He nodded. That was something. But this was now too...
Peterson tossed the rock hammer negligently away into the corner, as though it were nothing, what heâ€™d just done to the wall. Then he checked his pockets for his car keys and strode towards the hole in the wall with such purpose that Griffin had to jump back out of his way.
â€˜Monotheism,â€™ declared Stafford.
â€˜I beg your pardon,â€™ frowned Fatima.
â€˜Monotheism. Thatâ€™s the key. Moses was the original champion of the One True God. â€œThou shalt have no other gods but me.â€� And what sets Akhenaten apart from any other pharaoh?â€™
â€˜Monotheism?â€™ suggested Fatima.
â€˜Exactly. Monotheism. Before him, Egypt had always had a multitude of gods. But under Akhenaten, everything changed. For him, there was only one God. The sun disc. The Aten. All others were fabrications of the human mind and the craftsmanâ€™s art. And he did more than pay lip service to this idea. He acted upon it. He closed the temples of rival gods, particularly those of Amun, the Atenâ€™s chief rival. In fact, he had Amunâ€™s name excised from monuments all over Egypt. Youâ€™ll acknowledge that much, I trust?â€™
â€˜Acknowledge it? I wrote a book on the subject.â€™
â€˜Good. Now, Manetho â€“ he who claimed that Osarseph was Moses â€“ based his history on the records of the Temple of Amun in Heliopolis. And what do you imagine the priests of Amun would have thought of Akhenaten, the man whoâ€™d closed down their temples and excised their Godâ€™s name across the land? Do you not think theyâ€™d have considered him an interloper? His supporters lepers?â€™ He took another swallow of wine then wiped his mouth, smearing dark hairs against his wrist. â€˜Good,â€™ he said, taking silence for assent. â€˜Now, letâ€™s take another look at Moses. A Hebrew child, we are told, set upon the Nile in a basket of rushes, rescued by the pharaohâ€™s daughter who gave him the name Moses because it pharaohâ was Hebrew for â€œdrawn outâ€�. But that whole tale has the ring of folklore, doesnâ€™t it? Why would a pharaohâ€™s daughter give a foundling a Hebrew name, after all? She wouldnâ€™t have known he was Hebrew, for one thing. Nor would she have spoken Hebrew, not least because it didnâ€™t exist back then. No. The true explanation is simple. Moses means â€œsonâ€� in Egyptian, and itâ€™s a common part of pharaonic names, as in Tutmosis, son of Thoth, or Ramesses, son of Ra. The foundling myth was merely a retrospective attempt to claim Moses as a born Jew; but the truth is that he was born an Egyptian prince.â€™
â€˜The Bible says he murdered an Egyptian soldier, doesnâ€™t it?â€™ frowned Fatima. â€˜And that he fled to the land of Kush. I canâ€™t recall Akhenaten doing that.â€™
â€˜Youâ€™re never going to get a perfect match,â€™ said Stafford. â€˜The question is whether the fitâ€™s close enough. It clearly is. And thatâ€™s without even going into the remarkable parallels between the doctrines of Akhenaten and Moses.â€™
â€˜Which parallels are those exactly?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™ll tell you, if you give me a chance.â€™
â€˜Please,â€™ said Fatima. â€˜Be my guest.â€™
â€˜I already am your guest,â€™ observed Stafford, gesturing grandly with his glass, slopping wine like blood onto his borrowed galabaya. He brushed the droplets irritably away, then composed himself to complete his thesis.
Inspector Naguib Hussein was usually good at forgetting his police work once heâ€™d closed his front door for the night. Normally, his wife and daughter were a tonic to his spirits. But not tonight, not even as he stooped low for Husniyah to throw her arms around his neck so that he could lift her up. He tried not to let her see his anxiety, however, as he carried her through the bead curtain into their kitchen, kissing her surreptitiously on her crown, noting with a warm stab of pain and pride how springy and black her hair was, the thin pale valley of scalp that showed through beneath.
