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



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Knox was still heaving for air when he heard the gunshot...

Lake Mar­iut’s north­ern bank was just a cou­ple of hun­dred me­tres away, fringed by clumps of reeds that of­fered cov­er. He could­n’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 could­n’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 he’d strug­gle to avoid re­cap­ture even for an hour. And avoid­ing re­cap­ture was­n’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.

I

Au­gustin was climb­ing back astride his mo­tor­bike when his mo­bile rang. ‘Doc­tor Au­gustin Pas­cal?’ asked a man.



‘Speak­ing,’ said Au­gustin. ‘Who’s this?’

‘My name is Mo­hammed. I shared a cell with a friend of yours last night. A Mis­ter Daniel Knox.’

‘He asked you to call me?’

‘Yes. He want­ed me to pass a mes­sage to you about your friend the wom­an Gaille, the one who’s been tak­en hostage.’

‘What mes­sage?’

‘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.’

‘What was the mes­sage?’ asked Au­gustin.

‘I would have called ear­li­er, but they on­ly just let me out. It’s gone crazy around here. All the po­lice are head­ing off to—’

‘Tell me this bloody mes­sage!’ shout­ed Au­gustin.

‘Okay, okay.’ He took a deep breath, as though try­ing to re­mem­ber word-​for-​word what he’d been told to say. ‘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 you’d know what that meant.’

Au­gustin’s skin tin­gled. Of course! How had he failed to spot it him­self? ‘Where’s Knox now?’ he asked. ‘I need to speak to him.’

‘That’s what I was try­ing to tell you,’ said the man. ‘He went o,’

‘He’s done what?’

‘I would­n’t be in his shoes. Not for any­thing. That Fa­rooq is one mean bas­tard. He does­n’t like any­one get­ting the bet­ter of him.’

‘No,’ agreed Au­gustin rue­ful­ly. ‘And thanks.’ 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, he’d want him to go for the mo­sa­ic, be­cause that was the way to help Gaille. The on­ly ques­tion was how.

II

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 did­n’t have time to re­cu­per­ate. By pan­ick­ing and run­ning, he’d cer­tain­ly quashed any lin­ger­ing doubts Fa­rooq might have had over his guilt. He’d hu­mil­iat­ed him too. The word would al­ready be out: a killer was on the loose. Egyp­tian po­lice did­n’t car­ry their guns as fash­ion ac­ces­sories. They’d shoot on sight. And if he hand­ed him­self in, they’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 they’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. Pe­ter­son’s dig lay be­yond them. He nod­ded to the shep­herd as he be­gan to jog.

III

It was Lily who heard the noise first. ‘What was that?’ she asked.



‘What was what?’ asked Stafford.

‘I don’t know. It sound­ed like … tap­ping.’

They lis­tened to­geth­er. Now Gaille heard it too. Ev­ery four sec­onds or so. A gen­tle tap com­ing from some­where high above. ‘Hel­lo!’ called out Lily. ‘Any­one up there?’ She fell silent, the echoes died away. There it was again, its rhythm un­changed.

‘Some­thing’s drip­ping,’ said Lily.

‘Yes,’ said Stafford.

‘Lis­ten,’ swal­lowed Gaille. ‘I don’t want to alarm you guys or any­thing, but if that is drip­ping, then maybe it’s start­ed rain­ing.’

‘But this is desert,’ said Lily.

‘It still rains here,’ said Gaille. ‘In fact, I was here dur­ing a storm once, years ago. You would­n’t be­lieve how fierce they can get. And there’s a rift in the plateau di­rect­ly above us, re­mem­ber? If there’s some way for the wa­ter to get some C toin …’

‘It’ll all end up drain­ing down here,’ mut­tered Stafford bleak­ly, fin­ish­ing the thought for her.

‘But it’s on­ly drips,’ said Lily.

‘So far,’ 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.

I

‘Have you still got that re­mote-​con­trolled air­craft?’ asked Au­gustin, walk­ing unan­nounced in­to Man­soor’s SCA of­fice.



‘I’m in a meet­ing,’ protest­ed Man­soor, ges­tur­ing to the three men in som­bre dark suits around his ta­ble. ‘Can’t this wait?’

‘There!’ 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 he’d need.

‘It’s not mine,’ protest­ed Man­soor. ‘It be­longs to the Ger­mans. It’s valu­able equip­ment. I can’t pos­si­bly let you just take it.’

Au­gustin heft­ed it to his shoul­der, nod­ded at the suits. ‘Nice to meet you all,’ he said.

