â€˜He looked nice.â€™
â€˜So you kept saying,â€™ scowled Naguib. â€˜But the question is, whatâ€™s he doing down here?â€™
â€˜What are you getting at?â€™
â€˜A killer on the run runs away from trouble. This oneâ€™s running into it. Why? Because of the hostage woman, Iâ€™m sure of it. He knows something, and itâ€™s leading him here.â€™
â€˜Have something to eat. Worry about it tomorrow.â€™
â€˜Somethingâ€™s going on in Amarna, my love. Iâ€™m not sure what, yet, but itâ€™s got to do with those tourist police.â€™
â€˜Oh, no,â€™ she said. â€˜Not this again.â€™ She glanced at Husniyah. â€˜Weâ€™ve only just got settled here. If you lose your jobâ€¦â€™
â€˜Tell me not to pursue it, I wonâ€™t pursue it.â€™
â€˜You know I wonâ€™t do that. But what about your colleagues? Wonâ€™t they back you up?â€™
He shook his head. â€˜I asked Gamal. He told me to drop it. But I canâ€™t.â€™
Yasmine was silent a moment. Then she took a breath. â€˜Do what you have to do. Husniyah and I will stick by you always, you know that.â€™
His eyes glittered as he pushed himself to his feet. â€˜Thank you,â€™ he said.
â€˜Just donâ€™t do anything crazy. Thatâ€™s all I ask.â€™
He nodded as he pulled on his jacket. â€˜Iâ€™ll be back before you know it.â€™
Streams were still pouring down the walls, the rate not slackening at all. If anything, it was getting worse, leaving Lily marooned with Stafford on the small island theyâ€™d created, thigh-deep in water that would soon be up to her waist and then her throat unless something changed and went their way. She gave a full-body shudder of dread and cold, teeth chattering wildly. It took all her strength not to let the hysteria take hold. She et thend …was so young, and felt the desperate unfairness of her predicament, but also reproach for herself. It was one thing to have oneâ€™s life ahead, all those infinite possibilities, another to look back and see how little sheâ€™d made of what sheâ€™d had so far.
Gaille surfaced, heaving for air after her latest shift attacking the talatat wall. â€˜Any luck?â€™ asked Lily.
â€˜We need to keep working.â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s getting us nowhere,â€™ snapped Stafford. â€˜Havenâ€™t you realized yet?â€™
â€˜Then what do you suggest?â€™
â€˜We conserve our strength,â€™ said Stafford. â€˜Thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m going to do. Maybe we can swim out of here.â€™
â€˜Swim out!â€™ mocked Lily.
â€˜If this rain keeps coming down like this.â€™
â€˜Weâ€™ll drown before then,â€™ cried Lily. â€˜Weâ€™ll all drown.â€™ Her indignation was too much for mere words. She slapped at the sound of his voice. To her surprise, she struck his bare chest. Heâ€™d taken off his shirt. â€˜What are you doing?â€™ she asked.
She reached a hand across, felt something bob in the water. A water bottle, its cap screwed on. He grabbed it back from her; she heard the sound of wet cloth, felt out the knotted sleeve of his shirt, bulging with Popeye muscles. â€˜Youâ€™re making yourself a life-jacket,â€™ she said.
â€˜Weâ€™ll all be able to use it.â€™
â€˜Heâ€™s making himself a life-jacket,â€™ Lily told Gaille. â€˜Heâ€™s using all the water bottles.â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s a good idea,â€™ said Gaille.
â€˜Theyâ€™re our water bottles. Not his.â€™
â€˜This is for all of us,â€™ said Stafford unconvincingly. â€˜I just didnâ€™t want to get your hopes up before I knew it would work. Anyway, isnâ€™t it your turn to dig out this bloody wall of yours?â€™
It was. Lily paddled across the shaft, took several deep breaths, dragged herself down to the talatat hole, ears and sinuses aching from the pressure as she scratched furiously at it, a crust of plaster beneath her nails, progress pitifully slow, especially as the rising water was making the task harder and harder and soon it would be impossible even toâ€”
Her world crashed in suddenly, the water a ferment; something striking her shoulder, spinning her around. She kicked instinctively upwards, half aware already of what must have happened, the planks and sheets and blankets and the rocks pinning them over the shaft mouth had all been brought crashing down by the accumulated weight of water. She surfaced, spluttered, flapped around in the darkness.
