Fortunes Fools: The Tomb of Ishtar!

Discussion in 'ROLEPLAY GRAVEYARD' started by Asmodeus, Jul 2, 2010.

  1. FORTUNE'S FOOLS

    EPISODE ONE: THE HEART OF ZAGROS

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    "What is it, Uncle?"

    Professor Stern held up the object, letting the dim lights of the gentlemen's lounge catch on the silver casing.

    "Well, Lilly, unless I'm very much mistaken, what we're looking at here is the Heart of Zagros."

    The eyes of Lilac Stern went a little wider as the name was mentioned. She leaned from her armchair, almost falling off it as she peered at the locket. It was about the size of her hand, decorated to look like two angel wings overlapping at the clasp. The back of it was engraved with hieroglyphs, clearly Sumerian, but she was too awed to start interpreting them. For now she just stared, then looked up again at her uncle in the adjacent armchair. "It can't be..."

    "Well, Professor Harold certainly thinks so. The old boy sent it to me by courier - said he didn't trust anyone else to have it."

    Lilac scowled. "Professor Harold? Wasn't he in Florida?"

    Stern set the locket down on the table, half-wrapping it in his handkerchief. "Yes, still studying the Bermuda Triangle, if I remember."

    "But the Heart of Zagros should be buried in the Iranian Desert! What on earth was it doing in the Atlantic Ocean?!"

    "That, my dear Lilly..." said the Professor, tapping his niece on the nose before she fell out of the chair, "... is indeed the question."

    The Hodsworth Gentlemen's Club was over a century old and nestled in a sidestreet just off from Picadilly Circus. The sounds of pedestrians and automobiles barely made it through the old walls and then were drowned by the grand piano that played from dawn till dusk. This early in the morning there were only a few old gents in the lounge, some smoking while others read the newspapers (which today were plastered with news of Bulgaria signing a treaty with the Axis forces). Waiters in tuxedos floated between the customers, bearing cigars and brandy glasses.


    "They're late," muttered Hobbs again. The butler was hovering behind the armchairs where Lilac and the Professor sat. A tray of freshly poured sherry glasses barely stayed in his hand as he fidgeted and complained. "I told you the letters were a bad idea. They're probably all dead. Yes, captured by the Gestapo no doubt. I warned you."

    "Nonsense, Hobbs," replied the Professor, taking a glass from the tray before sitting back down. "These chaps are the cream of the crop. They're probably having trouble with your directions."

    "My direc--!" Hobbs frowned at the professor, almost spilling the rest of the sherry on him as he leant over his chair, "Sir, those letters we sent out were death warrants - death warrants I tell you! There's Nazi spies in every port! U-boats in the waters! I hear Hitler even has trained pigeons - PIGEONS, SIR! He sends them out to spy on the mail ships. And as for that silly code you made, well let me tell you, Sir - it won't delay the German codebreakers for long!"

    Hobbs stared at the lounge door, straightening his bowtie. "Oh yes, I can see it now. They're all in some Gestapo prison somewhere, getting the thumbscrews, having their toenails pulled off. This whole operation is doomed. Doomed!"


    "Stiff upper lip, Hobbs," said the Professor as he sipped his sherry. "Now's not the time to be panicking. We have a long expedition ahead of us, old sport. I need you in tip-top shape."

    "Oh no!" protested the butler, rolling his eyes, "That's what you said in Cairo when that camel sat on me. I'm not doing this again, Sir - not on your nelly! And besides, there's a war on now, don't you know? It's far too dangerous to be going anywhere will-nilly. Her Majesty will just have to find someone else to get killed for her!"

    "Do be quiet, Hobbs."


    Meanwhile, Lilac was kneeling by the table and ignoring Hobbs's tirade. She studied the back of the locket, muttering a little as she interpreted the hieroglyphs. "Beneath the earth he waits for me. My heart will open his sleeping place."

    She looked up at the Professor and saw her excitement reflected in his eyes. "It's the key..." she whispered, "They key to the Tomb of Ishtar!"

     
  2. A very faint jingle of tiny bells tinkled through the faintly cloying atmosphere of the Hodsworth Gentleman’s Club, the light breeze caused by the door opening rudely disturbing the lazy wisps of smoke surrounding the relaxing gents. Whoever entered was civilized enough to not cause any sort of undue racket or ruckus, although they did collect a few brief questioning stares, more than likely because they didn’t seem to be following the…gentlemanly dress code.

