Augustin steered the plane away along the line of the lane,...
The pick-up struck him side-on. He slithered along its bonnet, struck its slanted windscreen, catching a glimpse of Griffin the other side of the glass, every bit as shocked by the collision as Augustin himself. And then he was in the air, his world spinning crazily, wondering with more curiosity than fear if it would be the last thing he ever saw.
The digging wasnâ€™t easy. The sand and rubble had compacted like concrete over the centuries. Gailleâ€™s fingernails were soon ripped and bleeding from scrabbling it up. But fear kept her at it. Worms of water had started slithering down the walls, gathering in puddles at the foot.
â€˜Could you light a match, please?â€™ asked Lily, breathing heavily.
â€˜Weâ€™ve only got a couple left.â€™
â€˜But I think Iâ€™ve found something.â€™
â€˜What?â€™ asked Stafford.
â€˜I donâ€™t know. Why do you think I need a match?â€™
The flare hurt Gailleâ€™s eyes, theyâ€™d been in the dark so long. And that sulphurous smell! She lit the candle, took it across. Lily was right. There was indeed something at the bottom of the wall. A line of hieroglyphs.
â€˜What do they say?â€™ asked Lily.
Gaille shook her head. The faded glyphs were hard enough to see in the poor light, let alone decipher. But the implications of their being here at all were enough to excite her. Sheâ€™d assumed, from the crudely-cut walls of the entrance and burial chambers, that this tomb was simply another of the half-finished efforts that pocked these cliffs, abandoned because of the poor-quality limestone or because the Amarna era had come to an end before the prospective occupant had died. Sheâ€™d further assumed that, because the layout of this place was so similar to that of the nearby Royal Tomb, this shaft was a sump designed to protect the burial chamber. But now that she thought further, she realized her assumptions were flawed. The sump in the Royal Tomb made perfect sense because its mouth was on the wadi floor, putting it in danger from flash floods. But the mouth of this tomb wasnâ€™t on the wadi floor. It was far nearer the top than the bottom. Flooding wouldnâ€™t have been a significant issue, at least until the rift had formed above it, so a sump served little purpose. And, anyway, how deep did they need it? They were a good six metres down already, and still not at the bottom. So maybe it wasnâ€™t a sump after all. Maybe it was something else.
â€˜Well?â€™ asked Lily.
Gaille passed Lily the candle to hold while she scraped away more sand. â€˜I donâ€™t suppose either of you have ever visited the tomb of Seti the First, have you?â€™ she asked.
Augustin lay dazed in the lane for a few moments before he looked up and around to find himself surrounded by Griffin and his security guards. They looked down anxiously at him, expecting him to be grievously hurt or even dead, but he surprised them by trying to get to his feet. No chance. They picked him up and heaved him unceremoniously onto the back of the pick-up. His head, chest and thigh all throbbed violently. He felt such an urge to vomit that he turned onto his side and braced himself. But the sensation passed. He fell onto his back again, looked up at the security guard standing above him. â€˜If youâ€™ve damaged my bike, you little fuck â€¦â€™ he warned.
The man smiled and looked away.
They turned off the lane, jolted over the earthen bridge. Throbs became stabs. They pulled up outside a low brick building. Griffin got out, unlocked and opened the steel door. Augustin bellowed as he was dragged from the back of the pick-up into the building. Several of Petto th [l oersonâ€™s young crew gathered nearby, glaring sourly, as though glad to see heâ€™d got what had been coming to him; but an angular fair-headed woman was with them too, surely the same one heâ€™d glimpsed driving away from the site with Griffin the previous afternoon. And she looked anxious, appalled.
He was thrown down onto the floor between a rack of empty shelves and a worktable. The door was slammed shut, the key turned, leaving him in almost complete darkness. He lay there a moment, almost weeping because it hurt so much. He slid a hand inside his shirt onto his tender ribcage. No fracture that he could detect, just bruising. A fond childhood memory, leaping recklessly off a waterfall only to find the pool beneath shallower than it had looked. His mother, once sheâ€™d overcome her shock, boasting about his tungsten bones. He stifled a cry as he pushed himself up onto his feet. It pleased him to feel this much pain, yet be able to master it. It made him feel more like a man than he had for weeks. He hobbled to the door. Steel, to judge by its coldness. Neither handle nor bolts on the inside.
