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Rated: 18+ · Campfire Creative · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #1612615
Follow the adventures of famed explorer, Finnegan Ford
[Introduction]
Finnegan Ford, Adventurer Extraordinaire.

Help Finnegan explore the globe, finding rare treasures and valuable experience. What trouble will he get into this time? How will he get out of it?

Finnegan Ford is like a cross between Indiana Jones and James Bond. He has near unlimited resources, thanks to a thoughtful Grandfather and his will.

I am sure this will be 18+ and encourage anyone to contribute, the more, the merrier!

Come and have fun!

All levels welcomed!

If you run into trouble, email me. EvilDawg - Vigilante Ranger!!

Please Number Your Posts At The Bottom Of Your Addition (#1, #2, etc...)

Please check out the forum, I will send you the passkey once accepted to the Campfire:
 Finnegan Ford Forum  (18+)
Forum for the Finnegan Ford, Adventurer Campfire
#1612879 by EvilDawg - Vigilante Ranger!!


Finnegan ran up the jungle trail, not wanting to look back at his pursuers. He knew what they wanted, the rare "Python Tear" emerald that he liberated moments ago. Incidentally, the emerald was an ancient icon of power of the Kamayurian people that inhabited much of the Amazon Basin in Brazil. He ran fast today, of course it helped that he was being chased by angry Indians with spears and blow guns, luckily he had a good head start. Almost there...

As Finn reached the peak of the trail at the highest point of this low-lying mountain range, he double checked on the Tear, still there. He made it over the crest, gave a quick glance back and was delighted not to see anyone close enough to be a threat, and started heading down the other side. Ahead, the trail breaks sharply to the right to avoid the thousand foot drop to the base, but Finnegan races toward the edge.

He reaches behind him and grabs hold of a shiny metal cord and plummets off the side of the mountain, marveling at the mountainous jungle before, and under, him. He falls at breakneck speed, angled almost parallel to the horizon, face down and pulls the cord, a parachute unfurls and takes shape under the wind screaming by it. Swoosh!

With the chute deployed, he taps the transmit button on his ear piece and adjusts the tiny boom mic extending towards the corners of his mouth.

"Ford to Rescue One, Ford to Rescue One, do you read me, over."

"Rescue One, read you five by five. Have visual. Moving to intercept, over." The response was disciplined and practiced.

Below Finn, the waters of the Lake Lago looked cool and inviting, but not as inviting as the seaplane speeding across the surface. He adjusted his glide path and gently touched down in the tepid water. The plane slowed to a crawl and a door opened, Brian Knight stepped down on the pontoon and extended a hand to his friend.

Finnegan reached up and accepted the help. He hauled himself into the cabin and sat down, grabbing a towel from under his seat and drying off his lightly graying auburn hair.

"The Kevlar khakis you made worked well, not even a rip or hole." Finn pinched his pants and nodded in approval.

Brian looked at them closely, inspecting them for defects, "Good. I'm working on a new hat for you as well, should be ready in a few weeks."

Brian reached in his pouch pocket and pulled out a light brown leather pouch. He untied it and opened it up, pulling out a piece of velvet and unraveled it. Between his index finger and thumb he held the Python's Tear up to the light, "Another successful mission Team, good job!"

Another day at the office Finnegan thought to himself as they flew to Rio de Janeiro, the first stop on the way their base of operations, a small island in the Mediterranean.
#1
The seaplane flew low, hugging the mountainous jungle terrain, en route to Rio de Janeiro.

Brian held his hand up to his ear and cocked his head, "Roger." He turned to Finnegan. "Sir. HQ reports a possible Cowl ship approaching the island."

The Cowl Corporation was to Finnegan Ford as the Russians were to the USA during the Cold War. They were his arch-nemesis in many respects. Cowl did everything possible to disrupt the Ford Foundation's enterprises. The Corporation, a gathering of scientists and eco-terrorists, were hell bent on gathering the worlds remaining archeological and mythical treasures. They did this not for prestige or honor, but rather to pad their own pockets and keep these relics for their own amusement. The Ford Foundation, on the other hand, wanted the world to see these treasures and often stole artifacts from the hands of Cowl operatives, turning them over to national antiquities centers.

"Just one ship?" Finn shifted in his seat, searching for his phone.

"Yes sir."

"Activate safeguards and notify Ocean Base 3, call Caliber and have him send a team to board her." Caliber was a trusted friend of the Ford family. His family had been instrumental in keeping the Foundation from economic collapse in the late nineties and Caliber had proven himself a leader and confidant.

The seaplane landed in Rio and pulled into a private hanger. The men exited the plane only to board a small Leer jet, waiting with engines running.

The plane taxied and took off, en route to Ford's Retreat.

Finn went to the bar and poured himself a Mojito, his favorite beverage, and went over to Brian.

"Any news on the ship?" Finn asked.

"No sir, not yet. Alpha teams are approaching. Our ETA is 6 hours."

"Okay then, I'm gonna try and catch twenty winks," Finn stood up and headed back to his office towards the back of the jet.
#3
Erin Farnsworth pushed her glasses up on her nose for the third time, and blew loose strands of dark-blonde hair out of her face and studied the manuscripts on the desk for another ten minutes. The light seemed dimmer now, or her eyes grew tired. She was working past the usual eight hour jobs most people have, but she didn't mind...usually. She rested the glasses on their side, and rubbed her eyes. At thirty-three years of age, Erin still had the energy of a teenager, or at least she had until the past few weeks seemed to drain her. She liked the late evening hours, because it was quiet, and enabled her to concentrate better. There were no phone calls or other distractions to take her attention away from her work. On the downside, she often lost track of time, then realized it was almost dawn again.

Leaning her elbow on the desk, chin in her hand, she remembered the email spam she'd received earlier--a class for self defense, and had second thought s about taking a class to refresh her skills. Exercise always increased lagging energy, once you can get motivated.

After taking a sip of her tea, she set it down and returned to the items, shifting the manuscripts and inspecting documents--a map of faraway places. She wondered what it might be like to travel to such places, away from the more or less predictable life she was now living in the United States Of course, that would mean giving up certain things that aren't in remote areas. She shrugged. Dream on. she chided herself. She'd have to settle for those National Geographic dvds she'd rented, collected, and watched on her days off--when she did have days off. Yes, she'd have to make time for the class.
#4
Gunther Gritz was an adventurer, a relic thief, and a tomb robber. His primary customer was the Cowl Corporation. So when Gunther saw an email from Cowl in his inbox, he rubbed his hands with glee. Short of funds he would no longer be.

He opened the email. Yucatan. Mayan gold. Recent discovery. Get it for us. Best wishes for your success. Cowl will reward you well.

That evening Gunther was on a big jet to Mexico, but he didn't watch the movie because he was memorizing a map.

#5
After arriving at HQ, Finnegan and Brian finished helping the team stow their gear, congratulated them on another successful mission and walked through the complex of corridors and storage rooms that served as both their hangar and supply depot. Entering Finn's office, Brian turned to Finn and asked, "Can I see the Tear?" Brian reached in his pocket and pulled out the leather pouch, opened it and handed the emerald to Brian.

"Wow..." Brian admired the Python's Tear for a moment then, raising an eyebrow, looked at Finn. They stared at each other for a second then both ran, like schoolkids trying to be the first one at the ice scream truck, over to the bank of monitors and computer equipment that rested upon a large polished teak desk. Finn won the race and sat in the high-backed chair, or Brian let him win as he usually did, Finn turned on the monitors. Finnegan started typing on the keyboard and a window popped up on one of the six screens that were stacked in two rows with three widescreen monitors making up a row. Reaching over to a rectangular device about the size of a coffee maker, he flipped a switch and green light bathed the interior of the device, revealing a chamber and a small platform.

"Tear please," Finn reached his hand up to Brian who places it in his hand with a hearty slap.

Finnegan set the emerald on the little platform inside the chamber and slid down a panel to enclose the Tear inside. He moved back over to the keyboard and started typing. Inside the chamber, lasers scanned the emerald for a few minutes as Finn and Brian watched the monitor with anticipation. Finally the program ended its cycle and the monitor blinked "ANALYSIS COMPLETE - 100% MATCH."

"Nice!" Brian patted Finn on the back. "Okay... So, we have the Tear, all we need now are the Mask, the Medallion and the Tablet."

"Correct." Finnegan closed the analysis program and brought up his secure email. "Now to find out if any of our research associates have discovered anything new."

Brian walked over to the bar and poured himself a Rum and Coke with ice and took a long sip. He glanced over to Finn who was writing notes down furiously. Finnegan shook his head several times and then turn to Brian.

"You want the good news or the bad news?" Finn stood up and walked over to Brian.

"Good new I guess."

"We found the Tablet." Finn waited for Brian's response.

"...and the bad news is...?" Brian really hated this game. Finnegan has been doing this type of thing since they were kids.

"Cowl is en route. Yucatan, Mexico." Finn took his phone out of his pocket and started dialing, he needed to call everybody.

#6
Gunther didn't waste any time after he got off the plane in Cancun. A rental Land Rover was waiting. The Tablet of Xpulak was located in newly discovered ruins deep in the jungle south of Chichen Itza. Archaelogists there were still making their position measurements. Now was the time to steal it before it was moved to a safer place.

Cowl wanted the Tablet and there were also a number of pieces of gold jewelry. As he drove along, Gunther tapped his hand on the steering wheel and sang a little song about love and greed. These were his happiest times, out in the field, hot on the trail, cause a little trouble, try to stay out of jail.

The turnoff from the main highway came just a few miles before the big tourist attraction of the Chichen Itza ruins. He eased the Land Rover onto a path that wasn't much more than just two ruts through the jungle. Brightly colored birds screeched overhead. Gunther made sure his pistol was loaded, cocked, and within easy reach. In his mind the memorized map showed him to be within a few hours of his goal: the Tablet of Xpulak.

#7
Flying high over the Gulf of Mexico, Finnegan and Brian were discussing the mission in Finn's on-board office. The cramped space lent itself well to the mood of the mission; hurried and confined. They no sooner touched down at HQ then were swept away into another mission. The team slept as best they could under the circumstances.

"So Chichen Itza, eh?" Brian looked at the map on the wall with Finnegan. "Tablet of Xpulak. I thought that was going to be our last objective."

"We have to stay a step ahead of Cowl. Under no circumstances are they to be in possession of any of these artifacts. If they had even two, the tides of power would shift in their favor. We can't afford that." Finn walked back over to the desk, stuck in a corner of this tiny space, adjacent to one of the many small windows of the Leer jet.

"Hey," Brian turned to Finn, fingers caressing his chin, "What about that girl we met last year, in Mazatlan? What was her name...? She specialized in Latin and Slovak cultures." Brian pondered her name for a second.

"Oh. You mean Erin? Erin Farnsworth? You maybe on to something there!" Brian picked up the phone and called his assistant in the cabin.

"Please contact Erin Farnsworth and convince her meet us in Cancun ASAP." Brian hung up and looked back at Brian, "Nice one!"

"How is it that you remember all the names of the people we have met in our lives?" This had Nagged at Brian for a long time. Of course Brian remembered several names too, but Finn always bailed him out when he didn't.

"It's a gift." Finn replied, turning now to his laptop. "Oh. The flight plan has been updated. We now land just a couple miles from the entrance to our objective. Also, the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History has been informed of Cowls plans and have dispatched uniformed officers to that location. We have every permission to enter and retrieve the artifact." Finn remembered that his Grandfather used to be able to go anywhere, no one questioned him. For the longest time he thought it was because of the money, but now he realizes that it requires a good team and a lot of forethought. "Once we check it out, we can run to Cancun and meet Erin. I think she could be invaluable on this mission."

Brian took that in for a moment then, completely off topic says, "Dibs on Erin!" Finn glared at him disapprovingly.

"How old are you?" Finn's hard look broke with a quirky smile then looked back to his email and said, "20 Minutes. Tell everyone to get ready."

#8
Erin Farnsworth looked out the window of her Cancun hotel room. The last 24 hours had been a whirlwind. Brian Knight and Finnegan Ford. How could they come back into her life so quickly?

Maybe her decision to meet them in Cancun had been a little too hasty. It wasn't like her to just drop everything and fly off to meet a man. But Finnegan Ford was special.

As soon as she laid eyes on him at that first meeting she knew she wanted to see more of him. But it was his buddy Brian that tried to make a move on her and she had to turn Brian down because she knew that would spoil her chances with Finnegan. Then events moved on and they all separated and she never did find out how Finnegan really felt.

Now they would all be together again for several days at least. She picked up the phone. "Are you sure there have been no messages for me?"

"Yes, ma'am. Any calls will be transferred directly to your room. Do not worry."



When Gunther was about a mile from the site of the Xpulak ruins, he turned the Land Rover off the path and parked it in the jungle where it could not be seen. He ate a turkey sandwich and drank the last of his thermos of coffee as the day ended. In the darkness he could approach the site and hopefully get his hands on the tablet without anyone even knowing he had been there. It was the silent jobs he liked the best. Yelling and gunfire were annoying to him. Necessary sometimes, but not aesthetically pleasing at all.

He ran a hand through his brushcut of blond hair. His blue eyes sparkled. Around him the jungle sounds kept up a steady song. It was a good time to be alive.

#9

A man wearing a dark suit and dark sunglasses stood quietly, watching the crowd. He wore an earpiece with a coiled wire that snaked down the side of his neck into his collar. Every few minutes, he talked into his sleeve. Above him an oversized banner read:

CANCUN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
ENTRYWAY TO CANCUN AND RIVIERA MAYA


“Nelson, you still reading me?” the man said into his sleeve.

“Yeah Watson, I stil got you. Any sign of Gunther Gritz?” the metallic voice came back in his ear.

“Not yet. I’ll keep you posted.”

“You’d better, Watson.”

“You think you can do better, Nelson? Why don’t you come look for Gritz, and I’ll hide in a bathroom stall, instead of you. “

“I’m not hiding in this stall, Watson. I’m monitoring the situation,” Nelson said, authoritatively. “Now get back to work. You do remember what he looks like, right?”

“I’m not an idiot,” responded Watson,. “How could I forget such an obvious and unusual physical feature?”

“Good point. It’s a wonder that he even shows himself in public with that outrageous and conspicuous, well, I don’t even know what to call it. – let’s say appearance.” Nelson continued, “especially in his line of work. You’d think he would attract crowds of people, laughing and pointing.”

“Shhhhh,” Watson suddenly hissed. “I see him.”

“Don’t let him get away,” Nelson crackled in the receiver. “Follow him.”

Watson crept from cement pillar to cement pillar, following Gritz. He peered around corners and padded from obstacle to obstacle, watching Gritz from, hopefully, a safe distance. Gritz was a dangerous man. It would not do Watson well to be discovered. He spoke into his sleeve microphone again, “He’s not going to baggage claim. He must be carrying everything he needs. He just picked up a copy of Novedades Quintana Roo at a newsstand. And it looks like he had that, that thing removed from his face. He almost looks normal. So much for distinguishing characteristics.”

“Stay with him. We must know what he’s planning to steal down here in Mexico,” Nelson said. “You and I can’t afford to mess up another assignment, I hate to remind you.”

“But yet, you did. Again,” Watson retorted. There was no response from Nelson.

Gritz made his way to the car rental area of the airport. Watson lagged behind, just out of site. He ducked behind a sign that advertised women’s perfume. I hope he didn’t see me, Watson thought. When he finally peeked around the sign at Gritz, he felt sick to his stomach.

“It’s not him,” Watson said, dejected. “I told you he came in on an earlier flight.” He paused and thought for a moment. “The informer was right! And I’ll bet he was also right about Gritz going to the Xpulak Ruins!” Watson transmitted to Nelson. “Nelson, hurry down here! We can still catch up to him!” The receiver in Watson’s ear crackled. “Nelson?” No response. “Nelson, you there? Nelson! Nelson!” The urgency in Watson’s voice was palpable.

Watson’s body suddenly shook with fear. He knew his partner was in trouble. “I’m coming Nelson! Hold on! I’m coming!” he yelled into his sleeve. Then he ran as fast as he could, weaving in and out of lines and crowds. He screamed at the top of his lungs for people to move. He tried not to topple anyone, but couldn’t avoid a few. Some went crashing to the ground, swearing in Spanish. Others jumped out of Watson’s way, just in time. Watson kept running. Running toward the men’s upstairs bathroom.

He crashed into the men’s room, and slid across the floor like a child skating in socks on freshly waxed kitchen tile. He came to a stop in front of the last stall, and pushed open the door. It wasn’t latched. There, slumped over the bowl was his partner, dead.

Watson leaned over Nelson and noticed something sticking out of his neck, above his collar. What is that?, Watson puzzled. He took a closer look, and cocked his head. It was a blow dart. Watson could barely believe what he was seeing. A blow dart? Really? Now who in this day and age would use a blow dart as a murder weapon? Watson wondered. But not out loud. After all, he wouldn’t want to draw any attention to himself.

And he couldn't waste time. He had to get to the Xpulak Ruins.


#10

Erin glanced at the clock. Six o’clock. Had it really been two hours since she'd arrived in Cancun, and eight since she’d left home—what she called home for now anyway in West Palm Beach, Florida USA? She almost felt guilty for the one day she had off and slept in, had her errand list planned out. So much for her plans for membership in a gym, but of course, things never go the way a person expects them to. And this was no different.

Tired from her flight, she had taken a short nap, or at least tried to. The phone never rang, and she heard no word. It was like a mystery about to unfold. Finally, she decided to visit the on location gift shop and then into the clothing store. From what she could tell, the weather was warm so maybe that cute little sundress would suit the occasion. She’d not unpacked her suitcase yet, which only had the bare essentials . She never had that much need for makeup, but toothbrush and hairbrushes were mandatory.

Anthony (Tony) Muller, her boss, hadn’t given her time to buy anything for this sudden trip. And her certainly had class if he picked out this resort for her to spend her night in. She wondered just how long she would be there. If it hadn’t been for the rush, she might have thought he’d felt guilty for having her work so late and decided to send her on vacation. Then when he told her where she was going, it didn’t seem to matter anymore. Heck, there’s clothes stores just about anywhere, she told herself.

Luckily, she remembered to bring along a few different pairs of shoes. She didn’t care so much about fashion. Being comfortable was an issue. She was wondering just when she'd meet Finnegan, and wanted to look her best. Why he asked for her in particular caused her to wonder. He was the memorable one, not her. After purchasing her sundress, she left the shop, and sat sipping tea in the resort restaurant, looking over the brochures she’d brought along with her. Tony had done as he said, supplying her with whatever she needed. It was good thing her Visa hadn't expired. Yet she still didn't quite understand what she was doing there.


#11
Gunther lay in the underbrush checking out the camp of the Xpulak archaeologists. It was 2am. He had waited quietly for hours while two members of the expedition chatted around the campfire until finally tumbling into their sleeping bags around midnight.

Although the Xpulak ruins were completely overgrown with vines and crawlers, the archaeologists had made a large clearing for themselves and it was obvious where they had entered the main temple. Gunther made his way into the temple, walking on cat feet, listening with every nerve fiber for any sound from the sleeping men.

The tablet lay on the floor of a tomb surrounded by an assortment of Mayan junk. Stakes had been driven into the tomb floor and tied with strings to divide the floor up into a grid so the scientists could accurately record everything. Gunther stepped carefully over them. He didn't want to spoil the scientist's measurements.

He walked straight to the tablet and picked up the circular chunk of gold engraved with Mayan symbols.

This is too easy, Gunther thought. It's like taking candy from a baby. He slipped the heavy tablet into his backpack and scooped up the gold jewelry to add to it. The scientists could have the pottery shards and the rotten bits of bone and feathers that littered the tomb.

He crept back to the tomb entrance and listened to the jungle sounds and the snores of the sleeping scientists. All seemed peaceful.