â€˜Gaille!â€™ she cried. â€˜Charlie!â€™ No reply. She reached out, touched something warm, a torso, a manâ€™s shirtless torso: Stafford. She felt his neck, his head, a great indentation in the cranium, soft hot pulp smashed like a dropped fruit. She shrieked and pushed him away. â€˜Gaille!â€™ she cried, searching the darkness with outstretched fingers, the flotsam of sheets and blankets and a wooden plank. She touched a forearm, felt the shirt, knew it was Gaille, dragged her up the mound and lifted her head from the water, allowing her to cough out liquid from her airways, but giving little other sign of life. All the same, Lily hugged her against herself, weeping copiously with grief, terror and loneliness in the dark.
â€˜Iâ€™m getting you a lawyer,â€™ Augustin yelled out to Claire, hobbling up the steps after her. â€˜Not a word until he arrives. Understand?â€™ She nodded as she was bundled into the back of the police car, her complexion alarmingly pale. â€˜Iâ€™ll be right behind you,â€™ he promised. â€˜I wonâ€™t let you out of my sight.â€™ But as the door slammed closed and they began pulling away, he remembered too late that heâ€™d crashed his bike.
Mansoor came to join him. â€˜Donâ€™t worry. Itâ€™ll sort itself out.â€™
â€˜Whatâ€™s that supposed to mean?â€™ snarled Augustin. â€˜You know what itâ€™s like here once people get caught up in the system.â€™
â€˜What are you so worked up about her for? Sheâ€™s one of them, isnâ€™t she?â€™
â€˜No, sheâ€™s not. Sheâ€™s one of us. She made her choice and she chose us.â€™
â€˜You have to drive me back to Alexandria. I need to get her out.â€™
â€˜I canâ€™t,â€™ grunted Mansoor. â€˜This place comes first. You must see that.â€™
â€˜Bullshit. We already have security. Get on the phone, arrange more if you want. Everything else can wait till morning. Itâ€™s already waited two thousand years, after all.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m sorry, my friend.â€™
â€˜I gave her my word,â€™ protested Augustin. â€˜I promised Iâ€™d stay with her.â€™
â€˜Please, Mansoor. Iâ€™ve done a lot for Egypt, havenâ€™t I?â€™
â€˜And for you too.â€™ Mansoorâ€™s son was studying medicine at a prestigious university in Paris, thanks in large part to strings pulled by Augustin.
â€˜And Iâ€™ve never asked you for anything in return before.â€™
â€˜What are you talking about? Youâ€™re always asking for things. How about my GPS, that remote-controlled aircraft? Where is that, by the way?â€™
Augustin waved his quibble aside. â€˜Iâ€™m serious, Mansoor. Claireâ€™s not at fault. Sheâ€™s really not. Sheâ€™s behaved well in difficult circumstances. Sheâ€™s risked her whole future to put things right. You saw Farooq. He wants a scapegoat. Someone to interrogate, to bully, to take his anger out on. If he canâ€™t find Peterson or Knox, heâ€™ll make do with her.â€™
Mansoor sighed. â€˜What can I do?â€™
â€˜Tell him that Claire was a whistleblower, the one who originally contacted the SCA with concerns about Peterson and this dig. Tell him she was the reason Omar and Knox came out here in the first place.â€™
â€˜Heâ€™ll never believe me.â€™
â€˜He doesnâ€™t have to. Just as long as he canâ€™t prove anything.â€™
Mansoor grimaced unhappily. â€˜You really think itâ€™ll work?â€™
â€˜Thereâ€™s only one way to find out.â€™
â€˜Youâ€™ll owe me big for this.â€™
â€˜Yes,â€™ acknowledged Augustin. â€˜I will.â€™
Knox was blasting warm air into his shoes when the mobile finally rang. â€˜Itâ€™s me,â€™ said Augustin. â€˜Sorry I missed your call. Troubles of my own. Where are you?â€™
â€˜Hermopolis. Long story. Listen, was that you flying that plane over Petersonâ€™s site?â€™
â€˜You saw that? Yes. And weâ€™ve found the site, too; weâ€™ve found everything, the mosaic too.â€™
â€˜You fucking beauty.â€™
â€˜I havenâ€™t had a chance to study it yet, but I can send you a photo. This number, yes?â€™
â€˜Any news of Gaille?â€™
â€˜Youâ€™ll find her,â€™ said Augustin. â€˜I know you will.â€™ He paused, searching for the right thing to say. â€˜I donâ€™t believe in much, but I believe in you two.â€™
â€˜Thanks, mate,â€™ said Knox, unexpectedly touched.
