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



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She turned to face him, arms folded. ‘And how exactly do...

‘What we’ve been up to,’ he re­mind­ed her.

‘Yes,’ she agreed. ‘What we’ve been up to.’

Mois­ture glowed on his up­per lip. He wiped it away with a fin­ger. ‘You would­n’t dare.’

‘Try me.’

His ex­pres­sion changed, he tried to whee­dle in­stead. ‘At least let me get the guys out first.’

‘Give me the mag­azine key and all his stuff. I’ll give you time to catch your plane.’

‘The Egyp­tians will want some­one to blame for this, Claire. They’ll have no one but you.’

‘I’m aware of that.’

‘Then come with us. I swear, the mo­ment we’re in the air, I’ll get Pas­cal re­leased, I’ll make sure he knows ev­ery­thing he needs to know.’

‘It might be too late by then.’

A horn toot­ed out­side. Grif­fin could­n’t hold Claire’s gaze, he looked away in shame and con­fu­sion. ‘It’s not just me I’ve got to think of,’ he said. ‘They’re just kids. They need to be looked af­ter.’

‘I know,’ nod­ded Claire. She held out her hand for the key and Au­gustin’s be­long­ings. ‘You’d best get go­ing,’ she said.

I

Knox tailed Pe­ter­son to a high wall with a neat row of well-​spaced date palms stand­ing like sen­tries in front. Fa­ti­ma’s Her­mopo­lis com­pound, as he’d ex­pect­ed. He kept a good dis­tance be­hind, but even so Pe­ter­son may have sensed some­thing be­cause he sud­den­ly whirled and glared in­to the dark­ness. Knox froze, trust­ing the del­uge to hide him. Pe­ter­son turned for­wards again, reached thened f n main gate, oil lamps flut­ter­ing weak­ly ei­ther side, a sign invit­ing vis­itors to ring the bell. But Pe­ter­son had no in­ten­tion of do­ing that. He hur­ried past, reached the end of the wall, turned down the side, splash­ing over the wa­ter­logged sand, look­ing for an­oth­er way in. The back gate was ev­ident­ly locked from the in­side and would­n’t open. He com­plet­ed a full cir­cuit, paused in the shel­ter of a date palm. Af­ter a few mo­ments’ re­flec­tion, he wedged his boot be­tween the wall and the tree-​trunk, lift­ed him­self up, looked over the top to make sure there was no one there, that he could drop down safe­ly on the oth­er side. He hooked a leg over the top, strad­dled it, low­ered him­self down be­fore let­ting go and land­ing with a splash and a grunt and a clat­ter. But then on­ly si­lence.



Knox con­sid­ered ring­ing the front bell, rais­ing the alarm. Pe­ter­son would have one hell of a time ex­plain­ing him­self. But it would­n’t be a pic­nic for Knox ei­ther; and he could­n’t risk get­ting banged back up in gaol. So he wedged his foot like Pe­ter­son had done, grabbed hold of the top, hauled him­self over. Pe­ter­son had had a min­ute’s head start, but Knox had lo­cal knowl­edge. He took a short cut be­tween the lec­ture hall and kitchens, reached the court­yard with the sleep­ing quar­ters. All the lights were off, but he spot­ted Pe­ter­son be­neath an awning when he turned on a pock­et torch to con­sult his print-​outs, work out which was Gaille’s bed­room. Some­thing clat­tered in­side the kitchens. There was a muf­fled curse. A cry of ex­as­per­ation went up. ‘Stay where you are,’ yelled a man, as doors flew open all around the court­yard. ‘Put your hands on your head.’ An am­bush. Pe­ter­son turned and fled, all the po­lice­men chas­ing af­ter him, shout­ing or­ders, wav­ing torch­es, leav­ing Gaille’s French win­dows tan­ta­liz­ing­ly open.

