â€˜Then someone comes across her,â€™ suggested Knox....
â€˜Thatâ€™s what I began suspecting,â€™ agreed Naguib. â€˜And so I got to wondering, what if your friend Gaille and her companions spotted something while they were filming in Amarna? What if thatâ€™s why they disappeared? I spoke to some local ghaffirs earlier. They no longer have access to the Royal Wadi. They were banned by the senior tourist policeman here, a certain Captain Khaled Osman, the day after the last great storm.â€™
â€˜Jesus!â€™ muttered Knox. â€˜Have you told anyone?â€™
â€˜I tried to earlier. My boss wouldnâ€™t hear me out. You donâ€™t build a career in the Egyptian police by taking on the sister services. Anyway, I had no evidence to offer, only suspicions. But then, just before I saw you, I realized something. You remember that hostage video?â€™
â€˜You think Iâ€™m likely to forget?â€™
â€˜Did you notice the lighting?â€™
â€˜How do you mean?â€™
â€˜Think back. You could see the underside of the hostagesâ€™ chins, yes? All the shadows were being cast upwards. Thatâ€™s because the light was coming from beneath. Everyoneâ€™s been working on the assumption that theyâ€™re being held in some house or apartment in or around Assiut. But private houses and apartments donâ€™t have floor-lighting like that. In Egypt, you only find such floor-lighting in one kind of place.â€™
â€˜Historic sites,â€™ said Knox.
â€˜Exactly,â€™ said Naguib. â€˜That video wasnâ€™t filmed in Assiut. It was filmed in Amarna.â€™
Griffin looked up, startled, to see two uniformed airport security men in front of him, regarding him with polite but knowing smiles. His insides lurched, he felt sick. â€˜Yes?â€™ he asked.
â€˜Would you come with us, please?â€™
The taller of the two nodded to a glass-fronted office the far side of the departures lounge. â€˜Our interview room.â€™
â€˜But my flightâ€™s about to board.â€™
The smiles tightened. â€˜Please. Come with us.â€™
Griffinâ€™s shoulders sagged. A part of him had known this would happen. He wasnâ€™t the kind of man life gave breaks to. He turned to Mickey. â€˜Youâ€™re in charge,â€™ he said, handing him his credit card. â€˜Get everyone safely o card.loo…ut. Okay?â€™
â€˜What about you?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™ll be fine. Just get everyone home. I can rely on you, canâ€™t I?â€™
â€˜Good man,â€™ said Griffin, patting him on the shoulder. With a heavy heart, he followed the two security men across the carpeted departure lounge floor.
â€˜So what do we do now?â€™ asked Naguib.
â€˜Canâ€™t you take it to your boss?â€™
â€˜He wonâ€™t listen. Not to me. You know how people get. As if youâ€™re a burden specially designed to test them. And what do we have, in all honesty? Lighting. A mosaic.â€™
â€˜But weâ€™re right,â€™ protested Knox.
â€˜Yes,â€™ agreed Naguib. â€˜But thatâ€™s not enough. You have to understand how Egypt works. Thereâ€™s so much inter-service jealousy and rivalry. If the tourist police so much as hear that weâ€™re accusing them of being behind this â€¦â€™ He shook his head. â€˜Theyâ€™ll fight back hard. Itâ€™ll be a matter of honour. Theyâ€™ll demand evidence, scoff at it, counterattack, accuse us of all kinds of evils. My boss is my boss precisely because he knows how to avoid this kind of confrontation. Believe me, he wonâ€™t even hear me out, not unless I can give him irrefutable proof.â€™
â€˜Irrefutable proof? How the hell are we supposed to get that?â€™
â€˜We could always find the hostages ourselves,â€™ muttered Naguib, half joking. But then he shook his head, discounting the thought. â€˜Amarnaâ€™s just too big. And the moment Khaled realizes weâ€™re out looking, heâ€™s sure to cover his tracks.â€™
â€˜Yes,â€™ nodded Knox, as the glimmer of an idea came to him. â€˜He is.â€™
Griffin felt the tremors in his hands like soil feels an impending earthquake. He clasped them together in an effort to still them. â€˜Can we make this quick, please?â€™ he asked. â€˜Only my flight leaves inâ€”â€™
â€˜Forget your flight.â€™
â€˜I said forget about it.â€™ One of them pulled up a chair, sat down, leaned forwards. â€˜Iâ€™m afraid we have some irregularities to deal with before we can let you leave.â€™
â€˜What kind of irregularities?â€™
â€˜The kind we need to deal with.â€™
Griffin nodded. All his adult life, heâ€™d felt deficient. Living a lie, they called it. The lie that you were adequate. He looked out through the office window onto the departures lounge, his students milling around the gate, conferring heatedly, glancing anxiously his way, delaying their boarding to the last moment. They looked so young, suddenly. They looked like children. All of them had been aware of the clandestine nature of their excavation. But they hadnâ€™t cared. They were God-fearing, they were American, they were immune from consequence. But now that their immunity was being stripped from them, they realized just how vulnerable they were. Horror stories about foreign gaols, judicial procedures in which they wouldnâ€™t understand a word, their whole futures at the mercy of people they despised as hcy of ulad as hceathensâ€¦ No wonder they were scared.