The photograph came through shortly after, but the mobileâ€™s screen was too small for him to make it all out, so he turned on the Toyotaâ€™s interior light, fetched a pen and notepad from the box of supplies in the back, sketched out the figure inside the seven-pointed star, then added the clusters of Greek letters. But hard though he stared at it, it made no sense. He punched the dashboard in frustration. Heâ€™d imagined that everything would fall into place if only he could find the mosaic. Heâ€™d been wrong.
The notepad was too small to make it easy on his eyes. He...
He began switching the clusters of letters around on the windscreen, looking for patterns, anagrams. But then he heard an engine rumbling nearby and hurriedly switched off his interior light. A truck prowled into view, turning this way and that, using its beams like twin searchlights to illuminate great swathes of the sugar cane. They swept past where he was hiding, throwing thin bars of yellow light over the pages, settling for a moment on two of the clusters, Î˜Îµ and Î”Î™, before moving on once more. If he hadnâ€™t had divine forms on his mind, no way would he have spotted it, but Î˜ÎµÎ”Î™ transliterated into English as thedi; and theoeides was Greek for the divine form. A third possible link to a single concept all within one diagram. Could it really be coincidence?
The headlights vanished as the truck drove on. He gave them twenty seconds or so before his impatience grew too much for him and he turned his interior light back on. His spirits dipped as he saw that the two clusters Î˜Îµ and Î”Î™ werenâ€™t adjacent, but then he realized they were connected by the unbroken line that made up the seven-pointed star. He jotted down the cluster at which the central figure was pointing, then tral fso then tfollowed the line all the way around.
KÎµÎ� XAÎ“ HN Î˜Îµ Î”Î™ Î¤P Î£Îš
He stared down at these letters, trying to impel his mind to the solution, until suddenly the answer burst like sunlight in his mind. But he had no time to celebrate. The truckâ€™s headlights sprang on at that moment, full beam and directly at him, dazzling him through his windscreen.
Knox switched on his own lights, stamped down his foot, surged out of the sugar cane, the Toyota throwing up great sprays of water; startled faces in the truck, the driver wrenching his steering wheel, his passenger calling in back-up. He sped alongside the field until he spotted a track, swung down it, driving by feel, stalks drumming against his flanks.
Headlights in front, a car speeding past on a road, he spilled too fast out onto it, charging into the tilled field opposite before swinging around, accelerating away. He rounded a tight bend, saw two police cars blocking the lane ahead, slammed on his brakes, muddy tyres struggling for grip on the saturated surface. He put it into reverse, but another police car was coming up fast behind. He steered off the road, down a short embankment into a quagmire field, changed to four-wheel, gained traction, the pursuing police car bogging down behind. He reached an abandoned railway spur, turned left, jolting along the sleepers, checking his mirrors, hoping heâ€™d got away. But then a pair of headlights appeared in his rear-view, shuddering over the tracks, and then a second pair. He looked left and right, but the track was bracketed by waterlogged ditches that even the Toyota would struggle to get out of.
