â€˜And you would have, yes? I mean, if a reputable crew had...
â€˜Iâ€™d like to think so,â€™ said Augustin. â€˜But this is Egypt, remember. Maybe I should give Omar a call.â€™
There was no answer on Omarâ€™s mobile. Augustin tried his office instead. Knox watched in puzzlement as he turned pale, his expression increasingly bleak. â€˜What is it?â€™ he asked.
Augustin ended the call, turned dazed to Knox. â€˜Omarâ€™s dead,â€™ he said.
â€˜And theyâ€™re saying that you killed him.â€™
â€˜Why are you looking at me like that?â€™ asked Knox, horrified. â€˜You donâ€™t think â€¦ you canâ€™t think I killed Omar?â€™
Augustin put his hand on Knoxâ€™s shoulder. â€˜Of course not, my friend. But we must face facts. Omarâ€™s dead. And you said yourself that you were in a car crash, you canâ€™t remember anything about it.â€™ He grabbed his jacket, pocketed his wallet, mobile and keys. â€˜Iâ€™ll go to the hospital and the SCA, see what I can find out. You stay here. Get some rest. Thatâ€™s often the best way to get your memory back. And donâ€™t worry. Weâ€™ll sort this out.â€™ And he pulled the door closed behind him, locking it on the latch.
Lily looked a little dizzily down at the ground beneath her feet. â€˜You donâ€™t suppose â€¦ I mean, itâ€™s not possible that any of these treasures are still here?â€™
â€˜I doubt it,â€™ said Gaille. â€˜This place has been pretty well searched over the years. Nothing much has been found. Some Nefertiti jewellery back in the eighteen hundreds. Some bronze temple vessels. I guess they might have been part of it. And there was something called the Crock of Gold too, a jar half-filled with ingots. They used to make them by digging grooves in the sand with their finger, then pouring molten gold into them to set. Iâ€™ve always thought that was most likely someoneâ€™s life-savings or a goldsmithâ€™s stash of raw material, but I suppose it could be part of this.â€™
â€˜Not that I know of. But then you wouldnâ€™t expect to find much. Remember, this whole city was completely dismantled after Akhenaten dly dhis…ied.â€™ Gaille gave a dry laugh. â€˜In fact, maybe thatâ€™s why it was dismantled, not simply demolished or abandoned. Think about it. If the new authorities realised what the Atenists had done, maybe because they found a cache or two, or because someone talked â€¦â€™
Lily nodded vigorously. â€˜Theyâ€™d have taken the place apart brick by brick until theyâ€™d found the lot.â€™ She touched Staffordâ€™s book. â€˜Does it say where these things were buried?â€™
Sunlight glared upon the white paper. They turned their backs until it was in shadow. â€˜In the fortress in the Vale of Achor,â€™ murmured Gaille. â€˜Forty cubits under the eastern steps. In the Sepulchral Monument. In the third course of stones. In the Great Cistern in the Court of the Peristyle, concealed in a hole in the floor.â€™
Lily wrinkled her nose. â€˜Pretty vague, isnâ€™t it?â€™
â€˜Youâ€™d expect it to be,â€™ replied Gaille. â€˜If weâ€™re right, the Atenists would have believed their eviction only a temporary setback. They didnâ€™t need precise directions, only an aide-mÃ©moire.â€™
â€˜What about these place names? Secacah, Mount Gezirim, the Vale of Achor?â€™
â€˜Theyâ€™re all near Jerusalem,â€™ admitted Gaille. â€˜But maybe thatâ€™s not so surprising, either. I mean, if our theoryâ€™s right, this is at least a double translation. Egyptian into Hebrew then Hebrew into English. And these places would only originally have been designated by a series of consonants, because neither Egyptian nor Hebrew had vowels. So when the translators came across place names that didnâ€™t quite fit their preconceptions, wouldnâ€™t it have been natural for them to tweak them until they did? I mean, take the Royal Wadi here. It used to be known as â€œVale of the Horizonâ€�, or â€œVale of Akhetâ€� in Egyptian. Is it really too great a stretch to imagine that being translated as the Vale of Achor? Or that Secacah might originally have been Saqqara?â€™
â€˜I thought Saqqara was near Cairo?â€™
â€˜Yes, but it got its name from Sokar, a god of the dead worshipped throughout Egypt. Burial grounds were oftenâ€”â€™
Footsteps crunched the crusted sand behind her. She snapped the book closed, whirled around to see Stafford approaching, camera bags hoisted over his shoulder. â€˜Canâ€™t put it down, eh?â€™ he asked complacently.