Yasmine looked up from her cooking, eyes tired, complexion shiny with vapours. â€˜That smells good,â€™ he said. He tried to pinch a morsel from the pot, but she smacked his hand and made him drop it. They shared a smile. Thirteen years of marriage, and still he could be surprised by the freshness of their affection. Husniyah sat cross-legged on the floor, a pad of paper on her lap, drawing pictures of animals and trees and houses. He watched over her shoulder, praising her skill, asking questions. But soon he fell into a reverie, brooding on the evils of the world, and it was only when Yasmine touched his shoulder that he realized sheâ€™d been talking to him. He shook his head to clear it, mustered the warmest smile he could. â€˜Yes?â€™ he asked.
â€˜Somethingâ€™s on your mind,â€™ she said.
â€˜Nothing particular.â€™ But he couldnâ€™t prevent his eyes from swivelling to his daughter.
â€˜Husniyah, beloved,â€™ said Yasmine gently. â€˜Could you please leave us a moment?â€™ Husniyah looked up, puzzled; but sheâ€™d been brought up to be obedient, so she gathered her things and left without a word. â€˜Well?â€™ asked Yasmine.
Naguib sighed. Sometimes he wished his wife didnâ€™t know him so well. â€˜We found a body today,â€™ he admitted.
â€˜A young woman. A girl.â€™
Yasmiirl.â€fy"neâ€™s eyes flashed instinctively to the bead curtain. â€˜A girl. How old?â€™
â€˜Thirteen. Maybe fourteen.â€™
It took Yasmine an effort to get her next question out. â€˜And she was â€¦ murdered?â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s too early to be sure,â€™ answered Naguib. â€˜But probably. Yes.â€™
â€˜That makes three in a month.â€™
â€˜The other two were down in Assiut.â€™
â€˜So? Maybe they moved here because things were getting too hot down there.â€™
â€˜We donâ€™t know how long this one has been there. Thereâ€™s no reason to suspect the cases are connected.â€™
â€˜Yet you do suspect it, donâ€™t you?â€™
â€˜What are you doing about it?â€™
â€˜Not much,â€™ he confessed. â€˜Gamal has other priorities.â€™
â€˜Priorities that come before finding the murderer of three young girls?â€™
â€˜With all this tension and everything, he doesnâ€™t think this is the right time â€¦â€™ Naguib drifted lamely to a halt. The other side of the curtain, Husniyah started singing, ostensibly to herself, but actually so that her parents could hear her, be aware of her, protect her.
â€˜Tell me youâ€™re going to go after whoever did this,â€™ said Yasmine fiercely. â€˜Tell me youâ€™re going to catch them before they kill again.â€™
For a moment, that wretched mummified mess reappeared in Naguibâ€™s mind, still wrapped in her tarpaulin shroud. Who knew whose face heâ€™d find next time? He met his wifeâ€™s eyes directly, as he always did on the important matters, when he needed her to know she could trust him. â€˜Yes,â€™ he promised. â€˜I am.â€™
â€˜Any good?â€™ asked Omar, leaning over from the driverâ€™s seat to check Knoxâ€™s photographs on the screen of his camera-phone.
â€˜Just watch what youâ€™re doing, will you?â€™ said Knox, as Omar crunched the Jeepâ€™s gears again.
â€˜Huh!â€™ said Omar. â€˜Theyâ€™re pretty dark, arenâ€™t they?â€™
â€˜Maybe I should send them to Gaille,â€™ said Knox. â€˜Sheâ€™ll be able to make something of them, if anyone can.â€™
â€˜Sheâ€™d better. We need more than that to show the police.â€™
â€˜Says the man who didnâ€™t think we needed photographs at all.â€™ He started composing a text message, not easy as they bumped across the field, without even a seat belt to hold him in place. Took the attached at poss Therapeutae site! Light terrible. Can you help? All speed appreciated! Love, Daniel. He frowned in dissatisfaction, replaced Love with Much love then All love and finally All my love. None felt right. Everyone protested their love these days. The word had been cheapened into meaninglessness. He sat there feeling ridiculous. This was scarcely the time to fret over such things, after all. Yet he fretted all the same. He stabbed out some other words with his index finger, stared down at them for several seconds, unnerved by how plaintive they sounded. But heâ€™d already wasted too much time, so he attached the photographs and sent them on their way before he could change his mind.
