That â€˜tooâ€™ intrigued him. Heâ€™d clearly said it first....
The way her hair tumbled when she turned her head. The brush of her fingertips on his forearm as she steered him across the street. There was nothing in loco parentis about that.
The photograph finally came up. He was staring at it when he saw a shadowy reflection in the screen, a man in a motorcycle helmet creeping up behind him. He whirled around, but too late. The man grabbed him like a straitjacket, pinioning his arms down by his side. He lashed out with his heels and elbows and the back of his head, but to no effect. The man was too strong for him. He dragged Knox out through the open glass doors onto the concrete balcony, trs o Calchen lifted him bodily and hurled him over the rail and out screaming into space.
Knox threw out his hand as he was flung from Augustinâ€™s balcony, instinctively grabbed his assailantâ€™s wrist, clung on for dear life, breaking his outward trajectory, falling downwards instead, swinging like a wrecking-ball on the manâ€™s arm, crashing numbingly hard into the concrete base of the balcony. The impact knocked the wind out of him, strength from his muscles. He lost grip and tumbled down a storey to land flush on the metal railing of the balcony beneath, his left knee buckling beneath him as he fell outwards again, scrabbling desperately for something to cling to, grabbing a cast-iron stanchion as he whirled past, skin flaying from his palm on the speckled rust, until his wrist crashed into the concrete base and ripped him free once more, yet now swinging inwards far enough to hit the rail beneath and fall onto the balcony itself, the breath once more punched out of his lungs, his whole body bruised and sore, but somehow still alive.
He hobbled to his feet, leaned against the railing, looked up to see his helmeted attacker with his visor up, a glimpse of a compressed fraction of his face provoking a shudder of memory; but he vanished before Knox could quite grasp it, or fix his features in his mind.
He looked around the balcony. A steel shutter stood between him and the main body of the apartment. He tried to work his fingers beneath it to prise it up, but without success. He rattled it, pounded on it, trying to attract attention. No one came. He leaned over the railing once more. The car park below was deserted. He was about to call for help when he thought again. Even if he could get someoneâ€™s attention, theyâ€™d surely only summon the police; and he didnâ€™t fancy explaining himself to them right now, not while they still held him responsible for Omarâ€™s death. Which left him marooned out here while a stranger in a motorcycle helmet plotted ways to kill him.
No one at the hospital was talking, so Augustin headed over to the SCA instead, arrived to find it buzzing with rumour, disoriented by grief. Omar was evidently one of those people only fully appreciated after theyâ€™re gone. Mansoor, Omarâ€™s deputy, was in his cluttered office. â€˜Terrible business,â€™ he said, shaking his head, looking grey and harried. â€˜I canâ€™t believe Knox had anything to do with it.â€™
â€˜Thereâ€™s a man from the police here who thinks he did.â€™
â€˜The police!â€™ mocked Augustin. â€˜What would they know?â€™
Mansoor narrowed his eyes shrewdly. â€˜Have you heard something?â€™
â€˜You can trust me, you know.â€™
â€˜I know,â€™ agreed Augustin. He removed a stack of reports from a chair, sat down. â€˜But how could I tell you anything? I donâ€™t even know what happened. They wouldnâ€™t say a damned thing at the hospital.â€™
â€˜You should talk to this policeman,â€™ suggested Mansoor. â€˜Heâ€™ll still be around here somewhere. I promised to go out to Borg el-Arab with him.â€™
â€˜Borg el-Arab?â€™ frowned Augustin. â€˜Is that where they crashed?â€™
â€˜What the hell were they doing out there?â€™
â€˜Visiting some training dig apparently.â€™
â€˜A dig? In Borg?â€™
Mansoor nodded. â€˜No one here knows anything about it either. Being administered out of Cairo, apparently.â€™ He went over to his filing cabinet, shifted a boxed aerial-photography kit out of the way to get at a drawer.
â€˜A remote-controlled aircraft,â€™ grunted Augustin, impressed. â€˜How the hell did you get the budget for that?â€™
â€˜Rudi lent it to me,â€™ said Mansoor. â€˜Easier than him shipping it back and forth to Germany every season.â€™ He handed Augustin a dog-eared sheet of paper, the writing so faint that Augustin had to take it to the window to read. Mortimer Griffin. The Reverend Ernest Peterson. The Texas Society of Biblical Archaeologists. An address in Borg el-Arab. Nothing else. But surely it had to be the source of Knoxâ€™s photographs. â€˜Iâ€™d like to go and see this place for myself,â€™ he murmured.
