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



Download 1.81 Mb.
Page7/21
Date conversion15.05.2016
Size1.81 Mb.
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   ...   21

‘Big crash in Hannoville,’ explained Shareef. ‘No...

Pe­ter­son nod­ded, trapped. Ar­gue now, he’d on­ly raise sus­pi­cions. ‘Where’s the hos­pi­tal?’ he asked.

‘Fol­low us,’ said Sha­reef, stoop­ing to pick Knox up once more. ‘We show you.’

I

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. ‘I was fas­ci­nat­ed by the ta­latat Gaille showed me ear­li­er. She hint­ed you might have some­thing in­ter­est­ing to share with us.’



‘Yes,’ agreed Fa­ti­ma. She turned to Gaille. ‘You don’t need to be here for this, my dear. Per­haps you should up­date our Dig­ging Di­ary.’

Gaille felt a prick of shame. ‘I can do it to­mor­row,’ she said.

‘Please,’ said Fa­ti­ma. ‘It does­n’t pay to fall be­hind.’

Gaille nod­ded and stood. ‘Good­night, then,’ she said, touch­ing Fa­ti­ma’s shoul­der in grat­itude as she passed.

‘Are we all set for the morn­ing?’ asked Lily. ‘On­ly we re­al­ly need to film the sun ris­ing over Amar­na.’

‘You may not find that pos­si­ble,’ said Fa­ti­ma, an­swer­ing for Gaille. ‘The fer­ry won’t start run­ning un­til dawn. You should film from the west bank any­way. That’s how Akhen­at­en first saw it.’

‘We’ll need to leave by a quar­ter to five,’ said Gaille. ‘That should give us plen­ty of time.’ She nod­ded good­night, try­ing not to let any re­sent­ment show as she closed the door.

It re­opened al­most im­me­di­ate­ly, how­ev­er, and Lily came out. ‘I’m re­al­ly sor­ry about this, Gaille,’ she said.

‘Sor­ry about what?’

‘About ma­noeu­vring you in­to com­ing with us to­mor­row.’

‘It’s okay.’

‘It’s not okay. I’ve used your good na­ture against you, we all have, don’t think we don’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 …’

Gaille laughed. ‘It’s fine,’ she said; and sud­den­ly it was.

Lily gave a rue­ful yet charm­ing smile. ‘This is my first over­seas as­sign­ment. I don’t want it to be my last.’

‘You’re do­ing great.’

She threw a glance at the door. ‘That’s not what he thinks.’

‘Don’t wor­ry about him. I’ve worked with his kind be­fore. He’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.’

‘I won’t. And thanks again.’

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 was­n’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 they’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, who’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. She’d had many rea­sons for ac­cept­ing Fa­ti­ma’s in­vi­ta­tion to join her team for a mon­th’s work, but the strongest had been her grow­ing cer­tain­ty that hav­ing Knox’s friend­ship was­n’t go­ing to be enough for her. She’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.

II

Pe­ter­son nev­er cursed out loud, but there were mo­ments dur­ing the drive to the hos­pi­tal when he came pre­cious close. It was part­ly be­cause he’d not had an op­por­tu­ni­ty to re­trieve Knox’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 Sha­reef’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 Toy­ota’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 Omar’s and Knox’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 Knox’s pock­et. He glanced around. Ev­ery­one was fran­tic, call­ing out or­ders, no one watch­ing him. He reached for the—

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. ‘My friend,’ 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.

‘This is De­tec­tive In­spec­tor Fa­rooq,’ said Sha­reef. ‘He was here for that oth­er crash.’

‘A long night for you,’ said Pe­ter­son.

‘Yes,’ agreed Fa­rooq terse­ly. ‘And you are?’

‘Pe­ter­son. The Rev­erend Ernest Pe­ter­son.’

‘And you found these two, yes?’

‘Yes.’

‘You want to tell me about it?’

‘Per­haps I should move my car first,’ said Pe­ter­son. ‘It’s block­ing the en­trance.’ 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.

