss the conditions of this exchange. I hope you have not been so foolish as to notify the police of our exchange. If you have, call them off before it is too late. I will let you live on your agreement of complete silence. You had a nice holiday in Canada, and that's all anyone needs to know. If I am arrested in connection with this, I have standing orders that you and Mark, as well as your parents will be killed. Do you understand Jessica?"

"What happens to Phillipe?"

"Phillipe will go on with me, business as usual. It is only because of him that you even have this option. Do you agree to this arrangement?"
post #215 of 237
Jessica didn't know whether to stall, run, or give up. She knew she was no longer needed, and if Jacques thought he could get away with killing her...Finally she spoke.

"Jacques, I'll be glad to just go home and never see any of you again, but I don't want repercussions. What if the curator of the museum realizes what I've done? I'll never get a job in my field again, and... oh, yes, I meant to tell you there is a tear in the canvas that might devalue the Monet." She knew she was rambling, but tried to keep her voice as arrogant as he expected from her. Every word gave her another fraction of a second to think. Too much friendliness would seem suspicious. "Let me show you the rip. It's really quite small..."

Jacques glared at Jessica, but nodded, and Francois handed the plastic bag to Jessica. She snapped, "I can't even see it. Turn a light on, at least. This is so childish. I did my job. Your precious painting is right here, and I have wasted weeks of my..."

"I suggest you say no more, Mlle., or I'll forget I'm a gentleman. There is no electricity."

"Well then" she answered, with an air of disgust, "let's go outside where there is some light." With that, Jessica walked slowly to the door, and just as Francois grabbed for her, she bolted. The door was still open a crack, and she knew it opened out towards the street. She rammed the palm of her hand into Francois' face, and before anyone could move, followed that with a kick to his groin. She was out the door before he could recover. But all Jessica knew was that he would be immediately behind her, so she did what she thought they would least suspect. She leaped into the adjoining lot, where the neglect of years had allowed weedy bushes to take over. She watched as Jacques ordered his lackeys to search the street in two directions. Then, as his back was turned, she put the precious painting deep within the bushy undergrowth of a yew, praying that she had not damaged it.

The darkness that had been so frightening only minutes before seemed like a comforting cloak to her now. Yet, her breathing came in loud gasps, and she wondered how Jacques failed to hear it. There was nothing in sight except the taxi, its parking lights still glowing. It looked like the salvation of a vengeful Norse god, tempting, but distant.
post #216 of 237
Stephane heard the shouts before he was even able to distinguish the figures of the men running past his taxi. "What the?" he thought to himself. Before he even had a chance to try to understand what was happening, his front passenger door was flung open and Mlle was yelling at the top of her lungs. "DRIVE!!!!!!".

Stephane stepped on the gas and was just about ready to speed off into the night when a figure appeared before them. The sound of the body hitting the windshield caused Jessica to jump right out of her seat. She glanced into the eyes that were glaring right at her. Jacques... He was pounding on the windshield and Jessica knew right then and there that this windshield was the only thing sparing her her life right now. For that, she was thankful.

"Hang on Mlle, I think we shall give this gentleman a ride for his money", Stephane reassured her calmly. He had no idea what all this was about but, for some reason, he knew he had to act fast or else this lady's life, and maybe even his own, was in jeopardy.

Slamming on his brakes, Stephane unsuccessfully tried to shake him off. Time to pick up speed, he thought to himself. After a quick glance at Mlle and noticing that she did not look well at all, Stephane floored it and sped off down the street. For the life of him, he could not comprehend how this man was holding on.

Stephane glanced back for a second and when he returned his gaze to the road, he was startled by what appeared to be 2 figures just feet away. Giving the steering wheel a quick jerk to the right, he realized that the vehicle was out of control. "Dear God..." he prayed. The last thing Stephane heard was the crash as his car barreled into the guard rail. The last thing he saw was the body of the man being flung into the air and falling into what appeared to be his destination: the St. Lawrence.

