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by Judy (Wishes)
"Mel, pst." The whisper comes from outside the tent wall.
I have been sitting at a low desk translating the Arabic text Ahmet has given me. "Duties of the Moslem Wife." My Arabic is rusty, and I've been making notes of words I need to look up later.
"Mel!" Again the urgent whisper. "Melinda, it's Janice." I unwind my long legs and rise. The unaccustomed robe winds around my ankles, causing me to trip.
I whisper to the blank tent wall. "Janice, I'm here."
There is a ripping sound as a long blade cuts through the heavy woven fabric. A small figure dressed in khaki and brown leather slips through the rent, precious wide-brimmed hat concealing hair and face.
"Ahmet is not going to like that," I comment, referring to the damage. "His mother and aunts wove the material for this tent."
"Who cares what that kidnapper 'lahks,'" Janice answers, taking a shot at both Ahmet and my Carolina drawl.
Wanting to be fair, I say, "The word kidnapper might be a little strong. . . ."
"Do you want to be here?"
"No, not really," I answer honestly.
"Didn't he force you to come here from Cairo?"
"No, coming here was voluntary. I wanted to experience the life of the nomad, the romance of the Bedouin. . . ." At Janice's glare, I stop that line of talk. "It was STAYING I objected to!"
"Your message made it sound like a matter of life or death," Janice reminds me.
"More a matter of. . . ." Knowing that I am blushing, and hating it, I turn away. Janice grabs my arm and spins me around to face her. Her expression is grim, and I feel an almost electric energy radiating from her slight frame.
"Did this Ahmet or anyone else touch you? If they did. . . ." A dangerous look appears in her green eyes.
"No, oh, no." My cheeks are burning, and I know I'm blushing an even deeper shade of scarlet. "Ahmet wants. . . .wants to marry me. He would never. . . . I mean. . . ." Embarrassed, I fumble with my glasses, a habit I'm trying to break.
"Men!" Janice huffs. "Well, let's go. I left a truck just over the next dune. Borrowed it from the British Consulate. Let's get back before they notice the loan."
She grasps my upper arm and propels me toward the new tent door. "I can't," I say, pulling back.
"You want to marry this guy?" Janice asks, keeping her tight grip.
"No, but he has something I need," I begin to explain.
Janice snorts, a very unladylike sound. "Mel, any man. . . ."
"No. No. He took something I had, and I want it back. It's in his tent." Janice glares at me, and I force myself to meet her gaze. Her eyes drop first.
"Okay." Janice relinquishes her hold on my arm and motions for me to precede her. "Where's his tent?"
"Beside this one." I grab up the Moslem head dress Ahmet has asked me to wear outside the tent. I bend over to fit through the small tear and lead the way to Ahmet's tent. A quick slit with Janice's knife, and we enter. I cluck my tongue at the additional damage.
Inside the tent, I see the small chest beside Ahmet's sleeping mat. I pick it up to try the lid and find it locked. Janice reaches out with her knife and casually forces the lid. When I meet her eyes, she asks, "What?" I open the lid and take out what I seek. It is a small, flat slab of stone, rough where it has been broken from a larger tablet.
Interest lights Janice's eyes. "Is that what I think it is?"
"Yes, if you think it's a fragment of a stone tablet or stele." I pronounce it 'stay-lay,' as my father taught me.
Janice's hands trace the carved symbols. "Where did you get it? Never mind. Escape first, talk later."
As if taking their cue from her words, angry voices rise at the back of the tent. I freeze, clutching the stone in my hand. "Move," Janice orders. She grabs the stone and sticks it in her trousers pocket. "Go!" She pushes me toward the front of the tent.
Fahdi, Ahmet's very large brother, blocks the opening. I follow Janice's glance to the back of the tent, where another large man, an uncle, I think, is squeezing through the hole. No indecision, Janice butts Fahdi in the stomach and, as his head bows within her reach, she grabs his Bedouin head dress and twists it around to cover his eyes. She grabs my hand, and we run out of the tent. Janice's eyes dart around and land on a young boy leading two beautiful white horses, horses which are Ahmet's pride and joy.
"Can you ride?" Janice asks.
"Oh, no, not Ahmet's horses," I say, understanding what she means to do. Then, "Yes, I can ride."
Janice shoots me a doubtful glance, but asks no questions. The boy is approaching, and Janice grabs the reins from his hands and shoves me toward the saddle. I mount and see Janice struggle to get her boot in the left stirrup. I'm thinking we're lucky these are Arabians, not the tall thoroughbreds we ride back home, as Ahmet's brother and uncle and half a dozen cousins come at us on the run. With colorful robes about to surround us, Janice gains the saddle at last. I swat the rump of her mount and kick my own into a gallop. We thunder past the men and out of the camp. Janice grasps the reins in her right hand and holds on for dear life with her left. Leaning low over my mount, I pull up beside her. Janice lets go of the saddle long enough to point to our right.
We race up the dune, the thick sand making the going difficult for our horses. I look over my right shoulder and see that three riders are already in pursuit.
We have reached the top of the dune, and I see the truck parked below. With some difficulty, Janice pulls back on the reins and throws herself off the prancing horse. I dismount and release my horse as Janice lets hers go as well. The horses whirl and gallop toward the camp. Janice pulls out a cannon of a pistol and, before I can stop her, snaps off three quick rounds over the heads of our pursuers. The riders veer off course to grab the reins of Ahmet's white Arabians.
We slide down the dune to the truck. Janice leaps in, and I've barely thrown myself into the passenger seat when she pops the truck into gear. Two of the riders crest the hill. The truck slides and struggles with the sand before its fat tires dig in. Our pursuers pull up level with the window on my side, and I hear Ahmet's brother cursing in Arabic. Finally we hit the hard-packed sand of the Cairo Road and leave the riders behind.
Janice keeps the accelerator floored, and the truck bucks as she shifts gears. It swerves sharply as she takes one hand off the wheel to settle her bush hat more securely. Forcing the truck back on course, Janice gives a whooping laugh, a sound of pure exhilaration.
I lean against the passenger side door and wonder if I was safer in Ahmet's camp.
End of Part 1
Having returned the truck to a street near the British Consulate, Janice accompanies me to the Royal Cairo Hotel. As we near the front entrance, Janice puts out an arm to stop me. "Is there another entrance?" she asks.
Puzzled, I say, "I don't really know."
"You can bet the help doesn't come in the front door." Janice leads the way into an alley beside the hotel. I follow, stepping gingerly over trash--and other things not to be mentioned--and we come to a door marked "service" in Arabic. "This way," Janice says, and we enter the hotel from the alley. Janice finds the stairs, and we walk to my room.
Janice immediately throws herself on the bed and stretches out, hands folded behind her head. Looking around the room, she grins. "Is this how an assistant curator at the British-Egyptian Museum lives? Do YOU need an assistant?"
I frown at the sight of her sandy boots on the gold and white bedspread, but say nothing. I myself sit on one of the replica 23rd. dynasty chairs. I'm still wearing the bright robes given me by Ahmet, but I remove the traditional Moslem head dress and lay it on the dressing table. I remove my glasses and shake out my hair.
"You look like Xena now," Janice comments.
Janice says, "I sometimes forget that you never got to see her."
"No," I retort, "I just got the bruises and sore muscles."
"It's hard to believe all that really happened," Janice confesses. "And that we were part of it."
"YOU were part of it," I say. "Then afterward you took off for the States so quickly. . . ."
"You could have come with me. I had to try to find that idiot who took the scrolls." Janice shakes her head, her expression turning fierce as she remembers the accident that cost her those hard-won treasures.
"No luck?" I ask, already knowing the answer.
"I found his family. That was an experience I'll never forget, but they hadn't seen him. He's probably still running around Europe pretending he's General Patton or something. But after the war is over, I'll find him."
Feeling guilty, I try to explain, "I'm sorry I didn't come with you after what we said about being partners. But I had already applied for this job with the museum, and when it came through. . . ."
"It was too good to pass up," Janice finishes, "especially for someone you barely knew."
I say, "You came quickly enough when I sent word I was in trouble."
"Well," Janice mumbles, "I was in the neighborhood." She sits up, all energy again, and pulls the stone fragment from her pocket. "Now tell me about this thing. It looks like an ordinary ostracum to me. Where did you get it, and why is it important?"
I lick my lips. I put on my glasses. I remove and clean my glasses. When I put them back on, Janice is still waiting. "It's from the museum. I guess I stole it."
Janice's eyes widen, and her grin returns. "You GUESS you stole it?"
"I stole it. It was in a box of ostraca I was given to translate and catalog." I look everywhere except at Janice. Whatever will she think of me?
"D'you have any more of these lying around?"
"No," I say, "just that one. The others were ordinary ostraca, limestone chips from a workers' village near Thebes. They bore records of transactions, lists of barter items, that type of thing. An interesting look at the life of the people of the New Kingdom. Kind of like memos out of someone's wastebasket."
"But hardly worth stealing?" Janice asks. She turns the piece over in her hand. It is roughly rectangular, smooth on one side, and covered with lines of hieroglyphics on the other. Janice looks at me questioningly.
"I saw right away that something about that piece wasn't right. You probably see it, too," I add.
Janice continues to study the stone. "Well, ostraca were chips left over when blocks of limestone were quarried or shaped. Then workers wrote on them. But the writing on this piece, it goes right to the edges, and some of the glyphs at the edges are incomplete."
"Right!" I agree, excitement making my voice tremble. "It was broken AFTER the hieroglyphics had been put on. It was part of a larger piece, a stele, I think. And it's not a mere list or inventory. It's part of a story. And the language the story is told in is Greek!"
"Come on, sister!" Janice snorts in disbelief. "You may, and I say may, be a better translator than I am, but I can tell ancient Greek writing from Egyptian hieroglyphics."
"Okay, those are hieroglyphics," I agree. I lean toward Mel. "But the language represented by those hieroglyphics is Greek."
"How can that be?"
"You know how hieroglyphics represent language, of course."
"I do," Janice says, "but explain as if I didn't."
"Okay, let's see. Most people think of hieroglyphics as picture writing. All writing probably started out that way, with each picture representing a particular thing."
"Pictographs. You draw a tree to represent a tree, a deer to represent a deer," Janice offers.
"Right." I smile and go on. "It probably started out as sympathetic magic, a way to gain power over the environment." At Janice's impatient frown, I cut myself off and return to the topic. "Anyway, over time, the pictures or pictographs became more and more stylized until they no longer looked like the thing they represented."
"They became symbols."
"Yes, symbols. And not just symbols for people and things, but for actions and time and place. Then the Egyptians took it one step farther. They started using the symbols to represent sounds and syllables."
"Like our letters," she says confidently.
"That's the idea, only Egyptian hieroglyphics form a more complex system. Some of the symbols represent single sounds, like our letters. Some represent whole syllables. Then there are word signs for whole words. There are even special signs that tell what kind of sign precedes or follows it." I run out of breath.
Janice studies the markings on the stone. "So you're saying that someone used the Egyptian writing system to write Greek words."
I nod vigorously and wait.
"I think. . . .I think someone was dictating in Greek, and someone else wrote the story down using the Egyptian writing system." I wait for Janice to laugh, but she doesn't.
"Who knows about this stone?" she asks instead.
Before I can answer, there's loud pounding on the door. "Open up. British Security officers!"
"Anyone you want to talk to?" Janice asks, as shoulders are placed with force against the door.
I shake my head, and I know my eyes are large behind my lenses.
"Then let's go." Janice bounds off the bed. "Take anything you'll need for a couple of days. Money would be nice."
I grab a small case that lies near the dresser and a small photograph from the night table. Shoving the photo into the case, I say, "I'm ready."
End of Part 2
Janice leads the way to the window, where I look down. "We're on the third floor," I say.
She smiles and tilts her head. "What's your problem? Never heard of a ledge?" Mel steps out of the window and onto a six-inch ledge. She reaches her hand back inside. I look at the thick door, which shows signs of giving to the pressure against it. I grab the Moslem veil in the hand already holding my case and, breathing a small prayer, take Janice's small, warm hand.
"Aren't you going to tell me not to look down?" I whisper.
Janice's smile becomes a grin. "I figured that wasn't necessary." Still holding my hand, she leads me along the ledge. We pass one window, closed and apparently locked, and find the next one open. Without bothering to check for occupants, Janice pushes the window up and steps down into the room. A man and a woman are lying on the bed. The man looks up, a startled expression on his face.
"Pardon us," I say quietly. "Just passing through."
Janice opens the door a crack, and we look into the hallway, my head just above hers. There's a crash as the door of my room finally gives way to the weight of two bulky men. Janice grabs my hand and runs for the stairway door. We dash down the stairs and, on the lobby level, to the back hallway and the service door through which we entered the hotel. We run through the trash-filled alley and are soon on a narrow street. "Walk now," Janice says.
"Who were those men?" I ask. "Were they after me because I stole the fragment? Or was it about Ahmet?"
Janice shrugs, not meeting my eyes. We stroll on for some minutes, coming to an older, non-westernized section of Cairo. "It probably wasn't about you," Janice mumbles. "I didn't exactly enter the country through regular channels."
Before I can react, Janice enters a narrow doorway. We stand in a small room filled with delicious smells, obviously a bakery. The proprietor, a dark little man wearing a white robe and fez stands behind a low counter. Seeing Janice, he grins and comes around the counter. He greets her in an Egyptian dialect I don't recognize, then bustles back to his baked goods. Without asking any questions, he fills a small bag with items from the counter. I recognize the Egyptian hearth bread I love and the sticky-sweet rolls that can make your teeth ache.
He takes the coins Janice offers and bows his way back behind the counter.
Janice again leading the way, we turn into the alley beside the bake shop. "My landlord," Janice explains. Coming to a door in the side of the building, we enter and face a narrow flight of stairs. At the top of the stairs, we stand in a small fetid hallway with four doors. Janice goes to the second door, which bears a broken hasp and a padlock. "Locks aren't very useful around here," Janice comments as she pushes the door open.
Hot, stale air hits us, and I recoil. Janice looks at me, an emotion I can't identify on her face. She crosses the room and pushes open a wooden shutter. I stand in the doorway and survey the room: a bed, a small table bearing an oil lamp, a chair, and nothing else. Janice pulls a zippo lighter from her jacket pocket and lights the oil lamp. "No electricity in the Arab part of the city," she explains. She motions me into the room and closes the door. I perch on the wobbly chair. "So this is your home in Cairo?" I ask.
Janice glares at me briefly, the only reply my question deserves. She has pulled the single blanket off the bed and is using her knife to remove threads that hold the top of the mattress to the side binding. She reaches inside and pulls out an old khaki knapsack. She plops on the bed and turns her attention to me. "What do you have on under that robe? Anything you can wear in public?"
In answer, I remove the Bedouin robe and head dress to reveal a simple blue cotton shirtwaist. Janice shakes her head. "Don't you even sweat?"
My own voice sounds apologetic. "I grew up in a warm climate."
"Yeah. Here." She takes a sticky roll and throws the sack to me. I take a piece of hearth bread. It's quiet for a few minutes as we eat.
Wiping her hands on the blanket, Janice says, "So finish the story."
I swallow and dab my mouth with my handkerchief. "Story?"
"The stele." Janice hold the stone in her hand, and I wonder if I'll ever again hold it in mine.
"Oh, well," I say, continuing the story from the point of the interruption. "I noticed that the hieroglyphics rendered Greek, or as close as that writing system could come. There are no vowels, you know. I mentioned the fragment to Dr. Krykos."
"My superior at the museum."
"And he said?"
"He didn't seem too interested, just said to check the index number on the back."
"D1338G," she says without looking at the piece.
"Yes. I did look it up and found out it was part of a tablet or small stele found at Dakhla by Gruner in 1938 and which was broken when it was removed from the site. There were a total of four pieces, this being the smallest."
"Dr. Franz Gruner?" Janice asks. "Swiss Egyptologist?"
"Don't know him. Go on."
I blink, but continue. "There was a notation that the stele had been photographed in situ. A copy of the photograph and this piece were shipped by Gruner to the museum."
"No information about what happened to the other pieces. And the photograph was missing."
Janice studies the fragment as if concentration will reveal its secrets. "Did you talk to your boss about what you found out?"
"Yes. And he still wasn't interested. He said that lists of materials received from digs are often in error."
Janice holds out the fragment, and I rise to take it. The stone is warm to my touch. "What does it say?"
Now that we've come to this part, I feel a familiar knot in my stomach. What if she doesn't believe me? "It's difficult because the Greek doesn't render exactly from the Egyptians sounds. And then to translate them to English. . . ."
"And there are no vowels," Janice says. "Just read it. Close as you can come."
I adjust my glasses, clear my throat and begin:
woman and her companion. bandit standing. Just then comes the chokes both man and beast That night a babe is born. Its mother hands my son to his father. Here is my seal. Take the newborn. The seal, a ring, she puts on message or of the bloodlines of the child. The storm has scattered camels and horse friend walk on. They save the water for the Finally, the smaller stumbles, says, No more and save the child, carried snug within her of water and a promise to return. The babe brought to Pharaoh's city, to the the story told. Prince Osorkon gives Pharaoh's stable, to return and
"There's a little of the next line, but not enough to make it out. That's the best I can do from this one piece." I've taken off my glasses, and I pinch the bridge of my nose. When I put them back on and dare a look at Janice, her green eyes are boring into me. She leans forward and snatches the stone fragment from my hand.
"Show me 'woman and her companion,'" she demands.
"'Friend.' And 'smaller.'"
I point twice more.
She sighs. "It's not much to go on. Any hint about the period?"
"Not from this piece."
"Gruner found the whole stele at Dakhla? In what year?" she asks, her voice not quite steady.
She nods and seems to come to a decision. "You have money?"
"Good. Put anything you want to keep in my knapsack, and I'll sew it back into the mattress. NOT the money. Then we'll go."
End of Part 3
I've never been in a place like this. The closest parallel I can think of would be a speakeasy, something that had been described to me by an older friend when I was in school. It's in a basement and is so dark and filled with smoke, I can't tell its dimensions. But it is crowded and filled with strange smells and sounds. Looking at the exotic and abbreviated dresses of the other women, I feel as out of place in my staid blue dress as Janice in her khaki and leather.
There are many more men than women. Some appear to be Arabs, but all are in western dress, no traditionalists here. I feel their eyes on us as we walk across the room.
Janice and I head to a corner where there's a small table. Janice moves a chair so her back is to the corner and looks out into the room. "Why was that man at the door so careful about letting us is?" I ask. "Why did I have to pay him?"
"Call it a cover charge." Janice laughs. "Really it was a fee for sending a message, kind of an Eastern Western Union. As for his being careful, this is a Moslem country, even if the British are in charge. A nightclub like this is a sore point with a lot of the Arabs. The owners have to be careful. This place is treated like it's a secret, even though everyone knows it's here."
