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



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‘So I got the wrong idea about all this. I thought he’d...

‘Oh, Gaille,’ said Lily. ‘I’m so sor­ry.’

‘It should­n’t have meant any­thing. He’d al­ready been out of my life for years, af­ter all. But it was­n’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 fa­ther’s as­sis­tant had al­ways been my job, you see. It should have been me out there with my fa­ther on that climb­ing trip. I’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 would­n’t have to blame my­self. Christ, I used to hate him.’ She shook her head rue­ful­ly, strug­gling to be­lieve how vi­olent her pas­sion had been. ‘I mean, I re­al­ly used to hate him.’

‘You ob­vi­ous­ly don’t hate him any more,’ ob­served Lily. ‘What hap­pened?’

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. ‘I met him,’ she said.

I

Fa­rooq kept his hand firm­ly on Knox’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. He’d hoped the drive would jog his mem­ory, but noth­ing came. His un­easi­ness grew. Fa­rooq was­n’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 déjà 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 Knox’s col­lar as if he was a mis­chievous dog as he pulled him out of the back. ‘Well?’ 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 could­n’t be sure.

He strode over, look­ing Knox up and down with dis­dain but no ob­vi­ous anx­iety. ‘De­tec­tive In­spec­tor,’ he said. ‘You again.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Fa­rooq. ‘Me again.’

‘What brings you back?’

Fa­rooq threw Knox a glance. ‘You re­mem­ber Mis­ter Daniel Knox?’

‘I saved his life. You think I’m like­ly to for­get?’

‘He says you’ve found some­thing here. An un­der­ground an­tiq­ui­ty.’

‘That’s ridicu­lous. I’d know if we had.’

‘Yes,’ said Fa­rooq. ‘You would.’

‘This is the man who killed Omar Taw­fiq,’ glared Pe­ter­son. ‘He’d say any­thing to shift the blame.’

‘His claims should be easy enough to prove or dis­prove. Un­less you have a prob­lem with that?’

‘On­ly that it’s a waste of ev­ery­one’s time, De­tec­tive In­spec­tor.’

‘Good.’ He turned to Knox. ‘Well, then?’

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 they’d re­strict­ed them­selves to af­ter dark but … 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 they’d moved the of­fice since yes­ter­day … and they had­n’t, he could tell from the pot­holed track and this park­ing area, not to men­tion the con­verg­ing foot­paths in the …

The foot­paths. Yes!

Walk­ing back and forth day af­ter day, they’d sure­ly have worn a faint path by now. He looked around. Paths led away in all di­rec­tions.

‘Well?’ 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 sta­tion’s grounds, and a thin foot­path wend­ing to­wards it. It was this or noth­ing. He nod­ded along it. ‘That way,’ he said.

II

Au­gustin walked down the front steps of Kostas’s build­ing in some­thing of a daze. A por­trait of Je­sus Christ. So Pe­ter­son’s ser­mo­niz­ing was­n’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. ‘The Se­cret Gospel of Mark!’ he cried, when Kostas an­swered his front door. ‘Why did­n’t you tell me about the Se­cret Gospel of Mark?’



‘Be­cause there’s no such thing,’ replied Kostas.

‘What are you talk­ing about? How can I have heard of it if it does­n’t ex­ist?’

‘You’ve heard of uni­corns, haven’t you?’

‘That’s not the same.’

‘It’s ex­act­ly the same,’ said Kostas. ‘The Se­cret Gospel is a fan­ta­sy, an in­ven­tion of greed and mal­ice. It nev­er ex­ist­ed. It can’t pos­si­bly have any­thing to do with this.’

‘You don’t know that. Not for sure.’

‘I’ve ded­icat­ed my life to the truth,’ said Kostas an­gri­ly. ‘Forg­eries are a can­cer. Talk­ing about them at all, even to dis­miss them, gives them a le­git­ima­cy they don’t de­serve.’

‘Even so,’ said Au­gustin. ‘You should have told me. Our friend’s in trou­ble. I need to know ev­ery­thing.’

Kostas’s scowl per­sist­ed for a few sec­onds, but then he sighed and re­lent­ed. ‘Very well, then,’ he said, lead­ing Au­gustin back through to his li­brary. ‘How much do you know?’

‘Not much,’ shrugged Au­gustin. ‘Some Amer­ican wom­an was over here a cou­ple of years ago, re­search­ing a book on the evan­ge­lists. Maria, I think her name was.’

‘Oh, yes,’ nod­ded Kostas. ‘I re­mem­ber her. Did­n’t you and she … ?’

‘We went out a cou­ple of times,’ he nod­ded. ‘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 that’s all I’ve got.’

Kostas sighed. ‘First of all, there nev­er was such a sec­ond gospel.’

‘So you say.’

‘Yes. So I say. The rea­son you’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. That’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 Smith’s name and ca­reer. What’s more, by a re­mark­able co­in­ci­dence, it hap­pened to val­idate a pet the­ory of his, for which there was pre­cious lit­tle oth­er ev­idence.’

‘How con­ve­nient.’