Jessica had no time to think. She heard someone scream. A piercing scream. She did not realize it was her own. She felt a sharp pain go through her left shoulder and then...the darkness hit her.
post #217 of 237
Light, bright white light. Then a voice, fuzzy but familiar.

"Jessi? Oh my God - get the nurse! Nurse! She's waking up!"

All of a sudden there were what seemed like hundreds of people swarming. "Check her....What's the....She's at...." They were all talking at once. Finally in the blur one figure stood out, began coming into focus. Mark was standing at the head of the bed, holding her hand with tears streaming down his face. One of the nurses told he must step back and let them do their jobs. Darkness again, but not black this time. Gray, a bluish gray that felt warm and comfortable.

The next time she woke, all was quiet. Her focus came back in a little better and she could see Phillipe and her parents in the corner of the room talking in hushed voices. Mark was still at her side, sitting now with his head in the crook of his arm, holding her hand. She tried to speak his name, but all that came out was a little "Eep". Mark looked up, and smiled at her.

"Could someone get Jessi some ice?" he said quietly. Jessica's mother buzzed out of the room and returned in moments with a cup of crushed ice.

Jessica tried to move her arm to hold the cup, but her hands felt so heavy. Mark put a small piece of ice in her mouth.

"You gave us quite a scare. You've been in a coma from that accident for almost a month."

Small pieces started returning to her. The painting, the taxi, Jacques flying off into the darkness. What had happened?
post #218 of 237
"Mark?" Her voice was not very strong, but she had to know what happened. "Tell me."

"Jessica, you need to get stronger. We'll talk later." The love shone from his eyes. "I love you so much," he whispered, as he touched her forehead with his lips. "You'll never get away from me again."

Jessica's mother and father came to the bedside, and Mark stood back to allow them to visit with their daughter. He sat down and looked at Phillipe. His eyes, like those of his new friend, were misted over.

Jessica's mother sat holding her daughter's hand and talking softly to her, as she had when she was a young child. Then, when Jessica could fight the sleep no longer, she reached for her husband, and the two embraced. "She's going to be all right! Our baby's going to be all right." She had held her emotions in for so long, and now that the crisis was over, she had to lean on her husband for support.

Mark waited until she seemed to be recovered and walked over to the exhausted pair. "Go back to the hotel and rest, both of you. I'll sit with her in case she awakens. Phillipe, you'll stay, won't you?" The jealousy he had once felt about their former relationship was gone, and the two men had bonded, almost like brothers. Jessica would be stronger in the morning and better able to relive the whole affair. And knowing her, Mark knew that would be unavoidable.
post #219 of 237
Jessica woke sporatically during the night and saw Mark keeping his vigil by her side. He was in a dead sleep, and it looked like he hadn't slept for days. She let him rest while trying to bring up the pieces of broken memories of that night.

Finally, she woke with the sun and saw Mark gazing at her. She just couldn't wait any longer to find out!

"Mark," she tried, but her throat was still so sore from the tubes and dry. He put a small piece of ice in her mouth and waited for her to try again. "Tell me..." was all she could croak out.

Mark smiled. "At least I don't have to worry about you interrupting me. Do you remember the meeting with Jacques?" She nodded. That she remembered. She remembered how scared she was that she was going to die. "And the accident in the cab?" She nodded. She vaguely remembered that. It was such a blur, everything happening so fast.

"Phillipe and I got the police there as quickly as we could. We arrived just in time to see you dart out of the bushes into the cab. The police were only minutes behind us, and thank God they were. I don't know if you would be here if they hadn't gotten to you when they did. They arrested the two henchmen Jacques had with him, who turned on him as soon as they could to cut a deal. We really had an airtight case against him, too bad it won't be used."

"He's dead?"

"That's the assumption. The force of the impact of the car would have thrown him quite far into the river, into a very fast moving part. They've studied the trajectory and calculated the speeds and all that. They say that the chance of his surviving is something like 500 to 1, but they dredged the river and never recovered a body."
post #220 of 237
Questions chased one another in Jessica's mind, but she knew she had to save strength. "The address was wrong?", she asked.

