â€˜How about I shine down the torch and you do it?â€™...
â€˜I wish we had one of the captainâ€™s grenades,â€™ muttered Abdullah. â€˜So much easier.â€™
â€˜For us, you mean?â€™
Downidth=, ty">Down below, the second woman started sobbing piteously. Faisal struggled to block her cries and wails from his head.
â€˜Weâ€™ll do it together,â€™ said Abdullah finally. â€˜Then weâ€™ll check with the torch. Agreed?â€™
â€˜I donâ€™t like this,â€™ said Faisal.
â€˜You think I do?â€™ scowled Abdullah. â€˜But itâ€™s this or explain to Khaled.â€™
Faisal breathed deep. Heâ€™d slaughtered livestock on his farm ever since he could remember. That was all this was. Livestock ready for slaughter. â€˜Okay,â€™ he said. He readied his gun; the shrieking started down below.
â€˜On the count of three,â€™ said Abdullah.
â€˜On the count of three,â€™ agreed Faisal.
â€˜One â€¦â€™ said Abdullah. â€˜Two â€¦â€™
Augustin arrived home weary and apprehensive. Farooq had treated him with such contempt since heâ€™d decked him with his right hand that the spirit had gone completely out of him. Heâ€™d asked to visit Knox at the police station. Farooq had laughed in his face. He was normally an ebullient man, Augustin, but not tonight. He couldnâ€™t remember ever feeling this low.
A madwoman leaned over the banisters to bark at him about his rapist house guests. He lacked the energy even to yell back.
He half filled a tumbler with ice, opened a new bottle of single malt, took both glass and bottle through to his bedroom, set them down on his bedside table. Then he opened his wardrobe and lifted his stack of T-shirts. The folder had moved. No question. No surprise, either. Knox hadnâ€™t said anything on the phone earlier; of course he hadnâ€™t, he was a man; men discuss such things, thank Christ. But Augustin had heard that slight hesitation in his voice. At the time, heâ€™d put it down to his predicament. Only later had he realized that Knox would have needed a clean shirt, that of course heâ€™d have seen the folder. It was the way fate worked. It gave you the punishments you deserved.
He drew out the photographs; spread them on his duvet. His favourite was the first, not least because Gaille had given it to him herself. It showed the three of them out in the desert late one afternoon, arms around each otherâ€™s shoulders, grinning happily, against a backdrop of red-gold dunes, lengthening shadows, low slivers of mauve and orange cloud in a blue-wash sky. A grizzled Bedouin had taken it; theyâ€™d happened across him trudging the sands between nowhere and nowhere with the gloomiest-looking camel heâ€™d ever seen. Augustin, Gaille, Knox. Something had happened to him that day. When Gaille had given him the photograph, heâ€™d found it impossible to put away. Heâ€™d added to it, photos of her and Knox; others just of her.
His tumbler had somehow emptied. He refilled it.
Why have one woman when you could have twenty? In his heart, heâ€™d always scorned fidelity. Every man would behave like he did if only they could. Monogamy was for losers. Maybe he was just getting old, but evenings with Knox and Gaille had made him aware of the shabbiness of this life. Heâ€™d found it increasingly hard to pick up women. Heâ€™d lost his nerve, or perhaps his hunger. Heâ€™d developed a different hankering. He couldnâ€™t say what for, just that it was there, that it kept growing more severe, that it wouldnâ€™ moreys …t be sated by his usual conquests. One morning, a couple of months back, heâ€™d woken up effervescent with purpose, had leapt out of bed and had torn down a great strip of wallpaper, satisfying as a gigantic scab. Heâ€™d called in the builders that same day, had had his apartment gutted and redecorated.
The nesting instinct! Good grief! How had it come to this?
And yet it didnâ€™t feel like love. That was what Knox wouldnâ€™t understand. He was fond of Gaille, sure, but he didnâ€™t covet her or plot ways to win her. It didnâ€™t stab him in the heart when she looked at Knox in that way she had. Because it wasnâ€™t Gaille whoâ€™d got beneath his skin. It was the two of them together, the thing that had happened between them without them even knowing.
One of the unexpected hazards of archaeology was how you were constantly reproached by the lives of others. Ancient Alexandrians had had a life expectancy of some thirty-five years, less time on earth than heâ€™d already spent. Yet so many of them had achieved so much. And heâ€™d achieved so little.
