â€˜So I got the wrong idea about all this. I thought heâ€™d...
â€˜Oh, Gaille,â€™ said Lily. â€˜Iâ€™m so sorry.â€™
â€˜It shouldnâ€™t have meant anything. Heâ€™d already been out of my life for years, after all. But it wasnâ€™t like that. It knocked me all over the place. I did all the usual stupid things. I slept with everybody. I slept with nobody. I drank. I took drugs. It took me ages to pull myself together. And my anger was one of the things that helped me get through it. Not anger at my father. At Knox. Being my fatherâ€™s assistant had always been my job, you see. It should have been me out there with my father on that climbing trip. Iâ€™d have saved him. So it followed logically that Knox had killed him. He gave me a focus of blame, you know, so that I wouldnâ€™t have to blame myself. Christ, I used to hate him.â€™ She shook her head ruefully, struggling to believe how violent her passion had been. â€˜I mean, I really used to hate him.â€™
â€˜You obviously donâ€™t hate him any more,â€™ observed Lily. â€˜What happened?â€™
The question took Gaille by surprise. She had to consider it for a moment. When she realized the answer, it made her laugh out loud. â€˜I met him,â€™ she said.
Farooq kept his hand firmly on Knoxâ€™s shoulder as he steered him through the station, more to show the world who was boss than from any fear he might run. They climbed into the back of the police car together, Hosni taking the wheel. Knox stared out through the window as they left Alexandria behind, drove west then south on the low causeway across Lake Mariut. Heâ€™d hoped the drive would jog his memory, but nothing came. His uneasiness grew. Farooq wasnâ€™t a man to mess with. Beside him, as if sensing this, Farooq folded his arms and looked out of the other window, distancing himself from Knox, preparing to blame him if the trip proved a fiasco.
They turned down a lane, crossed an irrigation channel. Two uniformed security men were playing backgammon. A shudder of dÃ©jÃ vu, gone almost before he was aware of it. The guard took their names and business, called in, waved them through. They bumped their way along a track and over a small ridge, coasted down the other side to the offices, parking next to a white pick-up.
Farooq grabbed Knoxâ€™s collar as if he was a mischievous dog as he pulled him out of the back. â€˜Well?â€™ he asked.
Several young excavators appeared on the brow of a ridge, sniggering at the way Farooq was manhandling Knox. But then a man in a dog collar strode over the ridge and all humour instantly fled their faces, as though amusement were frivolous, and frivolity a sin. Peterson. It had to be. But though Knox thought he had the broad look of his balcony assailant, he couldnâ€™t be sure.
He strode over, looking Knox up and down with disdain but no obvious anxiety. â€˜Detective Inspector,â€™ he said. â€˜You again.â€™
â€˜Yes,â€™ agreed Farooq. â€˜Me again.â€™
â€˜What brings you back?â€™
Farooq threw Knox a glance. â€˜You remember Mister Daniel Knox?â€™
â€˜I saved his life. You think Iâ€™m likely to forget?â€™
â€˜He says youâ€™ve found something here. An underground antiquity.â€™
â€˜Thatâ€™s ridiculous. Iâ€™d know if we had.â€™
â€˜Yes,â€™ said Farooq. â€˜You would.â€™
â€˜This is the man who killed Omar Tawfiq,â€™ glared Peterson. â€˜Heâ€™d say anything to shift the blame.â€™
â€˜His claims should be easy enough to prove or disprove. Unless you have a problem with that?â€™
â€˜Only that itâ€™s a waste of everyoneâ€™s time, Detective Inspector.â€™
â€˜Good.â€™ He turned to Knox. â€˜Well, then?â€™
Knox had hoped just being here would trigger memories, but his mind remained frustratingly blank. He looked around, hoping for inspiration. Power-station towers. A cluster of industrial buildings. Two men laying pipe with a mechanical digger. The crescent of archaeologists, holding their rock-hammers and mattocks like weapons. They reminded him of a solid truth: there was an underground antiquity around here. These people had been getting in and out we hadiqu…ithout being seen. Maybe theyâ€™d restricted themselves to after dark but â€¦ His eyes darted to the office, its canvas extension. Could that be hiding something? But his photographs had clearly shown the shaft out in the open, so unless theyâ€™d moved the office since yesterday â€¦ and they hadnâ€™t, he could tell from the potholed track and this parking area, not to mention the converging footpaths in the â€¦
The footpaths. Yes!