"Unfortunately, yes. The police were certain that you must have said 'Rue de Lion.' The section of the Rue de Leon I gave them was completely deserted, they insisted. But after a bit of hesitation, Phillipe said your French was too good for such a mispronunciation. We went to the address you gave me, but we were still late. I'm so sorry, Jessi."

"The cab driver?" Mark's head dropped, and Jessica knew the answer before he replied.

"Phillipe's prediction came true, I'm afraid. He didn't survive the collision; he died instantly."

Jessica's eyes misted over. "He saved my life, Mark. Jacques had a gun, and would have..."

"Just rest, Jessi. We can discuss this later," Mark urged her, as he saw her shoulders quiver. His arm circled her body and she sobbed, as the realization finally struck home.

But Jessica shook her head. "No, I want to know everything. Phillipe--is he in jail?"

"No, Jessi. He is at the museum, believe it or not, doing community service. He will be on our equivalent of probation for five years, but he has cooperated completely. None of the people who unknowingly brought drugs in the country was prosecuted. Of course, the Boulangers were crushed by the knowledge that Jacques was a drug lord and mercenary enough to kill them. His "allowance" alone made him richer than you or I will ever be, but nothing was enough. The fact that Phillipe risked his life to save theirs is some comfort, since it's possible Jacques is gone."

Jessica heard the word "possible" only too clearly, because Jacques had sworn to kill her and her parents. "But I thought he had drowned!"

Mark took her chin in his hand and looked into her eyes. "Jessica, the body did not get caught in the shallows where the authorities expected to find it, and the painting is nowhere to be found."
post #221 of 237
"Under the bush, I put it under the bush..."

"Jessi, they searched every inch of that block. I will let them know though. We can go out there again when you are better and see if you hid it so well that even the police couldn't find it." Mark smiled at her, trying not to be condescending. He knew that the painting was not there, though. He had been there when they searched, directing them to where he saw her run from. They tore that place apart, everything except uprooting the trees and shrubs.

"Jessica, there is one more thing...something more important than all of this." He was nervous, and she could see it. Instinctively she prepared herself for the worst. "Now, this may not be something you can answer right now, and I understand that. I have to ask now, though. I've thought it through, and it really can't wait..."

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box. A small tear streaked his cheek, as he slid from the chair.

"Jessica, I cannot live without you. I have never been so scared as I was when I saw that taxi...I couldn't imagine, I can't imagine being without you. Will you marry me?"
post #222 of 237
Jessica had known the question would come, and ever since Mark was struck by the car, she had also known what her answer would be. But now the question hung in the air, and she found herself without words. She looked at the face she loved so much, now stained with a tear, and motioned for Mark to come closer. And when he did, she raised herself far enough to kiss away that stray tear.

His arms encircled her gently, and he whispered, "No one has ever loved anyone more than I love you now, Jessi. You are my life, and I want you in my life forever."

Jessica felt his heart pounding much like her own, but it was not lust that consumed her; it was love. Of that she was sure. "Oh, my darling, sweet Mark. Of course I want to marry you." Mark kissed her lips hesitantly, as if she were a delicate china doll, but Jessica threw her arms around him and kissed him with a passion she didn't even know existed. Their lips separated only briefly and then only long enough to speak of love, until Jessica forced herself to pull away from his embrace and lie back to catch her breath. She was exhausted from the effort, but her heart was singing joyously with a fast and steady beat.

Mark's hand shook as he reached for her left hand, and he slipped a beautiful marquise stone on her fourth finger. Now it was Jessica's turn to allow a tear to escape her eye. She said nothing, but placed her head on his chest. She knew that would be a place of comfort for the rest of her life.

For that moment there was no Jacques, no painting, no danger... nothing but love. It was a moment that brought strength and warmth to her soul. And the memory of that moment would last for a lifetime.
post #223 of 237
Another two weeks of intensive physical therapy were needed before Jessica could be released from the hospital. Of course, Mark was there for everything.