His life was shit. Heâ€™d started buying whisky by the crate.
He lay back on his bed, his hands clasped beneath his head. He stared up at his freshly whitewashed ceiling, aware it was going to be a long night.
â€˜I canâ€™t do this,â€™ muttered Faisal, taking a step back from the edge of the sump. â€˜I canâ€™t. I wonâ€™t.â€™
â€˜Fine,â€™ scowled Abdullah. â€˜Then Iâ€™ll do it. But I wonâ€™t have you pointing the finger at me later if it all goes to shit.â€™
â€˜No,â€™ said Faisal. â€˜Neither of us are doing it. Itâ€™s wrong. Itâ€™s just wrong. You know it is.â€™
â€˜And youâ€™re going to tell Captain Khaled that, are you?â€™ snorted Abdullah.
Faisal grimaced. Abdullah had a point. Heâ€™d suffered only one of that manâ€™s proper beatings, but it had put him in hospital for a week. He didnâ€™t fancy a repeat. â€˜What were his orders, exactly?â€™ he asked.
â€˜Like I told you. To silence them.â€™
â€˜To silence them!â€™ snorted Faisal. â€˜And why did he use that particular word, do you think? So that if all this is found out, he can blame us for misinterpreting his orders. Weâ€™ll be hung while heâ€™ll be let off with a slap on his wrist.â€™
â€˜You think heâ€™d do that?â€™
â€˜Of course he would,â€™ said Faisal. â€˜Do you honestly believe everything weâ€™ve found here has been worthless, like heâ€™s been telling us? Bullshit. Heâ€™s just keeping it all for himself. Itâ€™s only ever him, him, him.â€™
Abdullah grunted. It was a suspicion they all shared. â€˜Then what do you suggest?â€™
â€˜We do precisely as he told you. We silence them.â€™
â€˜I donâ€™t understand.â€™
â€˜These two planks. We put one either side of the shaft. Then we stretch out the sheets and blankets between them, pin them down with rocks. Thatâ€™ll muffle any sound, especially once weâ€™ve sealed the mouth up.â€™
â€˜I donâ€™t know.â€™ Abdullah gave a shudder. â€˜If he finds out â€¦â€™
â€˜Howâ€™s he going to do that? Iâ€™m not going to tell him. Are you?â€™
â€˜So youâ€™d rather kill them, would you?â€™
Abdullah glanced down, considered the options then grimaced. â€˜Very well,â€™ he nodded. â€˜Letâ€™s do it.â€™
Knox ached from head to toe as he struggled to sleep. Bone-weary, they called it, and they knew what they were talking about. His cell was cold, his bench hard, his companions noisy sleepers, taking it in shifts to snore. The television was still on in the recreation room, volume cranked up high. It didnâ€™t seem to bother Egyptians at all â€“ they were born with mute buttons in their heads â€“ but it was an aspect of life here that Knox had never quite got used to.
It was the small hours before he finally drifted off, if not to sleep exactly, then to a state of inertia near enough to it. He wasnâ€™t sure how long heâ€™d been dozing that way when he heard a familiar voice. Gailleâ€™s voice. At first he thought he was dreaming; it made him smile. But then he realized it wasnâ€™t a dream. He realized it because of her choice of words, the strain in her tone. A jolt ran through him. He sat up, hurried to the cell door. Through the viewing window, he could just make out on the television screen the nightmare iconography of modern terrorism, Gaille and two others on the floor, two masked paramilitaries standing behind them, weapons across their chests.
â€˜Gaille!â€™ he muttered, disbelieving. He pounded his fist against the door. â€˜Gaille!â€™
â€˜Quiet, damn you,â€™ grunted one of his cell-mates.
â€˜Gaille!â€™ he yelled. â€˜Gaille!â€™
â€˜I said be quiet!â€™
A door banged, footsteps approached, a bleary-eyed policeman peered in. He glowered at Knox, kicked the door. Knox barely even noticed, squinting past him at the TV screen. It was Gaille for sure. He called out her name again, feeling utterly helpless, bewildered. The policeman unlocked and opened the cell door, tapped his cane menacingly against his thigh. But Knox simply barged past him, out into the recreation room, staring numbly upwards, listening to her words.