‘He wrote two books about it,’ nod­ded Kostas. ‘One for the gen­er­al pub­lic, the oth­er for ex­perts.’

‘Like the Gospel of Mark it­self.’

‘Ex­act­ly,’ agreed Kostas. ‘One of his lit­tle hoax jokes, no doubt.’

‘Hoax jokes?’

Kostas gri­maced. ‘To aca­dem­ic his­to­ri­ans, there’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 he’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 he’s con­se­quent­ly de­nounced as a forg­er? He’ll be ru­ined, per­haps even pros­ecut­ed. So hoax­ers of­ten take pre­cau­tions against this. For ex­am­ple, they might tell a trust­ed third par­ty what they’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.’

Au­gustin nod­ded. ‘And what you’re im­ply­ing is, if some­one wants to pull off a forgery, but is wor­ried about be­ing caught, there’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 they’re rum­bled?’



‘Exactly. And that’s precisely what Morton Smith did....

‘That’s pret­ty ten­uous.’

‘Yes, but then he did­n’t want to be dis­cov­ered, re­mem­ber. He on­ly want­ed an al­ibi in case he was.’

‘And was he?’

Kostas shrugged. ‘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. … Any­way, even that won’t hold any more. Ev­ery­thing about the let­ter has been anal­ysed with mod­ern tech­niques. Hand­writ­ing, vo­cab­ulary, phrase­ol­ogy. Noth­ing stands up. There’s on­ly one pos­si­ble con­clu­sion. It’s a mod­ern forgery, and i Itâ€ht,, and it was per­pe­trat­ed by Mor­ton Smith.’

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. ‘Very well,’ he said. ‘This let­ter is a con­temptible scam. Now what ex­act­ly does it say?’

I

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. ‘It’s here,’ said Knox. ‘It’s some­where here.’



Fa­rooq glared dag­gers at him. ‘Some­where here?’

He nod­ded south. ‘That way a lit­tle.’

‘I’ve had enough of this.’

‘It’s the truth. I’ve got pho­tographs.’

‘Pho­tographs?’ Fa­rooq seized up­on this. ‘Why did­n’t you say?’

‘They’ve dis­ap­peared,’ ad­mit­ted Knox.

‘Of course they have!’ scoffed Fa­rooq. ‘Of course they damned-​well have!’

‘Au­gustin saw them.’

‘And I’m sup­posed to be­lieve him, am I?’

‘I swear it. My friend Gaille emailed them to me.’

‘The one who just got tak­en hostage, you mean? How very con­ve­nient!’

‘But they’ll still be on her com­put­er,’ point­ed out Knox. ‘And that did­n’t get tak­en hostage. Call Her­mopo­lis. Get them to check.’

‘I’ve got a bet­ter idea,’ sneered Fa­rooq. ‘I’ll put you on the train down there so you can bring them back your­self.’

‘You have to lis­ten to me. She’s got—’

The punch caught him high on his cheek. Sali­va sprayed from his mouth as he stag­gered back against the fence. ‘I have to lis­ten, do I?’ yelled Fa­rooq, grab­bing Knox by his hair, drag­ging him fu­ri­ous­ly back to his car, twist­ing and tug­ging vi­cious­ly to make sure it hurt.

‘Will that be it, of­fi­cer?’ called out Pe­ter­son from be­hind. ‘Or should I ex­pect you again to­mor­row? I can have tea ready, if you let me know what time.’

Fa­rooq’s cheeks blazed but he did­n’t look around. He bun­dled Knox in­to the car with un­nec­es­sary force. ‘Are you try­ing to make a fool of me?’ he hissed, as Hos­ni pulled away. ‘Is that what this is about?’

‘I’m telling you the truth. There’s some­thing here.’

‘There’s noth­ing here!’ shout­ed Fa­rooq. ‘Noth­ing! You hear me?’

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. He’d made an im­pla­ca­ble en­emy of Fa­rooq. In half an hour or so, he’d be locked back up in his cell, pow­er­less to he­up in"2e…lp Gaille. And who could say when next he’d be let out?

A loud thump on the road ahead, the squeal of locked tyres. Horns blared, traf­fic slowed. ‘What now?’ snarled Fa­rooq, as Hos­ni put on the brakes.

‘Some id­iot lor­ry driv­er.’

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 Omar’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.

II

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. ‘This is a forgery, re­mem­ber,’ he warned Au­gustin. ‘A de­spi­ca­ble forgery de­signed to en­rich and ag­gran­dize one man at the ex­pense of the truth.’



‘Just tell me.’

‘Very well.’ He put on his read­ing glass­es, squint­ed at the pho­to­graph, mut­ter­ing each sen­tence to him­self un­til he’d made a suit­able trans­la­tion that he then spoke out loud for Au­gustin’s ben­efit.

‘To Theodore.

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.’

Kostas looked up. ‘Clement goes on to ac­knowl­edge the ex­is­tence of “se­cretâ€� writ­ings. Then he says:

‘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.’

Au­gustin smiled. ‘The in­ner­most satin s0pt­most sanc­tu­ary of truth!

