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



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‘He looked nice.’

‘So you kept say­ing,’ scowled Naguib. ‘But the ques­tion is, what’s he do­ing down here?’

‘What are you get­ting at?’

‘A killer on the run runs away from trou­ble. This one’s run­ning in­to it. Why? Be­cause of the hostage wom­an, I’m sure of it. He knows some­thing, and it’s lead­ing him here.’

‘Have some­thing to eat. Wor­ry about it to­mor­row.’

‘Some­thing’s go­ing on in Amar­na, my love. I’m not sure what, yet, but it’s got to do with those tourist po­lice.’

‘Oh, no,’ she said. ‘Not this again.’ She glanced at Hus­niyah. ‘We’ve on­ly just got set­tled here. If you lose your job…’

‘Tell me not to pur­sue it, I won’t pur­sue it.’

‘You know I won’t do that. But what about your col­leagues? Won’t they back you up?’

He shook his head. ‘I asked Gamal. He told me to drop it. But I can’t.’

Yas­mine was silent a mo­ment. Then she took a breath. ‘Do what you have to do. Hus­niyah and I will stick by you al­ways, you know that.’

His eyes glit­tered as he pushed him­self to his feet. ‘Thank you,’ he said.

‘Just don’t do any­thing crazy. That’s all I ask.’

He nod­ded as he pulled on his jack­et. ‘I’ll be back be­fore you know it.’

I

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 they’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 one’s life ahead, all those in­fi­nite pos­si­bil­ities, an­oth­er to look back and see how lit­tle she’d made of what she’d had so far.



Gaille sur­faced, heav­ing for air af­ter her lat­est shift at­tack­ing the ta­latat wall. ‘Any luck?’ asked Lily.

‘We need to keep work­ing.’

‘It’s get­ting us nowhere,’ snapped Stafford. ‘Haven’t you re­al­ized yet?’

‘Then what do you sug­gest?’

‘We con­serve our strength,’ said Stafford. ‘That’s what I’m go­ing to do. Maybe we can swim out of here.’

‘Swim out!’ mocked Lily.

‘If this rain keeps com­ing down like this.’

‘We’ll drown be­fore then,’ cried Lily. ‘We’ll all drown.’ Her in­dig­na­tion was too much for mere words. She slapped at the sound of his voice. To her sur­prise, she struck his bare chest. He’d tak­en off his shirt. ‘What are you do­ing?’ she asked.

‘Noth­ing.’

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. ‘You’re mak­ing your­self a life-​jack­et,’ she said.

‘We’ll all be able to use it.’

‘He’s mak­ing him­self a life-​jack­et,’ Lily told Gaille. ‘He’s us­ing all the wa­ter bot­tles.’

‘It’s a good idea,’ said Gaille.

‘They’re our wa­ter bot­tles. Not his.’

‘This is for all of us,’ said Stafford un­con­vinc­ing­ly. ‘I just did­n’t want to get your hopes up be­fore I knew it would work. Any­way, is­n’t it your turn to dig out this bloody wall of yours?’

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 to—

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.

‘Gaille!’ she cried. ‘Char­lie!’ No re­ply. She reached out, touched some­thing warm, a tor­so, a man’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. ‘Gaille!’ 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.

II

‘I’m get­ting you a lawyer,’ Au­gustin yelled out to Claire, hob­bling up the steps af­ter her. ‘Not a word un­til he ar­rives. Un­der­stand?’ She nod­ded as she was bun­dled in­to the back of the po­lice car, her com­plex­ion alarm­ing­ly pale. ‘I’ll be right be­hind you,’ he promised. ‘I won’t let you out of my sight.’ But as the door slammed closed and they be­gan pulling away, he re­mem­bered too late that he’d crashed his bike.



Man­soor came to join him. ‘Don’t wor­ry. It’ll sort it­self out.’

‘What’s that sup­posed to mean?’ snarled Au­gustin. ‘You know what it’s like here once peo­ple get caught up in the sys­tem.’

‘What are you so worked up about her for? She’s one of them, is­n’t she?’

‘No, she’s not. She’s one of us. She made her choice and she chose us.’

‘Yes, but—’

‘You have to drive me back to Alexan­dria. I need to get her out.’

‘I can’t,’ grunt­ed Man­soor. ‘This place comes first. You must see that.’