The policeman grabbed his shoulder. â€˜Back in your cell,â€™ he warned. â€˜Or Iâ€™ll have toâ€”â€™
â€˜Sheâ€™s my friend,â€™ snarled Knox. â€˜Let me watch.â€™
The policeman took a step back; Knox focused once more on the TV. The footage finished. The scene changed. A soberly dressed man and a woman in a news studio. No one had heard of the Assiut Islamic Brotherhood, but the authorities were confident of resolving this crisis peacefully. An inset screen appeared playing the hostage footage. Knox stared transfixed as Gaille adjusted her position, raised her right hand for emphasis. His skin prickled, though he wasnâ€™t sure why.
A door clanged behind him. He glanced around. Two more policemen were approaching, faces scrunched and mean. â€˜My friend,â€™ he explained, gesturing at the screen. â€˜Sheâ€™s been taken hostage. Please. I need toâ€”â€™
The first blow caught him on his thigh. He hadnâ€™t seen it coming at all, hadnâ€™t had time to brace himself. Pain spiked up his hip; he slumped onto one knee. The second blow glanced off his shoulder blade onto the back of his scalp, stars and amoebae dancing in front of his eyes as his face rushed at the floor. A sudden shudder of memory, driving the Jeep, Omar beside him, laughing eep, rouughing together at some joke. The sharp tang of diesel. Then his hair was grabbed and someone muttered in his ear, though there was such a ringing in his ears he couldnâ€™t make out the words. His head was dropped again, his cheek banged cold stone. They dragged him by his legs across the rough floor back to his cell.
Naguib went yawning into the kitchen, mouth dry, eyes gluey, eager for his first glass of morning chai. His wife didnâ€™t even look around, she was so riveted by her TV.
â€˜What is it?â€™ he asked.
â€˜Some Westerners were kidnapped in Assiut last night. Television people. They say they were filming in Amarna yesterday. Did you see them?â€™
â€˜Apparently this woman is the one who helped find Alexanderâ€™s tomb. Remember that press conference with the secretary general and that other man?â€™
â€˜The one you thought so handsome?â€™
Yasmine blushed. â€˜I only said he looked nice.â€™
â€˜What have they been saying?â€™
â€˜Just that their car was found burned out in Assiut, that...
Naguib frowned. â€˜Terrorists want rapists and murderers released?â€™
â€˜They say theyâ€™re not guilty.â€™
â€˜That poor young woman!â€™ said Yasmine. â€˜How is she holding herself together?â€™
Naguib put a hand on his wifeâ€™s shoulder. The video was playing in a loop, screen-in-screen, so he could see the hostagesâ€™ terrible anxiety, the freely bleeding cut on the manâ€™s cheek, the uplighting making strange shadows from their features, while the commentators took turns to deplore the ignominy this brought upon their nation, debating the steps their government would take. He too found it difficult to look away, despite his need to get to the office, clear his paperwork, buy himself some time to go see the local ghaffirs. But unlike his wife, it wasnâ€™t fellow feeling that kept him riveted. It was something else. His policemanâ€™s instincts were quivering deep inside. He just couldnâ€™t work out why.
Knoxâ€™s mouth was sore and sticky. He wiped it with the back of his hand. It came back smeared red. He sat up on the hard bench, suffered a dizzying rush of blood to his head; had to give himself a few seconds to adjust. But that was nothing compared to the visual memory that came next.
Gaille, kneeling, terrified, hostage of terrorists.
He leaned forward, fearful he was going to be sick, but somehow held it in. He stood, walked woozily to the door, peered through the glass. The television was still tuned to the news, though someone had finally turned down the volume. There she was, reading out her statement, the words already imprinted on his mind. The Assiut Islamic Brotherhood. Treating us well. Unless efforts are made toless when the men are released. If not released within fourteen days â€¦
That look on her face. Her shaking hands. She was fighting dread, terrified of something imminent, not fourteen days away. He wasnâ€™t a parent, Knox, but he felt then how a parent must feel, that desperation to help, that powerlessness. A savage sensation. Unbearable, except that he had no option but to bear it.