A freight train clanked slowly into view ahead, a monster with dozens of carriages. He tried to beat it to the junction but it got there first: there was no way past it, wouldnâ€™t be for another couple of minutes at the rate it was going. The police were catching up fast, their sirens sounding, lights flashing. There was nothing for it. Knox stuffed his pockets with the phone, wallet, scissors, pen, anything of potential use, jumped out, ran to the train, grabbed hold of a ladder, climbed up onto the roof. The train had appeared from his left and therefore was heading south, maybe even as far as Assiut, where the search was on for Gaille. But Knox had no interest in Assiut any more. Heâ€™d figured out the mosaic, why Gaille had tried to bring his attention to it; and the solution beckoned him not south but east.
He found a ladder on the other side of the roof, climbed down, jumped from the moving train, winding himself on landing. The Nile was a good couple of kilometres away. He tore through a thicket, out into a field, his feet splashing up gouts of water as he ran, the secret of the mosaic ablaze in his mind.
KÎµÎ�XAÎ“ HN Î˜ÎµÎ”Î™ Î¤PÎ£Îš
Akhenaten, Theoeides, Threskia.
Akhenaten, Divine of Form, Servant of God.
Reception on Naguibâ€™s police radio drifted in and out. He smacked it in exasperation with the heel of his hand. The crackle of static gave way to a burst of speech. â€˜Heâ€™s getting out. Heâ€™s getting out.â€™
â€˜Heâ€™s going for the train. Stop him.â€™
â€˜Heâ€™s boarded! Heâ€™s boarded!â€™
â€˜Stop the train. Stop that damned train.â€™ A burst of static. â€˜What the hell do you mean, you donâ€™t know how? Follow it, idiot. Get ahead of it. Wave to the driver. I donâ€™t know.â€™
Naguib released his Ladaâ€™s handbrake, coasted down a slight incline to park in the shelter of trees as close to the Nileâ€™s edge as was prudent in this dreadful weather. If his bearings were correct, this was all happening a kilometre or so upstream. He turned his headlights on full, the camber aiming them down so that they painted brilliant yellow ellipses on the Nileâ€™s foaming surface, the reflected light illuminating a million raindrops from beneath.
He felt, for an exquisite moment, that delicious moment of stillness when you donâ€™t have the answer quite yet, but you know for sure itâ€™s coming. And then it arrived.
Light coming from beneath.
How blind heâ€™d been! How blind theyâ€™d all been!
The local fishermen had hauled their rowing boats high up the Nile bank in anticipation of the storm, turned them turtle. It took Knox a couple of minutes to find one with a pair of sturdy long slats for oars. He righted it, dragged it down to the water, glanced back. No sign of chase. With luck the police still believed him on the train.
He pushed out into the fast-running current, jumped aboard, began to row, his mind whirring with the implications of the mosaic. Was it truly possible they referred to Akhenaten? Or was his imagination running away with him? Heâ€™d never given much credence to Amarna-Exodus theories. For all their superficial plausibility, there was precious little physical evidence to support them. He was an archaeologist; he liked physical evidence. But the mosaic changed everything.
Akhenaten, Theoeides, Threskia.
It wasnâ€™t just theoeides that linked to Akhenaten. Threskia did too. The Greeks hadnâ€™t had a word for religion. Threskia was as close as theyâ€™d got. It had denoted anything done in the service of the gods, and the people who did it too, which was why it was sometimes translated as â€˜servants of the godsâ€™. Scholars still debated fiercely the etymology of the word â€˜Esseneâ€™, but it quite possibly meant something very similar, as the word â€˜Therapeutaeâ€™ almost certainly did. And then there was the name Akhenaten, the one the heretic pharaoh had chosen for himself. For it literally meant â€˜One who is useful to the Atenâ€™; or, more simply, â€˜Servant of Godâ€™.
The current was fierce, storm-water swelling the Nile as it raced downstream towards the Delta and the Mediterranean. And maybe that was significant too. After all, why should a mosaic of Akhenaten be found on an ancient site outside Alexandria? If the story of the Exodus were even faintly true, and if the Atenists had indeed become the Jews, he could see an explanation.