â€˜No,â€™ agreed Gaille. â€˜Itâ€™s quite extraordinary.â€™
â€˜Thatâ€™s why I wrote it.â€™ He checked his watch, nodded at the Discovery. â€˜Whenever youâ€™re ready,â€™ he said, heaving the camera onto the back seat. â€˜We are on a schedule, you know.â€™
Peterson was still on watch outside Augustin Pascalâ€™s apartment block when a pair of sixth-floor balcony doors opened abruptly and Knox walked out, looking weary and dismayed, as though heâ€™d just had bad news. The buildingâ€™s front doors banged open a few moments later and a man in jeans and a leather jacket emerged. Pascal. It had to be. Pascal took a deep drag from his cigarette, flicked it away across the concrete, then straddled a black-and-chrome motorbike, raising an arm in acknowledgement to Knox as he pulled away.
Knox leaned far out over the balcony railing to wave him off. Watching him, Peterson experienced a most intense waking dream: Knox overbalancing, trying vainly to claw himself back, plunging to his death. Such visions werenâ€™t new to Peterson. He took them with great seriousness. Faitem wt. ss. Faithless people and the weak of spirit considered prayer as their way to beseech the Lord to give them things they coveted. But true prayer wasnâ€™t like that. True prayer was how the faithful found out what the Lord wanted from them.
A man overwrought by the death of a close friend, a death for which he blamed himself. Yes. People would understand if such a man threw himself to his own destruction.
He waited for Knox to go back inside the apartment, then got out of his Toyota and walked calmly over to the front doors.
He always felt calm when he had the Lordâ€™s work to do.
â€˜I thought you people werenâ€™t in a rush,â€™ remarked the pathologist, leading Naguib through gloomy hospital corridors to his small office.
â€˜Is that what you heard?â€™
â€˜Yes. Thatâ€™s what I heard.â€™
Naguib shrugged. â€˜My boss thinks this isnâ€™t the best moment for an investigation like this.â€™
â€˜You donâ€™t agree with him?â€™
â€˜I have a daughter.â€™
The pathologist nodded seriously. â€˜So do I.â€™
â€˜Have you â€¦ begun yet?â€™
â€˜Sheâ€™s scheduled for this afternoon. I could bring her forward if you wish.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™d be grateful.â€™
â€˜There is one thing,â€™ said the pathologist. â€˜Not related to cause of death, but you may find it interesting.â€™
â€˜My assistant found it while he was bringing her in. A pouch on a string around her neck.â€™
â€˜A pouch?â€™ frowned Naguib. â€˜Anything inside?â€™
â€˜A small statuette,â€™ nodded the pathologist. â€˜You can take it with you if you like.â€™
Knox caught a whiff of himself as he came in from the balcony. Not a pleasant experience. He went into the bathroom, stripped off. His bandages were looking tired and grey, much how he felt. He washed around them with soap and a flannel, flinching every few moments, less from pain so much as from the dreadful news about Omar.
He went back out. Heâ€™d slept here a hundred times, after late nights putting the world to rights, and had never thought twice about borrowing a clean shirt in the morning. But Augustinâ€™s bedroom door was closed. And now that Knox thought about it, he recalled how Augustin had stopped on his way out of the apartment, turned back, vanished into his room for a minute, and how heâ€™d closed his door carefully again after heâ€™d emerged. So maybe he had someone in there. He often did. And while Augustin wasnâ€™t coy about such things, maybe the person in there was.
Knox hesitated, unwilling to intrude. But then he remembered how bad his shirt had smelled. No way was he putting that back on. He knocked gently. No answer. He knocked louder, called out. Still nothing. He opened the door a short way, peeked inside, pushed it wide open and stood there in surprise. Augustinâ€™s flat ha surh="…d always been a tip, particularly his bedroom. Somewhere to bring women back to, as he put it, not somewhere theyâ€™d want to stay. It wasnâ€™t like that any more. Morning sunlight poured through dazzling clean windows onto deep-pile maroon carpet and a gleaming new brass, king-sized bed. The walls had been stripped of their ragged wallpaper, beautifully refinished and painted royal blue. Lithographs of Egyptâ€™s great monuments on the walls. Cornices, skirting and ceiling glowing white. A fitted wardrobe of gleaming mahogany. A matching dressing table and chair. And now that heâ€™d noticed the bedroom, he belatedly realized the main room had been redecorated and re-carpeted too, though less extravagantly. Heâ€™d simply been too disorientated to notice before.