It was several minutes before he heard footsteps outside, the key scraping in the lock. The door pushed open, late afternoon sunshine flooding in so brightly he could only see silhouettes for a moment, three of them. An internal light was turned on, a yellow bulb dangling from the ceiling. Two people came in. The third stayed outside, closing the door behind them.
Augustin blinked as his vision adjusted. Griffin and the fair-headed young woman, carrying a tray of medical supplies.
â€˜Here he is, then,â€™ muttered Griffin, folding his arms.
â€˜I want my wallet,â€™ said Augustin. â€˜My phone.â€™ Even speaking softly, the words made his ribs throb.
â€˜Sure,â€™ snorted Griffin. He turned to the woman. â€˜Well? I thought you wanted to check him over.â€™
She set her tray down on the ground. Ungainly, all bones and joints, with slightly beaked features. Aware of it too, uncomfortable with being looked at. Pale freckled skin, fragrant and moist with generous slathers of suntan lotion. A plain silver cross dangling from a chain around her slender long throat. She stood back up, tilting her head slightly, so that wisps of her hair fell like a bead curtain over her face.
â€˜Who the fuck are you?â€™ demanded Augustin.
â€˜Iâ€™m here to examine you,â€™ she said. â€˜Itâ€™ll only take a moment.â€™
â€˜Make sure nothingâ€™s broken, nothingâ€™s ruptured.â€™ She frowned, perhaps made a little uncertain by his French accent. â€˜You know what ruptured means?â€™ she asked.
â€˜Yes,â€™ said Augustin sardonically. â€˜I know what ruptured means. And if something is ruptured?â€™
She threw a defiant glance at Griffin. â€˜Then Iâ€™m taking you to hospital.â€™
Well, well, well, thought Augustin. He put a hand against his side, winced and sucked in breath. â€˜I think somethingâ€™s ruptured for sure,â€™ he said.
A laugh like a hiccup escaped the woman; she put her hand to her mouth as though sheâ€™d done something rude. Rather to Augustinâ€™s surprise, he found himself warming to her. â€˜So youâ€™re a doctor then, are you?â€™ he asked.
She shook her head. â€˜Not exactly. No.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™ve been in a serious accident,â€™ he protestedrious [rot. â€˜I could be grievously injured. I need to see aâ€”â€™
A knock on the door. A young man with short-cropped blond hair poked in his head.
â€˜What now?â€™ asked Griffin irritably.
â€˜The airline people,â€™ said the young man. â€˜They want to speak to you.â€™
â€˜The credit cardâ€™s in your name. They want to speak to you.â€™
Griffin gave an exasperated sigh, a boss trapped by his own importance. â€˜Examine him and then leave,â€™ he told the woman curtly. â€˜And donâ€™t let him get you talking.â€™
â€˜No,â€™ she agreed.
â€˜Ramiz will be outside. Any trouble at all, give him a shout. Heâ€™ll know what to do.â€™
The door closed behind him. The key turned in the lock. Augustin smiled at the woman. â€˜Well,â€™ he said, rubbing his hands. â€˜Letâ€™s get this examination started, shall we?â€™
For the first fifteen minutes of the drive, Knox feared...
As best he could judge, they were on a busy, good road. The angle of sunlight suggested they were heading south. Towards Cairo, presumably, though Knox had no idea why. After two hours or so, Peterson applied the brakes sharply enough to push Knox forward into the back of the rear seats. The indicator stuttered; they turned off, pulled to a stop. Peterson got out, unscrewed the petrol cap right by Knoxâ€™s head. Fuel gushed in. Knox kept absolutely still lest movement give him away. The cap was screwed back on. Knox heard footsteps over the concourse. He allowed himself to breathe once more. He sat up in time to see Peterson go inside the office to pay. He climbed over the rear seats, intending to let himself out, but then he glimpsed some sheets of paper lying loose on the passenger seat, the top one a printout from Gailleâ€™s Internet Digging Diary, that photograph of her standing outside her room with two archaeologists from Fatimaâ€™s team. He froze a moment, then slid it aside to look at the one beneath it. Another print-out, this one with directions to Fatimaâ€™s Hermopolis compound. So that was it. Peterson was spooked by the thought of his photos still on Gailleâ€™s laptop.