Omar muttered a curse, slowed, came to a halt. Knox looked up to see headlights crisscrossing a main road a kilometre away. â€˜Whatâ€™s the matter?â€™ he asked.
Now Knox saw it, moonlight glowing on a pickup parked by the wooden bridge. â€˜Bollocks,â€™ he muttered.
â€˜There has to be another way out. Letâ€™s keep looking.â€™
The engine screeched as Omar tried to force it into gear. â€˜Mineâ€™s an automatic,â€™ he said with a wince.
â€˜You want me to drive?â€™
â€˜It might be best.â€™
They switched seats. Knox belted up, thrust the Jeep into gear, headed off in search of another way out. The pick-up lumbered after them, obviously wanting to keep them in sight, but staying a wary distance behind, between them and the bridge.
Knox crossed a rise, swung around. The moment the pick-up reappeared, he floored the pedal, accelerated towards it, jolting violently over the rutted ground. Omar clutched the door-handle, stamped on imaginary brakes. But Knox kept his foot to the floor. The pick-up swung round, aware it was a race for the bridge. He sped past it, but it quickly caught up, its engine newer and more powerful.
â€˜Weâ€™ll never get away,â€™ cried Omar.
â€˜Hold tight,â€™ said Knox, weaving back and forth to...
Lily put her hand surreptitiously on Staffordâ€™s arm, an effort to calm him down a little, but he merely shrugged her off, refilled his wineglass, and continued. â€˜People have Judaism all wrong,â€™ he declared. â€˜They read about Abraham, Noah, Jacob and all those other patriarchs, and assume that the Jews arrived in Egypt with their beliefs and practices fully formed, that they retained them during their sojourn, then left without being one whit influenced. But it canâ€™t have been like that. It wasnâ€™t like that. Look dispassionately at Judaism and youâ€™ll see that its roots lie in Egypt, specifically in the monotheism of Akhenaten.â€™
â€˜Thatâ€™s quite a claim,â€™ said Fatima.
â€˜Just look at the creation account in Genesis, if you donâ€™t believe me. The notion that everything came from the void was an Egyptian conceit, as was the idea of mankind as Godâ€™s flock, crafted in His image, for whom He made heaven and earth. There are countless passages in the Bible stolen virtually verbatim from Egypt. Take the Negative Confessions of the Book of the Dead. gypt. Takâ€œI have not reviled the God. I have not sinned against anyone. I have not killed. I have not copulated illicitly.â€� Replace â€œI have notâ€� with â€œThou shalt notâ€� and you have the Ten Commandments. Psalm Thirty-four is based on an Amarna inscription; Psalm One hundred and four is a rewrite of Akhenatenâ€™s Hymn of the Aten.â€™
â€˜A rewrite!â€™ frowned Fatima. â€˜They have a few images in common, thatâ€™s all.â€™
â€˜A few images!â€™ scoffed Stafford. â€˜Itâ€™s word for word in places. But even if you wonâ€™t allow me that, you surely canâ€™t dispute the similarity of the Bibleâ€™s Proverbs to Egyptâ€™s Wisdom texts; or that the so-called â€œThirty Sayingsâ€� are nothing but a rehash of Amenemopeâ€™s â€œThirty Chaptersâ€�. Granted, on their own, each might conceivably be coincidence. But they arenâ€™t on their own. Theyâ€™re part of a pattern. The very name Hebrew is a corruption of the Egyptian word â€™Ipiru, people whoâ€™ve stepped outside the law. Jewish priestly robes are virtual replicas of the costumes of Eighteenth Dynasty pharaohs. The Ark of the Covenant is almost identical to an ark found in Tutankhamunâ€™s tomb. And, speaking of the Ark, during the Exodus the Jews housed it in a great tent called the Tabernacle, just like the tent Akhenaten lived in when he first settled in Amarna. Tithes were an Egyptian practice taken up by the Jews. Magic likewise. Did you know that Egyptians wrote down their spells, soaked them in water, and drank the resulting brew, precisely as advocated in the Book of Numbers? Egyptian