â€˜Big crash in Hannoville,â€™ explained Shareef. â€˜No...
Peterson nodded, trapped. Argue now, heâ€™d only raise suspicions. â€˜Whereâ€™s the hospital?â€™ he asked.
â€˜Follow us,â€™ said Shareef, stooping to pick Knox up once more. â€˜We show you.â€™
The evening meal was cleared away, coffee brought in its place. Gaille clasped t inuot…her hands beneath the table and wondered how quickly she could excuse herself. Perhaps Lily sensed her restlessness, for she leaned forwards into the candlelight. â€˜I was fascinated by the talatat Gaille showed me earlier. She hinted you might have something interesting to share with us.â€™
â€˜Yes,â€™ agreed Fatima. She turned to Gaille. â€˜You donâ€™t need to be here for this, my dear. Perhaps you should update our Digging Diary.â€™
Gaille felt a prick of shame. â€˜I can do it tomorrow,â€™ she said.
â€˜Please,â€™ said Fatima. â€˜It doesnâ€™t pay to fall behind.â€™
Gaille nodded and stood. â€˜Goodnight, then,â€™ she said, touching Fatimaâ€™s shoulder in gratitude as she passed.
â€˜Are we all set for the morning?â€™ asked Lily. â€˜Only we really need to film the sun rising over Amarna.â€™
â€˜You may not find that possible,â€™ said Fatima, answering for Gaille. â€˜The ferry wonâ€™t start running until dawn. You should film from the west bank anyway. Thatâ€™s how Akhenaten first saw it.â€™
â€˜Weâ€™ll need to leave by a quarter to five,â€™ said Gaille. â€˜That should give us plenty of time.â€™ She nodded goodnight, trying not to let any resentment show as she closed the door.
It reopened almost immediately, however, and Lily came out. â€˜Iâ€™m really sorry about this, Gaille,â€™ she said.
â€˜Sorry about what?â€™
â€˜About manoeuvring you into coming with us tomorrow.â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s not okay. Iâ€™ve used your good nature against you, we all have, donâ€™t think we donâ€™t know it. And I just wanted to say sorry. I hate doing things like that to good people. If anyone tried it on me â€¦â€™
Gaille laughed. â€˜Itâ€™s fine,â€™ she said; and suddenly it was.
Lily gave a rueful yet charming smile. â€˜This is my first overseas assignment. I donâ€™t want it to be my last.â€™
â€˜Youâ€™re doing great.â€™
She threw a glance at the door. â€˜Thatâ€™s not what he thinks.â€™
â€˜Donâ€™t worry about him. Iâ€™ve worked with his kind before. Heâ€™ll think himself wonderful and everyone else awful no matter what happens. The only thing you can do is not let it get to you.â€™
â€˜I wonâ€™t. And thanks again.â€™
Gaille found herself in an unexpectedly good mood as she reached her room, humming a half-remembered tune as she turned on her laptop and connected to the Internet. Their Digging Diary did need an update, though it wasnâ€™t exactly urgent, especially considering the precious little traffic the site got. But Fatima liked keeping it fresh. Anything to spread the word. She posted a summary of recent finds, added a photograph, her mind wandering back to the dinner table, wondering what Fatima was telling Lily and Stafford about the talatat theyâ€™d found.
Akhenaten had routinely been portrayed with breasts in sculptures and paintings. Some said it was the prevailing artistic style; others attributed it to disease. But one statue showed him completely naked, and not only did he have breasts but he had a perfectly smooth groin too, no hint of genitalia. In some cultures this might have been prudery, but Eighteenth Dynasty artists had been anything but coy. sts breut coy. Some had argued that Akhenaten must therefore have been a woman, like Hatshepsut, whoâ€™d disguised her sex to ascend the throne. Others had even claimed Akhenaten an hermaphrodite. But then it had been pointed out that the statue had been designed to wear a kilt in antiquity, so that drawing such extravagant conclusions from it was completely unsafe. Yet their cache of talatat threatened to revive the controversy, for Gaille had assembled a plausible portrait of Akhenaten, naked, with pronounced breasts, yet without genitalia. And that was what Fatima was telling Stafford and Lily right now.