A door banged closed. He glanced up to see Peterson coming back out. He had no time to resume his previous position. He ducked down behind the driverâ€™s seat as Peterson climbed back in.
â€˜Airline people, huh,â€™ said Augustin. â€˜You off somewhere?â€™
The young woman smiled warily. â€˜Iâ€™m here to check youâ€™re okay. Not to talk.â€™
â€˜But what if Iâ€™m not okay? I think Iâ€™m seriously injured. I need a proper doctor.â€™
â€˜Youâ€™re showing remarkable resilience for a man at deathâ€™s door. Besides, I know what Iâ€™m doing. I really do. And itâ€™s me or no one, Iâ€™m afraid. It was hard enougIâ€™m ^h persuading Mister Griffin to â€¦â€™ She broke off, annoyed with herself for letting herself be drawn even that far, not wanting to compound it.
Augustin let it go. Push too hard now, heâ€™d turn her against him. There was a footstool against the wall, so that people could reach the top shelves. She fetched it, stood on it to examine his scalp, parting his hair carefully to clean the mess beneath. Her blouse was close to his face; he glimpsed flashes of her pale freckled skin between the buttons, the sturdy white cup of a sensible bra. She applied a disinfectant. He did his best not to wince. She got off her stool, stood face-to-face with him, lifted his eyelids in turn, looked deep into his eyes. Her own irises were of speckled blue, her pupils dilating in response to his. â€˜Take off your shirt, please,â€™ she said.
â€˜Whatâ€™s your name?â€™ he asked.
â€˜Please. You heard Mister Griffin.â€™
â€˜Just your name. Thatâ€™s all I ask.â€™
She gave him a reluctant smile. â€˜Claire.â€™
â€˜Claire! I love that name.â€™ He unbuttoned his shirt gingerly. â€˜You know it means light in French?â€™
â€˜It suits you. My grandmother was Claire. A wonderful woman. Truly wonderful. She had the kindest hands.â€™
â€˜Is that right?â€™
â€˜Of course.â€™ He grimaced in pain as he tugged his shirt from his waistband, discarded it. He looked self-consciously down at his stomach, wishing heâ€™d taken more exercise recently. â€˜So youâ€™re an archaeologist then, are you, Claire?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m not talking to you.â€™
â€˜I guess you must be if youâ€™re working here.â€™
She gave a sigh. â€˜Iâ€™m project administrator, actually. I speak and write some Arabic, you see.â€™
â€˜You speak Arabic? How come?â€™
â€˜My father was in oil. I grew up in the Gulf. You know how easy it is to pick up languages when youâ€™re a kid. Thatâ€™s why the reverend asked me along, I think. That plus my medical experience. It always comes in useful in places like these.â€™
â€˜Places like these?â€™
Her cheeks flushed, she ducked her eyes. â€˜Oh, you know.â€™
â€˜No,â€™ frowned Augustin. â€˜Iâ€™m not sure I do. Unless you mean places too primitive to have doctors of their own?â€™
â€˜I didnâ€™t mean that at all,â€™ she protested. â€˜Like I said, I grew up in the Middle East. I love it here. Itâ€™s just, it can be awkward enough for people to go to a doctor back home, especially youngsters. But in a foreign country, you know, when they canâ€™t even speak the language â€¦â€™ She tried a smile. â€˜We Americans, you know. Not the best travellers.â€™
â€˜So what medical experience do you have, exactly? If Iâ€™m to let you check me over.â€™
She placed her palms on his chest, palpating his ribcage gently, listening intently, checking his expression for signs of pain. â€˜I was a medical student for five years.â€™
â€˜Five years? And then you just gave it up?â€™
â€˜My father fell ill.â€™ She tipped her head to the side, not quite sure why she was confiding so much to this stranger. â€˜He wamuch câ€˜s out of work at the time. He didnâ€™t have â€¦ the right kind of insurance. My mother had already passed. He needed looking after.â€™
â€˜So you stepped in?â€™
She nodded, her thoughts elsewhere. â€˜Have you ever looked after someone like that. Someone whoâ€™s dying?â€™ she asked.