Knox hur­ried for­wards in out of the rain, shoes squelch­ing on the ter­ra­cot­ta tiles. Her lap­top was open on her desk. He yanked out its leads, packed it in­to its case, slung it over his shoul­der, was mak­ing for the French win­dows when he heard foot­steps, saw the beam of a flash­light. He dropped to the floor, rolled be­neath the desk. Two po­lice­men came in, stomp­ing their feet. ‘Tonight it rains,’ grum­bled the first. ‘Noth­ing but sun for six damned months, and tonight it rains like the world’s on fire.’

‘I’d bet­ter call our friend in Alexan­dria,’ grunt­ed his com­pan­ion. ‘He’ll want news.’

‘Not this news,’ mut­tered the oth­er. ‘I think he’ll …’ He trailed off. Knox no­ticed the glazed slug’s trail of mud he’d laid on the floor, lead­ing di­rect­ly to him. He sprang out from be­neath the desk, startling the po­lice­men, barg­ing be­tween them, out through the French win­dows in­to the court­yard. Oth­er po­lice­men were re­turn­ing bedrag­gled and emp­ty-​hand­ed from their chase. Knox ran the oth­er way, to­wards the rear of the com­pound. The back gate was bolt­ed top and bot­tom. The top bolt slid eas­ily but the bot­tom one was stiff. He had to jig­gle it be­fore it would open. Foot­steps splashed be­hind him. Torch-​beams picked him out. He hauled the door to­wards him but it clogged on the bloat­ed earth. He squeezed through but it snapped closed again, snag­ging the lap­top so that he had to twist it side­ways to pull it free. But then he was out in the desert, lap­top slap­ping his back­side as he ran.

The rain con­tin­ued to ham­mer. He glanced back. Torch­es flash­ing, peo­ple shout­ing. A low fence ahead, he hur­dled it in one stride, but his feet slid from be­neath him on land­ing. Light­ning il­lu­mi­nat­ed an SCA sign as he picked him­self up, trousers stick­ing wet­ly to his legs. He head­ed to­wards it, look­ing for any­thing fa­mil­iar; con­di­tions had been very dif­fer­ent on his last vis­it. He heard gates open. An en­gine roared, head­lights sprang on full-​beam, cast­ing his shad­ow out ahead, mak­ingng hi s, m the fat rain­drops glint like jew­els. He fool­ish­ly glanced around, ru­in­ing his night vi­sion, then clat­tered head­long in­to a pro­tec­tive rail­ing, tum­bled over it, cling­ing on to avoid falling in­to a pit, hauled him­self to safe­ty. A lad­der was tied to the wall. He climbed down in­to dark­ness, fum­bling in vain for some way out.

A ve­hi­cle pulled up above. Doors slammed, peo­ple shout­ed. A torch shone down, briefly il­lu­mi­nat­ing a cor­ri­dor to his left. He hur­ried down it, blind­ly feel­ing the walls, the an­cient win­dows and nich­es in them in­form­ing him he was in the an­imal cat­acombs. He twist­ed and turned, look­ing up­wards for a glimpse of the sky, a ven­ti­la­tion shaft through which he could es­cape. Torch­light ahead. He turned back. Light that way too.

He felt the walls, found a win­dow, climbed through it in­to a cell, half-​filled with de­bris and sand. An eerie place, made all the more so by the flut­ter­ing ap­proach of a torch. A mum­mi­fied ba­boon stared glass­ily from a niche in the far wall. Ba­boons had been revered around here as the per­son­ifi­ca­tion of Thoth, Egyp­tian god of writ­ing, as­so­ci­at­ed by the Greeks with Her­mes, which was how Her­mopo­lis had got its name. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of ba­boons had been buried in these cat­acombs, which stretched for miles.

Heavy wheez­ing out­side, the rasp of a lighter, the or­ange pulse of a cigarette. Knox pressed him­self against the wall. A man’s back­side ap­peared in the mouth of the cell as he sat down to en­joy a smoke.

II

Au­gustin had just about giv­en up hope of be­ing re­leased that night when he heard foot­steps ap­proach­ing and then a ten­ta­tive knock on the mag­azine door. ‘Mis­ter Pas­cal? Are you in there?’



‘Claire?’ He pushed him­self aching to his feet. ‘Is that you?’

