Contents Chap­ter Thir­ty-​Eight The southern shore of Lake Mariut, ad 415

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by Unknown

WILL ADAMS The Ex­odus Quest

In fond mem­ory

of my friend and cousin

Mark Pe­tre


Chap­ter Thir­ty-​Eight

The southern shore of Lake Mariut, AD 415

The plas­ter had dried at last. Mar­cus scooped up hand­fuls of dirt and sand from the floor, smeared them across the fresh white sur­face un­til it was dulled and dark and vir­tu­al­ly in­dis­tin­guish­able from the rest of the wall. He held his oil lamp close to ex­am­ine it, added more dirt where need­ed un­til sat­is­fied, though in truth it need­ed the eyes of a younger man. A last walk through the old, fa­mil­iar pas­sages and cham­bers, bid­ding farewell to his com­rades and an­ces­tors in the cat­acombs, to a life­time of mem­ories, then up the steps and out.

Late af­ter­noon al­ready. No time to waste.

He closed the wood­en hatch, shov­elled sand and stone down on it. The crash and scat­ter as it land­ed, the swish of robes, the crunch of his iron-​shod spade. He be­gan to hear in these nois­es the dis­tant chant­ing of a mob. It grew so strong, so con­vinc­ing, he paused to lis­ten. But now there was on­ly si­lence, save for his heavy breath­ing, the ham­mer of his heart, the trick­le of set­tling sand.

Noth­ing but the fears of a soli­tary old man.

The sun was low in the west, tint­ing or­ange. They usu­al­ly came by night, as evil­do­ers will, though they were grow­ing bold­er all the time. He’d seen strange faces in the har­bour that morn­ing. One-​time friends mut­ter­ing amongst them­selves. Peo­ple whose dis­eases he’d treat­ed with­out thought for his own safe­ty look­ing at him like con­ta­gion.

He be­gan to shov­el again, faster and faster, to quell the pan­ic be­fore it could over­whelm him.

He’d thought they’d be able to ride it out. Their com­mu­ni­ty had sur­vived many pre­vi­ous pogroms and wars, af­ter all. He’d imag­ined, fool­ish­ly, that their ideas would pre­vail in the end be­cause they were so much stronger and more ra­tio­nal than the pi­ous cru­el non­sense of the so-​called right-​think­ing. But he’d been wrong. It was hu­man na­ture, when fears were stirred, that rea­son lost all pow­er.

Poor Hy­pa­tia! That beau­ti­ful, wise and gen­tle wom­an. They said her lynch­ing had been or­dered by Pope Cyril him­self. Epiphanes had wit­nessed the whole thing. A mere boy; too young for such a sight. The mob led by that sanc­ti­mo­nious mon­ster Pe­ter the Read­er. No sur­prise there. They’d torn her from her char­iot, stripped her naked, dragged her to their church, cut her flesh from her bones with oys­ter-​shells, then burned her re­mains.

Men of God they called them­selves. How was it pos­si­ble they could­n’t see what they tru­ly were?

The sun had set. The night be­gan to cool. His pace slowed. He was far from the prime of youth. But he did­n’t stop al­to­geth­er. The quick­er he fin­ished, the quick­er he could set off, catch up his fam­ily and fel­lows in their quest for sanc­tu­ary near Her­mopo­lis or per­haps even Cheno­boskion, de­pend­ing on how far this mad­ness had spread. He’d sent them on ahead with all the scrolls and oth­er trea­sured pos­ses­sions they’d been able to car­ry, the ac­cu­mu­lat­ed wis­dom of cen­turies. But he him­self had stayed be­hind. They’d grown lax these past few years. It was no se­cret they had an un­der­ground com­plex here, he knew; not least be­cause ab­surd ru­mours about their wealth and hid­den trea­sures had found their way back to him. If these vil­lains looked hard and long enough, they’d ev­ery chance of find­ing these steps, how­ev­er well he buried them. That was why he’d plas­tered up the en­trance to the bap­tism cham­ber, so that some small frac­tion of their knowl­edge might sur­vive even if the un­der­ground com­plex it­self was dis­cov­ered. And maybe one day san­ity would re­turn, and they could too. If not him­self, then his chil­dren or grand­chil­dren. And if not them, then per­haps the peo­ple of a fu­ture age. A more ra­tio­nal, en­light­ened age. Maybe they’d ap­pre­ci­ate the wis­dom of the walls, not hate and vil­ify it.

