He paused, looked around to make sure no one could see him,...
Peterson had no intention of letting his God down. He had one night to complete his sacred mission. He intended to make the most of it.
â€˜The groundbreaking bit?â€™ asked Gaille.
Stafford hesitated, but he was clearly proud of his ideas and wanted to impress her: the maverick historian showing up the establishment academic. â€˜Iâ€™ll not tell you everything,â€™ he said. â€˜But Iâ€™ll say this much. Yes, nearly every modern work on Akhenaten mentions the possibility of some disease or other. But as an adjunct, you know. A sidebar. They get it out of the way and then move on. But I donâ€™t think you can get it out the way and move on. If itâ€™s true, after all, it would have had the most profound impact. Think about it. A young man suddenly developing a bewildering, disfiguring and incurable disease. And no ordinary young man, but one of almost unlimited power, viewed as a living God by his sycophantic court. Canâ€™t you see how that would be a catalyst for all kinds of new thinking? Priests devising new theologies to explain his ravages as blessings not curses; artists striving to represent disfigurement as beauty. Akhenaten was constantly pledging never to leave Amarna because it was the spiritual home of his new God, the Aten. But actually his vows sound much more like the wheedling of a frightened young man finding excuses to stay home. Amarna was sanctuary. People here knew better than to make him feel a freak.â€™
â€˜Maybe,â€™ said Gaille.
â€˜Thereâ€™s no maybe about it,â€™ said Stafford. â€˜Disease explains so much. His children all died young, you know.â€™
Theyâ€™d reached the last of the cultivated fields, and now passed between a thin line of trees out shockingly into the raw desert, nothing but dunes between them and the high ridge of sandstone cliffs ahead. â€˜Christ!â€™ muttered Lily from the back.
â€˜Quite a sight, isnâ€™t it,â€™ agreed Gaille. It felt like true border territory this, the tall grey water towers every kilometre or two resembling nothing quite so much as guard-posts struggling to keep the hostile desert at bay. She pointed through her windscreen. â€˜See that walled compound with the trees in front? Thatâ€™s where weâ€™re going. It used to be the local power station, but they abandoned it for a new one further south, so Fatima took it over. Itâ€™s almost exactly halfway between Hermopolis and Tuna el-Gabel, which puts us right in theâ€”â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m sorry you find my theories so boring,â€™ said Stafford.
â€˜I donâ€™t at all,â€™ protested Gaille. â€˜You were telling us about how all Akhenatenâ€™s children died young.â€™
â€˜Yes,â€™ said Stafford, a little mollified. â€˜His six daughters certainly, and Smenkhkare and the famous Tutankhamun too, if they were his sons, as some scholars suggest. Marfanâ€™s Syndrome drastically reduces life expectancy. Aortic dissection mostly. Pregnancy is a particularly dangerous time because of the additional pressures on the heart. At least two of Akhenatenâ€™s daughters died in childbirth.â€™
â€˜So did a lot of women back then,â€™ pointed out Gaille. Life expectancy for women had been less than thirty years, significantly less than for men, largely because of the dangers of pregnancy.
â€˜And Akhenaten is often criticized for letting his empire fall apart while he lazed around worshipping the Aten. Marfanâ€™s causes extreme fatigue. Maybe thatâ€™s why heâ€™s never portrayed doing anything energetic, except riding his chariot. And it would explain his love of the sun too. Marfanâ€™s sufferers really feel the cold, you know. And their eyesight is afflicted, so that they need good light to see anything.â€™
â€˜Quite a risk, isnâ€™t it? Basing your whole thesis on such a speculation.â€™
â€˜You academics!â€™ snorted Stafford. â€˜Always so frightened of being proved wrong. Youâ€™ve lost your nerve; you hedge everything. But Iâ€™m not wrong. My theory explains Akhenaten perfectly. Can you offer another theory that even comes close?â€™
â€˜How about the opium-den theory?â€™
Stafford slid her a glance. â€˜I beg your pardon?â€™
Gaille nodded. â€˜You know theyâ€™ve got the mummy of Akhenatenâ€™s father, Amenhotep III, in the vaults of the Cairo Museum?â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s been examined by palaeopathologists. His teeth were in a wretched state, apparently.â€™ She glanced around at Lily. â€˜They used to grind up their grain with stone,â€™ she said. â€˜Little bits of grit were always getting in the mix. Like eating sandpaper. All Egyptians of a certain age had worn-down teeth, but Amenhotep particularly so. He must have been constantly plagued by abscesses. Have you ever had a tooth abscess?â€™
Lily winced sympathetically, touched a hand to her cheek. â€˜Once,â€™ she said.