â€˜Maybe you can,â€™ said Mansoor. â€˜Youâ€™ve seen how the guys are. My place today is here with them. What if I were to ask this policeman if you could go out there instead of me?â€™
â€˜Yes,â€™ nodded Augustin. â€˜What a good idea.â€™
Peterson hurried in from the balcony, aghast that Knox had once again escaped justice. The Devil was working overtime today. The laptop was still open on the kitchen table, reminding Peterson of the urgent need to destroy all Knoxâ€™s photographs of his site.
There were two browsers open, one showing a photo of a dark-haired young woman with two Egyptian men in galabayas, the other an email from a certain Gaille Bonnard, perhaps the woman in the photo. He scanned it quickly, assimilated the implication that she had a set of Knoxâ€™s photographs. He sat down, typed out a reply.
Dear Gaille, thanks for these. Theyâ€™re terrific. One...
A makeshift solution, but it would have to do. He sent it on its way then deleted her email from Knoxâ€™s hotmail account, consigning it and all its attachments into oblivion. He was no computer expert, but heâ€™d heard stories about sodomites and other abominators being trapped by images recovered from their hard disks even after theyâ€™d thought them deleted. He couldnâ€™t risk anyone recovering these, so he unplugged the laptop from its various connections, tucked it under his arm and hurried out.
Captain Khaled Osman stood on the eastern bank of the Nile to watch the car ferry take the Discovery and its TV crew away.
â€˜I donâ€™t like this, sir,â€™ said Nasser. â€˜People are getting too close. We need to shut the place up. We can always go back again once things quieten down.â€™
Khaled had already come to the same conclusion. With the girlâ€™s body having been found, things were too hot. He turned to Nasser. â€˜You and Faisal have everything you need, right?â€™
â€˜Already inside, sir,â€™ confirmed Nasser. â€˜Just give us two hours, no one will ever know it was there.â€™
The car ferry reached the far bank. The Discovery was a dot that headed up the hill towards the main road, disappeared behind trees. â€˜Very well, then,â€™ he said. â€˜Weâ€™ll do it tonight.â€™
Knox was still trying to prise open the steel balcony shutters when he heard the apartment blockâ€™s front door slam closed. He looked down over the rail in time to see his assailant, still wearing Augustinâ€™s motorcycle helmet, carrying his laptop over to a blue 4x4 in the parking area, too far away for him to make out its licence plate. The man climbed inside before taking off the helmet, giving Knox no chance to see his face. And then he was gone.
Knox turned his attention back to the steel shutter. But he couldnâ€™t get through, no matter what he tried. It seemed he was stuck out here until whoever lived here came home. And who could predict how theyâ€™d react? Theyâ€™d almost certainly call the police. He leaned out over the railings. The shutter of the balcony beneath was raised and its glass doors were wide open. He called out. There was no reply. He called louder. Still nothing. He paused for thought. Climbing down to it wouldnâ€™t be easy, but he was confident he could manage it safely enough, and it was better than waiting here.
He straddled the railing, turned to face the building, placing his feet between the stanchions. The breeze didnâ€™t feel quite so gentle any more, with nothing between him and the tarmac below. He crouched, grabbed a stanchion in each hand, took a deep breath, then lowered himself, legs kicking air above the drop. His stomach and then his chest scraped on the rough concrete. His chin bumped against it, biceps feeling the strain. He tried to adjust his position, give himself a respite, but his grip slipped and he dropped sharply, shuddering to a halt, hanging there holding desperately onto the base of the two stanchions.
It was at that moment that an overweight woman with silvered hair came out onto the balcony. She saw Knox dangling there, dropped her basket of laundry and began to shriek.
Gaille could see the colour rising in Staffordâ€™s throat, his fists clenching tighter and tighter in his lap. She found herself leaning away from him in the driverâ€™s seat, as if he was a landmine about to go off. But when the detonation finally came, it began more quietly than sheâ€™d expected.
â€˜Congratulations,â€™ he said, turning to Lily.