A young woman in what looks like a harem outfit is standing at my elbow.
"Scotch or whiskey," Janice says, "anything western, no local brew."
The girl nods and looks at me. Water, I think. I say, "Whatever she's having."
Janice studies me but doesn't comment. Then her eyes rove the room.
"Do you know anyone here?" I ask.
"I recognize a few. Cairo, playground for spies." Before I can ask what she means, the girl returns with two glasses of amber liquid. Janice looks at me, and I pay. "Bring us another round," Janice orders. "Then go away."
The girl is back quickly. I pay her again, and she does go away.
"Not thirsty?" Janice asks, reaching for her second drink. I take a swallow of my first. Liquid fire hits the back of my throat and flows to my stomach. I gasp.
"Better stuff than usual, huh?" Janice says, as if knowing we are in complete agreement. "Uh-oh."
"What?" I inquire when my vocal chords work again.
"U-boat at 10:00." I follow her gaze. A neat little man in a dark blue suit has entered the room and walked to the bar. "Conrad Breen," she says. "Abwehr, I think. Maybe OKW." At my raised eyebrow, she explains more succinctly, "Nazi. Bet his passport says Swiss though. I wonder why he's talking to Zeppie."
"That tall man in the evening clothes?"
"Yeah. That's Antone Zepp. Playboy of the Mediterranean. He thinks."
"Is he a Nazi, too?" I ask, wonder and anxiety warring for control of my voice.
"Zeppie? I'm not sure he's smart enough to know what a Nazi is!" Her tone turns thoughtful. "It's strange that Breen would bother with him though. Oops, here comes Zeppie's object for being here."
A beautiful woman enters and seems to dominate the room. Tall and lithe, blonde hair cascading down her back, she, like the waitress, wears a harem outfit, but hers sparkles and is impossibly sheer.
Janice smiles. "Liquor isn't the only objection the devout have to this place."
Music starts, and I have to guess there are musicians somewhere in the darkness and fog on the other side of the room. The woman undulates to the complex rhythms. Her hands and fingers describe graceful movements. Every eye is on her as she bends backward until her head touches the floor. Dance finished, she runs off, and Antone Zepp follows.
Draining her second glass, Janice arches one eyebrow and says, "See? I was right. Zeppie was here because of Tereise."
"Tereise is the dancer?"
"Dancer, ex-schoolteacher. Mainly, she's a Zionist spy."
"Is there anyone here, besides this Zepp and us, who isn't spying for someone?"
"Yep," Janice says, "and here he comes."
A short, squat man in a badly fitting western suit, but with a fez atop his bald head, threads his way to us. At every step, he glances around. He reminds me of a small dog among the big hounds.
When he reaches our table, Janice kicks out a chair for him, and he sits down. "Mel," Janice says, "I want you to meet Tekmet. He's not a spy. He's a thief."
"So glad to meet. Missy Janice make joke. . . ."
"Tekmet, since your English is better than mine, what say you drop the act?" Janice asks. Turning to me, she explains, "Tek used to work for my father, a little extraction and export work."
"Shh," Tek cautions, his eyes darting around the room before settling on me.
"Oh," Janice says, "don't worry about Mel. She's a thief, too."
Tekmet studies me with a bit more interest, then laughs. "I did work for Dr. Covington, the older Dr. Covington, for a number of years. Miss Janice was just a child then. She still enjoys teasing me, as well as others."
"You notice that Tekmet still has two hands and ten fingers," Janice observes. "In a country ruled by Moslem law, that would at least mean he's a GOOD thief. Of course, the British control the allowable punishments now. When they leave, and, after the war, I think they will have to leave, things will be different."
Tekmet's eyes plead with her, then his shoulders slump. "What do you want, Janice?"
Janice grins. "I'm looking for a few things. I want you to help me find them. There could be a sum of money, a small sum, involved."
"What are you looking for?"
"The rest of this." She carefully holds the stone fragment just above the table top, where Tekmet and I can see it, but no one else in the room can.
"Oh, no," Tekmet says, vigorously shaking his head. "Not antiquities. No, this is not a good time for that. Too much pressure from too many people."
"What people?" I ask, aware that the very piece in front of us is stolen.
"Egyptian government, British Consulate, Wadh Party. . . ." He starts to tick them off on his precious ten fingers.
"How about the Nazis?" Janice asks. "They usually don't mind theft, as long as they get their cut."
"No Nazis in Egypt," Tekmet insists. "Out in the desert there's Rommel. If Rommel takes the country, which he might, then there are many Nazis. Not now."
"The stele this belongs to," Janice reminds him. "There may be photographs or documentation that goes with it. I would like to see those things, too."
"Where is this piece from?"
She turns it over so he can read the index number on the back. "Do you want to write it down?"
"I'll remember," he says. "How much money?"
Janice looks at me, and I shrug.
"We'll be fair," Janice says.
Tekmet nods. "I know, Janice. Where can I contact you?"
"Suud's Bake Shop in the old quarter."
"Trust you to stay near the pastries!" He rises. "It was nice to meet you," he says to me and makes a formal bow. And to Janice, "I'll always miss your father."
Janice says, "Me, too."
After Tekmet leaves, Janice is quiet. She glances at my second drink and then at me. Since she shows no effects from the first two, I nod. She reaches for the glass just as the lights go out.
End of Part 4
The darkness is punctuated by both shouts and laughter. I feel a small hand in mine and follow the tugging, my other hand trailing along the wall. My sense of direction is good enough to know we are not leaving the way we entered. The touch of the hand in mine is comforting, and I wonder why I trust this odd woman.
I bump my knee against metal; a stool? I cry out. "Shh!" I cover my mouth and think an unladylike oath. We continue on, still in darkness; now, with no wall to guide me, I feel blind, totally dependent on the one who leads me. Then we are out a door, and a bright moon lights the alley well enough to reveal that my companion is not Janice.
I pull my hand away and look into the brown eyes of the dancer Tereise. I look around wildly, but there is no Janice. Tereise motions for me to follow her and, without waiting to see if I do, she starts to run. Seeing no options other than following or standing alone in the alley, I run after her, my long legs quickly making up the distance between us.
As we reach the corner and turn down another alley, I hear running feet behind us and dart a glance over my shoulder. Janice struggles to catch us, her arms and legs pumping frantically. I whisper, "Wait," and Tereise stops, looking poised for further flight.
As Janice reaches us, the dancer throws herself into that small woman's arms. Janice hugs Tereise to her, then pushes her away. "Zepp's meeting us. Hurry!" Janice says before taking off again, Tereise and I now in her wake. A large dark car blocks the alley ahead, its front and rear passenger doors open like wings. Tereise jumps in the front, and, when I hesitate, Janice shoves me in the back and leaps in beside me. Before she can slam the door, the car jerks into motion and, without headlights, speeds through the narrow, blacked-out streets of Cairo.
When the car stops at last, Janice reaches across me and opens the door. When I don't move, she says quietly, "It's okay." I slide out, with Janice right behind me. We are parked by the Nile, near the delta, I guess. The moon reflects off the still, black water. Tereise walks around the front of the car with a tall man dressed in evening clothes. I recognize him as the playboy, the man Janice referred to as Zeppie.
"Antone Zepp, my friend Mel Pappas," Janice says. The man is tall enough to look me directly in the eye.
"Good evening, Mel Pappas," he says, with a slight bow. In the nightclub, I had thought him to be Egyptian. Now, as I look into his glittering black eyes, just a hint of a smile around their corners, and listen to his English-accented voice, I wonder. "Ladies, my humble barge awaits," he says, the words sounding both gallant and ironic.
Tereise leads the way across a small gangplank. Following her and Janice, I gaze in wonder at the "humble barge." She's at least fourteen feet across, and I judge her length to be close to 40 feet. A single mast, sailless, but rigged, juts up about half the distance of her length. The deck we are standing on is teak, dark and lustrous, and all the trim is the whitest white.
"What is she called?" I ask Zepp as he steps aboard.
"Hatshepsut," he replies.
"Wonderful design. She draws only, what, five feet of water?"
"Four, Miss Pappas." He smiles, showing even white teeth.
I look up the length of the mast. "Do you sail her up the Nile?"
"Since the war, the British won't allow pleasure traffic on the river." He glances at Janice and Tereise, who have walked to the bow, where they stand arm-in-arm, apparently engrossed in conversation. A soft murmur punctuated with laughter drifts back to us.
"Have you known Janice long?" Zepp asks.
"Several weeks," I say, omitting the fact that we've been together only a few days during that time.
"So this is the only Janice you've seen," he observes.
"What do you mean?"
But Zepp has moved away from me and toward the other two women. "Come, my ladies, join me below for a late dinner. We'll see what the djinni has left us."
Zepp leads the way to an open hatch and the short stairway that ends in the salon. Aunt Helen and I took the Grand Tour the summer after I graduated from Ashley Hall, and this room seems a smaller version of the elegant salons on the ocean liners. There are mirrors and curtains and a rich brocade on the walls. A shining mahogany table and chairs to seat 6 dominate the room, but there is still space for a bar and bookcases. My mother's family is what we in the South call comfortable, but this room indicates true wealth.
There is a full place setting at each place at the table, and Zepp seats each of us with a flourish, Janice and Tereise on one side, and I on the other across from Tereise. "I'll return with whatever Anha left us," Zepp says. "She always leaves me a late meal."
Zepp returns quickly and carries plates of cold fowl, soft white bread, glazed vegetables, and fruit. Crossing to the bar, he returns with a bottle of pinot blanc, which he serves each of us. Stepping to the head of the table, he offers a toast. "To renewing old friendships and making new ones." We drink to his toast, Janice draining her glass as we sip. The food is delicious, and we all toast the talented Anha with the next glass.
"What brings you to Egypt, Janice?" Zepp asks when we have all agreed we can eat no more. "You won't find much fun or digging here right now."
"No fun?" asks Janice. "Then what are you doing here, Antone?"
"Ah, Tereise won't leave, and I cannot bear to go away alone," Zepp says dramatically. "Besides, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, none of those places can be enjoyed these days. And your homeland, ladies? Too serious, too earnest even in the best of times, which these are not."
"War can be so damned inconvenient, Antone?" Janice asks.
"Yes, inconvenient. I knew you would understand, old friend. There was a time you knew more about the enjoyment of life than digging in musty tombs."
I look at Janice, but she changes the subject. "Antone, I saw you talking with Breen at the club. What could you have to discuss with that Nazi?"
"Breen? A Nazi? Oh, no, Janice, you are wrong. He's a businessman, Swiss, I think, or perhaps Austrian. We exchange pleasantries when we meet."
Tereise rolls her eyes. I remember that Janice has called Tereise a Zionist spy. I wonder what Zepp knows about that. And what he might have told Breen.
"Antone, we all know you're a fine judge of character," Janice says. "There was that incident with the 'actress' in Munich before the war."
"All that talk about Madeline was pure speculation," Zepp begins.
Janice laughs. "Speculation, perhaps, but not very pure!"
"Don't forget sweet Katie in Paris," Tereise adds.
"Yes," agrees Janice, "HE was quite sweet."
"Not fair!" protests Zepp. "I wasn't the only one who was fooled."
"That's right." Janice nods, a wicked gleam in her eyes. "By the way, did Katie ever return your diamond ring?"
The three continue on, Janice joining forces against Zepp, with the man seeming not to mind at all. I feel I am watching a sport the three friends have practiced for years. Zepp is the picture of careless elegance and style. Tereise, brown eyes shining, laughing and tossing her mane of white-gold hair is beautiful. I glance at Janice and realize she is as lovely as her Tereise, and that she looks far younger than I feel.
Gradually, as Zepp brings another vintage to the table, the talk turns to other friends. "Have either of you seen Manny since we were together in Turkey that last time? You all sailed up on Zeppie's old boat, what was it called, and came to Dad's dig near Ashira. . . ." Janice sees the look exchanged by Zepp and Tereise. "What? Oh, no, not Manny!"
"He went back to Berlin to get some people out," Tereise begins. "When was it? December of '40?"
"Beginning of '41, I think," Zepp gently corrects.
"I didn't know," says Janice. "And Saddler. You know about him."
"Yes," says Tereise. "Burma. Colter, too. Damned British always think they have to volunteer!"
No more is said, but they lift their glasses in a silent toast to absent friends.
End of Part 5
I have expected that Zepp will drive Janice and me back to her hotel for the night, but instead he shows us to a small cabin with a double birth. It is near the bow and shares a washroom with an empty adjoining cabin. I decide that this yacht must sleep at least 6, not counting crew. Zepp and Tereise disappear through a door on the other side of the companionway, and Janice doesn't comment.
From a chest of drawers, Janice pulls out two large men's shirts and hands me one.
Ready for bed, I start to climb into the top berth. "Mind if I sleep there?" Janice asks. "I never liked lower bunks."
"Sure," I say and give her a boost. When we are settled, I comment, "I noticed the subject of the stele didn't come up. I thought you might ask Zepp for help as you did your friend Tekmet."
"Tekmet knows how to keep his mouth shut" is her reply. "Good night."
The next morning, Janice is up at dawn and ready to go, no signs of her alcohol consumption the night before. We raid the galley and see nothing of Zepp, Tereise, or Zepp's cook Anha. Our breakfast ends, as many meals with Janice do, with this her question, "Are you going to eat that?"
We climb to the deck to find a gorgeous Egyptian morning: dry, sunny, and not yet too hot. We look out over the Nile, and I think of all the history that has been played out here on this ancient river and its banks.
"Are we going to walk all the way to your hotel?" I ask.
Janice reaches into her jacket pocket and shows me a set of keys. "We're borrowing Antone's car."
"Does Antone know this?"
"I think he'll figure it out."
Janice drives the car through Cairo's streets in much the same headlong fashion as she drives a truck across the desert. This early and with wartime restrictions on fuel, there is little traffic, and we reach the center of the new city safely. Janice parks in front of the Grand Cheops Hotel. "This car will stand out too much in the Arab quarter," she explains. She slips the keys over the right rear tire.
I look at her questioningly.
"Tereise lives here," Janice explains. "They'll know where to find the car and the keys."
We walk quickly toward Janice's hotel. She turns into the bakery below. "You can't be hungry," I say, but she's already talking to the proprietor, her landlord, I remember. I can read Arabic, but their conversation is too rapid and colloquial for me to follow. He starts to give her a small package wrapped in newspaper. She shakes her head. They seem to argue; then he puts the package in the bottom of a string bag and places a loaf of hearth bread on top. I notice that no money changes hands this time.
Janice turns to me and switches to English. "We've got to hurry. He says some European men were here. He thinks they were British Security, and they threatened to bring in Egyptian police. His description matches the goons who knocked down your door."
"They're still after you?"
She shakes her head. "They said you might be with me, but it was clearly you they were after. My landlord wants me out. He can't have the British or the Egyptian police coming around. His son is involved in things the British and the current government would find too interesting."
"No, his son is an Egyptian Army officer, but he's a follower of Nasser and Sadat."
I shake my head, having no idea about Egyptian politics. "Janice, I'm sorry I've brought so much trouble on everyone, on you. If I could, I would put that fragment back."
We're climbing the stairs to Janice's room. "No, you wouldn't," she contradicts, and I know she is right. "Be quiet!" Janice whispers, although I'm not talking. She motions me to stay behind and moves silently up the stairs. The door to her room is open, and we left it shut. I listen. My hearing has always been acute. I hear nothing. I listen again.
"No one's there," I whisper.
Janice looks back, a question in her eyes.
"I'm sure," I say.
Janice enters a room unchanged since our departure. She lays the string bag on the chair and crosses rapidly to the bed. She raises the blanket to reveal the sewn edge of the mattress. She looks up with a grin. "Someone is very clever, but they put the wrong number of knots in the thread." With that observation, she takes out her knife and slices the seam open again. She takes out her pack and hands it to me. "Let's go."
"Aren't you going to check the knapsack?"
"Everything's there," she answers as she grabs the string bag and heads for the door. "If it weren't, they wouldn't have put it back." When we reach the alley, Janice takes off running in the opposite direction from which we came. At the next cross alley, she turns left. She continues running a zigzag course through alleys and narrow streets until we reach an Arab market, where merchants are setting up their stalls. She slows to a fast walk, cuts between a couple of stalls and enters an herbal medicine store, only to exit through the back.
By now, I'm puffing a little, winded by the unaccustomed exercise. Janice glances at me and, smiling, begins to whistle a popular tune.
"Tuxedo Junction," I comment.
She stops whistling and nods. "Do you like Glenn Miller?"
"My favorite band," I say.
"Me, too." As we walk along, she whistles the rest of the song. I push away my grandmother's saying, "Whistling girls and crowing hens always come to some bad ends."
"Where can we go now?" I ask. "Your hotel isn't safe."
"And I suppose we can't return to my room."
"I wouldn't advise it."
"I don't think so."
"Let's see what Tek has to say." With that, she sits on the step of a building that juts out into the street a little farther than its neighbors. She reaches into the string bag she still carries. Seeing me standing, she pats the step beside her. "Sit." I hesitate, then brush the step with my hand before I sit. I set Janice's knapsack on the step above.
Janice offers me a piece of the bread and, when I shake my head, stuffs it into her own mouth. She pulls out the object her landlord hid under the bread and takes off the newspaper in which it is wrapped. Her eyes widen as the flat piece of stone is revealed.
"There's a note, too," she says and unfolds a yellow square of paper. Janice reads it silently and sticks it in a jacket pocket. I stare until she meets my gaze. "Tekmet says to meet him later."
From her trousers pocket, Janice pulls out my stolen stele fragment. To it she joins the fragment Tekmet has sent. The fit is perfect and complete what I believe to be the central portion of the stele.
Janice hands both fragments to me. "Can you read it?"
"I need some time," I say. "A reference or two would help."
"In my office at the museum."
"Let's go." I remain seated. "We'll find a pedicab or taxi," she promises.
The British-Egyptian Museum is an impressive stone edifice that takes up most of a block in the modern, westernized section of Cairo. Covered with reliefs and inscriptions and modeled after a New Kingdom temple, it dwarfs the more prestigious Chicago House, its nearest neighbor.
Accustomed by now to surreptitious entrances, I need no prompting from Janice to use my key on the back door. The staff section is always quiet and, since the war virtually stopped the flow of tourists and scholarly visitors, the whole building is. . .
"Quiet as a tomb." Janice seems to finish my thoughts. Then she adds, "Not that some tombs are all that quiet. Ares, are you here?"
"Hush," I whisper. Too late.
"Who's there?" A gray head pokes out of an opening door. Upon seeing me, a dapper figure follows, in a dark blue suit and shiny black shoes, short-cropped gray hair contrasting sharply with black eyebrows and pencil mustache. "Miss Pappas, is that you? Back from sabbatical, are we?"