Walking back and forth day after day, theyâ€™d surely have worn a faint path by now. He looked around. Paths led away in all directions.
â€˜Well?â€™ asked Farooq, arms folded, his patience running thin.
A shudder of memory. After dark, running, his heart racing, slapping against a wire-mesh fence. There was such a fence away to his left, marking the power stationâ€™s grounds, and a thin footpath wending towards it. It was this or nothing. He nodded along it. â€˜That way,â€™ he said.
Augustin walked down the front steps of Kostasâ€™s building in something of a daze. A portrait of Jesus Christ. So Petersonâ€™s sermonizing wasnâ€™t a metaphor. He was after the real thing. He straddled his bike, rocked it off its stand, intending to head back to the police station, but then he finally remembered why the Carpocratians had been familiar. He parked once more and strode angrily back inside. â€˜The Secret Gospel of Mark!â€™ he cried, when Kostas answered his front door. â€˜Why didnâ€™t you tell me about the Secret Gospel of Mark?â€™
â€˜Because thereâ€™s no such thing,â€™ replied Kostas.
â€˜What are you talking about? How can I have heard of it if it doesnâ€™t exist?â€™
â€˜Youâ€™ve heard of unicorns, havenâ€™t you?â€™
â€˜Thatâ€™s not the same.â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s exactly the same,â€™ said Kostas. â€˜The Secret Gospel is a fantasy, an invention of greed and malice. It never existed. It canâ€™t possibly have anything to do with this.â€™
â€˜You donâ€™t know that. Not for sure.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™ve dedicated my life to the truth,â€™ said Kostas angrily. â€˜Forgeries are a cancer. Talking about them at all, even to dismiss them, gives them a legitimacy they donâ€™t deserve.â€™
â€˜Even so,â€™ said Augustin. â€˜You should have told me. Our friendâ€™s in trouble. I need to know everything.â€™
Kostasâ€™s scowl persisted for a few seconds, but then he sighed and relented. â€˜Very well, then,â€™ he said, leading Augustin back through to his library. â€˜How much do you know?â€™
â€˜Not much,â€™ shrugged Augustin. â€˜Some American woman was over here a couple of years ago, researching a book on the evangelists. Maria, I think her name was.â€™
â€˜Oh, yes,â€™ nodded Kostas. â€˜I remember her. Didnâ€™t you and she â€¦ ?â€™
â€˜We went out a couple of times,â€™ he nodded. â€˜She told me that Mark had actually written two gospels. One for the uneducated masses, the other only for his inner circle. This second one was called the Secret Gospel of Mark, and it contained arcane and controversial teachings, and it had something to do with the Carpocratians. But thatâ€™s all Iâ€™ve got.â€™
Kostas sighed. â€˜First of all, there never was such a second gospel.â€™
â€˜So you say.â€™
â€˜Yes. So I say. The reason youâ€™ve heard of it is because back in the nineteen fifties, a young American academic called Morton Smith was doing research in the Monastery of Mar Saba. He claimed to have found a letter copied out into the blank endpapers of a seventeenth-century volume of the letters of Saint Ignatius. Thatâ€™s not so unusual. It was a common enough practice, what with the scarcity and value of paper. It was just that this letter was previously unknown, had purportedly been written by Clement of Alexandria, and had explosive subject-matter, all of which turned it into such a major find that it made Morton Smithâ€™s name and career. Whatâ€™s more, by a remarkable coincidence, it happened to validate a pet theory of his, for which there was precious little other evidence.â€™
â€˜He wrote two books about it,â€™ nodded Kostas. â€˜One for the general public, the other for experts.â€™
â€˜Like the Gospel of Mark itself.â€™
â€˜Exactly,â€™ agreed Kostas. â€˜One of his little hoax jokes, no doubt.â€™
Kostas grimaced. â€˜To academic historians, thereâ€™s all the difference in the world between a forgery and a hoax. Hoaxes are designed to show so-called experts up as gullible fools, and the perpetrator usually exposes them himself once heâ€™s had his fun. But a forgery is designed to deceive forever, and to make money for its perpetrator too. The first is mischievous and intensely irritating, but at least it keeps people on their toes. The second is unforgivable. Which presents any potential hoaxer with quite a problem. What if his hoax is exposed by someone else before he can expose it himself, and heâ€™s consequently denounced as a forger? Heâ€™ll be ruined, perhaps even prosecuted. So hoaxers often take precautions against this. For example, they might tell a trusted third party what theyâ€™re about to do, with instructions to reveal the truth on a specified day. Or they might incorporate telltale clues into their work. An anachronism of some kind, say, like the Roman soldier wearing a wristwatch in the movie. Not that obvious, naturally. But you get the idea.â€™
Augustin nodded. â€˜And what youâ€™re implying is, if someone wants to pull off a forgery, but is worried about being caught, thereâ€™s a lot to be said for putting in one or two of these clues so that they can laugh it off as a failed hoax if theyâ€™re rumbled?â€™
â€˜Exactly. And thatâ€™s precisely what Morton Smith did....