voodoo dolls are mentioned in the Psalms. And circumcision wasnâ€™t originally a Jewish practice, you realize? It was Egyptian; they even found a clay model of a circumcised penis in Akhenatenâ€™s tomb. â€œThey are in all respects much more pious than other peoples,â€� claimed Herodotus. â€œThey are also distinguished from them by many of their customs, such as circumcision, which for reasons of cleanliness they introduced before others; further, by their horror of swine. In haughty narrowness they looked down on the other peoples who were unclean and not so near to the god as they were.â€� Was he talking about the Jews? No, the Egyptians.â€™
â€˜The best part of a millennium later.â€™
â€˜Atenism was sun-worship,â€™ asserted Stafford, barely breaking stride. â€˜So was early Judaism. Ezekiel, chapter eight, talks bluntly about worshippers in the Temple of the Lord adoring the rising sun. On Mount Sinai, Mosesâ€™ God describes himself by the Tetragrammaton YHWH: â€œI am who I am.â€� The Egyptian Prisse Papyrus describes an Egyptian God as â€œnk pu nkâ€�. You know what that translates as? Yes. â€œI am who I am.â€�â€™
â€˜The Prisse Papyrus wasâ€”â€™
â€˜Everywhere you look, thereâ€™s compelling evidence that Judaism was originally Egyptian, derived from Akhenatenâ€™s monotheism. But do you know what the smoking gun is? The absolute, incontrovertible proof?â€™
â€˜Go on, then.â€™
â€˜The Hebrews called the Lord their God Adonai. But in ancient Hebrew the â€œdâ€� was pronounced â€œtâ€�, the suffix â€œaiâ€� was optional. Yes. Thatâ€™s right. The Hebrews worshipped a God called Aten, which means that Mosesâ€™ admonition to his people Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad translates as â€œHear, O Israel, the Aten is the only God.â€� Refute that, Professor. Refute that.â€™
â€˜Oh Lord,â€™ muttered Nathan feebly, getting out of the pick-up, staring white-faced down at the creaking, lurching wreckage of the Jeep, the motionless body of taking,bodhe passenger, flung through the windscreen and now lying on the far bank. â€˜Oh heaven.â€™
â€˜Pull yourself together,â€™ scowled Peterson.
â€˜Good grief. Good grief. What did you do that for? You made them crash.â€™
â€˜They made themselves crash,â€™ snapped Peterson. â€˜You understand? Anything that happened here, these people did to themselves.â€™
Nathan pulled his mobile from his pocket. â€˜How do I get an ambulance?â€™
â€˜Are you crazy?â€™ demanded Peterson. He slapped Nathan stingingly across his cheek, turned him to face him. â€˜Listen,â€™ he said. â€˜Forget ambulances. Itâ€™s too late for ambulances.â€™
â€˜I said listen to me. Youâ€™re to do exactly what I tell you. No more, no less. Understand?â€™
â€˜Yes, Reverend, butâ€”â€™
â€˜Be quiet and listen,â€™ yelled Peterson. â€˜This is a heathen country. The people here are heathens. Donâ€™t you understand? The police here are heathens. The judges. All of them, all heathens. Theyâ€™ll revel in the opportunity to smear the name of Christ, because thatâ€™s what heathens do. They smear the name of Christ. Do you want to help heathens smear the name of Christ? Is that truly what you want?â€™
â€˜No, Reverend. Of course not.â€™
â€˜Good. Now listen. No one needs to know what happened here. It was an accident, thatâ€™s all. Foolish people driving too fast through fields at night. What else did they expect?â€™
â€˜Go back to the site. If anyone asks, tell them you drove around for a while but saw nothing. Understand?â€™
â€˜Yes, Reverend. And you?â€™
â€˜Donâ€™t worry about me. Just get out of here.â€™
Peterson watched him drive away. That was the trouble with kids. Their clay was too soft, not yet fired by the furnaces of righteous conflict. Heâ€™d have to handle this all by himself. He climbed down to the foot of the ditch, keeping clear of the worst of the carnage. He had a camera-phone to recover.
