Take this jar to Evelyn. Tell no one but her.
“But, Lord, that would be illegal—this appears to be an antiquity!” Liam shook his head. He glanced around and furtively slipped the jar into his bag. “Very well, Lord, but I do hope You will keep me out of jail.”
It had been late in the day when Liam made his discovery. He informed his crew that he’d be gone for about a week and gave them that much time for a vacation. Their faces brightened at that announcement, their thanks profuse. They had been working hard for the past three months, and a vacation was welcome. Many were volunteers who came from other countries to this tell, and this vacation would allow them to explore the surrounding countryside. The others were locals, but a vacation was still welcome.
Liam hurried back to his hotel and telephoned the airline, booking a ticket to the United States to leave the following day.
On the flight from Beirut to New York, Liam was still shaking his head. He had decided not to try to hide the small jar, instead carrying it out in plain view, wrapped in bubble wrap and in a clear plastic bag. The scanners and custom officials took no note of the jar, as though it wasn’t there or was of no importance.
In New York, the same thing happened.
“Do you have anything to report for customs, sir?” the agent asked.
“Just this,” he said, stomach tightening into a knot. He held up the bag. “I found it in, er, in the dirt.”
“A coffee mug?” the customs official said, looking a little puzzled. He took the bag from Liam, glanced in it, and handed it back. “I don’t think that will be necessary, sir. Next?” he said.
“Thank you, sir,” Liam said and hurried off to his connecting flight to Phoenix before the customs official could change his mind.
Phoenix is hotter than the proverbial US Independence Day firecracker. Liam dabbed at wiping his damp forehead with an already drenched handkerchief. He wanted nothing more than to find a shower and a clean bed to fall into after travelling half-way around the world. Nevertheless, he looked up the telephone number for Evelyn McPhersen, which, oddly enough, was actually listed under her name with the address confirming that he had located the right person.
It was eight p.m. Arizona time when he dialed Evelyn’s number. He hoped perhaps she might be home and hoped she had not retired for the evening. He was in luck—the lady answered on the second ring.
“Hullo madam. My name is William Fitzhugh-Brown. I’m an archeologist and I’ve been on a dig in Tyre, Lebanon. I’ve found something in this tell addressed to you.”
“What kind of scam is this, mister?” Her voice expressed irritation.
“Wait.” Liam almost shouted. “Don’t hang up, madam, please, this is not a scam. Do you know a man by the name of Paulos Johnson?”
“If this is some kind of joke, Mr. Brown, this is the wrong day to pull it.”
“The name is Fitzhugh-Brown, and no. Why on God's green earth world would you think this would be a joke?”
“Paul Johnson was killed in a car wreck this morning,” Evelyn said. “I was just leaving to go to his mother’s house.”
Liam looked in amazement at the telephone in his hand, his exhaustion evaporating like water off the sidewalk.
“Madam — Ms. McPhersen, may I come to your house and show you what I have? I’m in the airport talking on a pay phone, and I should rather not share this with the people walking past me. If it makes any difference to you, I believe the Lord told me to tell no one but you about this find.”
“I know it might sound a bit odd, but that’s my belief.”
“You are a Christian?”
“Yes, madam. For as long as I can remember.”
“How about if I meet you there? There is a restaurant near the airport, and I’ll take you to it. I live a very short distance from the airport. I could be there within a half hour.”
“That sounds good to me. I’ll be in Terminal 4 at the US Airways baggage claim. You won’t have to look hard—I’ll be the one who is melting into a greasy blob on the floor.” He chuckled. “A blob with a tan shirt, a brown tie, and slacks.”
He didn’t have long to wait. Evelyn arrived in less than the half hour, shook hands, with Liam, and led him to her car in the parking garage.
Once inside the car, Liam handed her the jar.
“How do we get into this?” she asked. “It’s sealed. And how on earth did you get this out of Lebanon? I heard it’s against the law to remove antiquities. Especially one like this which is all in one piece. It must be extremely valuable.”
“I may be wrong, but I think you and I are the only ones who recognize this for what it is. The customs officials appeared to think it’s a coffee mug. As to how to open it, I’ve a pocket knife in my luggage. Which reminds me, once we’re finished, could you drop me at a hotel—preferably one with a functioning air conditioner?”
To be continued (and ended) next Friday