III

Gaille smiled as she opened the first of Knox’s...

She fin­ished the pho­to­graph, saved it and moved on. When she’d com­plet­ed the last pho­to­graph, she com­posed a re­ply to Knox, at­tach­ing all the im­ages she’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.

I

Fa­rooq watched from the hos­pi­tal’s front doors as Pe­ter­son parked his Toy­ota 4x4 in an emp­ty bay. ‘Maybe I was just imag­in­ing things,’ mur­mured Sha­reef. ‘Maybe it was noth­ing.’



‘Maybe,’ agreed Fa­rooq.

‘It was just … I kept get­ting this im­pres­sion. That we were in his way, you know. That he was look­ing for some­thing. And I was­n’t imag­in­ing what I told you about the seat belt.’

‘For­eign­ers,’ 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.

‘You need me any longer?’ asked Sha­reef.

Fa­rooq shook his head. ‘I’ll calq shat …l if I have any ques­tions.’

‘Not be­fore morn­ing, okay? I need my sleep.’

‘Don’t we all?’ He threw down his cigarette as Pe­ter­son ar­rived back at the hos­pi­tal’s front doors, then led him to the makeshift of­fice he’d been giv­en, mo­tioned for him to take a chair, turned over a fresh sheet on his notepad. ‘Go on, then,’ he grunt­ed. ‘What hap­pened?’

Pe­ter­son nod­ded. ‘You should know first that I’m an ar­chae­ol­ogist,’ he said, spread­ing his hands wide, giv­ing what he no doubt imag­ined was a sin­cere and can­did smile. ‘I’m here on ex­ca­va­tion in Borg el-​Arab. Ear­li­er to­day, yes­ter­day now, I sup­pose, we had a vis­it from Doc­tor Omar Taw­fiq, he’s head of the SCA in Alexan­dria, you know, and a man called Daniel Knox, a British ar­chae­ol­ogist.’

Fa­rooq grunt­ed. ‘You’re not go­ing to tell me one of those two men you brought in is head of the SCA in Alexan­dria?’

‘I’m afraid so.’

‘Hell!’

‘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.’

‘An in­trud­er?’

‘It’s not un­com­mon,’ sighed Pe­ter­son. ‘The lo­cal Bedouin farm­ers are all con­vinced we’re find­ing great trea­sures. Why else would we be dig­ging, af­ter all? We’re not, of course. But they won’t take our word for it.’

‘So this in­trud­er … ?’

‘Yes. We chased him off the site. He got in­to a car. Some­one else was driv­ing.’

‘And you went af­ter them?’

‘You can’t just let peo­ple run over your site. They’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.’ He shrugged. ‘I got there as quick as I could. It was aw­ful. One of them, the man Knox, was still in­side. I was wor­ried he’d as­phyx­iate. I man­aged to re­lease his seat belt. That’s when the High­way Main­te­nance men ar­rived, thank heav­ens.’

A tired-​look­ing doc­tor knocked and en­tered. ‘Bad news,’ he said. ‘The man from Borg. The Egyp­tian one.’

‘Dead?’ asked Fa­rooq gloomi­ly.

The doc­tor nod­ded. ‘I’m sor­ry.’

‘And the oth­er?’

‘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 the—’

‘When will I be able to talk to him?’

‘Give it two or three days and he should be—’

‘He may be re­spon­si­ble for the oth­er man’s death,’ said Fa­rooq tight­ly.

‘Ah,’ said the doc­tor, scratch­ing his cheek. ‘I’ll take him off the mor­phine. With luck, he’ll be awake by morn­ing. Don’t ex­pect too much though. He’ll prob­ably suf­fer ret­ro­grade and an­tero­grade am­ne­sia.’

‘Do I look like a doc­tor?’ scowled Fa­rooq.

‘Sor­ry. He’s high­ly un­like­ly to re­mem­ber any­thing from im­me­di­ate­ly beer aeâ€ate­ly be­fore or af­ter the crash.’

‘All the same,’ said Fa­rooq. ‘I need to speak to him.’