â€˜Then youâ€™ll know just how much pain heâ€™d have been in. No antibiotics, of course. You just had to wait it out. Heâ€™d almost certainly have drunk to numb the pain. Wine, mostly, though the Egyptians loved their beer. But thereâ€™s another possibility. According to something called the Ebers Papyrus, opium was well known to Eighteenth Dynasty medics. They imported it from Cyprus, made it into a paste and spread it as an analgesic over the sore area: the gums in Amenhotepâ€™s case. Is it er thee. really too much of a stretch to imagine doctors prescribing opium for Akhenaten too, particularly if he was suffering from some disease, as you claim?â€™
They reached the outside of Fatimaâ€™s compound. The gates were closed, so Gaille gave a short squirt of horn. â€˜Maybe he got the taste for it. Opium was certainly used at Amarna. Weâ€™ve found poppy-shaped juglets there, with traces of opiates inside. The Minoans used opium to induce religious ecstasy and inspire their art. Isnâ€™t it possible that Akhenaten and his courtiers did the same? I mean, thereâ€™s something rather hallucinogenic about the whole Amarna period, isnâ€™t there? The art, the court, the religion, the hapless foreign policy?â€™
Lily laughed. â€˜Youâ€™re saying Akhenaten was a junkie?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m saying itâ€™s a theory that explains the Amarna era. One of several. As to whether itâ€™s right or not â€¦â€™
â€˜Iâ€™ve never heard it before,â€™ said Stafford. â€˜Has anyone published on it?â€™
â€˜A couple of articles in the journals,â€™ said Gaille, as the front gates finally swung open. â€˜But nothing major.â€™
â€˜Interesting,â€™ murmured Stafford. â€˜Most interesting.â€™
â€˜Theyâ€™ve found something,â€™ said Knox, as he drove away from the Texas Society site. â€˜Theyâ€™re hiding it from us.â€™
â€˜What makes you think that?â€™ frowned Omar.
â€˜Didnâ€™t you notice how their hair was matted with cobwebs and dust? You only get that when youâ€™ve found something underground.â€™
â€˜Oh,â€™ said Omar gloomily. â€˜But theyâ€™re archaeologists. They wouldnâ€™t have been awarded the concession if they couldnâ€™t be trusted.â€™
Knox gave an eloquent snort. â€˜Sure! Because no one ever took baksheesh in this country. Besides, didnâ€™t you see the way that preacher glared at me?â€™
â€˜It was like he knew you from somewhere,â€™ nodded Omar. â€˜Have you met him before?â€™
â€˜Not that I can remember. But I recognize that look. You remember Richard Mitchell, my old mentor?â€™
â€˜Gailleâ€™s father?â€™ asked Omar. â€˜Of course. I never got to meet him, but I heard plenty of stories.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™ll bet,â€™ laughed Knox. â€˜You heard he was homosexual?â€™
Omar coloured. â€˜I assumed that was just malicious gossip. I mean, he was Gailleâ€™s father, after all.â€™
â€˜The two arenâ€™t incompatible, you know. And just because gossip is malicious, doesnâ€™t make it wrong.â€™
â€˜The thing is, because I worked with him so closely, lots of people assumed I was his boy, you know. I never bothered to put them right. Let them think what they want, right? Anyway, most people in our business donâ€™t much care. But a few do. You soon get to recognize a certain look in their eye.â€™