He shook his head. â€˜Iâ€™ve never looked after anyone except myself.â€™
â€˜Peterson and his church were great, you know. They did so much for us. They run this wonderful volunteer visitor programme. Honestly, weâ€™d never have managed without them. And a hospice, too; where my father â€¦ you know. Plus an orphanage, and shelters for homeless people, lots of things like that. Theyâ€™re good people. They really are. The reverendâ€™s a good man.â€™
â€˜And thatâ€™s why youâ€™re here? To thank them?â€™
â€˜How come I saw you leaving the site yesterday?â€™
She scratched her nose, pretending not to have heard, or not to understand. But Augustin let the question hang there, and the silence finally got to her. She looked up at him rather sheepishly. â€˜How do you mean?â€™
â€˜I came here with the police to do interviews. Griffin was driving away from the site when we arrived. You were with him. Why did he hide you?â€™
She swallowed unhappily. â€˜No one hid me.â€™
â€˜Yes, they did.â€™
She looked up. Their eyes met for a moment. Augustin felt his heart thump. Claire looked away, equally confused. â€˜Youâ€™re fine,â€™ she said, packing her medical supplies onto her tray. â€˜Bruises and soreness. Thatâ€™s all.â€™
â€˜You know what happened that night, donâ€™t you?â€™ said Augustin. â€˜You know what happened with Omar and Knox.â€™
â€˜I donâ€™t know what youâ€™re talking about.â€™
â€˜Yes, you do,â€™ he insisted. â€˜Tell me.â€™
But she fled for the door instead, pounding on it to be let out.
â€˜Seti the First?â€™ asked Lily.
â€˜An early Nineteenth Dynasty pharaoh,â€™ answered Gaille, digging up more sand with her fingers. â€˜He came to power about fifty years after Akhenaten. Heâ€™s buried in the Valley of the Kings.â€™
â€˜What about him?â€™ asked Stafford.
â€˜His tomb appeared relatively simple at first. An entrance shaft leading to a burial chamber with a sump directly in front of it.â€™
â€˜Just like this, you mean?â€™
â€˜And the Royal Tomb, yes. But the thing is, it turned out that the sump wasnâ€™t actually a sump at all. It was a shaft that led down to the real tomb chamber. It was just made to look like a sump in an effort to fool potential tomb robbers. Not that it worked, of course.â€™
â€˜You think thatâ€™s what this is?â€™ asked Lily. â€˜A burial shaft?â€™
â€˜It has to be a possibility,â€™ nodded Gaille. â€˜I canâ€™t believe I didnâ€™t think of it before.â€™
â€˜How deep would it be?â€™
â€˜The shaft in Setiâ€™sstify cSet tomb was a hundred metres. But thatâ€™s exceptional. Shaft tombs are usually just a few metres deep. And these hieroglyphs must mean weâ€™re near to something.â€™
â€˜What use will that be?â€™ muttered Stafford. â€˜It wonâ€™t lead us out.â€™
â€˜Probably not,â€™ agreed Gaille. â€˜But itâ€™ll give the water somewhere to drain off to. Unless youâ€™ve got a better idea?â€™
â€˜No,â€™ admitted Stafford. â€˜I donâ€™t.â€™
There was no answer to Claireâ€™s summons. She pounded the door again. Still nothing. Augustin walked slowly over to her, as unthreateningly as he could. She backed against the wall even so, holding the tray up almost as a shield across her chest so that her medical supplies spilled to the floor all around her feet. â€˜Let me go,â€™ she squirmed, refusing to meet his eyes.