He fin­ished fill­ing in the shaft, trod it down un­til it was hard to see. Time to go. The prospect dis­mayed him. He was too old for such ad­ven­tures, too old to start again. All he’d ev­er sought in life was the peace in which to study his texts, learn the na­ture of the world. But that was now de­nied him by these swag­ger­ing cru­el bul­lies who’d made it a sin even to think. You could see it in their eyes, the plea­sure they took in the wan­ton ex­er­cise of their pow­er. They wal­lowed in their vil­lainy. They raised their hands up high as though the blood on them shone like virtue.

He was trav­el­ling light, just his robes, a small sack of pro­vi­sions, a few coins in his purse. But he had­n’t walked ten min­utes be­fore he saw a glow over the ridge ahead. It meant noth­ing to him at first, too lost in pri­vate thoughts. But then he re­al­ized. Torch­es. Ap­proach­ing from the har­bour. The di­rec­tion of the breeze changed and then he heard them. Men and wom­en shout­ing, singing, ju­bi­lant in the an­tic­ipa­tion of an­oth­er lynch­ing.

He hur­ried back the way he’d come, his heart pound­ing. Their set­tle­ment was on a gen­tle hill over­look­ing the lake. He reached the crown and saw the glow on ev­ery side, like a pyre just lit, flames lick­ing up the tin­der. A cry to his right. A rooftop be­gan to blaze. A sec­ond and then a third. Their homes! Their lives! The clam­our grew loud­er, clos­er. That hate­ful bay­in­he cla­fulg! How these peo­ple loved their work. He turned this way and that, seek­ing a path out, but ev­ery­where he went, torch­es forced him back, pen­ning him in­to an ev­er-​small­er space.

The cry went up at last. He’d been seen. He turned and fled, but his old legs weren’t up to it, even though he knew the penal­ty of cap­ture. And then they were all around him, their faces en­flamed with blood­lust, and there was noth­ing more he could do save go with dig­ni­ty and courage, try to shame them in­to com­pas­sion. Or, fail­ing that, per­haps when they woke in the morn­ing, they’d look back on their work this night with such hor­ror and re­vul­sion that oth­ers might be spared.

That would be some­thing.

He fell to his knees on the rocky ground, his whole body...


Bab Se­dra Street, Alexan­dria

Daniel Knox was walk­ing north along Sharia Bab Se­dra when he saw the earth­en­ware bowl on the street-​trader’s flapped-​out table­cloth. It was filled with match­books and pack­ets of white nap­kins, and it was prop­ping up one end of a line of bat­tered Ara­bic school­books. His heart gave a lit­tle flut­ter; he suf­fered a mo­men­t’s vu. He’d seen one like it be­fore, he was sure of it. Some­where in­ter­est­ing, too. For a few sec­onds he al­most had the an­swer, but then it elud­ed him, and the feel­ing slow­ly fad­ed, leav­ing him mere­ly un­easy, un­sure whether his mind was play­ing tricks.

He paused, crouched, picked up a gar­ish plas­tic vase with wilt­ing ar­ti­fi­cial yel­low flow­ers, then a ragged ge­og­ra­phy text­book with all its pages falling out, so that out-​of-​date maps of Egyp­t’s to­pog­ra­phy and de­mo­graph­ics fanned out over the table­cloth like a deck of cards swept by a ma­gi­cian’s hand.

Salaam alekum, nod­ded the trad­er. He could­n’t have been more than fif­teen years old, made to look even younger by hand-​me-​down clothes at least two sizes too big.

Wa alekum es salaam, replied Knox.

You like this book, mis­ter? You want to buy?