#12


Watson sped the old jeep along the tortuous sandy road as fast as its three working cylinders would take it. Rocks and dirt welled up behind him in a cloud of ricocheting debris. The tires crunched and pebbles pinged off trees, their trunks encroaching as if trying to reclaim the road. Over the dashboard and through the frame where the windshield would have been, Watson could see fresh tire tracks ahead. Gunther Gritz came this way, Watson thought, and it wasn’t very long ago. He followed the tracks for what seemed like hours.

Gunther’s tracks suddenly turned hard into the bush. Watson almost missed it. He turned sharply and slid on the gravel, toward a camouflaged Land Rover between the trees. He used the Rover’s bumper to help him stop.

Watson made the rest of the trip on foot, just as Gunther had obviously done. He knew Gunther must still be at the ruins, since his car was still hidden. Either that, Watson thought, or he’s dead. Watson crept. He slinked. He crawled like a reptile. He flattened himself against the trees and looked around.

Just then he heard footsteps. He crouched behind a shrubbery. Nee!” A bird squealed and swooped past Watson. He startled, but quickly regained his composure. It reminded him of a classic British quest movie. He peered around the bush and squinted through the darkness toward the shuffling footsteps. Gunther was moving through the trees, struggling with a backpack. It was obviously very heavy. Almost too heavy.

Watson crouched a bit more. He wondered if Gunther had the tablet in the backpack. The pack looked way too heavy to be the tablet. Or only the tablet. Would he have absconded with additional treasures? You bet, Watson thought. Only Gunther Gritz would be greedy enough to steal too much, weigh himself down, and slow his own getaway. Better for me, thought Watson. When he comes closer, I’ll jump him, take the artifact, and finally deliver it to its rightful owner. Finally, it’ll be owned by –

“Ow!” Watson suddenly yelped as something bit into his neck. He reached up and felt a protruding stick-like object, and something else. He was puzzled. Feathers? “What-th-,” Watson mumbled to nobody. He pulled hard on the object in his neck. It released from his skin with a sickening popping noise. He held it in front of his face and recognized it immediately. It was a Kamayuran blow dart, and he hoped he had pulled it out in time. This could only mean – . Then everything went dark.

#13








Finnegan Ford and Brian arrived in Cancun, went to the Hotel and met up with Erin Farnsworth. Finnegan remembered Erin well, her beauty and her genius. He had met her while he and his team were on an expedition in Mazatlan. She was the guest speaker at a conference that was held at the hotel he was staying at. Finn was there to obtain a sample of gold that was seized by Customs Officials in 1868 from an officer under William H. Bridge, captain of HMS Chanticleer. The rumor was that the gold, seemingly ordinary, was a part of a mystical Mayan staff. The staff, made entirely of gold, was carried by a high ranking elder of Chichen Itza society. It was rumored to have forged by "People from the Sky."

"I'm afraid, Ms. Farnsworth, that we will have to dispense with the pleasantries for now, we are late to our destination." Finn took Erin by the arm, gently, and led her to the waiting vehicle. "We need to get to the airport and then back to Chichen Itza."

"Chichen Itza?" Erin seemed almost giddy. "Why are we going there?"

"We will tell you in the air. Almost there." Ford looked out the window, then back to Erin. "It's good to see you Erin."

Brian gawked at Erin stealthily. He really liked her, ...and besides, I called Dibs!

Just then Finnegan's phone rang, he put it to his ear.

"What? Okay, take Erin to the base camp and we will meet you there." He put the phone back in his pocket and stood up. "Brian we're leaving in 4 minutes."

"Leaving? What? You mean once we land right?" Erin was confused. "What are you talking about Finnegan?"

Finn threw Brian a pack then he took one for himself and put it on. He checked his watch. "Two Minutes Brian." He looked at Erin, "I'm sorry Erin, we have more to discuss but, right now, we have a situation. Please fasten your seat belt."

Finnegan went over to the door and pressed a button. The air started rushing out of the plane, whooshing by Erin. "This will only take a second Ms. Farnsworth," He opened the latch to the door and pulled it in. The cabin was now a violent vortex of air and thunderous hissing as the plane finished depressurizing.

Brian smiled and saluted Erin as he jumped out of the plane. Finnegan looked at her, smiled and yelled, "See you in a few hours," then jumped out.

The co-pilot came out and closed the door, the pressure and sound returning to normal; Erin's hair, frizzed beyond belief.

Falling in practiced unison, Brian assumed his position next to Finn, the air contorting his face as he plummeted. Finn reached back and grabbed a wire and put an ear bud in his ear as Brian did the same.

"Cowl is in possession of the Tablet. We picked up some CIA chatter, they have an agent in pursuit. We should be over the area, keep your eyes peeled." Finn had to yell so Brian could hear him, but Brian gave him the thumbs up and turned his attention to the swiftly approaching ground.

As they fell, Finn spotted a figure running down a path then disappeared into the jungle, he pulled his chute and slowed his decent. Brian pulled his a moment later, leaving him about ninety feet below Finn. "Did you see him?" Brian asked

"Yeah he disap.." Finn pointed, not that Brian could see him, to a truck pulling out of the Jungle and onto a well worn dirt path. Finn adjusted his speed and direction with the pull strings of the parachute. "Got him! ten o'clock, in the truck."

"Got him"

The two ascended down, keeping up with the truck as it had to move rather slowly to stay on the trail. The driver, a man in his thirties with dark clothing and a backpack, navigated the rutted path with ease.

Brian was the first to touchdown on the roof. Thud! He took a pistol out of his webbing and used the butt of it to smash through the sunroof of the Land Rover, the driver looking up, shielding his eyes from the safety glass.

Finn landed, one foot in the sunroof and the other on the front windshield. Quickly he released his parachute and let it fly off behind them. Struggling to keep his balance, he bent forward and slid into the vehicle. Brian had the gun trained on the Driver, "Don't do anything hasty mister."

Finnegan regained his balance and composure and sat in the passenger seat and looked at the driver. "I believe you have something that belongs to me?"

"Who the hell are you, Indiana Jones?" Gunther glanced up at Brian, "and Short-round?"

"Slowly come to a stop please." Finn, always polite, until it was time not to be polite. "You work for Cowl?"

Gunther slowed down and stopped. "Name's Charlie. Cowl? Who's that? I'm a tourist." He smiled wryly and adjusted himself in his seat.

Brian jumpped down off of the roof and stood next to the driver's side door, gun still pointed at Gunther head.

Finn leaned back and saw the backpack on the floorboard behind the driver seat, grabbed it and opened his door. He got out and walked over to Brian, opening the backpack.

He pulled out the tablet and looked at Gunther, "Tourist, eh?"

Gunther hit the accelerator, spitting dirt and gravel all over Finn, Brian and the Tablet. He who fights and runs away...

#14
"Thanks for inviting me, Mr. Ford. Now how about you tell me what this is all about? Or is this an "official date"?"

When he didn't seem to hear her, she turned to Brian. "Nice to see you again too." She shook his hand. "Maybe you could clue me in."

Other than than the shaking of his hand, he seemed preoccupied. When they both donned what looked something like life preserviors, she said, "Oh no. If you think for one minute that I'm getting into one of those ..."

Finn simply glanced her way, tipped his hat, and said, "See you in a few hours."

She was still talking, and getting more ticked off by the moment, "I just spent mucho dollars to get my hair and my nails done..." Her words were cut off as he opened the door, the sound of the air whirling around, hissing squelched any sound she might make, in fact, she almost couldn't breathe. She imagined them flying over the Bermuda Triangle getting sucked from the plane; their bodies might be found floating around days later.

The two men willing allowed the air to suck them out into the outside of the plane, either way they were prepared, and weirdly estatic like two boys on a crazy scavenger hunt. Her hand touched her previously coifed hairdo, then pulled a mirror from her bag. Needless to say, she looked far from ravishing; her hair looked like it had been put in Vego-matic machine, that and her face was the color of a piece of notebook paper. It was hardly conducive for business or romance.

Luckily, by the time they had landed, she used a scarf in her purse to cover her head as she exited the plane. Good grief. As soon as I get here, they disappear once again, leaving me with nothing--no hardcopy plans to go by. If they didn't show up soon, she'd go site seeing. She'd read about the archtecture within the Great North Platform, with its Temple of Kukulkan (step-pyramid type building). She especially liked the Columns in the Temple of a Thousand Warriors.

There was no real reason why, but columns of almost any kind had always fascinated her. She'd often daydream about standing at the uppermost steps of one of the temples and looking over a beautiful view of the land and her people. Her people--her people...

"Ma'am I think you dropped something, " someone said, and handed her a piece of paper. And then they disappeared into the group of people. "Wait! This isn't mine, " she said a little too late.

#15

Gunther parked the damaged range Rover at the rental agency. The insurance would cover it. He fingered the gold rings in his pocket. Good thing he didn't put all of the Mayan loot in his backpack. The rings would finance the trip and to hell with Cowl, but it would have been nice to make a profit. And not completing a job for Cowl would make them less likely to give him another one.

He called his Cowl contact and explained his failure. There was no anger from Cowl when the news was delivered. "Yes," the contact said, "we expected you might fail when we learned Finnegan Ford was on to it."

"Oh really," Gunther said. "And just who is Finnegan Ford?"

"A serious problem for Cowl. I'll send you an email."

Gunther pocketed the phone. Who was Finnegan Ford to get in his way? It was obvious Ford was well-financed if he had planes and parachutes. Cowl could tell him more. But if Cowl had another job for him and Finnegan Ford was involved then Gunther wanted backup. You don't go solo when the enemy has an army.





Watson was shot in the neck with a blowgun. He pulled out the dart just before losing consciousness. He didn’t see Gunther Gritz get away with the Xpulak tablet. Everything had gone dark.

Watson’s head swam and hurt, as the face-slapping noise echoed through the forest.

“Mister! Mister! You OK?” a woman’s heavily accented voice barely pierced his fog.

“Y–yeah. I–I think so,” Watson stammered.

“Then you can stop slapping me,” she said.

Watson jolted to awareness. What a time for his sleep-slapping problem to act up. I knew I shoulda finished all twelve steps of the program, Watson thought, eleven was just not enough.

He pulled himself into a sitting position and looked at the woman. She had light brown skin, and the twin deep brown eyes of an aboriginal goddess. Her hair was tightly braided in cornrows across her scalp. Her cheeks glowed, but were fading since he stopped slapping her.

“Who are you?” Watson asked the beautiful woman, as he rubbed his neck wound.

“You wouldn’t be able to pronounce my name,” she said.

“Try me,” Watson retorted, “I’m pretty good with languages.”

The woman let out a series of clicks and hoots, punctuated by at least two snorts, a pop, and something that sounded like a clucking chicken.

“Oh my god!” Watson was fascinated. “That’s really your name?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said. “That’s not my name. I have a rare form of Kamayuran Tourette syndrome, and I make noises when I’m nervous. My real name is, well -- ” She paused. “You can just call me Kiki.”

Well, okay, Kiki. Now maybe you can tell me why you blow-darted me.”

“It was an accident. I was aiming for that evil man who was stealing the tablet. You got in the way. I’m glad you pulled out the dart in time. It might have killed you.” She let out a quick pop. “And I’m so sorry about your friend at the airport. One of my tribal brothers took him out before I could stop him. I sent him back to the Amazon Basin.”

“No harm, no foul,” said Watson. “So what are you doing here?”

“I was sent here to stop that man from completing the collection of mystical artifacts. He came for the Xpulak tablet. And others have already stolen the Python Tear emerald from my own people. I have to keep these bad men from putting the objects together, and I must return the sacred jewel to my people.”

So where’s Gunther?”

“He got away,” Kiki puffed, obviously frustrated. “I have to find a way to catch him.” She paused and thought for a while. “I have an idea,” she said. “We can help each other! We should team up! I have keen observational skills, innate jungle survival skills, and knowledge about every mystical object they’re trying to steal. And you,” Kiki continued, “you have the Jeep.”

“Do you think Gunther still has the tablet?” Watson asked Kiki as they made their way through the trees toward the Jeep.

“Of course. It’s a long drive back along the dirt road. It’s not like people will just drop out of the sky and take it from him!”

“Right. So lets go get him.”

“And after that,” Kiki said, “we’ll go after Finnegan Ford and get back the jewel.”

Watson stopped short. “What?” He sounded shocked. “Ford is involved in all this?”

Kiki nodded.

“I should have known he’d be a part of this.” Watson shook his head and blew out a breath. “Finnegan Ford. I should have damn well known.”

Kiki snorted and clucked.


#17
Finnegan and Brian walked down the dirt road back in the direction of their base camp by the Ruins of Chichen Itza. The warm Yucatan sun glowing through the canopy of trees, making light beams shine down on the path all around them.

"Who was that Finn? Brian asked as he swatted a mosquito on his neck.

"Cowl I'm guessing. How do they keep tracking us?"

"Dunno, but I'm glad you had me get inoculated for malaria again. These mosquitoes are getting very brave!" He swatted another one on his exposed hand.

"We need to get back and soon." Finn reached for his backpack and pulled out a large phone with a very large antenna. He turned it on and pressed a few buttons then put it up to his ear.

"Echo Base this is Mockingbird, repeat, Echo Base this is Mockingbird how do you read, over."

Brian could hear the muffled sounds of a response.

"Copy that, we need a pick up pronto. Sending coordinates, over."

Again, more muted voices from the satellite phone.

"Roger, over and out."

Finn looked at Brian, "10 minutes."

They took off their backpacks and sat under a tree, each drinking water and eating trail mix.

They heard rustling from the foliage on the other side of the trail. Brian put his hand on his Ruger pistol and got up to a kneel.

From the other side came a man and woman, the man holding a gun and the woman carrying a blowgun. The man, severely out of place in the jungle with his dark suit and sunglasses, barked, "Finnegan Ford as I live and breathe. I believe you have something that belongs to the US Government?"

The woman looked at him, then at Finnegan then back to Watson, "Excuse me? I thought we were teaming up! How dare you!"

"Kiki I have a mission..." He was interrupted.

"So do I sir! Mr. Ford, the Tablet if you please..." She glared at Watson, then at Finn.

"No can do pretty lady," Ford said. "This one is staying with me and going to the Museum, out of Cowl's reach."

"I'm afraid I can't let you do that Mr. Ford," Watson started raising his gun at Finnegan. "I will not fail again."

Just then, the loud whirl of a helicopter came suddenly over the canopy, swirling dust and debris all around the quartet.

"My ride's here, gotta jet!" Finn said as ropes were lowered from the chopper.

The faint sound of an air gun was heard as one of Finn's team shot the man and woman with tranquilizers, dropping them to the ground. "We had better get them before the jaguars do." Finn affixed the line around first the woman, then the man in the suit and hoisted them up.

Once on board the chopper Finn went to the pilot, "Back to base camp. I have some explaining to do to Erin."

Gunther read over the email from Cowl describing Finnegan Ford: ...arrogant son-of-a-bitch with style, savoir faire, and a surprising number of hightech gadgets at his disposal. Travels with his best bud, Brian. Both are womanizers. That might be a weak point although usually the mission comes first. We are investigating a possible fear of snakes, spiders, or scorpions. We know he has to be afraid of SOMETHING, but whatever it is is a closely-guarded secret. He hates Cowl and all people associated with Cowl. So don't try to make a deal with him...

Gunther snorted. That was just like Cowl, always thinking you wanted to doublecross them. Thank God they weren't the only large evil organization in the world. It was still possible to shop around and pick the missions that were best suited to your personal style. For instance, here was an interesting offer from ASS, the Argentinian Secret Service: Plant a miniature tracking device on Finnegan Ford.

Funny how he didn't even know Ford's name 24 hours ago and now it was popping up everywhere. Gunther emailed ASS: Yes, will do. Fee acceptable. Expect results soon.

It shouldn't be too hard to locate Finnegan Ford. He was probably still on the Yucatan and probably celebrating at a nightclub in Cancun. Gunther decided to first call all the major clubs and ask them to page Finnegan Ford.

#19
A man in all black paused outside the door. He stopped himself from knocking right away, instead adjusting his hat and pulling up his trench coat.

"Hufff....Why do I always get all the iiiiiicky assignments...?" he moaned, not exactly a happy camper due to being forced to come out to the field at the eleventh hour. Of course, he never exactly was a happy camper. He detested camping to the extreme, what with all the wild animals and DIRT...oh so much DIRT.... A fairly amiable figure on most days, yes, a happy camper? Never. But right now he meant it in the figurative sense of the phrase. He wiped his forehead with his hanky before finally knocking on the door.

"UHHG! WHAT?," came the reply from the other side of the door. The short man slammed it open, his laptop glowing in the back. "...Who the heller you bub?"

"Name's Phee. "Mighty" Mack Phee to be precise, Mr. Gunther. I'm the backup you asked for back in addition number sixteen," Phee said, walking into his room and lounging on the couch. "Cowl's been using me since their formation. I've been on more missions than anyone in the whole organization," he chuckled as Gunther stared with a bit of annoyance. "Cowl must want them artifacts preaty bad."

A growl escaped from Gunther. He wasn't used to being the lesser ranked in the room. "Oh yeah? What makes you so tough hotshot?"

"Hahahaha....Oh what an IIIICKY assignment....Well, what makes me so tough? Ever hear of the golem Talos?" An icy chill ran down Gunther's spine.

"...Y...You mean the guardian of the Greek god Hephestus's FORTUNE!?," Gunther dribbled. No greater fortune was said to be in existence, the person who could locate it and best the guardian of it, Talos, would have enough money to last six lives. But Talos was a GOLEM! A humungeous creature formed of bronze alone! He was a monster of very high caliber INDEED!

"You betcha. I beat him waaay back in 89' under Cowl's orders. Still think I'm just a hotshot? Now, what artifact are we after next?

#20

For the second time in les than a day, Watson tried to wrestle himself back to consciousness. And for the second time in less than a day, he realized he had been tranquilized by a dart to the neck.

“W-what is it with you people and the darts?” He moaned as he tried to reach his newest wound, but he was stopped short by the rope ties holding his wrists.

“It was either that or the Jaguars, Mr. Watson. Or should I say Special Agent Watson?” A ruggedly handsome man with the look of an adventurer-hero was flipping through Watson’s papers. “Says here, you’re CIA.”

“I should have known you'd be mixed up in this, Ford,” Watson said, his fog starting to clear. “Everyone in the Agency knows to watch out for you. Some think you’re a hero. And some think your public enemy number one.”

“And what do you think?” Ford asked.

“Let’s see how the day goes, and then I’ll tell you.”

Ford chuckled.

“And what did you do with Kiki?” Watson felt oddly protective of her. That beautiful and mysterious Kamayuran Indian woman had the allure of an Orion Slave Girl. He was captivated by her, but he knew she didn’t really need his protection.

“She’s safe in another room, Agent Watson,” Ford responded. “In the mean time, maybe you could tell me why the U.S. government is interested enough to send agents down here on a dangerous but exciting and fast-paced hunt for ancient artifacts. And why you teamed up with a Kamayuran assassin sent to kill me.”

“You stole their Jewel.”

“The Python Tear wasn’t really their Jewel, Agent Watson.”

‘They used it in their rituals for hundreds of years,” Watson retorted.

“But before that,” Ford explained, “it had a different owner. It belonged to --”

An explosion suddenly shook the compound. Plaster rained from the ceiling and the walls shook. The sound of gunshots rattled windows from the outside. Ford ran out of the door and into the hall. Watson could hear him yell for Brian. The compound erupted in commotion. Smoke and debris filled the air. The firefight continued outside.

“Ford!” Watson yelled. “Don’t leave me tied up like this!” He strained and shook his ropes.

“Help!” Watson heard a distant muffled cry. “Help me! Somebody!” It sounded like Kiki. She must be tied up as well, he thought. And he knew he had to save her.

Watson started looking for something that could cut rope.