Once she was allowed to leave the hospital, the first place she wanted to go was back to the scene. She had to see it for herself. Much to her surprise, much of the grass had already recovered from the accident. Although, looking for it, she could plainly see where the car had crashed the place of possibly two deaths. She walked around the scene with the help of a cane like a zombie. Mark and Phillipe both watched her carefully, occasionally giving each other very worried looks.

"I want to go down by the water," Jessica stated. Unfortunately she wasn't strong enough to make it down the slope, and definitely not strong enough to make up back up. Mark and Phillipe both hurried to her side to help.

She gazed at the dark water intently. "Where did he go in?" she asked.

"About 15 feet from the bank, according to the police's calculations. Obviously no one saw it in the darkness." Even though he hated Jacques, Phillipe was still saddened by the loss of his brother. He was sad for the possibility of could have been, a real relationship with a sibling, that now could never happen.

"What do you two think?" Jessica asked, her eyes not wavering from the water. "Do you think he's really gone?"

"I don't know," Phillipe answered. "Part of me hopes he is, part hopes he isn't. I know he's crafty enough to make us think he's dead. We did it with me how many years ago, but that was all planned from the beginning."

"I don't have a good feeling about him," Jessica continued as if Phillipe had never answered. "I don't trust him being gone without a body, and I still feel threatened. Maybe I'm just still paranoid, I don't know."

"You ready to go up?" Mark asked gently. He was very worried about her physical and mental wellbeing. He had never seen her this stoic. Much to his relief, she nodded and he and Phillipe pretty much carried her back up to the road.

She next made a bee-line to the bush where she had stowed the painting. With Mark's help, she got down on her belly to look underneath.
post #224 of 237
Jessica eased her way out from under the yew. The branches slapped her in the face, as if insulted by her invasion. This was the shrub; she knew it. "How soon after the accident did the police search the area?"

Phillipe answered, knowing what his answer indicated. "The very next morning. We all helped. We had officers from several different precincts here, and the museum officials were here also, wringing their hands for fear we'd damage the painting. We have to face the fact that it's gone."

"If it's gone, Jacques took it, then. No one searches an empty, overgrown lot for priceless paintings-especially not in the middle of the night. The question is, 'Where is he, and where is the Monet?' "

"Jessi, let's get you back home where you can rest and get your strength back. Christmas is coming and you'll want to be with your family. Let the authorities worry about the Monet." Mark knew, even as he spoke, that she would not forget the Monet. "Look, Jessica, because of you, we stopped Jacques in his tracks. His henchmen are all in jail, awaiting trial, and millions of dollars worth of drugs have been confiscated. You've done all you could do--and you did great! Come on, let's get back to the hotel and pack your things. The Boulangers want us to come over for a going away dinner, and look at you," he laughed,"you're covered with mud!"

"Well, I might be covered with mud, but I don't have blond hair with a half inch of brown roots," she laughed. Mark's attempt at a disguise hadn't worked, despite his best attempts, and he looked as ridiculous as her laughter hinted.

"All right, Miss Jessica, do something about it. Let's go pick up some dye. And if you're so ashamed of me, you can color it!"

The two lovers walked back to the taxi with Jessica leaning heavily on Mark's arm. "Phillipe, come on. We'll drop you off at the house." Jessica would do just what Mark suggested-for a little while, but she wouldn't feel safe. And the whole affair would not be settled until the painting was found and Jacques was behind bars. His threats rang in her head, and she knew none of them would be safe until he was found. Let them think it was over; she knew it wasn't.
post #225 of 237
and many, many sessions of physical therapy, Jessica finally felt like her old self again. She was also growing quite restless being stuck at home for so long. She spent time planning her and Mark's upcoming wedding, but it couldn't hold her interest for very long at any given time. She'd become hopelessly addicted to adventures, experiencing new things, facing new obstacles. She definitely took after her father, much to her mother's dismay. Her father had barely escaped from more than one precarious situation. Her mother shuddered when he told his little girl those stories years ago, but Jessica hung on every word.