Knox shrugged and put it back, then glanced around as though un­in­ter­est­ed in any­thing he saw. But the young hawk­er on­ly gave a crooked-​toothed smile. He was­n’t a fool. Knox grinned self-​dep­re­cat­ing­ly and touched the earth­en­ware bowl with his fin­ger. What’s this? he asked.

Sir has a fine eye, he said. A won­der­ful an­tique from Alexan­dri­a’s rich his­to­ry. The fruit bowl of Alexan­der the Great him­self! Yes! Alexan­der the Great! No word of a lie.

Alexan­der the Great? said Knox. Sure­ly not?

No word of a lie, in­sist­ed the young man. They find his body, you know. They find this in his tomb! Yes! The man who find Alexan­der, he is a man called Daniel Knox, he is my very good friend, he give this to me him­self!

Knox laughed. Since that par­tic­ular ad­ven­ture, he’d been ev­ery­one’s very good friend. And you’re sell­ing it out here on the street? he teased. Sure­ly if it be­longed to Alexan­der, its wor­thy of the Cairo Mu­se­um it­self! He picked it up, again felt that reprise of   vu, a cu­ri­ous tin­gling in his chest, a dry­ness at the back of his mouth, a slighch­est, a t pres­sure at the base of his cra­ni­um.

He turned the bowl around in his hands, en­joy­ing the sen­sa­tion of touch. He was no ex­pert on ce­ram­ics, but all field ar­chae­ol­ogists had a cer­tain knowl­edge, not least be­cause about nine out of ev­ery ten arte­facts on any giv­en site were some kind of pot­tery, a frag­ment from a plate, cup or jar, a shard from an oil lamp or per­fume flask, per­haps even an os­tra­con, if it was your lucky day.

But this was­n’t bro­ken. It was some sev­en inch­es in di­am­eter and three inch­es deep, with a flat base and curved sides and no rim to speak of, so that you could hold it in both hands and drink di­rect­ly from it. From the smooth tex­ture, the clay had ev­ident­ly been well sieved for grit and peb­bles be­fore it had been hard-​fired. It was pink­ish-​grey, though coat­ed with a paler wash that gave it a swirling tex­ture, like cream just stirred in­to cof­fee. Maybe lo­cal prove­nance; maybe not. He’d need an ex­pert to de­ter­mine that. He had lit­tle more suc­cess with the dat­ing. Fine-​ware like oil lamps and ex­pen­sive crock­ery had changed con­stant­ly with pre­vail­ing fash­ions, if on­ly to show off the wealth of their own­ers; but coarse-​ware like this had tend­ed to keep its form, some­times for cen­turies. Cir­ca AD 50 at a guess, plus or mi­nus a cou­ple of hun­dred years. Or a cou­ple of thou­sand. He put it back down, in­tend­ing to walk away, but it just would­n’t let him go. He squat­ted there, star­ing at it, rub­bing his jaw, try­ing to read its mes­sage, work out how it had put its hook in him.

Knox knew how rare it was to find valu­able arte­facts in a street mar­ket. The hawk­ers were too shrewd to sell high-​qual­ity pieces that way, the an­tiq­ui­ties po­lice too ob­ser­vant. And there were ar­ti­sans in the back streets of Alexan­dria and Cairo who could knock out con­vinc­ing repli­cas in a heart­beat, if they thought they could fool a gullible tourist in­to part­ing with their cash. But this par­tic­ular bowl seemed too dowdy to be worth the ef­fort. How much? he asked fi­nal­ly.

One thou­sand US, replied the young man with­out blink­ing.

Knox laughed again. Egyp­tians were ex­pert at pric­ing the buy­er, not the piece. Clear­ly he was look­ing un­usu­al­ly wealthy to­day. Wealthy and stupid. Again he made to walk away; again some­thing stopped him. He touched it with his fin­ger­tip, re­luc­tant to be drawn in­to a hag­gle. Once you start­ed, it was rude not to fin­ish, and Knox was­n’t at all sure he want­ed this piece, even if he could get it cheap. If it was a gen­uine an­tiq­ui­ty, af­ter all, then buy­ing it was il­le­gal. If it was fake, then he’d feel an­noyed with him­self for days at be­ing tak­en in, es­pe­cial­ly if his friends and col­leagues ev­er got to hear about it. He shook his head de­ci­sive­ly, and this time he did stand up.