He looked back at the security men. Whatever they knew, they evidently knew it only of him, or theyâ€™d have stopped everyone flying. His students were his responsibility, his job was to buy them time, whatever the personal cost. And, realizing this, a serene calmness descended upon him. â€˜I donâ€™t know what you mean,â€™ he said.
â€˜Yes, you do.â€™
â€˜I assure you.â€™
They shared a glance. â€˜May we see your passport, please?â€™
He fished it from his pocket, along with his boarding pass. They took their time inspecting it, flipping slowly through the pages. Griffin looked around again. The lounge was empty, the gate closing. His students were aboard. A warm wave of relief, the chill of loneliness. Apple pie and ice cream.
â€˜You come often to Egypt.â€™ A statement, not a question.
â€˜Iâ€™m an archaeologist.â€™
The two security men glanced at each other. â€˜You are aware of the penalties for smuggling antiquities out of the country?â€™
Griffin frowned. He was guilty of a lot of things, but not that. â€˜What are you talking about?â€™
â€˜Come on,â€™ coaxed the man. â€˜We know everything.â€™
â€˜Everything?â€™ And, just like that, he got the feeling that this was nothing, that they were fishing.
â€˜We can help you,â€™ said one of them. â€˜Itâ€™s just a matter of the right paperwork. Weâ€™ll even take care of it for you. Pay us the amount owing, you wonâ€™t have to do another thing.â€™
The relief was so intense that Griffin couldnâ€™t help but sag in his chair. A shakedown, that was all. After all that anxiety, just a fucking shakedown. â€˜And how much would that be, exactly?â€™
â€˜One hundred dollars,â€™ said one.
â€˜One hundred dollars each,â€™ said the other.
â€˜And then I can catch my flight?â€™
He didnâ€™t even begrudge them their money. It felt strangely as though they were messengers from some greater power, as if this was some kind of penance. And that meant he still had time to turn things around. Get his students home, make sure Claire was okay, then do something with his life of which he could be proud. He counted out ten twenty-dollar bills, added an extra one. â€˜For your friend in check-in,â€™ he said. Then he walked out through the door and across to the departure gate, a great weight off his shoulders, a little strut back in his stride.
Naguib found Captain Khaled Osman sitting out the storm in his quarters, listening to his men gossiping as they shared a shisha of honey-flavoured tobacco.
â€˜You again,â€™ scowled Khaled. â€˜What is it this time?â€™
Naguib closed the door behind him to shut out the storm, brushed down his sleeves, flicking droplets of water onto the floor. â€˜A vicious night,â€™ he remarked.
â€˜What do you want?â€™ said Khaled, pushing himself to his feet.
â€˜I tried to phone,â€™ said Naguib, gesturing vaguely out...
Khaledâ€™s jaw stiffened. He put his arms on his hips. â€˜What do you want?â€™
â€˜Nothing. Nothing particular, at least. I just wanted to give you guys a heads-up, thatâ€™s all. We had a report earlier.â€™
Naguib raised an eyebrow, apparently as amused by what he was about to tell them as no doubt they would be to hear it. â€˜One of the locals has been hearing voices.â€™
â€˜Menâ€™s voices,â€™ nodded Naguib. â€˜Womenâ€™s voices. Foreignersâ€™ voices.â€™
â€˜I couldnâ€™t make sense of it exactly. I donâ€™t know this place as well as you. And he wasnâ€™t the most coherent of witnesses. But somewhere in Amarna.â€™
â€˜What do you expect us to do about it?â€™
â€˜Nothing,â€™ said Naguib. â€˜Itâ€™s just, with everything thatâ€™s been going on, Iâ€™m going to have to look into it.â€™
Khaled stared incredulously at him. â€˜You want to go out in this?â€™
Naguib laughed heartily. â€˜You think Iâ€™m crazy? No, no, no. But if itâ€™s okay with you guys, Iâ€™ll bring him back here first thing tomorrow; he can show me the place. Youâ€™re welcome to come along with us, if you like. Itâ€™s a long-shot, I know, but with these hostages and everything â€¦â€™
â€˜Quite,â€™ nodded Khaled stiffly. â€˜In the morning. No problem.â€™
â€˜Thanks,â€™ said Naguib. â€˜Till tomorrow, then.â€™
Captain Khaled Osman clenched his fists as he stood at the window watching Naguib drive away. When his tail-lights had vanished into the storm, he turned to Faisal and Abdullah. â€˜Voices,â€™ he said icily. â€˜Someone has been hearing voices. Menâ€™s voices. Womenâ€™s voices. Foreignersâ€™ voices. Explain this to me, please.â€™
â€˜It must be some mistake, sir,â€™ whined Abdullah, backing away. â€˜A coincidence. Tourists. Journalists.â€™
â€˜Youâ€™re telling me youâ€™ve allowed tourists and journalists into the site?â€™
Abdullah dropped his gaze. â€˜No, sir. But maybe they sneaked in whileâ€¦â€™ He trailed off, aware his boss wasnâ€™t buying it.