"Yes, sir," I say. "There's some work I need to do."
"Very good, very good," he says, as if I haven't been absent without leave for two weeks. "Very conscientious of you to come in so early. And who's your friend? Another American lady?"
"Dr. Janice Covington, Dr. Penhap Krykos," I say and start to move toward my office.
"Please join me in my office, ladies," Dr. Krykos invites us with a formal bow.
Janice meets my gaze and shrugs, and we follow Dr. Krykos into his book-lined office. Book-lined is an understatement. A better description would be book-engulfed. We make our way through piles of books and manuscripts to a small round table, also piled high with books. We all sit in the comfortable, well-used leather chairs, and Janice restacks one pile of books into two so she can see over the middle of the table.
Dr. Krykos offers us the strong, sweet Turkish coffee that he loves, and we decline. I accepted once and didn't sleep for three days.
"Covington?" Dr. Krykos says. "Covington. I knew your father, I believe."
Janice tenses, expecting a rehashing of her father's "crimes" or, more likely, an embarrassed silence.
"Fine man." Prepared to mask other emotions, Janice lets surprise show through. "Oh, a bit obsessed, that scroll thing, you know. Whatever came of all that? Never mind. I was very sad to hear that he was killed, tragic accident that. As careful as your father was of the lives of his workers, the cave-in was surprising."
"No matter how careful we are, Dr. Krykos, unexpected things can happen," Janice observes.
"Yes, my thoughts exactly." He leans toward Janice and looks at her intently. "Sometimes we take actions that seem, at the time, to be for the best. We later learn that there are unintended consequences. My sympathies, Dr. Covington."
"Are you here to tour our collection? Some specific artifact you wish to view? Or, from your choice of companion, may I assume it's a translation you seek? Ancient Greek, hieratic, Linear B, or hieroglyphics, none better than our Miss Pappas."
I interrupt his uncharacteristic flow of words. "Dr. Krykos, pardon me, but Dr. Covington's time is limited."
"No hurry, Miss Pappas," Janice corrects me. "Tell me, Dr. Krykos, I wonder if you and I share an acquaintance, an archaeologist."
"I know many."
"Name of Gruner."
He sighs. "This man is a friend of yours."
"I thought not." Krykos wrinkles his elegant features in disgust. "I called your father a fine man, and he was. Oh, there were some small irregularities to be sure, but nothing that would compromise his science or harm his workers. But Gruner. Pah! He would blast out the side of a mountain, turn everything else to tiny fragments to get to a golden mask that might bring him fame or fortune. And if a worker was too close to the explosion? Too bad."
Janice looks at me, and I nod. "Do you remember Miss Pappas asking you about this fragment?" I pull out the first piece.
Krykos doesn't ask why the piece is in my possession. "Yes. It's from the Gruner stele, or what some call the warrior stele."
"So you are familiar with it?"
He nods and appears embarrassed. "I felt it best not to encourage your interest, Miss Pappas. It was an accident that it was in that box with the ostraca. You see, it came to the museum through. . . .irregular channels."
"Dr. Krykos, the catalog indicates that the complete stele, although in four pieces, is here, as well as a photograph of the original site," I remind him.
"Miss Pappas, Dr. Covington, the rest of the stele was never here," Dr. Krykos says. "I don't believe a photograph of it exists."
"But it was entered in the catalog," I say, trying to understand.
"Yes, it was," he agrees. "I entered it."
Janice asks, "Did Gruner keep the other fragments and have you alter the records to show that they were here?"
Krykos answers carefully. "That may have been the case."
"Why would you do that?" Janice's tone is curious, not accusing.
Krykos drops his eyes. "Gruner is a persuasive man. I can say no more."
I ask, "Are you protecting Gruner? Or yourself?"
"At this point, I am protecting you." He rises, and clearly the interview is at an end.
End of Part 6
My office is about half the size of my superior's, but all the books are on the floor to ceiling shelves along one wall. All papers and monographs are filed in the one cabinet I'm allotted. My battered desk top is clear.
I take one straight-backed wooden chair, and Janice balances on the edge of the other. She hands me both pieces of the stele, and, laying them on my desk, I fit them together. From my upper right hand drawer, I take paper and from the central drawer a fountain pen.
"Would you hurry up?"
I smile, and, adjusting my glasses farther down my nose, I begin to write. After a few minutes, I ask Janice to pull a reference. "Watkins," I say. "My books are alphabetized by author's last name."
"Of course, they are," she says and quickly locates and hands me the correct book. She leans over me but, at my glare, again perches on her chair.
After consulting one more reference, I am satisfied with my translation. "This is rough, you understand," I caution.
"Yeah, yeah, just short of perfect. Go on, will you? Read it, or give it to me."
I surprise her by handing her the paper. She reads it quickly.
"Read it aloud," I say. She nods and begins reading:
woman and her companion bandit standing. Just then comes the chokes both man and beast That night a babe is born. Its mother hands it to the warrior woman. "Here, take my son to his father. Here is my seal. Take it as well." The warrior woman holds the newborn. The seal, a ring, she puts on her own finger, never guessing its royal message or of the bloodlines of the child. The mother parts from child and earth. The storm has scattered camels and horses, none remaining. The warrior and her friend walk on. They save the water for the baby, using little to quench their thirst. Finally, the smaller stumbles, says, "No more, I can't go on." The warrior will go on and save the child, carried snug within her desert robe, leaving her friend a few sips of water and a promise to return. The babe brought to Pharaoh's city, to the very temple grounds, the ring is shown, the story told. Prince Osorkon gives his own horse to the woman, fastest steed in Pharaoh's stable to return and <missing> Like the Khamsin, rides the woman,
Janice's voice trails off, and we sit in silence for some time. At last, she speaks, "How long did Gabrielle live? I pictured her as a grandmother telling tales to her children's children."
"We don't know this is about Xena and Gabrielle," I caution. "We don't know they were ever in Egypt."
"She had to survive, or she wouldn't have left any descendants. But maybe she already had a child. Do you remember anything from the scrolls that would give us a hint?"
I speak slowly. "There isn't anything here to prove this is about Xena and Gabrielle."
Janice continues to ignore me. "The scrolls all seemed to be about their travels through Greece. That doesn't mean they didn't go anywhere else. And we didn't get to read all of the scrolls. Damn that idiot and all HIS descendants."
I give up. "What now?"
"The stele was found at Dahkla Oasis. Could we look at a map of that area?"
I rise. "I haven't looked. We should have one." We go to the map room. Large cabinets of drawers line the walls of that room. A thick looseleaf book rests on a high viewing table that takes up the middle of the room. I open this index and quickly find Dahkla. In the drawer listed, I find the portfolio of maps for the area and lay the appropriate map on the viewing table. Janice studies the map for a few minutes.
"Do you have a wider view?"
I pull another map from the same portfolio and lay it over the first. Janice studies it and then places her finger on a site labeled Cashi Zun. "Do you have a map of this site as well?" I place a third map over the other two. Janice flips back and forth among the three maps. "There are only about 5 kilometers between Dahkla Oasis and Cashi Zun," she comments. "I had forgotten they're that close."
"What's the significance of Cashi Zun?" I ask.
"It's where my father died."
I feel a chill at this second mention today of her father's death. "Janice, if you'll pardon my asking, would you tell me more about how your father died?"
She turns back to studying the detailed map of Cashi Zun, and I'm sure she won't answer. Then she meets my eyes. Expecting to see tears, I am shocked by the anger that blazes there. "My father and two of his workmen were buried alive in a necropolis they were excavating. No one could reach them for a week. It took them three days to die."
"How horrible for you!" I say, imagining a younger Janet agonizing on the surface as rescue attempts failed to reach her father in time.
"I wasn't there, and, by the time I learned about it, it was long after the fact."
"I thought you always worked with your father, as I did with mine."
"I did until about a month before he was killed." Janice's tone is flat. "I left because we had an argument. The argument was about his obsession with the Xena Scrolls. Ironic, right? I told him the site at Cashi Zun was so promising it could restore his reputation and make mine, but only if it was handled right."
"All science, no business. No using it to finance yet another trip to Greece chasing those non-existent scrolls. I thought he had agreed, and I left when I discovered he was up to the same old tricks. I left when some artifacts disappeared, and I caught my father with a grave robber and thief."
"Who was that?"
"Who else?" Her laugh sounds bitter. "His old friend Tekmet. When I saw them together, I didn't even let Dad explain. I told him what I thought of him, took the Jeep, and drove to Cairo. I took the next airplane out, didn't even ask where it was going. I ended up in London, but it could have been Kathmandu, for all I cared."
"And he died without your talking to him again?" I ask.
She looks down, and I can't read her expression.
"Janice, I'm sure it was as clear to your father as it is to me how much you loved him."
She looks into my eyes, the pain evident. "I guess I'll never know, will I?" Then she hands me the maps. "It's time to go meet Tek."
We walk to the meeting place, Janice unwilling to engage a cab for this trip. She doesn't share with me our destination, but finally I say, "We're near the nightclub, the one where your friend works."
"How do you know that?" Janice asks. "You've only been there once, and it was dark."
"I don't know," I admit. "A good sense of direction, I guess. It's hard to lose me."
"I'll keep that in mind," Janice retorts, "the next time I want to lose you."
We turn up one more alley, and we're behind the nightclub. Janice looks around. "Where is he? We're a little late, and Tek never is."
I notice what looks like a bundle of rags where the two alleys intersect. "What's that?"
"Stay here," Janice says, and she walks toward the corner, with me close behind. The pile of rags resolves into a body.
"Tek?" I whisper.
Janice nods. She turns the body over, then pushes me back around the corner. I'm enough taller that I've seen over her head and know what has set her to retching. I turn politely away until Janice is able to speak again.
"Why would someone do that?" I ask.
"You saw? Yeah, you're kind of pale. Not going to faint, are you?" She studies me with concern.
I shake my head, then wish I hadn't. "Southern women haven't fainted since what you call the Civil War." I take a deep breath, let it out slowly so I won't belie my words. I ask again, "Why would someone do that?"
"Cut off his hand? Probably to mark him as a thief. At least they waited until after he was dead."
"How do you know that?" I ask, figuring she's lying to make me feel better.
"There's lots of blood on his chest, where he was shot, but almost none on his sleeves or pants." At my raised eyebrow, she continues, "Dead men don't bleed."
"You saw all that in those few seconds?"
She nods. "Time can slow down."
I'm not sure I understand, but I don't ask. Janice moves toward the corner, and I put out my hand. She shakes it off her shoulder, but explains, "Tekmet's note said to meet him. He had to have something to show me."
"Maybe he just wanted to tell you something," I reason.
"He would have put that in the note," she says. "No, Tek wasn't that happy to see me last night. He was already scared. He wouldn't have met with me today if he didn't have to."
"He sent the fragment and the note. Why not send whatever else he had?"
"Damn it, Mel, I don't know! Maybe it was too precious to trust with anyone else. I've got to look!"
She returns to the corner and kneels beside the body. That's what it is now, I tell myself, a body, not the man called Tek. I whisper a prayer and hope his Moslem soul doesn't mind.
"Whoever did this would have searched him," she observes. "No use checking pockets. He can't have been here long. He still has his shoes. Those would have been gone if. . . ." She stops speaking, and I wonder if she is going to be sick again. I gasp when she removes his right shoe.
"Janice, how can you?"
She studies the sole of the shoe, discards that one, and removes the other from his left foot. I notice that this sole is thicker. Janice says, "Tekmet had an illness when he was a child that left one of his legs shorter than the other. I just remembered how he turned that to his advantage." She presses her knife against the thick sole until it splits. There is a hollow space inside. Janice removes from it a square of paper, folded several times.
"It IS just information," I start to say when Janice jumps up and grabs my hand. "Let's go." We've taken two or three running steps past the body when shots echo against the walls of the surrounding buildings. Janice shifts directions and tugs me after her.
"The back door," she puffs, and I know she's talking about the nightclub. At the corner, she draws her pistol and fires twice toward the roof of one of the buildings. We run on. I'm thinking, what if the door is locked, and knowing the answer is that we're dead.
I try the door, and it opens. Janice pushes me through and follows me. There are several stout locks on the door, and she shoves them home. There is pounding on the door, but it was apparently built to withstand assaults, and it holds. The pounding ceases. Janice counts slowly to ten and begins to release the locks. I try to stop her, and she slaps my hands away. The door open, she steps quickly through, her pistol cocked. "They've gone to the front," she says. "Come on." Again, we are running through these alleys. We pass poor Tekmet with barely a glance and run for the center of the city.
End of Part 7
Antone Zepp's car is where we left it, but the keys are gone. "Damn and double damn," Janice swears. "That really slows things down." She opens the driver's side door and leans under the dashboard. "Get in," she orders, and I've barely had time to run around the car and get in when I hear a soft purr. With a great grinding of gears, the car pulls away from the curb.
"Where to now?" I ask."
"I don't know." Janice howls around a couple of corners, then slows to a more sedate pace. She finally pulls over on a quiet street of colonial mansions.
"Janice, where are we?"
"Consular row," she says. "Around the European hotels and here are about the only places this car won't attract attention."
"Why is that?"
"Zeppie?" I ask, unconsciously using his nickname.
She shrugs. "Little wonder the world's in the shape it is."
Carefully, she unfolds the square of paper she removed from Tekmet's shoe. As she reads, tears begin to course down her face. Without comment, I hand her my linen hankie, and she takes it.
When she speaks, her voice is completely under control. "Aren't you going to ask what's on the paper?"
"You'll tell me if you want me to know."
"Always the polite Southern lady, aren't you?" she asks. There is an edge to her words.
"I was raised to be mannerly, to use the correct fork, to sip my tea, to say the appropriate words." I look at a consulate that reminds me of my Aunt Helen's home. "I was raised for a world that doesn't exist any more, and I'm trying to find my way in the world that does."
When I return my gaze to my companion's face, she blinks first. "This is a page from my father's personal journal. It's dated two days before the cave-in."
"You said 'personal journal?' "
"Yes, he kept an official log of the dig, of course, but he always wrote a personal journal, too. He told me he started keeping a journal when he was a child. I've done the same."
"You keep a journal?" I don't know why I'm surprised.
"Yeah. You've been carrying it all day." She indicates the knapsack on my lap. "Writing down what happens and our thoughts about it, I guess it's kind of a tradition in our family. Didn't you ever have a diary when you were a girl?"
I shake my head. What would I have written in it?
"Anyway, when my father's things were sent to me, the latest journal, the one for the last few months, was missing."
"So someone has it, and Tekmet got his hands on one page." I try to think why anyone would withhold something so personal from a man's only child.
"I want to read the page to you, and see what you think."
We've reached the third level of the necropolis and entered a room I'm calling the library. It is filled with papyri, most illuminated in the brightest colors. Among them is a beautiful Book of the Dead. Jannie would love it. (I hope she's still in London or has gone back to the States though. Europe and Africa are too dangerous right now for my reckless, pagan girl.)
The walls of the library are covered with friezes and murals. The room seems to have been meant as an eternal reading room. But for whom? A pharaoh? A high priest? Again, I wish I could talk to Jannie about it. She has such good instincts for these things. There's one item that really has me puzzled. I took some flash photographs and will send the film to the States. If anyone can figure out what it means, the old Gamecock can.
T was here today to talk about the figurine. G is coming tomorrow. I'll try to be neighborly, but it will be a strain. Big bore.
Goodnight, Buster. I love you.
"Is that where your father died? On the third level?" I ask when I find my voice.
She shakes her head. "No, he and the men were found just inside the tomb entrance, on the first level. There was evidently an air space there. The rest of the necropolis was completely destroyed, couldn't be dug out at all."
"What is that about T and G?"
"Dad usually didn't write out names in his journal unless it was someone new. I imagine T was Tekmet, especially since it refers to a figurine." She looks away.
"You think your father was going to sell it?" I ask and realize that I'm becoming less polite.
She ignores my question. "For G, Gruner comes to mind because his dig was nearby and because I've been carrying part of his stele around in my pocket. There are probably two or three other people who make sense for G, except for one thing. Dad always considered him a bore. And, of course, I'm Buster."
"Somehow, I figured that out."
"That leaves the old Gamecock. I don't have the slightest idea who that might be."
"I do," I say. At her look of surprise, I add, "The old Gamecock refers to my daddy."
"Your daddy, I mean, you father?'
"Daddy went to the University of South Carolina and returned there to teach after he got his doctorate. My father was a very serious man, not someone given to hobbies. Except one. He was the biggest booster the university's basketball team ever had."
"So the mascot of U.S.C. is the gamecock. It's a bird. That became Daddy's nickname among the students and faculty, the old Gamecock." I remembered also that no one called him that to his face.
Janice reads that part of the journal entry again. "So my father planned to send yours photographs, no, film, I guess, from the necropolis. Why?"
"I think he means the photographs were taken in that room he called the library. Maybe pictures of the papyri?" I try to think what else it could be.
"It might have been the papyri, but usually we had things like that copied by hand and then sent the copies to translators."
"That takes time," I say. "Maybe your father was in a hurry."
"Could a translation be done from photographs?" Janice asks.
I nod vigorously. "If they were sharp enough. We did it all the time, but not usually for scrolls or papyri. More likely, inscriptions from walls or monuments, things that couldn't be easily moved."
"You were helping your father then?"
"I mean, would you have known if your father got that film developed and if he did the translation?" She is clearly impatient, but I'm still considering what to say.
I finally decide on the truth, usually the least chosen, but best decision. "Daddy had a stroke almost a year before the time you're talking about. He never talked or worked again. I did all of his translations from then until he died."
"But he was publishing up until the time of his death. I remember reading a monograph. . . ." Her voice trails away, and she returns to the subject at hand. "So I guess you were in a position to know if the film ever arrived."
Janice turns the journal page over and hands it to me. "I think my father drew this map on the back to show someone something specific, maybe where he made an important find." She takes the paper back. "What I can't figure out is whether this has anything to do with my talk with Tekmet or if he's had this paper in his shoe all along."
"Do you think he was killed for stealing the second piece of the stele? I'll feel responsible if that's the case."
"His death had something to do with a theft. Whoever killed him chose an obvious, if gruesome, way to make that point. Whether it was because of the fragment or not, I don't know." She studies the journal page as if it might reveal more secrets.
"What do you want to do?" I ask.
She looks up. "What do you mean?"
"Do you want to track down the other pieces of the stele or find out what your father was trying to tell you?"
She doesn't have to think about it, but her manner is guilty, as if she's letting me down. "I want to go to Cashi Zun."
"Then that's exactly what we'll do."
End of Part 8
Janice drives slowly though a neighborhood of European-style homes, set far back from the street. She repeatedly checks the rear view mirror and seems satisfied with what she sees--or doesn't see. She finally turns toward the river. "I don't think we were trailed to Zeppie's houseboat last night, but you never know until it's too late."