â€˜You think Petersonâ€™s like that?â€™
â€˜The Bibleâ€™s pretty intolerant of homosexuality,â€™ nodded Knox. â€˜People try to gloss it over, but itâ€™s there all right. And some Christians exult in the opportunity to be spiteful in the name of God. Thatâ€™s fine, up to a point. Theyâ€™re entitled to their opinion. Itâ€™s just,point.€™s if Iâ€™ve learned one thing in archaeology, itâ€™s never to entrust a sensitive site to anyone whoâ€™s convinced of the truth before they start. Itâ€™s too easy for them to fit the evidence to their theories, rather than the other way around.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™ll call Cairo first thing in the morning. Weâ€™ll come straight back out.â€™
â€˜That will still leave them all night.â€™
â€˜Then what do you suggest?â€™
â€˜We go back now. We look around.â€™
â€˜Are you crazy?â€™ protested Omar. â€˜Iâ€™m head of the SCA in Alexandria! I canâ€™t go sneaking around archaeological sites at night. How would it look if we were caught?â€™
â€˜Like you were doing your job.â€™
Omarâ€™s cheeks flamed, but then he sighed and bowed his head. â€˜I hate this kind of thing! Iâ€™m no damned good at it. Why on earth did Yusuf Abbas appoint me?â€™
â€˜Maybe because he knew you wouldnâ€™t cause him any trouble,â€™ said Knox ruthlessly.
A dark scowl flickered like a passing cloud across Omarâ€™s face. â€˜Very well,â€™ he said. â€˜Letâ€™s do it.â€™
Gaille showed Stafford and Lily to their rooms, then went in search of Fatima. No surprise, she was at her desk, swaddled in blankets, looking cadaverous with exhaustion beneath her shawl. It was sometimes hard for Gaille to believe that so frail and shrunken a frame could house so formidable an intellect. Born just east of here, sheâ€™d discovered her passion for Ancient Egypt young, had won a scholarship to Leiden University in Holland before becoming a lecturer there, returning to Egypt each year to excavate at Berenike. But her illness had drawn her back here, close to her family, her roots. â€˜I saw you were back,â€™ she smiled. â€˜Thank you.â€™
Gaille put her hand upon her shoulder. â€˜I was glad to help.â€™
â€˜What did you make of our friend Mister Stafford?â€™
â€˜Oh. I really didnâ€™t have much of a chance to get to know him.â€™
Fatima allowed herself a rare laugh. â€˜That bad?â€™
â€˜Heâ€™s not my kind of historian.â€™
â€˜Then why invite him?â€™
â€˜Because we need funds, my dear,â€™ said Fatima. â€˜And, for that, we first need publicity.â€™ She clenched her eyes and produced a blood-red handkerchief, the inevitable prelude to one of her violent coughing fits.
Gaille waited patiently until she was recovered. â€˜There must be other ways,â€™ she said, as the handkerchief vanished once more beneath Fatimaâ€™s robes.
â€˜I wish there were.â€™ But they both knew the reality. Most of the SCAâ€™s constrained budget went to Giza, Saqqara, Luxor and the other landmark sites. So few people ever visited this stretch of Middle Egypt, it wasnâ€™t considered an attractive investment, despite its beauty, friendliness and historical significance.
â€˜I donâ€™t see how having Stafford here will help,â€™ said Gaille mulishly.
â€˜People read his books,â€™ replied Fatima.
