Knox was still heaving for air when he heard the gunshot...
Lake Mariutâ€™s northern bank was just a couple of hundred metres away, fringed by clumps of reeds that offered cover. He couldnâ€™t see the southern bank at all, but he knew from memory that the lake was a good two kilometres across.
Another shot cracked, another spout of water. He couldnâ€™t wait any longer. He kicked back underwater. The lake was shallow, just a metre deep in places. Its floor was littered with masonry, relics of the dilapidated piers that had been built out onto it over the millennia. He found a chunk of stone, held it against his chest, using it as a weight to hold himself down while he took on more air.
Farooq would surely expect him to come ashore on the northern bank. But the terrain was so bare and open heâ€™d struggle to avoid recapture even for an hour. And avoiding recapture wasnâ€™t enough. He needed to find that mosaic, establish his innocence, help Gaille. And the way to do that was by heading south, not north.
He oriented himself using the sunlight, clasped the stone against his belly, then headed southwest, propelling himself with smooth, even kicks, pausing every thirty seconds or so to take on more air.
Augustin was climbing back astride his motorbike when his mobile rang. â€˜Doctor Augustin Pascal?â€™ asked a man.
â€˜Speaking,â€™ said Augustin. â€˜Whoâ€™s this?â€™
â€˜My name is Mohammed. I shared a cell with a friend of yours last night. A Mister Daniel Knox.â€™
â€˜He asked you to call me?â€™
â€˜Yes. He wanted me to pass a message to you about your friend the woman Gaille, the one whoâ€™s been taken hostage.â€™
â€˜After he saw her, he was very upset. I asked how I could help. Then this morning, before he went off to Borg el-Arab with Detective Inspector Farooq, he gave me this number.â€™
â€˜What was the message?â€™ asked Augustin.
â€˜I would have called earlier, but they only just let me out. Itâ€™s gone crazy around here. All the police are heading off toâ€”â€™
â€˜Tell me this bloody message!â€™ shouted Augustin.
â€˜Okay, okay.â€™ He took a deep breath, as though trying to remember word-for-word what heâ€™d been told to say. â€˜Apparently the way your friend Gaille was sitting in the video was exactly the same as in the mosaic. Exactly the same. Mister Daniel said youâ€™d know what that meant.â€™
Augustinâ€™s skin tingled. Of course! How had he failed to spot it himself? â€˜Whereâ€™s Knox now?â€™ he asked. â€˜I need to speak to him.â€™
â€˜Thatâ€™s what I was trying to tell you,â€™ said the man. â€˜He went o,â€™
â€˜Heâ€™s done what?â€™
â€˜I wouldnâ€™t be in his shoes. Not for anything. That Farooq is one mean bastard. He doesnâ€™t like anyone getting the better of him.â€™
â€˜No,â€™ agreed Augustin ruefully. â€˜And thanks.â€™ He ended the call, sat there a few moments, wondering what to do, how best to help. His first thought was to go look for Knox, but that was a tall order on his own and with the police out hunting. Anyway, if he knew Knox, heâ€™d want him to go for the mosaic, because that was the way to help Gaille. The only question was how.
Knox hauled himself exhausted and dripping onto the craggy southern shore of Lake Mariut. He kept low as he hurried across the exposed rocky fringe, up a slight rise and into the shadow of one of the ubiquitous Bedouin pigeon houses that stood like huge, tar-covered bells.
He felt drained from his long swim, but he didnâ€™t have time to recuperate. By panicking and running, heâ€™d certainly quashed any lingering doubts Farooq might have had over his guilt. Heâ€™d humiliated him too. The word would already be out: a killer was on the loose. Egyptian police didnâ€™t carry their guns as fashion accessories. Theyâ€™d shoot on sight. And if he handed himself in, theyâ€™d simply go to work on him with their canes, and he was quite sore enough already.
He kicked off his shoes, stripped off his shirt and trousers, laid them against the shimmering hot surface of the birdhouse. Water vapour instantly began smouldering from the cotton. When theyâ€™d dried sufficiently on one side, he turned them over.
A sixth sense made him look around. A grizzled Bedouin farmer was standing a hundred metres or so away, leaning on his staff, watching him curiously. Knox shrugged his shoulders, not unduly alarmed. No self-respecting Bedouin would willingly talk to the police. But he needed to get moving.