Five hun­dred, said the young hawk­er hur­ried­ly, sens­ing his fat fish slip­ping through his fin­gers. I see you be­fore. You a good man. I make you spe­cial price. Very spe­cial price.

Knox shook his head. Where did you get it? he asked.

It is from the tomb of Alexan­der the Great, I as­sure you! My friend give it to me be­cause he is a very good.

The truth, said Knox. Or I walk away now.

The boy’s eyes nar­rowed shrewd­ly. Why I tell you this? he asked. So you call the po­lice?

Knox fished in his back pock­et for some cash, let­ting him see the ban­knotes. How can I be con­fi­dent it’s gen­uine un­less you tell me where you got it? he asked.

The trad­er pulled a face, looked around to make sure he could­n’t be over­he lookebe ard. A friend of my cousin works on an ex­ca­va­tion, he mur­mured.

Which ex­ca­va­tion? frowned Knox. ˜Who runs it?


What kind of for­eign­ers?

He shrugged in­dif­fer­ent­ly. For­eign­ers.


South, he waved vague­ly. South of Mar­iut.

Knox nod­ded. It made sense. Lake Mar­iut had been hemmed around by farms and set­tle­ments in an­cient times, be­fore the in­flows from the Nile had silt­ed up and the lake had start­ed to shrink. He count­ed his mon­ey slow­ly. If this bowl had in­deed come from an ar­chae­olog­ical site, he had a du­ty to re­turn it, or at least to let some­one there know that they had a se­cu­ri­ty prob­lem. Thir­ty-​five Egyp­tian pounds. He fold­ed them be­tween his thumb and fore­fin­ger. South of the lake, you say? he frowned. Where, ex­act­ly? I’ll need to know pre­cise­ly if I am to buy.

The young man’s eyes re­fo­cused re­luc­tant­ly from the mon­ey to Knox. A bit­ter ex­pres­sion soured his face, as though he re­al­ized he’d said too much al­ready. He mut­tered an ob­scen­ity, gath­ered the four cor­ners of his table­cloth, hoist­ed it up so that all his wares clat­tered to­geth­er, hur­ried away. Knox made to fol­low, but a colos­sus of a man ap­peared from nowhere, stepped across his path. Knox tried to go around him, but the man sim­ply moved side­ways to block him, arms fold­ed across his chest, a dry smile on his lips, invit­ing Knox to try some­thing. And then it was too late any­way, the young­ster swal­lowed up by crowds, tak­ing his earth­en­ware bowl with him.

Knox shrugged and let it go. It was al­most cer­tain­ly noth­ing.

Yes. Al­most cer­tain­ly.


The East­ern Desert, Mid­dle Egypt

Po­lice In­spec­tor Naguib Hus­sein watched the hos­pi­tal pathol­ogist pull back a flap of the blue tarpaulin to re­veal the des­ic­cat­ed body of the girl with­in. At least, Naguib as­sumed it was a girl, judg­ing by her diminu­tive size, long hair, cheap jew­ellery and clothes, but in truth he could­n’t be sure. She’d been dead too long, buried out here in the bak­ing hot sands of the East­ern Desert, mum­mi­fied as she’d pu­tre­fied, the back of her head bro­ken open and stuck fast by con­gealed gore to the tarpaulin.

Who found her? asked the pathol­ogist.

One of the guides, said Naguib. Ap­par­ent­ly some tourists want­ed a taste of the re­al desert. He gave an amused grunt. They’d got that, all right.

And she was just ly­ing here?

They saw the tarpaulin first. Then her foot. The rest of her was still hid­den.

Last night wind­storm must have un­cov­ered her.