Too late? "Why are we going to the houseboat?" I ask.
"Cashi Zun is on the other side of the Nile and upstream about 35 kilometers. Last night I saw a motor launch tied to the other side of the houseboat." She grins.
"Why not?" I say. "I steal antiquities; you steal cars. We'll add boat theft to our crimes. I wonder what Egyptian prisons are like."
"Don't worry. If we're caught, the British will charge us with espionage. Their prisons are much nicer."
"But don't they shoot spies during wartime?"
"Slight disadvantage." She's whistling happily as we approach the docks.
"Pennsylvania 6-5000," I say. More Glenn Miller.
Tereise is sunning herself when we climb aboard the Hatshepsut. Her oiled and bronzed skin contrasts sharply with her fair hair. Her white suit is brief, but it still conceals more than her dancing costume. She looks up from her towel and doesn't seem surprised to see us.
"Oil my back, will you, love?" she says to Janice and holds out a small bottle. Janice kneels beside her and obliges.
"How can you stand this sun?" Janice asks. "If I wasn't completely covered, I would fry to a crisp."
"It's your fair skin, sweet." She raises herself enough to look over her shoulder at me. "Hello again. You look like you would tan nicely. Has our girl been running you ragged?"
"We've had a busy morning," I say.
Janice finishes oiling Tereise's back and wipes her hands on the towel before starting to rise. Tereise grabs her hand and pulls her back down. Janice smiles and settles in a cross-legged posture. She removes her jacket and bush hat and turns her face to the sun. "Put your hat back on," Tereise orders, "before your face is as red as your hair."
Janice obeys, but says, "My hair is blonde."
Tereise says, "Right." She looks at me and points to a deck chair.
"Thank you," I say and sit down. I remember my aunt's many admonitions to wear a hat in the sun. I was sixteen before I realized that she worried my "Mediterranean" heritage would be made more apparent by an ability to tan.
"Is Antone around?" Janice asks casually.
"No," answers Tereise. "What do you want?"
Janice is all innocence. "Want?"
Tereise looks at her through lowered eyelids.
"Mel and I need to make a trip upriver, and I couldn't help noticing that motor launch last night. . . ."
"No petrol," Tereise says. "Even with a diplomatic allotment, Antone barely gets enough to run the car."
"Car's gas tank is almost empty, too," Janice says gloomily, "so we can't even siphon from that. Damn."
"Why don't we sail the Hatshepsut upriver?" I ask. Both women look at me as if I've suggested we float upstream in the car. "It seems to me the British might be less suspicious of a houseboat."
"Sail the Hat?" Tereise asks. "Without a crew?"
"Sure. Why not? Zepp said the sail is onboard, probably in that sail locker." I rise and open the locker hatch. "It's here. And the rigging is up. It looks a little weathered, but intact."
Janice is standing beside me now and is looking at the mast. "You know what you're talking about? You can sail this boat?"
"Sure, with your help. The river's not mined or anything, is it?" We both look at Tereise, who smiles and shakes her head. "I used to sail along the Outer Banks every summer. A friend had a boat bigger than this, and we sometimes sailed it alone."
Janice claps me on the shoulder. "You're a woman of many skills, Mel Pappas!"
Tereise leaps up. "Count me in. I always wanted to see if this barge could do more than float!"
With my inexperienced crew, and my unfamiliarity with the rigging, it takes almost an hour to raise the sail. The breeze is poor, but by tacking, I'm able to get us onto the river and making steady headway against the sluggish Nile current. I stay close to the shore. "We draw very little water," I explain, "and maybe anyone watching will think we're just changing moorings."
"I haven't seen any British or Egyptian patrol boats," Janice comments.
"All the action's to the north and east," Tereise states. "Rommel's massing his tanks, and the British think he's going to make a drive for the Suez in a couple of weeks."
We stare at her. Janice finally says dryly, "Anyone hearing you might think you're a spy." She turns to me. "If the captain doesn't need me right now, I'll see what there is to eat in the galley." She's down the steps before I can nod.
"Is she always hungry?" I ask.
Tereise laughs. "Jannie uses up a lot of energy. But, yeah, she's always hungry. . . for something. She's been that way ever since I've known her, and that would be since we were twelve."
I move the wheel to bring us around a log. I'm thinking, log or crocodile? "How did you and Janice meet?"
"My father and hers were colleagues. At the time, my father was working on a way to date parchment. Dr. Covington invited him to help with a project. Jews could still travel outside Germany at that time, so the whole family, Mama, Papa, and I, moved to Turkey for the summer. Dr. Covington and Papa got along so well, they worked together for several years after that."
"You say you're German? You sound like an American."
"We lived outside Germany much of the time when I was growing up. And Janice and I taught each other our native tongues. You should hear her German! It's better than my English." Her expression turns serious as she goes on. "We were living in Germany, however, when things started to go bad for the Jews. Papa kept saying things would get better, and then suddenly it was almost too late. Dr. Covington helped us get out and sponsored my father and mother to get into the States. I loved Dr. Covington like a second father, and now we're heading for the place where he died."
"Janice said she was in London at that time. I wondered why it took so long for her to get the news about the cave-in."
Tereise hesitates. "I guess you should know what kind of person Janice is, and it's certain she won't tell you."
"Janice didn't hear about her father's accident or return to Egypt because she was in the hospital herself."
"Was she ill?" I ask. "Were you with her?"
"I was with her, but she wasn't ill. You see, I was working for the JRO. Do you know what that is?" I shake my head. "I was trying to get Jews out of northern Europe before it was too late. But events moved faster than expected, and I was trapped. Janice found out when she arrived in London, and she came to get me. She located me in hiding and, together, we got out."
"The hospital?" I prompted.
"Janice was badly wounded during a border crossing. There was no medical help. We eventually made it to the coast, and the Underground smuggled us to England. I thought Janice would die during the crossing and that, if she did, I would jump overboard to be with her. She lived, of course, but she was in a London hospital for weeks."
"And it was during this time that her father died?" I ask, trying to picture Janice as less than the healthy young woman she is now.
Tereise nods as Janice bounds up the steps. "Chow's on," she announces. "I'll take the wheel while you two eat."
"Aren't you hungry?" I start to ask. Then from Janice's grin, I know she's already eaten.
We continue up the river without incident. As the sun settles lower in the west, I say to Janice and Tereise, "We need to either cross the river now or wait until morning. I don't want to dodge snags in the dark."
Janice points out an irrigation wheel on our side of the river. "If I'm right about which village that belongs to, we need to cover at least 10 more kilometers before we leave the river. You're sure we can't cross during the night?"
"I'm sure I don't want to," I answer.
Janice looks across the broad Nile and then back to me. "You're the sailor. What do you want to do?"
"We have a fairly good breeze right now. I would just as well cross now and find a place to moor on the other side for the night."
Janice nods and turns to Tereise. "Hey, babe, we're going to cross the river tonight. What do you want to do? Cross with us or stay on this side?"
"If you run the Hat aground on the other side, it will show anyone where you've gone," she says.
"Yeah," Janice agrees, "I've thought of that."
Tereise asks me, "Do you think I could sail the Hat back down the river?"
"Or at least bring her back across before mooring or running her aground?"
"I don't see why not. She's easy to handle, there's not much wind, and the current's slow. But what will you do then?" I look around at the surrounding flood plain.
"Wherever there's an irrigation wheel, there's a village nearby," she says. "I'll get a message to Cairo somehow. And, even if I don't, I have a feeling Antone will come looking for me when he sees his boat is gone." She and Janice laugh, although I don't see the joke.
I adjust the sail to catch more wind and turn the Hatshepsut toward the blood-red setting sun.
End of Part 9
The next day, when Janice and I wade the last few yards to shore, I am wearing a pair of khaki pants and cotton shirt from Antone's closet and carrying his lace-up leather boots. The clothing is a surprisingly good fit, and the boots are all right with two pairs of socks. On my head is a broad-brimmed hat, protection from the tropical sun. I also carry Janice's pack and two large canteens of water.
I sigh with relief when we reach the cracked mud of the shore. At every step I have expected the bite of a snake or crocodile. Janice is already waving to Tereise, who is too busy to wave back. She has agreed to cross the Nile here, then float down the river only a few kilometers before running the Hat aground. I've shown her how to drop the sail before she leaves the boat. I wave, too, glad to have met this brave woman and looking forward to seeing her again.
I sit on the hard ground and put on boots and shoes. My pants legs are wet, but will no doubt dry quickly. Janice has donned her boots and is up and pointing to the southwest. "Cashi Zun is only two or three kilometers that way." I look up doubtfully at the clear sky and blazing sun. "We're really going to walk three kilometers across the desert? In the middle of the day?"
Janice points out the two canteens I carry and lifts the large water skin she has brought to shore. "It's barely mid-morning. We'll be there before the sun's at its peak. Just drink plenty of water and keep up."
Keep up? I'm wondering if she's compared the length of our legs.
At first, I think how beautiful the desert is; then I think how hot it is; then I don't think at all, concentrating only on moving one foot in front of the other. I feel a touch and look down into Janice's green eyes. "Drink," she says and lifts one of the canteens to my mouth. I take a couple of sips and stop.
Janice says, "Drink! You've sweat out more than that in the last five minutes."
I take a deeper draught and explain, "I don't want to run out."
Janice sighs, and I can tell she's controlling her impatience. "In dry heat like this, you need water in your body, not in a canteen. There's a well at Cashi Zun. We can get more water there. Listen, Mel, I'm not kidding. If you don't drink now, you won't need to worry about whether there's water for later!"
I take the canteen and drink deeply. My stomach rebels, but I keep the water down.
"Are you feeling sick?" Janice asks. I nod. "That is NOT good. You've got to keep going a little longer. There's a low cliff farther along. We can probably get you in some shade there. Here, take one more drink, and we'll move on." I take a sip, but I know I can't drink more.
When Janice moves on, I follow, concentrating on moving one foot, then the other. The motion becomes automatic after a while, and my mind can drift. . . .interrupted only by someone ordering me to drink. At last, a voice tells me to sit, and I do. A gentle hand presses a wet rag to the back of my neck, and I feel someone washing my face. A vague memory from early childhood tells me it is my mother.
After a while, the fog clears. I'm lying on the ground looking up at a blue sky. The sky looks awfully close. I realize that it's my own blue dress. Someone has hung it above my face, between a rock face and a scrubby desert bush. Janice is kneeling beside me, the top of her hat touching the fabric that shades us. She is using Zepp's hat to fan my face.
"Good job, ace," she says. "At least you stayed on your feet until we got to where I could rig some shade. I thought you said you were used to a hot climate."
I move my lips but nothing comes out. Janice tips one of the canteens and pours a few drops of water into my mouth. I choke, then swallow. "When you stopped sweating, I knew you were in trouble, but you kept moving until we reached this place."
"It's a stone outcropping of some sort, about half a kilometer long. We're near the southern end of it, I think. There are some low, folded hills just beyond, and Cashi Zun is there."
"Done with the desert?"
"Well, it's all desert, whole damn country's desert, but there are some places to get out of the sun. The canteens are empty, but the skin's still over half-full, so we should be all right."
"Yes, there's a well at Cashi Zun. When you're ready, we'll move on."
Janice mops my face with a damp cloth. "Rest a while and drink a little more water. You know, Mel, you had me worried. Desert travel just isn't for some people."
After about an hour, Janice agrees that I am all right to move. By now, the sun is far enough to the west that the rock face throws a thin shadow, and, as we walk, we stay in that shade as much as possible. The outcropping ends abruptly, just dropping into the desert floor. We turn west, and the terrain instantly becomes rougher, the "folded" hills Janice has mentioned.
There is now the occasional depression or large rock that offers its scant shade, and Janice calls a halt so often that I finally say, "Enough! I'm fine, and, at this rate, we'll get there next month."
Janice laughs and points to the next low hill. "Over there, on the north slope: Cashi Zun."
Distances are deceptive in the desert, but still we reach the abandoned dig in fifteen minutes, with no more "poor Mel" stops on the way. There are no buildings or tents left standing; just a few debris and pieces of broken equipment bear evidence that a camp once stood here.
The first thing Janice does is walk to what looks like a small stone cistern. With my help, she pushes off the flat stone that covers the top. Inside, there is a lever. Janice works the lever up and down a few times. It creaks, but nothing happens. She removes the plug from the metal tube to which the lever is attached and pours in a small amount of water from the water skin. She pumps the lever again, and a small quantity of rusty-looking water pours from the tube into the bowl of the cistern. Taking one of the empty canteens I still carry, she uses its cap to scoop up this water and pour it back down the tube. More pumping of the lever, and a stream of clear water finally rewards her efforts. I feel relief. I've learned my first lesson of the desert: Water is life.
Janice fills the first canteen and motions for the second. "Always fill your canteens at the first opportunity. It could save your life. We'll use the rest of the water from the skin, then fill that, too."
Janice wets a cloth and wipes her face and hands and gives me the cloth so I can do the same. The water is surprisingly cool.
Her eyes sweeping the site, Janice says, "I was hoping for a piece of canvas so we could rig a shelter, but the place has been picked clean."
All I see is barren space. "By whom?"
"The workers, probably, before they left," Janice answers. "Bedouins, too. You may think nothing's growing here, but, for part of the year, they bring their flocks to these hills to graze. The Dahkla Oasis is a few kilometers to the west, and there's a year-round lake there. By Egyptian standards, this area is a swamp!"
Janice takes from a pocket her father's journal page. She unfolds it to study the map on the back. "Before I left, we were digging over there. You can see a little of an ancient wall. Blowing sand has almost covered it, but we had it exposed to about three feet down. Doesn't sound like much, but this dried mud is like concrete, and you can't use dynamite on a dig. Well, not usually anyway." She chuckles, and I'm sure she's thinking about a certain tomb in Greece.
"It rains that much here that there's mud?" I ask.
"No, it hardly rains at all. What I called dried mud is really ancient alluvium from Nile floods." As we talk, we drift toward the wall. Janice brushes away sand, and I can make out some faint marks. In hieratic writing, I read the New Kingdom equivalent of "Kilroy was here."
Janice continues. "If we dug out all this loose sand, we would come to compressed dried mud. We would have to break that up and dig down at least twenty feet to come to the base of the original wall."
"Twenty feet of mud? This far from the Nile?"
"There have been periodic floods that have reached even farther," Janice says, clearly in her element now. For the first time, I see the scientist that lives within the adventurer. "KV7, Ramses III's tomb, in the Valley of the Kings, is twenty-three feet high, and, when it was discovered, the burial chamber was filled with flood debris and mud from floor to ceiling. It's a lot farther from the Nile than Cashi Zun.'
She picks up a handful of sand, as if she would like to make a start at exposing the wall. Then she lets the grains fall through her fingers, and she again studies the map held in her other hand. "The wall is here on the map," she says, pointing. "And the well here." She makes another stab at the map. "So Dad's new dig must have been. . . . " She turns to face northwest. ". . . .over there."
With me following, she walks determinedly through the old camp to what looks like a footpath around the nearest hill. We pass what I had thought to be a boulder and now realize is a weathered block of limestone. Beyond, contrasting darkly with the tans and browns of the hillside, is the rectangular opening of a tomb.
End of Part 10
Janice stands silently at the entrance. Her face has assumed the hard, unfeeling look I've seen before. From her shirt pocket, she takes her zippo lighter and a small cigar. Biting off the end, she lights the cigar and draws on it until if glows. Her eyes opaque and unreadable, she silently smokes and stares into blackness.
"Give me my pack," she finally says, and I hand it to her. She takes out a large flashlight, and I start to understand the weight of this sack I've carried for two days. "Stay here." Beam on, she steps into the tomb. Close behind, I see the beam fall on a pile of torches. I step forward to pick one up, and Janice jumps. Because she's behind the flashlight beam, I cannot see her face, but I'm sure it wears a glare.
"Take a couple of torches," she says, "and give me two. We can save the batteries." She uses the tip of her cigar to light a torch for each of us. The ends of the torches are wrapped in cloth and covered with something that looks like pitch, and they ignite readily and glow brightly. Unlike the narrow flashlight beam, they illuminate the tunnel from wall to wall and floor to ceiling for several feet. I can see that the tunnel is no more than five feet wide and six feet high. I can span its width with my arms, and I remove my hat to keep it from brushing the ceiling. The floor slopes downward and is covered at intervals with large rocks and piles of debris.
We walk for several minutes, squeezing by and climbing over obstacles, when Janice speaks, her voice echoing hollowly against the walls. "This isn't right. This tunnel was completely collapsed. I have the official report. A shaft was dropped from above to get to. . . .get to the bodies. After the bodies were recovered, that shaft was plugged, too."
"Well, then someone cleared the tunnel," I say, thinking that I am stating the obvious.
"I don't think so. According to the report, the ceiling of the tomb and the tons of rock above it came down. All that didn't collapse was a small section near the entrance. The workers outside heard metal being pounded against the rocks, and that's how they knew there were survivors. They couldn't move a massive block that filled the entrance, so someone got the idea to dig from above. It worked, but the rescuers got there too late."
"Well," I say, "either the report exaggerated the damage or someone has been very busy."
We've come to a division in the tunnel. One branch continues on with the same slope. The other, the one to the left, slants down even more sharply. "Which way?" I ask.
"I want to see the chamber Dad called the library in his journal. He said it was on the third level, so let's go down." We take the tunnel on the left, which seems to lead deeper into or beneath the hill.
As we go deeper, the floor becomes smoother, and I realize we are walking on limestone blocks. I hold my torch near the wall to my right. The limestone here bears signs of plaster. Although cracks and other damage are evident, I can make out illustrations that were probably once painted in bright colors. Janice comes over and holds her torch near mine. "See this figure?" With her index finger, she outlines a central figure, larger than the rest. "He's repeated every few feet along the wall. Chances are he's the occupant of this tomb."
"Is he a pharaoh?" I ask.
"No," she says, "The iconography is wrong. And it looks like the figure was originally painted red, not gilt or gold. My guess would be a high-ranking official in the pharaoh's court. There's something in his hand. Maybe an insignia of office?"
We walk along and study the next two tableau. They are in slightly better condition. "He's holding a pen and a papyrus scroll," I say.
Janice examines the mural for several minutes. "It could be. So he's what, an accountant? The head of the Egyptian tax service? See, all the smaller figures around him are doing different activities. This one might be driving a chariot. This line could be farmers or soldiers. See how they're carrying those pikes or spears over their shoulders? It's hard to tell."
"I think they're soldiers. It looks like they're marching to war."
She nods. "I think you're right. So what is he doing? Counting them? Making battle plans? He doesn't look like a general."
