It might have been just paranoia from his meeting with Dr. Harper, but all the same, Josh returned to the passageway and made the dirty and scraped crawl back to room where he had found everything and put them back into the crate. He locked it again using a more modern and substantial padlock than had previously been on the latch and then slid it as far back into the recess from where it had been stored as he could. As an added measure, he filled the front of the opening with some soil he had laboriously brought along and did his best to make the opening look like just a natural part of the wall.
Satisfied that he had done all he could, Josh squirmed back out through the tunnel and went upstairs to make some dinner. While he was eating, he pulled out his laptop and read though a number of articles that he found online about Father Crespi and the artifacts that were attributed to him and this unknown cache of treasures somewhere in Ecuador. It was all intriguing, but none of them was offering anything of more interest or more information than what Dr. Harper had told him earlier. There were a few articles focusing on the latest group of treasure hunters from Europe, but the sources were all highly questionable conspiracy theory sites.
Josh supposed that prior to today, he might have dismissed those latter ones based on their origin, but with what Ben Harper had said, he was now more inclined to not be so dismissive. There was nothing really substantive, just more along the lines of rumor and second-hand talk. It seemed unlikely that this would be a concern to Josh, but something in the tone of Dr. Harper’s voice and the serious glint of his eyes made him remind himself to stay alert to what might be going on in the neighborhood. Maybe even check around and see if anyone had seen an unfamiliar face or two or a vehicle that did not belong. Certainly, his new neighbors would be more aware of something like this than he would.
With nothing more he could think of to look at or do, Josh rinsed off his dishes and threw them into the dishwasher, powered off his laptop and headed to bed. Despite all the excitement and intrigue that the day had brought, he was exhausted. His mind was still racing, but his body was telling him enough was enough. Josh turned out the lights as he made his way through the house and headed up the long flight of stairs to bed. He tried to read a few more chapters in the book he was in the middle of, but fatigue took over. After realizing he had re-read the same few pages for about the fifth time, Josh gave up, clicked off his reading light and closed his eyes.
Meanwhile, just across from his house, yet another out of place vehicle sat. It contained the same two men, but as they had planned, they sat in a car that they had not yet used, just to try and not look too familiar with the neighbors.
“What do you think?” asked the man in the passenger seat.
“Hard to say for sure. It’s a new house for our Mr. Redmond. Maybe was up late looking at plans for renovation. Or maybe his visit to campus was responsible.”
“Think the map is in the house somewhere we did not look?”
“Could be. The team was pretty thorough, though.”
“Maybe Redmond does not even know about it.”
“Possibly. The only thing that bothers me about that theory is his visit to a professor of history and antiquities at the university. Especially one we now know is an expert on obscure and lost languages and symbology.”
“You thinking Redmond found it and went to the professor to see what it was all about?”
“I think that is a more likely scenario.”
“So, if that is the case…the map, assuming he found it, is either with the professor or back in the house?”
“That would follow, yes.”
“Should we get the team back out here and take another look?”
“Not just yet, my friend. First of all, we need to get a better idea of where it might be. As I said earlier, I do not want to cause any unnecessary interest in us. Stealth, not a power play should be our strategy.”
“I get it. We could waste time and money looking in the wrong place.”
“Exactly. We are already on Mr. Richards’ shit list as it is. If we can eliminate the professor’s office a possibility, then either the map is in the house somewhere or we have no idea where it might be.”
“That last option sounds scary.”
“Considering our boss, I would agree. Quite frankly, I would opt for running for my life over going back to Mr. Richards and reporting that we have no idea where it is.”
“Think you could just disappear? That he would never track you down?”
“Forever? Not really. But taking off would at least postpone the inevitable for a while.”
“You do recall what happened to Abrams and Thompson?”
“How could I forget.”
“Me either. Therefore, I would say it is imperative that we find the map. Whatever it takes.”
“So back to the university?”
“Yes, but I think a change of plans there might be better.”
“It is the middle of the night. Chances are the university will be dark and quiet—at least the buildings where they teach and have faculty offices anyway. Might be a security officer or two, but I am sure we can either avoid them or otherwise neutralize if necessary, right?”
“Redmond is in for the night, so there is no point in additional time here. I would suggest we go back to campus and make a thorough search of the professor’s office. If there is nothing there, then at least we have eliminated one location. What do you think?”
It was raining lightly as Josh awoke. It was a tad later in the day than when Josh normally got up and moving, so he guessed he had been more fatigued than he had realized. There was no thunder or lightning, but the cloud cover was heavy and low and dark, and it looked as if the storm was going to be lingering all day. Josh assumed that he had slept deeply as he had no indication of the storm during the night and from all appearances, it had been raining for some hours. He had not yet had the time to arrange for land line phone service, so he clicked his cell on as he padded downstairs, still groggy from the night to get his daily infusion of caffeine. As soon as he had dumped some coffee into his machine, his phone came to life and was indicating several missed calls and texts. It struck Josh as odd, as he had no real close circle of friends outside of Pragmore. And since he had left there, he could see no reason that anyone from his old firm would be calling.
After filling the coffee maker with water and turning on the power, Josh retrieved his phone to take a closer look. All the missed calls were from Ben Harper, though he had not left a voicemail with any of them. Initially, Josh thought that odd, but when he looked at the text messages he understood. There were six or seven text messages as well, all from Dr. Harper. Despite his age, Josh thought, it seemed Doc Harper was onboard with technology. The first couple just said to call him ASAP. No real urgency, no indication of emergency. But as he read over the subsequent messages, they grew more insistent that he call soon.
Josh poured himself a mug of coffee and sat out on his back porch as the rain continued to fall, now having picked up in intensity a bit, as he dialed up Dr. Harper.
“Hey, Doc…sorry I missed your calls. Was pretty wiped out from yesterday and just crashed hard I guess. What’s up? You didn’t leave me anything much on the phone.”
“You OK, Josh?”
“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Everything quiet at your house last night? No one around that should not have been?”
“All is fine. Doc. What’s happened?”
“Not over the phone, Josh. Meet me at that coffee shop on 3rd and Vine. Soon as you can.”
“Sure, Doc. Are you OK?”
“Not really, Josh. As quick as you can, OK?”
“Sure, sure…give me thirty minutes.”
“Make it fifteen….”
The phone went dead and Josh looked at the cell in confusion. He had never known Dr. Benjamin Harper to sound so upset or as wigged out as he had sounded on the phone. Apparently, this was urgent after all. And he was sure it was directly related to the day before—it had to be. Josh tossed the remains of his coffee in the sink, and raced back upstairs to put on a T-shirt and some jeans. After grabbing his rain coat and a baseball hat from the rack just inside the front door, Josh hurried through the rain and sped off down the street to meet Harper at Uncommon Grounds. He had no idea what exactly had occurred that the professor would not discuss over on the phone, but it seemed as if he would not have to wait long to find out.