Plague had ravaged Egypt during the Amarna era. Perhaps it had started during the reign of Akhenatenâ€™s father, for heâ€™d famously commissioned hundreds of statues of Sekhmet, goddess of disease. And it had certainly persisted throughout Akhenatenâ€™s reign, as made clear by independent Hittite texts as well as the human remains recently found in Amarnaâ€™s cemeteries, which showed stark evidence of malnutrition, shortness of sta malnu? Iof sta ture, anaemia, low life-expectancy; all the classic indicators of epidemic. That fitted neatly with the Exodus account. After all, God had warned Pharaoh to let his people go by inflicting a series of plagues on Egypt. Historians and scientists had long sought to explain these plagues with natural phenomena. One theory argued that theyâ€™d actually all been triggered by a volcanic eruption, specifically the eruption of Thera in Santorini sometime during the mid-second millennium BC. It had been a blast of extraordinary magnitude, six times more powerful than Krakatau, the equivalent of thousands of nuclear warheads flinging one hundred cubic kilometres of rock into the atmosphere, debris crashing to earth for hundreds of miles around, just like the hail of fire described in the Bible. And, in the ensuing days and weeks, a great cloud of ash and smoke would have blacked out the sun, turning the world to darkness, just as described in a second plague.
The rain was still bucketing down, slopping around in the foot of his boat. Knox rested his oars for a while to bale it out with his cupped hands.
Volcanic ash was strongly acidic. Excessive contact not only caused sickness and boils, it could kill cattle too. Its high iron-oxide content would turn rivers red, suffocating fish. But other species would thrive, particularly egg-layers whose predators had died out. All their eggs would hatch for once, triggering mass infestations of lice, flies, locusts and frogs. So a volcanic eruption could legitimately explain all the biblical plagues except the slaughter of the first-born, and Knox had even heard ingenious explanations for that.
But it didnâ€™t stop there. From a distance, an eruption looked like a pillar of fire by night, a pillar of smoke by day â€“ just like the one followed by the Jews as theyâ€™d fled. And if theyâ€™d truly started from Amarna, their obvious route would have been north along the Nile, taking them in the direction of Thera. In fact, by Knoxâ€™s reckoning, a line drawn between Amarna and Thera would pass almost directly through the Therapeutae settlement.
A glow ahead. In the deluge it was hard to make out. But then he realized it was a pair of headlights, pointing directly out over the Nile. Maybe they were out looking for him. He stopped rowing at once, lay down in the boat, let the current drift him through the beams, hoping he was far enough out to remain unseen. The darkness swallowed him again. He picked up the oars once more, rowed towards the bank, his mind back on ancient riddles.
The Chosen People. Thatâ€™s what the Jews considered...
Scholars debated vigorously where this sea was, many placing it in the ancient marshlands of the eastern Nile Delta. But it would certainly have been an appropriate name for Lake Mariut too, surrounded as it had been by reeds, and directly abutting the Mediterranean in places. Tsunamis were well documented along that stretch of coast, triggered by underwater earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. The first sign of a tsunami was the sea being sucked away in a massive ebb tide, creating acres of new dry land. It could stay that way for hours too, plenty of time to enable an escape, before a huge tidal wave swept in, destroying everything in its path.
The Nileâ€™s eastern bank came into view ahead.
Knox stopped paddling and let momentum drift him in.
The Therapeutae had sung antiphonal chants celebrating the Exodus and the parting of the Sea of Reeds. And so he asked himself a startling question: was it possible that theyâ€™d chosen that particular site not out of fear of pogroms, or a wish to be left alone? That, in fact, the Therapeutae werenâ€™t some small offshoot of the Essenes, but that their Borg el-Arab site actually commemorated the great miracle of Exodus itself?
The boatâ€™s keel scraped earth. He jumped out, hauled it up the bank out of the riverâ€™s reach and stowed the oars. He was about to head on up the slope when he heard a distinctive noise behind him. A handgun had just been cocked. He stopped dead, slowly raised his hands and turned around.