â€˜His books are nonsense.â€™
â€˜I know they are. But people still read them. And they watch his programmes too. And some of them will no doubt be prompted to learn more, maybe even come here to find the truth for themselves. All we need is enough traffic to support a tourist infrastructure.â€™
â€˜They said something about me going with them to Amarna tomorrow.â€™
Fatima nodded. â€˜Iâ€™m sorry to land that on you,â€™ she said. â€˜But my doctor came today. Heâ€™s not happy with my â€¦ prognosis.â€™
â€˜Oh, no,â€™ said Gaille wretchedly. â€˜Oh, Fatima.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m not looking for sympathy,â€™ she said sharply. â€˜Iâ€™m explaining the situation. Heâ€™s ordered me to hospital tomorrow for tests. So I wonâ€™t be able to accompany Stafford as Iâ€™d promised. Someone must take my place. Iâ€™ve already banked my fee and I assure you Iâ€™m not paying it back.â€™
â€˜Why not one of the others?â€™ asked Gaille. â€˜They know more than I do.â€™
â€˜No they donâ€™t. You spent two seasons excavating Amarna with your father, didnâ€™t you?â€™
â€˜I was only a teenager. It was over a decade ago.â€™
â€˜So? None of my people have spent anything like that much time there. And you studied the Eighteenth Dynasty at the Sorbonne, didnâ€™t you? And havenâ€™t you just been back there with Knox? Besides, we both know that Western audiences will respond more positively to a Western face, a Western voice.â€™
â€˜Heâ€™ll make it seem like Iâ€™m endorsing his ideas.â€™
â€˜You wonâ€™t be.â€™
â€˜I know I wonâ€™t be. But thatâ€™s how heâ€™ll make it look. Heâ€™ll take what he needs and ignore everything else. Heâ€™ll make me a laughing stock.â€™
â€˜Please.â€™ Fatima touched her wrist. â€˜You donâ€™t know how tight our budget is. Once Iâ€™m goneâ€”â€™
Gaille winced. â€˜Donâ€™t talk like that.â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s the truth, my dear. I need to leave this project in good financial health. Itâ€™s my legacy. And that means raising the profile of this region. Iâ€™m asking you to help. If you feel you canâ€™t, I suppose I could always postpone my tests.â€™
Gaille blinked and clenched her jaw. â€˜Thatâ€™s unfair, Fatima.â€™
â€˜Yes,â€™ she agreed.
The wall-clock ticked away the seconds. Gaille finally let out her breath. â€˜Fine,â€™ she sighed. â€˜You win. What exactly do you want me to do?â€™
â€˜Just be helpful. Thatâ€™s all. Help them make a good programme. And I want you to show them the talatat too.â€™
â€˜No!â€™ cried Gaille. â€˜You canâ€™t be serious.â€™
â€˜Can you think of a better way to generate publicity?â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s too early. We canâ€™t be anything like sure. If it turns out weâ€™re wrongâ€”â€™
Fatima nodded. â€˜Just show them the place, then. Explain...
Night fell as Knox and Omar headed back towards the excavation site, avoiding the route theyâ€™d taken before, wary of being spotted. They took farm tracks instead, crossing a wooden bridge over another irrigation channel into a field, then navigating by moonlight until their further progress was balked by a high stone wall. By his reckoning, the Texas Society site lay across a lane just the other side. He trundled on a short distance until he spotted a padlocked steel gate, rolled to a stop.
His white shirt glowed treacherously in the moonlight when he got out of the Jeep, so he rummaged in the back for a dark polo-neck jersey for himself, found a jacket for Omar too. Then he patted his pockets to make sure he had his camera-phone, and set off. A bird hooted and flapped lazily away as they climbed the gate. They crossed the lane, reached the irrigation channel. Knox grinned at Omar, enjoying himself, but Omar only grimaced in response, his discomfort clear.