    The newcomer adjusted the shoulder of his small pack (good thing he left his larger items in his room, he decided) and pushed forward, his shoulders hunching as he seemed to shrink a bit. His wide, pale blue eyes reflected the amber tone of the lighting, making him appear a bit befuddled and obviously amazed. It sure was a lot fancier than he was used to. . .

    One waiter’s gliding path was interrupted by the newcomer, the pair having a quiet conversation that ended rather shortly, the waiter floating off to tend the few emptying glasses.

    It wasn’t for some time before the Professor and Hobbs’ conversation was interrupted by the quiet sound of someone clearing their throat to catch their attention.

    *Ahem, Ahem* “H-Hallo, G-Good Morning...” The interrupter paused, seeming unsure of himself. “My name is Dietrich…Dietrich Klaus.”

    The individual who stood before them was dressed cleanly (and rather plainly), although there was no escaping the somewhat extreme atmosphere of “Stable Hand” the young man gave off. It wasn’t any sort of smell or anything, or any sort of debris stuck to his boots…but rather that he just came off as very…”simple, country folk.”

    The young man waited for a moment then let out a quiet “Ah!” and began to rummage around in his coat pockets before producing the letter. He held it out to Hobbs, still speaking somewhat quietly, his manner very shy. ”The directions were a bit hard to follow…but here I am.” He shifted his gaze to the other man, his eyes brightening a bit. ”You are…Professor Randolph Stern?” He smiled freely, ”I enjoyed solving your puzzle…do you have more?”

    Although he seemed to have entirely ignored the instructions to destroy the letter, it was likely impossible that anyone could have mistaken Dietrich for anything other than a farm boy on his first trip into the city. No doubt he had hated to destroy it, given how much fun the letter had been for him to solve.

    This was the very first of the “cream of the crop” to arrive. No doubt all of Hobbs’ worries would be laid to rest. . .
     
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mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} </style> <![endif]--> It felt good to be free.

    Bekele sat in the plush chair, watching the dust motes dance in the afternoon sun. He had been freed three days prior, given money, a coded letter and a chance at freedom. They’d provided him with a hotel room for the week, so that he may rest before meeting with the Professor. It was just as well; his mind was sluggish, his thoughts knocking each other around in his head. He felt like a caged bird set free, fearful of what the next step would bring. Prison had changed him, yet there had been something unyielding within him. His senses would come back to him with time. After all, had he not decoded that letter with relative ease?
    <o:p> </o:p>
    He glanced at the sun outside, and when once that would have been sufficient for him to know the time, he found himself having to check the clock for confirmation. Close enough. It was time to go.
    <o:p> </o:p>
    Stepping outside, he relished the feeling of the breeze, the bright colours, and the smells. Yes, it was good to be free! He checked his equipment quickly, and set off at a brisk pace toward the Hodsworth Gentlemen’s Club.
     
  4. It was unusual to see a woman alone in a place like Hodsworth's, innappropriate, even. Well, a few of the gentlemen from the old school would remark sarcastically, at least she's observing the dress code.


    The woman making her way from the entrance wore a black pin-striped suit, complete with vest and red tie. Her black hair had been pulled back loosely, the long strands slightly tossled from the breeze outside. She kept a liesurely pace as she made her way through the foyer, her eyes drifting across the works of art that adorned the walls. Occasionally, her eyes would flash upon one of the few gentlemen milling about, for one brief intense second, before they seemed to lose interest and drift away.

    "Pardon me, madam, but are you looking for someone?" One of the waiters had approached the strange woman, and now stood between her and the group in the back.

    She caught a glimpse of silver, before it was blocked by the young man's torso.

    The woman paused a breif moment, before meeting his gaze with a smile. The waiter found himself holding his breath, suddenly feeling as if he had come between a large cat and its prey.

    "Non," The woman stepped around the waiter and continued on her chosen path. "I have found them."
     
  5. [​IMG]


    Stepping out of the bus, young Osvald was amazed and thrilled by the busy life on Piccadilly Circus. Even after all his time in London, he had not had the chance to visit this part of the city. It was a real shame he could not spend all day enjoying the scenery.

    He had written down directions for the club on a note with the help from a local gentleman which he kept on the inside of his scally cap.

    As the herd of people that had surpassed him started skipping into the busy traffick he followed quickly and mingled with them in hope of a safe voyage. Cars, buses and cycles went flying by as the fragile beings stressed over the main street.