#21







Finnegan ran to Brian who was watching the attack from a window in the main building. "Status?"

"Looks like military. Possibly US coming to get their man back." Brian picked up the walkie and said, "Alpha Team, Non-lethal force only, repeat, Non-lethal for only!" He turned back to Ford, "Looks like a small team, maybe five or six."

"Okay. You go get Watson and the girl and get in the chopper. I will secure the Tablet and meet you there in 5 mics." Finnegan rushed off, out of the room and ran to the adjacent building, swerving wildly to avoid the flying bullets.

Alpha Team, consisting of eight ex-Seals, encircled the attacking force with ease. They fired rubber bullets and net guns and attempted to draw their fire away from the main building and Ford.

"Alpha two is hit, Alpha two is hit, request evac." Ford answered, "Everyone to the Chopper, Bravo Team, supporting fire, non-lethal only. Meet at extraction point Zulu if separated." He ran in the building and scooped up the bag containing the Tablet. He learned long ago, from his Grandfather, to hide things in plain sight. The bag was right next to a large safe that had been blown open, the smell of gun powder permeated the room. Inside the safe the decoy bag was missing. Ford smiled, This never ceases to amaze me. He ran back to the main building and almost ran into Brian.

"Where's Watson and the girl?" Finn asked.

"Gone Finn. That Watson is a cleaver man. He must have flung a chair up to the light bulb, broke it and used the broken glass to cut his ropes. I am guessing that he rescued the girl too. Should we search for them?"

"Later. We need to get to the next objective pronto. It seems like everyone and their mother knows about our mission. I fear that we have a mole in our midst." Finnegan grabbed Brian by the shoulder and pulled him out and toward the waiting chopper, rotor blades whirling in readiness. Finn pulled out the walkie once more, "Mockingbird leaving the nest. All sparrows return to Zulu." He and Brian got in the helicopter. Erin was already inside, shaken but not hurt.

"Apologies Ms. Farnsworth. Missions don't always go according to plan. Since you are still on the payroll, we will need you for the next objective." Finn took out a photo from his right lapel pocket. and handed it to Erin.

Erin held out her shaking hands and took the photo. Immediately she recognized the Mask of Destiny. "You are going to steal the Mask of Destiny?"

"Liberate, Ms. Farnsworth, the Ford Foundation does not steal anything." Finn looked at her and smiled. He took the photo from her and looked at it.

The Mask was solid obsidian with pin-point eye holes and a large mouth with very large diamonds for teeth. Around the perimeter edge of the mask, a solid gold band.

"You need to trust me Erin. If Cowl gets a hold of these artifacts..." His voice trailed off as they landed at the extraction point, letting the remainder of the team in, including one member of Alpha team that was shot in the leg. "You okay Mack?"

"I'll live sir. They didn't hit the femoral artery." Mack lay down on the floor of the chopper while Brian tended to his wounds.

"Back to HQ. We have much planning to do. I've no doubt that Cowl is already en route, but we are faster."

The helicopter made for the airport and they departed to the island.

Erin looked at Finnegan for a long time wondering who he was and how he got to be this, brazen. Eventually she drifted off to sleep, danger and adrenalin take their toll on the human body eventually.

#22
"That's it, Finnegan Ford!" She grabbed her duffle bag, swung it through the air, pounded it against a counter. or anything within distance, in the lady's room. " I am not...*SWING* going .. *SWING to ...*SWING* sit around waiting for you anymore!" The Kleenex box flew off the counter as well as the hand lotion, which bounced around noisily.. Luckily nobody walked in while she temporarily went ballistic.

She only stopped when someone came to the door and asked, "Are you okay in there?"

"I'm just fine!"

She jerked some items out of the bag, stripped off her clothes, threw them at the sink nearby, and donned a chamoflauge outfit, she'd bought, boots and all. Then she stuffed her hair up inside her cap, A few tendrils escaped.. She did keep her t-shirt on underneath, as well as the usual underwear--lace bra, and matching lace undies. Not exactly combat clothes, but it allowed her to still feel like a female while with the guys. She stuffed some extras into her bag, just in case

And when she left the lady's room, it was with a smile plastered across her face.
"Okay. I'm ready. Where we going now?"

#23



Gunther took a long look at Mighty Mack Phee. "OK, I will believe you are a hotshot even though your general appearance says otherwise."

"What's wrong with my general appearance?"

"Slovenly. I don't associate slovenly with hotshotism."

"Hotshotism? It's not a fashion cult. Hotshots can dress how they like. You don't look so stylish yourself."

Gunther snorted. "Ha! Little do you know. Everything from LLBean! Only the best for me!"

"Enough about clothes," Mighty said. "Did you check your email from Cowl?"

"Just doing it. Hmmm... Looks like we must tangle with Finnegan Ford again..."

"That jerk? No problem there."

"You have tangled with Ford before?"

"No, but if I coul dbeat the Golem Talos in '89 then-"

"Enough! That was 20 years ago! You think you're still some quick-witted kid with hair-trigger reflexes and a tight belly?"

Mighty Mack Phee glared at Guinther Gritz. "Don't rain on my parade, Gunther. What does Cowl say?"

"Cowl says The Mask of Destiny. Get it before Finnegan Ford does."

Mighty Mack rubbed his hands together. "Good. A mission. We will have something to discuss besides our wardrobes. Where is this mask located?"

#24
Gunther quickly scanned the rest of the email and closed his laptop with a thud. "Cowl says it's in the Netherlands. Hidden in the storeroom of some crazy chocolate factory."

"It wouldn't happen to be the Billy Bonka Chocolate Factory would it?" Phee asked.

"Correctamundo. We leave immeadiatly."

"Shotgun".

"Excuse me?"

"I call shotgun Gunther. What, you think yer too cool to play shotgun?"

Gunther scowled. "I don't play with shotguns. You'll blow your head off. Besides, we're going to have to fly Mack. There's no shotgun on a plane!"

"Says you..." Phee replied with a grin. With that the roar of an engine descended upon the area. Gunther took a glance out the window only to see a small private jet fold up it's wings and make port in the driveway. "You're working for Cowl now, Mr. Gunther. Cowl treats it's employees very nicely. We're flying private class."

"...So...If you've got shotgun...What spot do I have?"

*~*~*

"How yah hanging back there Gunther, over," Mack announced over his intercom from the safety of the second seat of the plane. Gunther, however, due to the short amount of seats and surplus of baggage, had to sit crammed in the back of the plane next to the port-o-potty.

"...Whoopdie freakin' fine...Just get us to the Netherlands ASAP Mack..."

"Over and out Gunther."

Mud sucked at Watson’s boots as he trudged through the overgrown jungle. Wind-whipped branches cut his face with shallow lacerations that burned as he wiped away salty sweat. He had to get out of there. He had to get a message back to his CIA contacts. That was the only way to follow Ford, Watson knew. And there was another thing Watson knew for sure; something that Ford had proven just a few hours ago. Finnegan Ford was public enemy number one.

“You’re pretty good at this,” Watson looked up onto a tree limb where Kiki was squatting. She had almost flown through the jungle even as Watson struggled. From tree to tree, limb to limb and branch to branch, Kiki had almost brachiated the entire way through the jungle. She was quick, and dry. It was as though she had been born in a jungle; which of course, she had. “But I need to rest,” Watson huffed.

Kiki jumped down to the ground. Her Tourette syndrome was fairly quiet at the moment; no pops or squeaks or clicks. It suggested to Watson that she was quite comfortable there, and quite relaxed. “Let’s go find a better place to rest,” Kiki said.

They climbed to higher and drier ground and sat next to each other on a log, overlooking a serene river that wound below them like a turquoise serpent. The burnt orange sun was sinking behind distant hills, forming a backdrop to the lush rain forest, its iridescent green aura shining in the setting sunlight. Watson and Kiki sat and breathed. They took it all in.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Watson said.

“You want it to happen,” Kiki responded in her unmistakable, but seductive, Kamayuran accent.

“What? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What I mean is that everything that happens to a person is brought upon by that person. This is ancient Kamayuran wisdom. We create our own universes, our own realities.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well let me explain how every person creates his own reality. You see, people and everything else in the universe is made up of quantum particles. For now, lets call them energy strings. You are strings, I am strings, the universe is strings, and even consciousness is strings. Everything is everything. Since we and our universe are made of exactly the same stuff, we must by definition exert an influence on each other. Even a drop in the ocean causes ripples. If you can influence something, you can have some control over it. The Kamayuran prophets knew from long ago that with practice, they could control their universes, and therefore their realities.

“So you made this happen to yourself,” Kiki concluded, “Wet and tired and miserable.”

“Well what about you? You’re here too!” Watson said.

“But I’m dry and energetic. And I’m not miserable,” Kiki responded.

She was dry, Watson thought. And happy. And beautiful. Watson couldn’t help but be entranced with her perfect features; her radiant and glistening coconut brown skin, her sensuous and slightly pouted lips, and her eyes. Those endless brown eyes that seemed to get deeper and deeper. And now he wondered if they could see into his soul.

“And besides,” Kiki was still talking, “I’m right where I need to be.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I’m here,” she said.

Watson thought about it. “So what are you, some sort of Kamayuran theoretical physicist?” Her clever and well-presented treatise on the nature of reality had stunned Watson.

“Well yes, actually. We Kamayurans have books and Internet and indoor plumbing too! Just because our men wear loincloths, doesn’t mean that we’re an ignorant people,” Kiki continued, “and I understand the loincloths are quite comfortable. You should try one sometime. I think it would make you look virile.”

“No chance, sweetheart,” Watson quipped. He got up and stretched. He walked carefully over to the cliff edge and looked into the distance at the horizon. Then he looked down. Perched on a reachable ledge was a satellite phone. It must have fallen from someone who was parachuting in. Maybe one of the base attackers lost it, or maybe it was Fords. No matter, Watson thought. That was their ticket out of there.


#26
Finnegan Ford, Brian and Erin Farnsworth entered the HQ Main Building after departing from the private Leer jet. The Mediterranean air was warm and the sky was clear.

"You really do live in a paradise Mr. Ford." Erin commented as she followed them into the control room.

"Thanks Erin," He glanced back at her and winked then turned his attention to several men and women in front of computers and and large plasma screens. "Ladies and Gentlemen we must locate the Mask of Destiny before Cowl. So far we have been lucky but we almost missed our opportunity in the Yucatan; Cowl was in possession of the Tablet when we arrived. Next time, the Intel needs to come faster." He motioned for Erin to sit in a high-backed leather chair, "Be right back, make yourself comfortable; Mi casa es su casa."

"Sir. We have located the Mask. It is in The Netherlands. The Sinterklaas Cocoa Factory in Amsterdam," one of the operators informed.

"Chocolate Factory? What the hell is it doing in there?" Finn sat down next to the female researcher and looked at her screen.

"According to the Intel I have been able to gather it was brought there during World War two to hide it from the Japanese spies who were searching for it; their purpose for it's acquisition is still unclear. The factory, built in 1745, has been one of that leading producers of cocoa in the world. According to my sources at The Hague, it has an immense tunnel structure underneath its foundation that stretches for miles. Vaults and crypts line the tunnels walls as well and unmarked graves from defecting Nazi soldiers in the floors of the tunnel. The Mask is rumored to be in one of the vaults and, get this, Vincent Van Gogh allegedly had a hand in this as well."

"Huh?" Finn looked confused.

"Yeah. Apparently in the 1800's he was commissioned by The Hague to help the Sinterklaas Company design it's candy wrappers. Since they were the leading Chocolatier in the Northern Hemisphere, the Dutch government wanted the wrappers to reflect the symbolism and creativity of its people and heritage. Additionally, there is a kind of puzzle to be solved in order to find the correct vault in the tunnel system. The key is Van Gogh's Starry Night painting. I have decoded the puzzle, would you like to hear what I found?" She was glowing with pride as she looked into Finn 's eyes.

"Do tell Sarah." Finn shifted in his seat, making himself appear to be more alert even though in reality he was exhausted.

"The painting is a map, of sorts. There are 11 stars and two swirls of clouds in the painting. The Vault you seek is in the eleventh vault down the second corridor." Sarah stood up, brimming, hands in the air, and said, "Thank you, I'll be here all week!"

"Wow! Good job! Remind me to promote you when this is all said and done." Finn turned to Brian who still had a look of disbelief on his face.

Sarah continued, "That's not all sir. The last artifact, or relic if you will since it's religious in nature, the Medallion of Light, it located in Spain. I am working on more details but should have them by the time you liberate the Mask."

"Give her stock options Brian! No, not really... We are a non-profit." Finn smirked.

"Okay people you heard her! Amsterdam!" He looked at Erin, "You up for another adventure?"

#27
Erin was preoccupied with the idea of Lisa getting a raise plus other benefits. Okay, so the girl was quite efficient, plus pretty. And her name wasn't Lisa.. Eh whatever. Finally she answered Finnegan. "Well, yes, I think so. Umm..How do I look? Am I dressed appropriately?"

"Don't worry about that," he replied.

"Oh, and about the Sinterklaas--isn't there also a festivity on or about December 5th of every year? Have you heard the story about Sinterklaas?"

"I'm vaguely familiar with it, but tell me anyway," Finn said.

"From what I understand, St. Nicholas er. Nicholas then, had been born of a wealthy family, and was brought up as a devout Christian. His parents had died of an epidemic, so he distributed his wealth among the poor and became a priest, and then later became the Archbishop of Myra. The fame of his good deeds began to spread across the Mediterranean. Desperate sailors called upon the Good Bishop to calm stormy seas. Prison walls crumbled when victims of persecution prayed to him."

"That's interesting." Finnegan wondered how this information might come in handy.

She continued. "He'd also saved young children from the butcher's knife and dropped dowries into the shoes of penniless maidens. Over time, St. Nicholas became the patron saint of sailors and merchants, and especially of children. After his death, the cult of St. Nicholas spread rapidly via southern Italy throughout the rest of the Mediterranean and eventually to coastal towns along the Atlantic and the North Sea. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Holland built no fewer than 23 churches dedicated to St. Nicholas, many of which are still standing. Amsterdam adopted St. Nicholas as its patron saint, and Rome decreed that December 6th, the anniversary of his death, should be his official Feast Day.

"Unfortunately, there would be others emulating St. Nicholas, even wearing long white beards and pretending to be him and then rewarding and punishing children depending on their behavior. Also apparently, In Italy some call him Sinterklaas instead. There is more to this story but that would take too long to explain right now.," Erin said.
#28

"Thank God I'm sitting next to the porta-potty!" Gunther exclaimed as the small plane bucked and bounced in air turbulence. "How much farther?"

"Amsterdam in 30 minutes," said the pilot, a tall skinny gent named Lars wearing a bomber cap with flapping earflaps.

Mighty Mack turned around to talk to Gunther. "Lars is the best! He could land us on top of a Walmart in a thunderstorm."

"Just getting to Amsterdam will satisfy me." Gunther puked the last of his stomach bile into the porta-potty. From now on it would be vital parts coming up.

Lars spoke in his sing-song voice. "Are you guys sure it's the Billy Bonka chocolate factory you want? You know there are a lot of chocolate factories in the Netherlands."

Mighty Mack shrugged. "Cowl said Billy Bonka and Cowl ought to know."

"Well, yah, maybe, but Billy Bonka is a one-man operation out of his garage. It seems unlikely he would own The Mask of Destiny."

"Let those who work for Cowl do as Cowl commands."

Gunther shook the back of Mighty Mack's seat. "Listen to Lars! He has a good point. We better doublecheck this."

"What the fudge?" Mack said. "If Billy Bonka is so smalltime then it will take us but a few minutes to see if he has the Mask. Then we can tell Cowl we followed orders."

Gunther frowned. "You're such a drudge. You should have stayed in the military. Following orders and wearing a uniform fits you perfectly."



"Oh yeah tough guy?" Phee retorted snarkily, fingering his trenchcoat. "I'd like to have seen you-Whoa, wait...hold on a sec..."

Gunther smirked from next to his basin of toiletness. "What? Cat got your tounge?"

"No, Cowl's got it, shut up a moment..." The Mighty Mack Phee stated, listioning to the transmission on his earphones. "...DAMN!" he shouted, then pulled his headset off, rubbing his forehead with his palm. "Cowl's interns figured the code wrong. The mask's in Amsterdam, Sinterklaas Cocoa Factory!"

A smirk SCREAMING "I told you so!" spoke all the words needed escaped from Gunther's lips. Lars just shruged and started to change their course to Amsterdam. Hey, he was paid no matter what way they went.

*~*~*


Sinterklaas Cocoa Factory. A sprawling mega factory set in the cityscape of Amsterdam. The prize posession of the city, really. For all Amsterdam is famous for, the Europeans could never really get happier than with a box of Sinterklaas chocolates. But for the unlikely duo of Gunther and Phee, who were standing just beyond the mighty gates to the factory, the sweets they were after were made not of chocolate. They seeked the Mask of Destiny, an artifact of legendary properties.

Gunther poked Phee with his elbow. "Yo Might...Why does Cowl have their eyes set on these artifacts anyway? First the tablet, now this mask..."

"You were not informed of the Legend?" Phee almost spat, not yet adjusted to Gunther being his new partner. "Alone, each artifact is special. The Python's tear has the power to increase the potency of medicine. The Tablet of Xpulak lets it's user read minds. The Mask of Destiny shows it's wearer the future. And the Medallion of Light unlocks any lock."

"Forgive me Mack, but I don't fall for that mumbo jumbo. I'm in this for the cash man." Gunther interjected, folding his arms and cocking an eyebrow.

"Ah, but when together..." Phee went on, as if ignoring Gunther. "The artifacts open the way to the fifth and final artifact...Although I do not know what it is, Cowl has informed me it is called, "Raphael, The Lord's Paintbrush".

A snort. "Sounds like it's a paintbrush. Duh." Mack waved his finger at Gunther.

"Tut tut. What is but a name, but another form of deception. No one knows what it really is, or does for that matter. Some say it grants wishes. Others say it ends the world. Some say it's just dust. A couple freaks living in their mother's basement say it's a government plot hiding aliens from the Polaris star system. "

"Arrg! I don't really CARE what it is!" Gunther muttered impatiently. "I just wanna get these missions done, get my cash, and be on my way. Got it?"

"...Fine...Let's go." Mack turned around and started to pry off the sewer lid off of the sewer channel entrance behind them.

"Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa!" Gunther announced, pointing at the sewer as he stuttered his sentence. "No can do bud, I don't do sewers! I'm claustrophobic!" Mack just sneered at him.

"Baby. Chicken baby."

"PFFT! As if moron! I just don't do em dude!"

"Do you have a BETTER idea? I doubt the proprietors are just going to let us walk in and take it."
Watson retrieved the satellite phone, and cradled it in his arms as he carefully backed away from the rocky edge. He wasn’t about to break their only hope of getting out of the jungle. Before long, he and Kiki were airlifted out on a Marine chopper.

“You have some serious pull up there in Washington!” Kiki yelled so that she could be heard over the churning helicopter blades, “I’m impressed!”

“It’s not me!” Watson yelled back, “This is an important mission to somebody powerful. Probably a Senator, maybe even higher up than that! Now put on your headphones so we’ll be able to hear each other!”

Kiki put on her headphones and adjusted her boom microphone. Something about Watson gave her confidence. She felt safe around him. That cool demeaner. That ability to stay in control. A real man, Kiki thought, not like those tribal boys the Chief expected her to marry. Oh sure, they had a long a decorated bone piercing their manly attributes, at least after their warrior ceremony, but Watson here was the real thing. She wondered if he had noticed her, in that way. “So where are we going?” Kiki spoke into her microphone.

“To the nearby U.S. airbase,” Watson responded. We have some special transportation waiting for us there. We’re going to the Mediterranean.” He turned to look at Kiki. For the first time, he saw her as vulnerable. That tough exterior hid a softer interior and he was starting to see it. She looked beautiful to him. He wondered of she ever noticed him, in that way.