Her update finished, Gaille yawned, eager for bed. But she checked her hotmail account just in case. Her heart gave a little jolt when she saw she had an email from Knox. She opened it up.
Took the attached at poss Therapeutae site! Light terrible. Can you help? All speed appreciated! I miss you. Daniel.
She reached out and touched the screen, fingertips tingling with static. Sheâ€™d had many reasons for accepting Fatimaâ€™s invitation to join her team for a monthâ€™s work, but the strongest had been her growing certainty that having Knoxâ€™s friendship wasnâ€™t going to be enough for her. Sheâ€™d needed his respect as well.
I miss you.
Suddenly she felt wide-awake again, vibrant. She began downloading his photographs to her hard disk, eager to get to work on them.
Peterson never cursed out loud, but there were moments during the drive to the hospital when he came precious close. It was partly because heâ€™d not had an opportunity to retrieve Knoxâ€™s phone, for Shareef was in the back of the Toyota ministering to him and Tawfiq. But mostly it was from trying to keep up with Shareefâ€™s colleague in the Highway Agency cab. The man was crazy, driving recklessly fast, pumping his horn and flashing his lights as he wove through thickening traffic, road signs and markings whistling by like tracer fire.
He roared past an articulated lorry, braked sharply for the off-ramp, up through the gears again, speedometer needle whipping around the dial. They emerged from an underpass, took such a sharp right that Peterson had to wrench the Toyotaâ€™s steering wheel with his whole body, bumping down a potholed road, a barrier ahead being raised even as they approached, then racing into the hospital grounds, past the cement mixer and two pyramids of sand being used for ongoing building works, screeching to a halt outside the hospital front doors.
The place was already abuzz with emergency staff from the Hannoville crash. A medic and two porters hurried out. The back of the Toyota flew up. The medic clamped masks over Omarâ€™s and Knoxâ€™s mouths; had them put onto trolleys. Peterson got out, running alongside Knox as he was wheeled inside, his hand resting by his left hip, eyes on the bulge in Knoxâ€™s pocket. He glanced around. Everyone was frantic, calling out orders, no one watching him. He reached for theâ€”
They crashed hard into swing doors, the surprise forcing Peterson to drop back. By the time he caught up again, Knox had been turned onto his side, his shirt off, blackened skin beneath. A nurse took off his shoes, unbuckled and pulled down his jeans. Peterson tried to grab them from her. â€˜My friend,â€™ he said.
But the nurse yanked them from him and pointed emphatically b himsonically back at the swing doors. He turned to see Shareef standing there with a policeman, a bull of a man with small piercing eyes and a bitter line to his upper lip. Peterson forced a smile, made his way to join them.
â€˜This is Detective Inspector Farooq,â€™ said Shareef. â€˜He was here for that other crash.â€™
â€˜A long night for you,â€™ said Peterson.
â€˜Yes,â€™ agreed Farooq tersely. â€˜And you are?â€™
â€˜Peterson. The Reverend Ernest Peterson.â€™
â€˜And you found these two, yes?â€™
â€˜You want to tell me about it?â€™
â€˜Perhaps I should move my car first,â€™ said Peterson. â€˜Itâ€™s blocking the entrance.â€™ He nodded to them both, walked out through the front doors, thinking furiously about what story to give. The policeman had a look about him, the kind who distrusted everyone, who automatically assumed all witnesses were lying to him, until he could establish otherwise. He started up the Toyota, headed into the parking area. Stick to the truth. That was the key in such situations. Or, at least, stick as close to the truth as you could.
Gaille smiled as she opened the first of Knoxâ€™s...
She finished the photograph, saved it and moved on. When sheâ€™d completed the last photograph, she composed a reply to Knox, attaching all the images sheâ€™d been able to enhance. Then she checked the time with a heartfelt groan. She was supposed to be setting off for Amarna in just a few hours. She hurried to get ready for bed to grab what little sleep she could.