â€˜For ruining my programme. Congratulations.â€™
â€˜I donâ€™t thinks itâ€™sâ€”â€™
â€˜What the hell am I supposed to do now? Tell me that.â€™
Gaille said: â€˜It canâ€™t be as bad asâ€”â€™
â€˜Did I ask your opinion?â€™
â€˜Then shut the fuck up.â€™ He turned back to Lily. â€˜Well? Your suggestions, please.â€™
â€˜Weâ€™ll go on to Assiut,â€™ said Lily. â€˜Iâ€™ll make some calls ily. Sme from the hotel. Weâ€™ll sort it out. Weâ€™ll come back tomorrow andâ€”â€™
â€˜Weâ€™re filming tomorrow,â€™ yelled Stafford, red-faced with anger. â€˜And then weâ€™re on a fucking plane. Iâ€™ve got obligations, you know. Iâ€™m expected in America. You want me to cancel my morning shows because you canâ€™t do your job properly?â€™
â€˜I got the permissions,â€™ said Lily defensively. â€˜Everything was in order.â€™
â€˜But you didnâ€™t arrange it on the ground, did you? First rule of going overseas. Arrange it on the ground.â€™
â€˜I asked to come out. You wouldnâ€™t pay my airfare.â€™
â€˜So itâ€™s my fault now, is it? Jesus! I donâ€™t believe this!â€™
â€˜I didnâ€™t mean it like that.â€™
â€˜Youâ€™re supposed to find ways to sort these things out. Thatâ€™s your job. Thatâ€™s your entire fucking job. Thatâ€™s all I employ you to do.â€™
â€˜Why not film the sunset here on the west bank?â€™ asked Gaille. â€˜Youâ€™ll still get your sunset.â€™
â€˜But not Amarna. Not the Royal Wadi. Unless youâ€™re suggesting that I should perpetrate a fraud upon my public. Is that what youâ€™re suggesting?â€™
â€˜Donâ€™t talk to me like that.â€™
â€˜Donâ€™t talk to me like that?â€™ he mocked. â€˜Who the hell do you think you are?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m the person driving this car,â€™ replied Gaille. â€˜And unless you want to walk â€¦â€™
â€˜This is a disaster,â€™ muttered Stafford. â€˜A fucking disaster.â€™ He turned on Lily again. â€˜I canâ€™t believe I ever hired you. What was I thinking?â€™
â€˜Thatâ€™s enough,â€™ said Gaille.
â€˜Iâ€™m going to warn everyone about you, you know. Iâ€™ll see to it you never work in television again.â€™
â€˜Thatâ€™s it!â€™ Gaille pulled into the side, took the keys from the ignition, got out and walked away. Doors opened behind her, she glanced around to see Lily hurrying after her, wiping her wet eyes with the heel of her hand. â€˜How do you put up with him?â€™ asked Gaille.
â€˜Itâ€™s my career.â€™
â€˜Is it worth it?â€™
â€˜Yes,â€™ said Lily. â€˜Isnâ€™t yours?â€™
Gaille sighed. It was true enough. Sheâ€™d put up with plenty in her time. â€˜How can I help?â€™ she asked.
â€˜Canâ€™t you call someone? How about Fatima?â€™
â€˜Sheâ€™s in hospital.â€™
â€˜There must be someone. Please.â€™
Gailleâ€™s gaze slid past Lily to Stafford, leaning against the Discovery, glaring at them both. This was how bullies worked, she knew. They made life unbearable for everyone around them until they got their own way. It galled her to do anything to help him out of the mess heâ€™d brought upon himself. â€˜Youâ€™ve still got your permissions to film, yes? I mean, he only ripped up the one for the Royal Tomb, right?â€™
â€˜There is something we could try, I suppose.â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s a hell of a risk,â€™ sa˜Itâ Ssk,id Gaille, already beginning to regret volunteering anything.
â€˜Please, Gaille. Iâ€™m begging you. He can ruin my career. He really can. And he will too, just out of vindictiveness. Youâ€™ve seen how he is.â€™
Gaille sighed. â€˜Okay. The thing is, there are car ferries every few kilometres along the Nile. Every town has its own. Thereâ€™s another a little south of here. Iâ€™ve used it before when this one was down for repairs. The police donâ€™t watch that one.â€™
â€˜Another ferry?â€™ Lily turned before Gaille could stop her. â€˜Apparently thereâ€™s another ferry just south of here,â€™ she told Stafford.