‘Yes.’

‘I thought you’d left.’

‘I came back.’ A pause, an in­take of breath. ‘Lis­ten, you are telling me the truth, aren’t you? I mean, that your friend’s a hostage; that find­ing the mo­sa­ic might help her?’

‘Yes.’

‘On­ly I’m like­ly to get in a lot of trou­ble for—’

‘I’m telling you the truth, Claire. I swear it. And my name’s Au­gustin.’

A key turned in the lock. The door opened. Claire was stand­ing there in the moon­light, her hands clasped in front, look­ing very scared and very young, for all her height. ‘I’m in a for­eign coun­try,’ she said. ‘I’ve bro­ken the law. At least, the law’s been bro­ken, and I’m go­ing to be the on­ly per­son the au­thor­ities have avail­able to pun­ish. I don’t have any fam­ily back home to make a fuss. I don’t have any friends here. Mis­ter Grif­fin as good as told me that he’ll dis­own me once he gets ev­ery­one back to Amer­ica. It’s not that he wants to, you un­der­stand, it’s just that he’ll have no choice. So I’m scared. I’m re­al­ly scared. I’m not good at be­ing on my own. I’m not good un­der pres­sure. If I tell you where this thing is, I’ll need some­one to help me through what hap­pens next. Some­one who’ll fight for me the way you’ve been fight­ing for your friend.’

‘I’ll fight for you,’ said Au­gustin.

She dropped her eyes. ‘You’d say any­thing to get out of here. I can’t blame you for that, but it’s true.’

He made his way slow­ly across to her, not want­ing to spook her. He put one hand on her shoul­der, lift­ed her chin with hhould sn wis oth­er, un­til she fi­nal­ly met his gaze. ‘I’m not a good man, Claire,’ he told her, look­ing deep in­to her eyes. ‘I’m the first to ad­mit it. I have all kinds of vices. But I have one virtue. I stand by my friends, what­ev­er it takes. Help me now, you’ll be my friend for life. I swear this to you. And you can be­lieve it.’

Her ex­pres­sion cloud­ed for a mo­ment. But then a smile spread ra­di­ant­ly across her face. She hand­ed him his wal­let and phone. ‘Then come with me,’ she said. ‘I’ll show you what you’re look­ing for.’

III

The sump was fill­ing quick­ly, wa­ter snaking down the walls, soak­ing in­to the floor, pud­dles grow­ing in­to pools, mir­ror­ing the acid anx­iety eat­ing away in­side Gaille. ‘Light a match,’ grunt­ed Stafford. ‘I got some­thing.’



It sputtered when she struck it; the moisture had got...

‘Dig it out,’ sug­gest­ed Lily. ‘Maybe there’s some­thing be­hind.’

They went at it in shifts, their progress thwart­ed by a large stone buried in the rub­ble im­me­di­ate­ly in front of it. But they kept go­ing, and soon were able to jig­gle it back and forth like a loose tooth, feel its out­line. There was an­oth­er brick to its left, a third be­low. Per­haps a whole wall. It was Gaille who at last gouged out enough of the sod­den an­cient mor­tar to lever out the brick. They’d all hoped the wa­ter would start drain­ing away at once, but it stayed ob­sti­nate­ly where it was.

She reached in­to the hole where the ta­latat had been, en­coun­tered sol­id wall be­hind. But when she scratched at it, it came away be­neath her fin­ger­nails like plas­ter.

They took it in turns to dig, but the wa­ter lev­el was ris­ing all the time. It was­n’t long be­fore they had to take deep breaths and duck their heads un­der­wa­ter even to get at it at all. ‘It’s no good,’ wailed Lily. ‘We’re get­ting nowhere.’

‘We have to keep go­ing,’ in­sist­ed Gaille. ‘We just have to.’ And the al­ter­na­tive was clear in the strained crack­ing of her voice.

I

Smoke from the po­lice­man’s cigarette put a tick­le in Knox’s throat; he had to fight his urge to cough. More foot­steps ap­proached out­side. ‘Get up, you lazy so-​and-​so. We’re to do a full search.’