"He's writing about the battle," I answer, and somehow I'm sure. I walk ahead to the next wall painting. "Look, here's the central figure with his pen and papyrus. All around him are men in boats or on barges. This broad band of blue must be the Nile. What are these people doing? Swimming?"
"Drowning," Janice says. "See how wide the river is? It's a flood."
"The central figure isn't involved in the scenes, is he? He's observing and writing."
As we continue on and downward, more scenes are revealed by our torchlight. A lion hunt. A horse race? What looks like the coronation of a pharaoh.
A horse race? I back up, and Janice motions impatiently for me to come on. When I don't respond, she stomps back. "There's only one horse," I say. Is the rider a woman?" For some minutes, Janice and I stare at a painting of a long-haired figure riding a galloping white horse. Unlike the other figures, shown in profile according to the Egyptian custom, this one is drawn full face. The lips are red and full. The eyes, outlined as if with kohl, are the brightest blue. Janice shifts her gaze from me to the figure and back; then moves on.
Far below the surface of the hill, the tunnel ends. We face what appears to be a solid limestone block. Hieroglyphics cover one section at Janice's eye level. She motions me forward to look. I laugh.
"What is it, some curse on those who enter here?"
I shake my head in disbelief. "Essentially, it says, 'Here is the library.' "
"That's great to know! But how do we move that block?" Janice gives it an ineffective kick.
"It says one more thing."
Janice leans over to look at the base of the block, and she, too, grins. "It's on a track. See these grooves cut into the block and the floor?"
We lean our weight against the five-foot high block of stone. It's hard to get it started, but, once it starts to move, it slides as easily as a boat on water. Janice slips through the opening with her torch. "What do you see?" I ask her.
She quotes, "Marvelous things."
Realizing that it will probably snap like a match stick if the stone moves, I wedge my spare torch between the block and the wall. At least it makes me feel a little better. Then I duck and follow Janice into the chamber.
Marvelous things indeed! Although it's hard to gauge its dimensions from the light thrown by the torches, I estimate the chamber to be a twenty foot cube. From floor to ceiling, every wall is covered with paintings and inscriptions. There are several stone tables, large and small, and beautiful, ornate chairs. Around the room are scattered deep, decorated jars of a type used to store papyri. On the small tables are figurines and other rich objects. Unlike the tunnel, damage from years and water seems small.
"That block is designed like a plug," Janice observes. "It's wider on this side than on the other and seals perfectly. Yet, somehow, it's set in grooves so it will glide easily. I doubt engineers today could do as well.
Janice finds a bracket in the wall and places her lit torch there. I follow suit. I inspect one jar, then another. "The papyri are gone," I say.
Janice looks in two more. "Dad's journal page said there were a lot of papyri. Did he move them? Or did someone else do it?"
I'm studying the largest inscription on the wall. Carved into solid rock, it is beneath a figure like those we saw in the tunnel. "Did you ever hear of a Harpsoptah? Or an Omm Shoshenk?"
"Harpsoptah? That sounds familiar. A high priest? Shoshenk was a late dynasty pharaoh, probably not really an Egyptian. Assyrian maybe? Omm Shoshenk would mean Shoshenk's mother. The foreign rulers that followed the New Kingdom usually took on the Egyptian culture, the religion, and so forth. I always thought it was an open question as to who conquered who."
"Never mind. What is this empty space under the inscription? It almost looks like a picture frame," I observe.
Janice pulls the stone fragments from her pocket. She fits one piece, my original piece, into the left center of the depression in the wall. "Hold this," she says, and I do. She places the other fragment to the right of the first. The fit between the two pieces and the "frame" is perfect. We can now see the size of the original tablet, about fourteen by twelve inches. Together, our piece covers about one-third of the total area.
"It's much smaller than I thought," I say. "I guess it's more of a stone tablet than part of a stele."
Janice shrugs. "Call it what you like. I just want to find the rest. We know there at least two more pieces, and they tell the beginning and the end of the story. We also know it was found here by my father, NOT at Dahkla by Gruner."
"That's what your father wanted to tell you. I'll bet Tekmet was supposed to get that journal page to you a long time ago."
With a deep sigh, Janice removes the fragments and cradles them in her hands.
"Do you think this Harpsoptah wrote the story?"
"Read the whole inscription."
"It's some sort of ritual incantation, I think." I struggle to make out the general meaning. "There's an abstraction sign here that probably means the next symbol is a specialized one or some kind of coined term. It's like saying, 'you won't know what this symbol means unless you already know what this symbol means.' "
As is by rote, Janice says, "As best you can, Miss Pappas."
I read, "In praise of Ptah, earth-creator, life-giver, an offering of ABSTRACTION COMING--SOMETHING--mother of Shoshenk honored by Harpsoptah, PROBABLY High Priest of SOMEPLACE Temple."
"Something, probably, someplace? Not up to your usual standards."
It's my turn to shrug.
"The temple is probably Memphis," Janice fills in. "Ptah was mainly a Memphite deity. I wonder if this Harpsoptah is the high priest associated with that cult. I remember something about a Harpson, a priest-scribe. He was the brother of one of the pharaohs, I think. I wish I could remember what dynasty. The only reason I remember him at all is that his name didn't seem to fit with the Amenhoteps and Akhenatens and Setis."
"What's that?" I ask.
"I said his name didn't. . . ."
Janice moves quickly to a corner of the chamber. I turn toward the entrance. Appearing from behind the limestone block are a flashlight and a hand followed by a thin, black-clad man.
End of Part 11
The light of the torches reflects off metal-framed glasses and sharklike teeth. "Dr. Covington, I presume?" His voice is high and nasal, with a slight Teutonic accent. He carries a silver-handled swagger stick.
"Gruner," says Janice. She reaches for her jacket pocket. Another man, broad and stolid, has squeezed through the small opening between block and wall. In his left hand is a large black pistol, which he is aiming at my head. Janice's hand moves out from her side.
Two more men emerge in succession, as if appearing from the rock that surrounds us. The third, although a little taller, looks much like the second. In his right hand, he holds a gun, the twin of the other. Where the other men are dressed in boots and desert camouflage, the fourth man, small and neat, wears a dark blue business suit and shined black shoes. I recognize him from the club, as the man Janice identified as Breen. The Nazi, she had said.
The third man approaches me, holding my eyes with his, light blue and icy. His double walks behind Janice and, reaching into her pocket, relieves her of her gun. Without warning, he shoves her hard, and she falls to the stone floor in front of Gruner. She starts to rise but settles to the ground with her captor's pistol behind her left ear.
"Zeigmann, Holst," Gruner orders, "if one of them moves, shoot the other." My muscles have tensed at the rough treatment given Janet, but I make myself relax. Zeigmann--or Holst--takes a tight grip on my upper arm
The left-handed gunman jerks Janice to her feet. "Make up your mind," she says. He shakes her small body as if she has no weight, and her mouth snaps shut.
"Search them," Gruner says. The man holding me sticks his gun in his belt and runs his hands briefly over my body. He reaches into pockets that hold nothing more dangerous than a handkerchief. Resuming his hold on my arm, he again places the gun to my head. The other man proceeds to more roughly search Janice. He finds her big knife and sticks it in his belt. Looking at Gruner, he shakes his head.
Gruner lifts Janice's knapsack from where I've laid it on the floor. Dumping its contents on the largest stone table, he finds the flashlight and another knife. He pockets the knife, and hands the flashlight to Breen, who handles it like some unknown object. Gruner picks up a silver picture frame. Inside, I know, is a photograph of a handsome, young soldier. Gruner carefully sets it on the table as it would be placed on a young woman's night stand. He smiles and looks at Janice. "A boyfriend, Dr. Covington? Or a husband I don't know about?" He shakes the sack once more and, satisfied that it is empty, turns his attention back to Janet.
He faces her, no more than a foot away.
"Dr. Covington," Gruner says, his voice quiet and reasonable, "all we want are the two fragments of the Osorkon stele. We know you have them in your possession. Give them to me, and you and your friend may leave unharmed."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Janice lies.
Gruner's hand moves so quickly, I don't see the backward motion, but the resulting slap resounds in this stone chamber. I feel sick. Except for a slight intake of breath, Janice makes no sound. Her tongue flicks out to touch the blood at the corner of her mouth.
"Dr. Covington, Janice," Gruner soothes, "tell us now or later, but you will tell us, you know."
Janice accurately spits in his face. Gruner's expression doesn't change as he removes an immaculate handkerchief from his breast pocket and calmly wipes his face. "Expose her right arm, Holst," he orders. Absurdly, I think, so my captor is Zeigmann.
Janice glances in my direction, but she doesn't struggle as Holst removes her jacket and tosses it on the floor. She rolls her own right sleeve above the elbow. "That table." Gruner points to one of the smaller tables, one that holds no artifacts. Holst shoves Janice toward the table and forces her to kneel. He places her bare forearm on the table top, holding it there by a tight grip on her wrist, and places his pistol against her left temple.
Janice makes eye contact with Gruner, and her expression is hard. Gruner seems to show her the swagger stick, 18 inches long, flexible and leather-covered. He raises it above his head and pauses, as if to give Janice time to think of what will come. Then he lowers it with his blinding speed, and this time Janice yelps. A welt raises, a thin seam of blood rising along the mark.
Janice swallows the yell and glares with greater fierceness into Gruner's flat, dark eyes. Her expression frightens me more than her tormentor's for I know what hers will mean.
"Where are the pieces?" Gruner asks.
"We left them in Cairo," Janice replies.
"That's a lie. You had them on the boat." Gruner's contradiction carries neither heat nor sorrow. He raises the stick again, and I cringe, but Janice follows its trajectory calmly. Again it whips through the air, and Janice, knowing how it will sting, issues only a strangled cry. Another bloody welt criss-crosses the first. I glance at Breen, standing just inside the chamber, an audience to this awful drama. Perhaps he'll stop it. His expression is one, not of disgust, but of fascination, and I know the futility of that hope.
"I won't ask the question again. You'll tell me when you're ready." Janice sets her jaw as the stick rises, higher than before.
"Stop!" I shout, surprised that my own voice can be so loud. My captor places a meaty paw over my mouth, but Gruner says, "Let her speak."
"No, Mel," Janice says, low and compellingly.
Avoiding her gaze, I concentrate on Gruner. "When I heard you in the tunnel, Janice was standing by the large inscription with the fragments in her hand. By the time you entered, she was in that corner, and the fragments were gone." Gruner and my eyes follow the same course and fall on a storage jar.
"Look," Gruner orders Zeigmann.
Pulling me with him, Zeigmann crosses to the jar. He looks inside the jar, but the interior is dark. "Find them, and take them out," he says. I can barely reach the bottom of the jar, but my fingers finally touch the fragments, and I pull them out. As I hold them in my hand, I look at Janice, who still kneels, her arm pinned across the table top. She doesn't meet my eyes.
Gruner approaches, and I place the pieces of the tablet in his outstretched hand. Breen speaks for the first time. "Give them to me," he says. "Both pieces should have been mine." His voice is cultured, vaguely European, and I remember that he is supposed to be Swiss.
Gruner laughs, "You let that grave robber steal the one you had. If it weren't for me, we wouldn't have them back!" He puts both pieces in his own pocket, and Breen angrily leaves the chamber.
"Tie them up and finish," Gruner commands, and then he, too, is gone.
Holst jerks Janice to her feet, and she slumps against him in a faint. As he moves his gun aside to support her, she brings both hands up to catch him under his chin and tries to knee him at the same time. He blocks this with his thigh.
As Zeigmann starts forward, he grasps both my wrists in his left hand. I ram my elbow into his midsection and am rewarded with a loud outrush of air. Before I can pull away, pain explodes in the right side of my head. I fall, and only his grip on my wrists keeps me from striking the other side of my head on the hard floor.
I hear loud cursing in both English and German and, when my vision clears, see that Holst has subdued Janice and is shaking her small body like a rag doll. He slips his pistol into a holster at his side and uses his body to press her against the chamber's wall. His fingers work at her shirt front, tearing off the top button and then the next.
Zeigmann growls something in German, and Holst answers him, an ugly grin splitting his face. Janice struggles, and he slaps her, a slow, deliberate act. She ceases fighting, but he slaps her again.
Zeigmann's words this time are sharp and hold a challenge that is unmistakable, even in a language I don't understand. Holst and he hold each other's eyes, then Holst drops his gaze. He gives Janice one more shake, then shoves her toward a corner, where she falls. Zeigmann pulls me to the same corner and pushes me down. Keeping his eyes and gun pointed in our direction, he says in English, "Don't move or you die. Holst, get some rope from the truck."
I put my arms around Janice, who seems smaller than I remember. She tenses, then relaxes and lets me guide her head to my shoulder. My own head throbs, and I can feel a lump swelling above my ear. In my whole life, I have never been struck, and I have always feared it. Now I have been hit--with a gun--as hard as I can imagine, and I have survived.
Janice rests her head on my shoulder until Holst returns with a large coil of thin rope. When Janice looks up, it is with hate in her green eyes. My own thoughts surprise me for I am sure that if he touches my friend again I'll kill him.
Holst draws his pistol, and Ziegmann holsters his. Taking the coil of rope from Holst, he motions for me to hold my hands out. Reluctantly, I let go of Janice and do as he orders. He ties my hands tightly. He starts to do the same with Janice, but Holst stops him with some words in German. Zeigmann nods and says in English, "Behind your back." Janice does as he asks, and he binds her hands that way. He orders me to rise, and he lifts Janice to her feet. "Sit by the leg of the big table," he says. We follow his orders again, and I wonder how badly Janice is injured for she is so uncharacteristically meek. Zeigmann runs a loop of the rope around the table leg and each of our ankles and back through the bonds on our hands, effectively tethering us together and to the heavy stone table. I am lying on my side, legs under the table, and Janice sits, leaning against the table leg.
Our captors proceed to strip from the tomb everything they can carry. As they work, they talk in their native tongue. When they are done, only the stone tables and larger jars remain.
Once, while both are gone, Janice and I speak. "Please don't be angry that I told about the fragments," I start.
"It's all right," she answers. "Gruner was right. I would have told. But I would have been stubborn first, and that would have cost me."
"What have Zeigmann and Holst been saying?" I ask, not sure I want to know.
"It's all in German. How do I know?"
"You speak German. Tereise told me."
She frowns. "Tereise is awfully chatty--for a spy."
I hear footsteps in the tunnel. "What did they say?"
"Holst still wants to rape us. He says he'll take me, and Zeigmann can have you. Zeigmann says their orders are just to kill us, and that's what they're going to do."
"I had to ask."
Zeigmann enters alone. He has several thin tubes in his hand and a coil of what looks like string. He kneels in the opposite corner of the room.
"Is that how you killed my father?" Janice asks. "With dynamite?"
Zeigmann looks up from his work. "Nothing personal. Gruner made an offer, but he wouldn't go along." I watch as he places something in the end of one of the tubes and attaches a piece of the cord.
Although I recognize the dangerous gleam in her eyes for what it is, Janice continues in the same conversational tone. "You just follow Gruner's orders, huh?"
Zeigmann carefully measures out a long piece of cord, almost three feet, I guess. That done, he says, "Gruner is in charge." He attaches one end of the cord to the single stick of dynamite. He binds the other four sticks together with tape and prepares them with a much shorter fuse. He crosses to us and squats so that his eyes and Janice's are on the same level. "The concussion will probably kill you," he says. He pulls his gun from his holster and holds it to my head. "Or I can make it even quicker for you and your friend."
"We'll wait," Janice says evenly.
"Patience is a virtue," he replies and rises. He kneels in the corner and lights the fuse. He hurriedly crosses the chamber. His running footsteps echo in the tunnel, and then Janice and I are alone.
End of Part 12
The fuse hisses like a snake, and a sharp smell fills the air.
"Janice, I . . . ."
"I have a knife," Janice interrupts. "See if you can get to it."
"Where is it?" I ask.
"If Holst had torn off one more button, he would have found it. Hurry!"
I strain and stretch and am just able to get my nearly numb fingers on the handle of the small knife. I'm careful as I withdraw it, afraid the blade will cut her. As it comes free, I fumble and nearly drop it. "Pardon me."
"Hurry," Janice says again.
"Be quiet." Then I have the knife. I can't turn the short blade to cut my own ropes, but I am able to slice through the bonds on Janice's hands. She scrambles toward the fuse, but is stopped short, her legs tethered to me and to the table. I glance at the fuse. I cut the rope another place and then another. Janice hurls herself forward along the stone floor and lands on dynamite and fuse.
There's a deafening roar, and the chamber shakes. Large chunks of rock fall from ceiling and walls. I'm huddled beneath the table, waiting for the rest of the ceiling to drop, when I realize the cascade of rock has stopped. For some moments, I stay as I am, afraid to raise my head and look at Janice, fearful that what I see will destroy me, too.
Janice laughs. My head snaps up. Janice is sitting in the corner of the cave, back against one wall. She holds up her hands. In one, she grasps the stick of dynamite. In the other is a short piece of fuse, not more than four or five inches long. "This fuse took a little longer than the other," she says, "but Zeigmann timed 'em pretty close!" She places the explosive in one pocket and the fuse in another and crawls under the table with me. I burst into tears, and Janice awkwardly puts her arms around me and pats my back. "Oh, Mel, everything's all right now."
I stop crying. Janice's hair and shirt are coated with limestone dust, and I wish I could brush it away. "Everything's all right?" I ask. I swallow a giggle, afraid of what will happen if my tears turn into laughter. "What do you suppose that other explosion, the one with FOUR sticks of dynamite, was for?"
"To seal the tunnel, of course," she says matter-of-factly. "From the feel of it, it probably did a good job, too. I tell you, that Zeigmann is good at his work."
"But everything is all right?"
Janice takes the knife. She cuts my bonds at wrists and ankles and rubs my arms to encourage circulation. My hands tingle; then feeling returns.
"Look, we're alive. And unhurt," she adds.
"Okay, relatively unhurt. That's better than relatively dead. The tunnel entrance is undoubtedly sealed. But we WILL get out." She pauses.
I look at Janice and wonder if we're thinking the same thing. As she continues, I know we are. "I'm sure my father and the workmen were murdered before the entrance was collapsed the other time. That part about hearing metal on rock? Someone lied. And after the rescue shaft was dropped, the damage to the rest of the tomb was exaggerated so no one from the government would come in."
"So the papyri and the other antiquities could be sold?"
She nods. "From what Breen said about the fragments of the stele, my guess is that each person involved in the theft took a piece. Maybe it was a way to seal the bargain." She rises and reaches down to pull me to my feet. "Watch your head." Finding her knapsack, she starts replacing the items Gruner dumped. She pauses over the photograph and looks at me. When I don't speak, she returns that, too, to the sack.
"Now what?" I ask.
"Let's survey the damage. Damn! They took my flashlight. I don't see my extra torch, and these are almost done for."