It was a sultry evening, not made any more comfortable by the malfunctioning air conditioning inside Cairo Airportâ€™s Terminal 2. Griffin was sweating profusely by the time he and his students reached check-in, his anxiety levels off the chart, certain it had to be showing on his face. But the woman behind the desk was fighting a yawn as she beckoned him forward. She took the fan of passports he offered, printed out their boarding cards, checked in their luggage, then muttered something that he didnâ€™t quite catch, thanks to a buzzing in his ears that he sometimes suffered under stress. â€˜Iâ€™m sorry?â€™ he said. He leaned in close as she repeated it. But her English was heavily accented and he couldnâ€™t make it out.
She sighed, exasperated, scribbled a figure on a piece of paper, turned it to show him. His heart was pounding; he could feel the dank pools of sweat beneath his armpits. He fished out his wallet, pulled out a thick wad of twenty-dollar bills, begging her with his eyes to take however much she wanted, just as long as she let them through. She glanced over her shoulder, saw her supervisor standing there, turned back to him with downcast eyes, plucked a single note from his sheaf, made a calculation on her screen, then gave him his change in Egyptian pounds. His heart-rate relaxed a little, only to pick up again as they queued for passport control. But they got through that safely too, leaving him feeling drained and nauseous with relief. He found a restroom, leaned against a sink, studying himself in the mirror, the greyness of his complexion, how old he looked, the wild trembling of his hands.
He felt a twinge of guilt as he thought of Claire, but he shut her from his mind. One thing at a time. Boarding would start in forty-five minutes. With luck, in two hours or so, theyâ€™d be out of Egyptian jurisdiction altogether. Then he could worry about Claire.
He ran cold water into his cupped hands, brought them up to meet his face, almost as if he was at prayer. He dried himself off with a paper towel that he screwed up and threw at an overflowing bin, so that it fell onto the floor. Conscience pricked him: he picked it up and put it in his pocket. Then he practised a smile in the mirror and concentrated on holding it in place as he went back out to rejoin his students.
In the darkness, it took Knox a moment to see the policeman sheltering beneath the trees, his handgun pointed slightly to one side, prepared to use it, but not yet. He was short and slight but he carried himself with calm self-assurance, so that Knox didnâ€™t even consider running. â€˜Youâ€™re Daniel Knox,â€™ he saidouâ€™rt h….
â€˜Yes,â€™ agreed Knox.
â€˜I am going to ask you some questions. Lie if you wish, that is up to you. But youâ€™d be wise to tell the truth.â€™
â€˜To start with, what are you doing here?â€™
â€˜Looking for a friend.â€™
â€˜Her nameâ€™s Gaille Bonnard. She was taken hostage a couple ofâ€”â€™
â€˜I know who she is. But she was abducted down in Assiut. So what are you doing here?â€™
â€˜I donâ€™t think it happened in Assiut,â€™ said Knox. â€˜I think it happened here.â€™
â€˜My name is Naguib Hussein,â€™ said the policeman. â€˜My wife and I, we saw you on television one time. It was you, wasnâ€™t it? With this woman Gaille and the secretary general, announcing the discovery of Alexanderâ€™s tomb?â€™
â€˜My wife said how nice you looked. It twists me inside when my wife says that about a man. I think thatâ€™s why she says it. But their names stay with me too. So when I hear on my radio that it is Daniel Knox my colleagues are searching for, I think, ah, he is worried for his friend the woman, he has come to see if he can help.â€™
Knox jerked his head in the direction of the far bank. â€˜Have you told them that?â€™
â€˜It would do little good, I assure you. My boss does not think much of me. And heâ€™s already told me once today to stop pestering him with my crazy ideas about strange goings-on in Amarna.â€™
â€˜Strange goings-on?â€™ asked Knox.
â€˜I thought that might interest you,â€™ smiled Naguib. He lowered his handgun, gestured along the bank. â€˜My car is that way,â€™ he said. â€˜Perhaps we should get out of the rain and tell each other what we know.â€™
As long as she could remember, Lily had struggled with thoughts of killing herself. Mostly they were just blinks, gone as quickly as theyâ€™d arrived, locked safely back in their box. But sometimes the thoughts wouldnâ€™t leave. Theyâ€™d stay with her for hours, days, even weeks. Theyâ€™d build and build until sheâ€™d think sheâ€™d never get through to the other side. Whenever it got too much, sheâ€™d hurry to some place of sanctuary, lock out the world, let the tears come. I wish I were dead, sheâ€™d yell. I wish I were fucking dead. And sheâ€™d mean it too. At least, her wish for oblivion felt sincere. But sheâ€™d never done much about it, other than edge near the platform as trains hurtled past, or stare hungrily up at the top-floor balconies of high-rises.