â€˜Thatâ€™s pretty tenuous.â€™
â€˜Yes, but then he didnâ€™t want to be discovered, remember. He only wanted an alibi in case he was.â€™
â€˜And was he?â€™
Kostas shrugged. â€˜Most academics immediately dismissed the letter as a forgery, but they were too kind or too timid to point the finger at Morton Smith. They claimed that it was most likely a seventeenth-or eighteenth-century forgery, though why anyone back then would have wanted to forge such a thing and just put it away in the shelves. â€¦ Anyway, even that wonâ€™t hold any more. Everything about the letter has been analysed with modern techniques. Handwriting, vocabulary, phraseology. Nothing stands up. Thereâ€™s only one possible conclusion. Itâ€™s a modern forgery, and i Itâ€ht,, and it was perpetrated by Morton Smith.â€™
Hard experience had taught Augustin that every time an academic controversy seemed settled, some new piece of evidence would come along to kick it all off again. But he kept his expression impassive; he needed Kostas to carry on talking. â€˜Very well,â€™ he said. â€˜This letter is a contemptible scam. Now what exactly does it say?â€™
Knox had rarely felt so isolated as he did walking along the footpath. The collective ill will from Farooq, Peterson and all the young archaeologists was palpable. But he strove to look confident all the same, scanning the rocky ground as he went, hoping to see something, anything. But he reached the fence without success. â€˜Itâ€™s here,â€™ said Knox. â€˜Itâ€™s somewhere here.â€™
Farooq glared daggers at him. â€˜Somewhere here?â€™
He nodded south. â€˜That way a little.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™ve had enough of this.â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s the truth. Iâ€™ve got photographs.â€™
â€˜Photographs?â€™ Farooq seized upon this. â€˜Why didnâ€™t you say?â€™
â€˜Theyâ€™ve disappeared,â€™ admitted Knox.
â€˜Of course they have!â€™ scoffed Farooq. â€˜Of course they damned-well have!â€™
â€˜Augustin saw them.â€™
â€˜And Iâ€™m supposed to believe him, am I?â€™
â€˜I swear it. My friend Gaille emailed them to me.â€™
â€˜The one who just got taken hostage, you mean? How very convenient!â€™
â€˜But theyâ€™ll still be on her computer,â€™ pointed out Knox. â€˜And that didnâ€™t get taken hostage. Call Hermopolis. Get them to check.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™ve got a better idea,â€™ sneered Farooq. â€˜Iâ€™ll put you on the train down there so you can bring them back yourself.â€™
â€˜You have to listen to me. Sheâ€™s gotâ€”â€™
The punch caught him high on his cheek. Saliva sprayed from his mouth as he staggered back against the fence. â€˜I have to listen, do I?â€™ yelled Farooq, grabbing Knox by his hair, dragging him furiously back to his car, twisting and tugging viciously to make sure it hurt.
â€˜Will that be it, officer?â€™ called out Peterson from behind. â€˜Or should I expect you again tomorrow? I can have tea ready, if you let me know what time.â€™
Farooqâ€™s cheeks blazed but he didnâ€™t look around. He bundled Knox into the car with unnecessary force. â€˜Are you trying to make a fool of me?â€™ he hissed, as Hosni pulled away. â€˜Is that what this is about?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m telling you the truth. Thereâ€™s something here.â€™
â€˜Thereâ€™s nothing here!â€™ shouted Farooq. â€˜Nothing! You hear me?â€™
They bumped their way out of the site, the car seething with silent rage, back onto the rural lanes to the causeway across Lake Mariut. Knox sank deep into despondency. His future looked unutterably bleak. Heâ€™d made an implacable enemy of Farooq. In half an hour or so, heâ€™d be locked back up in his cell, powerless to heup in"2e…lp Gaille. And who could say when next heâ€™d be let out?