His clothes were already dry enough to pull back on. The twin chimneys of the power station were a two-fingered salute in the western skyline. Petersonâ€™s dig lay beyond them. He nodded to the shepherd as he began to jog.
It was Lily who heard the noise first. â€˜What was that?â€™ she asked.
â€˜What was what?â€™ asked Stafford.
â€˜I donâ€™t know. It sounded like â€¦ tapping.â€™
They listened together. Now Gaille heard it too. Every four seconds or so. A gentle tap coming from somewhere high above. â€˜Hello!â€™ called out Lily. â€˜Anyone up there?â€™ She fell silent, the echoes died away. There it was again, its rhythm unchanged.
â€˜Somethingâ€™s dripping,â€™ said Lily.
â€˜Yes,â€™ said Stafford.
â€˜Listen,â€™ swallowed Gaille. â€˜I donâ€™t want to alarm you guys or anything, but if that is dripping, then maybe itâ€™s started raining.â€™
â€˜But this is desert,â€™ said Lily.
â€˜It still rains here,â€™ said Gaille. â€˜In fact, I was here during a storm once, years ago. You wouldnâ€™t believe how fierce they can get. And thereâ€™s a rift in the plateau directly above us, remember? If thereâ€™s some way for the water to get some C toin â€¦â€™
â€˜Itâ€™ll all end up draining down here,â€™ muttered Stafford bleakly, finishing the thought for her.
â€˜But itâ€™s only drips,â€™ said Lily.
â€˜So far,â€™ agreed Gaille. But right then a second drip joined the first, at a slightly different tempo. And then, a minute after that, they heard the first trickle.
â€˜Have you still got that remote-controlled aircraft?â€™ asked Augustin, walking unannounced into Mansoorâ€™s SCA office.
â€˜Iâ€™m in a meeting,â€™ protested Mansoor, gesturing to the three men in sombre dark suits around his table. â€˜Canâ€™t this wait?â€™
â€˜There!â€™ said Augustin, spotting the outsize box leaning against the wall. He opened it up, looked inside. A GWS Slowstick. Perfect. As easy to operate as they came. He checked through the components, fuel, remote controls, batteries and other attachments. Everything heâ€™d need.
â€˜Itâ€™s not mine,â€™ protested Mansoor. â€˜It belongs to the Germans. Itâ€™s valuable equipment. I canâ€™t possibly let you just take it.â€™
Augustin hefted it to his shoulder, nodded at the suits. â€˜Nice to meet you all,â€™ he said.
â€˜Youâ€™ll return it?â€™ asked Mansoor plaintively. â€˜Rudi will kill me if anything happens to it.â€™
â€˜Youâ€™ll have it back this evening,â€™ promised Augustin. â€˜You have my word.â€™
â€˜Thatâ€™s what you said about my GPS.â€™
But the door banged closed behind Augustin. He was on his way.
Knox made good progress until he reached the power station, whose perimeter fence stretched away in both directions. Petersonâ€™s site lay on the other side; he had neither the time nor the inclination for a detour. The wire was flopping limply with age, making it hard to climb. He went to one of the cement pillars, where it was sturdier, checked to make sure he wasnâ€™t being watched, then hauled himself up. The mesh left red welts across his fingers. He vaulted over, dropped inelegantly down the other side, stumbling onto his hands and knees.
He waited a few moments in case the alarm went up, then stood and walked briskly with his head bowed across a half-empty car park outside some kind of administrative block. A side door opened as he approached and a dumpy woman came out, frowning suspiciously. He angled away from her, putting a line of parked cars between them. She put her head back inside, called out. Knox raised his pace. An overweight security guard ambled out. The woman pointed to Knox. The guard called out for him to stop. Knox broke into a run instead, aiming for the far fence. The footing was treacherous. A stone turned and sent him tumbling, wrenching his knee. He glanced around. The guard was closing in on him, a second one following, yelling for backup. Knox pushed himself up, hobbled over to the fence, climbed it, pain spiking up his leg as he landed.