Farooq watched from the hospitalâ€™s front doors as Peterson parked his Toyota 4x4 in an empty bay. â€˜Maybe I was just imagining things,â€™ murmured Shareef. â€˜Maybe it was nothing.â€™
â€˜Maybe,â€™ agreed Farooq.
â€˜It was just â€¦ I kept getting this impression. That we were in his way, you know. That he was looking for something. And I wasnâ€™t imagining what I told you about the seat belt.â€™
â€˜Foreigners,â€™ muttered Farooq, spitting a fleck of tobacco from his lip. He loathed them all, but the English and Americans most. The way they behaved: they thought it was still the old days.
â€˜You need me any longer?â€™ asked Shareef.
Farooq shook his head. â€˜Iâ€™ll calq shat …l if I have any questions.â€™
â€˜Not before morning, okay? I need my sleep.â€™
â€˜Donâ€™t we all?â€™ He threw down his cigarette as Peterson arrived back at the hospitalâ€™s front doors, then led him to the makeshift office heâ€™d been given, motioned for him to take a chair, turned over a fresh sheet on his notepad. â€˜Go on, then,â€™ he grunted. â€˜What happened?â€™
Peterson nodded. â€˜You should know first that Iâ€™m an archaeologist,â€™ he said, spreading his hands wide, giving what he no doubt imagined was a sincere and candid smile. â€˜Iâ€™m here on excavation in Borg el-Arab. Earlier today, yesterday now, I suppose, we had a visit from Doctor Omar Tawfiq, heâ€™s head of the SCA in Alexandria, you know, and a man called Daniel Knox, a British archaeologist.â€™
Farooq grunted. â€˜Youâ€™re not going to tell me one of those two men you brought in is head of the SCA in Alexandria?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m afraid so.â€™
â€˜We spoke for a while. We informally arranged a full site tour. Then they left. I thought no more of it. But then, after dark, we had an intruder.â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s not uncommon,â€™ sighed Peterson. â€˜The local Bedouin farmers are all convinced weâ€™re finding great treasures. Why else would we be digging, after all? Weâ€™re not, of course. But they wonâ€™t take our word for it.â€™
â€˜So this intruder â€¦ ?â€™
â€˜Yes. We chased him off the site. He got into a car. Someone else was driving.â€™
â€˜And you went after them?â€™
â€˜You canâ€™t just let people run over your site. Theyâ€™ll contaminate important data. I wanted to give them a piece of my mind. I thought it might deter others. I was way behind them though. Then I saw flames.â€™ He shrugged. â€˜I got there as quick as I could. It was awful. One of them, the man Knox, was still inside. I was worried heâ€™d asphyxiate. I managed to release his seat belt. Thatâ€™s when the Highway Maintenance men arrived, thank heavens.â€™
A tired-looking doctor knocked and entered. â€˜Bad news,â€™ he said. â€˜The man from Borg. The Egyptian one.â€™
â€˜Dead?â€™ asked Farooq gloomily.
The doctor nodded. â€˜Iâ€™m sorry.â€™
â€˜And the other?â€™
â€˜Grade three or four concussion, smoke inhalation, moderate burns. The smoke and burns should both be manageable. The concussion is more problematic. You can never be sure, not this soon. It depends on impact damage, how the intracranial pressure builds, how theâ€”â€™
â€˜When will I be able to talk to him?â€™
â€˜Give it two or three days and he should beâ€”â€™
â€˜He may be responsible for the other manâ€™s death,â€™ said Farooq tightly.
â€˜Ah,â€™ said the doctor, scratching his cheek. â€˜Iâ€™ll take him off the morphine. With luck, heâ€™ll be awake by morning. Donâ€™t expect too much though. Heâ€™ll probably suffer retrograde and anterograde amnesia.â€™
â€˜Do I look like a doctor?â€™ scowled Farooq.