Fatima allowed a few moments of silence to pass before responding to Stafford, perhaps so that he might see for himself just how ugly and excessive his vehemence had been. Then she said quietly: â€˜Refute it? Refute what, exactly?â€™
Stafford looked confused. â€˜My thesis.â€™
â€˜But you promised me evidence,â€™ replied Fatima, her voice so low that Gaille had to strain to hear her. â€˜How can I refute this thesis of yours until Iâ€™ve heard your evidence?â€™
Stafford looked blankly at her. â€˜How do you mean? Iâ€™ve just given you my evidence.â€™
â€˜Really?â€™ frowned Fatima. â€˜You call that evidence. All Iâ€™ve heard so far is speculation. Well-informed speculation, I admit. But speculation nonetheless.â€™
â€˜How can you say that?â€™
â" a�þ€˜My dear Mister Stafford, let me explain something. I do not personally believe in the Bible or its God. But perhaps you do. Perhaps you believe that He created the world in seven days, and that those animals Noah took aboard his ark were the only ones to survive the flood, and that we speak different languages because God took offence at mankindâ€™s effort to reach the heavens by building the Tower of Babel? Is that what you believe?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™ve already said I donâ€™t take the Bible literally.â€™
â€˜Ah. Yet you still believe that we should consider it as somehow special, as having validity even when it is contradicted by the historical and archaeological record?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m not saying that.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m glad to hear it. For let me tell you what I think of the Bible. I think it is the folk-history of a particular Canaanite people. No more, no less. And I think its historical validity should be assessed as scrupulously as any other folk-history, not accorded special treatment just because many people still consider it sacred. Youâ€™d agree with that, wouldnâ€™t you? As a fellow historian, I mean?â€™
â€˜Good. Now if you want to test folk-history for validity, do you know what you must first do? You must discard it completely from your mind, then interrogate the independent record until youâ€™ve established the truth as far as possible, and only then refer back to your folk-history to see how well it fits. Any other approach is special pleading. And do you know something?â€™
â€˜Do it that way and the Bible falls apart, particularly the early books. Thereâ€™s no evidence whatsoever to suggest its stories are true. Thereâ€™s no evidence that the Jews existed as a distinct people in the time of Akhenaten, or that they lived in Egypt in any great numbers, or that they left in some mass exodus.â€™
A flush in Staffordâ€™s cheeks, a cocktail of alcohol and defiance. â€˜So where did those stories come from, then?â€™
â€˜Who can say? Many were clearly borrowed from other, older cultures. There are recognizable traces of the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, for example. Others seem to be variations on the same story, presumably because the writers of the Bible wanted to drum home their moral message. Man makes covenant with God. Man breaks covenant. God punishes man. Again and again this same motif. Adam and Eve evicted from Eden. Cain exiled for murdering Abel. Lotâ€™s wife turned to salt. Abraham fleeing Egypt. Babel. Noah. Isaac. Jacob. The list goes on and on. Because it isnâ€™t history. Itâ€™s propaganda. Specifically, itâ€™s religious propaganda, put together after the Jews had been defeated by the Babylonians to convince them that theyâ€™d brought their destruction and exile upon themselves by failing in their obligations to their God.â€™
She broke off a moment, sipped water to moisten her mouth and throat, forced a smile to release some tension. â€˜Do you know something?â€™ she said. â€˜Whenever historians have been able to test folklore against known history, theyâ€™ve discovered what one might expect: that it proves reasonably accurate for events within living memory, but the further back one goes, the less reliable it becomes, until it bears almost no relation to the truth. With one exception. Founding myths typically have a seed of truth in them.
â€˜So letâ€™s apply this to the Jewish people. Their founding myth is clearly the Exodus. The Bible is built around it. So Iâ€™m quite prepared to accepo Iâ. Tto accept some sort of flight from Egypt. The trouble is, the only evidence of such an exodus during the second millennium BC is that of the Hyksos. But the Hyksos were a full two centuries before Amarna. So how is it that this mass flight of yours left no imprint? Weâ€™re not talking about a few hundred people, remember. Not even thousands. According to the Bible, weâ€™re talking about over half the population of Egypt. Even allowing for massive exaggeration, donâ€™t you think that someone would have noticed? Do you know, Mister Stafford, thereâ€™s a stele recording the flight of two slaves from Egypt to Canaan? Two! Yet youâ€™d have us believe that tens of thousands of valuable artisans suddenly upped and left, and no one said a word. And donâ€™t you think someone would have found some trace of their forty years in Sinai? Any trace. Archaeologists have found settlements from pre-dynastic times, from dynastic times, from the Graeco-Roman and Islamic eras. But from the Exodus? Nothing. Not a coin, not a potsherd, not a grave, not a campfire. And itâ€™s not for lack of looking, believe me.â€™
â€˜Absence of evidence isnâ€™t evidence of absence,â€™ observed Stafford.