I pick up the torch I placed between block and wall and hand it to her. "Great!" She lights it from one of those now burning feebly on the wall. "I don't see my lighter either," Janice complains. "Damn thieves. Take anything that isn't nailed down."
"Or too heavy to carry," I add, looking at the stone table.
Janice and the torch make their way past the block and into the tunnel, and I hastily follow. Behind us, the other torches gutter out.
In the tunnel are large chunks of rocks that weren't there before, but the passage is open--until we reach the only exit. That is firmly blocked by tons of rock.
"Can't we blast our way out?" I ask.
Janice shakes her head. "One stick of dynamite wouldn't budge that pile."
We stand for some time, reality setting in. I look up. "Isn't this where you said the rescue shaft was dropped?"
She nods. "But that was plugged after the bodies were removed."
"Plugged with what?"
Janice holds the torch up, and now she studies one part of the ceiling that looks different from the rest. "Rocks, maybe debris from the earlier digging, junk from the camp. . . ."
"Small stuff, right? I mean, who's going to drag big blocks of stone up that hill just to fill a hole?"
"Small stuff," she repeats. I look in her eyes, and the green fire is back. "One stick might do it if it's placed in the ceiling."
"There's a problem. The only fuse we have is very short. After I light it, I'm going to have to run like hell. Maybe we can clear a path."
I interrupt. "Speaking of short, have you thought about how you'll reach the fuse?"
"I'll stand on something." She looks around. "We'll pile some rocks. We have plenty of rocks."
"You'll stand on a pile of rocks to light the fuse. Then you'll climb or jump down before you run. With four inches of fuse burning." She opens her mouth to argue, but I say, "Janice, you would be risking my life, too. If this doesn't work, we both die." In demonstration, I reach up and easily touch the ceiling.
Janice sighs. "Curse of my life." She studies the ceiling. Handing me the small knife, she points. "See if you can chip away some stones there and make a place that will hold the dynamite. She wedges the torch in an upright position between two large rocks. "I'll work on clearing a path."
We work in silence for some time. "Janice, look at this, and see what you think."
Janice inspects my work. "That's good."
"How will we keep the dynamite in the hole?" From her knapsack, she removes a pack of gum. She hands me two sticks and takes the remaining three sticks herself. "I don't chew gum," I say.
"Good time to start." I take the gum.
Janice removes the dynamite from her pocket. She reaches in one end and removes what looks like a small disk. She checks it over and, seemingly satisfied, replaces it. With the knife, she trims a tiny section from the burned end of the fuse. Then she inserts the other end into the disk. There can't be four inches of fuse protruding from the dynamite.
She hands me the explosive, and I carefully insert it into the hole above my head. "Use the gum to hold it in place." I remove the gum from my mouth and pack it on one side of the dynamite. Janice holds out the sticky mass she's been chewing, and I look at it with distaste. Finally, I take it and pack it around the other side. When I let go, the explosive stays in place, the short fuse hanging down.
"Tell me you're a fast runner," Janice says.
I shake my head. "I've always been awkward."
Janice holds a cigar in her hand. She bites off one end and lights the other from the torch. She puffs until the lit end glows.
"Last smoke?" I ask.
She smiles around the stogie and takes one more puff before removing it. "You can't use the torch to light the fuse," she says. "It might go up all at once." She takes another puff, then hands me the cigar. "Draw on it to keep it glowing," she advises. I place the cigar in my mouth and try to follow her instructions. I choke and go into a coughing fit. "Don't inhale! Just puff." I try again and am rewarded by seeing the tip glow. "And remember," she adds, in her eyes a wicked gleam, "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."
She lifts the torch. "I'll go a few yards down the tunnel in line with the cleared path. You light the fuse with the cigar and immediately run toward the torch. Don't wait to see if the fuse is burning. As soon as you touch it with the cigar, take off. Got that?"
"No problem. Here, take my glasses. I don't want to get them broken. You go all the way to where the tunnel divides."
"Will you be able to see the torch from there?" I nod. "One more thing. This is straight dynamite, not the ammonia type usually used in enclosed spaces."
I look at her as if I don't know what she's talking about. I don't.
"There will be some poisonous fumes, but, with only one stick, they shouldn't be too bad. The four sticks didn't kill us, right? The other thing is that straight dynamite puts out hotter gases that expand faster."
I still don't understand.
"Even one stick of this stuff will make a very big boom!"
That I understand. Janice hesitates a moment, then takes the torch and heads toward the other end of the tunnel. I squint, but the light soon becomes a blur and then passes beyond my limited sight. I puff once more on the cigar until the tip glows red. Reaching up, I locate the fuse with my free hand, then touch the cigar against it. Against Janice's advice, I make sure the fuse is burning, then drop the cigar and race toward my friend, counting on my sense of direction and memory of the cleared path. It seems I've taken only a few steps when there's a deafening roar, and a giant hand swats me to the ground.
I wake with Janice lifting rocks off my back and legs. I try to move. "Bel, my lil! You pay hab brome poems!"
"What?" I shake my head and try to still the ringing in my ears. "Give me my glasses." She does, and at least now I can see to read her lips.
"I said, Mel, lie still. You may have broken bones."
"I'm fine," I say. "I just can't hear." I put fingers against my ears and press to try to clear them. Better. "Help me up."
Janice looks doubtful, but what is she going to do? I have to move. She helps me up. We look toward the cave entrance. "Why isn't there any light?" I ask.
With me leaning on Janice's shoulder, we walk toward the site of the blast. Was this all for nothing? We stand beneath the spot where the dynamite was placed. Above, some twenty feet above our heads, the darkness is decorated with a circle of stars.
I finally ask, "How do we get out?"
"Climb. Let's get all that rope our buddies left us."
A few minutes later, Janice is ready. I've tied the rope back together with non-slip sailor's knots, and Janice has tied one end around her waist. "Pardon me," I say, "but doesn't the rope keep you from falling only if the other end is tied to something up above?"
"I won't fall," she says. "I'm going to need both hands--and both feet--free. Give me a boost."
I cup my hands as if giving her a leg up onto a horse. I lift as Janice springs, and her head and shoulders are through the hole in the tunnel ceiling. She steps on my shoulders, and I support part of her slight weight as she searches for a handhold to pull herself up. "Another boost," she says, and I slip my hands under her toes and push. When I look up, she is wedged in the hole, shoulders pressed against one side, feet against the other. "Just like Santa up the chimney," she says, and she starts to climb.
A few minutes later, Janice shouts, "I tied this end of the rope around a rock outcropping. I think it will hold."
"Yeah, climb on up."
I study the rope dangling in front of me.
"You don't know how to climb a rope, do you?"
Many minutes and instructions and false starts later, I'm sitting on the hill beside Janice under a bright Egyptian moon.
End of Part 13
Janice and I climb down the hill that shelters Harpsoptah's tomb. Our first objective is the well. Janice pumps the lever, and we thankfully watch clear water fill the stone bowl. We drink and bathe our faces. The slightly metallic taste of the water no longer bothers me. I find a handkerchief in my trousers pocket and soak it. I ask Janice to hold out her right arm, and, after hesitating, she does. For the first time, I see how deeply Gruner's stick has cut. As I bathe the hurt, tears spring unbidden to my eyes.
"How could anyone hurt another human being like that, Janice?" I ask. "Deliberately, just to get what they want?"
"Oh, Mel, people hurt and kill other people for a lot less. Or for nothing. Haven't you seen cruelty before?" She stares at me. "You really haven't, have you?"
I shake my head. "Well, there was Smythe in Macedonia. He certainly wasn't very nice."
Janice's expression is one of wonder. "To grow up in a world without cruelty. No wonder you're the way you are."
I feel myself stiffening, wondering if this is an insult. "What do you mean?"
"Just that you're so naive, as if you don't know how to distrust." She pulls her arm away, and I let her. Without bandages or disinfectants, there's nothing more to be done for it. "Do you have any idea what's really going on in Europe, in Africa? What was happening long before Americans got involved?"
"I read newspapers," I say. "And Tereise told me some things."
Janice sighs. "I don't know if you're lucky or not. Being so sheltered has left you with an innocence I lost when I was about eleven. But it's also left you unprepared for the world you're trying to live in now."
"Did I do so badly today?" I ask.
She smiles. "No, you did well. I guess that proves something. I'm just not sure what."
I make a confession. "I wanted to kill that man."
"No, I just wanted to stop him. I wanted to kill Holst."
"Good instincts." Janice rises and looks around. "Our canteens and water bags were in the tunnel entrance. They're either under a few tons of rock, or those bastards took them."
"We have the well," I remind her.
"I can't carry the well with me." She reaches into her knapsack and this time comes up with a small tin box. I laugh, thinking of those tiny circus cars, from which issue any number of clowns and all their umbrellas and baby carriages and other paraphernalia.
"Just a thought," I say. "It's nothing." I hiccup.
"Right," she says doubtfully. "Dried dates." She shakes out the contents of the box and gives me half. The dates are VERY dry and difficult to chew, but they taste like ambrosia.
"What do you suppose ambrosia tasted like?" I ask.
"Ambrosia. You know, food of the gods."
"Steak and eggs," Janice says. "At the Marina in Denver."
"Aunt Helen's chocolate cake with homemade chocolate ice cream," I correct, then add, "or dried dates and well water."
We chew contentedly for some minutes.
"I could travel tonight," Janice says. "That way, the lack of water wouldn't matter so much."
"What are you talking about?" I ask.
"I'm going to Dahkla Oasis. I'm sure that's where Breen and Gruner and friends were headed." She points out some tire tracks that lead to the northwest. "I've been thinking about how they get their merchandise out of the country. There's no way that bunch could get anything past the British or Egyptian authorities. They have to have a contact who does it for them. I figure they have a place to keep the antiquities until they can be moved and a place to meet their contact. Where better than Gruner's old dig?"
Janice looks at the moon. "It's hard to believe we were in that tomb for only a few hours. I need some rest before I go. But what if I'm sleeping, and they get away?"
"Get away? Janice, will you talk sense? Gruner and the others didn't just take or bury the canteens. They took your gun. And there are four of them, all mean, and at least three of them willing to do something about it. Are you seriously thinking about going after them like we're the posse heading out after the rustlers?"
"I didn't say anything about 'we.' I'M going after them. They killed my father, and they did their best to kill us. They aren't going to get away with it." Her expression is so fierce, I think for a moment she might be capable of capturing four dangerous men. Unarmed. With only me to help.
That moment passes, but I know I won't let her go alone.
"Let's get some rest," Janice says. She leads the way to the other side of the old wall. There's no wood for a fire, and no way to light it anyway, so we huddle together in the cool night air. I know I won't sleep, but, after a while, I do.
I wake with a hand clamped tightly over my mouth, and look into Janice's eyes, only a few inches away. Behind her, I see the pale light of dawn. Then I hear the sound of a truck motor. It is only a few feet away. My widening eyes probably tell Janice I'm fully awake because she removes her hand from my mouth. "They're back?" I whisper. "Why?"
"Maybe to check their handiwork. Just hope they don't climb the hill," she says as quietly. She slowly raises her head to see over the wall. I follow suit. A military-looking vehicle, desert-camouflaged, with large, balloon tires, parks between our position and the well. As the passenger door opens, Janice pushes my head down and ducks herself.
"Janice? Mel?" It is a familiar feminine voice.
Janice's head pops up. "Tereise?" She lets go of my head, and I peek over the wall. Tereise and a tall man, both dressed in desert fatigues, are walking toward us. I recognized Zepp and feel self-conscious that I am wearing his clothes.
Janice scrambles over the wall and grabs Tereise in a tight embrace. Tereise enthusiastically returns the hug, then holds her friend at arm's length. "Are you all right? What happened to your cheek?" She touches Janice's right cheek, which shows the beginning of a purplish bruise. Janice hastily pulls her sleeve over her injured arm, but Tereise stops her. She clucks over the injury. "Antone brought a first aid kit," she says. "Janice, we know you, remember?"
I walk around the wall and approach the group of old friends. "I'm very glad to see you," I tell Tereise and Zepp.
"Hello, Mel," Tereise says with a smile. "You have any boo-boos that need bandaging?"
I shake my head. The bump on my head is smaller, and the ringing in my ears has started to subside.
Tereise takes charge, directing Zepp to get the first aid kit and Janice to sit on the step of the truck. Tereise pours a disinfectant into the cuts and blows to reduce the stinging. She skillfully wraps white gauze around Janice's forearm and rips and ties it to secure it. "Those look like marks from a whip," she says, as if she has seen such welts before. Perhaps she has.
"Gruner hit me a couple of times with that swagger stick he carries," Janice says.
"Gruner hit you?" Zepp asks.
"Yeah," Janice answers, "and your 'businessman' friend Breen watched. Then they left us in a tomb they tried to blow up. Nice guys."
"Start at the beginning," Tereise orders, "from the time I left you."
Janice does, and we listen raptly to the story she weaves. Although she minimizes the injuries done and leaves out entirely the attempted rape, her account leaves even me breathless. When she is done, Tereise's and Zepp's jaws are set. Zepp's normally bored expression is replaced by a look of grim determination.
"You're sure they're heading for Dahkla Oasis?" Zepp asks.
"Where else would they go in that direction?" Janice points out the tracks heading deeper into the desert. "They have a truckload of stolen antiquities. They can't exactly drive them into Cairo. British Security would be sure to pick them up. They have to have a contact who can get the stuff out of the country."
"Speaking of British Security, Janice," Zepp interjects, "they're still looking for you. Yesterday, when I saw the car was back, and the Hat was gone, I went to the club looking for Tereise. Two huge Security Officers were there questioning the owner and the bartender about you. Something about your entry documents?"
Janice rolls her eyes, and I ask, "How did you two get here so quickly?"
Zepp answers. "As soon as I found out Tereise hadn't been to the club, I realized she had come with you. So I talked a friend at the Consulate out of this truck, and I headed upriver."
"Is that a truck like you borrowed?" I ask Janice.
"No," she says, "I never get the good stuff."
Tereise picks up the story. "I ran the Hat aground on the eastern shore about 10 kilometers downriver--at one of those irrigation wheels. I was preparing to hike to the village, when Antone showed up. He said he just ran the truck along the flood plain, figuring he would spot the Hat sooner or later."
"We would have been here sooner," Zepp adds, "but we had to go farther downriver to find a ferry to bring the truck across."
"I'm going to the oasis after Gruner and his crew," Janice states. "I need the truck, but no one else is obligated to go."
"Oh, we're going," Tereise says. Zepp nods and is rewarded by a warm smile from his love.
"I'm not staying behind," I say.
Tereise leads the way to the covered back of the truck and opens the flap. Inside are several large metal cans, some marked "fuel" and three labeled "water." There are also two wooden crates, each about two feet square. Tereise lifts the lid from one. "All we have are hand guns," Tereise apologizes. "Anything else is too difficult to smuggle in. Take your pick."
Her eyes gleaming, Janice removes a bluish-black pistol, the kind they call an automatic in the detective films. She sorts through boxes of ammunition and comes up with an extra clip. She turns and sights the gun, her small hand dwarfed by the size of the weapon.
"I don't know why you bother," Tereise chides. "You never shoot anyone."
"Bad aim," Janice says.
"Nonsense. You could shoot the head off a match at a hundred paces." To me, Tereise explains, "She's just soft-hearted."
"Liar." Janice slides the clip out and pulls the trigger several times. "Good action. This one will do."
Tereise takes out what looks like a smaller version of the same gun. She looks questioningly at me. I shake my head and then spot something else on the floor of the truck. I pick up a metal tube or pipe, about four feet long and perhaps two inches in diameter. It is surprisingly heavy. "May I have this?" I ask.
She laughs, but nods. "How do we pick 'em?" she asks Janice. At my puzzled look, she explains, "Antone won't carry a gun either."
I step away from the truck and take a practice swing. The only sport at which I showed any promise when I attended Ashley Hall was softball, and, except for being longer, the pipe feels much like a bat. Realizing that Janice and Tereise are staring at me, I blush and walk back to the truck. Zepp has joined us, and Janice points to the markings on the other box. "Is that a short-wave radio?" she asks.
Zepp looks it over before answering. "I guess. It was in the truck when I got it. I picked up the other box from a friend of Tereise's. I figured we might need it."
I can see Janice's opinion of her friend's intelligence being revised upward. "Good figuring. So what are we waiting for? Let's go get the bastards."
I return my "weapon" to where I found it, and we all squeeze into the cab of the truck, Janice and Tereise in the middle, Janice almost sitting on Tereise's lap, Zepp driving.
Janice questions and advises Zepp about the route he is taking and the slow speed he is driving, but he tolerantly ignores her. To me, he seems to be an excellent driver, and I discover that truck gears don't always have to grind. It appears to be something to do with using the clutch. I lean against the passenger door and watch the sun spread its rays over the barren landscape.
End of Part 14
The landscape is lit by the huge disk of the sun when Zepp cuts the truck engine and lets the vehicle roll to a stop. I look around. The desert looks no different.
"Dahkla Oasis is just beyond that small rise," he says.
Rise? I think. It all looks flat to me.
We clamber out. I reach up to help Janice down, but she shakes off my hand and drops lightly beside me, followed by Tereise. Zepp walks around the front of the truck. "Stay here," Tereise says to Zepp and me. She and Janice crouch and move across what Zepp has called the rise. In a few minutes, they are back.
Janice grins at me. "We got them surrounded, pard," she says. "Here's the plan. They have a couple of tents pitched on this end of the lake. They all seem to be in the closer tent. They have two trucks, both parked beside the other tent. Mel, you and I will work our way around to the left and prepare a little distraction. Tereise and Antone will work their way around to the right and be waiting for them when they come out to see what we're up to. We'll catch them between us. Any questions?"
"What do we do with them once we have them?" Zepp asks.
"The live ones we take back to Cairo and turn over to the Egyptian authorities." Janice's fierce expression suggests there may not be any live ones. She reaches into the back of the truck and removes one of the fuel cans and a couple of rags. She hands these to me. I reach around her and retrieve my metal pipe. Janice slips the straps of her knapsack over her shoulders and sticks the automatic pistol behind her belt buckle.
"Antone, got a lighter?" He hands her a silver one, and I can make out his engraved initials.
"It's not a zippo," he says, "and I want it back."
Janice doesn't answer, but slips it into her pants pocket. "Come on, Mel," she whispers and leads me away from our companions. We take a wide arc, eventually coming back to the camp from the opposite direction. We lie on the ground near a tent and look at two trucks parked side-by-side. Janice sits up and takes the fuel can from me. She soaks both rags with gasoline.