â€˜Just hear me out.â€™
â€˜One minute. Thatâ€™s all Iâ€™m asking.â€™
She turned away, discomfited by his closeness, the gentle press of his body wherever it touched hers. â€˜Okay,â€™ she said. â€˜One minute.â€™
â€˜Thank you. I donâ€™t care what happened with Knox and Omar. At least, I do, I care tremendously. But thatâ€™s tomorrowâ€™s issue. Right now I need your help because a very good friend of mine is in immediate grave danger, and without your help she may well die.â€™
Claire frowned in surprise. This wasnâ€™t what sheâ€™d been expecting at all. â€˜A friend? Who?â€™
â€˜A young woman called Gaille Bonnard. Sheâ€™s an archaeologist down inâ€”â€™
â€˜You know about her?â€™
Claire pulled a face. â€˜She was all over the TV this morning.â€™
â€˜Youâ€™ve seen the coverage then?â€™ said Augustin eagerly. â€˜So you must have noticed her position.â€™
â€˜What are you talking about?â€™
â€˜The night before she was abducted, my friend Knox sent her his photographs of whatever it is youâ€™ve found here.â€™
â€˜Weâ€™ve found nothing.â€™
â€˜She enhanced them and sent them back. Look at her posture in the footage! Itâ€™s exactly the same asâ€”â€™
â€˜The mosaic!â€™ blurted out Claire.
â€˜You have seen it,â€™ cried Augustin.
â€˜No!â€™ But her denial was absurd and she must have realized it. She pushed Augustin away from her, scrabbled on the floor for her medical supplies.
â€˜Claire,â€™ he pleaded. â€˜Listen. Gailleâ€™s sending us...
â€˜I canâ€™t help you.â€™
â€˜Yes, you can. Youâ€™re a doctor; you trained to be a doctor. Saving lives is your whole purpose. Youâ€™ve got to help her. She may die if you donâ€™t.â€™
â€˜You hate whatâ€™s going on here. I can tell that. You wouldnâ€™t have insl tha chavisted on seeing me otherwise. Iâ€™m fine. Forget me. But Gaille isnâ€™t. Those other two hostages arenâ€™t. They need your help. How can you say no?â€™
â€˜These people are my friends,â€™ she said, pounding on the door.
â€˜No, theyâ€™re not, Claire. Theyâ€™re using you because you speak Arabic and have some medical knowledge and because they trust you to be loyal after what they did for your father. Thatâ€™s all. They call themselves Christian, but can you imagine Christ behaving like this? Can you imagine Christ running people down or locking them up? Can you imagine Christ withholding information that could save the lives of two young women andâ€”â€™
â€˜Let me go!â€™ she begged, as Ramiz finally opened the door. â€˜Let me go.â€™
â€˜Please, Claire. Please.â€™
But she tore herself away from him and out, the door banging closed behind her. He sat down gingerly on the footstool, head in his hands, aware heâ€™d just blown his best chance; and maybe Gailleâ€™s too.
The windscreen of Naguibâ€™s Lada had misted up from the storm. He couldnâ€™t see a thing. He opened the windows a slit, put on the heaters, sat there brooding on his meeting with Tarek and the ghaffirs, the implications of what heâ€™d learned. This was getting way over his head. He needed to put it to his boss.
â€˜Canâ€™t this wait till morning?â€™ sighed Gamal. â€˜Iâ€™m in the middle of something.â€™
â€˜It may be important.â€™
â€˜I think thereâ€™s something going on in Amarna.â€™
â€˜Not this again!â€™ said Gamal. â€˜The universe doesnâ€™t revolve around you, you realize?â€™
â€˜That girl we found, she had an Amarna artefact on her. I think she found something here, perhaps an undiscovered site. You know Captain Khaled, the senior tourist policeman here? Heâ€™s banned the local ghaffirs fromâ€”â€™
â€˜Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Stop right there. Are you about to suggest what I think youâ€™re about to suggest?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m just saying, I think he knows something. I think we ought to look into it.â€™
â€˜Into the tourist police?â€™ demanded Gamal. â€˜Are you crazy? Havenâ€™t you learned your lesson from Minya?â€™
â€˜That was different. That was the army.â€™
â€˜Listen to me. Youâ€™ve only still got a job thanks to your friends. Go down this road again, they wonâ€™t step in a second time, believe me. No one will.â€™
â€˜But I onlyâ€”â€™
â€˜Donâ€™t you ever listen? I donâ€™t want to hear another word! Understand? Not another damned word!â€™
â€˜Yes, sir,â€™ sighed Naguib. â€˜I understand.â€™
Claire found Griffin shifting papers from the filing cabinets into cardboard boxes for Michael and Nathan to carry out to the pick-up. â€˜Well?â€™ he asked sourly. â€˜Howâ€™s our guest?â€™
â€˜He nh="2e feeds a proper doctor.â€™
Griffin nodded. â€˜Weâ€™re booked on tonightâ€™s flight to Frankfurt out of Cairo. Iâ€™ll have Ramiz let him out the moment weâ€™re in the air.â€™
â€˜Where is everyone?â€™
â€˜Back at the hotel, packing. We need to get there too.â€™ He checked his watch. â€˜I can give you five minutes to get your stuff together.â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s all at the hotel.â€™
â€˜Good.â€™ He packed the last box, slammed the drawer closed. â€˜Then letâ€™s get moving.â€™ They went out to the pick-up, bumped their way out. Claire glanced anxiously back at the magazine.