Khaled folded his arms, glaring back and forth between him and Faisal. â€˜You didnâ€™t do as I asked, did you?â€™
â€˜We did, sir,â€™ said Abdullah. â€˜I swear we did.â€™
â€˜You killed them?â€™
Abdullahâ€™s complexion paled a notch. â€˜Kill them, sir?â€™ he swallowed. â€˜You never told us to kill them.â€™
â€˜You told us to silence them, sir,â€™ volunteered Faisal. â€˜Thatâ€™s exactly what we did.â€™
Khaledâ€™s face was stone. â€˜Silence them? And how precisely did you do that?â€™
â€˜We spaced those planks out over the shaft,â€™ nodded Faisal. â€˜he shaust…We covered them with sheets and blankets. No one could possibly have heard them.â€™
â€˜And yet someone has,â€™ pointed out Khaled. â€˜And tomorrow morning the police are going out looking for them. Theyâ€™re going to hear their voices again.â€™ He thrust his face into Faisalâ€™s. â€˜Weâ€™re all going to hang because you disobeyed my direct order. How does that feel? Does that make you feel proud?â€™
â€˜They wonâ€™t come back till morning,â€™ pointed out Nasser.
â€˜Yes,â€™ agreed Khaled. It was the first sensible thing anyone had said. He checked his watch. They still had time. â€˜Get pickaxes and rope,â€™ he ordered. â€˜And anything else we need to open the place up and close it again.â€™ He touched his Walther instinctively. Much though he cherished it, it wasnâ€™t the best tool for the job in hand. He opened up his locker, clipped two of his army souvenir grenades to his belt. â€˜Come on then,â€™ he scowled, opening the door into the maelstrom. â€˜Weâ€™ve work to do.â€™
They ran through the deluge, clambered into the cab, then set off for the Royal Wadi, unaware of the passenger hitching a ride on their roof.
The water had now reached Lilyâ€™s chin. She had to tilt back her head to breathe. Her left arm was aching from holding up Gaille, still breathing faintly but not yet conscious. She transferred her to her right. Sheâ€™d climbed as high as she could go on the mound, but it was being eaten away bit by bit beneath her feet. She gave a sob of fear and loneliness.
The time was fast coming when sheâ€™d have to choose. She could perhaps ride the rising tide, supporting herself on the few meagre holds in the limestone wall, but no way could she do so while still holding Gaille. She was already too close to exhaustion. And the longer she held on, the more of her own precious reserves of strength sheâ€™d burn up. Letting her go was the only sensible strategy. No one would see. No one would ever know. And even if they did, theyâ€™d agree sheâ€™d had no choice.
Right, she told herself. On the count of ten.
She took a deep breath, counted the numbers out loud. But she trailed to a halt at seven, aware she couldnâ€™t do it. She just couldnâ€™t.
Not yet, at least.
Naguib watched Khaled and his men drive off towards the Royal Wadi in their truck, exhilarated that the first part of Knoxâ€™s plan had gone so sweetly. He got out his mobile, called his boss.