And cov­ered any tracks, too, agreed Naguib. He watched with fold­ed arms as the pathol­ogist con­tin­ued his pre­lim­inary as­sess­ment, ex­am­in­ing her scalp, her eyes, her cheeks and her ears, ma­nip­ulat­ing her low­er jaw back and forth to open her mouth, prob­ing a spat­ula deep in­side, scrap­ing froth and grit and sand from the dried-​out mem­brane of her tongue, cheeks and throat. He closed her mouth again, stud­ied her neck, her col­lar­bones, the bulging, dis­lo­cat­ed right shoul­der and her arms, fold­ed awk­ward­ly, al­most coy­ly, down by her sides.

How old is ht="0pw os­he? asked Naguib.

Wait for my re­port.

Please. I need some­thing to work on.

The pathol­ogist sighed. Thir­teen, four­teen. Some­thing like that. And her right shoul­der shows signs of post-​mortem dis­lo­ca­tion.

Yes, agreed Naguib. Out of pro­fes­sion­al van­ity, he want­ed the pathol­ogist to know he’d spot­ted this him­self, so he said: ‘I thought per­haps that rig­or set in be­fore she could be buried. Per­haps it set in with her arm thrown up above her head. Per­haps who­ev­er buried her dis­lo­cat­ed it when they were try­ing to wrap her up in the tarpaulin.’

‘Per­haps,’ agreed the pathol­ogist. Ev­ident­ly not a man for un­in­formed spec­ula­tion.

‘What time would that give us af­ter death?’

‘That de­pends,’ said the pathol­ogist. ‘The hot­ter it is, the quick­er rig­or sets in, but the quick­er it pass­es, too. And if she’d been run­ning, say, or fight­ing, then it would be quick­er.’

Naguib breathed in deep to quell any hint of im­pa­tience. ‘Ap­prox­imate­ly.’

‘Shoul­ders are typ­ical­ly the last mus­cle groups to de­vel­op rig­or. On­set takes at least three hours, of­ten six or sev­en. Af­ter that …’ He shook his head. ‘It can last for any­thing from an­oth­er six hours to two days.’

‘But a min­imum of three hours, yes?’

‘Usu­al­ly. Though there are cas­es.’

‘There are al­ways cas­es,’ said Naguib.

‘Yes.’ With his fin­ger, the pathol­ogist tick­led out the frag­ile links of a chain around her neck, a sil­ver charm hang­ing from it. A Cop­tic cross. He glanced around at Naguib, the two men no doubt shar­ing a sin­gle thought. An­oth­er dead Copt girl. That was all this re­gion need­ed right now.

‘It’s a nice enough piece,’ mut­tered the pathol­ogist.

‘Yes,’ agreed Naguib. Which ar­gued against rob­bery. The pathol­ogist lift­ed the girl’s skirts, but her un­der­clothes, while ragged, were in­tact. No sign of sex­ual as­sault. No sign of any as­sault, in­deed; ex­cept, of course, that the back of her skull had been smashed in. ‘Any in­di­ca­tion how long she’s been here?’ he asked.

The pathol­ogist shrugged. ‘I’d be guess­ing. I’ll need to get her back to base.’

Naguib nod­ded. That was fair enough. Desert corpses were no­to­ri­ous­ly tough. A month, a year, a decade; out here they all looked the same. ‘And the cause of death? The blow to her head, yes?’

‘Too ear­ly to say.’

Naguib pulled a face. ‘Come on. I won’t hold you to it.’

‘Ev­ery­one tells me that. And then they hold me to it.’

‘Okay. If not the blow to her head, maybe her neck was bro­ken?’

The pathol­ogist tapped his thumb against his knee, de­bat­ing with him­self whether to say any­thing or keep qui­et. ‘You re­al­ly want my best guess?’ he asked fi­nal­ly.


‘You won’t like it.’

‘Try me.’

The pathol­ogist stood up. Hands on his hips, he looked around at the arid yel­low sands of thes, he ds East­ern Desert stretch­ing away as far as the eye could see, shim­mer­ing with heat, bro­ken on­ly by the rugged Amar­na cliffs. ‘Very well, then,’ he smiled, as though aware op­por­tu­ni­ties like this would­n’t come his way too of­ten. ‘I rather sus­pect she drowned.’