Knox clambered down the near bank, taking a cascade of earth and stone with him, stepped across the dank ribbon of water at its foot, scrambled up the far bank on his palms and knees, peered cautiously over the top. The landscape was flat and featureless, making it hard to get a fix. He waited for Omar to arrive then crouched low and headed on in. Heâ€™d barely gone fifty metres before he trod on a fat stone and turned his ankle, stumbling to the ground. There were many such stones, he now saw, pale-grey and rounded, some even arranged in rough cairns, all aligned in the same direction. He came across a tent of translucent plastic sheeting, pulled it back to expose a pit beneath, a crumbled wall of ancient bricks at its foot, filtered moonlight glowing on a domed skull, thin curved ribs and long bones. â€˜Neat rows of white stones,â€™ he murmured, taking a photograph, though without his flash attachment he wasnâ€™t sure quite what would show up. â€˜Just like the cemetery at Qumran. Skeletons pointing south, their faces turned to the rising sun. And see how the bones are tinted slightly purple?â€™
â€˜The Essenes used to drink a juice made from madder root. It stains bones red, if you drink enough of it. And didnâ€™t Griffin say they used to grow madder around here?â€™
â€˜You think your lid came from one of these graves?â€™
â€˜Then can we leave now?â€™
â€˜Not yet. We still need to seeâ€”â€™
A snarl behind them. Knox whirled around to see a mangy dog, ribs showing through its flanks, moonlight reflecting brightly from its black eyes and silvery slobber. Ancient Egyptian cemeteries had typically been sited on desert fringes; good quality farmland had been too valuable to waste. Theyâ€™d consequently become the haunts of scavengers, one reason why the jackal-god Anubis had been so closely associated with death. Knox hissed and waved. But it only growled louder, bared its fangs, its territory infringed.
â€˜Make it go away,â€™ said Omar.
â€˜Iâ€™m trying,â€™ said Knox.
Torchlight flared away to their left, vanished then came back, stronger and nearer. A security guard on his rounds, swinging his torch back and forth, painting yellow ellipses on the ground that came perilously close. They ducked down behind the plastic tent, allowing the dog to approach to within a few feet, snarling owing snaand sniffing. Omar jabbed a finger back the way theyâ€™d come, but it was too late, the security guard was almost upon them. Knox gestured for Omar to crouch low, hold his nerve.
The guard heard the dog, picked it out with his torch, then stooped for a stone that he hurled hard. It missed its target but provoked a furious barking. The guard came closer. Knox could see dots of moonlight gleaming on his polished black boots. His second shot caught the dog a glancing blow on its hind leg. It yelped and bounded away. The guard laughed heartily then turned and walked off.
â€˜Letâ€™s get out of here,â€™ pleaded Omar, once heâ€™d vanished from sight.
â€˜Just a little further,â€™ said Knox, dusting himself down. He hated playing the bully, but this place needed checking out. They soon came to a sandy embankment, a yellow glow on the other side. Knox crawled up on his elbows and knees, that familiar metallic tang at the back of his mouth as he peered over the top. Griffin and a young man with buzz-cut blond hair were standing by the rear of a pick-up backed against the open door of a squat brick building, its interior light on. Two more young men emerged with a crate that they lugged onto the flatbed. Their hair was cropped short too, and they were wearing identical cornflower blue shirts and khaki trousers.
â€˜Thatâ€™ll do for now,â€™ said Griffin. â€˜Weâ€™ll have to come back anyhow.â€™ He locked up the building, got into the pick-up, the three young men climbing up onto the back.
â€˜What are they doing?â€™ whispered Omar as the truck drove off.
â€˜Clearing out their magazine. So that we wonâ€™t find anything incriminating tomorrow.â€™
â€˜Letâ€™s go to the police. Weâ€™ll tell them everything.â€™
â€˜Theyâ€™ll have hidden it all by the time we get back.â€™
â€˜Please, Daniel. I hate this kind of business.â€™
Knox took out the keys to his Jeep, closed Omarâ€™s hand around them. â€˜Go wait for me,â€™ he said. â€˜If Iâ€™m not back in an hour, go get the police.â€™
Omar pulled a face. â€˜Please come with me.â€™
â€˜We need to find out where theyâ€™re putting this stuff, Omar. You must see that.â€™ And before Omar could protest, Knox got to his feet and jogged across the broken ground after the pick-up, its rear lights shining like a demonâ€™s eyes in the darkness.
Lily felt a little sheepish as she emerged from Staffordâ€™s room. â€˜He has some urgent phone calls to make,â€™ she told Gaille, waiting outside. â€˜Is it essential that he comes with us?â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s your documentary,â€™ shrugged Gaille. â€˜Fatima just thought you might be interested, thatâ€™s all.â€™
â€˜And we are. Donâ€™t think we donâ€™t appreciate it. Itâ€™s just â€¦â€™
â€˜He has phone calls to make,â€™ suggested Gaille.