â€˜And I could care less because â€¦ ?â€™
â€˜You have permission to film the Southern Tombs,â€™ sighed Gaille. â€˜Thatâ€™s where many of Akhenatenâ€™s nobles were buried.â€™
â€˜I know what the Southern Tombs are, thank you. I also know I have no need to film them.â€™
â€˜The thing is, theyâ€™re out on their own at the southern end of Amarna.â€™
â€˜So if we cross back over the Nile on this other ferry, we should be able to make it there without being spotted. And even if we are stopped, weâ€™ll have your authorization to film.â€™
â€˜Are you stupid or something? I donâ€™t want to film the Southern fucking Tombs. I want to film the Royal fucking Tomb.â€™
â€˜Yes,â€™ said Gaille. â€˜But once weâ€™re there, itâ€™s theoretically possible to hike across the hills to the Royal Tomb. Itâ€™s not that far.â€™
â€˜Theoretically possible?â€™ sneered Stafford. â€˜What use is that if none of us knows the way?â€™
Gaille hesitated again. She knew she shouldnâ€™t let animosity for this man provoke her into rashness. And yet it did. â€˜I know the way,â€™ she said.
The woman stopped shrieking and ran back inside her apartment. Knoxâ€™s relief didnâ€™t last long, however. She reappeared with a kitchen knife, proceeded to hack viciously at his ankles. He tried to hoist himself back up, but he didnâ€™t have the grip. He had no choice but to swing away from her and then back in, letting go and landing on her spilled clothes, stumbling forwards onto his hands. She stabbed at his back, the sharp tip piercing through his shirt. He twisted around, holding up his palms submissively, but it did nothing to placate her. He scrambled to his feet, hobbled through her apartment and out her front door.
His ankle was too sore for the stairs. He summoned the elevator. Behind him, the woman was telephoning the police, shouting hysterically for them to come at once. Cables clanked and creaked. The woman came to her front door to yell at him some more, call on her neighbours to save her. Doors opened above and below, people leaned over banisters. The lift arrived. Knox got in, jabbed the button for the ground floor. He limped out of the building, ankle throbbing, left knee clicking ominously. Out on the main road, he waved down a bus, not caring where it was headed, nor that it was already packed. A woman wearing a floral headscarf and sunglasses looked quizzically at him as a police car swept by, siren blazing. Knox ducked his eyes, feeling ridiculously conspicuous.
He got out at the Shallalat Gardens, struggled to the Latin Cemeteries, pushed open the heavy wooden door. An elderly curator was leaning on his broom. Otherwise, the place was deserted. Many of the tombs here had superstructures like shrunken marble temples. Knox found one out of the way, lay down inside with his back to the wall. Then he closed his eyes and cleared his mind, giving his much-abused body some time to rest and heal.
Mallawiâ€™s Museum of Antiquities consisted of three shabby long halls with high ceilings and low lighting. The curator raised her eyebrows when Naguib set the figurine from the dead girlâ€™s pouch on the glass top of a display case.
â€˜May I?â€™ she asked.
â€˜Thatâ€™s why I brought it here,â€™ said Naguib. He watched her pick it up, turn it in her hands. â€˜Well?â€™ he asked.
â€˜What do you want to know?â€™
â€˜What is it? How much is it worth?â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s an Amarna-style statuette of Akhenaten in pink limestone. As to what itâ€™s worth â€¦â€™ She shook her head regretfully. â€˜Not very much, Iâ€™m afraid.â€™
â€˜Not very much?â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s a fake. One of thousands.â€™
â€˜But it looks old.â€™
â€˜It is old. Many fakes were made sixty or seventy years ago. There was a big market for Amarna antiquities back then. But theyâ€™re still fakes.â€™
â€˜How can you be sure?â€™
â€˜Because all the genuine ones were found decades ago.â€™
A party of schoolchildren arrived yelling and playing, gleeful to have escaped their classroom prison. Naguib waited until theyâ€™d been ushered past by their embarrassed teachers before asking his next question. â€˜So there are genuine ones?â€™
â€˜In museums, yes.â€™
â€˜And you can always tell the difference, can you? I mean, just by looking?â€™
â€˜No,â€™ she admitted.
â€˜So itâ€™s conceivable that one might have been lost? Buried in the sand, say, or in some undiscovered tomb?â€™
â€˜Youâ€™d struggle to convince a buyer of that.â€™
â€˜I donâ€™t have a buyer,â€™ said Naguib tersely. â€˜What I have is a dead girl who may have been murdered over this. So tell me: how much would a piece like this be worth, if genuine?â€™
The curator looked down at the figurine with a touch more respect. â€˜Hard to say. Genuine Amarna artefacts donâ€™t often come up for sale.â€™
â€˜Please. Just a rough idea. In US dollars. A hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand?â€™
â€˜Oh, more. Much more.â€™
â€˜More?â€™ swallowed Naguib.