The water was coming down as relentlessly as ever. Lily was kneeling throat-deep on the mound, her arms around Gaille, supporting her head on her shoulder, allowing the rest of her to float. The chill had long-since penetrated right into her bones, so that every so often sheâ€™d break into violent shudders.
Strange childhood memories. Standing in the shadows outside a party, trying to summon the courage to knock. Her neck burning at half-heard remarks. A stray dog sheâ€™d once seen, trapped in a garden by two callous young boys so they could throw stones at it, how sheâ€™d ducked her head and hurried past, scared of what theyâ€™d say if she tried to intervene. How those whimperto intas himperts and yelps had haunted her for days, a stain upon her soul. Her whole life dictated by her birthmark, a birthmark that didnâ€™t even exist any more.
â€˜Iâ€™m not like that,â€™ she yelled out at the darkness. â€˜Iâ€™m not fucking like that, okay? Thatâ€™s not how I was made.â€™
It was one thing to think about death in the abstract. There was something noble, romantic, even vindicating in the prospect. But the real thing wasnâ€™t like that. All it provoked was terror. Another set of shivers wracked through her. She clenched her eyes in an effort not to cry, tightened her grip around Gaille. Sheâ€™d never believed in God, sheâ€™d always felt too bitter with the world. But others did, people she respected, and maybe they knew what they were talking about. Beneath the water, her hands clasped tight. Just let me live, she begged silently. I want to live. I want to live. Please God, I want to live.
Claire was hustled through the corridors of the police station to a small interview room with greasy yellow walls and an ugly acrid smell. Farooq made her sit on a hard wooden chair he placed deliberately out in open space, so that she didnâ€™t even have a table to hide behind. Then he prowled round and round her, jabbing his cigarette at her, thrusting his face into hers, spraying her with spittle that she didnâ€™t dare wipe away. He had a gift for languages, it turned out. He used it to abuse her in Arabic, French and English. He called her a whore, a thief, a slut, a bitch. He demanded she tell him where Peterson and the others were.
Claire hated conflict. She always had. It made her feel unwell, provoked an overwhelming longing to placate. But she remembered what Augustin had told her. â€˜I want to speak to a lawyer,â€™ she told them.
Farooq threw up his hands. â€˜You think a lawyer can help you? Donâ€™t you realize how much trouble youâ€™re in? Youâ€™re going to gaol, woman. Youâ€™re going in for years.â€™
â€˜I want to speak to a lawyer.â€™
â€˜Tell me where Peterson is.â€™
â€˜I want to speak to a lawyer.â€™
â€˜The others. I want their names. I want the name of the hotel youâ€™ve been staying at.â€™
â€˜I want to speak to a lawyer.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m going for a coffee,â€™ spat Farooq. â€˜You need to get wise fast, you stupid bitch. Itâ€™s your only chance.â€™ He stormed out, slamming the steel door so hard it made her jump.