â€˜Your friend is one of the hostages?â€™
Knox blinked and looked around. The man in the rumpled white suit was talking to him. â€˜I beg your pardon?â€™
â€˜Your friend is one of the hostages?â€™
â€˜The red-headed girl or the dark-headed girl?â€™
â€˜The dark-headed girl.â€™ A sudden flicker of memory. Talking to two men, one in a dog collar, the other portly like this.
â€˜She looks nice.â€™
â€˜She is nice.â€™
â€˜Your girlfriend, is she?â€™
Knox shook his head. â€˜I just work with her.â€™
â€˜Sure,â€™ smiled the man. â€˜Thatâ€™s how I react when my colleagues get into trouble. I go crazy and pick fights with policemen.â€™
â€˜Sheâ€™s a friend too.â€™
He nodded. â€˜Anyway. I wanted to say how sorry I am that countrymen of mine could do this to her. If thereâ€™s anything I can do â€¦â€™
â€˜Thank you.â€™ He looked back at the screen. Something about the footage was whispering to him.
â€˜Iâ€™m not a good man. I wouldnâ€™t be here if I was. But I canâ€™t understand how men who claim to be of Allah could think that Allah would approve of that.â€™
â€˜Please,â€™ said Knox, begging for silence.
He focused back on the screen. The footage started over. Gaille kneeling on the floor, then adopting the lotus position, raising her right hand for extra emphasis. Heâ€™d seen that posture somewhere else recently. But where? He dug fingernails into his palm in an effort to force his mind to focus. Then he had it. That mosaic. The figure in the centre of the seven-pointed star.
Yes. His skin prickled.
Gaille was sending him a message.
The phone was ringing. It wouldnâ€™t bloody stop. Augustin did his best to ignore it until finally it went away again. But the damage had been done. He was awake. His mouth was dry and glued; a demolition crew was at work inside his skull. Morning, then. He turned onto his side, protected his eyes from the slanted sunlight, checked his bedside clock with a groan. Hangovers werenâ€™t the fun theyâ€™d once been. He pushed himself up, unnameable things sloshing and lurching inside. Not for the first time, he resolved to change his habits. But perhaps for the first, a little flutter of panic accompanied the thought, the teenager on the lilo who suddenly realizes how far out heâ€™s drifted.
He staggered to the loo, relieved himself in an unending dark-yellow stream. Ants had congregated around the porcelain bowl, a trail of the porne l of them leading across the floor up the wall and out through the half-open window. Christ! Maybe he had diabetes. That was one of the signs, wasnâ€™t it? Sweetness in your urine? Maybe that was why he felt so tired all the time. Or maybe the little bastards had just developed a taste for the hard stuff. They certainly seemed to be veering all over the place. The phone rang again, allowing him to put the unwelcome thought from his mind. â€˜Yes?â€™ he asked.
â€˜Have you seen?â€™ demanded Mansoor.
â€˜Gaille. On the news.â€™ Augustinâ€™s chest tightened as he turned on his TV. He knew it would be bad, but he still wasnâ€™t prepared. He sat numbly in his armchair until he heard Mansoor shouting his name. â€˜Augustin? Are you still there?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™ve been trying to get hold of Knox. Heâ€™s not at his hotel. Heâ€™s not answering his mobile.â€™
â€˜I know where he is.â€™
â€˜Someone needs to tell him. It should be a friend.â€™
â€˜Leave it to me.â€™
â€˜Thanks. And let me know when youâ€™ve spoken to him. Let me know what I can do.â€™ The phone clicked dead. Augustin replaced it in its cradle, stunned and nauseous, yet now at least with a purpose. He splashed water on his face and body, threw on some fresh clothes, hurried downstairs to his bike.
â€˜Weâ€™re going to die down here,â€™ sobbed Lily. â€˜We are, arenâ€™t we?â€™
â€˜People will find us,â€™ said Gaille.
â€˜No one will find us.â€™
â€˜Yes, they will.â€™
â€˜How can you say that?â€™
Gaille hesitated. She hadnâ€™t mentioned Knox yet, the message sheâ€™d tried to send him. It was such a long shot, it seemed unfair to place the burden of expectation on his shoulders. Yet Lily was on the verge of breakdown; she needed hope. â€˜I have a friend,â€™ she said.