‘You’ll re­turn it?’ asked Man­soor plain­tive­ly. ‘Ru­di will kill me if any­thing hap­pens to it.’

‘You’ll have it back this evening,’ promised Au­gustin. ‘You have my word.’

‘That’s what you said about my GPS.’

But the door banged closed be­hind Au­gustin. He was on his way.

II

Knox made good progress un­til he reached the pow­er sta­tion, whose perime­ter fence stretched away in both di­rec­tions. Pe­ter­son’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 was­n’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 did­n’t dare slow. If the pol didn Fice heard about this, the place would be swarm­ing with­in min­utes. He did­n’t have a mo­ment to waste.

III

The re­mote-​con­trolled air­craft was too bulky and cum­ber­some for Au­gustin’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.



He’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 Pe­ter­son’s site, waved the taxi in be­side him. The driv­er was in his ear­ly twen­ties, with wispy fa­cial hair and a jovial de­meanour. ‘What’s your name?’ Au­gustin asked him as he paid him off.

‘Hani.’

‘Well, Hani. You want to earn an­oth­er ten?’

‘Of course. How?’

Au­gustin got the box out of the back, opened it up. Hani’s eyes and mouth made three per­fect cir­cles of ex­cite­ment when he saw the plane in­side. ‘Can I have a go?’

‘Sure. Once I’m done.’

They cut across coun­try, keep­ing a wall be­tween them and Pe­ter­son’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.

‘What’s this for, then?’

‘I’m do­ing a sur­vey for the Supreme Coun­cil of An­tiq­ui­ties.’

‘Sure you are!’

Au­gustin grinned. ‘Have you ev­er seen an aeri­al pho­to­graph of a field? You would­n’t be­lieve how much de­tail it re­veals.’ He snapped the red foam wings on­to the pray­ing-​man­tis frame, tight­ened the screws. ‘Ditch­es, walls, roads, set­tle­ments. Things you can walk over ev­ery day with­out even notic­ing, sud­den­ly they spring out at you.’ 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.

‘Huh,’ said Hani.

‘Huh, in­deed,’ agreed Au­gustin. ‘I could­n’t have put it bet­ter my­self.’ 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. ‘Okay,’ he said, sat­is­fied. ‘Let’s do it.’

IV

Knox crept up be­hind Pe­ter­son’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 had­n’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 Au­gustin’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 he’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 would­n’t lock, it need­ed to be closed with force.

‘This is mad­ness, Rev­erend,’ said one of the men. ‘We need to leave, not chase off across Egypt on some fool er­rand.’

‘You wor­ry too much, Broth­er Grif­fin.’

Knox could­n’t risk slam­ming the hatch­back closed: he’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.

‘How many times do I have to tell you?’ said Grif­fin. ‘Pas­cal has clout with these peo­ple. He won’t leave this alone, be­lieve me. He’ll get the SCA to launch an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Maybe not to­day or to­mor­row, but it’ll hap­pen, count on it. And when it does, they’ll find the shaft, they’ll find the steps. They’ll find ev­ery­thing. They’ll ask us to ex­plain. And what will we tell them then?’

‘Care­ful, Broth­er Grif­fin. You’re be­com­ing hys­ter­ical.’

‘These stu­dents are in my care,’ re­tort­ed Grif­fin. ‘They’re my re­spon­si­bil­ity. I take that se­ri­ous­ly.’

‘You take sav­ing your own skin se­ri­ous­ly.’

‘Think what you like. I’m get­ting them home. Don’t you know what the Egyp­tian crim­inal jus­tice sys­tem is like?’

‘Are you sug­gest­ing God’s work is crim­inal?’

‘I’m suggesting that God helps those who help...

A mo­men­t’s pause. The sal­vo had hit home. ‘What pre­cise­ly are you rec­om­mend­ing?’

‘Haven’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, we’ll de­ny ev­ery­thing. We’ll say we were act­ing with the full knowl­edge and bless­ing of the SCA. It’ll be our word against theirs, and no one back home will be­lieve an Egyp­tian over us, which is all that mat­ters.’

‘Very well,’ said Pe­ter­son. ‘You take care of your stu­dents. Leave God’s work to me.’

‘Suits me fine.’

The driv­er door opened. Pe­ter­son climbed in, the ve­hi­cle lurch­ing slight­ly be­neath his weight, enough to jolt the hatch­back free from Knox’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. ‘Close that for me, would you please, Broth­er Grif­fin?’