â€˜Yes, it is,â€™ countered Fatima. â€˜Thatâ€™s exactly what it is. Not proof of absence, I grant you. But evidence, certainly. If the Hebrews had spent significant time there, theyâ€™d have left traces. No traces means no Hebrews. To argue otherwise is simply perverse. And where we do find evidence, it flatly contradicts the biblical account. You mentioned Jericho, the city felled by Joshuaâ€™s trumpets. If your thesis is correct, it should show evidence of destruction circa 1300 BC. But the archaeological data is conclusive. Jericho wasnâ€™t even occupied at that time. It was destroyed in the sixteenth century BC and left virtually abandoned through to the tenth.â€™
â€˜The early Bible is make-believe, Mister Stafford. It wasnâ€™t even written until after the Babylonian exile, circa five hundred BC; over eight hundred years after the death of Akhenaten.â€™
â€˜From records that go back much further.â€™
â€˜According to whom? Do you have any of these records? Or are you just assuming their existence? And if they did exist, how would you explain all the anachronisms? Camels in Egypt a thousand years before they were actually introduced. Cities like Ramses and Sais that werenâ€™t founded for hundreds of years after Akhenaten. A landscape of kingdoms that didnâ€™t exist in the thirteenth century BC, yet which maps almost exactly onto the seventh and sixth.â€™
â€˜What about the parallels between the religions?â€™ asked Stafford weakly. â€˜You canâ€™t deny those.â€™
Fatima shook her head dismissively. â€˜Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt was the great regional power. Its armies occupied Canaan for hundreds of years. Even after their occupation ended, they remained Canaanâ€™s key trading partner. Their practices and rituals were admired and emulated just as French and British practices are still visible in former colonies. As for their monotheism, have you considered the possibility that it might just be a coincidence? Monotheism isnâ€™t complex. Itâ€™s â€œmy godâ€™s bigger than your godâ€� taken to its logical extreme. Long before Akhenaten proclaimed the Aten the Sole God, Egyptians had done the same for Atum.â€™
â€˜And letâ€™s compare the gods themselves. The Aten enjoys an exemse heys an exclusive relationship with Akhenaten. The God of Moses makes His covenant with every single Jew. The Aten is notional and pacific, an aestheteâ€™s God. The God of Moses is vengeful, jealous and violent. Or take their creation myths. Actually, you canâ€™t. The Aten has no creation myth; Genesis has two. The God of Moses dwelt in the enclosed Holy of Holies; the Aten was worshipped in wide-open spaces. Read how Moses received the Ten Commandments: it couldnâ€™t be clearer that his God is a volcano God. But there are no volcanoes in Egypt or in Sinai.â€™ She shook her head angrily. â€˜Let me tell you something. You claim that I have my head in the sand because I assert thereâ€™s no connection between Akhenaten and Moses. But youâ€™re wrong. All I assert is that thereâ€™s no evidence for such a connection. Iâ€™m an archaeologist, Mister Stafford. Bring me evidence and Iâ€™ll gladly endorse your views. Until then â€¦â€™ And she gave a dismissive little wave of her hand.
Staffordâ€™s jaw clenched tight as walnuts in his cheeks. â€˜Then it seems weâ€™ll just have to agree to disagree,â€™ he said.
â€˜Yes,â€™ agreed Fatima. â€˜It does.â€™
Peterson knelt beside Omar Tawfiq on the far bank, rough diamonds of shattered glass shining pale blue in the moonlight all around. His head was twisted back in a hideous and unnatural position, his lacerated face covered with both fresh and congealing blood. Peterson was so sure he was dead that it gave him a jolt when he opened his mouth suddenly and gasped in air.