â€˜Oh, you have a friend!â€™ scoffed Lily. â€˜Weâ€™re going to be saved because you have a friend!â€™
â€˜Yes,â€™ said Gaille.
Something in her calmness seemed to soothe Lily, but she wasnâ€™t about to let herself be comforted so easily, not while she sensed she could get more. â€˜And just how is this friend of yours going to help?â€™ she asked. â€˜Is he psychic or something?â€™
â€˜I told him where we were.â€™
â€˜You what?â€™ asked Stafford from the darkness.
â€˜When we were being filmed, I let him know we were in Amarna, not Assiut.â€™
Stafford gave a grunt, almost of amusement. â€˜And youâ€™ve somewhere else you need to be, have you?â€™
â€˜Thereâ€™s a portrait of Akhenaten weâ€™re both familiar...
â€˜So thatâ€™s why you shifted position when you were reading out the message?â€™
â€˜I dth="2/i>>â€˜I donâ€™t remember Akhenaten ever being portrayed that way.â€™
â€˜No?â€™ replied Gaille.
A brief silence fell. Gaille could imagine Staffordâ€™s stony expression. â€˜You really think your friend will deduce our whereabouts from that?â€™ he said. â€˜From the way you were sitting?â€™
â€˜Yes. I do.â€™
Lily touched her arm. â€˜Whatâ€™s his name, this friend of yours?â€™
Gaille breathed in deep. It felt strange saying it out loud. Like committing to something. â€˜Daniel Knox,â€™ she said.
â€˜And people will listen to him, will they? I mean, itâ€™s not much use him realizing where we are unless he can convince the authorities? So they know who he is, do they?â€™
â€˜Oh, yes,â€™ asserted Gaille, glad to be able to say something with absolute conviction. â€˜They know who he is, all right.â€™
The metal door of the interview room squealed on its hinges as Farooq backed in, carrying a tray with two cups of coffee, a pad of paper and a tape recorder that he set down on the table. â€˜I hear youâ€™ve been making quite a nuisance of yourself,â€™ he said.
â€˜My friendâ€™s been taken hostage,â€™ said Knox. â€˜Sheâ€™s sending me a message.â€™
â€˜Yes, yes,â€™ said Farooq. â€˜This famous message of yours. My colleagues have been discussing it all morning.â€™
â€˜You have to tell the investigating team. It could be important.â€™
â€˜Tell them what, exactly? That you think sheâ€™s trying to send you a message, but you donâ€™t know what it is? What use is that?â€™
â€˜Let me out of here. Iâ€™ll find out what it is.â€™
â€˜Sure. Iâ€™ll let all our killers out, shall I? They can help you look.â€™
â€˜Please. Iâ€™m begging you. At least notify the people running the kidnap investigationâ€”â€™
â€˜Mister Knox. Calm down. One of my colleagues has already contacted Assiut, I assure you. Theyâ€™ll call back if they want to know more. They havenâ€™t yet. I doubt they will. But if they do, Iâ€™ll let you know. You have my word. Now, can we please concentrate on the matter in hand?â€™
â€˜The matter in hand?â€™
Farooq rolled his eyes. â€˜Last night I warned you I intended to charge you with the murder of Omar Tawfiq. Or have you forgotten?â€™
â€˜Well, then. Has your memory returned yet? Are you prepared to tell us what truly happened? Why you drove into that ditch?â€™
â€˜I didnâ€™t drive into it.â€™
â€˜Yes, you did. And I want to know why.â€™ He leaned forwards a fraction, a look in his eye almost like greed. â€˜Thereâ€™s something on Petersonâ€™s site, isnâ€™t there?â€™
Knox hesitated. Under other circumstances, heâ€™d have resisted Farooqâ€™s clumsy efforts to make him incriminate himself. But Gaille was in danger, and she needed his help. And the key to her message lay in the mosaic on Petersonâ€™s site. â€˜osaicy">…Yes,â€™ he said. â€˜There is.â€™
â€˜I knew it!â€™ exulted Farooq, clenching a fist. â€˜I knew it! What is it?â€™
â€˜An underground network. Chambers, corridors, catacombs.â€™
â€˜And thatâ€™s why you drove Omar into the ditch, isnâ€™t it?â€™
â€˜I didnâ€™t drive Omar into the ditch.â€™
â€˜Sure!â€™ scoffed Farooq. He grabbed his pen. â€˜Right, then. Tell me how to find this thing. Believe me, itâ€™ll go easier with you if you cooperate.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™ll do better than that,â€™ said Knox, with as much assurance as he could muster. â€˜Take me out there and Iâ€™ll show you.â€™
Augustin got little joy at the police station. No visits allowed for Knox; even after an offer of baksheesh. In interview, apparently. Come back in an hour. He went out onto the station steps, fretful, feeling the need to do something â€“ anything â€“ that might help. A clear blue sky, the sun still too low to offer much warmth. He rubbed his cheeks, massaged his temples, his mind leaden and fuzzy. Sometimes, in the middle of conversations, heâ€™d start slurring slightly for no reason whatsoever. Heâ€™d stop speaking at once, limit himself to grunts and nods. People thought him rude.