Mark could tell she was growing more and more restless every day. Although he would have loved to live a normal life, with a couple kids running around a picket fenced yard, he knew that he would never have that with Jessi. The exchange for spending his life with a woman like her was worth it, even if it would give him ulcers.

It came as no suprise to him that he came home to Jessica's to find her packing her bags, and had his suitcases open and waiting. Mark wasn't the only who noticed her waning zest for life being stuck at home, so her father arranged for them to join him on his upcoming archeological excursion. Destination: Egypt. There was a promising dig in the Valley of the Kings that he had been invited to oversee. Everyone had assumed that every tunnel had been uncovered and King Tut's Tomb was the last substantial find until the latest seismic technology was employed and found a series of tunnels which no one ever suspected to be there.
post #226 of 237
"Jessica! What in the world are you doing? We can't leave right now. I have arrangements to make. I have to give Mike the specs for the new building, and.."

Mark seldom used her full name, so Jessica knew he was upset. As much as she loved her new husband, he was a bit on the cautious side.
"Hush, Mark." She spoke softly, as if comforting a frightened child. "I've called Mike and invited him to come over tonight. He has known for days that our honeymoon was to be in Egypt. Everyone at the reception knew! How long will it take? He's a qualified engineer. You worry too much!" Jessica gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and returned to the bags.

The advantage of being a partner in the engineering firm seemed almost a curse now. Mark knew the plans were all in order, and that Mike could easily handle the project, but he thought Jessi's dad would not be expecting them for a week. This was all a bit too sudden. But, if Jessi thought she could get a flight this quickly? He relaxed. That was next to impossible. Egypt was beautiful this time of the year, and the travel agents had taken advantage of the great fares to push the romance of the pyramids and the lure of the Nile.

"Well, Jessi, you're right about Mike. I'll fill him in over coffee and call the airlines tomorrow afternoon. Don't get your hopes up though, because.."

Jessica waved a packet of tickets seductively in front of his face. Her own eyes were shining with excitement. "The museum pulled some strings for me! Isn't it wonderful? I promised I would offer my services as an assistant to Dad if they could give me some time off and make arrangements for accomodations! Just think of the experience this will give me for the Fall lectures on ancient Egytian art. And maybe the government will allow me to make some purchases on the museum's behalf. Mark, get packed! We leave in the morning. Please be happy; most of the time will be our own, I promise."

She was so happy about the trip, Mark felt himself weaken. Jessica could be a very serious and thoughtful woman, but she was as giddy as a child tonight. He reached in the suitcase where the cat had just curled up, and handed it to his new wife. "OK, Jess! What time do we leave?"
post #227 of 237
Jessica couldn't sleep that night. She was too excited to possibly get any sleep.

Mark slept fitfully too, but for an entirely different reason. He was very worried about Jessica. Her PT had gone well, and she had recovered from the accident very well considering all. He just couldn't shake the feeling that she was pushing herself too far too fast with this trip. He had listened to Jessica and her father James talk about the excavation. Although the dig sounded very promising even to his untrained mind, the thing that struck him was how far from everything the Valley of the Kings really was.

He hoped he was wrong, but even downtime with the woman he loved in the middle of the desert, in the middle of nowhere, in a country that was completely foreign to him, didn't sound like the great honeymoon he had planned for. Of course, Jessica could make almost everything an adventure. He prayed that it wasn't the same kind of adventure they had in Canada. This woman couldn't possible have that many adventures, could she?
post #228 of 237
Morning came too soon for Mark, but Jessica was up, showered, and dressed before six. "Come on, sleepy head. We only have an hour before we leave for the airport.!"

Mark crawled out of bed, his hair rumpled from a fitful sleep, and staggered to the shower. The water felt like needles, but it helped him feel a bit more energetic. The newlyweds were facing a long trip. "Maybe I'll sleep on the plane," Mark reasoned.