‘Of course,’ 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.

I

‘What are we go­ing to do?’ wailed Lily, as the trick­le of wa­ter turned in­to a stream.



‘Let’s not pan­ic, for one thing,’ 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. ‘We need to dig,’ she said.

‘What?’

She stamped the floor with her foot. ‘We dig down on one side, build up a ramp on the oth­er. That’ll give the wa­ter some­where to drain off to, and it’ll pro­vide us with a ledge to stand on as well.’

There was si­lence as they con­tem­plat­ed this, how small a re­sponse to how re­morse­less a threat. But it was bet­ter than noth­ing.

‘Let’s do it,’ said Stafford.

II

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. Griffin’s frown turned to a scowl. He slammed the hatch­back down with­out look­ing, marched back to the driver’s win­dow. ‘You hear that?’ he de­mand­ed.



‘Hear what, Broth­er Grif­fin?’

‘That!’ He jabbed a fin­ger at the sky. ‘It’s a damned re­mote-​con­trolled air­craft. That French­man Pas­cal is tak­ing pic­tures of our site.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘How many re­mote-​con­trolled air­craft have you seen here since we start­ed?’

‘None,’ ac­knowl­edged Pe­ter­son.

‘And you think it’s just co­in­ci­dence there’s one to­day, do you?’

A few beats of si­lence. ‘Will he find it?’

‘Damn right,’ said Grif­fin. ‘Have you for­got­ten how we found this place?’

‘Then you’d bet­ter stop him,’ said Pe­ter­son.

‘How do you mean?’

‘I mean ex­act­ly what I say. Take our se­cu­ri­ty men. Get that cam­era from him be­fore he can do any­thing with it.’

‘We can’t do that!’

‘You have no choice, Broth­er Grif­fin. Un­less you don’t mind your pre­cious stu­dents pay­ing for your cow­ardice.’

‘Fine,’ scowled Grif­fin. ‘But then we’re out of here.’

‘And a great loss that will be,’ 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.

III


The man­hunt for Knox was not go­ing well. ‘This is ridicu­lous,’ said Hos­ni. ‘He’s got away. Ac­cept it.’

‘He has­n’t got away,’ re­tort­ed Fa­rooq, sweep­ing his arm across Mar­iut’s north­ern shore, bar­ren and open ex­cept for a few thin clumps of reeds that they’d al­ready searched three times. ‘How could he pos­si­bly have got away with­out us see­ing him?’

‘He must have drowned then,’ mut­tered Hos­ni. ‘Give him a day or two, he’ll bob up for sure.’

Fa­rooq grunt­ed. He had lit­tle faith that Knox would do the hon­ourable thing. ‘He’s here some­where,’ he said, open­ing his car door, sit­ting down and turn­ing on the heaters to blast hot air at his wet feet. ‘I know he is.’

‘Come on, boss. The guys have had enough. Let’s call it a day.’

‘He’s a killer. An es­caped killer.’

‘You don’t hon­est­ly be­lieve that, do you?’

‘If you had­n’t put on the brakes, he would­n’t have got away.’

‘You want­ed me to crash in­to the car in front? Is that what you’re say­ing?’ Hos­ni took a deep breath, spread his hands. ‘Look, boss. Maybe he is still here, but is­n’t it just pos­si­ble he man­aged to slip away? Why don’t I send some of the guys to check out the places he might have gone?’

‘Such as?’

‘Pas­cal’s apart­ment, for one. And to that man Kostas, where we picked him up yes­ter­day. Or his ho­tel. Or Pe­ter­son’s site.’

‘Not Pe­ter­son,’ glow­ered Fa­rooq. ‘I’m not hav­ing that man gloat­ing about Knox get­ting away from me again. I’m not hav­ing it, you hear?’

‘Fine. I’ll just have a car mon­itor the lane. That’s all. He won’t even know they’re there. The oth­ers can go back to Alex.’ 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 Pe­ter­son’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 he’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. ‘Just want­ed to give you guys a heads-​up,’ he said. ‘Some­one we’re in­ter­est­ed in may be head­ed your way.’

‘In­ter­est­ed in, why?’

‘Mur­der,’ said Fa­rooq.

Gamal sucked in breath. ‘De­tails?’

‘His name’s Daniel Knox. An ar­chae­ol­ogist. Bas­tard killed the head of the SCA up here, a man named Omar Taw­fiq.’

‘What makes you think he’s com­ing our way?’