    He couldn't wait anymore, he had to get to the location he was supposed to quickly. Yesterday he had somehow managed to miss sighting of his watch, which was his best excuse for arriving late. His grandparents protests on him partaking in this adventure had not helped either. They did not understand, he did not want to go back to the mainland in some war-plagued country. He wanted to be able to forget what he had seen, what he had suffered in this terrible war. This was his chance, or so he thought, keeping in mind that he had no real idea where they were going.

    He took a heavy breath to calm down his nerves before he entered Hodsworth, but it was all wasted as he almost ran down the waiter that greeted him in the door as he entered.

    "I-I'm so sorry! I-I'm in a hurry you see, and I wasn'-" The waiter disrupted him with a big smile and turned away.

    He knew he was faking it, this was bad. He didn't want to give the company a bad first impression so he had hoped they didn't notice. Osvald removed his cap and hid it under his shoulder, walking straight to wards the party.

    "Sorry, I hope you have not been waiting for too long." Roberts commented while greeting the people present.
     
  6. Boots walked along down a sidewalk leading toward the Hodsworth Gentleman's Club at a pace that was in no particular rush yet each step moved with a purpose behind it. Pedestrians staring at the ground or reading the paper would hear a noise from those boots that all the hustle and bustle of London couldn't quite drown out when they came near. The sound was so. . . foreign to those British ears that several people looked in the direction the noise came from as it drew closer with an eerie rhythm. Curiosity rewarded them with the same sight that those who were not distracted by their own lives witnessed. Some of their hearts were filled with even more curiosity by what they saw, others felt the cold shiver of unexplained instinctual fear that one felt when near danger.

    Yet the boots kept walking and the noise continued its rhythm, neither stopping for those watching eyes.

    A few minutes had passed after Osvald and Klaus had arrived when the door opened once more to allow another breeze inside along with a pair of boots. But rather than the mere rudeness of disturbing lazy wisps of smoke, the breeze carried in a scent of tobacco altogether different from that of what the old men used. Once the door was closed the tiny bells jingled again, their faint tinkle replaced by a heavier rhythmic sound that no automobiles or countless citizens were around to drown out inside these old walls as a pair of boots entered the room with the others.

    The man wearing those boots wore clothes which were worn but not utterly filthy. Clothes that were clean did not stop them from clashing in a silent war against everything the formal attire of these old men stood for in the club. Yet at the same time the clothes seemed to try speaking about the experience their wearer had under his belt. Atop his head rested a cowboy hat over hair commonly called dirty blonde as it partially obscured the top half of his face from view. Indirectly it drew attention to the fact that a clean, fresh shave was just about the only gentlemanly thing he had in common with these men of high standing. The hand-rolled cigarette in his mouth smoldered before a brief exhale. Eyes that could not yet be seen due to the hat were looking down at a piece of paper in his hand that had been pulled out of a trench coat pocket.

    ". . . . . ."

    All of the staff who saw the man standing there thought about trying to politely ask the man what his business at the Hodsworth Gentleman's Club was today. But none of them went through with it. Most of the members probably disliked him more than any of the others who had already arrived. Just what was going on today in their club with all of these strangers? Had someone planned a practical joke in poor taste?

    "I take it you're Professor Stern."

    Just as the sentence that was more of a statement than a question ended, his gaze finally rose to meet that of Stern's in a look that defied his aura. Violence was nowhere to be seen and instead appeared calm in a way matched by his facial expression. It could almost be deemed sociable the way his American features seemed free of any negativity. But perhaps the Cowboy was just trying to prove he hadn't come to kill the old man.

    "I have to say though. . . your code was easier to figure out than these directions."
     
  7. The door tinkled again, and a heavyset man in full dress uniform, complete with holstered pistol strode into the room, a lit ciggerette held in his lips and, to the butlers suprise and alarm, a small dog held in his arms
    "look what i find outside! cute little puppy!" the Russian's ciggerette bounced as he spoke, and his voice was slightly muffled by the effort he put into holding the smoke in place.

    "I am Mishenka Tolenka, NKVD Colonel and i got your letter comrade Professor" the Russian continued, ignoring the others, though he soon put his furry freind on the carpeted floor, where it proceeded to run about, exited about its new surroundings though the staff soon ushered it back into the main room, clearly indignant at the Russian's clear lack of breeding and standards.

    setting the ciggerette, now mostly ash, down in an ash tray the Russian turned to regard the others, removing his parade cap as he did so
    "looks like quite the group of adventurers yes?" he said, positively beaming.
     