â€˜You again!â€™ sighed Gamal. â€˜What this time?â€™
â€˜Nothing,â€™ said Naguib. â€˜At least, Iâ€™ve been listening in on all the chatter. You arenâ€™t looking for some fugitive Westerner, are you?â€™
â€˜Of course we bloody are. You know we are.â€™
â€˜Only I think he might be here. A tall Westerner, maybe thirty, thirty-five. His face pretty badly banged up.â€™
â€˜Thatâ€™s him! Thatâ€™s him! Where is he?â€™
â€˜He was in a truck with some other people.â€™
â€˜I didnâ€™t see. I just saw them drive off towards the Royal Wadi.â€™
â€˜Keep =“2em”jus˜Keep =on them, you hear me,â€™ yelled Gamal. â€˜Weâ€™ll get there as soon as we can.â€™
â€˜Thanks.â€™ Naguib disconnected, nodded to Tarek, sitting in his passenger seat, an AK-49 across his lap.
â€˜All set?â€™ asked Tarek.
â€˜All set,â€™ agreed Naguib.
Tarek grinned and lowered his window, gave the sign to his son Mahmoud at the wheel of the truck behind, a dozen ghaffirs in the back, all armed to the teeth, champing at this chance to get their own back on Khaled.
It was time to roll.
Claireâ€™s cell-door banged open and Augustin burst in, closely followed by a short, slim man in a beautifully cut charcoal-grey suit. â€˜Have you told them anything?â€™ asked Augustin.
â€˜No.â€™ It had been close, though. Sheâ€™d been on the verge of opening up to Hosni when Farooq had returned, bringing confrontation back with him. Hosni had rolled his eyes in despair, had even allowed himself a complicit smile at Claire, both aware of just how close heâ€™d got.
â€˜Good girl,â€™ exulted Augustin, planting a kiss on her forehead. But then he took a step back, as though worried about overstepping his bounds. â€˜I only mean, itâ€™s important you take proper legal advice first.â€™
â€˜Of course,â€™ she agreed.
â€˜Great. Then come with me.â€™
â€˜I can go?â€™
Augustin nodded at his companion. â€˜This is Mister Nafeez Zidan, Alexandriaâ€™s finest lawyer. Iâ€™ve had to use him once or twice myself. You know how it is. Heâ€™s made the arrangements. Youâ€™re free to leave, as long as you agree to come back tomorrow afternoon. Thatâ€™s okay, yes?â€™
â€˜Youâ€™ll come with me?â€™
â€˜Of course. And Nafeez too.â€™
â€˜Then itâ€™s fine,â€™ she said. She turned to Nafeez. â€˜Thank you so much.â€™
â€˜The pleasure is mine,â€™ said Nafeez.
She clung to Augustinâ€™s arm as he led her out towards the lobby. Suddenly, she couldnâ€™t get away fast enough. â€˜We had to agree to certain conditions to gain your release, Iâ€™m afraid,â€™ he told her. â€˜The important thing was to get you out tonight.â€™
â€˜For one thing, your passport has been confiscated and wonâ€™t be returned until the investigators are satisfied.â€™ He opened the front door for her, then led her down the front steps and opened the back door of Mansoorâ€™s car which was waiting at the foot. â€˜Iâ€™ve also had to assure them you wonâ€™t try to leave the country before then.â€™
â€˜I wonâ€™t,â€™ she promised, climbing inside. â€˜But how long will it all take?â€™
â€˜It wonâ€™t be quick,â€™ admitted Augustin, sliding in beside her. â€˜Things in Egypt rarely are.â€™ He took her hand in both his, gave it a reassuring press. â€˜But you mustnâ€™t worry. Itâ€™s going to work out fine. Mansoor and I have worked out a story thatâ€”â€™
â€˜Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay!â€™ protested Nafeez from the front,roteste s… covering his ears. â€˜I canâ€™t hear this. Iâ€™m a lawyer.â€™
â€˜Forgive me, my friend,â€™ laughed Augustin. He turned back to Claire. â€˜Just trust me. Itâ€™s going to be fine. Itâ€™s who you know in Egypt that counts. Usually I hate that about this place. Tonight I welcome it. Because I know a lot of people, Claire. A lot of connected, powerful people. Iâ€™ll call them all if I have to.â€™
â€˜Thank you,â€™ she said.