A loud thump on the road ahead, the squeal of locked tyres. Horns blared, traffic slowed. â€˜What now?â€™ snarled Farooq, as Hosni put on the brakes.
â€˜Some idiot lorry driver.â€™
The other side of the central reservation, oncoming traffic slowed to rubberneck. A black-and-gold motorbike stopped by the low dividing wall, engine humming like a bumblebee, two men astride in black leathers and crash helmets. The pillion passenger tapped the driver on his shoulder, pointed out Knox sitting prisoner in the back of the police car. He unzipped his jacket and reached inside.
A sudden memory of the night before, Farooq warning him about Omarâ€™s family, how they blamed him for his death, their intent and capability. A perfect place for an ambush, this. He reacted without even thinking, throwing open the door while the car was still moving, leaping out, hitting the tarmac hard, crashing against the low wall of the central reservation, staggering dizzily to his feet.
Across the other side, the motorbike cut back into the stream of traffic, sped harmlessly away. A false alarm. Hosni screeched to a halt down the road. Farooq jumped out, gun drawn, face dark with fury. Knox held up his hands, but Farooq raised his gun all the same, aimed, braced to fire. Knox turned and fled across the central reservation, dancing between oncoming traffic, using it as a shield, then down the side of the causeway between two startled fishermen who grabbed their rods and ran. A ramp of sharp wet rocks sloped down into the lake, refracting beneath the surface to make it look impossibly shallow. A shot cracked out behind. He took a deep breath and dived into the dark lake waters.
Kostas plucked a large volume from his shelves, licked his thumb and forefinger, checked the index, then turned to pages of photographs of the original letter in handwritten Greek. â€˜This is a forgery, remember,â€™ he warned Augustin. â€˜A despicable forgery designed to enrich and aggrandize one man at the expense of the truth.â€™
â€˜Just tell me.â€™
â€˜Very well.â€™ He put on his reading glasses, squinted at the photograph, muttering each sentence to himself until heâ€™d made a suitable translation that he then spoke out loud for Augustinâ€™s benefit.
Commendations on silencing these Carpocratians. They are those mentioned in prophecy, who fall from the narrow path of the commandments into chasms of lust. They boast of knowing the secrets of Satan, yet do not realize that they are casting themselves away. They claim they are free, but in truth are slaves of their desires. They must be opposed utterly. Even should they say something true, do not agree with them. For not everything true is the truth, nor should human truth be preferred to the truth of faith.â€™
Kostas looked up. â€˜Clement goes on to acknowledge the existence of â€œsecretâ€� writings. Then he says:
â€˜So Mark wrote a second Gospel for those being perfected. He did not reveal the secrets or the sacred teaching of the Lord, but merely added new stories to those already written, and brought in certain sayings to lead hearers into the innermost sanctuary of truth.â€™
Augustin smiled. â€˜The innermost satin s0ptmost sanctuary of truth!
â€˜Apparently the Carpocratians tricked some hapless presbyter into giving them a copy of this supposed Secret Gospel. Clement then cites some of the more perverse sections â€“ an absurd thing for him to do when you think about it â€“ which is where this whole thing turns so controversial. But you need some context, first. Are you familiar with the lacuna in chapter ten of the Gospel of Mark, between verses thirty-four and -five?â€™
â€˜Do I look like a Bible scholar?â€™
â€˜Well, the text reads: â€œAnd he came unto Bethany. And then they left Bethany.â€� You see the problem?â€™
â€˜Thereâ€™s also an unexplained switch from â€œheâ€� to â€œtheyâ€�. Scholars have long wondered whether some overzealous Church editor didnâ€™t cut out some problematic episode; no doubt why Morton Smith seized upon it. Listen. This is his version.
â€˜They arrived in Bethany. A woman whose brother had died was there. She prostrated herself before Jesus and said, â€œSon of David, have mercy on me.â€� But his disciplesâ€”â€™
â€˜What did you say?â€™ interrupted Augustin. â€˜Did you just say â€œSon of David, have mercy on meâ€�?â€™
Kostas frowned, perplexed by his sudden vehemence. â€˜Yes. Why?â€™
Augustin shook his head. That same subscript had been on...
Kostas nodded and picked it up again.