“So what do you know about these artifacts?” Watson asked, more to make conversation than anything else. Central Command had already thoroughly briefed him.

“Ancient folklore describes many artifacts with mystical powers. Some are said to have individual powers, and some have powers only if combined with other relics. The most powerful group of objects consists of four things.” She looked at Watson who was staring back at her. “The first is our Emerald, the Python Tear. We use it for rituals but we don’t believe it has power by itself.”

“I heard that it increased the potency of medicine. Isn’t that why your medicine men use it in their ceremonies?”

“Maybe by tradition, but we’re pretty sure you have to combine it with the other three artifacts to get anything more than a priceless emerald. There are so many relics, and so much folklore surrounding them, that nobody really knows how much powers these things have. Some people even believe that the XpulakTablet has powers by itself.”

“Mind reading, right?” responded Watson.

“Supposedly, but again, our legends say it has to be put with the other relics first. And then there’s the Mask of Destiny --”

“Seeing the future," Watson interrupted, "I know.”

“No, we don’t believe that either. But some cultures do believe it. Just as some cultures believe the Medallion can open locks.”

“That’s what I was told about the Medallion. Is that wrong?"

“It may have been used as a key to a chastity belt in the 1500’s, but even that isn’t known for sure,” Kiki explained. She seemed to know a lot more about the subject than did Watson. “But one thing is for sure. Put all four objects together and you have some serious power.”

“I have heard that before. It’s called the Lord’s Paintbrush, right? What does it do?”

“Lord’s Paintbrush? I hadn’t heard that. Our people call it a sacred name that I can’t repeat. Other cultures have a variety of names for it. But nobody really knows what power it possesses. All we know is that the bearer of all four artifacts wields more power than any single person has ever had.”

“Well Kiki,” Watson said, “you and I are going to find out. Because we’re going after all of them. Starting with recovering your emerald and the XpulakTablet from that outlaw, Finnegan Ford. That’s why we’re going to the Mediterranean, to take Ford at his own headquarters.”

“But he won’t be there.” Kiki said.

“What do you mean, he won’t be there?” Watson asked.

“He will be going after the next artifact. Either the Mask or the Medallion. So we should intercept him as he tries to steal the Mask,” Kiki suggested.

“Why the Mask and not the Medallion?”

“Because I know where the Mask is, that’s why. And we know Ford will have to show up there sooner or later.”

“So where is it?” Watson asked, stunned by the wisdom of this glowingly sensuous aboriginal beauty.

“Amsterdam,” she said with confidence.

Watson looked surprised but he believed her. “Pilot,” Watson said into the microphone, “Radio ahead, tell them to prepare for a change in destination. We’re going to Amsterdam.”

The Ford Foundation's Leer jet landed at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and pulled into a private hanger. The team exited the plane and got into a group of waiting black Yukon SUV's.

"Here are some details that everyone needs to know, " Finn said as he spoke into his two-way radio, addressing the whole team. "First, under no circumstances are we to damage any part of the Sinterklaas property; we have been given permission by the current owner, Lars Buskirk, to enter the catacombs. Second, I have no doubt that Cowl may already be there, non-lethal weaponry only please. Lastly, the CIA has some interest in these objects; the reasons are unclear, but they cannot get a hold of them. As far as I'm concerned only the Ford Foundation has pure motives for their procurement." Finn looked back at Erin, pulling the radio from his face. "Do you have any other insight into these objects?"

"Not really, except that I am starting to see why Cowl and the CIA find you a threat." Erin hesitated, but continued, "While I am not sure of all of your motives, I sense that you do have wholesome intentions for everything you do; a Man with a Mission. They have every right to beware of you because, as has been proven throughout history, those with goals that they believe to be true are the most deadly. Do you understand what I am saying?"

"Of course. I will tell you a secret. Not only do I believe that what I am doing is right and just, I am also one hell of an adrenaline junkie." Finn winked at Erin as he caught the sun caressing her face and couldn't help but become a little more enamored by her beauty.

The team approached the Sinterklaas Cocoa Factory and parked in the parking lot, close to the front entrance. They got out and walked up to the front door, opened it and was greeted by Mr. Buskirk himself.

"You must be Mr. Ford I presume?" Lars asked, holding his hand out to Finnegan.

"Yes sir Mr. Buskirk. It is an honor sir." Finn shook his hand firmly, looking him the eye.

"I understand that you will be removing the Mask from our underground, is that correct?"

"Yes sir. Please understand that we do so only to protect it. There are bad elements that are also trying to recover it sir."

"I understand. I also knew your Grandfather Mr. Ford. He was a good man and I believe that he fought for right. Also, " He leaned closer to Finn. "He often said that he had high hopes that it would be you that would be taking over his philanthropic endeavors."

"Thank you sir."

"Okay then. Please, this way." Lars led them to a freight elevator and the whole team got inside. He swiped a card in the card reader and the elevator started to descend.

"You look familiar Mr. Buskirk but I can't place it." Finn said, studying his hosts face.

"Perhaps it's just that you remember me from your Grandfathers funeral?"

"Yes! That's it, thank you. I knew that I..." The door opened and Finn decided not to finish his thought. "Thank you sir. Please, let us take it from here."

"Understood." Lars waited until everyone was out and closed the door. "Good luck Finn, I am sure your Grandfather is watching over you." The doors closed and the team was standing in the dimly lit, stone walled corridor.

"Look lively men... And Erin." Finn smiled at Erin, "You ready for this?"

"Of course I am."

The team explored the catacombs and quickly found the Vault. They found the latch, opened the door and inside, in plain sight, was a medium sized wooden box. The box, old and deteriorating, opened easily for the Ford Team. Inside they found a tanned, leather pouch which contained an Ebony Mask.

"Nice!" Finn took the mask out and put it up to his face, which made him look a little silly. He looked straight as Erin, "Ms. Farnsworth! I like your pink lace undergarments, nice little white bows."

"Excuse me?" Erin started blushing, "What are you talking about?"

"Oh, I think that the scholars were wrong about this Mask. It doesn't see the future, it has x-ray vision!" Finn couldn't keep himself from laughing. "I'm just kidding Erin... You're wearing white cotton..." He pulled the mask away from his face and smiled at Erin. "Just kidding sweetie."

How had he known I was wearing pink lace? Erin thought, reeling from the joke and figuring it was a lucky guess.

"Okay team, time to..." Finn was cut off in mid sentence but a gruff male voice.

"Mr. Ford, at last we meet." Gunther said, raising his gun towards the team. "I believe you have something of mine, " he said as he motioned at the mask with his gun in hand.

Finn, of course was ready for an ambush. He had Brian and two other members waiting in the wings of the corridors for just such an occasion. "Oh this old thing? It's of no importance to Cowl, trust me."

"Irregardless," Gunther said. "I will be taking it from you today." Just then Mack Phee appeared pushing Brian and two other Ford members into the room at gun-point.

"First, irregardless isn't a word and, second, you want us to be scared?" Finn asked.

Mack Phee stared at Finnegan Ford knowingly, "No Mr. Ford, I want you to die."

#32


(OT: Remember that Finn can't actually die, but I wanted to add an air of danger.) :)
"Oh crap! I lost my lipgloss," Erin mumbled to herself. as she scanned the ground around her, retrieved it. She'd taken a slight detour when nature called, and on her return stepped in upon the situation and the newcomers.

"Hello. You look familiar. Have we met?" she asked.

All eyes looked her way, temporarily distracted.

Her hand came from her hip as if to shake hands, but then the glint of a shiny object flew from it, whirling toward Gunther's grasp, skimmed the top, and knocked the item Finn was handing him out of it. A flurry of activity followed, with her rolling to the side and away to avoid any punches or gunshot. Then she grabbed the biggest rock she could and wacked the other unfreindly visitor in the head.

#33

Mighy Mack staggered backwards. "You shouldn't have done that, lady."

"I'm no lady," Erin shouted. "I'm your worst nightmare."

"You're somebody's nightmare but you ain't mine," Mack grunted and socked a powerful right fist to Erin's jaw that sent her flying.

Gunther and Finnegan both had their hands on the Mask of Eternity, each trying to twist it away from the other, but Brian jumped on Gunther's back and pulled him away. Mighty Mack Phee rushed to Gunther's rescue but suddenly guns were pointing again and the tables had been turned.

Now Gunther and Phee slowly raised their hands while Finnegan and friends backed away, the mask secure in Finn's grip and Brian with a gun in his hand. "Don't make any funny moves," Brian said. "My pistol doesn't have a sense of humor."

Erin clutched Finnegan's arm and rubbed the bruise on her cheek. "Kill them!" she hissed.



"Maaaack...Tell me you have a plan...." Gunther whispered angrily, putting his hands into the air. Mack Phee kept his hands up and stared at Finn. His long hat covered the top of his forehead, but let small tendrils of his brown hair to fall through. The little rumble had been kind to Phee's look.

"...Say...You don't look half bad Ford...Long time no see, right?" Finnegan Ford raised an eyebrow at Phee.

"Excuse me? I don't think we've met bucko." Ford moved the mask from his hands to Erin's and withdrew his own gun. Brian beside him nodded.

"Yeah, who could forget an ugly mug like yours?"

Phee squinted his eyebrows before coming to a realization and relaxing them. "Oh, you must be Finnegan Ford the THIRD...Following in Grandpappy's footsteps are we?" Brian kept his gun pointed towards them while Finn's drooped slightly.

"What could you possibly know about my Grandfather?"

"Aww, Ol' Finn the First never told you the bedtime stories about me? Never mentioned all of our..." Mack paused a moment before adding rather dramatically, "Escapades, together?" Gunther snorted a tad, growing slightly more upset the more the guns were pointed at him. "I mean, them were good times. He seriously never told you how I was there when he stole that chest of gold from the great wall in China?"

"We don't have time for these games Finnegan!" Erin spat vehemously. Evidentaly the hate born of a woman with a bruise was several times that of religious fanatics. "Just take 'em out!"

Ford paused before shaking his head towards the door. "...No need to spill unnessisary blood Erin. Get against the wall you two!" Mack and Gunther rolled their eyes and complied reluctantly. "Alright, everybody out." Ford stated, and as requested, everyone filed out of the room, Ford being the last with his gun trained on them. Just before he left the room, he said with final authority, "Leave this room before we're out of this factory, and I swear I'll shoot..."

"You better watch I don't stick that where the sun don't shine bub..." Gunther sarcastically replied. Ford shook his head and exited the room.

*~*~*


Gunther Gritz sat in the back of the plane, fuming silently as Mack prepared things outside with Lars. He kept playing the scenario over and over again in his head, wondering how their ambush turned against them. He was just on the verge of figuring out how the hell that strange woman got a ROCK into a factory when Mack boarded the plane, smiling and giddy.

"What's with you sunshine? We lost again."

"As if Gunther." Mack grinned wildly at Gritz, his smile wearing thin the air of failure.

"...You...But...Ford..."

Mack snorted and pulled something out his trench coat. There was the Mask of Destiny, gleaming in the sunshine from the window. "You think I'm stupid enough, having been here long enough, to not maybe, take a DECOY with me? After all, I hate sewers too Gunther. I wasn't going to let our trek be in vain." Gunther scrunched his forehead, causing it to wrinkle greatly. His adventure in sewerland was certainly no day at the park. "It was easy enough, taking the real one and planting the copy while you waited behind that crate for the ol' Fords to show up. I'm just kinda wondering how Ford and his lackies took the bait. It wasn't the most magnificent piece of work, I'll tell you that." Phee's story was interrupted as Lars the pilot got into the plane.

"You guys ready for takeoff?"

"Yessir" Mack answered happily. "We gotta make a quick stop off at Cowl HQ before going for Spain. We have a medallion to obtain."


Watson and Kiki walked around and around the chocolate factory trying to find a way inside. Watson munched on half-melted Bonka Bars he bought at the factory tour gift shop.

“There’s a back entrance.” Kiki pointed out a partially hidden gate that looked like it led into the utility area of the factory.

“Let’s try it,” Watson responded. They walked over to the gate and started rattling the latch. “It doesn’t appear to be locked.”

“Somebody’s coming!” Kiki said, but not too loudly. She didn’t want to attract attention. They ducked behind a pickled herring sandwich cart and peered around at the gate. It opened and several people came out.

“Ford. It’s him. I should’a known he’d beat us here. He’s always one step ahead of us, but his luck has run out,” Watson whispered to Kiki.
“And he’s carrying something, Kiki said. “It’s got to be the mask. Let’s get it!”

They jumped out in front of Ford and the other two. Watson pulled a gun out of his jacket and pointed it at the Ford. Kiki looked at him, astounded. “How the hell did you get a gun into Amsterdam?” she asked, incredulous.

I just carried it in that F-16 fighter plane that brought us here. I told you I have connections. “Stop right there,” he ordered. “We’ll take that mask now, Ford.”

“Watson. You are a resourceful CIA agent. That’s for sure,” Ford began, “but there’s a lot you don’t understand about me. I’m not the bad guy, and --”

“Shut up!” Watson immediately interrupted, “and hand it over! After that I’m bringing you to the consulate to be processed and arrested.” Ford slowly took out the mask, and carefully passed it over to Watson. Watson held it up and showed it to Kiki. “Nice, huh?” He said with a tone of accomplishment.

“Uh oh,” Kiki said.

“What do you mean, uh oh?” Watson responded.

“Yeah, what do you mean by uh oh?” Ford piped in.

Watson jabbed the gun in Ford’s direction to keep him in place. “I’ll do the talking Ford!” He looked at Kiki while keeping his gun trained of Ford and his accomplices. “What do you mean, uh oh?”

“It’s not the mask. It’s a mask, but it’s not the mask. Kiki looked intently. “It’s a fake.”

“A fake? How do you know?”

“Because I do. I know about all the artifacts,” said Kiki, “been studying them my whole life.”

Watson hung his head. Then he lowered his gun and looked at Ford. “No evidence. No arrest,” Watson said, “but I will get you yet Ford. You just wait and see.”

“Watson, I think it’s time you and I had a serious talk," said Ford.

Watson was ready to listen.


#36




Finnegan Ford, frustrated at falling for the oldest trick in the book, the book his Grandfather wrote many years ago, studied Watson for a moment then addressed his team. "You guys get the trucks started and stow our gear, I'll be right there." The group listened and did as they were told. Ford paid very well, well enough for everyone, including Brian but excluding Erin, to listen and jump when they had to.

"Watson, allow me to introduce Erin Farnsworth, scholar and friend of the Ford Foundation. Erin, CIA Agent Watson." The two shook hands in the cold parking lot and nodded to each other. Ford continued, "Watson and...?" He considered Kiki briefly, "Kamayurian scholar named?"

"Kiki will suffice."

"Listen, I am not the person you think I am. Yes I am Finnegan Ford and, yes, I liberate relics and artifacts from indigenous peoples from all over the world, but, and this is a big but, I do not steal nor do I sell any of these objects for personal gain. You see my Grandfather, rest his soul, started this Foundation with one goal: To protect History from those who would see it destroyed or defaced." Ford let that sink in a bit before continuing, "You may be asking yourselves why I don't work with the various governments of the world in recovering these items? The answer is simple; I have more resources and immunity than they do. The fact is, my friends, that I made a promise to a very important man, a long time ago," Ford reached into his lapel pocket and pulled out a photograph and handed it to Watson. "The promise was to continue with my Grandfather's work and to do my best to keep villains, like the Cowl Corporation, from obtaining such treasures. rest assured that I am in possession of every item I have liberated and they are not on display or for sale. The goal is to return them to their rightful owners once any threat is gone."

Watson looked at the picture and was shocked and amazed. He handed it to Kiki who immediately looked up at Ford with renewed interest. Watson stood up straight and held out his hand to Ford. "We need to work together Commander."

The picture was a kind of montage of three pictures; one of Ford's Grandfather shaking hands with President Kennedy, another was of Finnegan in his Naval Officers Uniform; Commanders insignia on the shoulder, and the last was Finnegan shaking hands with Obama. On the back of the picture was the phone number for the White House, Office of the Secret Service.

"I agree Watson and I know just how you can help. Follow us."

The caravan left the Sinterklaas Cocoa Factory parking lot and headed to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. On the way Ford relayed the information to Watson of what he needed. Watson called the number on the back of the photo and was told, in no uncertain terms, to give any aid to Finnegan Ford. Watson hung up the phone with a phrase that he had only uttered once before; "Yes Mr. President."

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Waiting for the team, complete with new members, at the airport was a Stealth Bomber. Watson, proud of his contribution, approached Ford.

"I'm still not sure why we need this sir."

"Elementary, my dear Watson, we have a Mask to catch." Finnegan chose Watson, Brian and his Team Leader Carlos to board the Bomber with him. "You made sure that they had the Sky Hook equipped?

"Yes sir." Watson went to the roaring Bomber and gave the sign for the pilot to open the bay doors. He pulled a ladder down and invited everyone on board. Watson showed Finn how the Sky Hook worked as they taxied and wen under way.

After about forty-five minutes in flight, the pilot's voice came over the intercom, "Target Acquired, Estimated time to intercept 2 minutes"

Watson connected the Sky Hook to the frame-mounted grapple, we will slow down once we are over the target and we should be invisible to their radar. "This device", he held up the other end of the Sky Hook, "will be attached to the top of the target aircraft; it is self-securing and will in no way harm or hurt the craft or occupants. Once it has secured itself, it will penetrate the fuselage and inject sleeping gas into the cabin; the line will hold the plane and keep it from veering off course."

Ford and Brian nodded. Watson continued, "we will attach ourselves to the line and slide down to the aircraft. I can't stress enough that it will be windy, forceful and dangerous. Once at the plane we will make our way to the top repair hatch and let ourselves in. We do not need to worry about depressurization as this plane they are flying has to fly low. Any questions?"

No one had questions that they admitted to, though thousands were going through everyone's mind.

"We are a go for Project Ford Hook," the pilot announced over the intercom as he opened the bombing bay doors. The sound was deafening but bearable.

"Okay!" Watson yelled, "Here we go!" He lowered the cable with the suction cup-like device at the end and guided it down to the plane below them with the help of the pilot who also had a camera to help him see the Sky Hook. The device made contact, softly, and punctured the fuselage. Within moments the little plane started turning right and left, in little increments as Watson tighten the cable and took control of the aircraft's course.

Ford, Watson and Brian, all fitted with sturdy harnesses, attached their clips to the cable and bravely slid down to the top of the plane, the wind whipping by them, occasionally spinning them like toy tops. They arrived and opened the hatch and dropped in. Finnegan rose tot he occasion by walking sternly through the small excuse for a cabin and to the Cockpit. He saw no bag but did notice the passed out pilot and the man that claimed to know his Grandfather. Finn turned to say something to Brian, but was stopped when he saw Watson holding the Mask in his hand victoriously.

Using powered ascending gear the small band of liberators made their way back up to the Bomber and sat down in their seats.

"The gas should wear off in a few minutes," he yelled as the bay doors were still open. "Once they wake up and gain control, we can disconnect the Sky Hook and retract it, leaving them to wonder what happened."

After several minutes the plane jerked as they regained consciousness and control and the device was retracted back up into the Stealth Bomber. The bay doors closed and Finn asked Watson, "Can you have the pilot buzz them so they know the resources we have at our disposal?"

"Sure!" Watson smiled and informed the pilot. The bomber flew past the small aircraft and accelerated rapidly. Where to Sir?"

"HQ Watson, here are the coordinates." Finn smiled at Watson and shook his hand, "Thank you for coming on board."

#37
Erin watched the operation take place, just as Finnegan said. HIm and his men slid across the cable line, while their distorted faces made them look like some being out of a freak show. Their cheeks rippled from the wind, as they gained access to the plane, entered it and recaptured the mask. As dangerous as it was they made it seem like an everyday thing. Maybe it was, considering their jobs. She was glad to be inside the bomber to witness it.