The smell of coffee brewing was always one of Mark's favorite aromas, but this morning it seemed like a gift from the gods. Jessi poured him a cup and insisted that he have a piece of toast. Ignoring Mark's obvious lack of interest in food, she put the toast to his lips and urged him to hurry. "We should get a nice lunch on the way to Paris, but you need something. After our stop in Paris, we'll fly straight through to the airport near Luxor. Well, almost, anyway. We have to refuel in Greece and Giza, I believe. Dad will have a car meet us at the airport and take us to the hotel. Oh, Mark, I can't tell you how thrilled I am! This is an artist's dream for a honeymoon. Dad has told me stories about Egyptian art since I was a child, but I never thought I'd really see it at its source. Of course they might not unearth anything important, but just think--we can visit the tomb of Tutankhamun and see the Temple of Karnak! Did you know that several cathedrals could be placed inside its boundaries?"

Her enthusiasm was infectious and Mark began to look forward to the trip. He loaded the car, called Daniela, their neighbor, and gave her the itinerary and the number to the hotel. Daniela had been instrumental in helping them when they were in Montreal. She was supposed to feed the cats, but her legal expertise was invaluable. She was practicing law on a part time basis now that the baby was a bit older, but her office was in her home. So she and Jessi's mother would care for the pets and be their ties to home for the next four weeks.

An hour later the plane took off, and Mark grabbed some long needed sleep. Many hours, a couple of boring movies, and several packets of peanuts later, they landed in Paris and looked for a cafe. There was a two hour wait for the plane to Luxor, so Jessi walked leisurely, looking in the shop windows and people watching.
Suddenly, her face turned white, and she gripped Mark's arm so hard it hurt. "Mark, he's here. Jacques is here at the airport, and I think he saw me!"
post #229 of 237
"I knew this trip was too soon for you!" Mark blurted out before he could stop himself. He immediately knew it was a mistake and braced himself for her backlash.

"Mark, I'm serious. He's here!" Her grip on his arm never loosened, and he knew that she was seriously scared.

"Where did you see him?"

"At the bar, right over there but don't look. How did he know we would be here?"

"Jessi, he couldn't have known we would be here. If it is him, and that's a big if, it has to be a coincidence. Now let's get out of here before you rip my arm off."

"Oh, gosh, I'm sorry." Jessica was suddenly propelled back into reality. It couldn't really be Jacques. Of all the places they could be, and they just happen to run into the one person in the world they want to avoid at all costs?

After a tense lunch, and a vow to return to Paris again so she could show Mark all the sights that he had never seen, the lovers returned to the airport in time to board their plane. They had purposely cut it a little close so they wouldn't have to wait at the gate very long. Their timing was perfect, and their rows were being called as they got to the gate.

Just as they entered the tunnel leading to the plane, Jessica had the eerie feeling she was being watched. She turned to look and her heart turned to ice. There was no mistake, Jacques was there, staring at her and Mark boarding the plane. She froze, and when Mark saw what she was staring at he literally jerked her down the tunnel into the plane and to their seats.
post #230 of 237
The plane ascended from Cannes, but Jessica's hands gripped the arms of her seat long after they were safely in the air. Memories of Montreal and the lost Monet masterpiece chased one another across her mind. And into those memories the face of Jacques intruded-Jacques of the scarred, thin face framed with long, straight, blonde hair, a face that spoke of evil. And this drug lord had not stolen only the Monet; he had stolen her sense of safety-for herself and her family. She finally released the arms of her seat and turned to Mark.

"Mark, where is our next fueling stop? We have to watch every man who gets on the plane. He might disguise himself and--"

Mark put his arm over her shoulders, and now it was his turn to convince her. "Jessi, there's no way Jacques could have known we'd be stopping in Paris. I didn't know about the route until last night. If that was Jacques,..."

"It was!" she interrupted, "And I know he saw us board this plane!"

Mark shrugged. "Yes, it looked like him. I agree. But we could be going to Greece. That's our next fueling stop. And it's a far more logical honeymoon spot than Luxor. You're a rare woman, Jessica. Most women, especially art experts, would have preferred France, Italy, and Greece. If he decides to look for us, he won't look in Luxor. But now we know where he is, and I will speak with the staff about making an emergency call to the police in Cannes. Believe me, they'll be interested in searching for him!"