‘Yes, and I’m search­ing this bit.’

‘That’s what you want me to tell Gamal?’

‘Very well,’ he sighed. He pinched out his half-​smoked cigarette, re­placed it in his pack, lum­bered away.

Knox wait­ed for si­lence be­fore he emerged from hid­ing. He was bare­ly out when he saw the flash­light re­turn. ‘I told you it was the oth­er way,’ said one, turn­ing the cor­ner. A mo­ment of com­plete still­ness as they stared at each oth­er. Then one yelled for back­up while his col­league grabbed for his gun.

Knox fled in­to the dark, guess­ing at ev­ery junc­tion, left, rs­ing vight, right, the sounds of chase all around, man­ag­ing to avoid it un­til he reached a dead end, the pas­sage ahead choked with sand. Torch­es com­ing up fast be­hind. No go­ing back. He clam­bered the mound, a few inch­es of head­room be­tween the top and the ceil­ing, enough to wrig­gle through, the lap­top drag­ging like an an­chor. A strobe of light ahead, fol­lowed by a crash of thun­der. A ven­ti­la­tion shaft.

The sand grew wa­ter­logged as he squeezed to­wards it, then up and out in­to the storm once more, strad­dling a safe­ty rope, splash­ing across the sand, his breath com­ing fast. A flut­ter of dis­tant light­ning il­lu­mi­nat­ed the land­scape; he looked for cov­er, saw on­ly a white-​paint­ed bench in a ring of date palms. He ran to­wards it, glanc­ing around as the first po­lice­man emerged from the shaft, wav­ing his torch the wrong way, chas­ing off af­ter shad­ows.

Knox’s spir­its lift­ed, he was go­ing to get away. But then a branch snapped in front of him, he looked ahead, saw a man stand­ing there, flung up his hands. Too late. A fist smacked his cheek, daz­zling stars from his eyes, send­ing him stag­ger­ing on­to his back­side. Pe­ter­son, fists bunched, teeth bared, mu­cus trail­ing from his left nos­tril, ma­nia in his eyes. ‘You!’ he mut­tered in dis­be­lief. ‘How did you get here? Sa­tan brought you, did­n’t he?’

‘You’re mad,’ said Knox, scram­bling away, fear­ful not just of Pe­ter­son but al­so that the com­mo­tion would at­tract the po­lice.

‘Sodomite!’ spat Pe­ter­son. ‘Abom­ina­tor! Agent of Sa­tan!’

‘You’re fuck­ing crazy.’

‘The day of reck­on­ing is at hand,’ he cried. ‘Don’t you un­der­stand? The rap­ture is fi­nal­ly up­on us. The world is about to look up­on the face of Christ! Up­on His grace. His in­fi­nite mer­cy. Mankind will fall to its knees in wor­ship. To its knees! That’s what has your Mas­ter so scared, is­n’t it? That’s why he sent you to stop me. You filthy crea­ture of Sa­tan. The great bat­tle is start­ing, the Lord is set to tri­umph, there’s noth­ing you can do. It’s writ­ten! It’s writ­ten!’ He crawled astride Knox. Knox kicked up at his groin, but to lit­tle ef­fect. He scram­bled away, but Pe­ter­son jumped on his back, his knee on Knox’s nape, grab­bing the lap­top strap, haul­ing it against his throat, chok­ing him. ‘Your Mas­ter has no pow­er any more. You hear? The Reign of the Beast is at an end. The vic­to­ry of the Lord is at hand. Can’t you see it? The Lord is with me, and He’s might­ier than armies.’ He gave an­oth­er heave; the strap bit like a gar­rotte in­to Knox’s wind­pipe. ‘At the time that I vis­it them they shall be cast down, says the Lord,’ ex­ult­ed Pe­ter­son. ‘I will fight them with my out­stretched hand and my strong arm, even in anger and fury and great wrath.’