  8. εїз Lilac Stern

    As soon as the first guest arrived, Lilac scrambled into her armchair, glancing quickly at her uncle. Dietrich Klaus Lilac thought curiously, leaning back in her chair, her eyes wavering upon this man. She was surprised he still held the letter and at the same time, wondered what her uncle would say to that. Still, Lilac could see the man seemed harmless. She blinked, if he was ordinary, what were his possible merits to uncle's mission? Lilac was more intrigued than ever. Before she could collect her thoughts and observe her uncle's reaction, her ear caught upon a woman's voice, distinctly french. Lilac looked up sharply to see the woman make her way over to them. As oddly dressed as she was, Lilac was fascinated by the air of mystery that floated about her. Surely, Hobbs is mistaken, if uncle finds that these queer people have noteworthy talents, then I'm sure of it as well. She continued to watch the people come in, sitting quietly.

    The next was a man whose entrance Lilac found quite amusing. As he came towards them, he politely removed his cap and apologized for any possibly tardiness. Lilac watched him; such quality of manners was something she rarely saw in uncle's strange guests. She found herself wondering how these people would get along as a team; they did not seem like the type that work as one, rather she could easily imagine them pursuing individual goals. Lilac frowned just the slightest, would that be a problem for uncle's mission, if these individuals could not cooperate? She had not considered it until she'd seen their clashing personalities.

    Lilac leaned forward, meaningfully towards her uncle, her face etched with concern. She meant to ask him what he thought of his guests. She knew he must have considered their personalities along with their talents, but like Hobbs, Lilac was often prone to questioning Professor Stern's thorough analysis of things. It would help ease worries if she could hear him say he had already thought this through. But she had barely a chance to get the words out before the strange American strode in, with an air of authority that Lilac only sensed from the highest of English gentleman. Why, she thought he was rude the way he greeted her uncle, she watched him, almost glared at him, with strikingly keen eyes. She wanted to know who he was to speak like that, to dress like that, even. Lilac realized, with a small frown, that she was actually curious about his American ways.

    And she was a tad bit amused as well. The way the entire club's staff had reacted to the American was actually rather funny, but Lilac kept herself from laughing. She was taken aback by his defiance, the way he approached her uncle, and even the way he spoke. She had never known or met anyone with his kind of confidence and so she was very surprised. She found herself observing his attire, his posture and his face, unable to find anything remotely familiar to the people of Professor Stern's caliber, and yet the man spoke to him with a voice that made it seem as though they were equals, as though he was superior, even. Her eyes glided past him to the others in the room. The strangely dressed woman, the polite man, the ordinary man, this American with his cowboy hat and just as she realized why Hobbs found this entire ordeal so hopeless, the large Russian man entered. Lilac's first instinct was stiff, she froze at the sight of him, a colonel, she expected, would be a scary, unapproachable man, but she was quickly proven wrong.

    A cute...little puppy...? Lilac blinked, completely taken by surprise. The one man she had judged wrongly came into the room with a hearty positive attitude that even brought a small smile to her lips. She glanced at her uncle to note his reaction before craning her neck to see the puppy. It was a cute little thing, Lilac mused, smiling brightly. There was something very admirable about the Colonel's personality, Lilac observed, turning to her uncle. Was that everyone he had called for?

     
  9. [​IMG]

    And so, in the space of a few minutes, the majority of the team had made their eccentric entrances to the Hodsworth Club. The other old gentlemen in the club had now put down their newspapers and were watching the spectacle as they smoked and drank. And, likewise, a lot of the waiters were hovering at the edges of the room, half-expecting to be called upon to render service or clean up an inevitable mess.

    Luckily, the Professor had chosen the quieter of the corners to conduct his business.

    Professor Stern simply gave a short laugh at the American's comment and then got to his feet, using his ivory walking cane to steady his weight. Lilac went instinctively to help him but he waved her away. With one hand on his cane and the other on the back of the armchair, he whispered something to his butler, Hobbs, who nodded and moved towards Klaus.

    "If you would just come this way please, Sir," said Hobbs as he put one hand on the man's elbow.

    "Er..." Klaus looked a little confused, but went along with it, "Okay..."

    The two men moved off to another corner of the room, leaving the Professor with the real mercenaries. He smiled at each of them and did his best to stand upright. "Right then, welcome chaps..." He bowed to Astrid, "...and lady. I hope the journey wasn't too much of a bore. But I'm sure you've all managed worse, what! I'd like to call to order the first meeting of Operation Ishtar."