Knox found Omar Taw­fiq kneel­ing on his of­fice floor, the cas­ing and in­nards of a com­put­er spread out in front of him, a screw­driv­er in his hand, a smudge of grease on his cheek. ‘Don’t you al­ready have enough to do?’ he asked.

‘Our com­put­er peo­ple won’t come out un­til to­mor­row.’

‘So hire new ones.’

‘New ones will charge more.’

‘Yes. Be­cause they’ll come out when you need them.’

Omar shrugged, as if to ac­cept the truth of this, though Knox doubt­ed he’d act up­on it. A young man who looked even younger, he’d re­cent­ly been pro­mot­ed in­ter­im head of the Supreme Coun­cil for An­tiq­ui­ties in Alexan­dria; but ev­ery­one knew that he’d got the job be­cause Yusuf Ab­bas, the Cairo-​based sec­re­tary gen­er­al, want­ed some­one pli­able and dis­pos­able he could bul­ly while he ma­noeu­vred one of his own trust­ed lieu­tenants in­to the per­ma­nent role. Even Omar knew this, but he was too dif­fi­dent to re­sent it. In­stead, he spent his time hid­ing from his be­mused staff in his old of­fice, fill­ing his time with com­fort-​zone tasks like these. He stood, wiped his hands. ‘So what can I do for you, my friend?’

Knox hes­itat­ed. ‘I saw an old bowl in the mar­ket. Hard-​fired. Well-​levi­gat­ed. Pink­ish-​grey with a white slip. Maybe sev­en inch­es in di­am­eter.’

‘That could be any­thing.’

‘Yes. But it gave me that feel­ing, you know?’

Omar nod­ded se­ri­ous­ly, as though he had re­spect for Knox’s feel­ings. ‘You’re here to check our database?’

‘If that’s pos­si­ble.’

‘Of course.’ Omar was proud of his database. Build­ing it had been his main re­spon­si­bil­ity be­fore his un­ex­pect­ed pro­mo­tion. ‘Use Ma­ha’s of­fice. She’s away to­day.’

They walked through to­geth­er. Omar sat at her desk. ‘Give me a minute,’ he said.

Knox nod­ded and walked to the win­dow, looked down at his Jeep. It had cost him a for­tune to have it re­paired af­ter the Alexan­der busi­ness, but it had been good to him over the years, and he was glad of his de­ci­sion.

‘Any word from Gaille?’ asked Omar.


‘Do you know when’s she com­ing back?’

‘When she’s fin­ished, I imag­ine.’

Omar’s cheeks red­dened. ‘All set,’ he said.

‘I’m sor­ry,’ sighed Knox. ‘I did­n’t mean to snap.’

‘It’s okay.’

‘It’s just, ev­ery­one keeps ask­ing, you know?’

‘That’s be­cause we like her so much. Be­cause we like you both.’

‘Thanks,’ said Knox. He be­gan work­ing his way through the database, colour and black-​and-​white pho­tos of cups, plates, fig­urines, fu­ner­ary lamps. Most­ly, he flipped past them with­out a sec­ond glance, the old com­put­er groan­ing and­hout aani sigh­ing as it strained to keep up. But ev­ery so of­ten an im­age would catch his eye. Yet noth­ing quite matched. An­cient arte­facts were like this. The clos­er you looked, the more po­ten­tial points of dif­fer­ence you found.

Omar came back in with a jug of wa­ter and two glass­es on a tray. ‘Any luck?’

‘Not yet.’ He fin­ished the database. ‘Is that it?’

‘Of lo­cal prove­nance, yes.’

‘And non lo­cal?’

Omar sighed. ‘I wrote to a num­ber of mu­se­ums and uni­ver­si­ties when I was set­ting this up. I did­n’t get much of a re­sponse at the time. Since my re­cent ap­point­ment, how­ev­er …’

Knox laughed. ‘What a sur­prise.’

‘But we haven’t en­tered the da­ta yet. All we have are CDs and pa­per­work.’

‘May I see?’

Omar opened the bot­tom draw­er of the fil­ing cab­inet, pulled out a card­board box of CDs. ‘They’re not in any or­der,’ he warned.