Knox had both hands on the strap, but Pe­ter­son was too strong. Knox could­n’t breathe, his lungs were strain­ing for air. He pushed him­self to his feet, Pe­ter­son cling­ing to his back, stag­gered over to the bench, climbed up on­to the seat then hurled him­self back­wards so that Pe­ter­son hit the ground hard, car keys and oth­er be­long­ings spilling from his pock­ets, jog­ging his grip for just long enough for Knox to twist free, scram­ble away, heav­ing in high-​pitched whines of air, both hands nurs­ing his raw throat.

‘I am the Al­pha and the Omega, says the Lord,’ cried Pe­ter­son, get­ting back on to his feet. ‘I am the One who comes from all eter­ni­ty. My name is Vengeance. I am the De­stroy­er.’

A shout across the sands, a torch-​beam picked out Pe­ter­son. He turned to see four po­lice­men splash­ing through the rain. Knox crouched, hur­ried for the thin cov­er of the trees, dropped flat. Be­hind him, Pe­ter­son seemed torn, end hi { toyes flick­er­ing be­tween the po­lice­men, Knox, the lap­top, his scat­tered car keys and wal­let. But fi­nal­ly he de­cid­ed on what was most im­por­tant. He un­zipped the lap­top from its case, opened it up, picked up a white­washed lime­stone brick and crunched it down on the key­board. Let­ter keys and shards of bro­ken plas­tic sprang off in all di­rec­tions.

‘Stop!’ yelled a po­lice­man.

‘And they shall go forth,’ shout­ed Pe­ter­son. ‘And they shall look up­on the car­cass­es of men that have trans­gressed against me.’ He brought the stone down again, smash­ing through the cas­ing in­to its wired heart. ‘Their worm shall not die, nei­ther shall their fire be quenched. They shall be an ab­hor­ring un­to all flesh.’

Light­ning showed his fren­zied eyes, ser­pents of long sil­ver hair slith­er­ing over his face, spit­tle on his chain, enough to per­suade the first po­lice­man to wait for his com­rades. ‘The time of the Lord is up­on us! You hear? Get down on your knees, you filthy hea­thens. You are not wor­thy.’ He brought the brick down again.

A sec­ond and third po­lice­men ar­rived. They jumped Pe­ter­son to­geth­er. He stood up from the mud with them cling­ing to his arms, strong as Sam­son. He stag­gered a short dis­tance, try­ing to shake them off. But then the fourth po­lice­man ar­rived, and he clubbed Pe­ter­son on his tem­ple with the butt of his gun un­til Pe­ter­son col­lapsed to his knees and then slumped face-​first in­to the mud.

The po­lice­men stood around his pros­trate form, hands on their knees, breath­ing hard. One gave Pe­ter­son a venge­ful kick in the ribs; but an­oth­er rolled him on­to his side to clear his mouth away from the wa­ter, while a third cuffed his wrists be­hind his back.

‘There were two of them,’ pant­ed one. ‘They were fight­ing.’ He ges­tured vague­ly to­wards where Knox was ly­ing with his cheek pressed in­to the wa­ter­logged sand.

Torch-​beams flared half-​heart­ed­ly his way, then dis­ap­peared again. ‘I vote we take this one to Gamal,’ grunt­ed one.

‘It’s about time the oth­ers did some­thing,’ agreed an­oth­er. They lift­ed Pe­ter­son up by his arms and dragged him back to­wards the com­pound.

II

Claire led Au­gustin across the bro­ken ground. Two con­struc­tion work­ers in hard hats were stand­ing be­side a yel­low me­chan­ical dig­ger. ‘They’ve been lay­ing a pipeline next door,’ ex­plained Claire. ‘I asked them if they would­n’t mind earn­ing a lit­tle over­time.’



Au­gustin laughed ap­pre­cia­tive­ly. ‘You’re quite some­thing, Claire.’

She ducked her head to hide how pleased she was, walked on a few me­tres, stamped the loose earth be­neath her feet. ‘Here,’ she told them. ‘Dig here.’

‘You’re sure about this?’ asked Au­gustin.

‘I’m sure.’

‘And that this is the right place?’