â€˜What is it?â€™ asked Griffin, sensing her disquiet.
â€˜He said something to me. About those hostages down in Assiut.â€™
â€˜Heâ€™s playing tricks with your mind. I warned you not to talk to him.â€™
Claire looked around. Mickey and Nathan were jolting around in the back, laughing like children. She thought that about them often, how like children they were. It wasnâ€™t their fault that bad things were going on here. Theyâ€™d taken it for granted they could trust Peterson, because he was a man of God. She couldnâ€™t blame them for that: sheâ€™d done the same herself. And they were her comrades, her friends, whatever that Frenchman said. Her first loyalty had to be to them. â€˜Yes,â€™ she agreed, putting Augustin forcibly from her mind. â€˜You did.â€™
The weather turned with astonishing rapidity. One moment, sunshine was falling hot through the window onto Knoxâ€™s cheek. The next, the sky was covered by thick black clouds and the temperature was plummeting. Rain played a few opening riffs on the Toyotaâ€™s roof, then started drumming hard. Their headlights sprang on; their wipers started flick-flacking. They slowed with the traffic around them, picking their way through the fat puddles that formed quickly on the road.
Peterson indicated, then turned off the Nile road along a winding, narrow lane. They lurched from pothole to pothole, sending up huge splashes of spray. The deluge grew more violent, the clouds so black it might have been midnight. After twenty minutes or so they slowed to a crawl, briefly sped up again, then pulled off the lane over a shale verge and onto cloying wet sand. Peterson ratcheted the handbrake, turned off his lights, wipers and ignition, snapped free his seat belt. He opened his door, paused for a deep breath, then hurried out.
Knox sat up, cramps and pins and needles in both legs. A flicker of lightning revealed Peterson splashing his way back along the road, forearm over his head as a makeshift umbrella. Knox gave him a few moments, then opened the door and launched himself out after him into the full fury of the storm.
Claire watched mesmerized the news on the hotel lobby TV, her packed bags by her feet.
â€˜Hurry up,â€™ said Griffin. â€˜Weâ€™re on the clock.â€™
â€˜Look,â€™ she said.
He stared puzzled up at the screen. â€˜Look at what?â€™
She hesitated a moment. There were too many people milling around. Then she said quietly: â€˜Our â€¦ guest told me this woman was a friend of his. He said Knox had sent her photographs of what weâ€™d found.â€™
â€˜Are you crazy?â€™ hissed Griffin. â€˜You canâ€™t talk about that here.â€™
â€˜Just look, will you. Donâ€™t you see it?â€™
Griffin turned back to the screen. â€˜See what?â€™
â€˜Her posture. The mosaic.â€™
Colour drained from his complexion. â€˜Oh, hell,â€™ he muttered. He shook his head. â€˜No. Itâ€™s coincidence, thatâ€™s all. It has to be.â€™
â€˜Thatâ€™s what I was telling myself,â€™ agreed Claire. â€˜But itâ€™s not coincidence. Itâ€™s just not. Sheâ€™s trying to send a message.â€™
â€˜We need to get out, Claire,â€™ pleaded Griffin. â€˜We need to get to Cairo, catch our plane. Iâ€™ll explain everything once weâ€™reâ€”â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m not coming,â€™ said Claire.
â€˜How do you mean?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m going back to the site. Iâ€™m going to let Pascal out. Iâ€™m going to show him the mosaic.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m sorry, Claire. I canâ€™t let you do that.â€™