He opened the wardrobe. Bloody hell! Jackets and crisply ironed shirts on wooden hangers. Shelves of neatly folded underclothes. He flipped through a stack of T-shirts, spied the corner of a purple folder. His heartbeat instantly began to accelerate. He knew instinctively that this was why Augustin had come in here, to hide this. He knew too that he shouldnâ€™t look, yet also that he was going to. He took the folder to the window, opened the flap. There were photographs inside. He pulled them out, leafed through them in gathering disbelief, a knot tugging tight in the pit of his stomach as he wondered what it meant. But it was obvious what it meant, and there was nothing to be done about it, not now at least, except to return the photographs to the folder, replace them as heâ€™d found them.
He still needed a fresh shirt, so he peeled one from its hanger, hurried out, closed the door behind him. Then he sat at the kitchen table, brooding on what heâ€™d just discovered, the uncomfortable realization that perhaps he couldnâ€™t entirely trust his closest friend any more.
Farooq arrived at his desk to find Salem standing there, bleary-eyed from his nightâ€™s sentry-duty outside Knoxâ€™s hospital room. â€˜Yes?â€™ asked Farooq.
â€˜He escaped, boss,â€™ mumbled Salem.
â€˜Escaped?â€™ said Farooq icily. â€˜What do you mean, escaped?â€™
â€˜He left his room. He jumped out a window. He got into a taxi.â€™
â€˜And you just let him?â€™
Salem pulled a face, as if he was about to cry. â€˜How could I know heâ€™d jump out a window?â€™
Farooq waved his hand angrily to dismiss him. But in truth, he felt excited rather than dismayed. Vindicated. His instincts had proved right. Car-crash victims didnâ€™t flee hospitals for no reason, not even Egyptian ones. They certainly didnâ€™t leap out of windows. Only a man with blood on his hands would go to such lengths.
He sat back in his chair, joints creaking beneath the strain, considered what he knew. An archaeological dig. An unannounced visit by the SCA. A return visit under cover of darkness. A Jeep crashed in a ditch. One man dead. An important man too. He bit a knuckle in thought. Was it possible there was something on Petersonâ€™s site? Something valuable? It would certainly help explain things, including his strong sense that it wasnâ€™t just Knox who was up to no good, but Peterson too.
He pushed himself to his feet, grabbed his car keys. He needed to go check out this site for himself. But then he hesitated. He had no idea what to look for, after all. And if Peterson did have anything to hide, heâ€™d no doubt try to bury it beneath mounds of jargon. Farooq loathed jargon. It always made him feel uneducated.
He checked his watch. He should go visit the SCA anyway, notify them of the crash, try to find out more about Tawfiq and Knox, why theyâ€™d gone to Borg el-Arab in the first place. And maybe, if he asked nicely, theyâ€™d lend him an archaeologist to go out there with him.
The high sandstone walls of the Royal Wadi made little impression on Captain Khaled Osman as Nasser drove them out along the new road to Akhenatenâ€™s Royal Tomb. Heâ€™d escorted dozens of tourists this way these past few months, but heâ€™d never felt anything like this nervous before. Perhaps it was because these were TV people, and he knew to his own cost what damage TV people could do.
They reached the generator building. Half a million Egyptian pounds theyâ€™d just spent on the new generator! Half a million! He felt slightly queasy at the thought of all that money as Nasser drove the short distance down the side-spur that housed the tomb and parked next to the Discovery. He opened his door, jumped down. The sun was still low enough that the spur was in shade. He gave a little shiver. There were ghosts in this place. He put a hand on the holster of his Walther and felt a little better.
His childhood friends had bitterly resented the prospect of conscription into the army, being ripped away from home and family. Only Khaled had looked forward to it. Heâ€™d never envisaged any other life for himself. He liked the discipline, relished the cold authority of a weapon, savoured the way women looked at a handsome man in uniform. Heâ€™d breezed through basic training, had volunteered for Special Forces. Officers had murmured of him as the coming man.
He walked over to the tomb entrance, unlocked the door, pushed it open, revealing the sloped shaft of steps leading down to the burial chamber below, floor-lamps glowing either side with their soft insect buzzing. He watched sourly as the TV people made their way inside and then down.
His army career had died one afternoon in Cairo. A street urchin had spat at his driver window as heâ€™d been escorting his commanding officer to a meeting at the Ministry. It was a level of disrespect that simply couldnâ€™t be tolerated, not with his CO watching. A passing tourist had filmed what had happened next, then passed on the footage to some do-gooder journalist whoâ€™d tracked the kid down, had filmed him lying wrapped up like some mummy in his bed. His CO had stepped in, saved him from the courts. But heâ€™d had to agree to a transfer out of the army. Heâ€™d had to agree to join these wretched tourist police, be stationed here in the arse-end of nowhere. Six months, heâ€™d been promised. Just until the dust settled.