‘Yes.’

He pulled out his mo­bile, held it up for her to see. ‘I need to make a phone call. A friend of mine at the SCA. We can trust him.’

She hes­itat­ed, but then nod­ded. ‘Yes.’

He di­alled Man­soor’s num­ber. ‘It’s me,’ he said. ‘I’m at Pe­ter­son’s site. You need to come out here.’

‘But I’m in the mid­dle of—’

‘Now,’ said Au­gustin. ‘And bring some se­cu­ri­ty with you, if you can. We need to put this place un­der guard.’

III


‘Found your killer yet?’

Fa­rooq scowled at his smirk­ing col­league. ‘You shut up,’ he warned. ‘You just shut up.’

His face was burn­ing as he wrote out his re­port. Ha­tred for Knox dripped like acid in his heart. He’d had peo­ple out look­ing all across Alexan­dria, but the man had sim­ply van­ished from sight. He did­n’t know how it was pos­si­ble. A hu­mil­ia­tion that would take years to live down. His phone be­gan to ring. Maybe it was news. ‘This is Fa­rooq,’ he said, snatch­ing it up.

‘Gamal here. From Mallawi, re­mem­ber? We spoke ear­li­er.’



Farooq sat up in his chair. ‘You have news for me?’

‘Maybe. We think your man was here.’

‘You think? How do you mean, you think?’

‘He got away.’

‘I don’t be­lieve this! How could he get away?’

‘We’ll get him, I promise you. It’s just a mat­ter of time. And he would­n’t have got away at all if you’d warned us there’d be two of them.’

‘Two of them? How do you mean?’

‘He had an ac­com­plice. He gave us the slip, but we’ve got him now.’

Fa­rooq scowled dark­ly. Au­gustin! ‘A French­man, yes?’

‘Can’t say. He’s not talk­ing. Won’t be for a while yet, ei­ther. Re­sist­ing ar­rest, if you know what I mean. But a for­eign­er, cer­tain­ly. Maybe ear­ly fifties, tall and strong. Long hair with streaks of grey. And he’s wear­ing a col­lar, a white col­lar. You know, like those Chris­tian preach­ers do.’

‘A dog col­lar?’

‘Yes. Ex­act­ly. Does that make sense?’

‘Yes.’ Not Au­gustin af­ter all. Pe­ter­son.

‘What’s go­ing on, then?’ asked Gamal.

‘I don’t know,’ said Fa­rooq grim­ly, get­ting to his feet. ‘But I promise you this. I’m go­ing to find out.’

I

Au­gustin watched rapt­ly as the scoop of the me­chan­ical dig­ger munched great mouth­fuls out of the earth. He turned to say some­thing to Claire but she’d moved off a lit­tle way, hands clasped in front, fin­gers twin­ing, ner­vous of her or­deals ahead. He walked across, want­ing to re­as­sure her, but not know­ing quite how. ‘Do you know what Pe­ter­son was af­ter?’ he asked gen­tly.



She shook her head. ‘He nev­er re­al­ly in­clud­ed me in that side of things.’

‘Did he ev­er men­tion the Car­pocra­tians?’

‘Once or twice,’ she nod­ded. ‘Why? Who were they?’

‘A Gnos­tic sect. Found­ed in Alexan­dria. Based here and in Cephal­lo­nia. They were re­put­ed to own an arte­fact that your rev­erend craved. A por­trait of Je­sus Christ, the on­ly one cred­ibly at­test­ed be­fore the rel­ic boom of the Mid­dle Ages.’

Claire gave a grunt. ‘I sup­pose it had to be some­thing like that.’ She turned to him. ‘Did he find it, then? Is that what sparked all this off?’

‘No. He found some­thing else.’

‘What?’

‘There’s a text called the Se­cret Gospel of Mark. At least, there is­n’t, but some peo­ple fear there might be.’ He gave her a pre­cis of what Kostas had told him: how the let­ter had been re­pu­di­at­ed as a forgery, but how Pe­ter­son had found some­thing on the walls of this place that had made him wor­ry that maybe the se­cret gospel had ex­ist­ed af­ter all. A mu­ral de­pict­ing Je­sus and an­oth­er man emerg­ing from a cave, while a kneel­ing fig­ure im­plored: ‘Son of David, have mer­cy on me’.