The first guard reached the fence behind him, breathing too hard to remonstrate beyond wagging a finger. Knox limped away, fearful that the commotion would attract Peterson and his crowd. His knee throbbed badly, but he didnâ€™t dare slow. If the pol didn Fice heard about this, the place would be swarming within minutes. He didnâ€™t have a moment to waste.
The remote-controlled aircraft was too bulky and cumbersome for Augustinâ€™s bike, so he waved down a taxi, put the box across its rear seat, and hired the driver to follow him out to Borg el-Arab.
Heâ€™d operated many such planes before. It was a great way to photograph ancient sites, not to mention a lot of fun too. They were easy enough beasts to fly. Launching them, however, was another matter, as was taking photographs while they were up.
He parked his bike in a thin copse a kilometre or so from Petersonâ€™s site, waved the taxi in beside him. The driver was in his early twenties, with wispy facial hair and a jovial demeanour. â€˜Whatâ€™s your name?â€™ Augustin asked him as he paid him off.
â€˜Well, Hani. You want to earn another ten?â€™
â€˜Of course. How?â€™
Augustin got the box out of the back, opened it up. Haniâ€™s eyes and mouth made three perfect circles of excitement when he saw the plane inside. â€˜Can I have a go?â€™
â€˜Sure. Once Iâ€™m done.â€™
They cut across country, keeping a wall between them and Petersonâ€™s site, until they reached a suitable patch of clear hard ground. As good a spot as any. Augustin knelt, opened the box, began assembly.
â€˜Whatâ€™s this for, then?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m doing a survey for the Supreme Council of Antiquities.â€™
â€˜Sure you are!â€™
Augustin grinned. â€˜Have you ever seen an aerial photograph of a field? You wouldnâ€™t believe how much detail it reveals.â€™ He snapped the red foam wings onto the praying-mantis frame, tightened the screws. â€˜Ditches, walls, roads, settlements. Things you can walk over every day without even noticing, suddenly they spring out at you.â€™ The technique had been discovered by accident almost exactly a hundred years before. The British Army had been experimenting with aerial reconnaissance on Salisbury Plain when their balloon had drifted over Stonehenge, its photographs revealing for the first time the lattice of ancient footpaths that crisscrossed the site.
â€˜Huh,â€™ said Hani.
â€˜Huh, indeed,â€™ agreed Augustin. â€˜I couldnâ€™t have put it better myself.â€™ He fixed the camera obliquely to the undercarriage so that he could photograph the site without flying directly over it, then tested the remote controls to make sure everything responded as it should. â€˜Okay,â€™ he said, satisfied. â€˜Letâ€™s do it.â€™
Knox crept up behind Petersonâ€™s cabin office. A heated conversation was taking place inside, but the windows were closed, so that he could only make out the occasional word. Cairo. Police. Coward.
The white pick-up was still parked in front, joined by a blue Toyota 4x4, the spitting image of the vehicle in which his balcony assailant had fled. It hadnâ€™t been there earlier. Was it possible someone had moved it after the security guard had alerted them that he and Farooq were on their way in? More to the point, was it possible Augustinâ€™s laptop was still inside?
He crouched and hurried over. The glare of the sun and ther. T Kn ae dusty glass made it hard to see. He tried the door. Unlocked. He checked front and back. Nothing. He shut the door quietly, circled around, glimpsed something half-hidden beneath a dustsheet through the rear window. He lifted the hatchback quietly. Not a laptop, as heâ€™d hoped, just a small box of pencils, pens, notepads and other such supplies. Voices grew louder suddenly from the direction of the cabin, two men thrashing it out while they walked towards him. He ducked down, tried to press the hatchback closed, but it wouldnâ€™t lock, it needed to be closed with force.
â€˜This is madness, Reverend,â€™ said one of the men. â€˜We need to leave, not chase off across Egypt on some fool errand.â€™
â€˜You worry too much, Brother Griffin.â€™
Knox couldnâ€™t risk slamming the hatchback closed: heâ€™d be noticed instantly. He made to get away instead, using the Toyota as cover. But the hatchback began to rise on its hydraulic arms, forcing him to hurry back, grab it, hold it down. The two men were coming his way. He was bound to be spotted in a moment. He raised the hatchback just far enough to slip inside, then pulled it down after him, holding it there by pinching the interior catch.
