Nora finally reached over and grabbed the small black sealed vase his ashes were kept in.

“I will throw this in Scioto if you keep it up,” she told him. “Now go into reception and tell me about the new hire.”

Harold returned a squeak of horror. Nora was sure she could feel him backing away from her. Probably just wishful thinking.

“I’m sorry,” he told her. “Its just-”

“Shhh,” she told him, then waved her hands in the direction of reception. “Go.”

Silence, blessed silence.

“Okay,” Nora called back at Frank. “What were you asking, again?”

“Tasmin and Andy?” he brought up again.

Why did he insist on calling Dr Burnes Andy? Frank knew the man hated being called Andy. He only allowed Tasmin to call him that. And that was only because she’d earned her Graduate degree under his tutelage.

“You mean Dr. Burnes?” she corrected. Frank wasn’t much for office decorum, and had a tendency to needle people just for the fun of it. He had a beautiful and charming little girl though.

“Yes, Dr. Burnes,” Frank repeated now beside her workstation. He was wearing that checked tie over his white shirt. His wife did manage to keep him presentable, though.  He adjusted his glasses up his nose a touch. “You know, our two co-workers who went to Africa in search of some crazy rumor about ancient tablets detailing a cure for cancer.”

Nora let out a breath. Like Frank was the only one who cared. Nora was her sister for God’s sake. And Dr. Burnes was one of the most brilliant men she’d ever met. She shouldn’t have let him go either. He’s promised that dinner.

“Don’t be an ass Frank. The French are doing what they can,” she insisted. There wasn’t much life to her protest though. The whole thing, worrying, not knowing, was exhausting. “What more do you want?”

“I don’t know,” Frank offered. “Word they are still alive?”

“I think I’d know if they were dead,” Nora offered. She had enough of Nora’s belongings on hand to be able to get an inkling.

“Relax old man,” Benny said, stepping from around the divider with a cup of steaming coffee in his hand.

She could smell the hazelnut steaming from his mug. Nora made a mental note to remind Angela to order some more packs. The man was getting addicted. “They’ll be fine.”

Frank sighed. To his credit, it seemed like he was taking it as personally as she was. Almost. Not quite. He hadn’t sat staring at her laptop for an hour last night looking at fares to Mali.

“It’s hard to,” he finally said. “I wouldn’t send my worst enemy to that part of the world these days.”

“Maybe you need to join my Tai Chi class,” Benny offered. “Both of you.”

“We need be worried,” Nora said, looking up. “One puddle of Zen is quite enough for this place.”

“Ouch,” Benny replied then laid it on. “Coming from you, that really hurts, Nora.”

The two of them went off on one of their tangents, and she decided to ignore them, and go over the last report from the French again, reading between the lines as best as she could.

A couple of the comments about the negotiations suggested Tasmin wasn’t taking any shit from her captors. That was just like her. After all, she’d spent most of past seven years in Africa, right out of college, traipsing through the jungles, savannahs and deserts on and off with Dr. Burnes.

Even so, she’d though she’d finally pulled her sister back last year, when the professor had agreed to teach at the university here, and work with them part time. It had been so great to have him around. He treated her with… respect. But, the moment there was some word about an amazing archeological find, there they both went.

“He needs someone with him,” Tasmin had insisted. “And you know I can take care of myself.”

Nora flipped through the pages of documentation no her screen, losing herself in it again.

“I’m back!” Harold announced. “Did you miss me?”

“Always,” she replied, crossing her arms and rubbing her shoulders, suddenly feeling all alone again. “Well, how’s he look?”

“He doesn’t belong here,” Harold replied with what almost sounded like a snarl. That wasn’t like him. Even with other ghosts. “He’s Poison! You should get rid of him. Now.”

“You know we can’t,” she replied. “Not yet. Not until he’s done what we need him to do.”

“If you say so,” Harold reluctantly agreed, sounding reluctant to do so. “Now where was I?”

Go to Chapter Six

Go to Chapter Eight

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