Hosni had been leaning against the wall this whole time, arms folded, neither condoning nor intervening. But now he cocked an amused eyebrow at her, pulled up a chair that he set obliquely to hers, instantly reducing the sense of confrontation. â€˜I hate all this,â€™ he sighed. â€˜Itâ€™s not right, bullying nice people. But heâ€™s my boss. Thereâ€™s nothing I can do.â€™
â€˜I want to speak to a lawyer.â€™
â€˜Listen, you need to understand something. Farooqâ€™s been made a fool of today. Heâ€™s lost face with the guys. He needs a victory, however small. Something to show them, you know. Iâ€™m not defending him. Iâ€™m just telling you how it is. Give him something, anything, and this can be over for you, just like that.â€™
She hesitated. Augustin had promised heâ€™d be right behind her, but sheâ€™d kept glancing out of the back of the police car, and thereâ€™d been no sign of him. She remembered how short a tm. Sheo hrt a tmime sheâ€™d known him, how little she knew about him, that she had no reason whatever to trust him, other than her instincts and her heart. â€˜I want to speak to a lawyer.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m sorry. Thatâ€™s not possible. You must see that. This isnâ€™t America. This is Egypt. We do things the Egyptian way. And the Egyptian way is to cooperate. That way everyone benefits. Where are your colleagues?â€™
â€˜I want to speak to a lawyer.â€™
â€˜Please donâ€™t keep saying that. Itâ€™s discourteous. You donâ€™t strike me as a discourteous person. Youâ€™re not, are you?â€™
â€˜I didnâ€™t think so. You look nice. Out of your depth, sure. But nice. I promise you, if you trust me, I can help you sort this out.â€™
She glanced around at the steel door, not just locking her in, but locking help out too. â€˜Iâ€¦ I donâ€™t know.â€™
â€˜Please. Iâ€™m on your side, I really am. I want to help you. Just give me some names. Thatâ€™s all I ask. We didnâ€™t write them down earlier. Give me some names and Iâ€™ll get Farooq off your back, I promise.â€™
â€˜You have to. Someone has got to pay for whatâ€™s been going on. You must see that. If we canâ€™t find anyone else, itâ€™s going to be you.â€™
Tears of self-pity pricked the corner of her eyes. She wiped them away with the back of her hand, wondering what time it was, whether Griffin and the others would have boarded their plane yet, be safely on their way. â€˜I canâ€™t,â€™ she said again.
â€˜I hate to see women being bullied. I really hate it. Itâ€™s against our culture. Please just tell me the names of your colleagues. Thatâ€™s all.â€™
â€˜I canâ€™t. Iâ€™m sorry.â€™
â€˜I understand,â€™ he nodded seriously. â€˜Theyâ€™re your colleagues, your friends. It wouldnâ€™t feel right. I appreciate that. I admire it. But look at it this way: theyâ€™ve left you here alone to face the consequences of their actions. Theyâ€™ve betrayed you. You owe them nothing. Please. Just one name. Thatâ€™s all. I can convince Farooq youâ€™re on our side if you give me just one name.â€™
â€˜Just one name?â€™ she asked wretchedly. â€˜Thatâ€™s all you want?â€™
â€˜Yes,â€™ pressed Hosni gently. â€˜Just one name.â€™
In the dryness of Naguibâ€™s Lada, Knox marshalled his thoughts. So much had been going on, it was difficult to know where to start. He told Naguib about Peterson and the underground site. He showed him the mosaic photo on his mobileâ€™s screen, how it matched Gailleâ€™s posture in the video. Then he explained how the Greek letters pointed towards Akhenaten and Amarna.
Naguib nodded, as though it meshed with his own thinking. â€˜We found the body of a young girl out in the desert two days ago,â€™ he said. â€˜Her skull had been bashed in; sheâ€™d been wrapped in tarpaulin. She was a Copt, which is a very sensitive issue round here right now, so my boss told me to drop it. Heâ€™s not a man to stir things up unnecessarily. But I have a daughter. If thereâ€™s a killer on the looseâ€¦â€™ He shook his head.
â€˜Good for you,â€™ said Knox.
â€˜The investigation didnâ€™t go as Iâ€™d expected. Iâ€™d assumed rape or robbery, Iâ€™d thbery, Isomething like that. But it turned out sheâ€™d drowned. And when we found an Amarna figurine on her, a different scenario began to take shape in my mind. A desperate, poor young girl whoâ€™s heard of valuable artefacts being flushed out of the wadis by storms like these. She makes her way out to the Royal Wadi, she comes across a figurine, tucks it away in her pouch. Perhaps a rock crashes down on her. Or perhaps she glimpses a gash in the cliff-face and tries to climb up to it, but slips and falls instead. Either way, she lies unconscious face-down in the rainwater until she drowns.â€™