â€˜Sorry. Heâ€™s highly unlikely to remember anything from immediately beer aeâ€ately before or after the crash.â€™
â€˜All the same,â€™ said Farooq. â€˜I need to speak to him.â€™
â€˜As you wish.â€™ He nodded and withdrew.
â€˜What terrible news,â€™ sighed Peterson, when Farooq had translated the gist for him. â€˜I only wish I could have done something more.â€™
â€˜You did what you could.â€™
â€˜Yes. Is there anything else?â€™
â€˜Your contact details.â€™
â€˜Of course.â€™ Peterson turned the pad to face him, jotted down a phone number, directions to the site. Then he got to his feet, nodded and left.
Farooq watched him out. Something wasnâ€™t right, but his brain was too tired right now, he needed sleep. He yawned heavily, got up. Just one more thing to take care of. If Knox was truly to blame for the death of Alexandriaâ€™s senior archaeologist, he needed to be kept under watch: his own room, a man outside his door. Then heâ€™d come back tomorrow and find out just exactly what the hell was going on.
Gaille was drifting to sleep when suddenly she jolted awake, sat up, turned on her light. Staffordâ€™s two books were on her bedside table. She grabbed the one about Solomonâ€™s lost treasures, flipped through the pages to a photograph of the Copper Scroll, most mysterious of the Dead Sea Scrolls: a treasure map written in Hebrew, but containing an anomaly that no one had ever satisfactorily explained: seven clusters of Greek letters.
KÎµÎ� XAÎ“ HN Î˜Îµ Î”Î™ Î¤P Î£Îš
She took the book over to her laptop, turned it on, brought up Knoxâ€™s photograph of the mosaic. A thrill shivered her as she saw that the clusters were identical, though arranged in a different order. But the figure in the mosaic was pointing at the KÎµÎ�; and the line that made up the seven-pointed star went past the other six clusters in the exact same sequence as in the Copper Scroll.
She sat back in her chair, astounded, confused, electrified. The Copper Scroll had been an Essene document, and thus linked to Knoxâ€™s Therapeutae site. But even so. â€¦
She grabbed her phone. Knox would want to hear this at once, whatever the time. But he wasnâ€™t answering. She left messages instead, telling him to call at once. Then she sat there, reading Staffordâ€™s book and studying the photographs, brooding on what it might mean, her mind fizzing with the excitement of the chase.
Peterson moved his Toyota to the far shadows of the car park, then sat there watching the hospitalâ€™s front doors, for he dared not leave without first taking care of Knoxâ€™s camera-phone.
It felt like an age before Farooq finally came out, lit a cigarette, walked wearily over to his car, drove away. Peterson gave it ten more minutes to be safe, then headed back inside. First things first. His face and hands were smeared with oil and soot. If anyone saw him that way, he was bound to be challenged. He found a menâ€™s room, stripped down, washed himself vigorously, wiped himself dry with paper towels. Not perfect, but it would have to do. He checked his watch. He needed to get busy.
A family was squabbling in strained, hushed voices in reception. An obese woman was stretched out on a bench. Peterson pushed ut ogar pushed through swing doors into a dimly lit corridor. Signs in Arabic and English. Oncology and Paediatrics. Not what he was looking for. He took the back stairs, emerged into a corridor. A doctor scurried between trauma patients on trolleys, the adrenaline long-since worn off, leaving him merely exhausted. Peterson hurried past, pushed through double doors into a small room crammed with six beds. He walked the aisle, scanned faces. No sign of Knox. Back along the corridor, into the next ward. Six people here, too, none of them Knox. He continued checking rooms without success, out into a stairwell, up another floor, through swing doors into an identical corridor. A policeman was snoozing on a hard wooden chair outside the nearest room, his head tilted back against the wall. Damn Farooq! But the man was asleep and there was no one else in sight. Peterson approached stealthily, listening intently for any change in the rhythm of his gentle snoring. God was with him and he reached the door without alarm. He opened it quietly, rested it closed behind him.