‘Bull­shit. We al­ready have se­cu­ri­ty. Get on the phone, ar­range more if you want. Ev­ery­thing else can wait till morn­ing. It’s al­ready wait­ed two thou­sand years, af­ter all.’

‘I’m sor­ry, my friend.’

‘I gave her my word,’ protest­ed Au­gustin. ‘I promised I’d stay with her.’

‘Yes, but—’

‘Please, Man­soor. I’ve done a lot for Egypt, haven’t I?’

‘Of course.’

‘And for you too.’ Man­soor’s son was study­ing medicine at a pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ty in Paris, thanks in large part to strings pulled by Au­gustin.

‘Yes.’

‘And I’ve nev­er asked you for any­thing in re­turn be­fore.’

‘What are you talk­ing about? You’re al­ways ask­ing for things. How about my GPS, that re­mote-​con­trolled air­craft? Where is that, by the way?’

Au­gustin waved his quib­ble aside. ‘I’m se­ri­ous, Man­soor. Claire’s not at fault. She’s re­al­ly not. She’s be­haved well in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. She’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 can’t find Pe­ter­son or Knox, he’ll make do with her.’

Man­soor sighed. ‘What can I do?’

‘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.’

‘He’ll nev­er be­lieve me.’

‘He does­n’t have to. Just as long as he can’t prove any­thing.’

Man­soor gri­maced un­hap­pi­ly. ‘You re­al­ly think it’ll work?’

‘There’s on­ly one way to find out.’

‘You’ll owe me big for this.’

‘Yes,’ ac­knowl­edged Au­gustin. ‘I will.’

III

Knox was blast­ing warm air in­to his shoes when the mo­bile fi­nal­ly rang. ‘It’s me,’ said Au­gustin. ‘Sor­ry I missed your call. Trou­bles of my own. Where are you?’



‘Her­mopo­lis. Long sto­ry. Lis­ten, was that you fly­ing that plane over Pe­ter­son’s site?’

‘You saw that? Yes. And we’ve found the site, too; we’ve found ev­ery­thing, the mo­sa­ic too.’

‘You fuck­ing beau­ty.’

‘I haven’t had a chance to study it yet, but I can send you a pho­to. This num­ber, yes?’

‘Please.’

‘Any news of Gaille?’

‘Not yet.’

‘You’ll find her,’ said Au­gustin. ‘I know you will.’ He paused, search­ing for the right thing to say. ‘I don’t be­lieve in much, but I be­lieve in you two.’

‘Thanks, mate,’ said Knox, un­ex­pect­ed­ly touched.

The pho­to­graph came through short­ly af­ter, but the mo­bile’s screen was too small for him to make it all out, so he turned on the Toy­ota’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. He’d imag­ined that ev­ery­thing would fall in­to place if on­ly he could find the mo­sa­ic. He’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, Θε and ΔΙ, be­fore mov­ing on once more. If he had­n’t had di­vine forms on his mind, no way would he have spot­ted it, but ΘεΔΙ 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 Θε and ΔΙ weren’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.

Kε� XAΓ HN Θε ΔΙ ΤP ΣΚ

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 truck’s head­lights sprang on at that mo­ment, full beam and di­rect­ly at him, daz­zling him through his wind­screen.

I

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 he’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, would­n’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. He’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.

Kε�XAΓ HN ΘεΔΙ ΤPΣΚ

Akhen­at­en, Theoei­des, Threskia.

Akhen­at­en, Di­vine of Form, Ser­vant of God.

II

Re­cep­tion on Naguib’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. ‘He’s get­ting out. He’s get­ting out.’



‘Seen him.’

‘He’s go­ing for the train. Stop him.’

‘He’s board­ed! He’s board­ed!’

‘Fol­low him.’

‘Stop the train. Stop that damned train.’ A burst of stat­ic. ‘What the hell do you mean, you don’t know how? Fol­low it, id­iot. Get ahead of it. Wave to the driv­er. I don’t know.’

Naguib re­leased his Lada’s hand­brake, coast­ed down a slight in­cline to park in the shel­ter of trees as close to the Nile’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 Nile’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 don’t have the an­swer quite yet, but you know for sure it’s com­ing. And then it ar­rived.

Light com­ing from be­neath.

Yes!

How blind he’d been! How blind they’d all been!



