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January 20, 2010. 5:45 p.m. Paris time. 11:45 EST. Ten miles south of Toulouse .
Almost two hours into the bus trip, the bus hit a pot hole and John Morse woke up,
startled. He quickly looked around the bus in panic, and then out the back window.
Everything seemed safe.
―What kind of cancer does your son have?‖ A good looking man in his late thirties
with a tan face, blue eyes, and a strong chin poked his head out towards Morse. He spoke
in English. He was seated one row up and across the aisle from Morse and his children.
He was had a friendly, almost mischievous grin, and a large gap between his teeth. He
was wearing a Harvard sweatshirt.
―I‘m sorry, what?‖
―Your son, he has lost his hair. I just assumed maybe he had cancer.‖
Morse caught on. ―Oh, I see, no, he does not have cancer. He just recently shaved
his head.‖
The man looked puzzled. ―And you shaved your head, too? Is that for some
religious purpose?‖
A handsome, broad-shouldered 6 foot, 3 inch blonde man with sunglasses and a gray
shirt reading ―Brown Hockey‖ nudged his friend in the Harvard sweatshirt.
―Doug, stop bothering them!‖ He leaned across his friend‘s lap and spoke to Morse
in a deep voice. ―I am sorry, sir. My partner here really enjoys butting into other
people‘s business.‖
―No, it‘s quite all right,‖ said Morse. ―Umm, we just uh, well…‖ Morse stammered,
unable to quickly think up a lie to explain their shaven heads.
―Look,‖ said the man known as Doug. ―I am sorry to intrude. We are not judging
you or anything. I just thought you might be in trouble. I saw you three come on the bus
in priest‘s outfits and then your daughter did that little Houdini number under the robe. I
have been sitting here like the Curious Cat for an hour now trying to get up the nerve to
ask you what this is all about. If you and your family are in trouble, we would be happy
to help.‖
The bigger man rolled his eyes. ―Doug, I am sure they don‘t need our help. We are
really sorry to bother you.‖ The big man gave his partner another withering glance.
Morse thought for a moment. At this point, they probably could use all the help they
could get.
―Actually, we are in a spot of trouble. My name is John Morse.‖
―Doug Bushnell,‖ he said warmly, shaking Morse‘s hand, his eyes lighting up,
knowing that whatever the story was he was going to get it.
―I‘m Ray Lardiggio,‖ said the bigger man. Morse felt every bone in his hand turn to
dust in the big man‘s vice-like handshake.
Morse addressed the couple. ―I am a Professor at UCLA. I came here with my
family on a scholarly trip to find certain ancient artifacts. Along the way, for some
reason I do not yet know, we have incurred the wrath of some sinister forces, who have
tried to kill us. They trailed us to Agen, and before we could get to the airport, they
pinned us down in the Agen Cathedral. The only way to escape was to change our