‘So?’ asked Claire.

‘The Se­cret Gospel de­scribed pre­cise­ly such an in­ci­dent. This mu­ral is proof that this in­ci­dent re­al­ly hap­pened, and there­fore is strong ev­idence that the Se­cret Gospel is au­then­tic af­ter all.’

‘But why could­n’t the mu­ral sim­ply be de­pict­ing a sim­ilar in­ci­dent?’ she frowned. ‘Like with Bar­ti­maeus, for in­stance?’

‘Bar­ti­maeus?’

‘You must have heard of him. The blind man who plead­ed with Je­sus to heal him. He used those ex­act words. It’s in the Gospel of Mark, I’m sure. And in Matthew too.’

It was Au­gustin’s turn to frown. He’d been cer­tain of his rea­son­ing. But then he saw the an­swer, and it made him laugh. ‘I’m not the on­ly one who did­n’t know that sto­ry. Your rev­erend did­n’t know it ei­ther.’

‘Of course he did,’ protest­ed Claire. ‘He’s a preach­er.’

‘Yes,’ agreed Au­gustin. ‘But an Old Tes­ta­ment one. Fire and brim­stone, not love and for­give­ness. Have you ev­er seen his web­site? On and on about the word of Christ, but all the ref­er­ences are ac­tu­al­ly to Deuteron­omy, Leviti­cus and Num­bers, nev­er to the New Tes­ta­ment, nev­er to Christ him­self.’

‘You can’t be se­ri­ous.’

‘Tell me, then. You must have heard him preach­ing. Can you ev­er re­mem­ber him cit­ing Christ?’

The dig­ger’s scoop scraped some­thing sol­id at that mo­ment, sav­ing her from hav­ing to an­swer. The driv­er stopped and re­versed away, al­low­ing Au­gustin to scram­ble down in­to the pit. He cleared the hatch with his foot, lift­ed it up to re­veal the steps be­neath. His heart swelled with un­fa­mil­iar sen­sa­tions as he nod­ded up at Claire. ‘Thank you,’ he said.

II

Knox re­trieved Pe­ter­son’s car keys from the wet sand, his wal­let and mo­bile too. There had to be a good chance the po­lice had found the Toy­ota, were wait­ing in am­bush, but he had lit­tle choice oth­er than to chance it, and luck was with him. He turned on the ig­ni­tion, peered through the mist­ed wind­screen in­to the dark night, un­able to see a thing, yet not want­ing to risk his lights. A dis­tant shud­der of light­ning gave him a snap­shot of the open sands, enough to drive blind across them un­til a sec­ond shud­der gave him an­oth­er glimpse. When he’d put some dis­tance be­tween him­self and the com­pound, he turned on his lights, reached the line of trees that marked the bor­der be­tween desert and cul­ti­vat­ed land, trun­dled on to a field of sug­ar cane, pushed on in­side, hid­ing him­self be­hind a wall of stalks, fac­ing out­wards should he need to run for it. Then he switched off his lights again, turned on his heaters in­stead.



Now what?

Gaille was in As­si­ut, some sev­en­ty kilo­me­tres south. No chance of get­ting there on the main roads, not with the po­lice out hunt­ing. And not even a 4x4 would make it across the desert in this weath­er. Not that it mat­tered any­way. By de­stroy­ing the lap­top and his pho­tos, Pe­ter­son had de­nied him any chance of de­ci­pher­ing Gaille’s mes­sage.

It was on­ly then that he re­mem­bered the re­mote-​con­trolled air­craft fly­ing over Borg. He grabbed Pe­ter­son’s mo­bile, punched in Au­gustin’s num­ber. It kicked in­to voice­mail. He com­posed and sent a text mes­sage in­stead, ask­ing his friend to call back the very mo­ment he got it. Then he set­tled down to wait.