"Stay here." Janice runs in a crouch to the nearest truck. She removes the gas cap and stuffs much of one rag into the opening. She repeats the operation on the other truck. As she reaches for the lighter, a man steps out of the shadow of the tent and is suddenly behind her. He grabs Janice around the neck, and sunlight flashes on the metal object he raises above her head. Not knowing how I"ve gotten there, I'm beside him, my metal club held in both hands and pulled back over my right shoulder. I swing it forward, shifting my weight from my right foot to my left and remembering to follow through. There is a satisfying thunk, and he drops to the ground, the knife still gripped in his right hand.
"Zeigmann," Janice comments.
"Is he dead?"
"I hope so." She feels for a pulse at his throat. "He's alive, but he won't be coming to for a while. Grab his other arm." Together, we drag him behind the tent.
"Time for the fireworks," Janice says. She pulls out the silver lighter and flicks it for an instant flame. "Nice," she says, and I hope Zepp owns another lighter. She touches the flame to the rag in this tank and then the other. There is a whoosh! and we dive for cover. As we hit the ground and roll, there is a tremendous roar, and the bright day becomes brighter yet.
We hear shouts and gunfire from the direction of the lake. Janice jumps up, drawing her pistol, and runs toward the sounds. Wondering what I'm doing, I follow.
Zepp is standing just outside the other tent and, in his hand, is a small gray revolver. I see Gruner beyond, lying on the canvas floor. Zepp is looking from the revolver to the still form and back, as if trying to make the connection.
"Where's Tereise and the others?" Janice shouts. Zepp, coming out of his daze, motions behind him. There's the sound of a truck starting, and Janice and Zepp take off at a run. I tear my eyes away from Gruner's body and race after them. I realize that I've dropped my pipe after hitting Zeigmann and now have no weapon. Still, I run. There's the sharp report of two shots, and I run harder.
Tereise walks toward us over the small rise, gun still in her hand. Zepp reaches her first, with Janice and me close behind. Tereise shakes her head. "They got away," she says, "in our truck."
Janice's eyes and hands search for wounds. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," Tereise answers. "That was me firing. All I hit was the back of the damned truck. When Antone and I got to the tent, Gruner was the only one there. I got the drop on him and took his gun. I left Antone to guard him with that gun and went to warn you. What was that shot from the camp, by the way?"
"Antone shot Gruner," Janice says.
"He tried to jump me," Zepp explains.
"Really?" Tereise's eyebrows raise. "Anyway, just then the trucks blew up. That's when I saw the other two running over this rise."
"Breen and Holst," Janice says. "Zeigmann's behind the other tent. Mel took a little batting practice on his head."
"All right, Mel!" Tereise praises me. "I guess we chose the right partners after all."
We return to the tents. Zepp and Janice find rope and go to secure Zeigmann in case he wakes up. Then, together, they drag Gruner's body to the other tent. Tereise finds a small piece of canvas and throws it over the spot where he had lain.
There's a camp kitchen near the back of the tent, and Tereise starts opening tins. By the time Zepp and Janice return, Tereise is ready to serve us all hot tea. "Soup in a few minutes," she says. "There's only one burner." We sit companionably around the table in chairs occupied not long ago by enemies. Enemies. It gives me pause. Except for girls' school bullies, I've never had an enemy before.
Tereise serves the soup and some stale bread she has found. "Ambrosia," Janice says, with a glance at me.
Tereise asks, "What?"
"You had to be there." Tereise looks puzzled, but doesn't ask.
After we have eaten, Janice nods at Antone, who places three objects on the table. I look at Janice. "Gruner had all three," she says.
Two are the stone fragments Janice carried to Cashi Zun. Janice fits these together. "The first one must have been given to Dr. Krykos, maybe as a bribe for his cooperation and silence. The second one was Breen's, the one Tekmet stole." The third is twice as large as the other two, and Janice fits it above the others. "This one was probably Gruner's. It looks like we have two-thirds of the puzzle now. We're only missing the bottom."
"We'll have to find someone to translate it," Zepp says. "I have an acquaintance at Chicago House. . . ."
Janice interrupts. "Mel can translate it. Can't you, Mel?"
I nod, already unable to tear my eyes away from the symbols. "Paper? Pen?" Tereise places these on the table. The others probably stay, but it's as if I'm alone with the stone fragments and the story they are trying to tell. A couple of times, I turn, expecting my reference books to be within easy reach, but the text is straight-forward, and I'm now familiar with the writer's style.
Finally, I turn my attention to my audience of three, and I begin to read.
THE SUN BEATS DOWN upon the travelers as they cross the desert sands. This is a caravan of comfort, carrying M`Kare`, wife of the great Osorkon, prince of Heracleopolis, high priest of the god Ptah. Far from any city or oasis, bandits come across the desert, white-robed, riding pure white horses, hearts as hot as the sun. Guards pledged to defend the princess die bravely, cut by swords, as grain before the scythe. Others try to flee the bandits' harshness, but they are caught, and they, too, die. The bandits take the goods and gold and princess.
Upon the bloody sand, the bandits take their ease and argue about the division of the spoils. The princess can be heard crying above the wailing of the rising desert wind. Out of the halo of the sunset come defenders of the crying princess. A warrior woman and her companion. With stealth and strength, they attack and leave no bandit standing. Just then comes the Khamsin, storm that heralds summer, but chokes both man and beast.
That night a babe is born. Its mother hands it to the warrior woman. "Here, take my son to his father. Here is my seal. Take it as well." The warrior woman holds the newborn. The seal, a ring, she puts on her own finger, never guessing its royal message or of the bloodlines of the child. The mother parts from child and earth.
The storm has scattered camels and horses, none remaining. The warrior and her friend walk on. They save the water for the baby, using little to quench their thirst. Finally, the smaller stumbles, says, No more, I can't go on. The warrior will go on and save the child, carried snug within her desert robe, leaving her friend a few sips of water and a promise to return.
The babe brought to Pharaoh's city, to the very temple grounds, the ring is shown, the story told. Prince Osorkon gives his own horse to the woman, fastest steed in Pharaoh's stable, to return and <missing> Like the Khamsin, rides the woman,
"That's all there is," I say in the ensuing silence.
End of Part 15
The Further Adventure of Janice and Mel: The Gabrielle Stele by Judy (Wishes)
Tereise, Janice, and I sit around the table in Gruner's tent. Zepp has gone to check on Zeigmann. Tereise breaks the silence first. "You know, that warrior woman sounds like Xena."
"You know about her?" I ask.
"Sure. Do you think anyone could grow up around the Covingtons and not know about Xena? For a while, Janice thought she WAS Xena." As Tereise goes on, I see for the first time that Janice can blush. "She ran around in her cape, carrying a wooden sword, and looking for evil doers behind every rock."
"A cape?" I ask.
"I was twelve," Janice explains.
"I see. Did you play too, Tereise?"
"Sure, but I didn't get to play Xena. I only got to play the sidekick, what was her name, Janice?"
"Yeah," Tereise says. "I had to play Gabrielle. All I ever got to do was get into trouble so Xena could rescue me."
"Speaking of rescue," Janice says, and I sense a convenient change of subject. "Don't you think we had better get together a story for when our rescuers arrive?"
"Rescuers?" I ask. "I figured we were probably stuck here for the rest of our lives."
"Smoke signals," Tereise says. "Look outside."
I look out the tent flap and toward the burning trucks and immediately see what she means. Where the trucks once blazed, there are now twin columns of black smoke going nearly a hundred feet into the air. Tereise has come to stand beside me. "In this clear desert air, they can probably see that smoke halfway to Cairo!"
"I think we had better get our story straight before the cavalry arrives," Janice suggests.
"It's too late," I say, for there's the sound of engines approaching the oasis. "It sounds like two trucks."
Tereise listens, then shakes her head, but Janice says, "Good. Your hearing is back."
Zepp hurries to the tent as the trucks enter the campsite. "Egyptian Army patrol," he announces.
Janice says, "Antone?" Those two walk outside, with Antone bent over and Janice talking urgently in his ear. He nods and approaches the lead truck, passport and other documents in hand. Six soldiers, heavily armed, have emerged to stand several yards from the tent. Antone talks to the soldier who seems to be in charge. The man studies Antone's papers and gestures at us. Antone shakes his head and points at the burned out trucks. He calls to Janice, and she cradles her injured arm and limps toward him. She joins the conversation briefly, then limps back to us, smiling broadly as soon as her back is to the soldiers.
"Antone told him we're all scientists and that this is our camp. A German infiltrator attacked us, killed our friend Gruner, and was knocked out when he blew up our trucks. I was injured trying to save our documents. Unfortunately, they went up with the trucks." I can tell she's having fun again.
"Your leg?" I ask.
"Seemed like a nice touch."
I know it's a long-shot, but I try. "Have you even considered telling the truth?"
"What? That you stole part of an ancient stele from a national museum, that we sailed down the Nile in a stolen houseboat, that we were tortured and entombed by grave robbers, escaped, came here, blew up some trucks, and shot an eminent Egyptologist in his own camp after knocking one of his guards unconscious with a piece of irrigation pipe?" She starts to walk away. "Sure, let me try that. . . ."
I grab her uninjured arm. "Maybe next time."
Zepp returns, and he is also smiling. "The officer bought some of it, didn't care about the rest. Seems there's a big tank battle up north, and all these guys care about is that the British left the Egyptians out of it. Now we hand them a Nazi spy and saboteur. They love it."
"Will they give us a lift?" Janice asks.
"They're heading back to Bani Suwayt, where they're garrisoned," Zepp informs us. "They'll give Zeigmann and us a ride there, but they're not willing to take Gruner. In this heat, he would be a bit ripe before we arrived. They think their commander will be willing to send someone back from their graves detail."
"Gruner's problem," Janice says firmly.
"So say a prayer for him, Mel, if you want. I'm not shedding any tears." With that, she walks back into the tent, forgetting to limp.
I watch as two of the soldiers lead a groggy Zeigmann across the camp. His legs are free, but they have left his hands tied. He mumbles in German as they lift him into the first truck.
"I wonder if he'll tell the truth about Gruner and Breen," I say to no one in particular.
"No, he won't tell them anything," Zepp says, and adds, "I know the type."
After checking around the camp, and having no questions about the boxes of artifacts that fill the other tent, the soldiers help us into the back of the second truck. They take special care with Janice, who holds her arm and remembers to limp. Along each side of the truck bed are long benches. Tereise, Janice, and I sit together on one side, Janice in the middle. Zepp sits on the other side with three young Egyptian soldiers, who direct their gazes at their own feet. As the truck begins to move, one young man looks up and smiles at me, white teeth gleaming in his dark, sculptured face, a face that could have graced the statues at any Egyptian temple. I return the smile and feel Janice's elbow nudging me in the ribs.
"Stop doing that," she orders.
"Flirting? Me?" I'm astounded. "I never flirt."
"Just now? What was that?"
"He smiled at me. I smiled back."
"That fool in Macedonia," she persists. "I suppose you didn't flirt with him?"
"I don't think so." I try to remember what I did. He DID seem to like me.
"And Ahmet? The one who wanted to marry you?" She makes the last two words sound like the plague. I hear Tereise giggling.
"Ahmet is studying archaeology at the university," I explain. "We got into the habit of talking during his visits to the museum."
"And you ended up in his tent in the desert," Janice finishes. "My God, Mel Pappas, I don't think you're even aware you do it!"
I close my mouth, and we ride in silence for a while. Whenever I look up, the young soldier is still smiling at me.
Bani Suwayt is a small city on the western bank of the Nile. White stone and mud-brick houses bake in the late afternoon sun when we reach it. Because the Egyptian soldiers have generously shared their water with us, we have survived the trip, but barely. The trucks pull to a halt in front of a large brick building. The Egyptian officer appears and helps us down. My young soldier risks a grin and a slight wave, and I can't help but return both before I turn away.
The officer is saying in English, "Please to stay here at European hotel. Our commander will wish to speak with you." To Janice, he says, "Are you needing a doctor?"
"I can wait until we return to Cairo," she assures him.
We thank him, and Zepp shakes his hand. As soon as the trucks turn the corner, Zepp says, "I'll see if we can hire a car and driver. And it would probably be best to visit the commander before he sends for us. Miss Pappas, your papers are in order, aren't they?"
"Then I think you should come with me. If we show the commander two good sets of documents, one showing diplomatic status, he may not ask to see Tereise's and Janice's." I've never seen Zepp this decisive, and I realize we've entered his official world, where he is the expert.
"My papers would probably pass," Tereise says. "And Janice's burned in our truck."
"Let's not chance it," Zepp replies.
Janice has dug my passport and other papers from her knapsack and now hands them to me. "We'll take a couple of rooms and see if baths are available," Janice says. She wrinkles her nose, "And laundry services. You two can clean up when you return."
I consider that I'm still wearing Zepp's clothing and what it has been through since I put it on. My hair is tangled, my face and hands, washed at the oasis, have picked up a new layer of grime. This is no way for a lady to go calling, Aunt Helen would say. I dismiss the thought. Another saying of which she is fond: What can't be helped must be borne."
End of Part 16
Having secured the services of a driver and his ancient, battered town car, Zepp and I deal swiftly with officialdom. The commander, who is pleased that one of his patrols has apparently captured a Nazi spy, is uninterested in sharing the credit with a group of foreigners. This makes him remarkably incurious about our future plans. At Zepp's casual inquiry about whether the German has confessed to espionage, the commander says that the man has said nothing except to request aspirin for his headache. Tomorrow, the commander tells us, a graves detail will recover the body of our colleague. Tomorrow, I think, the Egyptians will surely discover the stolen antiquities.
Zepp directs the driver in what seems to be fluent Arabic to take us to our hotel and to return in one hour ready for the drive to Cairo. "Do you speak the language?" Zepp asks me.
"Read a little," I reply, "but I rarely speak it. I guess I'm better with dead languages than living."
He holds the door for me, and we enter a small lobby, dim and surprisingly cool. An Egyptian desk clerk asks, in English, if he can help us.
"We are with the young ladies who registered earlier," Zepp answers.
"Ah, yes, sir. You and your wife are in Room 212, a lovely corner room. The young ladies are in 210, which adjoins." The clerk smiles at me, obviously assuming I'm the wife.
Zepp motions for me to proceed him up the open stairway. Even in desert fatigues, with a coating of sand, he manages to look and act the gentleman.
Room 210 is at the end of the hall, and, as we approach it, I hear the soft murmur of voices. I think that Janice and Tereise are enjoying girl talk after their baths. I look forward to being clean and relaxed. The door is locked, and Zepp unlocks and opens it with a gallant flourish. I step through to see Janice standing in the middle of the room. Holst stands behind her, his right arm around her throat, pressing so tightly she struggles for air. His gun is pressed into her side.
Breen is seated comfortably on a settee on the right side of the room. In his hand is what looks like Tereise's automatic pistol. Between Breen and the door lies Tereise. She is on her side facing the door, and a thin line of blood trickles across her forehead.
"Tereise!" Zepp's cry is strangled, and he starts toward the still, blonde woman.
"Stop!" Breen orders. "She's all right. She was uncooperative, and Holst had to subdue her with a blow."
"If she's badly hurt. . . ," Zepp growls, but he stops his forward motion.
"She can't breathe," I say to Breen. He gives no sign he understands. "Janice can't breathe."
Breen glances at Holst, who loosens his hold. Janice takes a gasping breath, and her color starts to change from blue to her usual rosy shade. Her hat is gone, and her long, red-gold hair spills over her shoulders. Her green eyes are wide and, I think, a little frightened. We make eye contact, and I try to smile. She gives me a slow, deliberate wink.
"Do you have transportation out of here?" Breen asks. He is looking at Zepp.
"We have a decrepit car and a driver who says it will get us to Cairo."
"Change of plans. We go to Wadi Halfa," Breen tells him.
Zepp shakes his head. "That's across the border in the Sudan. The car will never make it that far."
"Then you'll make other arrangements," Breen insists. "You and one of the women will travel with us."
"This one," Holst says, and this is the first time I have heard him speak English.
Breen flicks another glance his way. "That would be amusing, I'm sure, but Zepp's woman will be the better choice. To assure his continued cooperation." Breen motions with his pistol for Zepp and me to sit on the low couch on the other side of the room.
"Let me see to Tereise," Zepp says quietly. Breen studies him, then nods. Zepp kneels beside Tereise and gently brushes back her fine hair. She stirs, and he lifts her easily in one motion. He places her in one corner of the couch and sits beside her. Taking a handkerchief from his pocket, he gently ministers to the small wound on her temple.
When I choose to sit on a straight back chair instead of the couch, Breen says nothing. For a moment, Holst is between me and Breen's gun, but then he steps back, dragging Janice with him.
Holst says, a little louder than before, "I want to take this woman."
"We take the blonde," Breen says patiently.
"Why not take me?" I ask. "Tereise is hurt, and you know that Dr. Covington will be nothing but trouble."
Breen seems to consider it, then shakes his head. "No, the other one is more important to Zepp. Who cares what happens to you?"
"Why go to this Wadi Halfa anyway?" I ask. "The authorities have Zeigmann, but he isn't talking. No one knows anything about the theft of the antiquities. Why don't you just return to Cairo? I'm sure Mr. Zepp could help you leave the country."
"Is that right, Mr. Zepp?" Breen asks. "Could you help Holst and me leave the country? Or maybe you could help us with the authorities if we just turned ourselves in? How would that be?"
"I don't think I could help you," Zepp replies.
"That's what I thought." Breen looks bored with the conversation. He speaks to Zepp. "Is your car here?"
"No. The driver will be back in an hour."
Breen sighs. "Then we have some time. Holst, you want that one? Fine, I have these under control. Take her into the adjoining room."
Looking like a dog whose master has just tossed him a bone, Holst tightens his grip on Janice again and, almost lifting her from the floor, moves toward the closed door beside Breen's settee. Just as he passes between Breen and me, Janice puts both hands on the arm across her throat. Using this as a point of leverage, she lifts both legs, then brings them back to connect solidly with Holst's shins. I launch myself from my chair and grab for Holst's neck, trying to get the same kind of stranglehold he has on Janice, but there just isn't any neck to grab. He releases his hold on Janice to grapple with me, and she hangs on his gun hand, struggling to keep him from raising it. She bites him on the wrist and, with a howl of rage, he pulls loose and backhands her across the room. I grab the back of his shirt and pull, falling as I do so, my backward momentum pulling him down with me. As we fall, gunfire seems to fill the room.
When it becomes quiet again, acrid smoke taints the air. I am lying under Holst, who is not moving. I feel a sticky liquid on my hands and face. Janice rolls Holst off me and is yelling, "Mel, where are you hurt? Oh, you're bleeding. I'm sorry, Mel. . . ."
"It isn't mine," I say.
"The blood. It must be Holst's." She helps me sit and still searches for bullet holes.
Zepp kneels beside us and picks up Holst's gun. In his other hand he holds the same small gun with which he shot Gruner. He returns to Tereise, who says, "What happened? Where's Janice?"
