As the fight continued, a third figure clad in olive drab arrived. Drawing his submachinegun, he ignored Vivian and pointed it toward the melee. Amid the chaos, he was unable to get a clear shot at the cowboy. Irritated by the gunman’s complete disregard for her presence, Vivian noted a length of pipe on the ground.
The treasure hunter finally incapacitated his two opponents. Looking back, his eyes traveled to the third gunman, unconscious on the ground, and then to the pipe in Vivian’s hands. He looked at her quizzically.
“What, you’re the only one who can rough up a goon?”
“I didn’t say anything.” He dusted off his hat.
“Jake Booker,” he extended his hand.
“Dr. Vivian Cuinnsey,” she said, shaking the hand.
Exiting through the opposite side of the construction site, a black sedan roared to a stop in front of them. Its doors flew open as more gunmen got out. “Why don’t you step into my office?” Vivian cringed at the slight melodic trill of the voice from inside the sedan.
Dr. Price’s smile appeared courteous. The smile of the gunmen next to him, less so.
“The Treasure Tablet, please?” asked the archaeologist.
With no real alternative, Vivian took the heavy clay piece from her purse and handed it over. As the car made its way through Samarkand’s streets, the guard kept his weapon trained on her. She tried not to think about whether the safety was on. If the answer was no, given the state of Samarkand’s roads, the results could be messy.
“I don’t get it,” she told their captor, “You’re a principle investigator on the team that discovered the tablet. You’d have access to it any time you want. Why go through all of this?”
“I have my reasons.”
“It’s the treasure, isn’t it? You think it’s real.”
Price said nothing.
Something else clicked into place for Vivian. “You’re the one behind the thefts, aren’t you? You’re the mole.”
“As it turns out, mercenaries aren’t cheap. I needed a way to fund today’s activities. Regrettably, your actions have complicated matters.” Price held up a hand and the sedan came to a stop. Exiting the vehicle, he added, “I can’t have the two of you connecting me to this. My associates are going to take you for a long ride into the desert.”
They rode on in silence until they reached the edge of Samarkand. In what she assumed was Uzbek, Jake spoke to the gunmen. They broke into broad grins. A few moments later, the sedan made a U-turn and headed back into the city.
“What did you say them?” Vivian asked.
“Seven little words I’ve found extremely useful. ‘Whatever he’s paying you, I’ll double it.’”
c. 2018 Jon Black