III


Fa­rooq ar­rived at Pe­ter­son’s Borg el-​Arab site to find the se­cu­ri­ty guards gone, the of­fice de­sert­ed. But away to his right he could see a me­chan­ical dig­ger with its lights on, a car parked next to it, two navvies chat­ting with a burly se­cu­ri­ty guard. He drove over. There was a great mound of earth and fill next to a huge pit in the ground, stone steps lead­ing down in­to an un­der­ground cham­ber, a gen­er­ator mut­ter­ing away at the foot.

‘How about that, boss,’ said Hos­ni cheer­ful­ly. ‘There was some­thing here af­ter all.’

Fa­rooq gave him a look fit to cook a ke­bab as he got out and strode across. ‘What’s go­ing on?’ he de­mand­ed.

‘Re­strict­ed area,’ said the guard. ‘SCA ju­ris­dic­tion.’

‘Mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion,’ snapped back Fa­rooq. ‘My ju­ris­dic­tion.’ He pushed his way past the guard, hur­ried down the steps, anger seething in his heart. The sound of voic­es led him along a pas­sage to a cham­ber where Pas­cal was pho­tograph­ing a mo­sa­ic while Man­soor and a young fair-​head­ed wom­an looked on. ‘What the hell is this?’ he cried.

‘What does it look like?’ re­tort­ed Au­gustin.

‘How dare you come down here with­out me? This is a crime scene. I’m in charge! Me! I make the de­ci­sions. No one does any­thing with­out my—’

‘Haven’t you caused enough fuck­ing trou­ble?’

‘Who do you think you’re talk­ing to?’

‘You’ve made a fugi­tive of my best friend,’ snarled Au­gustin. ‘Sort that out or I’ll talk to you any fuck­ing way I choose.’

‘Where’s Pe­ter­son?’ de­mand­ed Fa­rooq. ‘Where’s Grif­fin?’ The wom­an took a step back in­to the shad­ows. Fa­rooq whirled on her. ‘And who’s she?’

‘A col­league,’ said Au­gustin. ‘From the SCA.’

‘Is that right?’ asked Fa­rooq, turn­ing on Man­soor. ‘She’s one of yours?’

‘I… ah… that is…’

‘She’s one of them, is­n’t she?’ ex­ult­ed Fa­rooq. He turned to Hos­ni. ‘Ar­rest her. Take her to the sta­tion. I don’t care what you have to do to her, just make her talk.’

‘Don’t you dare!’ shout­ed Au­gustin, step­ping in front of her. ‘Leave her alone.’

But Fa­rooq drew his gun and lev­elled it with such in­tent at Au­gustin that he moved re­luc­tant­ly aside. ‘Ob­struct­ing the po­lice,’ he gloat­ed, as Hos­ni led Claire away. ‘Be care­ful or I’ll have you too.’

IV

‘You look wor­ried,’ said Yas­mine, greet­ing Naguib at the door.



‘I’m fine,’ he as­sured her, tak­ing off his soak­ing jack­et, pick­ing up Hus­niyah, car­ry­ing her through to the kitchen. ‘That smells good,’ he said, nod­ding at the pot.

She draped his jack­et against the stove, the bet­ter to dry. ‘Tell me about your day,’ she prompt­ed. He did­n’t re­ply, just stood there star­ing blankly at the wall. She touched his arm. ‘What is it?’ she asked.

He gave a loud sigh. ‘An En­glish­man called Daniel Knox,’ he said. ‘The guys across the riv­er are out look­ing for him. I’ve been lis­ten­ing in on the ra­dio.’

‘So?’

‘Was­n’t he the oth­er per­son at that press con­fer­ence? The one at which they an­nounced find­ing Alexan­der’s tomb, I mean. With the sec­re­tary gen­er­al and the hostage girl?’

‘Yes,’ she nod­ded. ‘Daniel Knox. I think you’re right.’

‘They’re say­ing he’s a killer.’

‘He did­n’t look like a killer.’

‘No,’ agreed Naguib.

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