That logic, that cautious, sensible logic that so complemented her brilliant, sometimes impulsive personality! It comforted her almost immediately. Jacques would have to be a mind reader to have known their plans. Jessica relaxed as Mark spoke intensely with an attendent. He smiled and reassured her action would be taken.

The hours passed rather quickly as the honeymoon couple marveled at the Alps and the blue-green expanse of the Mediterranean. The stop at Corfu was brief, and noone who boarded had the least resemblance to the evil that they had confronted briefly in France.

Not long after their ascent, only a few hours after they flew over Crete, the continent of Africa came into view. The vast and sandy desert was in sharp contrast to the mountains, forests, and grasslands of Europe. It looked like a page from a child's book of fantasy. There was a brief stop in Giza, not really long enough to do more than stretch their legs. It would be several hours before they would step from the plane and stand on the ground at Luxor- formerly Thebes, the home of the New Kingdom, Tutankhamun, and Rameses. Jessica stepped from the plane with a sense of awe. She would be stepping into the early history of mankind. Jacques and Montreal were left behind as she again realized the significance of this trip. The mysteries and art of the ancient tombs awaited. She took Mark's hand and walked toward the terminal.
post #231 of 237
Jessica ran from the small plane to greet her father with a big hug. She couldn't believe she was really here! She had dreamed of coming to Egypt from when she was very little, as she sat on her Daddy's knee while he described how Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon made the archealogical find of the century - a King's tomb, unpilaged and unspoiled.

Mark almost felt like a third wheel as they were driven out to their lodgings - a large tent set up in the middle of the desert. This wasn't what he had in mind for a honeymoon, but their excitement was certainly contagous. Perhaps his engineering skills could come into play, and he could actually do something constructive while he was on this expedition with the experts. Finally, his embarassment of his lack of experience that they shared was overcome by his curiosity.

"John, I'm new at this so you'll have to excuse my ignorance. Can you explain some of this in plain English?"

"Oh, I'm so sorry Mark," Jessica's father said. "I forget that you aren't familiar with my line of work, please ask any questions that you may have. As for what Jessica and I have been talking about, there is an amazing possibility that we are still getting the preliminary data on. We've had planes flying almost daily taking sonograms of the area where I am convinced there is another tomb that has not been seen for thousands of years. We're talking a discovery on the lines of Tutankhamun. The sonograms are showing more and more precisely that there is an area that has not been excavated that has definitely been disturbed by humans at some point. It has the right size and dimensions, including what appears to be a caved in passageway, that is indicative of the tombs we know about in the Valley of the Kings. We'll be doing ground walks with the equipment starting tomorrow and then plan out where we will begin the excavation."
post #232 of 237
Egypt was like a dream world to the newlyweds. Neither of them was provincial, but they were in a world they had seen only in silly movies about walking mummies and documentaries on educational television. Egyptian officials were ever present, most other men wore cloaks, and there were booths with souveniers anywhere they were allowed. Mark and Jessica had mixed feelings about the commercial aspect of such a historical place, but bought small gifts for their friends, nevertheless.

The two young people learned as much as they could about the site. Jessica discussed the exciting archaological possibilities, while Mark talked shop with the engineers. The site was promising indeed. They attracted some onlookers, but the real excitement was generated by the dig at KV5, the tomb of the sons of Ramesses II, where 100 or more rooms had been discovered. Although it was not open for public view, it attracted many would be scavengers, who haunted the general area much like vultures around a newly killed animal.

Since the excavation had not begun in earnest, Mark and Jessica, like other tourists, marveled at the tomb of the young King Tutankhamun, and then, as a huge moon arose, donned light jackets and visited the Temple of Karnak. Mark knew the effect it would have on Jessica, but was shocked to see the immensity of the huge temple, and envious of the skilled hands that built it. Neither of them spoke. They stood in the darkness, silenced by awe, and dwarfed by the magnificence of the landmark. The silhouette, lighted by a full moon, was breathtakingly beautiful.