‘That’s okay,’ said Knox. He slid one in­to the com­put­er. The chunter­ing grew loud­er. A page of thumb­nails ap­peared. Frag­ments of pa­pyrus and linen cloth. He clicked to the next page, and then the third. The ce­ram­ics, when he found them, were colour­ful and pat­terned, noth­ing like what he was look­ing for.

‘I’ll leave you to it, then,’ said Omar.

‘Thanks.’ The sec­ond CD was of Ro­man-​era stat­uary, the third of jew­ellery, the fourth cor­rupt. Knox’s mind be­gan to wan­der, trig­gered per­haps by Omar’s ear­li­er ques­tion. A sud­den mem­ory of Gaille, tak­ing break­fast one morn­ing on the Nile Cor­niche in Minya: the way she licked her up­per lip free of the slight glaze from her pas­try, her dark hair spilled for­wards, her smile as she caught him watch­ing.

The eighth CD was an anato­my lec­ture demon­strat­ing how to dis­tin­guish man­ual labour­ers from the idle rich by bone thick­ness and spine cur­va­ture.

Gaille’s mo­bile had rung that morn­ing in Minya. She’d checked the num­ber, shift­ed in her seat, turn­ing her­self away from him to hold a stilt­ed con­ver­sa­tion that she’d quick­ly end­ed by promis­ing to call back lat­er.

‘Who was that?’ he’d asked.

‘No one.’

‘You want to get on to your ser­vice provider, if you keep get­ting calls from peo­ple who don’t ex­ist.’

A re­luc­tant sigh. ‘Fa­ti­ma.’

‘Fa­ti­ma?’ An un­ex­pect­ed stab of jeal­ousy. Fa­ti­ma was his friend. He’d in­tro­duced the two of them bare­ly a week be­fore. ‘What did she want?’

‘I guess she’d heard about Si­wa be­ing post­poned.’

‘You guess?’

‘Fine. She’d heard about it.’

‘And she rang to com­mis­er­ate, did she?’

‘You re­mem­ber how in­ter­est­ed she was in my im­age soft­ware?’

The eleventh CD was of Is­lam­ic arte­facts. The twelfth was of sil­ver and gold­en coins.

‘She wants you to go and work for her?’

‘Si­wa’s not ex­act­ly about to hap­pen, is it?’ Gaille had said. ‘And I hate do­ing noth­ing, es­pe­ci­aille h, el­ly on a salary. I hate be­ing a drain.’

‘You’re not a drain,’ he’d said bleak­ly. ‘How could you think your­self a drain?’

‘It’s how I feel.’

The thir­teenth CD was of pre-​dy­nas­tic tomb paint­ings. He start­ed check­ing the four­teenth on au­topi­lot. He’d got halfway through when he sensed he’d missed some­thing. He paged back to the pre­vi­ous screen, then the one be­fore. And there it was, top right, the twin of the bowl he’d seen, on­ly up­side down, rest­ing on its rim. Same shape, same colour, same tex­ture, same pat­tern­ing. But there was no de­scrip­tion of it, on­ly ref­er­ence num­bers.

He fetched Omar, who pulled a ring binder from the fil­ing cab­inet. Knox read out the ref­er­ence num­bers while he flipped through the pages, ran his fin­ger down the en­tries, came to the right one, frowned in puz­zle­ment. ‘But that can’t be right,’ he said. ‘It’s not even a bowl.’

‘What is it, then?’

‘A lid. A stor­age jar lid.’

Knox grunt­ed. Ob­vi­ous, now that Omar point­ed it out. Not that it helped much. Egypt had been the bread­bas­ket of the an­cient world. Huge quan­ti­ties of pro­duce had passed through Alexan­dri­a’s mul­ti­ple har­bours. Mak­ing jars to store and trans­port it had been a vast in­dus­try. ‘My mis­take,’ he agreed.

His ad­mis­sion did lit­tle to mol­li­fy Omar. ‘But it’s not from any­where near here,’ he said. ‘It’s not even from Egypt.’

‘Where, then?’

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