III

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? He’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 was­n’t just theoei­des that linked to Akhen­at­en. Threskia did too. The Greeks had­n’t had a word for re­li­gion. Threskia was as close as they’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 ‘ser­vants of the god­s’. Schol­ars still de­bat­ed fierce­ly the et­ymol­ogy of the word ‘Es­sene’, but it quite pos­si­bly meant some­thing very sim­ilar, as the word ‘Ther­apeu­tae’ al­most cer­tain­ly did. And then there was the name Akhen­at­en, the one the heretic pharaoh had cho­sen for him­self. For it lit­er­al­ly meant ‘One who is use­ful to the Aten’; or, more sim­ply, ‘Ser­vant of God’.

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 Akhen­aten’s fa­ther, for he’d fa­mous­ly com­mis­sioned hun­dreds of stat­ues of Sekhmet, god­dess of dis­ease. And it had cer­tain­ly per­sist­ed through­out Akhen­aten’s reign, as made clear by in­de­pen­dent Hit­tite texts as well as the hu­man re­mains re­cent­ly found in Amar­na’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 they’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 did­n’t stop there. From a dis­tance, an erup­tion looked like a pil­lar of fire by night, a pil­lar of smoke by day – just like the one fol­lowed by the Jews as they’d fled. And if they’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 Knox’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. That’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 Nile’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 they’d cho­sen that par­tic­ular site not out of fear of pogroms, or a wish to be left alone? That, in fact, the Ther­apeu­tae weren’t some small off­shoot of the Es­senes, but that their Borg el-​Arab site ac­tu­al­ly com­mem­orat­ed the great mir­acle of Ex­odus it­self?

The boat’s keel scraped earth. He jumped out, hauled it up the bank out of the river’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.

I

It was a sul­try evening, not made any more com­fort­able by the mal­func­tion­ing air con­di­tion­ing in­side Cairo Air­port’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 did­n’t quite catch, thanks to a buzzing in his ears that he some­times suf­fered un­der stress. ‘I’m sor­ry?’ he said. He leaned in close as she re­peat­ed it. But her En­glish was heav­ily ac­cent­ed and he could­n’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, they’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.

II

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 did­n’t even con­sid­er run­ning. ‘You’re Daniel Knox,’ he saidou’rt h….



‘Yes,’ agreed Knox.

‘I am go­ing to ask you some ques­tions. Lie if you wish, that is up to you. But you’d be wise to tell the truth.’

‘What ques­tions?’

‘To start with, what are you do­ing here?’

‘Look­ing for a friend.’

‘Who?’

‘Her name’s Gaille Bon­nard. She was tak­en hostage a cou­ple of—’

‘I know who she is. But she was ab­duct­ed down in As­si­ut. So what are you do­ing here?’

‘I don’t think it hap­pened in As­si­ut,’ said Knox. ‘I think it hap­pened here.’

‘My name is Naguib Hus­sein,’ said the po­lice­man. ‘My wife and I, we saw you on tele­vi­sion one time. It was you, was­n’t it? With this wom­an Gaille and the sec­re­tary gen­er­al, an­nounc­ing the dis­cov­ery of Alexan­der’s tomb?’

‘Yes.’

‘My wife said how nice you looked. It twists me in­side when my wife says that about a man. I think that’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.’

Knox jerked his head in the di­rec­tion of the far bank. ‘Have you told them that?’

‘It would do lit­tle good, I as­sure you. My boss does not think much of me. And he’s al­ready told me once to­day to stop pes­ter­ing him with my crazy ideas about strange go­ings-​on in Amar­na.’

‘Strange go­ings-​on?’ asked Knox.

‘I thought that might in­ter­est you,’ smiled Naguib. He low­ered his hand­gun, ges­tured along the bank. ‘My car is that way,’ he said. ‘Per­haps we should get out of the rain and tell each oth­er what we know.’

III

As long as she could re­mem­ber, Lily had strug­gled with thoughts of killing her­self. Most­ly they were just blinks, gone as quick­ly as they’d ar­rived, locked safe­ly back in their box. But some­times the thoughts would­n’t leave. They’d stay with her for hours, days, even weeks. They’d build and build un­til she’d think she’d nev­er get through to the oth­er side. When­ev­er it got too much, she’d hur­ry to some place of sanc­tu­ary, lock out the world, let the tears come. I wish I were dead, she’d yell. I wish I were fuck­ing dead. And she’d mean it too. At least, her wish for obliv­ion felt sin­cere. But she’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 she’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 she’d once seen, trapped in a gar­den by two cal­lous young boys so they could throw stones at it, how she’d ducked her head and hur­ried past, scared of what they’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 did­n’t even ex­ist any more.