The Jeep was lying on its side, screeching and groaning and hissing, as if it too were in great pain. He squatted down to look through the empty frame of the windscreen. Knox was belted into the driverâ€™s seat, slumped against the driverâ€™s door, his hair slick and glistening, the bubbles of blood at the corner of his mouth expanding and shrinking as he breathed. He opened his eyes, looked at Peterson with a faint flicker of recognition. Then his gaze went distant and his eyes closed once more.
Peterson rested his hand on the buckled bonnet, reached through the vacant windscreen, rummaged around in search of Knoxâ€™s mobile phone. He patted down his right-side trouser pocket and found only a wallet, which he left. He strained to reach his left trouser pocket, felt something compact and hard inside, though he couldnâ€™t quite get hold of it. He tried to release the seat belt instead, pull Knox towards him, reach his phone that way, but the catch had jammed and wouldnâ€™t come free. He backed away, frustrated, squatted down, thinking it through.
Severe concussion tended to destroy short-term memory, he knew. As a young man, before finding God, heâ€™d fallen off the roof of a house heâ€™d been breaking into, had come to his senses lying on the asphalt drive, his partner-in-crime laughing his head off. To this day, he had no memory of what had happened in the twelve hours leading up to his fall. So it was quite possible, even probable, that Knox wouldnâ€™t recall the crash or the events leading up to it. But what if he did? What if he survived and remembered everything? So the question was, was there a simple way to take care both of the camera-phone and of Knox?
Such questions were beyond the wisdom of mortal man, but that didnâ€™t make them unanswerable. Peterson knelt at the foot of the ditch and bowed his head in prayer. The Lord always spoke to those with ears to hear. He didnâ€™t even have to wait long. The numbers twenty and thirteen began to blaze like bonfires in his mindâ€™s eye. They could surely only refer to Leviticus 20:13.
If a man alsolignnlyman also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
So be it. When the Lord spoke with such clarity, manâ€™s only task was to obey. He went around to the exposed undercarriage. A small puddle of diesel had collected on the dried-out mud bank, dripping from a hairline fracture in the tank. His 4x4 had a cigarette lighter in its dash. He pushed it in, went hunting for a rock. He found a goodly chunk of flint, took it back down to the Jeep, hammered at the tank until the drips of diesel turned to a stream and the puddle became a pool. He went back up again, tore a strip of paper from his car-hire documentation, lit it from the orange coils of the cigarette lighter, nursed it back down the slope, dropped it into the pool of diesel, leapt back before it could take his eyebrows.
It went up with a violent whoomp like a great orange balloon launching into the night sky. But after its first furious blaze, it burned itself out, leaving soft flames licking at the Jeepâ€™s undercarriage; and though the fabric of the ripped seats was smouldering with a rich black choking smoke, much of it was escaping through the broken windows, sucking the fresh air back in.
Peterson scowled. Even should Knox asphyxiate, heâ€™d still need to retrieve his phone. He knelt once more on the buckled bonnet, poked his head inside, braving the intense heat. The seat belt was still jammed. He worked furiously at the release, tugging, jiggling and pushing until finally it came free. He gave himself a momentary respite from the fierce heat and smoke, then went back in, grabbed Knoxâ€™s collar, hauled him forwards while reaching for his pocket andâ€”
Peterson guiltily let go of Knox, jumped backwards. Two men in fluorescent yellow bibs were standing on top of the ditch, spotlighting him with their torches. The taller scrambled down, the name Shareef emblazoned in a Highways Maintenance badge upon his chest. He said something in Arabic.
Peterson shook his head blankly. â€˜Iâ€™m American,â€™ he said.
Shareef switched to English. â€˜What happened?â€™
â€˜I found them like this,â€™ said Peterson. He nodded at Knox. â€˜This oneâ€™s still alive. I was trying to get him out before the smoke gets to him.â€™
Shareef nodded. â€˜I help you, yes?â€™
â€˜Thank you.â€™ They hauled Knox out through the windscreen, over to the bank, laid him gently down. The second highway maintenance man was carrying on a fraught conversation on his mobile. â€˜Whatâ€™s going on?â€™ asked Peterson.