    He motioned for them all to sit and they each took an armchair around the coffee table, where a selection of drinks had been arranged by Hobbs. Lilac remained by the back of the Professor's armchair, clutching the Heart of Zagros in one hand.

    "Now then," said the Professor as he settled himself and poured a glass of brandy. "I'm sure you've all noticed the trinket my lovely niece is holding. It was sent to me by Professor Harold of Cambridge, who's currently doing a spot of work in the Bermuda Triangle. He found it on the Atlantic shelf at the bottom of the ocean, and we both agree it's the Heart of Zagros."

    There were some pauses of recognition from those gathered and the Professor let the information sink in before continuing.

    "Which means, lady and gents, that we have ourselves a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get ourselves inside the Tomb of Ishtar. Legend has it, that's the final resting place of Gilgamesh. It's said he was buried with his treasure - the riches of the Sumerian Empire and his personal arsenal of god-slaying weaponry. The tomb is believed to be in modern day Iraq, so Her Majesty is quite anxious to get to it before Gerry does."

    He sat back, sipping his brandy. "And that's where we are, chaps. Word has it you're the best fellows for the job."




    Meanwhile, at the other side of the room, Hobbs had taken Klaus to one side.

    "Now look here, whoever you are," started the butler, straightening his tie as he faced down the young man, "I don't know how you got that letter, but this is official government business and I'd advise you to turn around and march straight back to wherever you came from!"

    He tore up the letter in front of Klaus and dropped the pieces. Then his eyes went wide and he knelt down quickly, scooping up the pieces. He looked left and right, trying to think what to do with them. Then suddenly, he lifted his hands.

    "NOHM!"

    Klaus blinked as he watched Hobbs shove the pieces of paper into his mouth and being eating them, glaring all the while.



     
  10. Astrid took a seat across from the professor and lit a cigarette, taking slow drags as she listened to him speak.

    He sat back, sipping his brandy. "And that's where we are, chaps. Word has it you're the best fellows for the job."

    "One would imagine that you do not yet think so, by the way you speak," Astrid intoned with some humor.

    The woman regarded the men (and one young girl) around her, taking quick mental notes. Her eyes settled on the silver bobble in the girl's hand, trying to find some sort of flaw, or clue, anything to expose it as false. From this angle, she could find none.

    Faut ménager la chèvre et le chou.

    "Many have tried to find the Tomb Ishtar before."

    "Other than a pretty locket, what other proof can you supply that this will lead us to it?" Astrid exhaled another puff of smoke, the blue tendrils hanging about her head like a halo for a moment.
     
  11. Dietrich did blink. Quite a bit. Almost as though he had something in his eye. Maybe it was…tears.

    ”Now look here, whoever you are,” the somewhat comical-looking man began with a serious tone, ”I don’t know how you got that letter, but this is official government business and I’d advise you to turn around and march straight back wherever you came from!”

    Klaus raised a hand in vain, making a soft sound of protest that was quickly silenced by the sound of shredding paper. His eyebrows raised and knitted together, eyes getting slightly glassy as though he were watching a favorite pet being put down. “But I—“

    ”NOHM!”

    The…the letter…the puzzle…Klaus reached out again as the butler shoved the pieces into his mouth and began to chew…then he began to choke. The older man sputtered and coughed, his face getting red. His hands moved to his throat, fingers wriggling to grasp at his tie and stiff collar. Klaus’ brows shot up as he recognized the signs for what they were as Hobbs began to double over, tears coming to his eyes.

    Klaus looked around quickly, “Uh…er…ah!” he gasped as he spotted a vase of flowers. Tearing the flora out, he gave the pitcher of water to Hobbs who tipped it back unceremoniously, sloshing liquid everywhere. The water didn’t seem to be helping as Klaus slapped the man on his back lightly before the young man seemed to take a deep breath before quickly stepping in front of Hobbs and delivered a blow to the man’s abdomen area.

    With a great gagging cough and gasp, wet chunks of the letter flew out and landed in the nearby lowly-burning fireplace where the pieces hissed ferociously before curling into black bits of ash. “Grandpa chokes on his food sometimes.” Was the young man’s simple explanation as he straightened up.