Fa­rooq hes­itat­ed. Un­der­play it, they’d do noth­ing. He need­ed Gamal con­vinced it was a live sit­ua­tion. ‘We in­ter­cept­ed a phone call. He’s head­ing your way all right. He’s af­ter a com­put­er. It be­longs to an­oth­er ar­chae­ol­ogist. Gaille what­ev­er her nam­lo­gis S hee is. The one who’s been tak­en hostage.’

‘Hell,’ mut­tered Gamal. ‘Just what we need. You would­n’t be­lieve how much shit that’s al­ready stirred up. How will we iden­ti­fy him?’

‘He’s maybe thir­ty. Tall. Dark hair. Ath­let­ic. En­glish. He was in a car crash; you’ll see it on his face.’ He took a breath. ‘And be warned: he’s a slip­pery bas­tard, this one. Dan­ger­ous, too. He as good as told me how he’d killed Taw­fiq. Boast­ed about it. He’ll prob­ably be armed by now, and he won’t mess around, be­lieve me. If you’re wise, you’ll ask your ques­tions lat­er, if you know what I mean.’

‘Thanks,’ said Gamal dry­ly.

‘Just do­ing my job,’ Fa­rooq told him.

IV

‘Well,’ said Tarek. ‘You asked to see us. Here we are.’



Naguib nod­ded at the men as­sem­bled in the room, con­tem­plat­ing him with a va­ri­ety of ex­pres­sions, from in­dif­fer­ence through sus­pi­cion to undis­guised hos­til­ity. He could­n’t ex­act­ly blame them. These were Amar­na’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 they’d re­act­ed cool­ly to his ef­forts to win them over.

‘My name is In­spec­tor Naguib Hus­sein,’ he said. ‘I am new to this area. I have met some of you be­fore, but—’

‘We know who you are.’

‘I was out in the desert yes­ter­day. I found the body of a young girl.’

‘My son Mah­moud found her,’ grunt­ed Tarek. ‘He re­port­ed it to you, as we’ve been in­struct­ed.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Naguib. ‘And I’m very grate­ful, be­lieve me. But I’m hav­ing lit­tle suc­cess find­ing out who she was, what hap­pened to her.’

Tarek shook his head. ‘She was­n’t from around here. That’s all we can tell you.’

‘You’re cer­tain?’

‘We know our own peo­ple.’

‘Any idea where she might have come from?’

‘We’re not as iso­lat­ed as we once were, as you your­self know. Peo­ple come and then they go again.’

‘But you see them. You’re aware of them.’

‘We weren’t aware of this one.’

Naguib leaned for­ward. ‘We found a fig­urine on her. An Amar­na arte­fact.’

An ex­change of glances, sur­prise and cu­rios­ity. ‘What’s that to do with us?’

‘I’ve heard that no one is as skilled at find­ing arte­facts as you ghaf­firs. I’ve heard that you find the sites that even the ar­chae­ol­ogists can’t find.’

‘Then you’ve heard true enough,’ nod­ded Tarek. ‘Though nat­ural­ly we al­ways tell them straight away.’

‘Nat­ural­ly,’ agreed Naguib, once the laugh­ter had died down. He took the fig­urine from his pock­et, passed it across. ‘Per­haps you might have some idea where this came from?’

t" wi SustTarek ex­am­ined it, shook his head, passed it to his neigh­bour. ‘Most arte­facts like this are in the wadis. We’re not al­lowed in the wadis any more.’

Naguib frowned. ‘Why not?’

‘Ask your friend Cap­tain Khaled,’ scowled Tarek. ‘And if he tells you, I’d be grate­ful if you let us know. He’s tak­en away a source of good rev­enue.’ There were mur­murs of as­sent from around the room.

‘When did this hap­pen?’ asked Naguib.

Tarek shrugged, leaned across to con­fer with the man next to him. ‘Six months ago,’ he said.

‘You’re sure?’

‘Yes,’ said Tarek, nod­ding at the wall of rain out­side. ‘It was the day af­ter the last great storm.’

V

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 Pe­ter­son’s site, Hani snap­ping pho­tographs at his com­mand with the cam­er­a’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. ‘I thought this was an of­fi­cial SCA sur­vey,’ he mur­mured.



‘You’d bet­ter get out of here,’ said Au­gustin.

‘What about you?’

‘I’ll be fine.’

‘I can’t just leave you.’

‘This is­n’t your fight.’

Hani shrugged but nod­ded, set down the re­mote con­trol, slipped away.


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