Unfortunately, they hadn't taken pictures of Gunther Grub...er Gritz and that pathetic woman hitter, Mack,. Better yet if they were posed clutching their teddy bears and sucking their thumbs. She could spit just thinking of them.
#38


Gunther woke up and rubbed his eyes. "Whoa! What just happened here?"

"About time you woke up," Mighty Mack said. "We've been robbed."

"What!?"

"Yeah, sounds impossible, doesn't it?" Mack Phee recounted what he and Lars had decided must have happened.

"A sky hook?" Gunther said. "Geez, that guy has money to burn."

"I think Ford had a little help from the US government on this one."

"Uh oh. That's all we need is the CIA and the military getting involved. Did you notify Cowl about this yet?"

#39
Mack scowled as Gunther mentioned Cowl. He knew deep in his heart this was going to be one icky assignment. And it was proving to be so.

"Not yet Gunther. But responding will take less than two shakes of a cow's leg," Mack replied, sighing and pulling out a satelite phone. Gunther could hear a voice screaming beyond the device, even in the back of the plane. And the voice didn't sound happy.

*~*~*


High up in the skyline of a city in England, there resided a quaint, but massive skyscraper. It resembled every other building in the skyline, being extraordinarily plane. But, there was one way in which in differed from the monotonomy of everything else. This was the Cowl Building, current president Walter P. Cowl. And he waited in his large, top floor office building, listioning only to the sound of a metronome on his ceder wood desk. He was dressed immpecably, suit, tie, you name it. His brown hair was combed back evenly, and shaped to compliment Cowl's eyes and nose structure. The room was decorated with various paraphenilia, Japanesse Ogre masks, katana swords, ancient suits of armor, authentic primitive firearms, you get the idea. The metronome kept on ticking, as stated before the only sound in the room. Until the door shifted and the duo of Mack and Gunther entered.

"Gentlemen..." Cowl softly announced, turning his swivel chair around.

"Mr. Cowl " both men muttered, nodding their heads at the president of the corperation.

"You realize...Mr. Ford has three of the artifacts...THREE OF THEM!" Cowl shouted, suddenly his inner Hulk shoving his cold, calm demenor aside.

"Mr. Cowl sir...The guy's like some sort of...Like...Some sort of strange combination of Superman, McGuyver, Barack Obama, Richie Rich, and Cher," Gunther announced. "How do you expect just us two, three guns, and a weird pilot named Lars to stop him?"

Cowl stared intently at Gritz, a scowl carving a rut into his forehead. His stare spoke all the words needed to answer Gunther's question. "You, Gritz, I can understand your failure. You've not been a part of Cowl Corperations for more than a few weeks. But Mack...You make me want to spit, you've failed so badly." Cowl paused before leaning back in his chair. "You really must be getting older. How long exactly has it been Phee, sixty three years?"

Mack snorted. "Sixty seven."

Cowl seamed to take it all in, spinning around in his chair as he looked at the celeing deep in thought. "Alright Mack...This is your final job...You'll be able to retire after this...All I want you to do...Is get me those artifacts..."

Mack's eyes grew wide, both with the prospect of retirement, and of the demand. "But, Ford already has most of them! How are we supposed to get em now?"

"I do not care HOW you do it. Consider yourself in charge of anything you need to get your hands on the artifacts. Lie, steal, cheat, kill, kidnap, WHATEVER! JUST GET ME THEM!," the hulk inside Cowl showed itself again, banging his hands on the desk. "DISMISSED!" Mack and Gunther wasted no time in following that order out, scrambling for the door to the outside world.

#40


Ford and his team headed for headquarters in the stealth bomber. They sat in a loose circle around the mask, which was being held by Kiki.

“Remarkable. Just remarkable,” Kiki said. She was obviously in awe of the object. “M-my whole life. I’ve been studying this my whole life, and I can’t believe I’m holding it. It's--"

“Excuse me, er Miss, Kiki is it?” Ford interrupted. “You don’t sound like any Kamayuran Indian I’ve ever known. And I’ve know a few in my day.”

“There are only about two hundred of us left, Mr. Ford,” Kiki began, “We are steeped in tradition but cannot escape the modern world’s infringement. The government set us up long ago with computers and Internet, and GPS.”

“Why GPS?”

“To help track illegal clearing of the Rain Forest. We are losing our home, Mr. Ford. The power of the combined artifacts is our only hope. I’ve been trained and sent on the same mission as you. As all of you. To find the objects. But unlike you, I’m trying to save my people.”

“None of us will be able to do anything if we don’t find the Medallion, and then figure out how they all fit together,” Ford said to change the subject and break the tension.

“I can help with that,” Kiki said. She turned the mask over and displayed the back of it. “See that indentation?” The others leaned in and looked and nodded. “That’s where the Python Tear fits. Grooves in that recess fit around the emerald’s facets and lock it in place.”

Watson watched Kiki, mesmerized by this Indian goddess. He could barely understand what she was saying, until he regained his composure and forced himself to listen. “So how does this fit in with the other objects?” Watson finally asked her.

“Yeah, do you know how every object fits together?” Brian interjected.

“A girl’s gotta keep something to herself, doesn’t she?” Kiki said in a singsong tone. And then, more serious, “After all, you have to have something to keep me around for. I know if I told you all my secrets, you could just send me out the Bombay doors. Well no thank you.”

“You have us mixed up with Cowl,” Ford said. “We’re the good guys.”

“They all say that,” said Kiki.


#41

Ford took out his checkbook and wrote out a blank check, signed it and handed it to Kiki.

"I know that money can't buy everything but I hope this demonstrates to you my resolve. I am offering you a chance to help your people and fight alongside the good guys." He studied her expression for a moment; she was in awe, or so it appeared. "Please note that I will need a receipt once you determine how this can best help your people. Use it for ambushes in the rain forest, medicine for your people, whatever you think it can best be used for. I promise to come help you and your village once this is all over. I am also not opposed to bringing the artifacts and relics back to your village if it can help. Having said that, I want to hire you on a consultant basis for this mission. I also promise to keep you on the team and supply you with whatever you need." Ford stood as the bomber came to a stop on the runway of his private island. He reached his hand out to Kiki, "Is this acceptable?"

"Yes Mr. Ford. You're rather large donation will be used for humanitarian aid on your receipt, however, between you and I..." Ford cut her off.

"It's probably best that I don't know. You understand." Kiki nodded in agreement.

Walking across the tarmac they made their way inside the compound and into the Command Center. "Sarah! Where are you?" Finn yelled, searching for his whiz kid.

"Here sir!" Sarah stood up and waved.

"What do you have for us?"

"I assume you mean the Medallion of Light?" She looked at Finn as she adjusted herself in her chair, cracked her knuckles and started typing. "Madrid, Spain is its current location. Technically in the segunda corona, or outer ring of the Metropolitan District. The bad news is that it is encased in shatter-proof glass and on display in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía."

Finn studied the picture of the Medallion as it is on display. "See those grooves around the outer edges? They must be how it fits either into the Mask or the Tablet. Kiki?

"You are correct Mr. Ford, it fits into the tablet just below where the mask will fit housing the Tear."

"Luckily I know someone who knows the curator of that Museum very well," Finn looked to Erin.

#45
Erin sat motionless. Finn continued. It wasn't that she was'nt listening, but was focused on and admiring Finn's profile as the light filtered through a window and cast shadows into the room.

Noticing a glazed look to her eyes, Finn called to her. "Erin?" She'd fallen when Mack had slugged her. he knew why she did it. It gave him an advantage.

She sat up taller when she felt the group's eyes on her, waiting for her to say something.. Luckily at the last minute, she'd grabbed her Netbook before she'd left home and boarded the plane to meet up with Finnegan Ford..

It sat opened and in front of her now. "I...uh...MNCARS, yes."

"Yes? Yes what? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, and yes that's true." She had already typed the name of the museum, glanced at it, and used it as a cue to remind her. "Gentleman. MNCARS, otherwise known as The Sofia , happens to be located near a train and metro stations.The museum has a free library with over 100,000 books, plus many audiotapes and videotapes, and of course several of the greatest artists works are on display there..."

"Pablo Picasso and Salvidor Dali," Finnegan added.

She nodded. "It could prove difficult, if not impossible, to relieve them of this item. One part of the museum's building was a 18th century hospital, Madrid General Hospital to be exact, but it was repaired and renovated. And additions were made bringing it more up to date. It is a national museum, and there will be guards that won't hesitate to shoot and prevent anyone compromising the museum and it's pieces. I've not even mentioned the several types of anti-theft alarms and devices which are no doubt in effect."

She turned to Finnegan. "Which curator are you speaking of? Carlos Pazos or Manuel Borja-Villel?"she asked. "One is the director of the audio/visual department."
#46



Gunther Gritz, Mighty Mack Phee, and Lars Oldenfinger leaned out the window of the Santa Margarita Hotel just across the street from the main entrance to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

"So that's the big burrito, eh?" Lars said.

"Yes," Gunther said, "and it will be one tough taco to crack."

Mighty snorted. "No, me amigos, it will be as smooth as nachos, like melted cheese. These Spaniards put up a good show of security but it's just a show. Ten to one we could walk in there right now and pick up the medallion and walk out again."

"Not likely," Lars said. "Do not let your cockiness make you overconfident. I have a feeling that if we fail again then Cowl may decide to eliminate us. Do you know what I mean by eliminate?"

Mighty Mack thought of some of the Cowl agents he used to know, all dead now because they failed their performance evaluations. "Yes, I know," he said and a mood of solemnity fell across the trio.

Gunther stood up straight. "Alright, we know we can't fail. This time let's put a little more effort into it. And let's cover all the bases. Let's have backup plans for our backup plans. If Plan B fails then we need a Plan C and a Plan D."

Mighty Mack shrugged. "I'm more of a spontaneous guy. You can't plan for every possible thing. Something always goes wrong. The key is to be alert and quickly adapt to a changing situation."

"I'm in the middle on this," Lars said. "The more planning the better, but we need to be able to drop all plans and move in a new direction if necessary."

Gunther threw up his hands. "We don't need to spend time discussing the Philosophy of Missions. We each have our way to approach it. That's fine. But let's get some kind of plan on the table. Lars, how much of the security system can you disable?"

"Wait!" Mack said. "I have a sudden inspiration. We know Finnegan Ford is going to be all over this. Why not just wait until he gets the medallion and then steal it from him?"

Gunther and Lars looked at each other. "That's not bad," Gunther said. "And if Ford can't get to it, then we can still take our shot at it. But how do you propose we get the medallion from Ford?"

"And the rest of the artifacts?" Lars added.

#47
"Yes...That does pose a problem..." Mack sighed, the hole in his plan becoming an issue.

"...Well...What are our options?" Lars interjected, attempting to solve the conundrum. "What's 'ol Ford weak against?"

Gunther rolled his eyes. "That smarmy dog ain't got no weaknesses as far as I've seen. He's like some sort of combination of Oprah Winfrey, Dead Pool, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Sting."

"...Gritz...That doesn't make any sense at all..." Mack announced, turning around and leaning on the ledge. Gunther shruged. He thought the idea treaded water. "There's got to be something...Nobody is perfect..."

The three men sat around their hotel room, each agent coming up with some sort of idea, only for a conflicting action of Ford to shoot it down. It wasn't until the sun set on that day and after they had all indulged in the hotel's complimentary buffet that any useful ideas started to arise. Lars had mentioned, during the meal, that Ford's weakness may not be something, but someone.

"What do you mean Lars?" Gunther asked, after piling another chicken wing onto his plate. Through mouthfuls of rice and beans, Lars managed to explain what he meant.

"You see..." he started, gulping down another helping. "Ford's the hero type, right? He doesn't let people get hurt...What person does he keep around him that he'd do anything to get back? Anything to save?"

"It'd have to be his chick," Mack concluded, looking gruffly at his octopus tentacle. These foreign buffets could really surprise you.

"Bingo!," Gunther exclaimed. An old woman by the nearest table overheard this, as she had just turned up her hearing aid.

"There's a Bingo tournament in this joint!? Whoowee! Mama's going to town tonight!!" and she spead from the dining room, off to collect her purse and lucky teeth.

Lars smirked, his plan coming together. "Alright guys. We got this covered. If we nab his woman, Ford's putty in our hands."

"But," Mack stated. "What if Ford's gall ain't with him?"

A groan of despair was evoked from Gritz. "Oh, you spoil everything Mack. You're like a bad critic at the movie theater," Gunther pouted, annoyed the plan was now up to chance. He folded his arms over his chest and leaned on the table.

"It is no problem." Lars smirked. "Ford is the hero type, as I said. He won't sacrifice even his most insignificant ally. If we get our hands on one of his team, any one of his team, his goose is cooked." Gunther's frown pulled a one eighty, and the sparkle of payday shone in his eyes.

Mack smirked a bit, intrigued by the suaveness of Lars. "Why have I never worked with you in the field before Lars?"

"Because, Mr. Phee, I'm a pilot, not a strategic mastermind."



Watson wasn’t sure what to think about Ford. He seemed to be able to get out of any jam. He even got Kiki to do his bidding. Well Ford better not try anything with her, Watson thought, if anyone’s getting Kiki, it’s me.

Kiki sat looking adoringly at Ford as he put the finishing touches on his plan. Watson noticed that Erin had the same expression. What was it about this guy, Watson wondered. He gets all the girls. All the cool toys. All the excitement. All the best food. And soon all the artifacts. He was like some sort of cross between Kid Rock, Benjamin Franklin, Hulk Hogan and Ryan Seacrest.

Kiki was obviously totally on board with Ford’s plan. It looked to Watson like things were going to get wrapped up nicely pretty soon. But he wondered, how is Cowl going to take the defeat, and how might he still try to stop Ford? What is Ford going to do with the objects and is he really going to help Kiki’s people? Is the CIA really going to just let Ford mange the objects, regardless of what power he may attain with them? Maybe things weren’t as clear-cut as he thought.

The team headed for their transport. Spain wasn’t that far away. They could still get lunch before they broke into the museum. For some reason, Watson felt like Mexican food. Fat chance getting that in Madrid, he thought.

Ford walked up ahead, flanked by Kiki on one side and Erin on the other. They both eyed Finnegan with adoring glances. Watson was conflicted. He believed in Ford’s cause and had been ordered by the President to help him in any way possible. He understood that. But Watson wanted Kiki. Screw the artifacts, he thought, Kiki is one thing Ford can’t have. I’ll see to that. Even if I have to destroy the artifacts. And Ford along with them.


#46

"I have arranged for a private viewing Mr. Ford." Erin said to Finn as she put her cell phone back into her bag. "Carlos Pazos has agreed to a special viewing for the members of the Ford Foundation."

"That's great news Erin." Ford was glad that they wouldn't have to break in as it always made him feel like he was stealing. There was still a chance that, with a large enough donation, they could just walk out with it.

Finn noticed an odd silence had befallen the himself, Erin and Kiki, who was know walking directly on the other side of him from Erin. Kiki was nice and extraordinarily gorgeous, but Finn had no intentions with her other than having a professional working relationship. This reminded him of the time that he was caught between a Nubian Princess and the heir to the O'Henry candy bar fortune. He just hoped that no one would get hurt this time. He gently took Erin by the arm as he looked to Kiki, "Excuse us Kiki." Finn changed directions a bit and led Erin across the terminal in a b-line to the door leading outside.

"Awkward, don't you think?" Finn asked, looking into Erin's eyes.

"Remember that she's just a girl still." Erin commented.

"No she is a woman, but unfortunately money can blur the vision." Ford replied, knowing that he had to always be watchful of how money changes people. "It's just a temporary crush until the magic of the money wears off.

"Well, Mr. Ford, you sure do have a goody two shoes way of looking at the world. It's kind of refreshing." Erin admitted as she stepped through the automatic doors leading out to the terminal auto loop.

"It worked for my Grandfather..." Finn raised his hand and waved over a man leaning up against a black, stretch Hummer limousine. The limo pulled up just as Brian, Watson, Kiki and the rest of Team Ford arrived at the curb. They put their luggage and equipment in the back and all got in.

"To the Santa Margarita Hotel por favor." Finn instructed.

The limo drove off and within ten minutes they were pulling up in front of the hotel; across the street, the objective.

"Erin, Brian, you're with me" Finn said as he made his way across the Spanish road and into the Sophia. "The rest of the team, get checked in and relax a bit. This shouldn't take long." He looked to Erin, "As my Grandfather was so fond of saying, 'Time for some negotiating'."

#46
They'd walked up the steps and passed through the glassed doorway. Located just inside the entrance of the museum, a sharp-looking woman wearing designer clothes looked up from her desk, removed her glasses, and laid them on her desktop. She held out her hand.

"Buenos Dias. Bienvenidos al Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. ¿Cómo puedo asistirle?" she asked.

Erin smiled. "Debemos ver aquí a Sr. Pazos. ¿Podría por favor usted avisarlo estamos aquí?" Soy señorita Farnsworth y este es Sr. Finnegan Ford., y este es Sr. Brian ...."

"Knight," Brian added.

"Un segundo, por favor." She lifted the phone pushed a button, and spoke. "Hola. Señorita Farnsworth y Sr. Ford y Sr. Knight están aquí a hasta la vista." She nodded and slipped the phone back into its cradle, and motioned toward some bench seats. ¿"Quisiera usted esperar aquí?"

Erin nodded. "Gracias." The trio moved towards the bench seat. "She asked if we wanted to wait here, and said that he is on his way."

"That's it? What else did she say?"

"Well if you really want to know..." She whispered in his ear."She said that your fly is open, and that is not allowed in here."

He blushed; his eyes darted to his pants.

She covered her mouth to prevent herself from laughing out loud..

"Fibber!" Finn replied.

"Senorita Farnsworth, you dropped your keys," the woman said in broken English.

After retrieving them, she whispered to Finn, "She...she just spoke English."

"Of course. She would be multilinigual."

"Then why did I have to... Oh, never mind."

"I wanted to hear you speak it?" He grinned., and there was no way in the world she could be mad at him.
#47


Lars burst into the room with a grin on his face. "And who do ya think be checking into this hotel with us?"

Mighty Mack looked up from his crossword puzzle. "Who?"

"Ford! And all his buddies!"

"Whoa! Gunther! Did you hear that? The mice come to sleep with cats!"

Gunther poked his head out the bathroom door with shaving cream on his chin. "Huh? Mice? Cats? What are you talking about?"

"Finnegan Ford and his band of merry thieves is camping in Sherwood Forest with us!"

"No more riddles, Mack! Ford is in the hotel now?"

"Ya!" Lars said. "I saw him check in with my own eyes. And he has TWO women with him, the one Mighty Mack punched out and an exotic beauty."

"An exotic beauty, Lars? Heh heh, I'll have to see that for myself. The one Mack punched is Erin Farnsworth."

Mighty Mack's eyes were shining. "But this means our plan can work!"

"Mmmm," Gunther said. "But we need to iron out the details. If we kidnap one or both of these women then where will we hold them? The hotel would surely be searched. What's to stop Ford from bringing in the police if there is a kidnapping?"


Watson and Kiki were expected at the hotel. The manager personally set them up in their own suites, and had fruit and wine waiting for them. Kiki went to lie down. Watson searched his suite for listening devices, then picked up the wine. The label read:

Chateau Mouton Rothschild

1982


Crap, Watson thought. This wine does not go with fruit. I would have expected a nice Sangria. Then he looked closer. There was a note, faintly written in pencil on the label. He strained to read the light scribble. Might be on the lobster, he read to himself. No, wait, that’s not it. That’s an “e” and that’s a “y,” he deciphered. Oh, it says, Meet me in the lobby. It was signed Gandolf Crisp, or maybe it was… No, it couldn’t be. But it was. Gunther Gritz! Watson was shocked. He had lost Gritz at the airport in Cancun, and then got tranquilized and lost the tablet to him in the jungle. And now here he was, in this very hotel, waiting to talk to him. It had to be trouble. But Ford and Brian were at the museum, so it was up to him to handle these things. Besides, "Trouble" was his middle name. Actually it was "Trubradouria," but everyone just shortened it to Trouble.