    “You see, sir, I can’t go home! My family has probably already disowned me for leaving…Besides, I solved the puzzle! It said that if I had solved it then I was the person you were looking for. The person whose desk I found that in left our inn without paying for his stay at our inn. But if that’s the kind of unsavory people you keep for company, then…”

    Now it was Klaus’ turn to give Hobbs an unsavory look.
     
  12. One man, who had been standing unnoticed at the back of the room, generally assumed to be some sort of man-servant, now took a step forth and rose his voice in agreement with Astrid's, "The French woman speaks true. I, myself, have guided many ill-advised adventurers through the brush. Though they were convinced they knew where the treasure lay, inevitably, they would turn back but days later, having encountered a dead end." Having spoken his piece, Bekele stepped back and listened carefully to what the others had to say. His mind wandered though, would they (he assumed that the group was composed of ex-prisoners like himself) be put back in jail if they were unable to successfully complete the mission? He didn't want to go back... and if it seemed as though this mission was going to fail right from the start, he just might have to pull a fast one...
     
  13. When the old man laughed at his comment, nothing changed on the face of the American for better or for worse. He simply kept smoking the hand-rolled cigarette as though everything today was just peachy-keen. There was this feeling in the air between the two that perhaps some type of unspoken recognition between them as men existed in spite of being strangers. He simply stood in silence watching as the Butler led Klaus away to the side for some reason or another. Perhaps the few words that kid had spoken in his presence gave enough of a clue to his country of origin. Either way it wasn't long before the man led them away to another spot in the club.

    Once more the rhythmic sound came from his boots until they reached one of the chairs near the coffee table, sitting down off to the Professor's right. As the sound ended a certain silent tension hung in the air between him and the staff. The American started to shift his posture into a more comfortable one expected of his ilk. He wasn't looking at them, but they were looking at him with gazes that ranged from frightened to borderline glares. Each of the waiters were all expecting the same thing after the way he had walked inside. Until his feet had finally and firmly rested on the ground did any of them seem to relax back down to just being wary of the Cowboy.

    His boots had not found their way to being propped up onto the coffee table.

    While Professor Stern spoke the Cowboy's attention looked to remain held right up until a certain moment. On the outside his eyes stayed on the old man until the artifact was mentioned. Once that happened his eyes went over to the one holding it first, rather than the silver trinket. Just ever so slightly at the corner of his mouth a soft smile formed before he gave the slightest nod right after 'lovely niece'. But not letting his eyes linger there too long, that gaze switched over to the Heart of Zargos briefly before going back to the old man who continued explaining the mission.

    A cigarette was tapped against the nearest ashtray before going back to those American lips.

    Now the French lady had decided to speak a small piece, his ears likely picking up on the accent and leaving it up to his brain to figure out the rest. She wanted more proof from the old man. Or rather not further proof. . . more like some sort of guarantee this mission would live up to its name. Nothing she said seemed to get any response out of him at all. Instead he just merely smoked that same cigarette without appearing to have a care in the world. Whether he knew anything about the mythology surrounding their objective stayed unstated as well.

    After her a new voice joined into the discussion as a cuss darker than the usual native Brit spoke up about leading previous expeditions to find the tomb. Not a second was wasted before the Cowboy was looking right at him with an indifferent gaze. So far this guy likely came off as one of the few group members who had any in-the-field experience with where they were heading. But he also looked like he was ready to bolt for the door at the drop of a hat. Something only a man used to dealing with criminals or other unsavory characters could notice in another man before the signs showed that everyday folks could pick up on.


    Smoke poured out from his lips steadily before petering out after a few seconds.

    ". . . . . ."
     
  14. Astrid's eyes locked with Bekele's as soon as he spoke, she straightened her back a little before settling back into her chair.

    "Astrid, my name is Astrid."

    The woman's gaze became slightly indignant as she scanned the rest of the party, particularly at the American lounging about in his own cloud of cigarette smoke. His manner annoyed her.

    "And what of the rest of you?" Her accent became slightly more pronounced. "Cowboys and Russians and foreigners, what a strange gathering, indeed." Astrid's cigarette had died, but she made no move to replace it. "A l'œuvre, on connaît l'ouvrier," Astrid's eyes met the Professor's again.

    "So, please Maître, explain to us how this bauble will lead us to the tomb." Her carefully spoken English returned, and some of the fire in her eyes quenched, Astrid leaned back into her seat and lit another cigarette.

    "Otherwise, I'm sure we all have important work to do."

    The last sentence was punctuated by a ripping sound as the Russian's puppy tore a tapestry from the wall.

    "Arf! Arf!"