The Mission

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George Bennett leaned his chin on his folded hands. He could see himself staring at the inventory sheets, his eyes traveling back and forth over the same words as if trying to make sense of them, then looking up at his Indian counterpart and nodding. They shook hands and the other man passed a small red box across the counter to him, then smiled grandly. George had barely heard his wish of good luck or his congratulations, he was too busy staring at the box.

While he was waiting for her that night, he'd opened the box and examined its contents, then closed it again and put it in his pocket for a few minutes before taking it back out. Just when he thought he'd made up his mind, she walked in the door and he stuffed it in his coat when he went to kiss her. He'd thought he had plenty of time.

"What do you think, Dr. Bennett?"

The voice from across the table snapped him out of his thoughts and he looked up to see that all eyes were on him. He didn't want to admit he had no idea what they were talking about but even with the black and white photographs of half-buried stones in front of him, he was lost.

"I don't know about you," said a dark-haired woman across the table from him, pulling a photograph toward herself and drawing attention away from him. "But I have to say that I agree there's something strange about this wall."

"Yes," George said, relieved. He may have had no idea why he was there but he could tell that something wasn't right about the wall in the photographs. Normally his British accent would have made his reply sound somewhat curt but for the moment it seemed to have lost its sharpness. "It's almost halfway through the cave. There's no reason the main room should be cut in half like that."

"There are carvings on the wall according to the director of the dig," the man at the head of the table said. Unlike the other two, his skin was a light coffee color and his hair was jet black. He was a handsome man made even better looking by the suit he was wearing, and George saw the woman taking notice. At forty-two he was still a good-looking man himself but Nadir looked more the part of a movie star than a professor. "Unfortunately, they didn't show up well in the pictures he sent. That is the real reason I asked the two of you here today."

"You want us to read carvings on a wall thousands of miles away with nothing to go on but some photographs?" Alice Graesser raised an eyebrow and George had to stop himself from making the same face. The Indian man, Nadir Kharyam, laughed.

"No, of course not," he said. "I'll be going to India to take a look at these carvings myself. I would like for you two to join me."

"You want us to go to India?" George immediately dug in his heels. When Nadir had asked him for help on a case, this was not what he expected. Until that moment he hadn't even had much of an idea why he was there at all. From the look on her face, George got the idea that Alice felt the same way but was too polite to protest.

"That's right," Nadir said. "The site of the dig is in Surat and I'm afraid my Gujarati is severely lacking. That's why I wanted you. You both lived in Gujarat for an extended period so I have a feeling you're both fluent. Not to mention you'll know your way around India better than someone who was born here and has only set foot in the country once."

"I don't know," Alice said uncertainly. "It's been a long time. I'm sure a lot has changed since I was there last."

"That's for certain," George replied acidly. He could feel Alice looking at him and pointedly ignored her. "I hate to sound rude, but what's in it for us?"

"You wouldn't be satisfied with knowing that you'd be solving a mystery that could benefit future generations?" Nadir was smiling broadly and George folded his arms over his chest. "I'm only joking, Dr. Bennett. Of course you will both be compensated, as well as the University covering your travel and accommodations. It's a wonderful opportunity and I can promise you it will be interesting."

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