It was dark inside. He gave his eyes a few seconds to adjust, walked over to the bed. Peterson was a veteran of hospitals. He noted the saline IV drip, the pungent smell of a colloid application. He looked around for Knoxâ€™s clothes, found them folded on a chest of drawers, a small pile of belongings on top, including his camera-phone. He pocketed it, turned, then paused for thought.
Heâ€™d surely never get a better chance to deal with Knox...
He took a step closer to the bed.
Stafford and Lily were already waiting by the Discoveryâ€™s passenger door when Gaille went out at twelve minutes to five. â€˜Sorry,â€™ she said, holding up Staffordâ€™s book by way of an excuse. â€˜I got carried away.â€™
â€˜It is good, isnâ€™t it?â€™ he nodded.
â€˜The Copper Scroll,â€™ she said as she and Stafford climbed in and Lily went to open the gates. â€˜Thatâ€™s for real, is it?â€™
â€˜Do you imagine Iâ€™m in the habit of populating my books with make-believe artefacts?â€™ he asked sourly. â€˜Go and visit Jordanâ€™s Archaeological Museum if you donâ€™t trust me.â€™
â€˜I didnâ€™t mean for real like that,â€™ said Gaille, gunning the engine a little to warm it up before pulling away. â€˜I mean, how can you be sure itâ€™s not a hoax of some kind?â€™
â€˜Well, itâ€™s certainly not a modern hoax,â€™ he said, as Gaille braked to allow Lily to climb in the back. â€˜Scientific analysis has proved that beyond question. As for an ancient hoax, the Essenes werenâ€™t exactly known for their frivolity, were they? Especially as the copper was over ninety-nine per cent pure â€“ effectively ritually pure; and the Essenes took ritual purity very seriously.â€™
â€˜Besides, it wasnâ€™t on just one sheet of copper, surely plenty for a hoax, but on thly phow…ree sheets riveted together. And it wasnâ€™t inscribed in the normal fashion, with the letters scratched out with a sharp stylus. Someone actually punched the letters out from behind with a chisel. Extremely painstaking work, believe me. No. Whoever went to all that trouble believed it genuine.â€™
â€˜Believed?â€™ asked Gaille.
He granted her a slight smile, a teacher rewarding a bright pupil. â€˜The text seems to have been copied from another, older document, probably by someone unfamiliar with the language. So itâ€™s possible, I suppose, that some mischief-maker wrote out a hoax on parchment or papyrus, and that this hoax was somehow mistaken by the Essenes for the real thing, and that it became so venerated by them that when it began to disintegrate, they copied it out, only onto copper this time. But thatâ€™s quite a stretch, wouldnâ€™t you say?â€™
A donkey cart ahead, laden with long green stalks of sugar cane that bounced and swished like the skirts of an Hawaiian dancer, blocked the full width of the narrow lane, forcing Gaille to fall in behind. It was still dark, but the eastern horizon was just beginning to lighten with the first intimations of dawn. Stafford leaned across and tooted the horn again and again until Gaille swatted away his hand. â€˜Thereâ€™s nowhere for him to pull into,â€™ she said.
Stafford scowled and folded one leg across the other, crossed his arms. â€˜Do you realize how important this shot of sunrise is for my programme?â€™ he asked.
â€˜Weâ€™ll get there.â€™
â€˜Akhenaten chose Amarna as his capital because the way the sun rose between two cliffs mimicked the Egyptian sign of the Aten. Thatâ€™s going to be my opening shot. If I donâ€™t get itâ€”â€™
â€˜Youâ€™ll get it,â€™ she assured him. The cart finally found a place to pull in. Gaille waved gratefully as she sped by, the acceleration making Staffordâ€™s book slip from the dashboard. He picked it up, flipped the pages with authorial pride, stopped to admire a photograph of himself by the Wailing Wall. Gaille nodded at it. â€˜How come youâ€™re so sure these Copper Scroll treasures came from the Temple of Solomon?â€™ she asked.