Besides, Kiki was in her room alone. He had to ensure she was safe. He wouldn’t allow anything to harm his beautiful and mysterious Kamayuran Indian Physicist Assassin Princess. So he made for the lobby.

He walked through the lobby and into an adjoining hallway that lead to conference rooms. Gunther stepped out from behind an open door, directly in Watson’s path. Watson stopped, eye-to-eye. He recognized the man immediately. It was definitely Gritz. That evil and determined expression he was known for was plastered on his face. As was the oddly asymmetrical and characteristically defining facial feature that could only be eluded to, but never described.

“What do you want, Gritz?” Watson asked.

“You’re on the wrong side, Watson.”

“I’m on the side of the U-S-of-A. And right now that means helping Ford. Besides, you are trying to steal the artifacts before we can get to them.”

“You mean before you can steal them?”

“Liberate, Gritz, liberate,” Watson corrected, “how many times do we have to make that clear around here? Ford does not steal.”

“Those artifacts confer power, Mr. Watson. Power that you and I can share. Whatever you get paid by your government, it would pale in comparison to what this can give you. I think that seven hundred dollar bottle of wine in your room should tell you something about me."

"Seven hundred?" Watson gasped, "per bottle?" Watson paused, then quickly regained his senses, “Never. I would never align myself with you. Do you understand that? Never. Read my lips; never never never.”

“I saw Ford kiss your little Indian girlfriend," Gunther said.

“What do you want me to do?” Watson asked.


#49

(OT) I am passing for this round as my Mom is in town and we are going to be constantly going, going, going. I should be able to do the next one. EH, very funny stuff! Thanks and remember, WWFFD.
"A kiss is nothing. So they kissed. Big deal. Some cultures kiss each other upon greeting each other. Try as you might, I won't be changing my mind."

"True. true, but what about these?" He passed photos of Kiki and Ford in what appeared to be a passionate embrace.

Watson's eyes widened, but the only other evidence of stress showed in the clenching of his jaw.

"I will leave you alone for a few minutes to think about this connection you have with Kiki and Mr. Ford."

And so there he sat alone in this shocking news. First, he avoided looking at the images, and then his eyes were drawn back to them. It was a disappointment, a setback. This definatley put a damper on romancing Kiki. No, Finnegan wouldn't have. Maybe the images were the digital magic of Photoshop--an illusion, a trick.

"So tell me now, do you still wish to be one of Mr. Ford's blind sheep following behind him?"

"It's more of a group effort."

"A group of sheep then."

"No. That's not what I meant..."

"What have you got to lose by joining up with me?"

What have I got to gain by it? he thought. Maybe by letting Gunther think he was going along with him would give Ford the advantage since he'd have inside knowledge of Gunther's activities. Maybe he'd actually have a chance at this incredible woman if he became her hero. He'd be more like a James Bond, rather than the comic strip black and white crows in Spy vs Spy. And hopefully there would be no Lady in Grey.

The idea was both ridiculous but appealing, exciting yet dangerous.


OT The numbers are mixed up. There are a few duplicate numbers going forward and then backwards and then forward after 41.
There are two 46's, so I'm not sure what this one would be. I know that it's not 50.








Gunther watched ideas cross Watson's face one after the other like Watson was a child clicking on a Viewmaster reel. Finally Watson's face stopped on an image he liked and he began to speak...

"OK, Gritz, I've thought it through to my own satisfaction. What kind of deal do you want to make with me?"

"Excellent!" Gunther said. "You won't be disappointed. You'll be a hero in the eyes of the CIA and Kiki will adore you. She will stop making moon eyes at Ford."

Watson waved Gunther into silence. "Details, Gritz! I'll figure out the benefits on my own after you tell me exactly what you have in mind."

"Fine," Gunther said. "Here's what I have in mind. I want to put Erin Farnsworth and Kiki away somewhere safe. Ford is a sucker for his women. I believe if they are in my possession I will have enough leverage on him to make him gve me the medallion."

Watson guffawed. "That's it? That's your plan? You think Ford would rather give up the medallion than lose a woman? My God, Gritz! Ford has had thousands of women. What makes you think he would think twice about sacrificing a couple of them?"

"I.. uh... I just thought that he... Thousands? Are you sure? That's not humanly possible, is it?"

Watson shrugged. "So I exaggerate a little. I just don't believe he would give up the medallion for Erin Farnsworth, or even Kiki, wonderful though she is."

Gritz stared at him. "But you do like the idea of getting Kiki back for yourself, don't you? And getting the medallion for the CIA?"

"I do indeed and that's the only reason I'm talking to you. I was thinking about approaching you even before you approached me. Whatever Cowl is paying you I can get the CIA to match it."

Gunther scratched his chin. "But look here, Watson. With all the resources of the CIA, why would they want me in on this?"

"First of all, the resources you speak of are usually hired help so hiring you is no different from hiring anyone else. Secondly, neutralizing you is a desirable objective because otherwise we would be tying to get the medallion from both Ford and you. Does it make sense to you now?"

"Yes," Gunther said. "But if you don't like my plan then I assume you have one of your own?"

"How right you are. Why don't you and I meet with your friend Mighty Mack and I'll lay it out for you?"

#56
Gunther and Watson made their way up to Mack’s room. Gunther rapped on the door in a specific cadence; almost certainly a secret knock to let Mack know it was all right to open it. The door opened and Mack held it open for the two men.

“You first,” Watson motioned Gunther to go inside the room.

“Ever the suspicious one, aren’t you?” Responded Gunther as he entered ahead of Watson. Watson followed him in, and immediately looked around. It was just the three of them, Watson assured himself.

Mack led the men to the lounge area of the suite. They took seats and looked at each other. Gunther spoke first, “So, Watson, what did you have in mind?”

“Well,” began Watson, “no doubt Ford will have the medallion with him when he and Erin get back from the museum.” The men nodded. “So if, for some reason, he had to rescue the women from danger, the medallion might be left unguarded, right?”

"Unguarded? You think so?"

"Well, not exactly," Watson explained, "He'll probably make me guard the medallion while he rescues the women."

"Oh, I see," said Gunther. "Ford would never knowingly trade the medallion for the girls, but he would have no idea that you are taking it from right under that smarmy little nose of his." Gunther was getting noticeably excited. "I like it!"

“You’re saying that we nab the girls," Mack needed to clarify, "then when Ford comes to get them, you liberate the medallion?”

“Ford liberates. I'm gonna steal it. And then I’ll bring it to you.”

“But how do we kidnap the girls?” Mack asked.

“I’ll get you spare key cards for their rooms. In a hotel like this, that’s not a problem.” Watson went on, “But here’s what I really want. I want to save Kiki from your clutches. I want to make a big show of it. I want her to see me as her knight in shining armor. Then she’ll love me for sure.”

“Let me get this straight,” Gunther said, “We take the women. You steal the medallion. We get the medallion from you, and you rescue Kiki and become her hero.”

“Right.”

“Seems pretty complicated,” Mack said.

“Or you could just walk in to Ford’s room and ask for the medallion.” Watson said with more than a hint of sarcasm.

“I guess it could be worse,” Gunther said, “at least we don’t have any pirates to deal with.”

“Huh?”

“Inside joke.” Gunther got back on track, “Okay Watson, it looks like we’ll do it your way. Get us those room keys.”


#57

Finnegan, Brian and Erin spoke with Carlos Pazos once he arrived. "Senior Pazos, we desperately need your help. Por favor, can we speak privately?" Finn said as he scanned the area for obvious surveillance personnel.

Carlos quickly looked for a closed door and led them to a private gallery, still under construction. "What's this about Mr. Ford? This is highly irregular!" Mr. Pazos looked a little worse-for-wear at the moment having been woken up only a hour after he went to sleep; last nights fundraiser was a huge success, but a late night indeed. "I heard that we were inquiring about the Medallion, may I ask why?"

"Sir, we have very little time," Finn leaned in close, to give the most dramatic effect; a trick he learned from his Grandfather. "Very bad men are on their way to steal the Medallion and, with it they would hold immense power. We are charged with stopping them." Finn looked around , back and forth, and stared into Carlos's dark eyes and said, "The plan, should you choose to accept it, is to get the Medallion as far away from here as possible. Here is what I want you to do..." Finn's voice trailed off as Erin and Brian studied each other for a moment then both, simultaneously, looked to Finn, questioning looks on their faces.

Once Finn was done explaining the plan to Carlos, who ran off down the hallway, he turned to Erin. "Ms. Farnsworth, please accept this gift as a token of my appreciation," Ford took out a small red velvet box and handed it to Erin.

Erin was not sure now was the right time for gifts, but what the hell She opened the box and inside was a ring unlike anything she had seen before. The Gem of the ring was replaced, in this case, by a small working compass. It was very nice, leaded crystal canopy, gold pointer and a tarnished brass housing all sat perfectly on this golden band that held it up. "Thanks!" She smiled at Finn and gave him a small peck on the cheek as she held the ring out at arms length, watching it sparkle in the light.

"You keep us all headed in the right direction." Finn said as he turned to the sound of fast approaching footsteps.

"Here you go Mr. Ford," Carlos spoke in his think accent while he handed a bright, shiny object to Finn.

"Thank you Carlos. Brian," he tossed the Medallion to his life-long friend, "make sure this gets out of the city and back to HQ."

"I'm on it!" Brian took off up the hallway and out of the museum. Carlos turned and walked back to his office.

"What just happened Finn?" Erin shook her head. "That was way too easy... Right?"

"All I can say is subterfuge my dear, subterfuge."

#54
Erin wondered seriously why he might so non-challantly toss the medallion to Brian. And then he'd handed her the box with the gift in it.

"Does this mean were engaged?" She gave him a silly grin.

A man of few words, and more action, he chose to ignore the question that wasn't really a question. She spied that slight upturn at the corner of his mouth. A compass ring. What an unusual gift, she thought. And secretly wondered what Kiki might get. "Not to be a wiseguy, but are you afraid we might not find our way to the exit, or did you want to leave in another direction?"
#55

Gunther and Mighty Mack were alone in the hotel room.

"I don't like it," Mack said.

"Why not?" Gunther asked. He was standing at the mirror brushing his blond flattop into a perfect platoon of upright hairs.

"I don't like it because I don't trust Watson and I don't trust Ford."

Gunther turned sideways to see his profile in the mirror. "You don't think Watson is being straight with us?"

"He's CIA! Who knows what his real game is? I just don't think his game is to let us be the winner."

Gunther turned from the mirror. "Hmmm, you're probably right. On the other hand, our plan was to take the women to force Ford's hand, right? So we're still going to take the women. Why don't we just see what happens?"

"I guess if you're cool with it then I have to go along."

"Do more than just go along, Mack. Full effort, remember?"

"Yeah, yeah. Full effort."

#56


“Connect me to room 58,” Watson said into the hotel’s lobby phone. “What’s that? There is no room 58? Oh, I’m sorry, I meant room 57.” It was very easy to get numbers mixed up around here, Watson thought.

The phone rang. “Hal-loe,” Kiki answered in her exotic accent. Watson shivered.

“Uh, hi, Kiki? I just wanted to make sure everything was okay,” Watson sounded genuinely concerned. And he was. His emotions were mixed. He wanted to make sure she was there for the abduction, but was also giving her one last chance. A chance to change everything. All she had to say was Watson, my dear, come up to my room and we’ll make passionate love. We’ll do it swinging from the chandelier like Amazonian Pigmy Marmosets, and I’ll teach you the special position I call the Kamayuran Butterfly. That’s all it would take. Just a few simple words and he would call it all off with Gunther. He listened.

“Watson,” she began. Here it was, he thought. “I’m fine, thanks for calling.” And she hung up.

Watson was crestfallen. But the plan was in place. He had collected spare room keys for both Kiki and Erin, and he was decided. He would give them to Gunther. Then, after the abduction, he would swoop in and rescue Kiki. Maybe Erin too. That would make him the hero. He would show them.

First things first, thought Watson. He had to make sure Ford got back with the Medallion. And then he had to be sure that Erin got to her room. And that pesky Brian needed to be out of the way, as well. Watson pulled up a stool at the lobby bar, and positioned himself to watch the front entrance. Ford couldn’t be much longer.

He ordered Sangria.


#57
Ford and Erin went back to the hotel where they saw Watson at the bar and wandered up to him.

"Watson! How is everything here?" Ford found it a little more than odd that Watson would be drinking during a mission. We need to be on top of our game, he thought. He wondered if he had a fight with Kiki; it's clearly obvious that he has feelings for her. While she is an Amazonian beauty, she is not Fords type. Ford goes more for the women who are up front about their intellect, when he's not engaging in less than stimulating conversation with a "Playboy Hanger" as he calls them. The type of women who like you for your money and hang all over you at parties. They do have their advantages in business dealings.

Watson just sat there, nodding.

"Let's get ready Watson. We have what we came for and will leave tomorrow morning." Ford gave Watson a glance then eyed his drink and then looked back to Watson. He turned and led Erin out by the arm and rounded the corner to the elevators.

In the elevator he pulled out a small white piece of paper and a pen and looked at Erin. He glanced up and then back to Erin and she gave him a knowing nod. She knew that there was security in the elevators and that writing something down and keeping it out of sight was probably the smartest way he could communicate to her at this moment.

He started writing and showed her the text, careful not to let any security camera see.

"BRIAN'S A DECOY, WE PICK UP THE MEDALLION TOMORROW BEFORE THE MUSEUM OPENS"

Erin put all of the pieces together now and understood why it was so easy. They didn't actually have the object yet, but they will.

Ford took out a very old Zippo lighter and light the paper. It burst into a flame brighter than any Erin had seen that was not in a magic trick. It left no ash and within a second was gone forever with no trace.

"Flash Paper." Finnegan said as he coyly smiled to Erin.

#58
Referring to the fire, she discreetly signed, "What about anyone watching?"

He gestured that was a 'negative'. And they were on the move again.

With each passing moment, Erin's thoughts of Finnegan Ford were reaffirmed. It was not a mistake that she agreed to join up with him. His confidence, attention to detail, and concentrated efforts, concerning his goal, only made her admire the man more. He wasn't sidetracked by Kiki's natural beauty like Watson.

Attempting small talk, she said, "So...umm. Watson seems taken with Kiki." Boy, was that an understatement, she thought. " And I...I'm not sure that you need me here. I mean...well...most of the people you're in contact with either speak perfect english or at least broken english."

He gave her a look that asked: what are you saying?

"And umm....okay. I feel guilty, and I'm not sure I am earning my paycheck and ..."

But then he turned to her, shushed her by a steady look in his eyes. His fingers brushed her lips, ever so lightly--a touch that might otherwise have been intimate, yet was quietly reassuring.. She had the urge to look away, to avoid allowing him to see how the words that had stumbled out, plus his touch, had brought a flood of heat to her face, which spread to her neck, and made her throat felt parched. It wasn't really about the money, although she could use it. She could have kicked herself now for even bringing it up. Her hand came to her neck as if allowing the heat to escape through the collar of her top.
# 59


His eyes locked with hers and she felt the heat from his face as he drew closer. Her eyes fluttered and closed and then his lips were pressing against hers and she felt weak and melting inside.

"Oh, Finnegan," she murmured after their lips parted.

His face was still inches from hers. "Don't ever feel like you aren't earning your paycheck," he said. "Just having you along gives me strength and courage."

She almost giggled, but then realized he was serious and she hugged him tighter. "Whatever I can do," she whispered.



Kiki sat in her bedroom, one hand still touching the telephone. She idly rubbed it with her finger. That Mr Watson, he was an interesting man.

In some ways he reminded her of the pygmy marmosets that lived near her birth village in the Amazon rainforest. But surely Mr Watson did not make love so violently and passionately? Although they were tiny animals, the pygmy marmosets in their lovemaking emitted loud wails and screams that often continued long into the night and suggested much larger creatures having sex.

She wasn't quite sure why Mr Watson reminded her of a pygmy marmoset. She had never seen him naked.

Kiki sighed. If only she could recover the Python's Tear. Then she could return to her people in triumph. She must explore every possibility. Neither Finnegan nor Brian would simply give her the Tear, but perhaps Mr Watson could help her? If only there was some way to appeal to him...

#60


Watson watched Ford and Erin as they left the lobby. Then he looked at the glass of Sangria in his hand. That’s odd, he thought, Ford seemed disturbed about me having a drink. After all, he did tell us to get checking in and relax while he retrieved the medallion. Watson thought about it some more. And being a master strategist in his own right, something about Ford didn’t sit quite right.

Then he got it. I got it! he thought. Ford must be expecting some action tonight. Something is up. Maybe he didn’t really get the medallion. Or maybe he expects Gunther to pull something. Watson put the drink down. Or maybe he knows about the plan to abduct the women. He began to sweat.

Watson walked over to the house telephone. He dialed Kiki’s room.

Kiki answered on the first ring. “Hal-loe?”

“Can I come up to your room?” Watson asked. “I need to talk to you.”

“Well, yes, actually,” Kiki began, “There’s something I want to discuss with you, too.”

Watson hung up the phone. His head was swimming a bit. He thought it odd, and noted that he hadn’t downed too much of that Sangria. Maybe it was something else. Maybe it was Kiki. What could she want to talk about? Maybe he had a chance with her after all. Or maybe she just wanted to talk about the mission.

He made for the elevators, and pressed the button for the fifth floor. He straightened his hair in the mirror-like reflection on the inside of the elevator doors. His chest pounded and he could hear his pulse inside his ears. Why did this woman make him so nervous? Watson wondered.

His CIA experience told him that it wasn’t wise to let anyone, especially another operative, have too much emotional control over him. It reminded Watson of that awful year in the Nicaraguan prison. And Buba. Big black burley hairy Buba. The big lug. He was the cellmate Watson would never forget. It just goes to show ‘ya, Watson thought, don’t give ‘em too much emotional power over you. He hoped Kiki wasn’t another Buba.


#61

Finnegan didn't plan for that to happen, it just did. He was glad it happened. Erin is indeed beautiful and smart, he had thought about her since the first time they met. There was something wholesome and exotic about her. She dazzled him.

"Okay. Back to our rooms I think. There is still more to the plan than I have told you." Finnegan walked Erin to her door, stopped and waited for her to swipe the key.

Erin hesitated for a moment, then slid the card through the slot, waited for the green light, then opened her door slightly. She turned to Finn and started to say, "Listen, Finn..."

Finn put his finger to her mouth, hushing her. He leaned in and softly, yet deliberately, kissed her, running his fingers through her hair. She smells great, he thought. It was at that moment he smelled something else. Something very familiar and wrong.

Sensing something was wrong she asked in hushed tones, "What is it?"

"Gunther's here."

"What? How do you know?" Erin looked around for any sign of Gunther but couldn't find anything.

"That cologne. What is that...? Raquetclub? High Karate? He wore that when we encountered him in the Netherlands. I had only smelled that one other time and that was from my Grandfather. Gunther is here." With that, Finn opened Erin's door and checked inside. "I think I'll spend the night, if you don't mind. I'm going to keep checking," Finn tossed her his phone. "Call Watson and let him know."


#62
"Don't worry so much, babe. Everything here looks the same as it was when I left it. Why would he be here anyway, and want anything I have??"

He shrugged. He wasn't sure, but he knew he'd find out soon enough. Did she just call me babe? he thought. Maybe she called everyone babe.

"Maybe there was a spill out in the hallway?" she whispered, and then caught the phone in mid-air, flipped it open and dialed. "Hi. It's Erin. Something is up." She listened to Watson respond. She almost laughed when Finn jerked the curtains aside, swung the closet door open, sat on the bed, then quickly looked under the bed, and then leaned his head to the wall leading to the bathroom.