â€˜How many times do I have to tell you?â€™ said Griffin. â€˜Pascal has clout with these people. He wonâ€™t leave this alone, believe me. Heâ€™ll get the SCA to launch an investigation. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but itâ€™ll happen, count on it. And when it does, theyâ€™ll find the shaft, theyâ€™ll find the steps. Theyâ€™ll find everything. Theyâ€™ll ask us to explain. And what will we tell them then?â€™
â€˜Careful, Brother Griffin. Youâ€™re becoming hysterical.â€™
â€˜These students are in my care,â€™ retorted Griffin. â€˜Theyâ€™re my responsibility. I take that seriously.â€™
â€˜You take saving your own skin seriously.â€™
â€˜Think what you like. Iâ€™m getting them home. Donâ€™t you know what the Egyptian criminal justice system is like?â€™
â€˜Are you suggesting Godâ€™s work is criminal?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m suggesting that God helps those who help...
A momentâ€™s pause. The salvo had hit home. â€˜What precisely are you recommending?â€™
â€˜Havenâ€™t you been listening? We get the first flight out, screw the cost. Back to the States, if possible, but anywhere in Europe failing that. And when the story breaks, which it will, weâ€™ll deny everything. Weâ€™ll say we were acting with the full knowledge and blessing of the SCA. Itâ€™ll be our word against theirs, and no one back home will believe an Egyptian over us, which is all that matters.â€™
â€˜Very well,â€™ said Peterson. â€˜You take care of your students. Leave Godâ€™s work to me.â€™
â€˜Suits me fine.â€™
The driver door opened. Peterson climbed in, the vehicle lurching slightly beneath his weight, enough to jolt the hatchback free from Knoxâ€™s grasp. He tried to grab it back but it was too late, it was already rising up on its hydraulic arms. Peterson gave a weary sigh. â€˜Close that for me, would you please, Brother Griffin?â€™
â€˜Of course,â€™ said Griffin. And he walked around towards the rear of the Toyota, where Knox was lying in plain view, glowx was Kew,ing golden in the slanted afternoon sunshine.
â€˜What are we going to do?â€™ wailed Lily, as the trickle of water turned into a stream.
â€˜Letâ€™s not panic, for one thing,â€™ replied Gaille. She struck one of their dwindling stock of matches, lit the candle stub, stood up.
High above her, the dustsheets and blankets stretched out between the planks were sagging visibly beneath the gathering weight of water. A drip filtered through the fabric even as she watched, splashed at her feet. There was no way to know how hard a storm this was. Hope for the best, they always advised, but plan for the worst. The foot of the sump was rubble and compacted sand. At first the water would soak away into it. But eventually it would be saturated and then the shaft would start to fill. â€˜We need to dig,â€™ she said.
She stamped the floor with her foot. â€˜We dig down on one side, build up a ramp on the other. Thatâ€™ll give the water somewhere to drain off to, and itâ€™ll provide us with a ledge to stand on as well.â€™
There was silence as they contemplated this, how small a response to how remorseless a threat. But it was better than nothing.
â€˜Letâ€™s do it,â€™ said Stafford.
Knox braced himself for imminent discovery as Griffin arrived around the back of the Toyota, but instead of looking down, he was staring up into the sky. It took Knox a moment to hear what had snagged his attention, an engine like a chain saw, buzzing loudly for a moment before dying away again. Griffinâ€™s frown turned to a scowl. He slammed the hatchback down without looking, marched back to the driverâ€™s window. â€˜You hear that?â€™ he demanded.
â€˜Hear what, Brother Griffin?â€™
â€˜That!â€™ He jabbed a finger at the sky. â€˜Itâ€™s a damned remote-controlled aircraft. That Frenchman Pascal is taking pictures of our site.â€™
â€˜Are you sure?â€™
â€˜How many remote-controlled aircraft have you seen here since we started?â€™
â€˜None,â€™ acknowledged Peterson.
â€˜And you think itâ€™s just coincidence thereâ€™s one today, do you?â€™
A few beats of silence. â€˜Will he find it?â€™
â€˜Damn right,â€™ said Griffin. â€˜Have you forgotten how we found this place?â€™
â€˜Then youâ€™d better stop him,â€™ said Peterson.