‘I’m not like that,’ she yelled out at the dark­ness. ‘I’m not fuck­ing like that, okay? That’s not how I was made.’

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 was­n’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. She’d nev­er be­lieved in God, she’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.

IV

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 did­n’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 did­n’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. ‘I want to speak to a lawyer,’ she told them.

Fa­rooq threw up his hands. ‘You think a lawyer can help you? Don’t you re­al­ize how much trou­ble you’re in? You’re go­ing to gaol, wom­an. You’re go­ing in for years.’

‘I want to speak to a lawyer.’

‘Tell me where Pe­ter­son is.’

‘I want to speak to a lawyer.’

‘The oth­ers. I want their names. I want the name of the ho­tel you’ve been stay­ing at.’

‘I want to speak to a lawyer.’

‘I’m go­ing for a cof­fee,’ spat Fa­rooq. ‘You need to get wise fast, you stupid bitch. It’s your on­ly chance.’ 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. ‘I hate all this,’ he sighed. ‘It’s not right, bul­ly­ing nice peo­ple. But he’s my boss. There’s noth­ing I can do.’

‘I want to speak to a lawyer.’

‘Lis­ten, you need to un­der­stand some­thing. Fa­rooq’s been made a fool of to­day. He’s lost face with the guys. He needs a vic­to­ry, how­ev­er small. Some­thing to show them, you know. I’m not de­fend­ing him. I’m just telling you how it is. Give him some­thing, any­thing, and this can be over for you, just like that.’

She hes­itat­ed. Au­gustin had promised he’d be right be­hind her, but she’d kept glanc­ing out of the back of the po­lice car, and there’d been no sign of him. She re­mem­bered how short a tm. Sheo hrt a tmime she’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. ‘I want to speak to a lawyer.’

‘I’m sor­ry. That’s not pos­si­ble. You must see that. This is­n’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?’

‘I want to speak to a lawyer.’

‘Please don’t keep say­ing that. It’s dis­cour­te­ous. You don’t strike me as a dis­cour­te­ous per­son. You’re not, are you?’

‘No.’

‘I did­n’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.’

She glanced around at the steel door, not just lock­ing her in, but lock­ing help out too. ‘I… I don’t know.’

‘Please. I’m on your side, I re­al­ly am. I want to help you. Just give me some names. That’s all I ask. We did­n’t write them down ear­li­er. Give me some names and I’ll get Fa­rooq off your back, I promise.’

‘I can’t.’

‘You have to. Some­one has got to pay for what’s been go­ing on. You must see that. If we can’t find any­one else, it’s go­ing to be you.’

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. ‘I can’t,’ she said again.

‘I hate to see wom­en be­ing bul­lied. I re­al­ly hate it. It’s against our cul­ture. Please just tell me the names of your col­leagues. That’s all.’

‘I can’t. I’m sor­ry.’

‘I un­der­stand,’ he nod­ded se­ri­ous­ly. ‘They’re your col­leagues, your friends. It would­n’t feel right. I ap­pre­ci­ate that. I ad­mire it. But look at it this way: they’ve left you here alone to face the con­se­quences of their ac­tions. They’ve be­trayed you. You owe them noth­ing. Please. Just one name. That’s all. I can con­vince Fa­rooq you’re on our side if you give me just one name.’

‘Just one name?’ she asked wretched­ly. ‘That’s all you want?’

‘Yes,’ pressed Hos­ni gen­tly. ‘Just one name.’

V

In the dry­ness of Naguib’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 mo­bile’s screen, how it matched Gaille’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. ‘We found the body of a young girl out in the desert two days ago,’ he said. ‘Her skull had been bashed in; she’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. He’s not a man to stir things up un­nec­es­sar­ily. But I have a daugh­ter. If there’s a killer on the loose…’ He shook his head.

‘Good for you,’ said Knox.

‘The in­ves­ti­ga­tion did­n’t go as I’d ex­pect­ed. I’d as­sumed rape or rob­bery, I’d thbery, Isome­thing like that. But it turned out she’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 who’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.’

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