That had been eighteen months ago.
The TV people reached the foot of the steps, crossed the wooden walkway over the sump into the burial chamber. Khaled turned his back on them. What they got up to down there meant nothing to him. It was only up here they needed watching.
Six months ago, Amarna had been struck by the fiercest of storms, as if the end of the world had come. He and his men had driven around the site the morning after. It had been Faisal whoâ€™d spotted her, lying face-down on the rocks a little way from here, one arm flung out above her head, the other bent grotesquely back, her matted hair glued with congealed blood to a blue tarpaulin.
Khaled had knelt beside her, touched her cheek. Her skin...
â€˜Captain!â€™ Nasser had said. â€˜Look!â€™
Heâ€™d glanced up to see Nasser pointing at a narrow black slash in the sandstone wall high above their heads. His heart had clenched tight as a fist as heâ€™d realized that the girl hadnâ€™t died in pursuit of mere pottery fragments after all. Sheâ€™d been after bigger quarry.
Men chose their destiny in such moments. Or perhaps they simply learned who they truly were. Khaled had known his duty, that he should report this at once to his superiors. It might even win him a reprieve, a return to soldiering. But not for a moment had he considered it. No. Heâ€™d walked straight over to the cliff-face and begun to climb.
There was a thin gap between Augustin Pascalâ€™s front door and its jamb, enough for Peterson to see it was locked only on the latch, a trivial challenge to anyone with a past like his.
A door slammed below. He took a step back, stood with his hands clasped respectfully in front, as though heâ€™d just knocked and was waiting for an answer. Elevator cables cranked. Doors opened and closed. The lift disgorged its occupant. The block fell silent again.
He put his ear against the door. Nothing. He quietly released the latch with a credit card, slipped inside. The bathroom door was half-closed; he could hear the splash of a man relieving himself. A laptop was set up on the kitchen table, a photograph of the mosaic from his site displayed upon it. He stared stunned at it. No wonder the Lord had brought him here.
The loo flushed. Peterson hurried across to the bedroom, leaving the door a fraction open so that he could see. Knox came out a moment later, wiped his hands on his trousers. He went into the kitchen, sat down with his back to Peterson, clicked the laptopâ€™s mouse, brought up an Internet browser.
He was a naturally powerful man, Peterson, and he kept himself fit. He despised people who let any of Godâ€™s gifts go to waste. Heâ€™d been an accomplished wrestler as a young man too. Heâ€™d enjoyed pitting his strength and technique against others, the mutual respect of close combat, the way you had to wear down your opponent like a constrictor its prey, the tautness and ache of stretched muscle, the slick sheen of pressed flesh, faces just inches apart, how that other man became your entire world for those few intense minutes of the bout. Best of all, heâ€™d loved that delicious moment of succumbing, that almost inaudible exhalation when his opponent had known and then accepted his defeat. So he knew he had the raw attributes for the task that faced him now. Yet still he felt nervous. The Devil was a powerful adversary, not one to be taken lightly, and rarely had he sensed his presence so strongly in anyone as in Knox. Besides, even if everything went perfectly, heâ€™d risk at least one moment of exposure. He needed to make sure that should he be seen, he couldnâ€™t be recognized.
On the top shelf of the wardrobe, he found a motorcycle helmet. Perfect. He put it on, tightened its chinstrap. The way it reflected his breath sounded strangely like fear. Knox was still absorbed in his laptop. Peterson pushed the door slowly open and crept uhe deli…p quietly behind him.
â€˜Was this burial chamber truly built for the man we know as Moses?â€™ Stafford asked rhetorically, as Lily filmed. â€˜I believe it was.â€™
Gaille stood quietly outside the burial chamber as he talked, well out of shot and Staffordâ€™s eye-line. He had a low tolerance for distraction, a low tolerance for everything.
â€˜No trace of Akhenatenâ€™s body was ever found here,â€™ he continued. â€˜No trace of any body. Think about that. This wonderful burial chamber, yet no one buried here.â€™
Gaille pursed her lips. Traces of human remains had been found here, according to reports, though none had been preserved for analysis. And fragments of a sarcophagus built for Akhenaten had certainly been found, along with numerous shabtis, miniature Akhenaten figurines designed to do the menial work in the afterlife so that Akhenatenâ€™s own spirit wouldnâ€™t have to. Even should Stafford be right about the Jews coming from Amarna, it was hard to accept Akhenaten as Moses. Egyptian society had been fiercely hierarchical. Pharaohs had been obeyed, even heretic pharaohs. While Akhenaten lived, heâ€™d have remained in charge and heâ€™d have had no reason to leave Amarna. On the other hand, she could easily believe he hadnâ€™t been buried in this chamber. It would have been too easy a target for vindictive enemies. So maybe theyâ€™d taken his body with them, or moved it to the Valley of the Kings, or maybe even somewhere close by.