‘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 – an ab­surd thing for him to do when you think about it – 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?’

‘Do I look like a Bible schol­ar?’

‘Well, the text reads: “And he came un­to Bethany. And then they left Bethany.â€� You see the prob­lem?’

‘Noth­ing hap­pens.’

‘There’s al­so an un­ex­plained switch from “heâ€� to “theyâ€�. Schol­ars have long won­dered whether some overzeal­ous Church ed­itor did­n’t cut out some prob­lem­at­ic episode; no doubt why Mor­ton Smith seized up­on it. Lis­ten. This is his ver­sion.

‘They ar­rived in Bethany. A wom­an whose broth­er had died was there. She pros­trat­ed her­self be­fore Je­sus and said, “Son of David, have mer­cy on me.â€� But his dis­ci­ples—’

‘What did you say?’ in­ter­rupt­ed Au­gustin. ‘Did you just say “Son of David, have mer­cy on meâ€�?’

Kostas frowned, per­plexed by his sud­den ve­he­mence. ‘Yes. Why?’

Augustin shook his head. That same subscript had been on...

Kostas nod­ded and picked it up again.

‘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.’

‘Good God,’ 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.

‘You can see why it gen­er­at­ed such con­tro­ver­sy,’ said Kostas. ‘But, like I say, it’s noth­ing but a ma­li­cious forgery. It can’t pos­si­bly have any­thing to do with this an­cient site of yours.’

‘Maybe not,’ ad­mit­ted Au­gustin. But what if Pe­ter­son did­n’t re­al­ize that?

I

Fa­rooq ran be­tween cars and leapt up on­to the cause­way wall in time to glimpse Knox’s dark slim shad­ow be­neath the sur­face, be­fore he lost him in the sun’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.



‘What the hell was that about?’ asked Hos­ni, step­ping up on­to the wall be­side him.

‘What did it look like?’

‘Some­thing spooked him,’ said Hos­ni.

‘Noth­ing spooked him,’ snapped Fa­rooq. ‘He did a run­ner, that’s all.’

‘It was those two bik­ers. They put the fear of God in him.’ He glanced cu­ri­ous­ly at Fa­rooq. ‘You did­n’t spin him one of your gang­ster yarns, did you?’

‘Be qui­et.’

‘You did!’ guf­fawed Hos­ni. ‘You told him that Omar was con­nect­ed! No won­der the poor guy fled!’

Fa­rooq turned fu­ri­ous­ly on his col­league. ‘I’ll on­ly say this once. One word of that bull­shit gets around, I’ll have your balls, un­der­stand?’

‘Yes, sir,’ said Hos­ni sober­ly.

‘Good.’ Traf­fic had stopped both sides of the cause­way. Fa­rooq felt eyes up­on him, mut­ters, snig­gers. His cheeks blazed. He’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.

‘Look!’ cried Hos­ni, point­ing out across the lake. ‘There he is!’

II

Cap­tain Khaled Os­man had made sure to tele­phone the kid­nap in­ves­ti­ga­tion team in As­si­ut bright and ear­ly that morn­ing. He’d spo­ken to a se­nior of­fi­cer, told him that he’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 he’d promised to send up a cou­ple of cars to look around, take state­ments. Now here they were. ‘A ter­ri­ble thing,’ he said, greet­ing each of them in turn, shak­ing his head sad­ly. ‘Tru­ly ter­ri­ble. Tell us what we can do to help. What­ev­er’s in our pow­er, just ask.’



‘That’s very good of you.’

‘Not at all. Things like this make me feel sick.’

‘We’ll need to see where they went. Speak to ev­ery­one who met them.’

‘Of course,’ said Khaled. ‘You can use this as your in­ter­view room. And I’ll take you round Amar­na my­self. We’ll fol­low the ex­act same route they took.’ He cast a look up at the heav­ens. An over­cast sky, a chill wind. One of Amar­na’s rare but bru­tal storms was brew­ing. He beck­oned Nass­er across. ‘I’m go­ing out with these of­fi­cers,’ he said. ‘Let no one in un­til they’ve fin­ished. No one. Un­der­stand. We can’t have sou­venir hunters con­tam­inat­ing the site. Is­n’t that right, of­fi­cers?’

‘Sure,’ nod­ded one.

Khaled climbed in the back of the first car, point­ed out which di­rec­tion to head. ‘Mak­ing any progress?’

The driv­er shook his head. ‘Not much. They seem to be ly­ing low.’ He gave a dry laugh. ‘They can’t have re­al­ized what a hor­net’s nest they’d stir up.’

‘That bad?’ asked Khaled, as a first few pat­ters of rain stut­tered on the roof and bon­net.

‘I’ve nev­er seen any­thing like it. As­si­ut’s just a sea of uni­forms. We’re go­ing door to door right now. We’ve al­ready tak­en a few hot­heads in­to cus­tody. They’re giv­ing us some names. You know how it is. Trust me. We’ll have these hostages back safe and sound with­in a week.’

Khaled nod­ded earnest­ly. ‘I’m glad to hear it,’ he said.

III

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