‘As you wish.’ He nod­ded and with­drew.

‘What ter­ri­ble news,’ sighed Pe­ter­son, when Fa­rooq had trans­lat­ed the gist for him. ‘I on­ly wish I could have done some­thing more.’

‘You did what you could.’

‘Yes. Is there any­thing else?’

‘Your con­tact de­tails.’

‘Of course.’ 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 was­n’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 Alexan­dri­a’s se­nior ar­chae­ol­ogist, he need­ed to be kept un­der watch: his own room, a man out­side his door. Then he’d come back to­mor­row and find out just ex­act­ly what the hell was go­ing on.

II

Gaille was drift­ing to sleep when sud­den­ly she jolt­ed awake, sat up, turned on her light. Stafford’s two books were on her bed­side ta­ble. She grabbed the one about Solomon’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.



Kε� XAΓ HN Θε ΔΙ ΤP ΣΚ

She took the book over to her lap­top, turned it on, brought up Knox’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 KεÎ�; 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 Knox’s Ther­apeu­tae site. But even so. …

She grabbed her phone. Knox would want to hear this at once, what­ev­er the time. But he was­n’t an­swer­ing. She left mes­sages in­stead, telling him to call at once. Then she sat there, read­ing Stafford’s book and study­ing the pho­tographs, brood­ing on what it might mean, her mind fizzing with the ex­cite­ment of the chase.

III

Pe­ter­son moved his Toy­ota to the far shad­ows of the car park, then sat there watch­ing the hos­pi­tal’s front doors, for he dared not leave with­out first tak­ing care of Knox’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 men’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 Knox’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.

He’d surely never get a better chance to deal with Knox...

He took a step clos­er to the bed.

I

Stafford and Lily were al­ready wait­ing by the Dis­cov­ery’s pas­sen­ger door when Gaille went out at twelve min­utes to five. ‘Sor­ry,’ she said, hold­ing up Stafford’s book by way of an ex­cuse. ‘I got car­ried away.’



‘It is good, is­n’t it?’ he nod­ded.

‘The Cop­per Scroll,’ she said as she and Stafford climbed in and Lily went to open the gates. ‘That’s for re­al, is it?’

‘Do you imag­ine I’m in the habit of pop­ulat­ing my books with make-​be­lieve arte­facts?’ he asked sourly. ‘Go and vis­it Jor­dan’s Ar­chae­olog­ical Mu­se­um if you don’t trust me.’

‘I did­n’t mean for re­al like that,’ said Gaille, gun­ning the en­gine a lit­tle to warm it up be­fore pulling away. ‘I mean, how can you be sure it’s not a hoax of some kind?’

‘Well, it’s cer­tain­ly not a mod­ern hoax,’ he said, as Gaille braked to al­low Lily to climb in the back. ‘Sci­en­tif­ic anal­ysis has proved that be­yond ques­tion. As for an an­cient hoax, the Es­senes weren’t ex­act­ly known for their frivoli­ty, were they? Es­pe­cial­ly as the cop­per was over nine­ty-​nine per cent pure – ef­fec­tive­ly rit­ual­ly pure; and the Es­senes took rit­ual pu­ri­ty very se­ri­ous­ly.’

‘Yes.’

‘Be­sides, it was­n’t on just one sheet of cop­per, sure­ly plen­ty for a hoax, but on thly phow…ree sheets riv­et­ed to­geth­er. And it was­n’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.’

‘Be­lieved?’ asked Gaille.

He grant­ed her a slight smile, a teach­er re­ward­ing a bright pupil. ‘The text seems to have been copied from an­oth­er, old­er doc­ument, prob­ably by some­one un­fa­mil­iar with the lan­guage. So it’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 that’s quite a stretch, would­n’t you say?’

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. ‘There’s nowhere for him to pull in­to,’ she said.

Stafford scowled and fold­ed one leg across the oth­er, crossed his arms. ‘Do you re­al­ize how im­por­tant this shot of sun­rise is for my pro­gramme?’ he asked.