â€˜Yes,â€™ said Lily, dropping her eyes. Stafford had discovered the Internet connection in his room, was now happily catching up with his email, checking out his latest sales figures and running searches of his own name to see if anyone had written anything nice about him recently.
She followed Gaille out of the compoundâ€™s back gate straight into the desert. Her feet sank into the soft dry sand, making her camera equipmeet sara ent feel twice as heavy.
â€˜You want help with that?â€™ asked Gaille.
â€˜If you wouldnâ€™t mind.â€™
â€˜So youâ€™re Staffordâ€™s camera-woman, are you?â€™ said Gaille, taking a bag.
â€˜And producer,â€™ nodded Lily ruefully. â€˜As well as sound engineer, gofer, runner â€“ everything else you can think of.â€™ Stafford had apparently been all for luxury and large crews while heâ€™d been working on someone elseâ€™s dime. But heâ€™d grown increasingly affronted at the thought of anyone else making money from his work, so heâ€™d set up his own production company, intending to hawk the finished product to broadcasters. Heâ€™d duly cut costs to the bone, hiring inexperienced staff like herself and bullying them so mercilessly that her three colleagues had walked out just a week before, landing this whole nightmare of a trip on her shoulders. Sheâ€™d hoped to be able to rely on local help, but Staffordâ€™s high-handed manner had driven even those away. â€˜Not that I get to do as much camerawork as Iâ€™d like. Charles does his own whenever he can.â€™ She allowed herself a small smile. â€˜I think he has this image of himself as an intrepid solo desert adventurer. He likes to keep adjusting the settings while talking to camera, so that viewers will think him out here on his own. I just film when heâ€™s interviewing people, or if we need a pan or zoom.â€™ They reached the entrance to the site. Gaille unlocked the wooden door, turned on the generator, gave it a few moments to warm up before flipping switches and leading Lily down eerie corridors of crumbling sandstone to a cavernous new space. â€˜Wow!â€™ murmured Lily. â€˜What is this place?â€™
â€˜The inside of a pylon of a Nineteenth Dynasty Temple of Amun.â€™ She pointed to a mound of bricks in the far corner. â€˜And these are what I brought you to see. Theyâ€™re Ancient Egyptian bricks called talatat. They were used byâ€”â€™
â€˜Whoa, whoa,â€™ interjected Lily. â€˜I can film this, yes?â€™
â€˜If itâ€™s light enough in here, sure.â€™
Lily patted the side of her Sony VX2000. â€˜This thingâ€™s a marvel, believe me. Itâ€™ll look wonderfully atmospheric.â€™ Sheâ€™d grown to love cameras. It hadnâ€™t always been that way. When sheâ€™d first encountered them, at childrenâ€™s parties and at school, sheâ€™d feared and hated them. It was bad enough having other children stare at her birthmark in her presence, but at least sheâ€™d been there to make sure they didnâ€™t say anything too cruel. Cameras had allowed them to take her ugliness away with them, to look at it whenever they chose, to poke fun at her and laugh and insult her to their heartâ€™s content, with no way for her to defend herself against it.
Sheâ€™d been cursed with a runaway imagination, Lily. At times the thought of what the other children were saying about her had tormented her so severely that her only way of soothing it had been to imagine the moment of her own death, the sweetness of release. Sheâ€™d started deliberately hurting herself, slapping herself across her cheek, jabbing scissors into her arm. But then one day her uncle had almost negligently given her his cast-off camcorder. She still shivered at the memory. Just holding the viewfinder to her eye concealed her birthmark, which had been wonderful in itself. But it was the power that it had given her that had been transforming. The power to make others look good or bad as she chose. The power to make them look gracious or sullen, ugly or beautiful. And sheâ€™d used that power too. Sheâ€™d discovered a real talent in herself. It had given her identity and self-esteem. Most of all, it had given her a path.