â€˜This wouldnâ€™t just be a figurine,â€™ said the woman. â€˜It would be history. Amarna history. People would pay what they must pay. But youâ€™d have to prove it was genuine first.â€™
â€˜How would I go about that? Are there tests?â€™
â€˜Of course. Chromatography, spectography. But nothing is conclusive. For every expert whoâ€™llsive [ wh tell you one thing, another will say the opposite. Your only real hope is to establish provenance.â€™
â€˜Find this undiscovered tomb of yours. Then weâ€™ll believe you.â€™
Naguib grunted. â€˜And where should I look for that?â€™
â€˜In Amarna, certainly. If it was me, Iâ€™d check the wadis leading out to the Eastern Desert. A lot of antiquities have been found in them. The storms, you know. They hammer at the cliffs like a million pickaxes. It can still happen that the hidden mouth of an old tomb will simply shear away and its contents wash down into the wadis and then in a great river out into the desert.â€™
Naguib went a little numb. â€˜A flash flood,â€™ he said.
â€˜Exactly,â€™ smiled the curator. â€˜A flash flood.â€™
Augustin waited in Mansoorâ€™s office while his friend went off to persuade the policeman to accept a substitute on his trip out to Borg el-Arab. He killed time running an Internet search on the Texas Society of Biblical Archaeologists. It had its own website, group photographs and brief overviews of excavations in Alexandria and Cephallonia. Its â€˜About Usâ€™ page mentioned its affiliation to the UMC, though there was neither link nor explanation. There was, however, a profile of Griffin, surprisingly impressively qualified for so small an organization.
A new search on the Reverend Ernest Peterson returned a huge number of hits. The man was clearly a divisive figure, deplored and feared for his hardline religious views, yet also admired for the hospice, hospital, homeless shelter and rehabilitation centre founded and financed by his ministry. He also financed a private Christian college, the University of the Mission of Christ, presumably the same UMC mentioned on the TSBA website, with faculties of Theology, Creation Science, Law, Political Administration and Archaeology.
Petersonâ€™s ministry had its own site. The screen turned dark blue when Augustin clicked the link. A line of white text emerged. â€˜Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination.â€™ It faded away. A new one took its place. â€˜The show of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! For they have rewarded evil unto themselves.â€™ A photo of a church appeared, with columns of links either side. The left-hand column was entitled What Christ said about â€¦ with topics such as homosexuality, feminism, adultery, abortion and idolatry beneath, and lists of verses from Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Numbers and other Old Testament books.
The right-hand column bore titles like The Cancer of Liberalism and The Sin of Sodom. Augustin clicked on The Abominators Agenda. An inset screen appeared, Peterson mouthing silently at the camera. He turned on the volume, had to sit back at the torrent of anger and hate that poured forth. He clicked a different link, all by itself, and entitled â€˜The Face Of Christâ€™. Peterson again, but his tone completely different. Emollient. Transcendent. â€˜You ask how I came to God,â€™ he said. â€˜Let me tell you how I came to God. I was a wretched sinner. A thief, a drinker, a man of dishonesty and violence, well known to our police, though still but a youth. And I came to God because one day, my lowest day, in His infinite mercy He sent His Son to bring me to Him. A vision of His Son. And I tell yvisi [ I ou this: no man can look upon the face of Christ and not believe. And that is the mission God gave me for my time upon this earth: to bring the face of Christ to the whole world. Make it your mission too and together we will surelyâ€”â€™
The door opened behind him. He looked around to see a policeman standing there. â€˜Doctor Augustin, yes?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m Detective Inspector Farooq. Your colleague Doctor Mansoor suggested you would be good enough to come to Borg el-Arab with me.â€™
â€˜Excellent. Are you ready?â€™
Augustin nodded. He closed down the browser with a little shudder, got to his feet. â€˜Letâ€™s do it,â€™ he said.
Peterson drove back to the excavation site as quickly as prudence would allow, stopping only to hurl Knoxâ€™s laptop and mobile phone into the reed-fringed waters of Lake Mariut, watching with satisfaction as they splashed and sank.
Claire came out of the office to greet him. An awkward young woman, all elbows and knees, yet with a certain steeliness too. Heâ€™d have done without her if he could, but her medical know-how and fluent Arabic were too useful. â€˜Are those men okay?â€™ she asked, her arms folded.