â€˜I thought youâ€™d read it.â€™
â€˜I havenâ€™t had a chance to finish it yet.â€™
â€˜The scrollâ€™s in Hebrew,â€™ he told her. â€˜It was owned by the Essenes. So the treasure was unquestionably Jewish. And the amounts involved are staggering, I mean over forty tons of gold. Thatâ€™s worth billions of dollars at todayâ€™s prices. The kind of quantities only a hugely wealthy king or a very powerful institution could possibly own. Yet some of the treasures are described as tithes, and tithes are paid exclusively to religious organizations. Others are religious artefacts like chalices and candelabras. A religious institution, then. In ancient Israel, that means either the First Temple, the Temple of Solomon, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC; or the Second Temple, which was built on the ruins of the first, and which was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Most scholars ascribe these Copper Scroll treasures to the latter. But my book proves that impossible.â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s all to do with dates,â€™ said Stafford. â€˜The Copper Scroll was found in the Qumran caves, remember. And Qumran was taken and then occupied by the Romans in AD 68, two years before Jerusalem fell. Advocates of the Second Temple theory would have you believe that Jewsouldacthat Jews took the treasure out of Jewish-held territory to bury it in Roman-occupied territory, then hid the map to it right under the noses of a Roman garrison. How crazy would they have had to be to do that? But even thatâ€™s beside the point. The Copper Scroll was found buried beneath other scrolls that had been left there at least twenty years before the Roman invasion. And, as I just said, it was copied from another, older document. And the script itself is a very peculiar version of archaic square-form Hebrew dating to 200 BC or even earlier. Tell me, is it likely the Second Temple treasures were hidden from the Romans hundreds of years before they came rampaging?â€™
â€˜It does seem odd.â€™
â€˜So if the Copper Scroll treasure didnâ€™t come from the Second Temple, it must have come from the first. QED.â€™
They reached the Nile road, headed south. The lime, flamingo and turquoise strip lighting of a minaret lit up the darkness like a fairground ride. Gaille turned right and then left, wending through a small village then out between lush fields of budding grain and down a gentle incline to the Nile, flowing sedately by. The glow of dawn was turning the eastern horizon blue, though the sun wouldnâ€™t rise over the Amarna cliffs for a while yet.
â€˜Any good?â€™ she asked.
â€˜Perfect,â€™ grinned Lily from the back.
They climbed out, yawned, stretched. Lily set up the camera and checked the sound while Stafford took out his vanity case and primped himself. Gaille sat upon the bonnet, savouring its radiated heat, her mind buzzing pleasantly. Somewhere, in the far distance, a muezzin began his call to prayer.
The Copper Scroll. Ancient lost treasures. She laughed out loud. Knox was going to love her for this.
â€˜Thatâ€™ll have to do,â€™ grunted Griffin, as they stamped down the mix of sand, rock and earth with which theyâ€™d filled up the shaft. Even with everyone helping, it had been a long nightâ€™s work, and he felt drained. The two or three hours of sleep they could still get wasnâ€™t much, but it was better than none.
â€˜What about the reverend?â€™ asked Mickey doubtfully. â€˜Shouldnâ€™t we wait for him?â€™
â€˜Heâ€™s scarcely going to turn up now, is he?â€™ snapped Griffin irritably. Peterson never had to explain himself. He just barked out orders and these damned munchkins ran to obey. â€˜Weâ€™ll come back later.â€™
â€˜I still think we ought toâ€”â€™
â€˜Just do as I say, all right?â€™ He wiped his hands on his backside, turned and strode over to the truck with as much authority as he could manage, hoping rather than expecting that his students would follow. But when he turned to look, they were kneeling in a circle, arms around each otherâ€™s shoulders, giving thanks to the Lord.