The silence was broken by the sound of two men talking. Jessica turned around but couldn't see the men who had disturbed them.
"The new dig, that's where!" she heard one voice clearly. It was filled with an almost angry impatience.

Then both listened more carefully. "The night guards are dolts, and sleep most of the time! It will make things easy for us."

The voices were European, but neither Mark nor Jessica could place the accents. "And how do you know so much?" his companion asked, rather sarcastically.

"Because I overheard Rankin discussion the possibilities with the American archaologist. I know what I'm talking about. Why don't you listen and learn?"

The name Rankin caused Jessica to cover her mouth for fear she'd make an audible sound. Then the voices gradually began to disappear, as if the men were walking away.
post #233 of 237
Not even the immense Pharoh gods could keep them at that temple. Silently the pair rushed to the awaiting jeep and told the waiting driver to hurry back to base camp. Not knowing who they could trust anymore, they remained silent the whole ride back.

Once they cornered Jessica's father alone, they told him what they heard. He was understandably very concerned and outraged.

"This has to be an inside job! Mark, you and I don't talk that much out in the open. Who could do this to me?"

"Dad, did you run background checks on the workers?"

"Jessica, dear, this is not America. This is Egypt. Most of these people have never seen a computer. There is no central database to do the checking on, not where these people come from. These small desert communities don't have much of a justice system like you are used to."

"Well, what about Mr. Zahwi? Couldn't he help?" Mark asked.

Mr. Zahwi was the representative of Egypt assigned to oversee this dig. Nothing happened with archeology without him present. He was the one who approved everything, from which film crews are allowed inside the Great Pyramids to where a shovel was placed. After Tutankhamun, with the British and Americans making off with much of the historic finds, the Egyptian government really cracked down on who was allowed to work. Their hands were in every dig, literally.
post #234 of 237
Mark and Jessica sat in the back of the jeep for the ride back to the hotel, and John rode in front with the driver. The chill that crept over the terrain at night was especially disturbing this particular evening because it was accompanied by the equally chilling possibility that one of their own associates had a plan to sabotage the dig.

At the hotel, John motioned for the young couple to go to their room. He stopped and left a message for Mr. Zahwi to call him at his earliest convenience. He sat for a few minutes in the lobby, then stepped outside to enjoy his pipe. The hotel was elaborate, a successful attempt to attract rich tourists. Palm trees dotted the irrigated land surrounding the hotel, and not too far behind the luxurious building flowed the very reason for this location of ancient and modern day Egypt, the mother river, the Nile. John suddenly stood straight, knocked the ashes from his pipe, and hurried through the lobby to the elevator.

Mark opened the door for his father-in-law. Jessica had already showered, and was in bed.

"Mark, I know the conversation those men were referring to! You and I were brushing some shards of sandstone, and I told you about the dig near the center of the Valley, near KV 62, Tut's tomb. Those men are close to a breakthrough."

"I remember that. You told me that it had been suspected that Tut had reinterred members of his family after the death of his father, Akhenaton. The return to the old religion made their burials seem inappropriate, and the experts suspect that Tuthankamun had used many of the funds intended for his own burial to relocate his family members."

"Yes, and I told you how close some colleagues of mine had found what they thought was the opening to a tomb close to Tut's. Whoever overheard us must have thought we were talking about our own dig. If Tut's burial site seemed small and spare for that of a pharoah, can you imagine what might be found in the tombs of his family members?"

"Good Lord," Mark muttered. "Who could have overheard that? And why is it we didn't see anyone?"

John shook his head, and the two men sat quietly in the dimly lit room. They had been alone that night; that was a certainty. And no amount of discussion could change it.
post #235 of 237
They were silent for a moment.

And then he said...
post #236 of 237
"Don't worry, get some rest for now. We'll discuss it in the morning."
post #237 of 237
But something made him change his mind...
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