â€˜Nathan told me about them last night. He was in a terrible state.â€™
â€˜Theyâ€™re fine,â€™ Peterson assured her. â€˜Theyâ€™re in the Lordâ€™s hands.â€™
â€˜Whatâ€™s that supposed to mean?â€™
â€˜Weâ€™re all in the Lordâ€™s hands, Sister Claire. Or perhaps you think differently?â€™
â€˜Of course not, Reverend. But Iâ€™d still like toâ€”â€™
â€˜Later, Sister Claire. Later. Right now, I have urgent business with Brother Griffin. Do you know where he is?â€™
â€˜In the cemetery. But Iâ€”â€™
â€˜Then if youâ€™ll excuse me,â€™ he said, striding off.
Griffin must have heard his car, because he met him halfway to the cemetery. â€˜What the hell happened last night?â€™ he demanded.
â€˜In good time,â€™ said Peterson. â€˜First, have you done everything I told you to do?â€™
Griffin nodded. â€˜You want to see?â€™
â€˜Indeed, Brother Griffin.â€™
They visited the emptied magazine, then the shaft. To Petersonâ€™s surprise, he had a hard time spotting where it had been, even standing right beside it. â€˜I suppose it will do,â€™ he said. His greatest worry now was that someone might shoot their mouth off. Specifically, Griffin or Claire. He glanced back towards the office. â€˜I donâ€™t want Claire here should the police or the SCA turn up. Take her back to the hotel. Keep her out of sight.â€™
â€˜But what will I tell her?â€™
â€˜Tell her you need to talk to the hotel people about something, and you need a translator.â€™
â€˜But they speak English at the hotel.â€™
â€˜Then think of something else,â€™ snapped Peterson. He watched Griffin traiters [ffipse away, then headed to the cemetery. The authorities were certain to visit sooner or later. His students needed to know what to tell them.
Captain Khaled Osman felt uncharacteristically anxious as Nasser drove him and his men out along the Royal Wadi road. He didnâ€™t like visiting the tomb before dark, but Faisal had insisted he needed some natural light to work by. It should be safe enough, he told himself. No tourists ever arrived this late; Amarna was simply too big to see in less than half a day. And heâ€™d made it quite clear to the locals that they were not to come down here any more.
They parked behind the generator building. Abdullah walked back a little way along the road to stand sentry just in case, while he, Faisal and Nasser traded their uniforms for old shirts and trousers. It was dirty work, what lay ahead. Heâ€™d have let Faisal and Nasser handle it themselves, but he didnâ€™t trust them to do good work if they werenâ€™t supervised. Besides, he felt the need for one last look.
He belted his holster back on. He felt naked without his Walther, his pride and joy, an unofficial memento of his army days that heâ€™d taken along with an AK-47 and a box of grenades for fishing with. Decent kit too, not like the Egyptian-made pieces-of-shit his men had to put up with. They crossed the drainage channel, picked their way across boulders and scree.
â€˜These damned boots!â€™ muttered Faisal, who always got agitated near where theyâ€™d found the girl.
The easiest way to reach the tomb mouth was to walk beyond it, climb the side of the wadi, then cut back across the top to a thin ledge. Faisal led the way. The man was a mountain goat. He reached the mouth, pulled back the sackcloth curtain, invisible from more than a few paces. Dust and grit sprinkled Khaledâ€™s hair as he followed him inside. â€˜How long do you need?â€™ he asked.
â€˜That depends, sir,â€™ said Faisal.
â€˜On how much help I get.â€™
Khaled stood there uncertainly. There was something about this place that seemed to incite insubordination. â€˜One last look,â€™ he said, picking up a torch. â€˜You never know.â€™
â€˜Sure,â€™ said Faisal. â€˜You never know.â€™
Khaled headed along the passage to the burial chamber, still fuming. Who did Faisal think he was? But he put it from his mind in the greater frustration of his failure in this place. Their first visit here, theyâ€™d found three statue fragments in the debris, a scarab and a silver amulet. Heâ€™d truly believed it was the start of great things. But the finds had dried up, and theyâ€™d only fetched a fraction of what heâ€™d hoped because no one believed they were genuine. He hadnâ€™t even got enough for them to share anything with his men. It was a paltry return for so much work. Whole sections of ceiling had caved in over the centuries, so that the whole place had been choked with sand and rubble. They couldnâ€™t dump it out the mouth, or someone would soon notice, so theyâ€™d shifted it from area to area instead, like cleaning house. And all by night, too, their only free time. Theyâ€™d grown increasingly weary and irritable, yet had never quite been able to give up. That was the cruelty of hope.