"Don't worry," Zepp says. "Everything's all right now."
There is a pounding at the door, and then the scared face of the desk clerk looks in on our little battleground. Janice says, "Get a doctor. And the police."
"A doctor?" I ask. "For Tereise?" I look at Holst, whose face is gone, obviously the victim of his partner's poor marksmanship. I look at Breen, still sitting upright, a neat bullet hole in his forehead. Clearly, the doctor isn't for them.
"For you," Janice says gently. I realize she is pressing hard against my side. "Dear Mel, you are shot."
End of Part 17
"Antone, freshen my drink?" Tereise asks. Antone rises and takes her glass to a small bar he has set up on the deck of the Hatshepsut.
It is early evening, and a cooling breeze has started to blow from the delta. The faint smell of lemons wafts from the torches Zepp has lit around the deck to hold the river insects at bay. Tereise and I sit or, rather, recline in stately splendor on the wooden deck chairs of the Hat, Tereise's facing mine. Tereise still wears the short sun dress of the afternoon. Elegant and cool in tropical whites, Zepp sits on a dining chair from the salon when he's not seeing to the needs of his guests. Janice perches at the end of Tereise's lounge, and Janice, well, Janice is dressed as Janice.
I'm wearing light pleated slacks and a crisply starched blue blouse, a style I've found to my liking. There are pillows behind my head and next to my side, and Janice seems anxious to plump them as necessary--or as not. Soon I'll tell her that I've recovered from my wound, but I decide that time is not yet. I smile, and, not knowing the reason, Janice smiles back.
Tereise accepts her drink and says, "Thanks, dear, now I think you had better sit down. There are some things that need to be discussed." Antone obeys and looks expectantly at his love.
"Janice," is all she says.
Janice starts to rise, then settles again. "Antone, there are some questions I, we, need to ask, and I hope you'll be able to answer them in a satisfactory way."
"Satisfactory?" He looks to Tereise. "What is this about?"
"Antone, while Melinda was in the hospital, you know that I was questioned by the Egyptian authorities," Janice starts.
"Of course," he confirms. "I helped you. Remember how I told you of my conversation with the Foreign Minister. . . ." "Right," Janice interrupts, "very helpful. You know, of course, that the Egyptians were so happy to retrieve the antiquities hidden at the Dahkla Oasis and to have the whole smuggling ring destroyed, that they couldn't do enough for Mel and me."
He nods. "The Foreign Minister told me as much."
"Did you know also that I was questioned by British Security?" she asks. "They were interested in whether the smuggling was connected with the Nazis."
"Yes, of course," Zepp agrees. "I also told you that I spoke with people in the British Consulate on your behalf."
"Yes, I remember what you told me," Janice says, "but, if you did hold that conversation, it really wasn't necessary. British Security had no interest in me whatsoever. They were actually surprised when I volunteered the problem with my entry documents. They suggested that I take it up with the American Embassy and the Egyptian authorities."
Antone smiles. "Then why were those two British Security officers chasing you all around Cairo and making inquiries about you?"
"I've thought about that, and I've decided that the men who broke down Mel's door were Holst and Zeigmann. We never saw anything but their backs, but the builds were right. And Zeigmann's English is good enough to pull it off."
I add, "And Janice's landlord mentioned that the Security Officers who questioned him had European accents. Would an Egyptian, as familiar as he would be with his country's occupiers, refer to their accents as European? He said they were British Security because that's what they told him. He seemed more worried that they would bring in the Egyptian police."
"The only other person who said two big British Security Officers were inquiring about me and my papers was you, Antone," Janice points out. "You said that you overheard them at the club, and they were questioning the owner and the bartender about me."
"That's right," he says, "and those men couldn't have been the two Germans, because Holst and Zeigmann weren't in Cairo then."
"Right," Janice agrees, "and that brings me to my next point. I'm sure that Mel and I lost the Germans after the incident in the alley behind the club. I drove around for a while to make sure before coming aboard the Hat. We sailed the Hat downriver almost immediately. So how did they practically beat us to Cashi Zun?"
Zepp sighs. "I don't know, Dr. Covington, how?"
"Someone had to tell them that we had left Cairo. Someone who realized immediately that the Hat was gone and knew what that meant."
Zepp is silent.
"Another thing," I add. "When Gruner questioned Janice, she told him she left the fragments in Cairo. How did he know she had them with her on the boat?"
"He said that?" Zepp asks. I nod. "Well, he must have been guessing because there's no way he could know."
Janice corrects him. "Unless a certain chatty spy told someone I had the fragments with me, and that someone had a short wave radio he used to contact Gruner and company."
Zepp rises. "This is ridiculous. I don't have to sit here and listen to this from people who are supposed to be my friends."
"Sit down, Antone." Tereise's voice is no different from when she usually orders him around, but her brown eyes are icy, showing none of their usual warmth. Zepp lowers his eyes to the silver derringer in her hand. Where did she hide that? I think. As small as the gun is, her costume provides little in the way of hiding places.
Zepp sits. "Go on," Tereise says to Janice.
"I've tried to figure out a way you could have warned Breen and the others we were coming to the Dahkla Oasis, to account for their leaving the tent when we were on our way." She shakes her head sorrowfully. "I'm afraid I can't pin that one on you. It must have been plain bad luck, for us and for Gruner. Tereise said she got the drop on Gruner. That's possible, but I experienced how quick Gruner was. It could be that he saw you, Antone, and didn't see a need to shoot it out. Then Tereise came to warn us that the others had escaped. She left you to guard Gruner with his own gun. And, as soon as she was out of sight, you shot him."
"Why would I do that?" Zepp asks. "According to you, Gruner and I were on the same side."
"Oh, but you were," Janice confirms. "You were the contact who could get the artifacts out of the country so they could be sold. That's how you were so sure about how to get to the oasis and knew exactly where to park the truck so it couldn't be seen from the camp. You had been there many times."
"I shot Gruner because he came toward me."
"If he did, it was because he expected you to give him the gun, not its contents."
"I also shot him because of what he did to you, Janice," Zepp claims.
Janice studies him briefly, searching his face for some truth in this statement. "I hope that was part of why it was so easy, Antone, I really do. But I believe you mainly shot him to keep him from telling the authorities about their diplomatic contact, about you."
"That doesn't make any sense," Zepp argues. "If that was the case, why didn't I eliminate Zeigmann, too? You sent me by myself to check on him. Mel's pipe was right there. All it would have taken was another blow to the head."
"It certainly sounds like you considered it," Janice observes. "I think you decided it was an unnecessary risk. You knew, as I did, that Zeigmann wasn't the type to talk. And he never has."
"Except to ask for aspirin," I throw in.
Janice continues, "Let's go on to the hotel room at Wadi Halfa. When Breen and Holst argued about which woman they would take with them, Breen referred to Tereise as 'Zepp's woman.' "
"I can explain that," Zepp says eagerly. "Breen was around the club many times, and he saw me with Tereise. I think we even may have talked about her."
"I'll bet you did," Tereise comments.
Janice pats Tereise's foot, but is careful to stay out of the line of fire between Tereise and her lover.
"I'll concede that Breen could have connected Tereise with you because of talking with you at the club," Janice says. "However, I'm talking about the reason he gave Holst for taking her with you. It was to insure your continued cooperation. Continued, Antone, as if you had already helped them. And there was one more thing about that encounter that was puzzling, my old friend, and it was the thing that proved fatal to Breen."
"What's that?" he asks, but I see his eyes flicker to the derringer.
"When you entered the hotel room, neither Holst nor Breen searched you for a gun."
"They didn't search Miss Pappas either."
"Oh, but Zeigmann and Holst had searched both Mel and me in Harpsoptah's tomb. And they found that I carried a gun, and Mel didn't. Besides, look at Mel. She's hardly the gun-moll type." I nod at Janice, and she smiles back. "You, on the other hand, Antone, a tall, well-built gentleman, wearing your manly desert fatigues, I would think the bad guys would just assume you were armed."
"I never carry a gun," Zepp points out.
"That's exactly my point, dear Antone. Anyone who knows you well knows that you don't carry a gun. What is it you always say? It ruins the line of your suits? Breen and Holst didn't search you because they knew you and knew you weren't armed. They didn't know you had Gruner's gun. Too bad for Breen he didn't know something else that Tereise and I know."
"That you are an excellent shot."
I add, "And too bad for Holst that Breen wasn't."
"Right. And good for you."
We sit in silence, and this time it is less than companionable.
Finally, Antone Zepp speaks. "If what you believe about me is
true, why haven't you turned me over to the authorities? What do you
End of Part 18
Janice leans toward Zepp and ticks off our demands. "First, we want you to admit that you were the contact that helped Gruner and his gang to smuggle stolen antiquities out of the country. Second, we want to know your part in the deaths of my father and of Tekmet. No, I haven't forgotten about Tekmet. Third, we want to know why you were involved with murderers and thieves. And, finally, we want you to accept the punishment we have decided on. Although, to be honest, you won't have much choice in the matter. Your turn to talk."
Zepp's eyes rest briefly on Tereise. Seeing no comfort there, he starts to speak. "It started before the war with my using my country's diplomatic pouch to do favors for friends. Someone might need to get some currency out of one country and into another. Maybe there was a gem to be transported, and it seemed a waste to pay the duties involved with taking it through customs."
"And maybe answering questions about where the gem came from would be inconvenient. Tell the truth," Janice warns him.
"When Tereise came to Egypt, I got myself assigned to this country. No one really cared where I went. The Nazis had already taken over my homeland, and the government in exile had more to worry about than the posting of a playboy diplomat."
"And you met Breen at the club," Tereise adds.
"Yes, and it turned out he knew about my activities before the war. He asked if I could still perform such a service. It started out with small, but valuable, items, but soon I was arranging to get larger things, gold and other antiquities, out of the country. Most eventually went to your country, Janice, to rich Americans with a desire for Egyptian art and culture." Zepp smiles at the memory. "I was never good at much of anything, except having a good time. Strangely enough, I was good at this, and it was like discovering my calling."
"You were working with Nazi scum," Janice reminds him.
"Well, that was something I soon discovered," he confesses. "At first, I really did think Breen was just a Swiss businessman, forced into dishonesty by the sudden restrictions on the antiquities trade. By the time I knew what he and Gruner and the others were really like, I was in too deep. It was just too late."
"Two," Janice says.
"Your father was already dead when I got involved, Janice. I didn't know for a long time that most of the artifacts were coming from his dig at Cashi Zun. When I learned the connection, I asked Breen about it. He said that your father died in an accidental cave-in. Gruner took advantage of it by bribing an official to report that the entire tomb was destroyed. Then he had Zeigmann blast open the entrance, and they looted the treasures from the tomb. A few things Gruner claimed to have found at Dahkla Oasis, so he could build his scientific reputation."
"Breen was there when he met you at the club. Just before the lights went out, he asked me what the connection was."
"And you told him?"
"I didn't know," Zepp says. "I don't even know whether Breen had anything to do with the lights. I think he did, Janice, and that he was trying to get to you and Miss Pappas. But he already knew who Tekmet was, and, after that meeting, Breen sent someone to follow him."
Janice considers the possible truth of these statements. "It makes sense that Gruner knew about Tekmet. Gruner sometimes visited my father's dig, and Tekmet was often hanging around. One thief might know another. And we've already figured out that Mel's boss was feeding Gruner information."
I sigh and think of our decision not to turn Dr. Krykos into the authorities. We can only hope he's learned his lesson. Lie down with dogs, and you get up with fleas.
"That's the easiest," Zepp says. "I did it for money. I've spent all mine, you know. And with the Nazis plundering my homeland, there won't be any more. My poor salary couldn't begin to maintain the life I live, and even that hasn't been paid since the government went into exile. Breen and Gruner paid me well." We look around the Hatshepsut, at the wines and liquors on the nearby table, Zepp's expensive clothes. . . . I wonder if Janice weighs these against her father's and Tekmet's lives.
Tereise's voice replaces Janice's. "Now for number four. We've talked crime, so now let's look at punishment."
Zepp is sure. "You'll turn me over to the British or Egyptian authorities, of course."
"Wrong," Tereise says. "There's such a thing as diplomatic immunity. Even if that doesn't completely protect you, there's the matter of influence. You chose to shorten your last name, but everyone in power knows of your famous family. No, I don't think punishment through the official route would be either swift or sure."
"Then what, ladies?" Zepp says, some confidence slipping from his voice. "Am I to believe that you're simply going to shoot me and throw me overboard?"
Tereise smiles, and I notice how small and pointed her teeth are. "Not shoot you, dear, unless I have to. One idea we had was to throw you overboard, but not until we sailed upstream and found a particularly large and hungry Nile croc." Zepp's eyes pass from Tereise to Janice and finally settle on me. I smile pleasantly.
Tereise continues, "Unfortunately, that idea was voted down. 2 to 1."
Zepp glares at Janice. "I can guess who voted for it."
"No," Tereise says, "surprisingly, Janice and Mel were the ones who voted against it. Although I think Mel's sympathies mainly lay with the poor crocodile. We came up with several variations, but we finally decided to let Janice choose. She, after all, has borne most of the injuries in this case."
"What did you decide?" Zepp asks Janice. "What do I have to do?"
"Leave," she answers.
"I don't understand."
"All you have to do is leave. You can take a ship, an airplane, you can walk across the desert, or swim across the Mediterranean; none of us care."
"I can't believe you're just letting me go," Zepp says in wonder. "Janice. . . ."
"Your punishment is exile, Antone," Janice cuts him off. "You may take with you your passport and the clothes on your back. If you have any money in your elegant pockets, you can take that. Before you go, you sign over the Hatshepsut to Tereise and give her the number of you bank account in Switzerland. Don't even try to say you don't have one. Tereise and her friends will have uses for the money, either now or after the war. Do you agree?"
Zepp nods his head, still counting his good fortune.
"As a condition of your exile, you won't ever return to anyplace you've been before this day," Janice adds.
"What? I don't understand."
Tereise explains, "Just what Janice says. Once you leave here, you can go anyplace you want, as long as you've never been there before. That cuts out London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, any other place you've already lived or visited, and, of course, your own homeland. If any of us, Janice, Mel, or I, learn that you have violated your exile, you'll be killed."
"Don't be ridiculous," Zepp tries.
"Look at me, Antone," Tereise commands. He reluctantly meets her eyes. "I will kill you myself or have others do it. Many of my acquaintances are spending the war learning about the infliction of pain and death. They are learning from experts."
Janice says, "I said before that you wouldn't have much choice in the matter of your punishment, but I guess that isn't true. You do have a decision to make. Death now, this instant, or life on our terms. Which is it?"
"I'll leave," he says."
Janice smiles. "Good choice, Antone. I always thought you were stupid, but I may have to revise my opinion."
"Five," I say quietly.
Janice looks surprised. "Five? Mel, we never talked about any five."
"I know. I added it myself." I turn to Zepp. "The last piece of the stele. I want it now."
End of Part 19
Janice and I sit on folding chairs in a military airport hanger near Cairo. With the final defeat of Rommel's tanks, some travel restrictions have been relaxed, and the British Consulate has agreed to help us leave the country."People are always cooperative when it means getting rid of me," Janice has said of this offer.
Zepp is long gone, and, if he's true to his word, we'll never hear of him again.
Tereise has sold the Hatshepsut to a British government official. Janice's comment on this: "I wonder how long the Egyptians will let him keep it when the war is over." Never one for politics, I have no opinion. Tereise has quietly left the country, to look, she says, at a place called Palestine.
Janice is going home with me to South Carolina while I finish recuperating from my wound. I feel fine already, but I haven't told her yet. We'll have to take a round-about route to get there, avoiding war zones and U-boats as best we can, but I know we'll arrive eventually, and the journey will be an adventure. Looking at my small friend in her khaki and leather, with her old bush hat pulled low over her face, I wonder what Aunt Helen will make of her. Then I grin. Even Aunt Helen will be no match for Janice.
Janice glances at me. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing. Just thinking about seeing my family again."
"I don't have a family anymore," she says, "but I think I can understand how you feel."
"Our only families aren't the ones we're born into. Isn't Tereise your family? Aren't I?"
She doesn't answer, but I think I see a nod. "I have a present for you," I say.
"Look in your knapsack. I slipped it in just before we left my hotel." With a gesture, I urge her on.
>From the knapsack, she pulls a large sheet of paper, rolled up like a scroll. Slowly, she unrolls it.
"You know that we all agreed to turn the four fragments of the Gabrielle stele over to the Egyptian government. It was the right thing to do. But before we did, I copied down the hieroglyphics from Zepp's piece."
"GABRIELLE stele?" she questions.
"Yes. You'll understand. Go on and read it."
THE SUN BEATS DOWN upon the travelers as they cross the desert sands. This is a caravan of comfort, carrying Ma'Kare,' wife of the great Osorkon, prince of Heracleopolis, high priest of the god Ptah. Far from any city or oasis, bandits come across the desert, white-robed, riding pure white horses, hearts as hot as the sun. Guards pledged to defend the princess die bravely, cut by swords, as grain before the scythe. Others try to flee the bandits' harshness, but they are caught, and they, too die. The bandits take the goods and gold and princess.
Upon the bloody sand, the bandits take their ease and argue about the division of the spoils. The princess can be heard crying above the wailing of the rising desert wind. Out of the halo of the sunset come defenders of the crying princess. A warrior woman and her companion. With stealth and strength they attack and leave no bandit standing. Just then comes the Khamsin, storm that heralds summer, but chokes both man and beast.
That night a babe is born. Its mother hands it to the warrior woman. "Here, take my son to his father. Here is my seal. Take it as well." The warrior woman holds the newborn. The seal, a ring, she puts on her own finger, never guessing its royal message or of the bloodlines of the child.
The storm has scattered camels and horses, none remaining. The warrior and her friend walk on. They save the water for the baby, using little to quench their thirst. Finally, the smaller stumbles, says, No more, I can't go on. The warrior will go on and save the child, carried snug within her desert robe, leaving her friend a few sips of water and a promise to return.
The babe brought to Pharaoh's city, to the very temple grounds, the ring is shown, the story told. Prince Osorkon gives his own horse to the woman, fastest steed in Pharaoh's stable, to return and find her friend. Like the Khamsin, rides the woman, sweeping through the desert, hot and dusty, heading west. In this endless desolation, she despairs. How can she find her friend?
But she does and brings her water, holds her gently, saves her life. Returning to fair Heracleopolis, they find Osorkon celebrating his new son and mourning for his wife. Osorkon makes a declaration. Forever will this woman warrior be the object of adoration, friend forever to Prince Osorkon. The son he names Shoshenk for his own father. The woman will be called Omm Shoshenk, second mother to the boy.
The sun-haired companion tells this story, and I, Harpsoptah, write it down.
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