"Brian? He's on an errand, and will be meeting Finn back at HQ." She paused. "Okay, See ya." Finn glanced over to her, gave her the okay sign, and continued his perusal of the place. She closed the cellphone, and moved to the bed. Sitting on the edge of it, she slipped one of her shoes off, rubbed her foot and folded one leg under her.

Finn returned to the room and sat next to her. "If he's not here now, he was though, and recently."

She massaged his shoulders. "My you are a tense one." After she was done, she laid her arms across his back, her chin leaning on his shoulder.

He shivered, and almost laughed. "Stop already. I can feel your breath all the way down my back."

She liked making him forget whatever was bothering him and breathed a little more closer, on purpose, until he snagged the bedspread, causing her to tumble, and shifted to the two-seat sofa nearby. He held out his finger and chided her. "Don't you ever do that again. I mean it."


Something in his voice, told her he didn't.. She landed next to him; they wrestled for a minute or so, and then she gasped when he pinned her to the cushions.

"Tsk Tsk. Don't you ever listen, Ms. Farnsworth?" Lucky for me, he thought. He flashed her a smile.

She arched a brow."My! What big teeth you have!"

"All the better to..."

Before he had a chance to reply or protest, she silenced him with a kiss that seemed to turn their world on its axis. They necked a little more--she savoring the taste and scent of him. She'd shifted positions, sliding onto his lap facing him, while his hands discovered curves on her he'd only seen before. His arms wrapped around her, drawing her ever closer, sharing their warmth.

"I could do this all night long," he mumbled into her collarbone.

"Mmm," she murmured into his ear.

He knew that primitive sound...typically emitted from animals in the wild just before they mate. "You better get some sleep," he said reluctantly, and created a space between them. Her hands were still tangled in his hair, then he scooped her up and took her to the bed, laid her down and pulled the covers up, and then flipped off the light.

He'd returned to the two-seater sofa, while she turned on her side watching him.

"Toss me a pillow," he said.

They talked quietly for several minutes about inconsequential things, before it grew silent.

She laid there a good fifteen minutes or so, turning one way, then another. Opening her eyes, she looked in his direction and didn't see movement.

"I can't sleep knowing you're in the room," she said.

He never responded. Finally, she decided that a nice long hot shower might relax her. It always worked before. A sliver of light streamed into the room as the door creaked open slightly.
#63


Gunther hauled his bulky shoulders in through the window of his hotel room. "Geez! That was close!" he said to Mighty Mack. "I was in her room and in she comes with Finnegan! I barely had time to make it out on the fire escape. Looks like Ford is sweeter on her than Watson thought."

"Good!" Mack said. "Then he'll be motivated to give us the medallion when we kidnap her."

Gunther ran his fingers through his blond brushcut. "Maybe, but now Ford is in the room with her and it looks like he is spending the night. Kidnapping is currently not an option."

"Damn! Hmmm... I wonder just how he's getting the medallion? I don't think this is going down like we thought."

"What do you mean? You think Finn himself is not going into the museum himself?"

"Yeah, something is wrong. He's too relaxed and uncommitted. He wouldn't be in Erin's room if he had a highstakes mission in play. I think some kind of deception is being played on us."

Gunther scratched the stubble on his chin. "What do you think? Maybe Brian is going in?"

"I don't know what to think. We're running in the dark and I don't like that. Somebody's liable to trip and fall in a hole."

#64



Watson hung up the phone after Erin’s cryptic call. It seemed that Finnegan suspected that Gunther was in the hotel. How did he always know these things? Maybe he should have come clean right then and told Erin that he already knew about Gunther. For a career CIA agent, he sure felt confused. Who’s side was he on? Ford had the backing of the President. But Gunther promised to help him get Kiki. And that was it. It was all about Kiki, Watson knew. And he knew what he had to do. Watson went back to the lobby to call Gunther.

“He knows, Gunther.” Watson spoke into the house phone.

“What exactly does he know?” Gunther asked.

“I don’t know what he knows, just that he knows something. One thing’s for sure though, he knows you’re here.”

“Does he know about our plan to abduct the women?”

“Probably,” Watson continued, “That guy has superhuman intuition. There’s no telling how much he knows. I advise pulling the plug on the abductions. For all we know, Ford doesn’t even have the Medallion.”

“What do you mean?” Gunther didn’t expect to hear that.

“Well, Brian was off doing some secret thing and now he’s on his way back to their headquarters,” Watson answered, “So for all we know, the Medallion isn’t even here anymore.”

“Now what do we do?” Gunther sounded dejected.

“Well remember Gunther, I’m still part of Ford’s team. I am returning to the headquarters with Ford and Erin. And Ki—” He stopped short. Kiki. What was he going to do about Kiki? He hung up the phone, and left the lobby.

Watson made his way to the fifth floor, and knocked on Kiki’s hotel room door. It opened slowly, revealing the Kamayuran beauty, dressed in a sheer nightgown. “Come in please, Mr. Watson,” said Kiki.

“No need to be so formal, Kiki. Just call me Watson.” He entered and shut the door.

“Please, sit,” said Kiki, as she motioned him to the lounge area of the room. He sat on the sofa. “Do you know what I want?” Kiki asked in a most seductive tone. She sat down next to him, and moved in close.

“Uh, I think so,” answered Watson. Maybe she likes me more than I thought.

“Are you man enough to give it to me?”

“Uh, y-yes, I think.” Watson’s heartbeat quickened.

“Because when I want something, I get it.” She looked deep into Watson’s eyes. “Understand, Mr. Watson?”

“Yes, I do!” Watson leaned over and kissed Kiki suddenly.

“What are you doing?” Kiki exclaimed. She jumped back. “That’s not what I was talking about!”

“Well, I just thought—”

“I meant the Python Tear.”

“Oh yes, of course. I’m so sorry,” whimpered Watson.

Kiki realized how she must have sounded to Watson. She felt bad, leading him on that way. “But I can tell you,” Kiki said in her most sultry voice, “If you get me what I
want, I would give you whatever you want.”

“You mean—”

“Yes,” Kiki interrupted. “Anything you want.” She paused. “Everything you want.”

#65
Finnegan lay restless on the sofa as he watched Erin get up and go to the bathroom, failing to close the door on her way in. He listened as he heard the shower turn on, the water hitting the glass walls with a constant dull ring. She's taking a shower now? Finn thought as he got up and checked the front door, making sure it was locked and that there was nobody in the hallway.

Finn paced the room for a minute or two looking for other areas to check. He wandered over to the door to the bathroom and could hear Erin softly singing a familiar tune that he couldn't place. The floor creaked a little as he got closer, announcing his presence.

"Finn?" Erin asked as she rinsed the soap off her face so she could see.

Finnegan popped his head in the door, looking away from the shower, "Yes Ms. Farnsworth?"

"You are up?" She asked as she stuck her head out of the door. She noticed Ford looking away like a gentleman and she couldn't help but smile. She turned the water off and reached her arm out, wiggling her fingers. "Towel please?"

Finn looked to her and was relieved and disappointed that he could only see her silhouette through the water beaded, steamy glass. He slowly walked over to the towel rack and grabbed a towel and handed it to her.

"What's this? It's a washcloth!" She started laughing, "Get me a real towel please."

Finn had a smirk on his face and handed her a big towel which she wrapped around herself and came out of the shower. "She eyed Finn jokingly, "Oh you can get out now..." She smiled.

Finn walked out of the bathroom and purposefully left the door wide open and went and sat on the bed, he had a clear view into the bathroom. "Go ahead, do whatever you need to do. I'll be right here." He put his elbows on his and knees and chin in his hands and just stared into the bathroom, grinning wildly.

Erin snickered, shook her head and threw the door shut. "Boys!"

When Erin came out of the bathroom, Finn was back on the couch. "You should get some sleep, we have a big day tomorrow."

Erin, wearing just a long flannel shirt, turned off the bathroom light and jumped into bed.

Finn grinned and shut his eyes.

#66


Twenty seconds later they re-opened. The two-seater sofa was fairly comfortable, yet he still had to prop his legs up on the far side or scrunch up to fit. He'd changed positions several times, and wondered if he'd ever get to sleep or whether he really wanted to.

There she was, clean , soft, and alluringly scented. Her hair, still damp, tumbled across the pillow. A few tendrils curved around her face...a face adorned with innocent eyes, and often an impish smile. A smile he could easily get use to.

Finn's time spent watching out for Erin's welfare was more play than work and he needed that. He'd had a feeling about Gunther and his band of miscreants. If he hadn't been struggling with Gunther when Mack had punched Erin, no telling what might have happened next.

"Erin?" he whispered.

"Hmm?" she answered somewhat faintly.

"We need to talk."

"Now?" she mumbled. " She stretched. "How fast can you talk?" she asked.

"It's about what happened back in the catacombs..."

"You mean about Mack?"

"Yeah. I'm sorry you took that punch, and that you ended up in the middle of it."

"If I only had my cast iron skillet I would have..."

He was leaning toward her now. "No. You can't go around smacking people in the head. You don't know these people. Believe it or not there are people in the world that think nothing about hurting a person like yourself."

"It sounded to me like he wanted to kill you. What am I suppose to do? Stand there and watch?"

Her actions had put her in a dangerous position--one that could be used against not just her, but him and his team, yet now he chose his words carefully. "I appreciate that you care what happens to me, but I had things under control, and it's not worth you becoming their target."

"Aww. You're worried about little old me?"

Judging by the sound of her voice, he surmised that she was grinning. "Just promise me you'll be more careful."

"But..."

"Promise."

She sighed. "I'll try?" she squeaked out.

"Good enough." He learned something that night. Erin was courteous enough and considerate, yet she had that little quirk that kicked in. It wasn't done in a mean-spirited way. She was the type that if you said 'don't" to, she might very well do the opposite, depending on what it is. Then again, he wondered just what all that might be.

"Aren't you uncomfortable over there?" she asked.

"I'm okay."

"Well, there is room on the bed."

Finn cleared his throat. "You're not suggesting that...we..."

"Umm. No, that's not what I meant. If it makes you feel any safer, just lay on top of the covers. Use the bedspread."

"I can live with that."

He lowered himself to the other side of the bed, and slid under. She was just a ruler's length away. He thought what might happen if he told her to stay on her own side of the bed. By morning, would they end up up tangled in the sheets together?

Her voice broke his thoughts. "Finn?"

"Hmm?"

"Goodnight."


The next morning, Finn was already up and about, had done his morning hygeine rituals. He'd looked over the breakfast menu, then remembered seeing a newspaper stand in the gift shop. Opening the door, he looked down the hallway--both ways. Nobody. What did he expect at six o'clock in the morning? He dialed Watson's room phone. No answer. Probably with Kiki, he though. When he snapped the phone shut, Erin stirred and stretched.

"Good morning," she said, yawning. Her feet found the floor, and she stared at them. "Sleep well?"

"As well as to be expected sleeping next to an octupus," he quipped.

She looked up. "What? I never..."

"You did."

"Didn't." She grabbed her pile of clothes. "I would have remembered that. Trust me."

"Okay. You're right. I'm just kidding."

A pillow flew past him, before she scampered off to the bathroom.

The truth was that in her slumber, she must have rolled on her side. When he woke up, he found her snuggled up to his back. At that moment, he was painfully aware of the fact that every delicious inch of her was pressed against him, and worse yet, he was liking it a bit too much. The slightest move could have sent him over the edge of no return-.

He'd imagined himself much like Captain Pickard of Star Trek. He was 'on a mission, to explore strange, new worlds, to discover the vast unknown, to boldly go where this man has never gone before.' He could see himself lost in her scent, his hands would have traveled their own journey, and discovered the contours found there.

He was lost in his revelry, when his cell phone rang, and those thoughts became more distant. "Hello?" he chirped.


Watson had scanned Kiki's face, wandered down to her lush lips, her words and her body teased and taunted him. A thought flickered across his face briefly then vanished.

"What were you just thinking?" she asked, still cooing.

"I'm thinking about how beautiful you are right now and how I'd like to..."

Her hand slid between their lips. "Stop!" She walked to the dresser. "Will you get the Python Tear?"

He was a little confused. He'd expected her to say "the medallion". It was obvious She was playing him. She didn't want him, but didn't everyone want something? He wanted her. She wanted the Python Tear. Finn, Cowl, Gunther, and Mack wanted the medallion. " What happens after you get the Python Tear? " He knew she'd forget about him. Would she be worth losing his job, his reputation, his everything else? "You want me to get the Python Tear and you'll give me ANYTHING that I want?" He moved to her side. "Do you even know what I want?" He wanted to say, 'I want us...you and I...together', but he sensed it was all wrong.

Her hand found his, dragged it down over her breast and hesitated. "You want me like a man wants a woman. You want this." She moved his hand further down. "And this."

He crushed her to him, before she could protest and kissed her. It would be worth it even if he got slapped.
#67

But there was no slap coming. Kiki melted into Watson like a stick of butter in a hot frying pan.

Thirty minutes later they were both lying on their backs with beads of sweat on their brows. "Shower?" Watson said.

Kiki smiled. "Sure."

In the shower he got excited all over again and it was another hour before they were finally dry and dressed.

Kiki put her arms around his neck. "I had no idea you CIA agents were so sexy."

"Me neither," Watson chuckled. "You sure know how to make a man feel good."

She pulled away a little. "What are you saying? That I'm a tramp?"

He pulled her back to him. "No! Of course not. I love you."

Oops, he thought. I didn't mean to say the love word.

But Kiki hugged him tighter and said "I love you too. Are you hungry?"

Before he could answer, there was a loud knocking at the door. "Watson! Are you in there?" It was Gunther. Watson let him in.

"We've got her," Gunther said.

"Huh? Who?"

"Erin! She's down in our room, tied up. Mighty Mack is keeping an eye on her. Ford is off somewhere and so is Brian. This is our moment to get her out of the hotel and out to a hiding place."

Things were moving fast, Watson thought. "What hiding place? Where?"

"That's what we'll have to figure out," Gunther said. "We can't keep her here in the hotel. Come on, get moving! Ford could return at any moment."


Thirty minutes later, Gunther, Might Mack, Watson and Kiki were in a minivan with a tied-up Erin concealed under a bedspread and Lars at the drivers seat.

"How's she doing?" Gunther asked from the front seat.

"She's angry as a snake," Mack said. "You better hope her gag doesn't slip off and she sinks those fangs into you."

Lars drove until they reached a resort area along the coast.

"We'll just be another group of tourists here," Gunther said. "As soon as we get Erin and Mack and Lars and Kiki settled into a room, you and I can head back to Madrid, Watson."

"I don't like leaving Kiki here," Watson said.

"We need her to help guard Erin. Bathroom breaks, you know?"

"I guess so," Watson said. "Don't be surprised if Ford doesn't respond like we want him to."

"Haha! I'm not worried. I had a bug planted in Erin's room. I'll play the tape I recorded last night for you as we ride back."

#68


Watson didn’t like the way things were going. He never expected to be running away in a minivan with Gunther’s crew. Not like this. Not with Erin tied up and Kiki looking so disappointed in him. She certainly by now must suspect that he was somehow involved with Gunther, and Erin’s kidnapping. And now Gunther wanted to take Watson to Madrid, away from Kiki, and away from Ford’s headquarters, where the Python Tear was located. No, this wasn’t going well for Watson at all.

Watson had Kiki, if he did the right thing. If he got her away from Gunter, and if he could get her the Python Tear Emerald. If he made good on that, Kiki would be his forever. Watson could tell that Gunther’s plan was not leading him where he needed to be. And he could easily lose Kiki. It’s time for Plan B, Watson thought. He waited until nobody was watching, and then leaned over and whispered into Kiki’s ear. She nodded.

The van wound and bounced its way through the Dutch countryside. As it entered a thick-forested area, Watson yelled, “Now!”

Kiki threw a blindingly fast karate chop, striking the side of Mack’s head, and he instantly keeled over. Watson grabbed the bedspread off of Erin, and in one smooth move un-gagged her.

“What the hell are you doing--” Erin started to say.

“Not now,” interrupted Watson. “First, we have to get out of here!”

The van swerved back and forth as Lars tried to look back at what was happening. Gunther emerged from the passenger seat and started climbing into the back of the van. Watson hit him squarely on the nose with a straight, hard punch. Gunther went down, blood spewing from his face. Watson kicked the back doors and they flew apart, banging on the sides of the van.

The three of them, Kiki, Watson and Erin, like travelers on a yellow brick road, jumped arm-in-arm from the back of the van, and ran into the forest. They heard the van screech to a halt behind them, but they kept running.

They got to a small clearing and stopped running. “Everyone okay?” Watson asked.

“It looks like Kiki got injured,” Erin said pointing at the side of Kiki’s neck. “That’s odd, those wounds look like Marmoset scratches,” she puzzled.

“It’s a long story,” said Kiki, “I’m fine. Physically anyway. But Watson has some explaining to do.”


#69

Finnegan returned to Erin's room and swiped his card key through the slot in the door. As soon as he entered, he knew something was amiss. The room was in such a state of disarray that it could have only meant a struggle. His heart was racing at the thought of losing Erin; he knew that he was falling in love with her. He pulled out his phone and called her number, which rang and rang until her voice mail finally picked up. "Erin, it's Finn. Where are you? I hope you're okay. Call me ASAP!" He hung up and dialed Watson, but also only got voice mail. "Watson, something has happened to Erin. Call me back!"

Ford went to his room and rummaged through a case of electronics until he found what he was looking for. It was a small, black device with a small screen. He turned it on and pressed several of the on-screen buttons until he came to the name, Erin Farnsworth. He activated her signal, now glad that he gave her the compass ring. It didn't take long for the GPS signal to return a location. The GPS coordinates showed her to be by the coast, in an affluent area where there are several five star hotels and rentable beach mansions. The thing is, she was not in any of those, she was in a wooded area and on the move.

Finn set the device down and called Brian. "Finn? Everything okay? I wasn't expecting to hear from you until later today when you went back to get the Medallion." Brian asked.

"No Brian, Erin has been taken and I think Watson is involved somehow. He has been acting really strange lately. I have Erin's GPS signal locked, sending you the data."

"Data received. I'll see what I can do from here. In the meantime, I just rented you a Diablo, it should be waiting for you in front of the hotel in about five minutes," Brian started keying in information into the HQ Super-computer, bringing up Erin's GPS signal and hacking into the network of satellites used by every government in the world. "Finn. I have them on my screen. Watson, Kiki and Erin, running through the woods and it looks like... Wait. Gunther and his group of miscreants are chasing them. You need to get there fast."

"On my way." Finn activated the Bluetooth headset and put the phone back into his pocket. When he got to the lobby, he saw the bright yellow Lamborghini Diablo parked out front. He found the door man and slipped him a one hundred dollar bill and signed the rental agreement and jumped in the gullwing door and sped off. "I'm in the car and heading to her. Can you call the local police to have them intercept?"

"Way ahead of you buddy! They are enroute but you may actually get there faster."

Finn sped along the curvy roads leading to the coastal section, out side of Madrid. He checked the GPS and he knew he was close. "Brian, find me a way to get closer to them and fast."

"Okay, turn left ahead and take that road until it becomes dirt. You car won't do very well, but it will get you into an intercept position. Hurry Finn, Gunther and his gang are gaining."

Finn drop a gear and slammed into the gas pedal, the Diablo tearing up the street as he approached one hundred and fifty miles per hour. He hit the dirt transition hard and saw sparks fly up behind him in his rear view mirror. C'mon car, don't fail me...

Finnegan turned right, following Brian's guidance and stopped the car. He got out and scanned the area for any signs of movement as he listened closely to his surroundings. He heard muffled voices, getting closer and finally saw Watson burst out of the clearing, then Erin and finally Kiki. He threw up his hands and waved them over.