â€˜So what did happen to Akhenaten?â€™ asked Stafford. â€˜Where did he go? And what about all his followers, his fellow Atenists? Come with me on a marvellous journey, as I reveal for the first time ever the true story of Moses and the birth of the Jewish nation. Join me on my extraordinary Exodus quest.â€™
A few secondsâ€™ silence as Lily panned around the burial chamber, filming the faded gypsum murals. Then she lowered the camera, passed Stafford the headphones, enabling him to review the footage. â€˜I preferred the first take,â€™ he grunted.
â€˜I told you it was fine.â€™
â€˜Then letâ€™s go back up. Scout our sunset shot.â€™
â€˜Sunset shot?â€™ asked Gaille.
â€˜From the hill opposite,â€™ nodded Stafford. â€˜Weâ€™ll pan around from the tomb mouth to the Royal Wadi. Itâ€™ll finish this segment off nicely. We start with the sun rising over Amarna, you see.â€™
â€˜And end with the sun setting on it?â€™
â€˜Exactly,â€™ nodded Stafford, leading the way up the steps. â€˜The symbolism, you see.â€™
He smiled sourly at her. â€˜You academics,â€™ he said. â€˜Youâ€™re all the same. Youâ€™d sell your soul for what I have.â€™ They emerged back out into daylight. He strode across the road to the far side of the wadi without a backward glance, surveyed it for a place to climb.
â€˜Hey! You! Stop!â€™
Gaille looked around. Captain Khaled Osman was striding belligerently towards Stafford, anger and something like fear in his expression. Stafford decided to ignore him, began to climb, but Khaled grabbed his leg and violently tugged him back. Stafford fell tumbling onto rock, scraping his palms. He stood up, turned incredulously to Gaille. â€˜Did you see that?â€™ he demanded. â€˜He put his hands on me.â€™
â€˜You finish here,â€™ said Khaled. â€˜Leave.â€™
â€˜Leave? Iâ€™ll leave when Iâ€™m good and ready.â€™
â€˜You canâ€™t do this. We have permission.â€™ He turned to Lily, emerging from the tomb. â€˜Show him our paperwork.â€™
Lily glanced at Gaille for some clue of what was going on, but Gaille only shrugged in bewilderment. Lily opened her folder, pulled out several paper-clipped sheets of paper. â€˜There!â€™ said Stafford, snatching them from her, thrusting them in Khaledâ€™s face. â€˜See?â€™
Khaled slapped Staffordâ€™s hand away. The pages fluttered to the ground like a wounded bird. â€˜Leave,â€™ he said.
â€˜I donâ€™t believe this,â€™ muttered Stafford. â€˜I donâ€™t fucking believe this.â€™
Lily picked up the pages, flipped through for the authorization to film at the Royal Tomb, and found a wide and deferential smile as she pulled the single sheet out. â€˜We really do have permission, you know,â€™ she said, offering it back to him.
Khaledâ€™s complexion darkened. He took the page from her, tore it into confetti that he flung disdainfully into the air. â€˜Leave,â€™ he said, putting his hand meaningfully upon his holster. â€˜All of you. Now.â€™
Gailleâ€™s heart was thumping wildly. â€˜Letâ€™s do as he says,â€™ she murmured, taking Staffordâ€™s arm. He scowled but let himself be led back to the Discovery, his bravado punctured. Gaille belted herself in, drove back down the Royal Wadi road and then across Amarna to the car ferry, Khaled and his truck looming like perdition in her rear-view mirror.
Knox felt a mild but distinctly illicit thrill as he typed in the web address of Gailleâ€™s Digging Diary. He made the occasional visit, curious to know what she was up to. He found it strangely comforting. And this morning, with everything heâ€™d been through, he hankered for that comfort more than usual.
A new thumbnail photograph had been uploaded. Gaille standing outside her room with two of Fatimaâ€™s Egyptian staff, smiling happily in the sunshine, their friendship and good spirits obvious. He clicked on it; it began to download. He pulled up a second browser while he was waiting, reopened her email.
I miss you too.