‘We’ll get there.’

‘Akhen­at­en chose Amar­na as his cap­ital be­cause the way the sun rose be­tween two cliffs mim­icked the Egyp­tian sign of the At­en. That’s go­ing to be my open­ing shot. If I don’t get it—’

‘You’ll get it,’ she as­sured him. The cart fi­nal­ly found a place to pull in. Gaille waved grate­ful­ly as she sped by, the ac­cel­er­ation mak­ing Stafford’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. ‘How come you’re so sure these Cop­per Scroll trea­sures came from the Tem­ple of Solomon?’ she asked.

‘I thought you’d read it.’

‘I haven’t had a chance to fin­ish it yet.’

‘The scrol­l’s in He­brew,’ he told her. ‘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. That’s worth bil­lions of dol­lars at to­day’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.’

‘Proves it?’

‘It’s all to do with dates,’ said Stafford. ‘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 that’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?’

‘It does seem odd.’

‘So if the Cop­per Scroll trea­sure did­n’t come from the Sec­ond Tem­ple, it must have come from the first. QED.’

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 would­n’t rise over the Amar­na cliffs for a while yet.

‘Any good?’ she asked.

‘Per­fect,’ 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.

II

‘That’ll have to do,’ grunt­ed Grif­fin, as they stamped down the mix of sand, rock and earth with which they’d filled up the shaft. Even with ev­ery­one help­ing, it had been a long night’s work, and he felt drained. The two or three hours of sleep they could still get was­n’t much, but it was bet­ter than none.



‘What about the rev­erend?’ asked Mick­ey doubt­ful­ly. ‘Should­n’t we wait for him?’

‘He’s scarce­ly go­ing to turn up now, is he?’ snapped Grif­fin ir­ri­ta­bly. Pe­ter­son nev­er had to ex­plain him­self. He just barked out or­ders and these damned munchkins ran to obey. ‘We’ll come back lat­er.’

‘I still think we ought to—’

‘Just do as I say, all right?’ 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 oth­er’s shoul­ders, giv­ing thanks to the Lord.

A fa­mil­iar sweet stab of en­vy in Griffin’s groin, dis­turbing­ly like lust. How fine to re­lease one­self in­to the group like that, to sur­ren­der one’s cyn­icism and doubt. But his own cast of mind had been set decades ago, and it did­n’t do sub­mis­sion, it did­n’t do faith. ‘Come on,’ he said, hat­ing the whee­dle in his voice. ‘We need to get mov­ing.’

But they did­n’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 had­n’t said what had hap­pened ton’coupened to Taw­fiq and Knox, but from the state of shock he’d been in, it clear­ly was­n’t good. He’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 was­n’t like these oth­ers. She made her own judge­ments on things. If she found out that some­thing re­al­ly bad had hap­pened … 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-​up’s flatbed, not one of them join­ing him in the cab. There were times he hat­ed them, how low he’d sunk in the world. A mo­ment of weak­ness. That’s all it had been. The girl had sat front row dur­ing his lec­tures, star­ing un­blink­ing­ly at him with her guile­less blue eyes. He’d been un­used to the frank ad­mi­ra­tion of an at­trac­tive young wom­an. It had set his heart pound­ing. Lec­ture af­ter lec­ture, he’d kept glanc­ing her way. She’d still been star­ing rapt­ly. Then she’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. She’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 would­n’t shriek in hor­ror just be­cause he put his hand on their leg.

Maybe.

III


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 did­n’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 Knox’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 Knox’s face, pressed down. Un­til that mo­ment, there’d been an al­most hal­lu­cino­genic as­pect to the whole ex­pe­ri­ence, like a wak­ing night­mare. But as the pil­low pressed down hard and he could­n’t breathe, his hearte coaveis heart kicked in­to over­drive, pump­ing out adrenaline, be­lat­ed­ly giv­ing him some move­ment and strength. He scrab­bled at the man’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 as­sailan­t’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.

1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   ...   21


The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page