3. Special Consultation

Houston, Texas – June 17th, 2004

The hotel lobby was quiet, mostly deserted except for the desk clerks and one jet-lagged businessman hunched over his laptop in a far corner of the lounge. The bartender was wiping down the tables in the lounge, preparing to close, when three very late arrivals came in the front doors, hauling their luggage behind them.

Diane looked around at the spacious hotel lobby, the vaguely Texas-themed decor, the scattered leather sofas, tables, and carefully cultivated greenery.  “Your contact lives in a Hilton hotel?”

“Well, no, he doesn’t live here,” Charles explained. “Actually he lives in Hong Kong, but as luck would have it, he happens to be in Houston on some business, so he asked if we could meet him here.  Splitting the difference, as it were.”

“Technically speaking, halfway between Madison and Hong Kong would be more like Hawaii,” TJ felt obliged to point out. “But I don’t think the department’s travel budget would go that far.”

“Sadly, no,” Charles agreed.  “Ah, there he is.  Right on time.”

The two graduate students looked across the lobby to the man approaching them from the bank of elevators.  He was of average height, middle aged, wearing a well-tailored suit in dark green.  But what set him apart was his hair, red-brown and oddly long, combed back away from his pale face.  Too long for an ordinary businessman, Diane thought, although a wealthy collector and broker in arts and antiquities might tend towards the eccentric side. And from his pallor, he certainly didn’t look like he did much actual field work.

He offered a polite little smile as he approached them, and held out his hand to Charles.   “Dr. Hewitt.  Good evening, it’s been far too long.”

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