She unpacked and set up the equipment, plugged in and put on her headphones, checked sound and light levels, hoisted the camera to her shoulder, turned it on Gaille. â€˜You were saying?â€™ she asked.
â€˜Oh,â€™ said Gaille, taken aback. â€˜I thought youâ€™d be filming the talatat, not me.â€™
â€˜I want both,â€™ said Lily, well accustomed to soothing stage fright. â€˜But donâ€™t worry. Charles already has his script. Heâ€™s highly unlikely to make changes this late, believe me. And youâ€™d need to sign a release anyway, so if you donâ€™t like it â€¦â€™
â€˜Thanks. Now crouch down. Thatâ€™s it. Straighten your back and look up at me. No, not like that. Lift your chin. A little more. Thatâ€™s it. Perfect. Now rest your right hand on the bricks.â€™
â€˜Are you sure? It feels very odd.â€™
â€˜But it looks great,â€™ smiled Lily. â€˜Trust me. Iâ€™m good at this. Now start at the beginning. Assume I know nothing. Which is, Iâ€™m afraid, shamefully close to the truth. So, then. What is this place? And what exactly are talatat?â€™
The pick-upâ€™s brake lights flared red and then vanished over a ridge. Knox kept his eyes fixed upon the spot and slowed to a gentler jog to gather his breath. He reached the ridge, crouched down to peer over it, but there was nothing the other side. He wandered the darkness for a while, was beginning to give up hope, when he heard a clang away to his right. He climbed another ridge to find the pick-up parked in a slight hollow on the other side, its engine off, lights out, no sign of life except for a gentle yellow glow emanating from a pit next to it.
With any kind of GPS, heâ€™d simply have logged the coordinates and headed off to fetch the police. But without GPS, getting a fix was virtually impossible. The skyline was featureless except for the distant orange flame of natural gas burn off, the dark outline of twin power-station chimneys. He crept forwards. The pit proved to be a flight of steps leading down through a hatchway to some kind of atrium, a generator muttering away inside. He went over to the pick-up, just three boxes left on the flatbed. There was an earthenware statue inside the first, a young boy with a finger to his lips. Harpocrates, a deity popular among Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. He photographed it, was about to open the second box when he heard footsteps. He dropped instantly to the ground, slithered beneath the pick-up. The three young men emerged, came over, their boots by Knoxâ€™s face, kicking up dry dust that made his throat tickle. They picked up the last boxes and went back down. But they passed Griffin on the steps, and he emerged a moment later, breathing hard. He came over and sat heavily on the flatbed, making its suspension creak, trapping Knox underneath. A minute passed. Two. The young men reappeared.
â€˜Letâ€™s get that last load then,â€™ muttered Griffin. They all climbed aboard and set off, leaving Knox exposed. He tucked his hands beneath his stomach, pressed his face into the hard earth, expecting to be spotted at any moment. But they vanished over the ridge without incident. Knox picked himself up, went back to the mouth of the pit. The light was still on at its foot, the hatchway open. Too good a chance to miss, even though Omar would doubtless be going frantic by now. He tiptoed down to the atrium, his heart in his mouth. No one inside, only a generator chuntering away in the corner. It suddenly started stuttering and coughing, sending vibrations through the floor, the lights dimming for a moment before hrought bthey picked up again. He waited for his heart to resettle, checked his watch. Griffin would surely be at least fifteen minutes. He could allow himself ten.
Arched passages led left and right. He went left. The passage snaked this way and that, following the path of least resistance through the limestone. Lamps were strung out every few paces on orange electrical flex, their light coaxing nightmarish shadows from the rough-cut bedrock. The passage opened abruptly into a large catacomb, its walls cut with columns of square-mouthed loculi, an island of crates and boxes stacked in the centre. He photographed a skeleton in one of the burial niches, eye-sockets staring blindly upwards. The Essenes had considered death unclean; burial inside a communal area like this would have been unthinkable. It was a big blow to his Therapeutae theory.