Perhaps Kostas would know something. Knox had been arrested at his apartment, after all. He got onto his bike, sped through the morning traffic, parked down a narrow alley, hurried up the front steps. The elderly Greek grimaced at the sight of him, the smell of whisky on his breath.
â€˜Last nightâ€™s,â€™ grunted Augustin, as he went inside.
â€˜If you say so.â€™
â€˜Youâ€™ve heard about Knox?â€™
Kostas nodded. â€˜They arrested him here, you know,â€™ he said, his hands trembling, his eyes watery. â€˜It was awful. Is it true what they said about Omar?â€™
â€˜That heâ€™s dead, yes. That Knox was responsible, no. Listen, I donâ€™t have much time. I need to know what you and Knox talked about.â€™
â€˜All kinds of things. The Therapeutae. The Carpocratians.â€™
â€˜The Carpocratians?â€™ A bell rang distantly in Augustinâ€™s mind. â€˜What about them?â€™
â€˜Among other things, that they used to identify each other by tattooing the lobes of their right ears.â€™
â€˜Quite. That was Knoxâ€™s reaction too. He asked me why biblical archaeologists might be hunting them down. Thatâ€™s when those policemen arrived. I think Iâ€™ve found the answer, though.â€™
â€˜They were quite the aesthetes, the Carpocratians. They didnâ€™t just admire the philosophy of people like Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras, they decorated their temples with their portraits and busts.â€™
â€˜So?â€™ frowned Augustin. â€˜Why would a biblical archaeologist be interested in a bust of Plato or Pythagoras?â€™
â€˜Oh, no,â€™ chuckled Kostas. â€˜You misunderstand me. Not a bust. A painting. And not of Plato or Pythagoras.â€™
â€˜According to our ancient sources, the Carpocratians posssourcrigns possessed the only portrait ever made of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.â€™
â€˜Tell us about him,â€™ said Lily.
â€˜About who?â€™ asked Gaille.
â€˜This friend of yours. Daniel Knox, wasnâ€™t it? The one whoâ€™s going to save us.â€™
â€˜Oh, him,â€™ said Gaille.
â€˜Yes,â€™ agreed Lily dryly. â€˜Him.â€™
Gaille swept her hair back from her brow, held it there in a bunch. â€˜Heâ€™s just this guy I work with, thatâ€™s all. But he has a knack of making things happen, you know.â€™
â€˜A knack,â€™ said Stafford. â€˜Oh, good.â€™
â€˜I canâ€™t explain it better. But if anyone can find us, he will.â€™
â€˜Are you two â€¦ ?â€™ asked Lily.
â€˜No.â€™ She sensed how thin that sounded, so she added: â€˜Itâ€™s complex. We have history.â€™
She sighed. â€˜My father meant a great deal to me when I was young. He meant everything. All I ever wanted was to please him. I became an Egyptologist because thatâ€™s what he was, because it meant I could go away on excavation with him. Thatâ€™s when I first came on excavation at Amarna, even though I was still at school at the time. Then he started a new dig in Mallawi, just across the river from here. I was to be his assistant. But he postponed at the last minute, so that it didnâ€™t get underway until after my school term had started, and I couldnâ€™t go with him. Then I found out that heâ€™d taken this man Daniel Knox in my place.â€™ She took a deep breath. â€˜The thing is, my father was â€¦ thatâ€™s to say, he preferred men to women.â€™