â€˜But his disciples chastised her. And Jesus, angered, went with her to the tomb where the young man was buried. He reached out and raised him by his hand. But the young man, looking upon him, loved him and begged to go with him. And they went to the house of the young man, who was rich. And after six days Jesus instructed the youth, and he came to him that night wearing only a linen cloth over his naked body. And they stayed together, and Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And then he went to the far side of the Jordan.â€™
â€˜Good God,â€™ muttered Augustin. Linen cloths, naked bodies, overnight stays; standard fare for a Greek mystery initiation, a worst nightmare come true for a homophobic Christian fundamentalist.
â€˜You can see why it generated such controversy,â€™ said Kostas. â€˜But, like I say, itâ€™s nothing but a malicious forgery. It canâ€™t possibly have anything to do with this ancient site of yours.â€™
â€˜Maybe not,â€™ admitted Augustin. But what if Peterson didnâ€™t realize that?
Farooq ran between cars and leapt up onto the causeway wall in time to glimpse Knoxâ€™s dark slim shadow beneath the surface, before he lost him in the sunâ€™s reflection and the opaque churned water, so that he could only trace his progress through the diminishing trail of released bubbles. He aimed down, waiting tensely for Knox to resurface.
â€˜What the hell was that about?â€™ asked Hosni, stepping up onto the wall beside him.
â€˜What did it look like?â€™
â€˜Something spooked him,â€™ said Hosni.
â€˜Nothing spooked him,â€™ snapped Farooq. â€˜He did a runner, thatâ€™s all.â€™
â€˜It was those two bikers. They put the fear of God in him.â€™ He glanced curiously at Farooq. â€˜You didnâ€™t spin him one of your gangster yarns, did you?â€™
â€˜You did!â€™ guffawed Hosni. â€˜You told him that Omar was connected! No wonder the poor guy fled!â€™
Farooq turned furiously on his colleague. â€˜Iâ€™ll only say this once. One word of that bullshit gets around, Iâ€™ll have your balls, understand?â€™
â€˜Yes, sir,â€™ said Hosni soberly.
â€˜Good.â€™ Traffic had stopped both sides of the causeway. Farooq felt eyes upon him, mutters, sniggers. His cheeks blazed. Heâ€™d never hear the end of this! He felt an exquisite need to take it out on someone, anyone. His finger itched on the trigger, but Knox was still underwater: the man had the lungs of a whale.
â€˜Look!â€™ cried Hosni, pointing out across the lake. â€˜There he is!â€™
Captain Khaled Osman had made sure to telephone the kidnap investigation team in Assiut bright and early that morning. Heâ€™d spoken to a senior officer, told him that heâ€™d seen the coverage on the TV, and that Stafford and his crew had been filming in Amarna just the day before. The man had sounded deeply uninterested, the focus of his investigation clearly in Assiut. But heâ€™d promised to send up a couple of cars to look around, take statements. Now here they were. â€˜A terrible thing,â€™ he said, greeting each of them in turn, shaking his head sadly. â€˜Truly terrible. Tell us what we can do to help. Whateverâ€™s in our power, just ask.â€™
â€˜Thatâ€™s very good of you.â€™
â€˜Not at all. Things like this make me feel sick.â€™
â€˜Weâ€™ll need to see where they went. Speak to everyone who met them.â€™
â€˜Of course,â€™ said Khaled. â€˜You can use this as your interview room. And Iâ€™ll take you round Amarna myself. Weâ€™ll follow the exact same route they took.â€™ He cast a look up at the heavens. An overcast sky, a chill wind. One of Amarnaâ€™s rare but brutal storms was brewing. He beckoned Nasser across. â€˜Iâ€™m going out with these officers,â€™ he said. â€˜Let no one in until theyâ€™ve finished. No one. Understand. We canâ€™t have souvenir hunters contaminating the site. Isnâ€™t that right, officers?â€™
â€˜Sure,â€™ nodded one.
Khaled climbed in the back of the first car, pointed out which direction to head. â€˜Making any progress?â€™
The driver shook his head. â€˜Not much. They seem to be lying low.â€™ He gave a dry laugh. â€˜They canâ€™t have realized what a hornetâ€™s nest theyâ€™d stir up.â€™
â€˜That bad?â€™ asked Khaled, as a first few patters of rain stuttered on the roof and bonnet.
â€˜Iâ€™ve never seen anything like it. Assiutâ€™s just a sea of uniforms. Weâ€™re going door to door right now. Weâ€™ve already taken a few hotheads into custody. Theyâ€™re giving us some names. You know how it is. Trust me. Weâ€™ll have these hostages back safe and sound within a week.â€™
Khaled nodded earnestly. â€˜Iâ€™m glad to hear it,â€™ he said.