Finnegan Ford opened the passenger side gullwing door and ushered Erin and Kiki inside, Erin of Kiki's lap, then he closed the door and looked at Watson.

"What's it going to be Watson ol' chum?" Finn had a stern look about him, not his usual jovial self.

"Finn... I can explain." Watson hung his head low his eyes darting between his feet.

"Fine mess you got yourself into Agent. Have fun explaining your failure to the CIA oversight committee, the one funded by the Ford Foundation." Finn turned and walked around the car to the drivers side, hearing more voices coming closer through the woods. He opened the door and leaned in, but stopped and glanced back at Watson. "Oh yeah... And have fun explaining your failures to Gunther." He got into the car and slammed it into gear, tires spitting gravel over Watson.

Finn looked in the rear view mirror and saw Watson standing there like a man caught, reflecting on his choices. Gunther, Mack and another man approached him and began talking. Finn rounded a corner, losing sight of his new enemy.

"You guys okay?" Finn asked as he put his hand on Erin's thigh.

"Yeah," Erin said "let's just get out of here."

The Lamborghini Diablo sped back to Madrid and to get the real Medallion from the curator.

That is something I never want to go through again... Finn stopped the car in the middle of the deserted road. He unfastened his seat belt and leaned over to Erin and gave her the biggest, best kiss she had ever had. Finn looked at her eyes and whispered. "I thought I lost you..."

Ford sat back and made his way to the Museum and had Erin call the curator. "Ask him to meet us outside."



#70
No sooner they were down the road, an obstruction ahead of them delayed their arrival at the museum, and Finn had pulled over.
“What will happen to Watson?” Kiki enquired.
“That’s classified information.”
“Mmm,” was all she said.
Erin wriggled in Kiki’s lap.
“Ow!” Kiki yelped. “Would you sit still?“
“I may as well be sitting on steel rods instead of legs.”
“Steel rods? What do you mean by that?”
Erin hadn’t spoken much since he’d picked them both up, She’d also moved his hand from her thigh back to his own, and avoided looking directly at him.
Finn caught her off guard and kissed her and there was an unmistakable savageness to the one she gave back.
“You seem different,” he said. “Is there something I should know?”
His question was met with silence. “Would you open the door?”
He pressed some buttons and they both got out, while Kiki stayed inside. “I wonder what the hold up is?” Finn said and almost had to run to catch up with her.
Erin shrugged and marched onward, her arms swinging back and forth.
“He drew closer to her and was side by side.“Will you wait a minute?” he asked. “Stop. What is going on?”
She turned on her heel. Erin glanced back at the car, where Kiki seemed to be talking to herself. “She is what is going on, and then I have to sit in her lap!”
“Huh? What do you mean? What was I suppose to do? Tie her to the roof instead?”
She laughed at his…almost a sinister laugh. “It might have been an improvement.”
“Maybe you should drive the rest of the way, and she can sit in my lap.”
“Oh! You’d love that wouldn’t you?” Erin’s hands became fists, her eyes narrowed and glistened.
Then it hit him. “Please tell me you’re not...jealous of her.” Aware now, that she had this dangerous look in her eyes and he was seeing her in her most feral mood, he distanced himself some and took several side steps to avoid her. Onlookers might have thought they were doing some strange dance.
“Look. I don’t know where this is coming from, but I have no interest in her other than professionally.”
“Does it include amorous caressing?” She took another step toward him. “Did you kiss her too? Look, I don’t care what you do to anyone else. You should have just told me.”
“Caressing and kissing? Boy, I must have missed something here.”
Erin growled. “Please. Just leave me alone. ”
“I don’t know what is going on here, but we are going to talk about this again soon and you will tell me where you get these ideas.”
The traffic started moving, so they ran back to the car. Erin reluctantly slid into Kiki’s lap again. Twenty minutes later they’d made it to the museum, and there was Mr. Pazo just inside the front door. Kiki and Erin watched from the car, Upon seeing Finnegan, Mr. Pazo met him halfway, p and passed him an envelope. Finn looked down at it, then nodded, his package now within his jacket pocket. They shook hands, then parted. Finn turned into the hotel entrance, gave the keys back to the attendant, and all departed to their rooms.
Finnegan and Erin returned to her room. She flipped open her suitcase, took out some new clothes and headed toward the bathroom. Finn answered his cell phone. It was Kiki.
“I’m afraid I will be leaving shortly,” she said. “Some things take priority. I’m sure that you understand.”
Finn was headed out the door to gather his things, when he spotted Kiki in the corridor. “Ah. There you are,” he said.
“Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be leaving at this moment, but there’s been a family emergency. And I must go now. There is a plaza shopping centre nearby, where I’ll make a quick stop and then I’m off. “”
“Would you like a ride?” he replied.
“No. Thank you. I’ve already hired a driver.” She smiled almost too graciously. “Goodbye, Mr. Ford. I’ll be in touch again very soon.” The two hugged, as is customary, but what wasn’t obvious was how Kiki’s head tilted and she smiled, as if alerted to a barely noticeable sound when their bodies met, Her hand slipped into Finn’s jacket pocket and back out again, without him noticing.
Meanwhile, back in the room, Erin was done dressing, entered the outer room. “Finn?” She looked around. “Hello? Now where’d he go?” she said and headed toward the door. Her hand on the doorknob, she opened it, and then stood frozen. Finn and Kiki had just embraced and then parted, and Kiki disappeared around the corridor.

Finn heard the door slam behind him. He rapped on the door. “Erin. Open up. Please.”
No answer. “We need to talk.” He tried her cell phone. No answer there either. He left her a message:

“Okay fine. Don’t talk to me then, but know this. We have a jet to catch now.. Grab your belongings and be ready in ten minutes or you’ll become a permanent resident.”

He put his ear to the door and thought he heard her sniffle. Then he headed for his own room.

Of course, that dog, Gunther, not only did all he could to make her uncomfortable—the rag in her mouth, the binds that held her, but also gloated over his victory of making Finn’s day troublesome. Then he freely talked to his groupies about how Finn had access to many beautiful and desirous women, and that he’d not be coming to her rescue. She didn’t even make a good pawn in his schemes. Maybe he hated all women, or anyone able to achieve something that he obviously couldn’t. To cut her to the quick, he left photos laying around of Finn and Kiki together. But then she wondered what Watson was doing in the picture, and what Kiki was about.

Erin walked the floor, sat on her bed, glanced at the two seater sofa and remembered, and wondered why she ever thought a few kisses might mean so much more. She kicked her purse aside, it's contents spilling out. Pull yourself together, she told herself. But again she wept into her tissue, blew her nose, then returned to the bathroom and splashed water on her face.

By the time, she'd met up with Finn, he'd never know she'd shed any tears. .
# 71


Gunther, Lars, and Mighty Mack sat in the minivan, still parked by the side of the road. Gunther held a wet rag to his busted nose. Watson sat on a stump about 30 feet away, holding his head in his hands.

Mighty Mack rubbed the side of his face where Kiki had karate chopped him. "What a screw-up THAT was!"

Lars shrugged. "Did I not warn you about that Watson? You can not trust a CIA agent. He was playing both sides. I warned. Right? Nobody listened."

"Aw, shut up," Gunther said. "The games not over yet." He looked over at the pathetic figure of Watson. "Hey, spy boy! Have you been auditioning for a role on America's Dumbest Secret Agent?"

Wearily Watson raised his head. "I'm sorry I had to slug you back there. Your plan was flawed."

Gunther spit some blood on the ground. "Well you've got a sweet way of letting me know it. Why didn't you just speak up when we were making plans?"

"Because WE didn't make all the plans. You came to the room and yanked me and Kiki into this. You said you already had Erin and had to move fast. Remember? If you hadn't gone off half-cocked like that I could have told you where the medallion was."

Gunther rushed over and yanked Watson up by the shirt collar. "You sonafabitch! You knew all along?"

Watson pushed Gunther away. "Noooo, no! I figured it out after Finnegan picked up Kiki and Erin."

"So where is it?"

"If I'm figuring right it's probably in Finn's hands right now and he's on his way home with Erin and... and..." Watson sobbed.

Gunther shook his head in disgust. "You poor jerk. You've fallen head over heels for that rainforest jungle bimbo, haven't you?"

"Kiki is NOT a jungle bimbo!" Watson yelled. "She's an Amazon princess!"

#72


Finnegan Ford sat in a velvet-cushioned, high back chair, and sipped his aged cognac. His throat burned slightly with the welcome bite of the distilled elixir. The lounge here at Headquarters was one of his favorite places. Brian sat nearby, and scrunched his face as he took a sip from his own glass.

“How can you drink this stuff?” Brian asked, absently.

“It’s an acquired taste,” Ford answered, “Like a fine woman.”

“Speaking of which, where are the women?”

“Erin is resting in her room. Kiki is down by the waterfront watching the sunset and meditating.” Ford continued, “Later we’re all meeting for dinner to celebrate making it back with all the artifacts. Chef is making his specialty, lamb rib Osso buco with herb risotto.”

“So tell me, Finnegan, what’s up with these artifacts? Where’s all this power we’re supposed to have? We traveled the globe and risked out butts, and assembled every last one of them. And we didn’t see any fireworks or lightning. The sky didn’t open and the angels didn’t sing. We didn’t have some kind of quickening. Nothing.”

“Oh my naïve young friend, not all power is supernatural,” Ford explained. “I never expected anything mystical from the artifacts.”

“But you said--”

“I know what I said,” Ford interrupted. “I said that when the artifacts were brought together, the bearer would wield tremendous power, and I was right.”

“How’s that?”

“Already today, four governments have called me. They want to give me medals. Private collectors have already offered me millions of dollars. Six universities have called wanting me to speak to their students.” Ford turned and gave his friend a serious look. “Brian, over the next few years I could influence thousands of young minds, and even world leaders. That’s the greatest power of all. I could change the world. And I don’t even have to keep the artifacts. It is the act of putting them together that confers the power.”

“You’re not keeping the artifacts?”

“They’re not mine, Brian,” Ford began, “They belong to the people of the world. They will be displayed in Museums across the globe, rotating every year or so.” Ford paused. “Except for the Python Tear Emerald. It’s going back to where it belongs.”

“To the Amazon?”

“Yes. Kiki doesn’t know it yet, but I’m sending it back with her. She’s convinced me of its importance to her tribe.”

“She is quite a woman, isn’t she?”

“Yes. And she sure had that poor agent, Watson, wrapped tightly. Didn’t she?”

“Sure did,” Brian said. “I guess we’ve seen the last of him.” They both nodded.

*********


Watson peered around the rocks at the water’s edge, and squinted through binoculars at the main complex. It wasn’t easy getting to Ford’s headquarters, on this secluded island, but now that he was here, he wasn’t about to get discovered. He watched a few maintenance people go in and out of the building. The thought of Kiki in there sent a wave of chills up and down his spine. Of course, he was soaking wet from the two-mile swim. You’d think those Bulgarian fishermen would have brought him a little closer. But then again, secrecy was paramount.

Watson’s plan was simple. Wait for it to get dark, then sneak in and find the Python Tear, then find Kiki and gently wake her with a kiss, then together
steal a boat and escape. The “live happily ever after” part was a given. Simple. But for now, he would watch.

A brief flash caught the corner of his eye. It seemed to come from the other side of the island, past the building complex. Was it his imagination? Just
then Watson caught another flash. It was real. Somebody was signaling to someone out on the water. There it was again! And someone on a boat was signaling back! Watson’s expert survival training automatically rose to the surface and oozed out of almost every pore on his body. He recognized the Morse code and mouthed the letters: G …. R …. I …. T …. S. Grits? Watson puzzled, Why would they be talking about a cereal grain primarily eaten in the southern U.S.? More letters followed: G …. U …. N … T ….H. No wait, is that an ‘R?’ Maybe it says Grapefruit. That’s it, grapefruit and grits. They’re discussing breakfast! Watson rolled it around his head for a while, grapefruit grits, grapefruit grits, grapefruit grits. Grits… grits….. where had he heard that before? Then it his him like a cannonball dropped off a lead balloon sitting on top of a pile of bricks. The realization smacked him in the face like a bunch of overused clichés. It wasn’t grapefruit grits! It was Gunther Gritz!

Gunther was here! He was still after the artifacts! What if he got the Python Tear emerald? That would mess up his plans with Kiki! Watson knew he had to do something. Realizing that his previously simple plan had to change, he ran full speed toward the buildings.

He banged through the double-doors of the main building and went sliding across the floor on his wet sneakers, leaving muddy skid marks spanning the imported Italian-marbled lobby floor. “Ford! Ford!” he yelled up and down the corridors. He threw open random doors and continued yelling for Finnegan.

At the far end of the hallway, Ford and Brian came running out. “Watson! Is that you?” Brian barked, “What are you doing here?”

“No time to explain! Gunther Gritz and his men are about to make an assault on the complex! I think they have heavy fire power this time, so you better alert your soldiers!”

“Watson, we don’t have soldiers. This isn’t a military installation. I think we need to evacuate so that nobody gets killed. Neither us nor them!” Ford pointed to a staircase. “Watson, go get Kiki, now! She’s up one flight, third door on the right. Meet us in the courtyard behind the building. Now go!”

“Brian, you get a dirigible ready, and I’ll meet you there with Erin!”

“What’s a dirigible?” Brian asked.

“You know, a dirigible.” Ford was met with a confused look. “The blimps, Brian! The blimps! We have two blimps at the ready and you didn’t know they’re called dirigibles? Jeesh!”

“If you meant blimp, why didn’t you just say blimp? Jeesh yourself, Ford!” Brian ran toward the courtyard while Ford went to save Erin.

An explosion rocked the compound. Watson made his way to Kiki’s room as the ceiling shook and plaster fell around him. Kiki’s door flung open and Kiki stopped suddenly in front of Watson. For a brief moment, she gazed into his eyes, and then jumped into his arms. “You came! You do care about me! You’re trying to save me! How cute!” Kiki planted a wet jungle-love kiss on Watson’s lips, and half his face. “I love you, I love you, I love you!”

“No time for pleasantries,” Watson said, “Gritz is attacking!” The building shook with another explosion. Windows were breaking all around them. “We have to get the Python Tear and get out of here!” Watson yelled above the mayhem.

“You really are my hero, Watson. Let’s go find it.”

Ford and Erin burst into the courtyard toward the blimp that had its running lights on. A second blimp sat nearby at the ready, idling, but with lights off. They dodged fiery explosions that rained down from above. Gunshots whizzed past their heads as they ducked and ran and dodged. Finally they made it to the blimp and climbed into the compartment. Brian was flipping switches and checking gauges.

“Where are Watson and Kiki?” Brian asked without diverting his eyes from the instrument cluster. “We have to go. Now!”

“Watson’s here?” Erin was obviously surprised.

“He came to rescue Kiki,” Ford answered, “and because he’s not here, I’d bet he thinks he’s going to rescue the Python Tear too.”

“No time to wait!” Brian said with urgency. “We’re taking off. Watson and Kiki are stuck here, poor bastards. And when the self destruct sequence counts down, they’ll be incinerated.”

Erin gasped noticeably. “Incinerated?”

“The whole island is wired to blow,” Brian responded. “Watson and Kiki are goners. Crispy critters. And so is Gritz, his henchmen, and unfortunately, the artifacts as well.” The blimp rocked with another explosion. Brian pushed a lever and the blimp rose into the sky above the island. They looked down and saw buildings on fire. Bombs were still exploding below them. The blimp still rocked from the concussive forces of the explosions.

Watson and Kiki couldn’t find the Python Tear. They ran from room to room, constantly being thrown against walls and furniture as the complex rocked and lurched.

“We’ll be killed!” Kiki yelled above the noise. “We have to get out!”

“I have to find the emerald! I promised you that!”

“I don’t want to lose you!” Kiki grabbed Watson’s arm and pulled him against his will.

“But, but--” Watson stuttered.

“I want you. Do you hear me? You. The emerald isn’t as important as you. And me. Together!” She pulled him some more, and an explosion forced them to the ground and knocked the wind out of them. Finally, gasping for breath, they agreed they had to get out of there. They ran for the courtyard.
They emerged into the yard and saw Ford’s blimp high above them.

“We missed our ride!” yelled Watson. “We can’t get off the island now!”

Kiki pointed to the idle blimp and yelled, “There! That’s our way off this rock!”

Stunned, Watson followed Kiki to the blimp, serpentining through a battlefield of potential carnage. They climbed into the blimp. Kiki went immediately to the control board and started flipping levers and switches.

“You can fly this thing?” Watson questioned.

“I guess we’ll see about that,” Kiki retorted, “It’s been a long time since my dirigible racing days.”

“What’s a dirigible?”

“A blimp, Watson, a blimp.”

“Then why didn’t you just say blimp?”

“We can discuss it later. For now, let’s get out of here!” Kiki pushed the throttle, and the airship went straight up. They could see the island below, a collage of fiery reds and oranges. Small explosions could still be seen here and there. But mostly, it just burned.

Watson looked at the firestorm below. “Gritz and his guys,” Watson said, “they could still be okay.” Suddenly a massive explosion, complete with mushroom cloud and intense wave of concussive heat, enveloped the entire island. Watson shook his head. “Well, probably not now,” he reasoned.

Hours later, and miles away, Ford, Brian and Erin sailed through the skies over the Mediterranean Sea. Things were calm now. “It’s a shame we lost the artifacts,” said Erin. “All that work. All that danger. And for what?”

“We accomplished what we needed to,” Ford explained. “Besides, look in that cabinet over there.” He pointed to a storage area.

Erin unclipped her safety harness and made her way over to the cabinet. She pulled open the door and looked inside. “The artifacts!” Erin exclaimed. “They’re here!” She was flabbergasted. “But how did you know to stash them here?”

Ford flashed her his trademark smile. “Well you see, I knew Gunther couldn’t leave things the way they were. I knew he would have to come after them. That’s the way he is. That’s who he is. Actually, I admire his tenaciousness. In a different, world, he and I could have been collegues. Maybe even friends.” Ford continued, “I figured if we had to escape, it would be by dirigible.”

Erin gave him a puzzled look.

“Blimp,” said Ford.

“Oh, okay. So why didn’t you just say--”

“Nevermind!” Ford barked, then cleared his throat.

Erin was pointing at the artifacts. “There’s the Mask, the Medallion, the Tablet, and the… Hey, where’s the Python tear emerald?”

“I decided that maybe the artifacts shouldn’t be together,” Ford said. “The complete collection would just attract more attention from evil-minded, unscrupulous people. I thought, if one of the pieces were separated, everyone would be safer. And as long as we knew where the last artifact, the Python tear, was, then we could always keep tabs on it.”

“So where is it? The Python Tear I mean?” Erin asked. Ford just smiled and gazed out the window.

Things were finally calm in the other blimp, also high above the Mediterranean Sea. “Do you see anything?” Watson asked Kiki, who was adeptly controlling the blimp.

“No. Just water and more water. No sign of Ford’s blimp. I hope they made it,” Kiki said. “It’s bad enough that the island exploded, and they lost all of the artifacts.”

“I can’t believe how lucky it is that you can fly this blimp,” Watson said.

“You won’t think so when I can’t figure out how to land! How about looking around for an operator’s manual or something. Maybe there are some instructions somewhere aboard this thing.” They both chuckled. Watson started looking in bins and compartments.

Watson took a breath. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t get you the emerald.”

“Some things are more important.” Kiki said, as she kept her gaze forward, through the windshield at the horizon. The sun had set, leaving a burnt orange stain across strips of wispy clouds in the distance. Kiki seemed entranced.

Watson opened a storage compartment behind Kiki’s pilot chair. He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed them, unable to believe what he saw. When he opened his eyes, it was still there. The Python Tear! Watson looked at the emerald, and then to Kiki, and then back to the gem. Slowly Watson turned toward Kiki, and just smiled.


The End

#73

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