A familiar sweet stab of envy in Griffinâ€™s groin, disturbingly like lust. How fine to release oneself into the group like that, to surrender oneâ€™s cynicism and doubt. But his own cast of mind had been set decades ago, and it didnâ€™t do submission, it didnâ€™t do faith. â€˜Come on,â€™ he said, hating the wheedle in his voice. â€˜We need to get moving.â€™
But they didnâ€™t pay him any heed. They took their own good time. His impatience turned to something akin to fear, a sense of impending doom. How the hell had it come to this? Nathan hadnâ€™t said what had happened tonâ€™coupened to Tawfiq and Knox, but from the state of shock heâ€™d been in, it clearly wasnâ€™t good. Heâ€™d sent him away before the others could see him, but now Griffin was worried he might have bumped into Claire at the hotel. Claire wasnâ€™t like these others. She made her own judgements on things. If she found out that something really bad had happened â€¦ Christ! This whole house of cards could easily come crashing down.
Finally, they were done. They walked across, still exuberant with prayer, climbed onto the pick-upâ€™s flatbed, not one of them joining him in the cab. There were times he hated them, how low heâ€™d sunk in the world. A moment of weakness. Thatâ€™s all it had been. The girl had sat front row during his lectures, staring unblinkingly at him with her guileless blue eyes. Heâ€™d been unused to the frank admiration of an attractive young woman. It had set his heart pounding. Lecture after lecture, heâ€™d kept glancing her way. Sheâ€™d still been staring raptly. Then sheâ€™d come to his office one lunchtime, pulled a chair up beside him. When their knees had brushed beneath his desk, his hand had moved almost convulsively, with a life of its own, to the warm top of her inner thigh, fingertips pressing down between her legs.
Her shocked shriek haunted him still, made his cheeks burn whenever he thought of it.
No one had taken his side, of course. His boss had seized the opportunity to cut him loose. Sheâ€™d never liked him. And she must have put the word out too, the vindictive bitch, because no one had even bothered to answer his application letters. No one except Peterson. What did they expect him to do? he thought defiantly. Did they expect him to starve?
A strange noise reached him over the rumble of the engine. He took his foot off the gas, glanced over his shoulder. They were singing in the back, moonlit faces shiny with devotion, hands raised in ecstasy, worshipping together. His low spirits sank even further. Maybe there was something in religion after all. Maybe if he believed like that, attractive young women wouldnâ€™t shriek in horror just because he put his hand on their leg.
Knox woke abruptly, nebulously afraid without being quite sure why. It was almost pitch black in the room, at least until some passing headlights painted yellow slats upon the ceiling. But that only made him all the more anxious, because he didnâ€™t recognize his surroundings at all. He tried to lift his head, but he had no strength in his neck. He tried to push himself up, but his arms felt atrophied and useless. He worked his eyes instead, left, right, up, down. A catheter taped to his forearm. He followed the translucent tube up to an IV drip on a stand. Hospital. At least that explained why he felt like shit. But he had no recollection whatsoever of what might have brought him here.
Another car passed by, its headlights silhouetting a man standing by his bed, looking down. He tugged the pillow from beneath Knoxâ€™s head, held it squarely in his hands, made to place it over his face. Heels started clacking on the tiled floor outside, drawing closer and closer. The man vanished into the shadows. Knox tried to call out, but no sound emerged. The heels passed on by, pushing through swing doors and away, leaving only silence behind.
The man re-emerged from the shadows, pillow still in his hands. He placed it over Knoxâ€™s face, pressed down. Until that moment, thereâ€™d been an almost hallucinogenic aspect to the whole experience, like a waking nightmare. But as the pillow pressed down hard and he couldnâ€™t breathe, his hearte coaveis heart kicked into overdrive, pumping out adrenaline, belatedly giving him some movement and strength. He scrabbled at the manâ€™s hands, kicked with his feet and knees, tried to twist his mouth sideways to gain some air. But he had no leverage; his muscles were already tiring, his mind swimming from lack of oxygen, his system closing down. He flung up an arm in a last effort to claw his assailantâ€™s face, tugging the IV tube so hard that the stand teetered and then tumbled with a great clatter. The pillow was instantly whipped from his face, falling to the floor, allowing Knox to heave in great gasps of air, savour the oxygen flooding gloriously through his system.