â€˜How do you mean?â€™
â€˜I mean exactly what I say. Take our security men. Get that camera from him before he can do anything with it.â€™
â€˜We canâ€™t do that!â€™
â€˜You have no choice, Brother Griffin. Unless you donâ€™t mind your precious students paying for your cowardice.â€™
â€˜Fine,â€™ scowled Griffin. â€˜But then weâ€™re out of here.â€™
â€˜And a great loss that will be,â€™ said Peterson. He put the Toyota into gear, lumbeput t Nring away over the rutted ground, taking Knox with him wherever it was he was headed.
The manhunt for Knox was not going well. â€˜This is ridiculous,â€™ said Hosni. â€˜Heâ€™s got away. Accept it.â€™
â€˜He hasnâ€™t got away,â€™ retorted Farooq, sweeping his arm across Mariutâ€™s northern shore, barren and open except for a few thin clumps of reeds that theyâ€™d already searched three times. â€˜How could he possibly have got away without us seeing him?â€™
â€˜He must have drowned then,â€™ muttered Hosni. â€˜Give him a day or two, heâ€™ll bob up for sure.â€™
Farooq grunted. He had little faith that Knox would do the honourable thing. â€˜Heâ€™s here somewhere,â€™ he said, opening his car door, sitting down and turning on the heaters to blast hot air at his wet feet. â€˜I know he is.â€™
â€˜Come on, boss. The guys have had enough. Letâ€™s call it a day.â€™
â€˜Heâ€™s a killer. An escaped killer.â€™
â€˜You donâ€™t honestly believe that, do you?â€™
â€˜If you hadnâ€™t put on the brakes, he wouldnâ€™t have got away.â€™
â€˜You wanted me to crash into the car in front? Is that what youâ€™re saying?â€™ Hosni took a deep breath, spread his hands. â€˜Look, boss. Maybe he is still here, but isnâ€™t it just possible he managed to slip away? Why donâ€™t I send some of the guys to check out the places he might have gone?â€™
â€˜Pascalâ€™s apartment, for one. And to that man Kostas, where we picked him up yesterday. Or his hotel. Or Petersonâ€™s site.â€™
â€˜Not Peterson,â€™ glowered Farooq. â€˜Iâ€™m not having that man gloating about Knox getting away from me again. Iâ€™m not having it, you hear?â€™
â€˜Fine. Iâ€™ll just have a car monitor the lane. Thatâ€™s all. He wonâ€™t even know theyâ€™re there. The others can go back to Alex.â€™ He turned and walked away without waiting for agreement.
Farooq bridled but said nothing, aware how bad this whole fiasco was making him look. Hosni was right. He needed to recapture Knox quickly. It was the only way to regain face. Where else might he have gone? He recalled his outburst on Petersonâ€™s site, his claim that the hostage woman Gaille had a set of photographs on her computer. An uneasy sensation passed through him. If he went for those, it meant heâ€™d been sincere in his story. But he pushed that anxiety to one side, called the station instead, had them put him through to Mallawi, where he spoke to his counterpart, a man called Gamal. â€˜Just wanted to give you guys a heads-up,â€™ he said. â€˜Someone weâ€™re interested in may be headed your way.â€™
â€˜Interested in, why?â€™
â€˜Murder,â€™ said Farooq.
Gamal sucked in breath. â€˜Details?â€™
â€˜His nameâ€™s Daniel Knox. An archaeologist. Bastard killed the head of the SCA up here, a man named Omar Tawfiq.â€™
â€˜What makes you think heâ€™s coming our way?â€™
Farooq hesitated. Underplay it, theyâ€™d do nothing. He needed Gamal convinced it was a live situation. â€˜We intercepted a phone call. Heâ€™s heading your way all right. Heâ€™s after a computer. It belongs to another archaeologist. Gaille whatever her namlogis S hee is. The one whoâ€™s been taken hostage.â€™
â€˜Hell,â€™ muttered Gamal. â€˜Just what we need. You wouldnâ€™t believe how much shit thatâ€™s already stirred up. How will we identify him?â€™
â€˜Heâ€™s maybe thirty. Tall. Dark hair. Athletic. English. He was in a car crash; youâ€™ll see it on his face.â€™ He took a breath. â€˜And be warned: heâ€™s a slippery bastard, this one. Dangerous, too. He as good as told me how heâ€™d killed Tawfiq. Boasted about it. Heâ€™ll probably be armed by now, and he wonâ€™t mess around, believe me. If youâ€™re wise, youâ€™ll ask your questions later, if you know what I mean.â€™
â€˜Thanks,â€™ said Gamal dryly.