â€˜Iâ€™ve made some other commitments on your behalf. Iâ€™ve undertaken to be personally responsible for making sure you show up for all interviews and court appearances, should it come to that, which it wonâ€™t. But Iâ€™m afraid that means youâ€™re going to have to stay as my guest for the time being.â€™
â€˜Wonâ€™t I get in your way?â€™
â€˜Of course not. Itâ€™ll be my pleasure.â€™
She glanced down at her hand, still pressed between both his. He realized what must be going through her mind, blushed furiously, let go of her hand, shifted away along the back seat. â€˜No!â€™ he protested. â€˜It wonâ€™t be like that at all, I promise you. Youâ€™ll have your own bedroom. At least, itâ€™ll be my bedroom, but I wonâ€™t be in there with you, Iâ€™ll be on the couch in the living room, Iâ€™ll just grab a blanket and a pillow, Iâ€™ve slept there before, itâ€™s fine, itâ€™s comfortable, much more comfortable than the bed actually, I donâ€™t know why I donâ€™t sleep on it all the time, anyway youâ€™ll be completely safe, thatâ€™s the point, I give you my word.â€™
He broke off his schoolboy blathering, drew a deep breath, looked directly into her eyes to see if sheâ€™d bought it, evidently came to the conclusion that he still needed to give it one last push. â€˜Honestly, Claire,â€™ he insisted, â€˜Iâ€™d never dream of taking advantage of you like that, not after everything youâ€™ve just risked for me.â€™
There was a heartbeat of silence.
A second heartbeat.
â€˜Oh,â€™ she said.
Lying exposed to the full savagery of the thunderstorm on the roof of the truck, Knox looked back down the road and realized a major weakness in his impromptu plan. Even with the truckâ€™s headlights on full beam, visibility was dire. But Naguib and Tarek wouldnâ€™t be able to use their lights without giving themselves away. And driving without lights in these conditions would be almost impossible.
A vicious squall buffeted the truck. It lurched so sharply sideways that water sloshed from the top and Knox had to cling desperately on. Their tyres regained grip, but they slowed down after that to a more prudent pace. He looked behind again. Still no sign of anyone. They reached the end of the road and parked by the generator building. An appropriate place for all this to end. Geometry might be a Greek word, but it had been an Egyptian science, developed in response to the annual Nile inundation which flooded the surrounding land, meaning that owners of valuable property needed reliable ways to determine what land belonged to whom when the waters receded, while the authorities had needed fair methods to work out taxes too.
That these skills had been used by Egyptâ€™s architects was proved by the orientation and proportions of the Great Pyramids. Yet talk of â€˜sacred geometryâ€™ made Egyptologists uncomfortable; it smacked too much of New-Age thinking. And while the Egyptians had clearly had both the knowledge and the ability to incorporate it into their c to ine="heir c ity planning and architecture, the archaeological record showed that they hadnâ€™t often had the inclination.
At first glance, the city of Amarna seemed designed to fit its landscape. But a British architect had recently mapped the key sites, with remarkable results. Amarna, it seemed, hadnâ€™t been haphazardly laid out at all. The entire city was in fact a vast rectilinear open-air temple that straddled the Nile and faced the rising sun. What was more, if you drew straight lines from each of the boundary stele through the main palaces and temples, they all converged on a particular point, like the rays converging on the sun in so much of Amarnaâ€™s art. And that focal point was right here at Akhenatenâ€™s Royal Tomb. It was as though heâ€™d seen himself as the sun, shining eternally upon his people and his city.
The truckâ€™s doors opened. Khaled and his men hurried out, hunched beneath waterproofs, their torch-beams feeble things quickly lost in the massive darkness. Knoxâ€™s mobile couldnâ€™t find a signal, overwhelmed by the storm and the high walls of the wadi. He was on his own, for the time being at least. Water slopped over the edge as he lowered himself down. His shoes squelched as he walked, so he kicked them off and tossed them into the night. Then he followed Khaled and his men along the wadi floor, wading barefoot through the storm-water as it cascaded like rapids across the scree.
Abdullah glowered at Khaledâ€™s back as they laboured up the hillside and then across the plateau, his feet soaked and sore and cold inside his ill-fitting boots. What madness this was! No way would they be able to make it down that sorry excuse for a path in such a torrent. But Khaled had anticipated this. There was a protruding spike of rock on the hilltop above the tomb mouth. He tied a slipknot in one end of a coil of rope, slung it around this spike, then tossed the rest over the edge. â€˜Down you go, then,â€™ he told Abdullah.
â€˜Me?â€™ protested Abdullah. â€˜Why me?â€™
â€˜We wouldnâ€™t be in this damned mess if youâ€™d followed my orders.â€™
â€˜You should have been clearer,â€™ muttered Abdullah.
â€˜On the phone? On the phone?â€™
Abdullah grudgingly took hold of the rope. He gave it a couple of tugs to test it. It promptly rode up the spike and came free. â€˜Look!â€™ he said.
â€˜Stop whining, will you?â€™ said Khaled, looping it back around, pulling the knot tighter. â€˜Just climb.â€™
â€˜Donâ€™t worry,â€™ murmured Faisal. â€˜Iâ€™ll keep an eye on it.â€™