â€˜Just doing my job,â€™ Farooq told him.
â€˜Well,â€™ said Tarek. â€˜You asked to see us. Here we are.â€™
Naguib nodded at the men assembled in the room, contemplating him with a variety of expressions, from indifference through suspicion to undisguised hostility. He couldnâ€™t exactly blame them. These were Amarnaâ€™s ghaffirs, informal guards and guides traditionally left to their own devices, as long as they kept a lid on things, their jobs passed down from father to son, giving them status and income. But things had begun to change, central and regional government trying to phase them out, imposing outsiders like himself on their communities. It was no wonder theyâ€™d reacted coolly to his efforts to win them over.
â€˜My name is Inspector Naguib Hussein,â€™ he said. â€˜I am new to this area. I have met some of you before, butâ€”â€™
â€˜We know who you are.â€™
â€˜I was out in the desert yesterday. I found the body of a young girl.â€™
â€˜My son Mahmoud found her,â€™ grunted Tarek. â€˜He reported it to you, as weâ€™ve been instructed.â€™
â€˜Yes,â€™ agreed Naguib. â€˜And Iâ€™m very grateful, believe me. But Iâ€™m having little success finding out who she was, what happened to her.â€™
Tarek shook his head. â€˜She wasnâ€™t from around here. Thatâ€™s all we can tell you.â€™
â€˜We know our own people.â€™
â€˜Any idea where she might have come from?â€™
â€˜Weâ€™re not as isolated as we once were, as you yourself know. People come and then they go again.â€™
â€˜But you see them. Youâ€™re aware of them.â€™
â€˜We werenâ€™t aware of this one.â€™
Naguib leaned forward. â€˜We found a figurine on her. An Amarna artefact.â€™
An exchange of glances, surprise and curiosity. â€˜Whatâ€™s that to do with us?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™ve heard that no one is as skilled at finding artefacts as you ghaffirs. Iâ€™ve heard that you find the sites that even the archaeologists canâ€™t find.â€™
â€˜Then youâ€™ve heard true enough,â€™ nodded Tarek. â€˜Though naturally we always tell them straight away.â€™
â€˜Naturally,â€™ agreed Naguib, once the laughter had died down. He took the figurine from his pocket, passed it across. â€˜Perhaps you might have some idea where this came from?â€™
t" wi SustTarek examined it, shook his head, passed it to his neighbour. â€˜Most artefacts like this are in the wadis. Weâ€™re not allowed in the wadis any more.â€™
Naguib frowned. â€˜Why not?â€™
â€˜Ask your friend Captain Khaled,â€™ scowled Tarek. â€˜And if he tells you, Iâ€™d be grateful if you let us know. Heâ€™s taken away a source of good revenue.â€™ There were murmurs of assent from around the room.
â€˜When did this happen?â€™ asked Naguib.
Tarek shrugged, leaned across to confer with the man next to him. â€˜Six months ago,â€™ he said.
â€˜Yes,â€™ said Tarek, nodding at the wall of rain outside. â€˜It was the day after the last great storm.â€™
It was a while since Augustin had flown a remote-controlled aircraft. But once it was up, his hands took over and he began enjoying himself. He sent the plane on several passes of Petersonâ€™s site, Hani snapping photographs at his command with the cameraâ€™s remote. But then he nudged his arm, pointed to a white pick-up driving along the lane on the other side of the wall, three burly security guards on the flatbed gazing up into the sky like wise men following a star. â€˜I thought this was an official SCA survey,â€™ he murmured.
â€˜Youâ€™d better get out of here,â€™ said Augustin.
â€˜What about you?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™ll be fine.â€™
â€˜I canâ€™t just leave you.â€™
â€˜This isnâ€™t your fight.â€™
Hani shrugged but nodded, set down the remote control, slipped away.